Monday, April 14, 2014

Hannity's Bullying Isn't A Persuasive Argument For Sea World

Memo to SeaWorld: Having Sean Hannity champion your cause does not exactly advance your argument that you deeply care about the animals in your keep. Rather the opposite.

Hannity hosted a segment last week purportedly to debate a proposed new law in California that would ban performances by orcas in the state and require marine parks to begin the work of returning wild-born orcas to their native waters. We say "purportedly" because, as with all things Hannity, this wasn't a debate. It was another piece of sexist bullying masquerading a right-wing performance art.

Hannity invited two women on to debate the subject: former Sea World trainer Bridgette Pirtle Davis, and Lisa Lange of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the latter of whom probably came on thinking she might get a chance at a fair shot to air her views on Hannity's show. Hah. It wasn't long before she realized that no such shot existed.

After interviewing Pirtle Davis, who now defends SeaWorld after having been at one time part of the group of ex-trainers who appeared in the documentary 'Blackfish' before her appearances were edited out, Hannity turned to Lange and before she could even say a word, handed her a turd of an opening remark:
HANNITY: Does PETA really stand for People Eating Tasty Animals?
It quickly went downhill from there. Hannity quickly made it clear he wasn't interested in discussion the details and core issues of orca captivity. No. All he really wanted to do was get someone from PETA on so that he could attack the people who proposed the legislation as a bunch of kooks. Because he then set out to make sure that everyone knew that PETA as an organization has taken a lot of stands on animal rights that people will consider nutty.

There's a problem with this: PETA is not involved in the California legislation at all. The Animal Welfare Institute, in fact, is the organization that is providing the primary guidance for the legislators writing this bill, and those efforts are being overseen by a genuine orca scientist with deep knowledge of both wild and captive orcas, Naomi Rose.

But then, Rose probably knew better than to ever appear on Fox, and evidently no one warned poor Lisa Lange.

Just interesting, perhaps, is the appearance of Pirtle Davis on Hannity's show as a critic of the legislation, who ignorantly (and falsely) accused the advocates of the legislation of wanting to simply turn the animals loose in the sea. (This is a baldfaced lie.)

She also defended her former boss now, completing her circuitous transformation into a complete circle, having once been a severe critic of SeaWorld.

"I didn't feel the animals were mistreated," she told Hannity

Well, here's what Pertl told an interviewer back when she was part of the 'Blackfish' team and before she found she could reap more attention by going on Fox and attacking SeaWorld's critics:
Had I allowed myself to take in the bigger picture of orcas and marine life parks, maybe ten years spent coming to this realization that captivity is immoral would have been spent creating change soon enough to prevent lives like Alexis and Dawn being lost.

... Ultimately, the same concerns voiced as a result of Dawn's accident had been voiced after incidents in the past. Lessons not learned and continually disregarded. Many of those taking care of the animals are fighting for less responsibility to be placed upon their ever-drooping dorsal fins.

Show schedules, public interactions, and dining obligations create a strain on animals already in a highly stressed environment. They are proudly introduced as "ambassadors" but they are simply work horses for a profit hungry industry desperate to remain relevant in a society that has already begun to recognize we have moved past such a trite necessity.
Now Pirtl Davis -- whose interviews in 'Blackfish' were left on the cutting-room floor -- has found that she can get more media time by turning back and re-embracing that profit-hungry industry. We wish her lots of luck with that. And we hope she really enjoys being in the company of Sean Hannity and his nasty, bullying ilk. Serves her right.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Monday, March 10, 2014

California Legislator Proposes Outlawing Orca Shows, Ending Captivity

The documentary Blackfish may not have qualified as an Oscar finalist this year, but it has already had more real-world impact than any similar film in memory, in addition to its having sold over 2 million theater tickets. The realization of that impact became manifest this week when a ban on killer-whale shows at marine parks was proposed by a California legislator:

Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D) proposed the legislation at an event in Santa Monica. The Orca Welfare and Safety Act AB-2140) would allow orcas to stay at SeaWorld, but only for research and rehabilitation; the whale would no longer be allowed to perform. Human interaction with the animals would be limited for trainers’ safety.

Also included in the bill are measures to prevent captive breeding and prohibit orcas from being imported and exported in California.

“There's simply no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes,” said Bloom. “These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete pools for their entire lives.”

The proposed legislation stops short of demanding sea parks release orcas back into the wild because experts say they wouldn't survive after living in captivity.
The ban would only affect Sea World San Diego, the only captive-orca facility remaining in a state that once had several. He also has some early support:

Democratic assembly member Lorena Gonzales of San Diego has already gone on the record, via social media, that she will most likely vote 'yes' on this bill.

