Saturday, February 05, 2005

Hiding the wires

I was amused by the claims that George W. Bush wore a listening device under his jacket in the first two of his three debates with John Kerry, but recognized that, at the time, the evidence in the case was largely speculative. I was waiting to see if the press would do its job and investigate the matter thoroughly.

Turns out they did, according to a report from David Lindorff at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. Problem is, they didn't tell the public what they had uncovered: that Bush almost certainly did, in fact, use such a device.

The suspicions were raised primarily in a series of Salon stories, many of them by Lindorff and featuring in the last installment the testimony of a NASA scientist who, it turns out, had also been talking to reporters from the New York Times:
At that point, Dr. Robert M. Nelson, a 30-year Jet Propulsion Laboratory veteran who works on photo imaging for NASA's various space probes and currently is part of a photo enhancement team for the Cassini Saturn space probe, entered the picture. Nelson recounts that after seeing the Salon story on the bulge, professional curiosity prompted him to apply his skills at photo enhancement to a digital image he took from a videotape of the first debate. He says that when he saw the results of his efforts, which clearly revealed a significant T-shaped object in the middle of Bush's back and a wire running up and over his shoulder, he realized it was an important story.

Eventually his discovery made its way to the attention of the Times. The story was ready to run in late October, but was reportedly killed because of its proximity to the election:
Times science writer William Broad, as well as reporters Andrew Revkin and John Schwartz, got to work on the story, according to Nelson, and produced a story that he says they assured him was scheduled to run the week of October 25. "It got pushed back because of the explosives story," he says, first to Wednesday, and then to Thursday, October 28. That would still have been five days ahead of Election Day.

An indication of the seriousness with which the story was being pursued is provided by an email Schwartz sent to Nelson on October 26 -- one of a string of back-and-forth emails between Schwartz and Nelson. It read:

Hey there, Dr. Nelson—this story is shaping up very nicely, but my_editors have asked me to hold off for one day while they push through a few other stories that are ahead of us in line. I might be calling you again for more information, but I hope that you'll hold tight and not tell anyone else about this until we get a chance to get our story out there.

Please call me with any concerns that you might have about this, and thanks again for letting us tell your story.

But on October 28, the article was not in the paper. After learning from the reporters working on the story that their article had been killed the night before by senior editors, Nelson eventually sent his photographic evidence of presidential cheating to Salon magazine, which ran the photos as the magazine's lead item on October 29.

Lindorff's piece has the evidence to support its claims (namely, the reporters' e-mails), which stand in direct contradiction to the Times' initial claims that the story never existed. It also produces evidence from other sources that the story existed:
In fact, Schwartz, Revkin and Broad, using Nelson's photographic evidence as their starting point, had made a major effort to put together the story of presidential debate misconduct and deception. Among those called in the course of their reporting, in addition to Nelson, who says he received numerous calls and emails from the team, were Cornell physicist Kurt Gottfried, who was asked to vouch for Nelson's professional credentials; Bush/Cheney campaign chair Ken Mehlman (information about this call was provided by a journalist at the Times); and Jim Atkinson, an owner of a spyware and debugging company in Gloucester, Mass., called Granite Island Group.

"The Times reporters called me a number of times on this story," confirms Atkinson. "I was able to identify the object Nelson highlighted definitively as a magnetic cueing device that uses a wire yoke around the neck to communicate with a hidden earpiece -- the kind of thing that is used routinely now by music performers, actors, reporters -- and by politicians."

At first, the Times tried to slough off the FAIR report by claiming that the story had never existed:
Referring to a FAIR press release (11/5/04) about the spiked story, Village Voice press critic Jarrett Murphy wrote (11/16/04), "A Times reporter alleged to have worked on such a piece says FAIR was totally off base: The paper never pursued the story."

Murphy told Extra! that his source at the nation's self-proclaimed paper of record -- whom he would not identify -- told him the information about the bulge seen under Bush's jacket during the debates, provided by a senior astronomer and photo imaging specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, had been tossed onto the "nutpile," and was never researched further.

Now, it seems, the Time "reader advocate," Daniel Okrent, is admitting on the Times Web site that the story indeed existed, and indeed was spiked because of its proximity to the election:
I checked into Lindorff's assertion, and he's right. The story's life at the Times began with a tip from the NASA scientist, Robert Nelson, to reporter Bill Broad. Soon his colleagues on the science desk, John Schwartz and Andrew Revkin, took on the bulk of the reporting. Science editor Laura Chang presented the story at the daily news meeting but, like many other stories, it did not make the cut. According to executive editor Bill Keller, "In the end, nobody, including the scientist who brought it up, could take the story beyond speculation. In the crush of election-finale stories, it died a quiet, unlamented death."

Revkin, for one, wished it had run. Here's what he told me in an e-mail message:

I can appreciate the broader factors weighing on the paper's top editors, particularly that close to the election. But personally, I think that Nelson's assertions did rise above the level of garden-variety speculation, mainly because of who he is. Here was a veteran government scientist, whose decades-long career revolves around interpreting imagery like features of Mars, who decided to say very publicly that, without reservation, he was convinced there was something under a president's jacket when the White House said there was nothing. He essentially put his hard-won reputation utterly on the line (not to mention his job) in doing so and certainly with little prospect that he might gain something as a result -- except, as he put it, his preserved integrity.

Revkin also told me that before Nelson called Broad, he had approached other media outlets as well. None -- until Salon -- published anything on Nelson's analysis. "I'd certainly choose [Nelson's] opinion over that of a tailor," Revkin concluded, referring to news reports that cited the man who makes the president's suits. "Hard to believe that so many in the media chose the tailor, even in coverage after the election."

