Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Trump's Dance Around the Racism, Violence Drawn to His Campaign Appears to Encourage It

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

It’s a dance that Donald Trump does when the subject of the violence and racism bubble up around his run for the presidency as the 2016 Republican nominee. Call it the Deniability Tango: Trump dances around the problems that come with his supporters and their frequent ugliness, which he officially disavows in certain carefully worded statements, often accompanied by a wink and a nod.

It’s a three-step affair:
  • First, Trump appears to embrace the racism and/or violent acts committed by his followers and admirers, either by making excuses for the behavior or pretending not to know about their racist reputations, as he demurs, hems and haws.
  • Second, Trump either briefly disavows the act or issues a brief statement making an official disavowal of the person or behavior in question that briefly mentions why such things are unacceptable.
  • Third, he reflexively refers to this pro forma disavowal whenever the subject is raised by the press without ever explaining or describing the motives for it.
The sincerity of these disavowals is open to question, but their effectiveness is not: Rather than tamping down the raucous racism and violence at Trump rallies and at white nationalist events praising Trump, the frequency of these incidents has risen, along with the abiding enthusiasm of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and various far-right extremists for the GOP nominee.

Trump’s efforts to distance himself from the far right, such as they are, in real life appear to have the opposite effect.

The clearest case of this came when white supremacist icon David Duke initially embraced Trump in February, and Trump was asked about it in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Instead of answering forthrightly, Trump fumbled:
Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don't know. I don't know, did he endorse me or what's going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you're asking me a question that I'm supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.
When Tapper explained that he just wanted him to unequivocally condemn groups like the Klan and people like Duke, Trump continued to demur:
Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don't know what group you're talking about. You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.
The next day, with an uproar proceeding in the media, Trump quickly issued an official disavowal, saying that he had a “bad earpiece” in his interview with Tapper and so hadn’t understood the questions: “I’m sitting in a house in Florida, with a very bad earpiece that they gave me, and you could hardly hear what he was saying. But what I heard was ‘various groups.’ And I don’t mind disavowing anybody and I disavowed David Duke. And I disavowed him the day before at a major news conference. ... I have no problem disavowing groups, but I’d at least like to know who they are. It would be very unfair to disavow a group if the group shouldn’t be disavowed. I have to know who the groups are. But I disavowed David Duke.”

The effectiveness of the disavowal became clear when Duke, several months later, announced that he was planning to run for the U.S. Senate seat in Louisiana, inspired largely by Trump’s run. “I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years,” he said in his announcement video.

“Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the denunciations [of Duke] are not sincere,” observed SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok to the Huffington Post. “The sad reality is that David Duke and Donald Trump are appealing to precisely the same constituency.”

Trump has performed the same dance when it comes to racist violence committed by his supporters. When two Boston men were arrested last fall and charged with hate crimes for their brutal assault on a Hispanic man – which they explained by telling officers that “Donald Trump was right” and that “all these illegals need to be deported” – Trump explained to reporters: “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate, they love this country, they want this country to be great again, and they are very passionate.”

As the violence has spread to include his rallies, where a number of anti-Trump protesters have been violently assaulted (and eventually, at several rallies, where his supporters were assaulted), Trump has similarly danced around the issue by defending the perpetrators’ motives but then ultimately issuing a perfunctory disavowal.

Asked in the March 10 GOP presidential debate about escalating violence at his rallies, Trump explained:
I will say this. We have 25, 30,000 people -- you've seen it yourself. People come with tremendous passion and love for the country, and when they see protest -- in some cases -- you know, you're mentioning one case, which I haven't seen, I heard about it, which I don't like. But when they see what's going on in this country, they have anger that's unbelievable. They have anger.
They love this country. They don't like seeing bad trade deals, they don't like seeing higher taxes, they don't like seeing a loss of their jobs where our jobs have just been devastated. And I know -- I mean, I see it. There is some anger. There's also great love for the country. It's a beautiful thing in many respects. But I certainly do not condone that at all, Jake.
Pressed further, Trump blamed the violence on the people showing up to protest him. “We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things. They are swinging, they are really dangerous and they get in there and they start hitting people. And we had a couple big, strong, powerful guys doing damage to people, not only the loudness, the loudness I don't mind. But doing serious damage. And if they've got to be taken out, to be honest, I mean, we have to run something.”

Most of the videos showing violence against protesters at Trump events, however, reveal ordinary people behaving peacefully while carrying anti-Trump signs who are then assaulted by angry Trump protesters. And while anti-Trump protests outside Trump rallies have generally quieted down since reaching a fever pitch in early June, conditions inside the rallies for anti-Trump protesters have, if anything, worsened, as a protester at an August event in Mechanicsburg, PA, discovered when he was beaten for carrying a sign that read “Refugees Welcome.”

But Trump’s denial that he was encouraging such behavior is particularly laughable, considering the extent to which he has openly told participants at his rally to “beat the hell out of” protesters, told them he’d like to “punch [a protester] in the face,” and has described for his rally-goers the violent fate that “back in the old days” was expected for such protesters.

Moreover, his rallies have also attracted outright white supremacists and nationalists, neo-Nazis and “Patriot” extremists and their likeminded supporters who have had no compunction about behaving in a threatening manner, such as the tattooed man who screamed at Latino protesters outside a Trump rally in Phoenix.

The most noteworthy incident involving this trend occurred March 1 in Louisville, Ky., when a black woman was forcefully ejected from a Trump rally by a number of people, including Matthew Heimbach, leader of the “alt right” Traditionalist Workers Party, who was recorded shoving the woman. Heimbach and several others now face criminal charges for their behavior.

Heimbach drew even greater national scrutiny when a California chapter of his organization held a rally in Sacramento in July that attracted an even larger crowd of counter-protesters, with multiple assaults and stabbings resulting from the ensuing melee.

A week later, Heimbach and his TWP followers were in Cleveland, Ohio, attending the Republican National Convention. They were there vowing to “defend” Trump from any protesters who might dare appear.

"We're essentially just going to show up and make sure that the Donald Trump supporters are defended from the leftist thugs," TWP spokesman Matt Parrott said.

Trump has continued to deflect any questions about the extremists drawn to his campaign. When asked about Duke’s plans to run for the Senate and his claims to have been inspired by Trump, the candidate quickly responded with another disavowal: "Because last time with another person in this position, I did it very quickly. And they said, 'He didn't do it fast enough,' " Trump said on NBC’s Meet the Press. "Rebuked. Is that OK? Rebuked, done."

Even then, though, Trump couldn’t help qualifying the disavowal. Asked if he would support the Democrat running against Duke, he demurred: "I guess, depending on who the Democrat (is) -- but the answer would be yes."

As Potok observed, it was “about the weakest and most pathetic denunciation yet.”

Monday, August 01, 2016

Don't ‘Blue Lives Matter’ When White Sovereign Citizens Murder Police Officers?

Officer Brandon Paudert, killed by 'sovereign citizens' in  West Memphis, Ark.

In the wake of the shootings of police officers by black-nationalist radicals in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, La., two weeks ago, a number of right-wing pundits and political leaders have openly blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for the events.

“My message has been clear from day one two years ago. This anti-cop sentiment from this hateful ideology called Black Lives Matter has fueled this rage against the American police officer. I predicted this two years ago,” right-wing Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke told a CNN interviewer.