Gonzalez has posted on Facebook, "SeaWorld's reputation of treating its workers poorly dates back to its opening 50 years ago. It's about time we continue this conversation about job quality and workplace safety at Sea World whether it involves groundskeepers, concessions workers or killer whale trainers. Recent evidence suggests its record with orcas isn't much better. I'm looking forward to having an honest conversation about Sea World's business practices and how they can really be an icon that makes San Diego proud."

As David Kirby points out, such a ban would neither be new nor extraordinary, since a number of places have outlawed cetacean captivity in the United States and elsewhere:

At least five countries—India, Croatia, Hungary, Chile, and Costa Rica—have also outlawed all cetacean captivity, while Switzerland has banned captivity for dolphins.

Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, said the bill was inspired by the orcas-in-captivity documentary Blackfish.

“The Blackfish effect has never been in greater evidence—everything has led to this, the first serious legislative proposal to prohibit the captive display of this highly intelligent and social species,” Rose wrote in an email. “SeaWorld should join with this effort rather than continue to fight it. They can be on the right side of history.”
Indeed, Rose has elsewhere proposed a scheme whereby Sea World can turn a profit by doing the right thing for the orcas, and for the children they claim they are educating:

These facilities can work with experts around the world to create sanctuaries where captive orcas can be rehabilitated and retired. These sanctuaries would be sea pens or netted-off bays or coves, in temperate to cold water natural habitat. They would offer the animals respite from performing and the constant exposure to a parade of strangers (an entirely unnatural situation for a species whose social groupings are based on family ties and stability -- "strangers" essentially do not exist in orca society). Incompatible animals would not be forced to cohabit the same enclosures and family groups would be preserved.
Show business trainers would no longer be necessary. Expert caretakers would continue to train retired whales for veterinary procedures, but would not get in the water and would remain at a safe distance (this is known in zoo parlance as "protected contact"). And the degree to which they interact directly with the whales would be each whale's choice.
A fundamental premise of these sanctuaries, however, is that eventually they would empty. Breeding would not be allowed and captive orcas would no longer exist within the next few decades.
Many wildlife sanctuaries, for circus, roadside zoo and backyard refugees, exist around the globe for animals such as big cats, elephants and chimpanzees. The business (usually nonprofit) model for these types of facilities is therefore well-established for terrestrial species and can be adapted for orcas.
Quite predictably, Sea World sees all this -- just as it does Blackfish -- as an existential threat, and is firing back vigorously and viciously:

While we cannot comment on Assemblyman Bloom's proposed legislation until we see it, the individuals he has chosen to associate with for today's press conference are well known extreme animal rights activists, many of whom regularly campaign against SeaWorld and other accredited marine mammal parks and institutions. Included in the group are some of the same activists that partnered with PETA in bringing the meritless claim that animals in human care should be considered slaves under the 13th amendment of the US Constitution - a clear publicity stunt. This legislation appears to reflect the same sort of out-of-the-mainstream thinking. SeaWorld, one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, already operates under multiple federal, state and local animal welfare laws.
This is typical of Sea World: Rather than address the real issues underlying the matter, it chooses to attack the people involved and touting their business credentials; their chief argument seems to be that they are better people -- even while they lie through their teeth to us at every turn, whether it's telling people that captive orcas live as long as wild whiles, or claiming to be really all about conserving orcas in the wild.

Indeed, the most laughable part in all this comes when Sea World tries to claim it is also a leader in conservation and wildlife recovery efforts for the animals in its care. That may be true of Florida manatees, but it is simply a flat-out lie when it comes to orcas.
One thing we know for a fact about SeaWorld: Even though it preaches a "conservation message" to people who come to their theme parks, it does almost nothing of consequence in the real world to assist in the conservation of wild killer whales.

When people at those parks ask what they can do to help killer whales in the wild, they are given generic answers such as watching what lawn fertilizer they use, or not littering, or assisting in beach cleanups.

But these things do little if anything at all to actually help killer whales in the wild. Indeed, you will find only scant references at Sea World parks to the only officially endangered population of killer whales -- the Southern Resident population of the Salish Sea. And if you do happen to hear about them, you will be told that their chief threat is boats and pollution.

What you will not be told is that in reality, the Southern Residents face a doubly whammy. The first whammy came in the loss of over a third of its historic population during the period 1964-75, when SeaWorld and its cohorts founded the captive-orca industry by removing some fifty resident killer whales from Puget Sound waters. Since then, its population has wavered between seventy and a hundred whales -- we are currently at 81 -- in large part because of the second whammy: a lack of salmon, particularly the Chinook salmon that comprise their preferred diet.

Recovering the orca population is necessarily focused on restoring our salmon runs, both in the Salish Sea and in the Columbia River and elsewhere, including Northern California. It is a long and difficult fight, one in which the progress has been slow, in large part because of a lack of financial support for salmon restoration.