The truth of the matter is that killing a story that could affect the outcome of the election simply because it could affect the outcome of the election is an abandonment of one's duties as a journalist dedicated to publishing the truth and adequately informing the public. It would be one thing if the evidence was indeed speculative; but the evidence presented by Nelson and the Times' other sources, in fact, was well past speculation. It was, in fact, highly substantive.

There's no other way of putting it: This is a gross dereliction of its Fourth Estate role as a public watchdog by the Times.

UPDATE: Following up on Times executive editor Bill Keller's explanation (someone in comments notes that he has remarked elsewhere to the effect that "lots of stories don't make the Times"), I thought it worth noting just which stories the Times deemed more newsworthy regarding its coverage of the campaign on Oct. 28, 2004:

A fluff piece on John Kerry and the Boston Red Sox

A scintillating piece on how well campaign-finance reform has worked

A thumbsucker on the political ramifications of the intelligence overhaul

Yeah, those were much more newsworthy than highly damning evidence that the president cheated during the debates.

The Final Solution

The latest poster boy for the religious right's never-ending persecution complex is a fellow named Michael Marcavage, who has been making headlines for his prosecution in Philadelphia for allegedly breaking the state's hate-crime law by protesting gay-pride events.

As the Post-Gazette story explains, the essence of the charge is that Marcavage and four cohorts broke a variety of laws, including bias-motivated intimidation (the hate crimes charge), in the process of organizing loud protests at OutFest, an event in which Philly gays are urged to come out of the closet, on Oct. 10 last year.

It's clear from the available videos that Marcavage was liable to be charged for refusing a police order to move, but the bias-crime charge seems potentially dubious to me; if prosecutors can produce evidence of actual threats or acts of intimidation, then the case may in fact be sound. (Prosecutors have issued a statement saying: "This case is about conduct, not content of speech.") Only a trial will be able to tell us for certain.

Marcavage operates an outfit called Repent America, which reportedly is closely connected to Donald Wildmon's American Family Association (one of the folks protesting SpongeBob Squarepants' participation in a tolerance campaign). The AFA, in fact, is providing Marcavage with free legal counsel, which may explain his apparent eagerness to be arrested (Marcavage says he's been in jail over a dozen times).

The "Philly Five" cause has also been picked up by other ostensibly mainstream-right outfits as Concerned Women for America, while Marcavage and his attorney have been busy making appearances on places like Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes" and "O'Reilly Factor," and "Hannity & Colmes," and MSNBC's "Abrams Report". Likewise, it is being trumpeted by outfits further toward the fringe like WorldNetDaily and Free Republic.

The Philadelphia City Paper just published an excellent story on Marcavage that covered most of the bases of the case. It also, rather strikingly, had this quote from Marcavage:
"According to the Scriptures, it's the government's job to enforce God's law and to uphold his law, and the Bible talks about how, I don't want to really get into this -- it'll make me sound like I'm crazy -- but it does talk about how [homosexuals] are to be put to death. The wages of sin is death. But I want to make [it] clear that I'm not advocating the [independent] killing of homosexuals. ... I'm saying that the government's duty is to uphold God's law. ... I know that's harsh, but we have all broken the law, God's law, and we need to be held accountable."

I don't think it's misreading these remarks to observe that Marcavage, while eschewing individual acts of murderous retribution, is calling for creating a system under which homosexuals can be put to death by the government simply for being homosexual.

And this is the young fresh face of the persecuted Christian right?

People who have dealt with the extremist right for many years have heard Marcavage's arguments before. They were made most famously by the leading figure in the white supremacist Christian Identity movement, the Rev. Pete Peters, who preaches sermons titled, "Intolerance of, Discrimination Against and the Death Penalty for Homosexuals is prescribed in the Bible," and likewise penned a pamphlet titled Death Penalty for Homosexuals is Prescribed in the Bible (a piece that was, incidentally, the source of his falling-out with Bo Gritz.) (You can see a copy of its cover here, along with a link to Chip Berlet's slide show on the subject of Identity.)

Marcavage, perhaps not coincidentally, first made a splash on the extremist Patriot circuit back in 2001 when he was committed to a psychiatric ward for his protest of a controversial play being performed at Temple University that was a gay-themed take on the life of Christ. (Observe that the link from American Patriot Friends Network includes the following note: "Friends, This may be a preview of what happens to all Christians under the coming UN agenda. You must understand that everyone must be "tolerant" unless your views differ from the communist UN agenda which does not include God.")

This current campaign has been picked up not only by the Christian Reconstructionist Chalcedon Institute, but also by the far-right Army of God, which has been associated with abortion-clinic bombings and killings of abortion providers.

Sarah Posner at the Gadflyer has more on Marcavage.

All in all, the mainstream adoption of Marcavage's martyrdom campaign, like the SpongeBob brouhaha, can be considered both an example of the continuing spread of right-wing extremism into the mainstream, as well as evidence that, indeed, gays are the new Jews.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Book burners

In Norwood, Colorado, parents have apparently taken to gathering up and burning a book -- Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima -- that was assigned to freshmen as part of an English assignment and then confiscated by school officials after these parents protested:
It wasn't a band of angry students who destroyed about two dozen copies of "Bless Me, Ultima," a novel selected for a Norwood High School English class -- it was a group of parents. Norwood School Superintendent Bob Conder confiscated the books and released them to parents to be burned or otherwise purged.

Conder said that he removed the books based on complaints by parents, complaints that were made "mainly" about the language. The book, which is used in high school level curricula all over the country, contains profanity; it also deals with cultural and religious issues.