"I do blame people on social media with their hatred towards police," Texas’s lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, said on Fox News. "I saw Jesse Jackson — I think it was on Fox, the other night, calling police 'racists' without any facts. I do blame former Black Lives Matter protests.”

On Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blamed Black Lives Matter as a “fuse lighter” for the killings, saying “they certainly have ignited people and you see that. You see that all over. And I think it's a very, very serious situation and we just can't let it happen.”

Some have even organized a counter-movement of sorts calling itself “Blue Lives Matter,” as a kind of retort to the black movement’s thesis that black people are disproportionately targeted by police. Indeed, the phrase was Sheriff Clarke’s battle cry in his speech at the GOP convention in Cleveland on July 18, leading the crowd to chant the phrase.

Rush Limbaugh called BLM “a terrorist group committing hate crimes,” demanding the FBI investigate them, and others have similarly demanded that the movement be designated a hate group. Yet, as SPLC President Richard Cohen has explained, BLM does not even come close to meeting the criteria required for its consideration as a hate group – unlike the black nationalists who actually inspired the shootings, which are in fact designated hate groups.

Moreover, despite the efforts of right-wing media to attempt to link BLM to attacks on police officers, there have been none yet recorded to which any BLM member could be concretely connected, though some assaults have seen the perpetrators use incendiary language similar to what can sometimes be heard at BLM rallies.

All of this stands in stark contrast to media and public response to the single greatest threat to the lives and well-being of police officers in the United States over the past decade and longer: the sovereign citizens movement.


The movement, built out of a peculiar web of white-supremacist beliefs and far-right “constitutionalist” legal theories, first gained traction in the 1990s through such antigovernment “Patriot” groups as the Montana Freemen and various “redemption” scams that generally left their adherents impoverished and imprisoned. In the succeeding years, it has not gone away – and indeed has been picking up strength in the past decade, particularly fueled by right-wing reaction to the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008.

In the eight years since, sovereign citizens have killed nine police officers and injured more than a dozen others in 16 separate incidents, many of them violent responses to ordinary police actions such as issuing traffic tickets or serving warrants. Other incidents involved plots to kidnap, torture and murder police officers, or armed standoffs in which law-enforcement officers were threatened.

Here is a complete list of those incidents:

June 10, 2009, Washington, D.C.: James Von Brunn, an 88-year-old sovereign citizen who had once attempted to make a “citizen’s arrest” of the chairman of the Federal Reserve, walks into the U.S. Holocaust Museum and opens fire, killing a guard. Von Brunn dies while awaiting trial on murder and hate crime charges.

March 25, 2010, Sumter County, Florida: Brody James Whitaker, a sovereign citizen, fires at two Florida state troopers when they pull him over in Sumter County, Florida, and then flees. He’s found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison.


May 20, 2010, West Memphis, Arkansas: Jerry and Joe Kane, two sovereign citizens, kill two police officers when pulled over in West Memphis, Arkansas, then die in a subsequent shootout with police in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart not far from the original shootings. The Kanes, father and son, had toured the country selling the sovereign-citizen scheme to paying audiences.


March 10, 2011, Fairbanks, Alaska: Francis Schaeffer, the leader of an Alaska militia and self-described “sovereign citizen,” is arrested with several co-conspirators after FBI and state agents infiltrate the militia, and accuse them of plotting to kill government employees and accumulate weapons.  They're charged with conspiracy to murder federal officials and weapons charged, and sentenced to 26, 26, and 5 years in prison.

December 18, 2011, Webster, Pennsylvania: Eli Franklin Myers, a self-described sovereign citizen, shoots two officers, killing one, at a traffic stop. He dies a day later in a gunfight with police at his Webster, Pennsylvania home.

Dec. 22, 2011, Seligman, Arizona: Shawn Rice, a sovereign citizen, engages police in armed standoff after being indicted for variety of federal charges, including money laundering. He’s found guilty and sentenced to 57 months in prison.

Dec. 16, 2012, Laplace, Louisiana: Terry Smith, Brian Smith, and Kyle Joekel, sovereign citizens with long criminal records, kill two deputies and wound two others in a shootout. All are charged with first degree murder and await trial.

March 8, 2013, Navarre, Florida: Jeffrey Allen Wright, a sovereign citizen, engages in an armed standoff with police in Navarre, Florida, telling negotiators they had no authority to arrest him. Wright is killed by officers during the standoff.

August 22, 2013, Las Vegas, Nevada: David Allen Brutsche and Devon Campbell Newman, sovereign citizens, are arrested for plotting to abduct, torture, murder a Las Vegas police officer. Brutsche pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping, Newman pleads guilty to conspiracy to commit false imprisonment, and both receive probation.

March 25, 2014, Middleburg Heights, Ohio: Israel Rondon, a Sovereign Citizen, shoots at deputies serving a warrant at his home, and is shot dead in return. Rondon had waged a five-year court battle attempting to prove the validity of his beliefs.

June 6, 2014, Cumming, Georgia: Dennis Marx, a sovereign citizen and former TSA employee, attempts to take hostages to a Forsyth, Georgia courthouse. He shoots and injures a sheriff's deputy before being shot and killed by police during the assault.

June 8, 2014, Las Vegas, Nevada: Jerad and Amanda Miller, a married couple and Patriot movement members who had spent weeks at the Cliven Bundy ranch, go on a shooting rampage that kills three people. The rampage begins with the couple killing two police officers in cold blood while they ate lunch in a pizza shop, declaring to witnesses that “the revolution begins now” and draping the men’s bodies with a Gadsden “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. They cross the street and enter a Wal-Mart, where they kill a citizen who pulls a gun in an attempt to stop them. They’re killed by officers during a subsequent shootout inside the Wal-Mart.

June 17, 2014, Nevada City, California: Brent Douglas Cole, a 60-year-old sovereign citizen originally from Idaho, engages a Bureau of Land Management officer and a California state trooper ins gunfight when they confront him about his illegal campsite; all three men are wounded. Cole is charged with numerous federal and state felonies.

Aug. 12, 2014, Dallas, Texas: Dennis Lee Leguin, a man who called Dallas police to inform them he was part of the antigovernment “sovereign citizens” movement even as he was engaging officers in an armed standoff, was eventually arrested after taking shots at officers and locking down an upscale North Dallas neighborhood.

Nov. 22, 2014, Tallahassee, Florida: Curtis Wade Holley, a sovereign citizen with rabid antigovernment views, sets fire to his home, and then opens fire on sheriff’s deputies and firefighters when they arrive to assist. One deputy is killed and another wounded before Holley himself is shot and killed.

Sept. 24, 2015, Mineral Wells, West Virginia:  Thomas David Deegan, a heavily armed ‘Patriot,’ is charged with threatening to commit terrorist act after planning to overthrow West Virginia’s state government by targeting the State Capitol, State Police headquarters, the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department and West Virginia National Guard facilities. Deegan is convicted of one count of making a terroristic threat and sentenced to between 2 and 8 years in prison.

All of these acts, since they are directed at police officers for their status as authority figures, are considered acts of domestic terrorism by FBI and other law-enforcement experts. This is part of why the FBI has singled out sovereign citizens for special attention as a threat to police officers in the United States, as well as a source of domestic terrorism.