Where has Sea World been in all this? Nowhere. They have not funded orca-population studies or censuses, let alone communications and ship-noise studies that are needed. We did see them briefly during the Springer episode, when SeaWorld lent local scientists the use of a diagnostic lab and an overseeing veterinarian to test a sample of Springer's blood before she was transported north and successfully reunited with her familial pod. For that, they now claim credit for the entire project.

If SeaWorld were serious about assisting orcas -- and serious about their claims to being a conservation-oriented organization -- they would be a major presence in the Northwest in the long hard battle to restore our salmon and save our killer whales. Instead, they are nowhere to be seen -- too busy teaching orcas to breach in triplicate and rolling in the revenue stream that creates.

They also specialize in lying about and smearing the people who are in fact actively engaged in the work of saving wild killer whales in their native habitat. This latest confrontation is just another iteration of what we have seen from them all along.

CO Gubernatorial Candidate Contemplated ‘Civil War’ against Obama Administration

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Now that former Congressman Bob Beauprez has officially entered the race for the Republican nomination for governor in Colorado, his long record as a rabble-rousing conservative is being closely examined. This week, an old video he recorded in 2012 resurfaced at, showing Beauprez contemplating the possibility that Americans might turn to violent revolt against the Obama administration.

The observations came in an interview with Perry Atkinson of The Dove TV program Focus Today, recorded July 31, 2012. Beauprez and Atkinson were discussing the alleged dangers of American participation in various United Nations treaties “that potentially would allow Iran to disarm Americans.”

ATKINSON: You know Congressman, this, this, I don’t even like going down this road, but if this saw the light of day, and God forbid that it would, but if this saw the light of day, wouldn’t this be a modern-day civil war in this country?

BEAUPREZ: Well, some are wondering what will be the, the line that gets crossed eventually, where, where people actually rise up and say enough. I mean, our founding documents refer to it, that people have every right, a free people have every right, that when government becomes too obtrusive, too obsessive, too overwhelming, and infringes on their individual liberty and freedom, free people have the right to overthrow that government and establish a new one.

I hope and pray that, that we don’t see another revolution in this country. I hope and pray we don’t see another civil war, but this administration is pushing the boundaries like none I think we’ve ever, ever seen.

The treaty they are discussing, the proposed Arms Trade Treaty, is the focus of numerous far-right conspiracy theories, particularly among John Birch Society adherents and like-minded anti-government “Patriots”.

Beauprez, who campaigns as a “Tea Party” conservative these days, is no stranger to controversy. During his 2006 bid for the governorship (a race he eventually lost to Democrat Bill Ritter by a 17-point margin), he claimed during a debate that “as high as 70 percent, maybe even more” of African-American women’s pregnancies end in abortion, a remark for which he later apologized. Also, his campaign was briefly embroiled in a controversy involving the misuse of a national criminal database for ads targeting Ritter.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Suspect in Montana Clinic Vandalism May Be Linked to Controversial ‘Crisis Pregnancy’ Center

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

A man arrested for seriously vandalizing a medical clinic this week in Kalispell, Mont.,  that performs abortions is reportedly the son of a board member of a local anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy” clinic, which has itself been the center of controversy after white supremacists in the area raised funds for it.

The clinic, All Families Healthcare, was vandalized overnight Monday when one or more perpetrators broke glass and equipment throughout the office. Zachary Klundt, a 24-year-old Kalispell resident, was arrested while breaking into another building early Tuesday morning, and was promptly linked to the clinic burglary because of evidence he was carrying.

According to a post on Montana Human Rights Network’s Facebook page, Klundt is the son of Twyla Klundt, a member of the board of Hope Pregnancy Ministries, an anti-abortion “pregnancy counseling” center whose primary mission is to talk women out of getting abortions.

It and other “crisis pregnancy clinics” have recently come under fire in Montana for allegedly misleading women about their care options when it comes to pregnancy and abortion, according to a study by the National Abortion Rights Action League. Among its findings was that “89 percent, or eight of the nine centers visited, provided inaccurate information about birth control, such as saying contraception is the same as abortion, condoms aren’t effective in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and birth control leads to breast and cervical cancer.”

Previously, Hope Pregnancy Ministries came under fire when noted local neo-Nazi April Gaede announced that she was helping raise funds for the center because she said it helped “save white babies.”  In making her pitch, Gaede claimed that she had personally met with members of the center’s staff.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

NPR Faces Listener Backlash After Scott Lively Interview

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Evangelical crusader Scott Lively, who is credited with inspiring anti-gay legislation in both Uganda and Russia, was interviewed last week on National Public Radio’s “Tell Me More” program by host Michel Martin to discuss Uganda’s harsh new statute outlawing homosexuality. The interview, which lasted over 10 minutes, included the usual doses of Lively’s incendiary rhetoric, including his assertion that “sodomy is not a human right.”