"Filthy language," said Conder of the profanity. "I'm not going to repeat the language. Our job is to protect kids from things that aren't good for kids."

According to a report from the American Library Association:
Conder said the books, about 2 dozen in total costing $6.99 each, were pulled from the classroom, and designated to be destroyed. The parents approached the superintendent and asked that they be able to burn the books instead of the school janitor destroying them.

The ALA report also describes the book being attacked:
Rudolfo Anaya, a professor emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico, wrote "Bless Me Ultima" in 1972. It explores the difficulty of reconciling conflicting cultural traditions. The main character, a young boy growing up in New Mexico during World War II, struggles with the complexities of his religion. He becomes increasingly frustrated by the failure of the Catholic Church to explain the most pressing questions about morality and human experience and is frustrated by his failure to find a forgiving god, and then finds an unlikely mentor in a local "healer" who comes to live with his family.

Many of the characters in the book are limited by their cultural prejudices and never learn to look beyond their own assumptions. Meanwhile the main character grows to understand that his experiences are lessons about life, and he knows that he must take life's lessons to heart, even when they are difficult, painful, or disappointing. Learning the importance of tolerance marks his growth, especially as he begins to realize that some religions may be better suited to some people than to others.

The same book was chosen by other Colorado communities, such as Fort Collins, Boulder, and most recently Grand Junction at Mesa State College as the book of choice to be read as a community. Anaya commented, "The book should be judged in its entirety. There is some strong language in strong situations, but there is no flippant use of profanity."

I think Anaya also has the situation sized up about right:
"Parents have the right to monitor what their children read, however they do not have the right to tell others what they can read. That is un-American, un-democratic and un-educational."

Yeah, well, who cares about democracy and education when our moral values are at stake?

Though it's true that previous cultures where book burnings were encouraged by officialdom didn't exactly work out so well on the moral values thing ...

It's all frivolity

The other night, when President Bush said this in the State of the Union address:
Justice is distorted, and our economy is held back, by irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims -- and I urge Congress to pass legal reforms this year.

... I wonder if he was thinking of cases like this:
The Halliburton Co. will pay $30 million to about 120 families of people who were exposed to deadly asbestos while working in shipyards, construction sites and industrial plants in the Pacific Northwest or serving on Navy ships that were serviced here.

The amount, announced yesterday in Seattle, is part of a recent $4.3 billion national settlement to wrap up the Houston-based oil-services giant's liabilities for people who are ailing, have died -- or will die in the coming years -- because of asbestos exposure.

... Halliburton inherited a flood of asbestos and silica claims when it acquired Dresser Industries Inc. in 1998, during Dick Cheney's tenure at the helm of Halliburton before he became vice president. Most of the claims had been filed against Harbison-Walker Refractories Co., a Pittsburgh-based subsidiary of Dresser.

"Halliburton is pleased to have the matter of asbestos and silica litigation fully and finally resolved," company spokeswoman Beverly Scippa said yesterday. "The settlement will provide a permanent resolution to a difficult and complicated problem."

Nah. I'm sure instead he was thinking of "frivolous" cases like this one in Montana:
Asbestos from a now-closed vermiculite mine on a mountain near Libby has killed 192 people and left at least 375 with fatal diseases. Doctors say the people of Libby will keep dying for decades.

This was the case, you'll recall, that put W.R. Grace out of business:
Saying it can't handle the flood of asbestos personal-injury lawsuits, W.R. Grace & Co. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Because of the filing, taxpayers may get stuck with millions of dollars for cleaning up sites contaminated by the 150-year-old company.

... "This doesn't come as a surprise. We've known that Grace was going to use the legal system to get out of its responsibility to the hundreds of people their actions have sickened or killed in Libby," says Gayla Benefield, whose parents both died from exposure to asbestos contaminating the ore at Grace's nearby vermiculite mine.

"There are hundreds of people in Libby who are relying on Grace's promise to pay their medical bills for treatment of the diseases caused by the asbestos and they have no idea what (the bankruptcy) will mean to their future," Benefield said.

Yep, those lawsuits sound pretty damned frivolous to me.


I'm glad I'm not the only one who found this downright creepy: the White House assigning "handlers" to accompany journalists at the Inaugural events in Washington -- not to watch what they ask, but to keep an eye on their contacts:
Consider that the escorts weren't there to provide security; all of us had already been through two checkpoints and one metal detector. They weren't there to keep me away from, Heaven forbid, a Democrat or a protester; those folks were kept safely behind rings of fences and concrete barriers. Nor were the escorts there to admonish me for asking a rude question of the partying faithful, or to protect the paying customers from the prying media.

Their real purpose only occurred to me after I had gone home for the night, when I remembered a brief conversation with a woman I was interviewing. During the middle of our otherwise innocuous encounter, she suddenly noticed the presence of my minder. She stopped for a moment, glanced past me, then resumed talking.

No, the minders weren't there to monitor me. They were there to let the guests, my sources on inaugural night, know that any complaint, any unguarded statement, any off-the-reservation political observation, might be noted. But maybe someday they'll be monitoring something more important than an inaugural ball, and the source could be you.

I'm not sure which this reminds me more of: the Soviets or the Nazis. Either way, the totalitarian nature of this kind of intimidation should be self-evident.

[Via Pacific Views, via Tom Tomorrow.]

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Asymmetry and terror

CNN's Henry Schuster has an interesting piece about "lone wolves" -- a topic that, as regular readers (or those familiar with In God's Country) know, is a subject near and dear to my heart.