Not all of the terrorism unleashed by sovereign citizens is directed at police officers, however. One of the most notorious such acts occurred on May 31, 2009, in Topeka Kansas, when a man named Scott Roeder, who had ties to sovereign citizens and the Montana Freemen, walked into a church and killed Dr. George Tiller, who ran an oft-targeted abortion clinic. Roeder was later found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The key to understanding the threat posed by sovereign citizens is the core of their ideology – namely, that the federal government is an illicit entity devoted to the enslavement of all mankind, and that ordinary people can declare themselves “sovereigns” who stand apart from such a system, free of its obligations or its laws and capable of operating separately from it. This means they often refuse to pay taxes (which result in warrants being served) or their driving or license fees (which results in being pulled over by police), and when confronted, believe they have the right to resort to deadly force to resist arrest.

That sometimes produces scenes such as this one, which occurred in 2015 when a police officer tried to ticket a sovereign citizen in Texas:

The situation ended harmlessly enough, as a number of such confrontations do. But even afterward, the extremism can carry over into the courtroom when the “sovereigns” attempt to enforce their interpretation of the laws – such as when “liberty speaker” and “constitutionalist” guru Gavin Seim attempted to defend one of his fellow “sovereigns” in a court proceeding over a traffic violation in East Wenatchee, Wash.:

In recent years, however, there has been a peculiar adaptation of the sovereign-citizen ideology by black nationalists, who – seemingly oblivious to its white-supremacist origins – have adopted a version of the ideology by similarly declaring themselves free of white men’s laws and obligations.

So it is almost certainly not a coincidence that the Baton Rouge police shooter, 29-year-old Gavin Long, who was a member of the black separatist hate group New Black Panthers People Party, also claimed to have been a sovereign citizen.

All of these factors have led law-enforcement experts from both academic and official backgrounds to conclude that by far the most lethal threat to police officers in the United States today from radical extremists actually arises from sovereign citizens and related far-right extremists – the vast majority of whom, though not all, are white people.

There’s no evidence that Sheriff Clarke or any of his fellow pundits eager to blame mainstream black activists for the murders of police officers in recent weeks have ever spoken out against white sovereign citizens and their ceaseless assaults on policemen and other first responders. But then again, Clarke himself is closely affiliated with a right-wing extremist “constitutionalist” sheriff’s group that believes, like sovereign citizens, that its members don’t have to obey federal laws.

That could explain the peculiar silence from Clarke, at least, about the threat posed by sovereign citizens. It doesn’t explain the silence from his “law and order” right-wing cohorts, however.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Radical Islamists and the American Far Right: Cousins of the Terrorist Kind

An investigator examines the scene of James Howell's arrest [Los Angeles Times]

The gay community in Los Angeles, seemingly, got very lucky last weekend. Especially compared to their counterparts in Orlando.

A 21-year-old Indiana man with a car full of guns and bomb-making chemicals was arrested by Santa Monica police Saturday. He told police he was going to the Los Angeles gay-pride parade later that day, but didn’t say what he had in mind.

James Wesley Howell
In the car was an astonishing arsenal: a loaded AR-15 assault rifle rigged to allow 60 shots to be fired without pausing, two other loaded rifles, a stun gun, a hunting knife, loads of ammunition, and a trunkful of chemicals mixed and ready to explode as a car bomb. It soon emerged that the man – James Wesley Howell of Charlestown – had a history of violent confrontations and gun-related criminal charges, and was fleeing charges of child molestation when he left Indiana.

The situation spoke ominously of an imminent domestic-terrorism attack – especially in light of the massacre that had occurred at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando late Saturday. However, since none of his arsenal was used and no violence committed, Howell was only charged with a variety of felonies related to bomb and gun possession. The parade went off without notable incident, though anti-gay protesters were present and visible.

The outcome stood in stark contrast to what occurred that same evening at Pulse, when a 29-year-old New York-born Floridian of Afghani descent named Omar Mateen walked in with a semiautomatic rifle and began blasting patrons at will, leaving 49 people dead and another 54 wounded before Mateen himself was killed by police. Mateen claimed to a 911 dispatcher that he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), though in fact he had had no previous affilitation with these radical Islamists.

The Orlando massacre sparked an Islamophobic backlash, with some radicals calling for the immediate deportation of all Muslims from the United States and arming U.S. citizens in response. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump used the occasion to declare himself “right” for his earlier declarations about Muslims, and doubled down by reiterating his earlier call for Muslims to be banned from entering the United States. He also suggested that President Obama might be secretly conspiring on behalf of the terrorists.

In the meantime, reporting on the potential terrorist attack on the Los Angeles gay-pride event was subdued, since whatever Howell had been planning was diverted when police pulled him over in a traffic stop and found the arsenal. It was further complicated by the eventual discovery that Howell was himself bisexual, and his friends and family indicated he had no known animus toward gays and lesbians.

In a similar vein, it soon emerged that Mateen had actually frequented Pulse and had advertised on gay hookup forums, raising further doubts about the extent of his supposed Islamic radicalism. FBI director James Comey told reporters that he was “highly confident” that Mateen had been radicalized through the Internet, and was not acting on behalf of international terrorist organizations.

The ongoing questions about the motivations of both Mateen and Howell made murky at best any public understanding of the two incidents – which were seemingly unconnected, especially when it came to the specific motives and backgrounds of the actors involved. One seemed clearly inspired by Islamist anti-western rhetoric, while the other seemed at most fueled by the typical far-right-wing loathing of gays with an added twist of self-loathing.

Yet they were in fact deeply connected by the simple reality that both represented acts of domestic terrorism directed at LGBT targets, and both occurred on the same evening, separated only by a few hours. And coming to terms with these acts – both in a realistic sense and with the hope of taking action that actually prevents them from bubbling up in the first place – requires understanding them as closely related, two aspects of the same vicious and hateful coin: right-wing extremism.

The murders, and the near-miss, this weekend were not, of course, the first time that gay and lesbian establishments have been the targets of terrorist acts. Indeed, this sort of violence is hauntingly familiar to anyone who has tracked the history of hate crimes and other vicious acts that have been the horrifying reality for most members of the LGBT community for the past half-century and longer. Indeed, LGBT people are the minority group most likely to attract hate-crime violence in America, and have been for some time.

Until recent years, the violence has emanated primarily from two sources: hate groups, particularly neo-Nazi and skinhead groups as well as various Klan organizations, all of whom have placed the LGBT community as one of their most loathed targets; and far-right evangelical Christians, particularly those who claim that the Bible demands the death penalty for homosexuality, and the radicals who act on those beliefs.