Lively also justified anti-gay discrimination by comparing it to other forms of bigotry: “Gender, race, ethnicity – these are all morally neutral. But homosexuality is – involves voluntary sexual conduct with serious public health, social, sociological implications. It’s not irrational to discriminate on that basis.”

The interview sparked a strong negative reaction from NPR listeners, who took to social media such as Facebook and Twitter to chastise the network and Martin for broadcasting the interview. Among them was Ted Allen of the Food Network, who commented: “Can’t believe ears: Why is @NPR legitimizing anti-gay Scott Lively on @TellMeMoreNPR?!”

Others commented at NPR’s website, chastising NPR along similar lines: “Real people are dying because of this man’s work. I am offended by this man’s hate-speech. Truly offended. Why give him a platform for his propaganda? Why not the Westboro Baptist Church? Or the White Rights movement?”

Martin and editor Amita Parashar Kelly responded on-air Monday: “Now of course, we’ve thought about those questions,” said Kelly. “But our mission is to bring listeners stories that affect people’s lives. And we know that what Pastor Lively says is offensive to a lot of people. But the fact is that he has a huge reach around the world. People in Uganda are listening to him, and Uganda’s parliament is listening. So we wanted to hear what he had to say.”

Martin also responded to charges that her interview was too soft, noting that she had interviewed Lively in the context of having earlier interviewed Frank Mugisha, a gay Ugandan activist and one of the leading critics of the laws:
I would say that every interview is different. I would say that I feel I did push back — to quote a phrase — where I felt appropriate. But I think that some of the people who wrote in are actually looking for something else. I think that what they are looking for is the emotional release of my berating him for his views. I felt that my job in that moment was to let people who are not acquainted with his views know what those views are.
Explaining that I was writing for Hatewatch, I wrote to Martin to express our own view:
Our concern is not so much that Lively was given the time to air his views – it’s normal journalistic procedure to cover the spectrum and let listeners judge for themselves. And like some of your listeners, I probably would have liked to have heard more pointed counter-questions: For instance, when Lively referred to the critics of anti-gay laws as “serious bullies,” I probably would have asked him just who the bullies are in this case. But that kind of second-guessing occurs all the time for people conducting interviews (I often second-guess myself in similar post-mortem situations) and overall, I felt that you really did provide some sound journalistic pushback.

The real concern is that NPR’s listeners weren’t provided adequate background on Lively, and it was done in such a way as to suggest that Lively’s views are common among evangelicals. (They are not.) NPR’s listeners to this segment would not know that he avidly promotes the theory that homosexuals were responsible for the Holocaust; that he is also active in Eastern Europe, notably Russia, where he takes credit for Putin’s installment of a regime of anti-gay laws, and where anti-gay thuggery by neo-Nazis has become widespread; and that, moreover, as we have documented, he has been a major player in a wide swath of anti-gay hate-group extremism. Lively instead was simply identified as an “evangelical leader” and described in a benign way that would suggest that he speaks for evangelicals on the subject, when in fact only a narrow spectrum subscribes to his radical views or endorses his hateful rhetoric.

We understand, of course, that there is only so much airspace for providing listeners with background on your interview subjects. But we would like to know why Lively’s background was seemingly whitewashed in this instance.
Martin responded:
I take exception to your characterization of my interview. I believe I was one of the first U.S. reporters to take Scott Lively seriously when he first addressed the Ugandan Parliament in 2009 and I reviewed many of those issues then. I did not believe it necessary to plow the same ground as in previous interviews when he was less well known. We chose to interview him again because Frank Mugisha, whom I also previously interviewed, identified Scott Lively specifically as a person of influence on the debate and I felt that our listeners could benefit from hearing from him exactly what he believes. And I feel very comfortable with the tone of my interview in the time that we had, which was precisely the same and in the same place on the show as the interview I had with Frank Mugisha the day before. The advocates can’t have it both ways. If the interview had been longer to include Mr. Lively a full biography I am sure there would have been complaints that the interview was too long. If you believe in free speech and an unfettered press then you have to believe in it when the views expressed are offensive to you.

I also believe as evidently others do not that our listeners do not want or expect me to think for them and are capable of analyzing this information for themselves.
I responded:
I hope you don’t misunderstand the nature of my query. We don’t object to the fact that you interviewed Mr. Lively, or even that your interview might not have been as hard-hitting as we might have liked. Your critics are wrong about that, in my estimation. We believe in journalistic thoroughness too, and you were justifiably exploring this area.