It touches on cases I've also discussed here previously, notably William Krar, the would-be cyanide bomber, as well as the anthrax killer:
Ask Potok and the folks at the SPLC and they will tell you they believe the anthrax killer is a lone wolf -- and probably not an Islamic terrorist, despite the letters that were sent in late 2001 containing the anthrax, which seemed to signal this was an al Qaeda-style attack. Potok and company base this belief in part on how the killer has gone quiet since the flurry of letters in late 2001 -- and that there have been no claims by international terror groups.

You might be noticing the pattern by now. Lone wolves are typically Americans with an extremist agenda, usually anti-government. They are certainly not the only domestic terrorists (we'll deal with the animal rights and eco-terrorists at a later date), but they are scary nonetheless.

It's not that they are merely scary: it's that they are more effective than they're often given credit for. Think, for instance, of how for nearly a month the anthrax story was the lead on all the newscasts, because it was perceived as an act of terrorism of a piece with 9/11.

And the truth is, it was, though not in the way most people think. The anthrax killer almost certainly was not an Al Qaeda or Iraqi terrorist, but was a domestic terrorist (probably one with right-wing political beliefs, though not necessarily acting solely from those beliefs). Just as certainly, though, he was consciously piggybacking off the 9/11 attacks to enhance the effectiveness of his weapon, which was not to kill people, but to terrorize the populace.

That is to say, there is an important symbiotic relationship between foreign and domestic terrorists, as exemplified by this case: the latter creates an "echo" effect that enhances the intent of the original foreign terrorist attack, while also advancing the agenda of the former (which is to destabilize public confidence in the government so that it can present itself as an authoritarian alternative to a system unable to keep its citizens secure).

Moreover, both events represent the aspect of terrorism (as I've argued till I'm blue in the face) most absent from the popular understanding of the phenomenon which is, ostensibly, our real enemy in the War on Terror: its asymmetry as a threat.

Thanks to a combination of technology and increasingly virulent and violence-prone forms of extremism, it's now possible for just a tiny number of people -- in some cases, one or two -- to wreak major damage, killing hundreds, even thousands of innocent civilians. That was as true of Oklahoma City as it was of 9/11.

It's too bad it took an attack committed by a previously small faction of Islamic extremists -- who, as it happened, were both foreigners and brown-skinned, unlike the Oklahoma bombers -- for us to declare a "war on terror." The question I've always had is this: Why didn't we declare it after April 19, 1995, instead of September 11, 2001? Because it was the former date that actually hailed the arrival of this threat on our doorsteps.

Unfortunately, it is that same lack of perspective that allows us to pursue wars of power, invading other nations under false pretext, all in the name of the "war on terror." It's this same failure to understand the nature of the beast that leads us to blithely create a cauldron for breeding a fresh generation of terrorists in Iraq.

In the meantime, we yawn when federal authorities arrest a hard-core "Patriot" in Idaho named David Roland Hinkson for plotting to kill a federal judge, an assistant U.S. attorney, and an IRS agent:
During pretrial proceedings, an FBI agent testified that Hinkson's anger toward Judge Lodge was long-standing, stretching back to the judge's dismissal of charges against an FBI sharpshooter who killed Vicki Weaver during a standoff with white separatists at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. Prosecutors said Hinkson was affiliated with Idaho militia groups who shared his hatred of Lodge.

It's true that, generally speaking, domestic terrorists are neither as competent nor as likely to pose a major threat as most international terrorists, particularly Al Qaeda. And the belief systems that feed the domestic terrorists have not become pervasive in popular Western culture the way Al Qaeda and Wahhabism generally have insinuated themselves in the Islamic world (though there has been an increasing blurring of the lines between the mainstream and extremist right in recent years).

Nonetheless, given the right actors, the right weapons, and the right circumstances, they remain nearly as capable of inflicting serious harm on large numbers of citizens as their foreign counterparts. This is especially true because they are less likely to arouse suspicion and can more readily blend into the scenery.

Most of all, what they lack in smarts or skill, they make up for in numbers: Since the early 1990s, the vast majority of planned terrorist acts on American soil -- both those that were successfully perpetrated and those apprehended beforehand -- have involved white right-wing extremists. Between 1995 and 2000, over 42 such cases (some, like Eric Rudolph, involving multiple crimes) were identifiable from public records.

Some of these were potentially quite lethal, such as a planned attack on a propane facility near Sacramento that, had it been successful, would have killed several thousand people living in its vicinity. Krar's cyanide bomb could have killed hundreds. Fortunately, none of these plotters have proven to be very competent.

The rate has slowed since 2000, but the cases have continued to occur. And someday, our luck is going to run out. Certainly, if we are counting on their incompetence, the fact that the anthrax killer (whose attacks in fact were quite successful in their purpose) has not yet been caught. Likewise, if Al Qaeda attacks again, that will likely signal a fresh round of piggybacking.

That is only possible, of course, if we continue to succumb to the notion that domestic terrorists represent "isolated incidents," while foreign terrorists are the "real enemy." Let's be truthful: They are all The Enemy.

She's the expert

I see Michelle Malkin has taken to calling Greg Robinson "gutlessly underhanded."

Well, Michelle is, after all, an expert on gutlessness and underhandedness.