Here’s a brief history of domestic terrorism directed at LGBT people in the United States:

May 12, 1990: Several members of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations organization from Hayden Lake in northern Idaho are arrested and charged with plotting to kill dozens, if not hundreds, of patrons at Neighbours, a Seattle gay bar. Their plan included a “kill zone” strategy in which the explosives would be placed inside the bar, with other bombs placed outside it; the plotters intended to call the bar, warn that a bomb was about to go off, and then set off the secondary charges as the disco cleared out, maximizing the number of fatalities. A trio of “Aryans” were arrested at their motel with a van stockpiled with pipe-bomb parts, a .12-gauge shotgun, a .38-caliber revolver, a stun gun, knives and a pile of hate literature. A fourth man was arrested in Idaho for the plot. Three of the men were convicted and sent to federal prison.
The ruins of the Otherside Lounge in Atlanta, bombed by Eric Rudolph

February 21, 1997: Still uncaught after having set off a backpack bomb at the venue for the Olympic Games the summer before that killed a spectator and injured 111 others, far-right evangelical terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph sets off a bomb containing nails at the Otherside Lounge, a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta. Though the bomb was designed to cause maximum injury to the patrons, only five bar patrons were injured. After he was sentenced to five consecutive life terms for his several bombings, Rudolph issued a statement calling homosexuality an "aberrant lifestyle".

September 22, 2000: A self-described “Christian soldier working for my Lord” named Ronald Gay enters a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., and opens fire on the patrons. One of them, a 43-year-old named Danny Overstreet, was killed, and six others were severely injured. Gay later told his attorneys that he was angry over the change of meaning for his surname to include homosexuality, and he had been told by God to find and kill lesbians and gay men. Gay later testified in court that "he wished he could have killed more fags."

February 2, 2006: An 18-year-old named Jacob D. Robida, who had a fetish about neo-Nazism as well as the rap group Insane Clown Posse (known for its dark and violent lyrics) entered a bar in New Bedford, Mass., and upon confirming that it was a gay bar, began attacking patrons – first, with a hatchet that he swung at a man’s head, injuring him, and then with a handgun that he produced when other patrons tackled him and took away the hatchet; three more were injured in the ensuing gunfire. Robida fled the bar and was confronted three days later in Arkansas by police there, at which point he fatally shot himself.

Eric Rudolph
Prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, most Americans readily thought of radicals like Rudolph and his far-right cohort, Timothy McVeigh, as the terrorists they clearly were. After 9/11, however, the picture became increasingly muddled, as public and law-enforcement officials, as well as the media, increasingly focused on the image of terrorism as emanating solely from turbaned, Arabic-speaking radicals inspired by extreme Islamic fundamentalism, or Islamism, as it’s popularly known.

It’s also worth recalling that the American far right – particularly the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who are among the most vicious homophobes most often associated with hate crimes and terrorist anti-LGBT violence – openly celebrated those Islamist attacks on Americans back in 2001, just as they recently celebrated the Orlando massacre. (Wrote Andrew Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer: “From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of all neo-Nazi White supremacists, I want to offer a sincere ‘thank you’ to Omar.")

That is because even though the nominal wellsprings of their ideology may differ widely – i.e., either white-supremacist/neo-Nazi ideology or far-right Christianist ideology, or extreme Islamic fundamentalism – the cores of their respective appeals, as well as the psychological profiles of the people they attract as followers, is remarkably similar in nature as well as outcomes. They have the same enemies, and the same targets, because they think and behave in remarkably similar ways.

As one of Rudolph’s victims recently told a reporter: “I always thought Rudolph was like ISIS,” McMahon said. “He comes from the same core.”

In the end, both a religious and cultural variations of right-wing extremism. And what they share in common is much more substantial than the differences of their nominal religions.

As Joshua Holland recently observed, in an ironic kind of twist, the absolutism associated with the most fanatical expressions of their respective religions, which in turn induces them to denounce “unbelievers” of other faiths, is something they all share: “The details differ, but the defining characteristic of all right-wing religionists is an abiding contempt for religious pluralism. They deny the legitimacy of other faiths. All conservative religious traditions are hostile toward gays and lesbians and those who reject traditional gender roles. Most embrace religious nationalism and reject multiculturalism.”

They also share a fundamentalist approach to their belief systems, insisting on the inerrancy whatever their founding scriptures might be – in the case of Islamists, the Koran; of extremist Christians, the Bible; of far-right “Patriot” militiamen, the Constitution of the United States; of neo-Nazis, Hitler’s Mein Kampf as well as a handful of other works that have scriptural import for them. It’s a reductive kind of thinking that, besides enforcing a lockstep mentality, puts all of the essentially authoritarian followers of these beliefs systems at the mercy of the frequently twisted interpretations of these scriptures by their authoritarian leaders – that is, the people who are deciding on the meanings of the words they slavishly adhere to. They all insist that only their interpretation is the correct one.

As Karen Armstrong explored at length in her book The Battle for God, religious fundamentalism is a logical response to the modern demise of the spiritual life. The collapse of a piety rooted in myth and cult during the Renaissance, she argues, forced people of faith to grasp for new ways of being religious, giving rise to a fundamentalism that mimics traditionalism but is in reality an entirely modern phenomenon. Essentially, fundamentalism is natural byproduct of modern life, representing the needs of the people who are left behind by modernity – economically, culturally, socially, and spiritually. This applies equally to other kinds of fundamentalism, such as the bizarre interpretation of American law and the nature of government that arises in the worldview of right-wing American “constitutionalists.” The terrorists who are produced by these belief systems are all deeply alienated from modern society, and their violence is always directed at the goal of returning society to its “traditional” values.

Accordingly, all these fundamentalist belief systems – being “traditionalist” enterprises – share a deep rejection of multiculturalism, the 20th-century worldview that overthrew the longtime system of race-based social and cultural hierarchies known as white supremacy, and replaced it with an understanding that all human cultures connote a level of respect and legitimacy, and the notion of superiority among them is largely a conceit cultivated by those in a dominant position. To fundamentalists and other right-wing True Believers, multiculturalism is an abomination, since the notion of the legitimacy of other religions or belief systems is nonexistent for them. It’s their way or the highway – though only the most nakedly racist among them admit that their hostility to multiculturalism naturally defaults back to a race-based system of white supremacy.

In the end, this means that, for the radicals inclined to act out their beliefs violently, the targets of their hatred and violence often are the same. Right-wing extremists almost universally direct their terrorism at the representatives of modernism and multiculturalism in their own minds: democratic institutions and governments, liberals, LGBT folk, various racial and ethnic minorities (especially Jews).

Indeed, a Muslim extremist living in the U.S. had targeted gays once before: On New Year’s Eve 2013, a radical Islamist and Libyan native named Musab Mohammaed Masmari started an arson fire in the stairway of the very same Seattle gay nightclub, Neighbours, that had been targeted by neo-Nazis back in 1990. The fire was quickly extinguished by an alert patron, but with only one other exit and a large crowd estimated at about 900 people, the potential for catastrophe had been immense. After Masmari told a friend that "homosexuals should be exterminated," and an informer from the Muslim community told the FBI that he might have also been planning terrorist attacks, investigators began circling. Masmari was arrested attempting to depart to Turkey, and was eventually convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ prison time on federal arson charges.

Both of these attacks underscored the reality that radical Islam is a kind of right-wing extremism, and has much more in common with American Klansmen and “Patriots” than any of them are willing to acknowledge. Of course, because of their inherently xenophobic natures, their targets at times can also be each other: Violent attacks on Muslims and mosques by American extremists have skyrocketed in the past year, especially as Islamophobia whipped up by those same extremists takes effect, and the outrageously wrongheaded belief that radical Islamists are identical to mainstream Muslims spreads.