The problem, from our view, is not simply that journalists cover extremists (we are, after all, mostly just journalists who cover extremists), but when that reportage doesn’t make clear to public audiences the nature of the extremism that is being covered. I hope you understand that red flags go up for us whenever any extremist is covered and presented in the media as somehow representing a mainstream view, even a mainstream conservative or, as it were, evangelical view. There are important distinctions between far-right hate groups and the mainstream right, and it’s concerning to us whenever those distinctions are blurred, especially in a way that could leave audiences with the impression that far-right extremists somehow reflect mainstream views – and disconcerting, of course, whenever it occurs with reporters who typically are more thoughtful and careful.
Martin’s final word:
I feel I have said all I need to say about this except to add that I think you are confusing your work with mine. I respect your work, but your work is not my work.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Behind the ‘Religious Freedom’ Attacks on Gay Rights Lurks a Broad Attack on Civil Rights

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

While there was predictable outrage from many right-wing quarters this week over Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto of S.B. 1062 — a bill that would have legalized discrimination against LGBT people on the basis of protecting the “religious freedom” of people who did not wish to do business with them — the overwhelming reaction by most Arizonans, particularly its business people, was one of relief.

After all, the state is still recovering from the economic blowback wrought by another piece of far-right legislation – the infamous anti-immigrant S.B. 1070 legislation that put local law officers in the business of enforcing federal immigration law. The damage inflicted by the law itself, worsened by boycotts and other economic retaliation provoked by that legislation, remain fresh in the minds of the state’s business leaders, who pleaded with Brewer to boycott the law, as did the state’s entire congressional delegation and even a few of the legislators who had originally voted for the bill.

For now, the legislation appears to be dead in Arizona. But it is only one of several states in which the “religious freedom” legislation has made its presence felt, and in several states it may yet be approved.
  • In Kansas, a similar proposal passed the state House of Representatives by a wide margin before coming to a sudden halt when it reached the state Senate. Its House sponsors said they hope to work with leaders in the Senate to craft a compromise bill.
  • In Idaho, two separate bills tendered by the same legislator — Rep. Lynn Luker of Boise — laid out a broad swath of businesses and professions that could claim “religious belief” as an exemption from anti-discrimination statutes. But they both were sent back to committee by House leaders.
  • In Georgia, the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act similarly would give people “the right to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious tenet or belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or requirement of the person’s religious tenets or beliefs.” That bill is still working its way through both chambers of the legislature.
  • In Mississippi, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act similarly constrains the state from imposing a “burden” on citizens’ “free exercise of religion.” It has passed the state Senate and awaits action in the House. The state’s governor, Phil Bryant, has not said whether or not he would sign it into law.
  • In Missouri, a bill still being considered in the Senate would permit businesses to refuse service to anyone if it violates their sincerely held religious beliefs. It was only recently introduced and has not been voted on. Its chief sponsor cited the examples of a florist or baker who refused to provide their services in same-sex weddings: “This is trying to provide a defense in those types of instances,” he said. “We’re trying to protect Missourians from attacks on their religious freedom.”
  • In Oklahoma, a similar bill titled the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act has been in the works since January, but is in the process of being redrafted. Its chief sponsor, Rep. Tom Newell, told The Associated Press: “We’re still in favor of running a bill like that, but we’re just trying to get the language tightened up to prevent there from being any fiascos like there have been elsewhere.”
Fairly typical of the language of these proposals is that found in the Idaho legislation, which permits businesses to avoid penalties for “declining to provide or participate in any service that violates the person’s sincerely held religious beliefs or exercise of religion.”

This kind of language would “empower businesses to invoke religion to discriminate,” says Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “This wave of legislation does seem to be a reaction to an expansion of LGBT rights, among others.”

But defenders of the laws deny this is the case. Ryan T. Anderson at the Heritage Foundation insists the only issue at stake is “liberty”: “While the government must treat everyone equally, private actors are left free to make reasonable judgments and distinctions — including reasonable moral judgments and distinctions — in their economic activities. Not every florist need provide wedding arrangements for every ceremony. Not every photographer need capture every first kiss. Competitive markets can best harmonize a range of values that citizens hold.”

The legislation universally features language referring to the “substantial burden” imposed on businesses by anti-discrimination laws. That in turn indicates that legislators are tying their hopes to its ultimate success to other cases involving similar principles — in this case, efforts to overturn the mandate on businesses imposed by the Affordable Care Act’s provisions to provide contraception to women. Notably, Hobby Lobby is seeking to overturn that rule on the basis of the claim that it imposes a “substantial burden” on its religious beliefs.

“Never before have the courts given for-profit businesses an exemption from a generally applicable law based on the owners’ religious beliefs,” says Mach. “Every time it has been attempted in the past, they lost. And so I think there is an attempt to do something unprecedented here.”