UPDATE: Greg Robinson has responded. [Via Eric Muller.] Seems this is vintage Malkin: Twist an act of graciousness on the part of your opponents into an attack on their character. It's not as if we didn't know already, but it's worth repeating: These people see decency as a weakness to be exploited.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Onward Young Christian Soldiers

A strange and disturbing story out of Lompoc, California, about a "summer camp" for Christian children that reveals a great deal about the direction some fundamentalists take their beliefs:
Christians in combat boots

It's Sunday morning at Trinity Church of the Nazarene and staff member Mark "Gunny" Hestand is on his belly behind a tree, an imitation M-16 in his hands, showing six teen-age boys in fatigues how to ambush an enemy.

Hestand, 43, and a teen-age squad leader have been barking at the "soldiers" who are cranking out pushups and line sprints beside the church.

"You girls are going on a hike tomorrow," shouts squad leader Zach Smith, 15. "How are you girls going to hike tomorrow if you can't do 25 pushups?"

Thirty minutes later, the teens march into the church cafeteria in two single-file lines to the cadent commands of Smith. They gather around a table with Hestand and Bible study leader Tom Gilbert.

"Man has lost his focus on purpose," Gilbert says to the boys, in a lesson taken from the best-selling and controversial Christian book "Wild at Heart," John Eldridge's examination of masculinity.

"Life needs man to be fierce. Aggression is part of the masculine heart," Gilbert says.

The teens are part of "Boot Camp," a youth group that mixes Marine Corps values and combat techniques with Bible study. The concept is the brainchild of Hestand, who started the group in 2001 to encourage youth involvement in the church. As far as he knows, Boot Camp is unique in the Christian world.

One can only hope so. Because these folks practice a peculiarly militaristic brand of Christianity:
Once the 90-minute service commences, the boys gather outside, usually in the church's south parking lot, where for 20 minutes they do physical training like new recruits under the barks and orders of drill sergeants.

"We really get in their face," Hestand said.

The next 20 minutes are dedicated to combat techniques, such as ambushes or guerrilla tactics. The last 45 minutes are spent on Bible study.

Marine recruiter Sgt. Thomas Bustamante swings by once a month - without compensation and on his own time - to instruct the physical training and combat portion of the service. Recruiting isn't part of Bustamante's involvement, Hestand said.

Hestand sees no contradiction in instructing military combat techniques alongside the teachings of Jesus, who often is considered a pacifist because of his doctrine of "turning the other cheek." Neither does it bother Trinity's Pastor Jim Morris, an ex-Marine.

"His turn-the-other-cheek comment was talking about confronting things in life that seem unfair: An opportunity to be gracious rather than combative," Morris said. "Having said that, we're not preparing these guys to go into the military. We're using a military model as a hook."

It would be comforting to think that this worldview is relegated to a small range of fundamentalist thought. And it's true that the camp is unique. It seems, however, that the philosophy behind it actually enjoys broad popularity with many fundamentalists:
This aggressive and combative nature is at the heart of Boot Camp. Hestand and company say that men - particularly Christian men - have become domesticated, boring and divided from their natural instincts of adventure and drive to tackle challenges. The end result is a docile and unhappy man.

The idea that Christian men must be reshaped is straight from Eldridge's "Wild at Heart," which argues that man's wild heart is a mirror of God's and that man's three natural and worthy desires are to: fight a battle, live an adventure and rescue a beauty.

"Wild at Heart" has sold over a million copies since its 2001 release. It has sparked debate, but is used as a manual by many churches and is prominently displayed in Christian bookstores.

Other Christians consider Eldridge a demagogue who shapes God in his own "muscular Christian," outdoorsman image. They say his teachings - which favor movie icons like the character William Wallace of "Braveheart" and bash "Mr. Roger Christians," who hold office jobs and "make decisions at the kitchen table," - are dangerous and heretical concepts.

The Braveheart imagery, incidentally, is also significant. Because the Mel Gibson film (like his most recent release, The Passion), with its gory glorification of violence and self-sacrifice, represents a kind of theme that is appearing more frequently with an aggressively violent brand of Christianity that has many roots in the extremist right.

Max Blumenthal recently had an excellent post exploring this aspect of the Christian right, which he correctly identifies as a "fascist aesthetic." Notably, he cites an instance in which an official from Focus on the Family -- the same folks who have been attacking SpongeBob as a way of undermining the concept of tolerance -- referred to the Braveheart iconography in association with Eldridge's "masculine" form of Christianity:
Jim Chase, an advertising copywriter from La Crescenta, California, has had a replica of the sword actor Mel Gibson used when he played legendary Scottish warrior William Wallace in "Braveheart" hanging above his desk since attending a Wild at Heart retreat with 350 other men last year.

"It is just a reminder that we are in a battle every day. It can be just facing boredom and routine, but it is a battle," Chase said.

"Life isn't just about going to work and sitting in front of a computer and bringing in as much money as you can. We all have a story. God has written a story and we are meant to find out what the story is and live it," Chase said.

Blumenthal correctly points out that Braveheart enjoys icon status with European far-right figures. It also enjoys (I can report from personal experience) an avid audience with the Patriot/militia crowd. See, for instance, the fellow arrested last summer in Erie, Pa., with a massive cache of illegal weapons; the name of the organization he operated locally was the "Braveheart Militia."

Moreover, attacking the "feminization of Christianity" has long been a major theme of the white-supremacist Christian Identity movement. A taped sermon with that title has long been a staple of Peter Peters' Identity catalog. It's also worth noting how Peters views the source of this "feminization":
The Jewish leaders believe they already control America. Recently, one of them stated publicly: "We have castrated Gentile society, through fear and intimidation. It's manhood exists only in combination with a feminine outward appearance. Being so neutered, the populace has become docile and easy to rule. As all geldings are by nature, their thoughts are not concerned with the future, or their posterity, BUT ONLY WITH THE PRESENT and the next meal." What a perfect "word picture of modern American society. It is the attitude of Christians, who don't want to be involved, and allow Jews, to control the school and often the church. We MUST break these fatal bonds, if we are to remain free.