This is important to place in the larger context of domestic terrorism: As a study I have recently completed of American domestic terrorism between 2008 and the present (to be published later this summer through the Center for Investigative Reporting) demonstrates, American right-wing extremists committed acts of terrorism in the United States at more than twice the rate of domestic Islamist extremists in that time period, with more than double the casualties. Indeed, until the past year, the vast majority of Islamist domestic-terrorism cases involved people arrested pre-emptively by authorities using informants, often to create fake attacks that form the basis for their subsequent federal prosecution.

However, in the past year, that has shifted in one notable and dramatic respect, with four incidents of domestic terrorism committed by Islamists involving extreme violence – in Garland, Texas, where two Islamists attempted a gun attack on an event in which cartoonists made fun of the prophet Muhammad; in Chattanooga, Tenn., where a radical Islamist named Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire on two military installations, killing five and wounding two before he himself was killed;  in San Bernadino, Calif., where a radicalized husband-and-wife couple shot the attendees at a county-employee holiday gathering, and now in Orlando – in just a little over a year. The last two were particularly horrendous, leaving 63 dead and 72 wounded between them. In the previous seven years, there had only been two such incidents.

These recent events have all underscored not just the importance of coming to terms with domestic terrorism of all kinds, but of recognizing that Islamist and American right-wing extremist terrorism are very closely related, and often target the very same vulnerable people – as well as understanding that, over those past eight years, American right-wing extremist terrorists (nearly all of whom are white) have been even more dramatically increasing the levels of lethal violence in the country.

To understand terrorism, we first have to shed our great national blind spot regarding who commits it – namely, the racial one. Ever since 9/11, media, public officials, and the public in general have become reluctant to identify right-wing extremist terrorist acts as fitting that description. When a 19-year-old named Dylann Roof walked into a historic black Charleston church last summer and killed nine congregants there in cold blood, only a handful of media observers identified him as a terrorist, even though the act was manifestly political and intended to inflict terror on the (black) public, which are the two main components in defining a violent act as terrorism. Yet even FBI director James Comey was reluctant to identify the act as terrorism.

That lack of clarity can be harmful, especially when it comes to the public’s ability to understand terrorism – which is an essential component of any kind of anti-terrorism strategy. Enabling the public to see not only that it is being manipulated by these violent extremists, but how this is happening, is the first step in defusing the very terror these acts are intended to spread.

Even more importantly, however, effectively blunting these terrorists requires deeper thinking into the root causes of the extremism that fuels them. Nearly all extremism is built on the bones of unaddressed real grievances, even if those underlying causes of their alienation are heaped with nonsensical conspiracy theories and crude racism. Getting to the root causes entails making an honest effort to address their real grievances without pandering to the ugliness.

In rural America, for instance – where so much of the modern “Patriot”/militia/constitutionalist extremism breeds today, as we saw this past January at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon – there are genuine grievances involving government management of public lands that metastasize and transform like into conspiracism and bizarre beliefs about the Constitution. Many white nationalists are white working-class people who have been left behind by the modern American technological economy. All of these reflect real issues that need to be addressed in concrete ways if we want to be serious about dealing with domestic terrorism and the deep cultural rot it represents.

Modernization can be a great thing for large masses of people, but it always leaves people behind, and when the numbers begin to mount, so does the inevitable violence and the cultural toxicity from which it springs – reflected not just in the current political divide, but also in the tide of mental illness to which so much of this terrorism is often attached (and dismissed, wrongly). In the end, we need to ameliorate the caustic effects of modernization upon those left behind, not just in the interests of protecting ourselves, but really, of simply doing the right thing.

Maybe then we can stop counting on just being lucky in evading much of the potential terrorist violence that has been lurking, largely ignored, in the American landscape, as we apparently did in Santa Monica. Because as Omar Mateem proved in Orlando, sometimes that luck runs out.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Exultant Extremists Hail The Ascension Of ‘Emperor Trump’ As GOP Nominee

One of the pro-Trump memes collected at the Daily Stormer.
[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

It’s a happy time out there in the land of the extremists.

“White men in America and across the planet are partying like it’s 1999 following Trump’s decisive victory over the evil enemies of our race,” exulted Andrew Anglin at the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.

"He is getting white people excited for the first time in my memory,” said a Stormfront participant. “Look at the crowds when he gets the cameras to pan out. They're huge (or should I say YUGE?) and almost 100% white. It is fantastic to see.”

Conspiracy-meister Alex Jones, in the meantime, embraced Trump as being "basically like a Patriot sleeper cell," but warned him darkly against betraying their movement to fight "the New World Order."

“I absolutely do believe that this is an important day, a pivotal day,” proclaimed David Duke. “It really has been a referendum on nationalism. It has been a referendum on populism. It’s been a referendum on political correctness. It’s been a referendum against the controlled Establishment, both the media and the political Establishment in America. And so far, Trump has whipped them.”

The Internet was buzzing this week with the celebratory boasts of a broad range of right-wing extremists, from the ranks of neo-Nazi haters, Klansmen and other white supremacists, to the hunkered-down conspiracy-spinning paranoids of the antigovernment movement – all of them cheering on their new hero, Donald Trump, after he secured the Republican nomination for the 2016 election this week. Most of them made it clear he was perhaps the first presidential candidate most of them could get behind unreservedly.

“Why not take a chance on him?” asked one Stormfront participant. “The choice of Clinton vs cuckservative isn't particularly good. Trump, by contrast, has said/proposed many things that are more implicitly pro-white than anything offered by an American politician in my lifetime.”

“Trump doesn't have to support our movement to help us save our people from what is being done to us: All he has to do is stand up for what's right and it will badly damage the anti-White agenda,” observed another Stormfront member. “They know this. They cheat to get ahead. If cheating is prohibited, their power evaporates.”

Anglin, who also posted a long page’s worth of exultant memes celebrating Trump’s ascension, was downright giddy at The Daily Stormer: “This is a buzz that won’t soon wear off. Sort of like an IV drip of pure cocaine. Or perhaps like having a computer chip implanted in your brain which electronically stimulates continual dopamine release.”

Anglin also promoted a bizarre “parody” video made by someone under the nom de plume “Aryan Wisdom” in which the faces of Trump, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and a host of other political and media figures have been superimposed over the action of the film 300, and the soundtrack
features actual speeches by Trump.

It transforms that movie’s original historical narrative (it retells the tale of the Battle of Thermopylae) into one in which Trump becomes the hero who saves white civilization from the ravages of the brown horde led by Obama, whom we see Trump killing by shoving him into a bottomless pit.

Other white supremacists weighed in on the Trump candidacy. Former Klan leader David Duke declared that Trump had scored a great victory for the cause of whites simply by becoming the GOP

The Trump campaign at a whole series of levels is a great opportunity for us to expose the people who really run the Republican Party, who run the Democratic Party, who run the political establishment and who are leading us all to disaster. Even though Trump is not explicitly talking about European-Americans, he is implicitly talking about the interests of European-Americans.

Duke went on to explain how the Trump victory was guaranteed to help spread their ideology and to discredit the Jewish “neo-conservatives” he has long claimed control the Republican Party:
I think that these Jewish extremists have made a terribly crazy miscalculation, because all they’re really going to be doing by doing a ‘Never Trump’ movement is exposing their alien, anti-American, anti-American-majority position to all the Republicans and they’re going to push people more into awareness that the neocons are the problem, that these Jewish supremacists who control our country are the real problem and the reason why America is not great.
“Jewish chutzpah knows no bounds,” he observed, with no hint of irony.