Most of this legislation originates with the same source: the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Scottsdale-based religious-right organization formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, which is ostensibly dedicated to advocating for Christians’ right to “freely live out their faith.” ADF is also active in working to criminalize gay sex in other countries, and played a key role in the recent passage of Uganda’s new laws outlawing homosexuality. It is also active in supporting a number of lawsuits involving conservative Christians’ rights to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

The most problematic aspect of the “religious freedom” legislation that has been proposed so far is how vague its language is and how broadly it can be applied. Indeed, each of the bills so far applies “religious freedom” not just to the issue of providing services to gays and lesbians, but conceivably to every kind of prejudice under the sun. People could refuse to serve interracial couples, for instance, or for that matter anyone of another religion or ethnicity or who has disability.

If someone claimed, for instance, to be a believer in Christian Identity — the wildly racist religious movement that preaches that white people are the true children of Israel, Jews are the literal descendants of Satan, and other nonwhites are soulless “mud people” — one could conceivably use the laws to refuse to provide services to Jews or blacks.

“If you have a religious right to refuse service to a same-sex couple that is married, you would presumably have a religious right to refuse service to Muslims, or if your religion forbids divorce, to a couple that has been divorced and remarried. And on and on,” says Mach.

In that event, he observes, these laws are not merely a reaction to advances in LGBT rights, but a whole broad swath of civil rights laws.

One of the laws’ main defenders — paleo-conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan — essentially admitted as much in his column on the debate over Arizona’s law. He offered a simple proposal: “Suppose we repealed the civil rights laws and fired all the bureaucrats enforcing these laws.”

“Does anyone think hotels, motels and restaurants across Dixie, from D.C. to Texas, would stop serving black customers? Does anyone think there would again be signs sprouting up reading ‘whites’ and ‘colored’ on drinking foundations and restrooms?”

Buchanan claimed the civil rights laws of the 1960s have already done their work, saying “the conditions that called for the laws of the 1960s have ceased to exist.” He is not clear how those laws would have ever worked in the first place if they had not been enforced on a broad basis.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

James Laffrey and His Call to Assassinate Jews

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

James Laffrey has not been publicly advocating ethnic hatred for very long. He does not appear to have many, if any, followers. He is not particularly well-connected to more established entities on the anti-Semitic far right. But what he does have is a website and plans to create a white supremacist political party called Whites Will Win.

Laffrey, a middle-aged man who appears to be based in Michigan, has caught people’s attention with the bloodcurdling nature of his agenda: he openly calls for the assassination of Jewish people by their white neighbors.

Here is a typical rant by Laffrey, in the midst of discussing a TV show featuring Tom Selleck: “The jews are killing us. We must kill them.”

Similarly, in a post about another TV series, he writes: “Kill every jew. We have every right to do so. Also, it is our duty and our pleasure.”

Laffrey wants the targeting to be indiscriminate:

Kill jews. jew doctors, jew lawyers, jew teachers, jew insurers, jew porn dealers, jew drug dealers, jew owners of major league sports teams, jew bankers, jew travel agency owners, jew jewelers.

Do it carefully. Safely. Proudly. Silently. Again and again. That’s our necessary strategy for now, as our massive wave of White Might rises across our land from sea to shining sea.

In a post published last April, Laffrey outlined a program of assassination in which white men would surreptitiously begin killing Jews on a lone-wolf basis, while robbing their victims and living off the proceeds:

See that no witnesses are present. Likely wear gloves. Permanently “persuade” the jew to relinquish residence as an enemy parasite in North America. Quickly. Efficiently. Reappropriate the cash. …

Your heroism in reducing the enemy jew population infesting our country is your secret for the rest of your life or until White victory is achieved, whichever comes first.

Laffrey’s own description of his radicalization suggests that he came to hold these views about Jews and society only in recent years. He claims to have voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008, but then came to believe that a cabal of Jewish financiers secretly controls the world, and that Obama was completely under their control. “I bought into the corporate media’s selling of the product called Barack Obama. I admit it. I regret it. Shame on me. At that time, I was still race-blind, as we all have been taught and brainwashed to be.”

He claims he “began to do my own research to find out who was behind the entire system of treason” and concluded that the Jewish Rothschild family was controlling the world’s politics and economics through a nefarious cabal of fellow Jews and their enablers. This is, of course, classic anti-Semitic conspiracism, of the kind long practiced by a variety of Nazis, fascists, and their modern descendants, and Laffrey’s interpretation of it does not bring much new to the ideological table.