If this trend continues to manifest itself among supposedly mainstream fundamentalists as well, that should be serious cause for concern.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Naked self-promotion

No, really, you don't want to see me naked. Trust me on this.

However, I will stoop to alerting readers that, once again, Orcinus has been honored with multiple nominations in the annual Koufax Awards at Wampum. I normally pay absolutely no attention to most Web awards and their nominees (I was nominated in thiz year's meaningless Weblog awards, too), but the Koufax awards mean something, in no small part because of the quality of the competition, as well as the spirit in which they are overseen by the folks at Wampum.

This year I've been nominated in the following categories: Best Blog by a Non-Professional, Best Single Issue Blog, Best Expert, Best Writing, Best Series, and Best Post.

The Best Series nomination is for "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism," the entire links to which can be found in the upper left margin of the site. (I'm working on a PDF, I promise.)

There are three "Best Post" nominations: for "A liberal war on terror," "Media Revolt: A Manifesto," and "The Political and the Personal," the latter of which is a mistake, since I wrote it in 2003. (In fact, it was a finalist in last year's Best Post competition, and was nudged out, I think, by a stroke of Billmon's brilliant pen.) So please don't vote for it.

I always have mixed feelings about these things. As regular readers know, this isn't really a single-issue blog; on the other hand, I write regularly enough about right-wing extremism (and related areas of hate crimes and domestic terrorism) to make this a close enough approximation. I'm not really an expert (I just play one on TV, is my line); I'm in fact simply a journalist who does a lot of research and groundwork, though this does lend itself to a certain kind of expertise in the fields I specialize in. And I have few illusions about seriously competing for either Best Non-Professional Blog (we all know who's gonna win that) or the one category I'd be most honored to win (namely, Best Writing).

I have decidedly mixed feelings in the Best Series category (which I was honored to win last year). I think "Pseudo Fascism" is overall a stronger, more cohesive essay, than most of what I've written here, and I think it may prove important some day. Still, one of my chief competitors this year is Eric Muller for his (and Greg Robinson's magnificent series of posts debunking Michelle Malkin, to which I linked copiously as well. If I were voting, I'd vote for myself, but you could certainly make the case that Muller is more deserving, since he at least had a discernible real-world impact with his work.

This gets back to my general uneasiness with awards, because they pit apples against oranges sometimes -- or rather, rubies against emeralds.

Still, the Wampum folks run the awards in a real spirit of openness and fairness, the competition is always good-spirited, and I think the left side of the blogosphere is genuinely represented there, so in the end they make a real contribution to the commonweal. Please be sure to click the little "Make a Donation" button at the top of the Wampum home page and chip in for a good cause.

The meaning of revisionism

The conservative victory at the polls in November 2004 has some inevitable consequences. Since so much of what passes as conservative dogma is actually anti-liberalism, the most significant of these consequences is that many of the progressive advances of the past half-century are being challenged and overturned.

This is true of a broad range of domestic policy issues from abortion to the environment to taxation and economic policy to affirmative action to Social Security, not to mention the implementation of an aggressively militaristic foreign policy. But the conservative-movement enterprise extends beyond mere policy, and appears determined to overturn the very way the populace at large thinks and sees itself.

Historical revisionism plays an essential role in achieving this. Thus, Ann Coulter's rehabilitation of Joe McCarthy in Treason was only the first iteration of this trend. (Trent Lott's nostalgia for Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats was an ill-received version of it as well.) It was shortly followed by Michelle Malkin's defense of the Japanese American internment.

Now we have Thomas Woods' right-wing bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, which explains why such progressive advances as civil rights for minorities were actually harmful to the nation. Over at Is That Legal?, Eric Muller cuts to the chase by explaining why Woods' extremist background -- he claims to be a co-founder of the secessionist (and white supremacist) League of the South -- is essential to understanding the purpose of this book:
Some will undoubtedly say that it's not fair to call Woods' book into question on the basis primarily of his other writings, and on the basis of the positions of a private organization that he helped found and has assisted. And you know what? If he were a physicist who wrote a book about quarks and string theory, I guess I'd agree that his views (and those of his organization) on politics and race wouldn't really be fair game.

But there is a short, direct line from the rabid anti-statism and wholesale civil rights revisionism of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History" to the agenda of the League of the South and its ilk.

This is what we all need to understand about the current spate of historical revisionism: It is occurring in the service of a broader agenda to recast our very understanding of the meaning of our history, and thus the meaning of America itself.

Thus we have the spectacle of the GOP recasting itself as the "party of civil rights," which as Hunter suggests might be laughable -- coming, as it does, from the party of the Southern Strategy -- were it not of a piece with the Newspeak that permeates the conservative march on America.

Sure enough, Virginia Sen. George Allen took the first step in promoting this "new image" for the GOP by joining Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, in sponsoring a resolution apologizing for the Senate's failure to pass anti-lynching legislation in the 1920s and 1930s. (For a little more on the history of that legislation, see the end of this post; for more on the lynching era, see this post.)

There are more than a few problems with this. It is, to begin, with more than a little convenient to be denouncing Southern filibusters at a time when Republicans are hoping to overturn longstanding rules regarding filibusters as a way of attacking Democrats. Moreover, as Kos notes, Allen is not exactly the best person to be apologizing for racially insensitive acts of Congress.