Trump, for his part, rebuked Duke’s endorsement and his remarks, publishing a statement saying he “totally disavows” Duke’s remarks.

“Antisemitism has no place our society, which needs to be united, not divided,” Trump said.

Trump’s disavowals, however, did nothing to stop the flow of pro-Trump proselytizing that emerged from the extremist right.

James Kirkpatrick of the white-nationalist webzine VDare chimed in with an encomium for the candidate:
Trump is taking the nationalist impulses the Republican Party has used for years and putting them at the forefront of his new political movement. He’s downplaying some of the hardcore social issues which conservatives have already lost on anyway. He’s abandoning rhetoric about slashing programs which actually benefit the Republican Party’s core constituents. And he’s tapping into a Narrative of national redemption which is deeply felt all over the country.
Kirkpatrick concluded that “the Republican base has caught on. They have chosen to displace the Beltway Right entirely. And they don’t want the same old goofy slogans—but a nationalist movement that will actually fight for them.”

Two noted white nationalists, Matthew Heimbach of the pro-Trump Traditionalist Worker Party and his radio cohost Sven Longshanks, held forth on their daily radio show, declaring that “Trump has changed the face of politics around the world with his refusal to bow down to the monied interests and by doing so he has encouraged others to do the same.”
The fires of nationalism, the fires of identity, the fires of anger against the corrupt establishment are arising all around Europe, all around America, all around the entire world. So we just need to strap in, because the future is gonna definitely be interesting, and I believe we could have a switch in our direction even more…Hail, Emperor Trump! And hail, victory!
Over at Stormfront, the overt neo-Nazis posted memes such as this one:

One such post then added, with a typically disturbing twist:
Sieg heil! Whether Trump's a full White Nationalist or not is irrelevant at the moment, since getting one into the White House is impossible at the moment. What I see is a strong White leader who is completely unafraid of speaking his mind and shattering Political Correctness.

Also, think about this: If Trump is assassinated before the election, it will cause an awakening in Whites we haven't seen in many years! Same result if he doesn't get elected or if he's impeached. More Whites will see the political system for the joke it is. And think about how good he is for our movement! Whether you support the guy or not, you cannot deny he is having a massive impact on White America! What we need to do is somehow use his massive support to boost the White Nationalist movement! Perhaps make posters and post them around your neighbourhood, or distribute flyers! Do something positive for your movement instead of wasting time wallowing in defeatism and belittling what could be a great opportunity for us! Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is making waves in all directions. Why not take advantage of that?
Others at Stormfront were similarly paranoid: “I think they are terrified of Trump. I think they will resort to pretty much anything to get rid of him. I hope Trump's advisors have the sense to see that and prepare for it,” one wrote.

That thinking went into their speculation about a potential running mate as well. “His VP must be a potentially great White (Pro-White) (Pro-America) (America-First) president,” wrote a Stormfront poster, “in case the jews (and that's who it would be, regardless of who pulls the trigger) -- in case the jews assassinate Donald."

“It has to be someone at least as tough as Trump on all the important issues and who is certified to be anti-establishment,” clarified “Phoenix 1933. “Otherwise Trump would be a tempting assassination target. Actually Trump should probably get someone even tougher and more anti-establishment than himself, someone the Jews would be terrified of becoming president.”

And as often happens on the far right, the paranoid laser beam showed signs that it might eventually turn on the candidate himself. At his mega-conspiracist Infowars website, Alex Jones – who has been among Trump’s most ardent fans, recently worrying as well about a possible assassination – sounded a warning to the candidate that he also better deliver on their otherworldly expectations.

Jones’s young daughter, it seems, is also a Trump fan, and created some “Vote for Trump” placards to hand out to visitors, which apparently brought out Jones' protective instincts:
I’m gonna tell Trump something right now. I like you, I think I’ve assessed you correctly. You’re trying to force the globalists to capitulate to you, that’s why they don’t like you, you’re showing how weak they are. You’re a man of destiny, I have a lot of respect for you. And I know you understand building something for humanity is the ultimate strength, not being a parasite.

So I believe you’re a builder and an empowerer, you’re not perfect, nobody is, but if you go sideways on us, and you betray my daughter, or anybody else, I want Donald Trump to know something: I’m gonna do everything I can to politically come after you, and it’s not gonna be a bunch of idiots burning American flags screaming “Viva La Raza,” OK?
Jones then rambled into a strange soliloquy in which he claimed that Trump was "like a Patriot sleeper cell":
I don’t really get behind candidates a lot, but I know the system is scared. They know you at least are for real, trying to take over from them, and that scares them enough. Now you better try to take the Republic back for the people, and you say you are, and you say you’re committed.

You seem to be a very humble person at the end of the day, and down to earth. And I know a lot of folks that know you behind the scenes, and they say you were totally aware of the New World Order before I was even born, that you’re basically like a Patriot sleeper cell, really planted to go after them. And so I believe that.

But I’ve looked at all the angles, Trump. And I’m just saying … The people in this country are sick and tired of being betrayed. And we want to see aggressive moves against the New World Order. And we will back you all the way, and we want to see these scumbags destroyed, politically, and we want to see you, with the American people’s backing, run over the traitors. Bring them to justice. And to prosecute Hillary and so much more. So you’ve got my backing. And you’ve got my commitment.
Back at the Daily Stormer, the notorious hacker Weev – who has been recently associated with hack attacks in which campus faxes were flooded with white-supremacist fliers – offered an ominous warning for any conservatives (whom he and his fellow “alt-right” activists have sneeringly dubbed “cuckservatives,” or “cucks”) who might dare to continue to refuse to get in line with Trump:
As Trump’s once-ridiculed dreams transform from fevered visions to shadows upon the ruined landscape of Weimerica, we use that darkness to attack our mutual enemies. Now is the time to lean hard on everyone #NeverTrump. There is no method of ruin too rude or personal to destroy these people. We bombard their employers with hateposting. We show up at the doors of their homes to call them cucks and traitors to their faces. We do whatever is necessary to run these people out of town and make sure they never try to slink back. We must leverage every second we have before the general election to purify the political establishment of rotten Marxists and those that would bow before them.
Because this is the way the cucks end.
Evidently, this also is the way the first major-party presidential nomination in modern memory to be embraced by right-wing extremists begins.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jack Hanna Once Again Spews Nonsense About Orcas and Animal Rights

A mother and calf pass close by the lighthouse at
Lime Kiln State Park, San Juan Island.
Hoo boy. Here we go again.

It seems as though everybody loves Jack Hanna. He's every cable network's favorite TV animal expert -- so plain-spoken, so enthusiastic, and he seems so knowledgable! Gee willikers, you can sure believe what he says, right?

Eh, not so much. At least not when it comes to the subject of SeaWorld, killer whales, and the documentary Blackfish. And a lot of other things associated with all that, too, especially animal rights.

Hanna was recently quoted at length in an paranoid alternative-universe kind of op-ed by Greg Norman at Fox News titled "Fresh off SeaWorld victory, animal rights groups take aim at zoos, circuses and maybe your pet":
Fresh off a victory over SeaWorld and its controversial orca program, animal rights groups are zeroing in on zoos, aquariums and circuses -- and one prominent expert warns your dog and cat could be next.
Ooooh, those scary hippies are coming for your Bowser! Charles Manson has nothing on these freaks!