Laffrey at first attempted to organize a political party under the name Equal Party USA, and at first he was coy about the nature of his anti-Semitic campaign. In a 2012 YouTube video, he teases viewers with the promise of a radical “American solution” to “the infestation of the USA” which he describes as “practical and nonviolent.” Not long after, he created the Whites Will Win Party and authored posts claiming to prove that Obama is Jewish and Mitt Romney likely is too. He claimed that JFK, FDR and Mark Twain were Jewish.

Laffrey was initially committed to nonviolence but shifted away from that position, having decided that the United States had been founded as “a country that only Whites could fully appreciate and maintain as a safe haven for Whites” and that “Whites must overthrow Jewry” as a first step to any solution. His ultimate program? “Every jew in the USA not executed or imprisoned here will, after sterilization, be expelled.”

The most noteworthy thing about Laffrey is his open advocacy of murder. This kind of speech would be impermissible in a number of countries, notably Germany, the U.K. and Canada. But in the United States, because it does not rise to the level of a “true threat” – that is, no individual is being directly threatened by this speech – the courts have consistently held that such talk is, while deplorable, protected under the First Amendment.

Laffrey did not respond to our requests for comment.

Laffrey has generated little attention outside the white supremacist realm, but he has drawn notice within it. However, a number of his fellow white supremacists have indicated they resent his entry into anti-Semitic organizing without having established himself first in the community. Laffrey appears to have little following, with only slight web traffic, and no financial support.

But he is, if nothing else, another example of how a single person can poison the well by leveraging the power of the web.

Friday, February 21, 2014

CNN Mum on Continued Use of White Supremacist ‘Expert’ on Racial Issues

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

[UPDATE: A representative for the Nancy Grace program contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center and emphasized that Taaffe has not been invited to appear on the show since Grace confronted him about his views, which she had previously been unaware of.]

Frank Taaffe, a self-styled “expert” who appeared on a number of talk programs on CNN and its Headline News subsidiary to offer his views on racially charged criminal trials, has recently emerged as an entrenched figure in the far-right white supremacist movement. While one of his frequent hosts, Nancy Grace, recently grilled him about his views, the network has neither backed away from using Frank Taaffe nor explained why it has done so at all, particularly without making his background clear to viewers.

Taaffe’s white supremacist background was first exposed last August by Mariah Blake in a thorough piece for Mother Jones, after Taaffe had appeared on a number of CNN programs defending his friend George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. At the time, CNN made no explanation for using Taaffe as an “expert”, but after Zimmerman’s trial ended in acquittal, Taaffe stopped appearing.

When another racially charged Florida case came along, this time involving a white man, Michael Dunn, who gunned down a young black man after a verbal confrontation at a gas station over “thug music,” Taaffe returned to CNN to discuss the cases, particularly Headline News’ Dr. Drew and Nancy Grace programs.

Numerous calls by the SPLC to Headline News producers to inquire about the matter have gone unreturned.

Last Friday, Grace finally confronted Taaffe about those views, including those appearing on his Twitter account, notably: “The only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them.” Grace claimed that these views only “very recently” had come to her attention.

“It’s not true,” Taaffe responded, adding: “And I have a pending lawsuit against Mother Jones, by the way. I’m glad you brought that up.”

Grace asked him about yet another quote: “That minority group, they don’t do anything productive for this country except for the NBA. And if it wasn’t for the NBA, Joe, like I always say, our country would have the world’s tallest garbage men. Thank God for the NBA.”

“That’s not my Twitter account,” Taaffe said, adding: “That’s some time from years back. Someone hacked into my account. So thank you for letting me get it out there.”

However, as Mediate notes, the quote wasn’t taken from his Twitter account. It was taken from the Sept. 18 podcast of his show The White Voice, and it was Taaffe’s actual voice.

Even more damning was Rachel Tabachnik’s delving into the record of Taaffe’s activism, particularly on The White Voice and its affiliated network. In one show, she reports that he attacked Oprah Winfrey with vicious language:

Yeah, she’s a nigger because she keeps spewing out all that bullshit. She goes over to Switzerland and she says that the lady didn’t want to share a handbag because she thought that she couldn’t afford it, and she keeps just doing what she’s doing. She keeps stirring the pot. She keeps trying to promote her boy Obama. You know, Obama could do no wrong. You know, it’s birds of a feather, they flock together and stick together, and to me, she’s a nigger. Oprah Winfrey’s a nigger. She’s a nigger.

Moreover, Tabachnik makes clear that Taaffe and his partner at The White Voice, Joe Adams, have been players in helping various factions of the white-supremacist movement network and form alliances. Notably, among the people who have become aligned with Adams and Taaffe have been Matthew Heimbach and his Traditionalist Youth Coalition operation.