What's especially hypocritical about this, though, is that Republicans are not in any position to regret the fate that befell the anti-lynching laws. After all, this is the same party whose leaders in the House this autumn officially killed the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act -- which, had it passed, would have been the first real federal anti-hate crimes statute. Indeed, this same political leadership was responsible for killing a federal hate-crimes bill on two previous occasions -- first in 1999, then again in 2001.

As I've argued at length, there is a real connection between the anti-lynching laws of the 1920s and the currently proposed federal hate-crimes statutes; the latter are clearly descended from the former, and serve largely the same purpose. Today's Republicans should be every bit as ashamed of their current leadership as they are of those Southern conservatives who blocked the national will back in 1922.

Speaking of hate crimes, over at Pandagon, Jesse has written a couple of posts that cut beautifully to the heart of the matter. He also directs us to a report of a Republican effort in New Hampshire to repeal its hate-crimes law, just as the Missoulian recently suggested.

Revising history also means revising how we understand our nation today; it is only possible to oppose hate crimes statutes by flagrantly ignoring the realities of hate crimes in our history, especially the lynching era, and pretending that those realities are all in the past. Likewise, when Republicans recast their image as pro-civil rights, they are abusing the factual course of history.

If the nation succumbs to the notion that progressive advances of the 20th century have harmed us, and becomes intent on rolling back those advances, we need to be realistic about what kind of path this will lead us down. It is not a bright one.

Is anyone on the Democratic side paying any attention to this? Besides Robert F. Kennedy Jr., that is?

Monday, January 31, 2005

Soft on extremism

I had a post last week at American Street discussing the latest iteration in something that seems to come up a lot lately: the spread of extremism into the mainstream of conservatism (contra the Professor).

The most recent example is colorfully illustrative of the nature of the extremist right -- particularly the way hate-filled beliefs come to permeate the entire worldview of the people who adopt them.

As with a lot of recent cases, this incident involves Republican politicians from the South, whose growing embrace of all kinds of neo-Confederate activism (particularly from the Council of Conservative Citizens) is the most serious form of interaction between the extremist and mainstream right.

Seems that, as predicted, in the wake of the passage of the anti-immigrant Protect Arizona Now initiative, a plan to pass identical legislation in other states is rising to the surface. The most revealing instance of this is in Arkansas, where a fellow named Joe McCutchen of Fort Smith is heading up the statewide Protect Arkansas Now campaign. Seems McCutchen not only has an interesting past, he has the full-fledged and quite public support of leading Republican legislators:
Sens. Jim Holt, R-Springdale, and Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, on Wednesday filed the proposed Arkansas Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. The measure would require stricter proof of citizenship for voter registration and forbid public assistance for non-citizens unless mandated by the federal government. The bill also requires state and local authorities to report illegal aliens to federal immigration officials.

Holt introduced McCutchen on Friday as the head of Protect Arkansas Now, a lobbying group modeled after Protect Arizona Now, the lobbyists for a similar immigration law in Arizona that passed by referendum last November.

McCutchen denied Southern Poverty Law Center's claims Wednesday that he was a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, but acknowledged that he wrote about his campaign to tighten immigration laws in the February 2000 edition of "American Renaissance," identified as a "hate sheet" by the racism watchdog group.

He said he had never heard of "American Renaissance," but recognized his letter to its editor appealing for money for his campaign to help unseat then-U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., who eventually lost the 2000 election and became President Bush's energy secretary.

McCutcheon said "American Renaissance" was one of many publications and organizations on a list of donors to efforts to limit immigration, although his political action committee was essentially self-funded and received only about $5,000 from contributions.

Of course, we can be sure, on his say-so, that those associations were merely accidental and did not reflect on his judgment or beliefs, right? And to listen to the rest of McCutchen's defense, you'd think he was being smeared:
McCutchen also acknowledged participating in a 2001 anti-immigration forum in North Carolina, sponsored by the Council of Conservative Citizens, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a successor of the old White Citizens Council. In a 2001 CCC publication, McCutchen is identified as a member, but he said Wednesday that the only organizations he's ever belonged to are four Masonic orders and the American Airplane Pilots Association.

McCutchen said that after participating in the 2001 forum with self-described racial separatist Virginia Abernethy, who later became chairwoman of Protect Arizona Now, he decided to break all ties with CCC.

"I decided this wasn't my schtick," he said. "I'm strictly working on an illegal immigration basis, and they're in other areas. I'm strictly looking for the stability of this country and upholding the rule of law."

McCutchen said he resented having to make such a disclaimer, but said he has been careful to point out that people who want to tighten laws against illegal immigration "are not bigots, xenophobes, racists or anti-Semites."

Certainly not. There are many reasonable people seeking immigration reform who are not bigots, xenophobes, racists, or anti-Semites.

On the other hand, people who write letters to the editor like this [from June 2003] certainly are all of the above:
Duped again! Weapons of Mass Delusion. Who orchestrated Bush’s illegal Iraqi war? Official reports indicate that 25 Zionists were the architects. Examination of Bush’s predominately neo-con Jewish/Zionist inner circle reveals all advocate continuing illegal preemptive strikes against Middle-Eastern countries.

A partial list: Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Ari Fleischer, Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Chertoff, Elliot Abrams, Michael Ladeen, David Wurmser, Lewis Libby and Karl Rove — a combination of dual-citizenships, Israel-Firsters, or offspring of Trotskyists. These men all hold strategic positions in the federal government. Cover for the aforementioned is supplied by Falwell/Robertson fundamentalists.