Norman then goes on to single out Blackfish as the source of the hippie scourge, since it is the film that finally forced SeaWorld to announce it was ending its breeding program and would be phasing out its performing-orca shows, a true paradigm shift that indicates the company at some level realized that its old business model, built on the exploitation of a singularly intelligent and large species, was no longer viable.

But its supporters are in deep denial about this paradigm shift, and SeaWorld's post-announcement ads -- which humiliated their new partners at the Humane Society -- indicate the company still has a long way to go itself. Forget about deep-seated denialists like the nutbars at Awesome Oceans (how's your revenue stream these days, guys?) and, of course, Jack Hanna.

As Norman reports:
Americans may one day find the full agenda of animal rights groups hits even closer to home, said Jack Hanna, host of the syndicated “Jack Hanna’s Into The Wild” TV series and director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

“Animal rights activists believe all animals, including your dog or cat, should have the same rights as people and be free; therefore they shouldn’t be in human care under any circumstances,” Hanna said.
Let's take a long, deep breath here and see if we can restore some semblance of rationality to this discussion. Because otherwise we will be forced to point out that Hanna is just freaking nuts. Not to mention completely full of crap.

You see, animal-rights activists do indeed believe that all animals, including your dog or cat, should have some rights. Period. Full stop. Only a tiny handful of admittedly nutty radicals -- none of them involved in any major animal-rights organizations -- believe that "they should have the same rights as people and be free." Not even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), probably the most radical of the animal-rights groups, doesn't go that far, as you can see from their website, which argues simply that animals have very simple rights, including the right to be free from suffering, but never argues that they have the same rights as humans nor that they should never be under human care.

A more typical approach is that of the Nonhuman Rights Project, a group seeking to establish basic rights for animals, which explains:
We begin by seeking two kinds of fundamental rights for our nonhuman plaintiffs: bodily liberty and bodily integrity.

Bodily liberty
means not being held in captivity. For a chimpanzee, it means not spending life in a laboratory; for an elephant, it means not being chained in a circus; for a whale it means not being imprisoned in a park.

Bodily integrity
means not being touched without consent or in one’s best interests. For a chimpanzee, it means not being subjected to biomedical research. For an elephant it means not being beaten at a circus. For a whale it means not being forcibly inseminated to make her pregnant.

Do not confuse these fundamental rights of nonhuman animals with so-called “human rights.”
Human rights are for humans. Chimpanzee rights are for chimpanzees. Dolphin rights are for dolphins. Elephant rights are for elephants.
Hanna has created a classic straw man. Serious animal-rights activists never argue that animals should never be in the care of humans; rather, they argue that the animals in the care of humans should never have to suffer. That's a big distinction. An even bigger distinction is the difference between having simple rights (such as to be free from suffering) and human rights.

Let's be clear about what that means when it comes to killer whales, however: Every killer whale kept in a concrete tank is in captivity and is suffering. This is why orca activists will never accept the status quo at places like SeaWorld until the animals can be placed into environments, such as sanctuaries, where they will not suffer.

Concrete-tank captivity means, as Dr. Lori Marino explained in Blackfish, that every orca in those tanks is compromised and traumatized and therefore suffering, even if it is in doses they seem, on the surface, capable of tolerating. The deprivation, as I explain in Of Orcas and Men, is threefold:
  • Spatial deprivation: Killer whales have bodies that evolved to swim constantly, and in the wild, they do in fact swim constantly -- up to a hundred miles in a day. In marine-park tanks, they spend long hours immobile, and they spend a great deal of time at the surface (which is why the dorsal fins in captive males flops over; in the wild, orcas spend 95 percent of their time underwater, where gravity has no effect on the big dorsals, which are comprised mainly of collagen). Constant swimming in complex environments is what they are made to do, and depriving orcas of that, studies have found, significantly increases their stress hormones.
  • Social deprivation: Orcas are highly intelligent animals not only with complex societies that include communications, hunting, and mating strategies but extremely powerful social needs that, in the wild can only be met by social interaction with their own social group. The hodgepodge, frequently random orca societies that are created by marine parks' collection policies have nothing to do with normative orca societies; and nearly all killer whales in captivity are lacking anything like a normative social life.

  • Sensory deprivation: Killer whales' primary sense, in the wild, is not their vision, but their echolocation. We puny humans are only now beginning to reckon with just how profound and far-reaching this sense is in Orcinus orca, how utterly exquisite it is: Orcas not only can see everything in the water, they can see inside them. Including each other. And they share their echolocation signals, bringing their minds together in ways we can only begin to contemplate the reality of. Putting an animal with this remarkable set of sensory equipment into a plain concrete tank with smooth walls and linear dimensions is akin to putting a human being into a small, plain with room with a lightbulb. The remarkable thing, really, is that more orcas besides Tilikum have not gone utterly insane under those conditions and killed even more trainers than they have.
Jack Hanna, of course, cannot be bothered with considering the ethical dimensions of all this, because he sees something in the SeaWorlds of the world that overwhelms all these considerations -- namely, the fact that they bring awareness of killer whales to the public in large doses that educates and enlightens and gets the public to care about their recovery in the wild.

That, in a nutshell, is the defense that Hanna has presented all along for SeaWorld -- that they so educate and inspire young people so that there can be enough public support for efforts to save the animals in the wild. Check it out.

In 2013, on CNN:
I went to SeaWorld in 1973. I was one of the first visitors there. And I continue to take my kids, their kids now and hopefully their kids' kids, grandkids' kids, that's three or four generations going there.

If I thought one animal there that was being mistreated or wasn't so to speak happy, whatever happy is, and of course some of these guys who know about whales will tell you what happy is and what happy isn't. But that's what I see when I visit these parks. And you know, something? Out of sight is out of mind which means that killer whales back in 40 years ago were out there in the oceans of the world, knowing what they were, what they were, they are out of sight. So that's out of mind.
While Hanna obviates the core issue -- whether the animals are suffering, not whether they are "happy," is what matters, and the former is something that can be scientifically ascertained, while the latter is of course just a fuzzy concept at best -- he is largely right about one thing here: the public was largely unaware of killer whales until the marine parks began taking them captive. And we knew very little about them. But we've learned a lot about them in those fifty years since -- more than enough, in fact, to conclude that -- just as with all large, highly intelligent animals with large spatial needs such as elephants -- captivity is really not appropriate for them at all. We now know that the concrete-tank environment in which we force them to exist causes them suffering.

And of course, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of Blackfish, made that point in short order. Hanna's reply, however, was even more disingenuous:
SAVIDGE: Jack, what about this point that you know, SeaWorld, of course, really introduced us to these creatures, to these animals, almost where we fell in love, and I think many people would say, they did fall in love, but they are now faced with this horrible dilemma that once people have fallen in love they really care. And then they suddenly say, if I care, how could it be possible that we keep these animals in a cement pool? How do you answer that, Jack?