Ironically, Taaffe and Adams heatedly deny that they are white supremacists, preferring instead to be designated white separatists, which is a common enough claim on the far right. And with most such protestations, it evaporates when the speakers’ actual views in their own words are recorded. They invariably entail vicious attacks on the character of people of color, demonization of them and their ostensibly threatening nature, and expressions of a desire to not merely separate from them but actively exterminate them.

All of these things can be found in the words that Taaffe and Adams regularly express on their network, including an exchange last fall in which they attacked the reporting in Mother Jones, and in which Taaffe makes clear that he in fact meant every word of that Tweet he claims was the product of a hacked account:

Because it goes back to the premise that, you know? I once said, “that the only time that a Black life is vindicated is when a White person kills them. Ok? Other than that we, we’re just, we’re part of the groove man. It’s ok to off twelve of us and you know, nobody cares, you know? I guarantee you that if I stormed into the local KFC with an AR-15 and offed about twelve of them, you know, I don’t think I’d make it out the front door.

Taaffe has also argued that whites and blacks have no business mingling: “They don’t want to be with us and we don’t want to be with them.” On a White Voice show last July 27, he became so worked up about the Zimmerman trial that he began calling for a revolution: “This trial is waking up white America, man,” he said. “I’m fed up with the bullshit and the glad-handing to this one group of people who now control what we do and say. Come on, man, wake up America!”

Adams, who at one time was a follower of the neo-Nazi Creativity Movement, has views that are every bit as toxic: “I think naturally, the races will segregate — blacks getting the southeast and kind of up the east coast. Hispanics — you know, the mestizos — getting Texas, California, Arizona, those kinds of areas. And then whites…having the mid-north or northwest to have to themselves, and, you know, maybe even a part or two of the northeast.”

Adams’ protestations of only seeking separate societies also are less than assuring: “We don’t advocate for white supremacy or, you know, Nazi gassings of Jews…we just care about a future for white people, white children, you know….We’re not saying, ‘Throw all the blacks and the coloreds and the Jews out.’ We’re just saying, ‘Hey, let us break off and go our own way. If we’re evil, wicked racists, then be free of us, and…let us go our own way.’”

Meanwhile, Adams’ guide for his followers, The Save White People Handbook, opens with the inscription: “A mutt makes a great pet and a mulatto makes a great slave.”

It was this sensibility that Taaffe brought to Headline News audiences and the discussion of the Zimmerman and Michael Dunn “thug music” cases. Here’s how he explained the Dunn shooting on Dr. Drew:

TAAFFE: You know what, Ms. Ali, you talk about the white man being the devil — well, here’s a fact. I want to only discuss the facts in the Michael Dunn case and particularly about crime in America. … According to the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Justice, African- Americans make up 12 percent of the population, yet they commit the most disproportionate amount of violent crimes. Over 60 percent of the murders were committed by African-Americans. And 32 percent were under the age of 18. So, when Michael Dunn pulled into that gas station, you know, you wonder why we have these premonitions, we see …

He also explained that the problem was with black people:

You know white racism is not America’s biggest problem. I feel the biggest problem is education… There’s a distinct gap between the graduation rate of African Americans versus white or Latinos in the country… And this was simply a matter of loud music, a man asking them to turn it down and they did not oblige and then it escalated.

Taaffe has been defensive when called out for his views. “There is a thing called First Amendment speech,” he said to Mariah Blake. “I have freedom to opine on current social issues, and I’m not going to be restricted.”

“I’m not going on some Tom Metzger-David Duke tangent,” he added. “I’m merely echoing the suppressed voices in this country that have been beleaguered by affirmative action and crimes committed by that particular group of people.”

Taaffe has an outright fetish about black crime statistics, as made clear in his response to Nancy Grace in one of his appearances on her show:

The music was the precursor to Davis telling him, I`m going to kill you, man. That`s what he heard. Three-hour interview with the police, he never wavered off it! He stayed consistent. What`s inconsistent in this story are the three witnesses that were in the vehicle, one who is a convicted felon and the other one`s awaiting trial for a robbery charge in St. Petersburg! How about them apples?

However, as Blake’s reportage details fully, there is no small irony in Frank Taaffe pointing to the criminality of anyone, white or black, considering his own long criminal background:

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orange County Clerk of Courts, Taaffe has been arrested or faced criminal charges nearly a dozen times and logged at least two convictions. Last year, Taaffe was taken into custody for driving under the influence. He pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of reckless driving related to alcohol use and received six months’ probation. He’s also been charged with battery and two cases of “repeat violence.” (Taaffe told Mother Jones that these were “frivolous” charges filed by “disgruntled” former coworkers.)

The piece details Taaffe’s extensive rap sheet, including domestic-violence-related incidents and an arrest for burglary, as well as stalking and child abuse.

Of course, all of this information was available months ago. It is still unclear why CNN or the producers at Headline News either were unaware of it or chose not to act on it.