Jewish media control, i.e. Viacom, CBS, MTV, ABC, Clear Channels, Turner Broadcasting, Warner Bros., Sony, Disney, coupled with goodly numbers of Jewish editorialists, print and spoken, guarantees a Jewish/Israeli slant.

Bush and his mostly Jewish neo-cons' war against Iraq was illegal, immoral and resulted in the emasculation of the Constitution. There are no weapons of mass destruction and no evidence that Iraq has harmed U.S. interests, i.e. no Iraqi terrorists. Evidence indicates Bush I was a party to installing Saddam and was formerly a business partner, and U.S. furnished Iraq with start-up material for bacterial warfare.

Bush and his neo-con handlers have vaporized the 14th Amendment, shades of Nazi German differing only in role-reversal. Additionally, Globalist Bush refuses to secure our southern border, and estimates state that in excess of 10,000 illegals are crossing daily. The aforementioned, accompanied by "Homeland Security" and the "Patriot Acts" guarantees a U.S. citizen lock-down! American culture is in a melt-down.

Who benefited? Bush oil, Israel and the military/industrial complex.
The Bush administration is involved in a criminally arrogant disdain for the Founders' formula for a free society.

Joe McCutchen
Fort Smith

So are people who write follow-up letters like this:
On June 5 this paper published my letter stating that the Iraqi war was provoked by Neo-con Zionists. Before the Iraqi war, Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, along with Abram Shulsky, Elliot Abrams and Michael Ledeen created for Rumsfeld the Office of Special Plans to circumvent Pentagon Intelligence. They openly call themselves "The Cabal" and have admitted they used "weapons of mass destruction" as a motivational tool for war.

I further stated the central government, banking, media (radio/TV/print) and entertainment are controlled by Jews, which is easily proven.

Two gentlemen writers attacked me with personal smears, choosing not to address the substance of the letter, indicating a lack of knowledge and/or refusal to deal with facts.

Jews were the force that created and have sustained a mass immigration and open-borders policy — a practice that is in the process of destroying Western Culture and is about to create a slave-state. Witness Patriot Acts I and II written by a non-citizen Vietnamese, Viet Dinh employed by John Ashcroft.

Since the passage of the Balfour Agreement, creating the state of Israel, U.S. taxpayers have poured in $3 trillion. Ten million Americans unemployed, and this year alone we have dumped $19 billion into Israel.

American and international Jews own the world monetary system. Would it not be appropriate if they used their own financial resources to subsidize Israel? For example, Bill Gertz, aka Bill Gates.

The Iraqi war was unconstitutional and immoral; the best that can be said of Bush, Ashcroft and their Neo-con Zionists is that their blather is full of factual elasticity.

To survive, America must surmount P.C., revisionism and incendiaries enemies hurl, i.e. racists, anti-Semitic, xenophobe, et. al.

Americans, emerge from your cocoons.

Joe McCutchen
Fort Smith

I especially loved the "Bill Gertz" line. That's a new one.

While self-described "centrists" wring their hands over the "authentic face of the Left," the real face of the Right is coming clearer into focus. And boy, is it ugly.

[Hat tip to Mark Potok.]

Roadside assistance

[Lori Cain / Statesman Journal]

Consider this a sign of the times. It represents not only the natural outcome of a a recent Supreme Court decision, but also the latest iteration of the white supremacist program to rehabilitate itself in the mainstream.

The above sign appears along a road near Salem, Oregon, where county officials recently decided to allow a group calling itself the "American Nazi Party" to take part in its road-cleanup volunteer program:
Several local residents, some of them who live on Sunnyview Road, said they are upset that the county would allow the signs or attach its own name to that of a hate group.

"To me, it just screams hate," said Jacque Bryant of Salem. "It screams doesn't belong here."

Bryant heard about the sign from her grandmother and had a strong emotional reaction to it when she saw it for herself. She hopes enough community outrage will force the county to remove the sign.

Salem resident Mike Navarro, whose mother lives near the area, also was stunned by the sign.

Navarro said that the group has a right to its own opinions but that it's poor judgment for a county to put itself in the position of appearing to endorse a hate group. There should be some level of sensitivity in these kinds of decisions, Navarro said.

"To me, that's kind of cowardly. 'We don't want to get sued,' " Navarro said. "You're probably offending the majority of the people in your county just to pacify the needs of a very select group of people who thrive on hating."

It's worth noting that court rulings in question only outlaw the banning of a group from these programs based on the content of its beliefs. What it doesn't prohibit is limiting participation based on a group's actual ability to perform the cleanup, as well as the likelihood of its participation becoming an attractive nuisance. Both of these avenues are available to Oregon officials.

Both of these issues, as it happens, have arisen in previous cases where the Klan or other extremist groups sought to participate in roadside-cleanup programs. The first was in the mid-1990s in Arkansas, an experiment that ended badly when the Klan failed to ever perform the promised cleanups.

They perhaps had a good reason not to: the stretch of road that they claimed attracted an unusual amount of garbage. It was as though, for some reason, everyone in the county who had noxious waste (ranging from loads of soiled disposable diapers to animal carcasses) to toss from their pickups chose that stretch of road to do it. Guess they wanted to be sure the Klan had plenty of busy work. But it became something of a public health hazard.

Likewise, in Missouri, the Ku Klux Klan's participation in the Adopt-a-Highway program sharply plummeted shortly after they were admitted. It didn't help, of course, that Missouri renamed the highway after Rosa Parks. Nor did it help that, once again, the road attracted inordinate amounts of garbage.

These are issues the Salem officials should stay atop of if they're serious about their civic responsibilities. There's more than one way to deal with haters. Sometimes it just takes being a little creative.