HANNA: Again, I'm not a whale researcher or whale expert. All I see is what I see at SeaWorld. Animals that seem happy, they're breeding, they're eating. I'm not sure about the life spans. I know they do research in the wild. But is the research in the wild 100 percent? Absolutely not. I've been doing this for 42 years. I've interviewed researchers all over the world about the whale. You know, and I still say that you have to love something to save something. We use the word captivity, by the way.

What is captivity, by the way? The entire world or the national parks -- the North Pole and parts of the Amazon, having been to all these places. The whole world is a national park. They're smaller when you come to SeaWorld or maybe the Columbus Zoo is the largest in the country. But I can tell you know, that our new African veldt is not captivity. Our new polar bear exhibit for $26 million is not captivity. I can tell you that the zoos last year in this country -- gave over $150 million to the animals in the wild in one year. The Columbus Zoo has given $12 million in the last ten years.
Well, Hanna may have a point when it comes to exhibits for animals that can have their need met by recreating habitats, which is one of Hanna's specialties. But as we are learning, there are some animals -- you know, those aforementioned large, big-brained mammals with large spacial roaming needs, such as elephants and killer whales -- for whom that is simply not true. The best we can do for these animals, the majority of whom must remain in some form of human care, is to create sanctuaries where they can have their spatial and other needs met while still receiving that care.

So, for killer whales, "captivity" really is very easy to define: Confinement to a contained concrete pool. And really, there is no sight quite like that of an orca roaming free in the wild to remind you just how far removed their captive cousins are from any semblance of a "happy" life, and how profoundly unnatural their confinement is:

Hanna may want to contend that the environments he provides in zoos for veldt animals such as giraffes and reeboks are comparable to their native habitats and thus adequate for their deeper needs, and they may well be. But he simply cannot hope to pretend that even the biggest concrete orca pool is in any way comparable to what wild orcas experience every minute of their lives.

Moreover, this is part of the kind of mis-education that actually occurs in marine parks like SeaWorld, who love to pretend that they are instilling a love of nature and animals and science education in young children. As I explained recently:
The reality, however, is that SeaWorld’s “education” programs are really low-information affairs geared primarily to propagandize children into visiting the park, while its “science” record is so laughably thin that very few real scientists engaged in conservation work with wild whales take them seriously.

No, what SeaWorld has been selling (at about $100 a head, plus parking, food, and plush dolls) is not an understanding of the animals, but a spectacle -- the jaw-dropping sight of seeing a relatively tiny human mastering these gigantic creatures and seemingly controlling them, as trainers like Ventre and others performed a series of precision stunts before your eyes. The “education” that children receive at these parks is an overpowering message that it is not only right, but admirable, that we humans keep wild animals under our power through a system of dominance and control.

... Sociologist Susan Gray Davis discussed the illusory aspect of SeaWorld’s shows last spring during Voice of San Diego’s sponsored debate, between SeaWorld’s defenders and its critics, over orca captivity. While studying the question of what people actually learn at marine parks like SeaWorld, she came to the conclusion that it all came down to entertainment, particularly the big orca circus shows put on at the its various Shamu Stadiums:
I think they are the key to the brand. It’s the model for the human-animal interaction that occurs at SeaWorld. It really expresses a lot of tension, because it combines the fascination with these animals with an enthusiasm for subtly, but maybe not subtly, humans being in charge of the animals. So there’s this big, beautiful powerful wild animal that is also being controlled by a human being. It’s done in a very skillful, very artful way, but that’s essentially what people are seeing in the shows.
So the kind of “environmental” education that occurs at these parks is not in any sense a forward-looking effort that helps young people take a more enlightened approach to their own futures. It is instead a reflection of what the cetacean-captivity industry is really about – namely, just another iteration of the systems of dominance and control that embody traditional Western Civilization, values that we know are killing the planet. 
Moreover, SeaWorld claims that it is making all kinds of contributions to science by keeping these animals captive, but the truth is that there's hardly any science that makes it out of SeaWorld and parks like it at all, as the debate last year in San Diego explored:
SeaWorld's oft-touted claims that it conducts research that benefits orcas in the wild too (see Sam Lipman's superb debunking for more on this) was trotted out, and promptly became a fiasco when [Naomi] Rose pointed out that, for a company that holds the largest collection of captive orcas in the world (not to mention one that is awash in money), a mere 50 research papers in 50 years' time is an output that can only be described in one word: "pathetic."

Hanna's final argument in defense of marine parks demonstrates just how clueless he has become from his years in his elite-media bubble. See, Hanna thinks because he gets to travel all around the world to see animals in the wild, that it must be really expensive for ordinary people to get to do the same. That's why we pat them on the head and let them go see caricatured versions of the animals in tiny concrete tanks instead, you see.

He explained this to a crowd of adoring fans at SeaWorld once, and repeated the explanation in numerous TV appearances:
If it wasn't for these folks, everybody, nobody would know about the killer whale. And I'm just saying -- touch the heart to teach the mind. And I can't touch your heart some way, or SeaWorld can't, or the Columbus Zoo can't, or the 221 zoos can't, then these animals haven't got a chance.

I wish that all of you could go to Glacier, way up there in Glacier Bay [Alaska], and see the whales, or see them in other parts of the world. I wish you could go to Africa and see the lions. I wish you could go to the Himalayas and see the animals they have there, or to China to see the pandas, the koala in Australia. I wish you could do that, but all of us can't do that. So, to do that, costs tens of thousands of dollars. And everybody can't do it. So that's why we have these parks. Unless people are educated, they can't save anything.
This is, of course, complete and utter balderdash when it comes to seeing killer whales in the wild. You don't have to go to Alaska. You don't have to go to Iceland. You don't have to spend tens of thousands.

It's really a very simple matter to see killer whales in the wild, and any American who can afford to fly to Orlando or San Diego for a family vacation and spend the hundreds of dollars that a visit to SeaWorld entails can afford it, and can do it. It takes a little more planning, but it might actually be cheaper in the long run.

Here's how you do it: You fly to Seattle. Rent a car and drive two hours from SeaTac Airport (90 minutes from Seattle itself) north to the town of Anacortes and get on the ferry to the San Juan Islands there (reservations advisable). It's an hourlong boat ride out to the town of Friday Harbor, where there are lots of hotels and B&Bs for visitors that are generally pretty reasonably priced, especially compared to peak seasons in Florida and California. Then drive out to the west side of the island with a picnic basket and some time to kill and park yourself at the land bank (free parking, no amenities) or Lime Kiln State Park ($10 parking fee, or a Washington State Parks annual pass) and wait. Eventually you will see killer whales, sometimes very close to shore.

This is the view I was afforded last Fourth of July at Lime Kiln.

And it was essentially free for anyone who happened to be there -- just like the whales themselves.

Even if you don't have the time to kill, it's possible to go see the whales by going on one of the many whale-watching cruises out of Friday Harbor, where a seat costs less than the price of a SeaWorld ticket, and the boats take you to where the whales are, so you don't have to wait.

So don't let Jack Hanna and the SeaWorlds of the world fool you. There will (we hope, preservation efforts willing) still be plenty of orcas for ordinary Americans to be able to see for free, long after SeaWorld's last captives die of old age or whatever respiratory ailment gets them first. It won't cost people "tens of thousands of dollars," either.

And there will always be people who love and fight to protect them -- because even if it's not the SeaWorlds out there preying on them, there will always be threats to their well-being. No thanks to the Jack Hannas of the world.