Friday, September 16, 2011

An Undercurrent of Extremism Runs Through the NRA's Board of Directors

Those of us who grew up around the NRA are all too familiar with one of the more striking facets of the organization's relentless fearmongering, its paranoid style: namely, it not only traffics in wild and groundless conspiracy theories about "gun grabbers" and Bircherite "New World Order" takeover schemes, but it forms deep associations with the very extremists whose far-right worldview fosters such paranoia.

The most recent example of this has been the way the NRA's fearmongering about President Obama has fostered real violence from right-wing extremists.

The reason for this kind of extremism is in fact a top-down phenomenon: increasingly, the people running the NRA are themselves deeply extremist.

The folks at the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence have put together a directory of the NRA's board titled Meet the NRA Directors. It's a fascinating site, one that well rewards scrolling through and reading.

In addition to what you'd expect -- a lot of ties to the arms manufacturers who funnel much of the money that is the NRA's lifeblood -- there is also, predictably, a deep undercurrent of right-wing extremism.

The most striking example of this is Robert K. Brown, the longtime publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine. As David Holthouse has explored in some detail already, Brown's magazine was for years the monthly Bible of the "militia" movement in the 1990s, one of the movement's more prominent promoters. The magazine not only promoted the concept of militias but offered advice on how to form them and urged participants to prepare for persecution from the New World Order.

The ties to violent extremists run deeper, in fact:
Soldier of Fortune distributed copies of a newsletter called The Resister during the 1990s. The Resister was published by Steven Barry, then a member of the Army’s Special Forces and leader of the unsanctioned Special Forces Underground organization. The newsletter initially drew inspiration from the controversial siege at Ruby Ridge. The content of the newsletter evidenced a “white Christian militia mentality,” according to Michael Reynolds from the Southern Poverty Law Center, containing racist and anti-Semitic content while also exploring “New World Order” conspiracy theories. When Timothy McVeigh was arrested for the Oklahoma City Bombing, in his possession was a Soldier of Fortune-distributed copy of The Resister.
Also on Brown's record: an array of crimes (largely would-be contract killers) associated with the magazine, as well Brown's associations with right-wing death squads operating in Central America in the 1980s.

As it happens, one of the writers for Brown's magazine -- indeed, he penned one of the first Soldier of Fortune pieces promoting militias in 1994, titled "Join A Militia -- Break The Law?" -- was yet another NRA board member, a fellow named Wayne Anthony Ross. Over the years, Ross has maintained his associations with the far-right Patriot movement, including his more recent involvement in the case of the Alaska militiamen arrested for an assassination plot:
In March 2011, five members of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia, including leader Francis Cox, were arrested for planning to kill Alaska State Troopers and a federal judge. The group -- which had stockpiled firearms and explosives—advocated the violent secession of Alaska from the United States. Five days after Cox and his co-conspirators were arrested, Alaska Citizens Militia "supply sergeant" William Fulton disappeared—but not before signing over his two houses to Ross, who in 2009 shared the stage with Cox at a Peacemakers meeting. In July 2011, it was reported that authorities were looking for Fulton, who they believe supplied weapons to Cox’s militia.
One of Ross's close associates -- Alaska Rep. Don Young -- is likewise an NRA board member -- and was similarly caught up in the Peacemakers brouhaha:
The Peacemakers had earlier distributed a “Letter of Declaration” which called for armed insurrection in response to the federal government’s enactment of gun control laws. Representative Young signed the letter at a Peacemakers “Open Carry” event in a Fairbanks restaurant. When asked during the event, “If any government should decide that we have to register certain of our arms or turn them in, what would your recommendation be?” Young replied, “Don't do it...I sincerely mean that. Don't turn them in.”
Holthouse reported on this incident at the time, which led us to wonder: Does Young need to reaffirm his oath to the Constitution?

We've been wondering because Young actually signed a revolutionary oath concocted by militia organizer Schaeffer Cox -- the Alaska militiaman arrested last week for plotting to kill cops and a couple of judges -- declaring that the signers would refuse to recognize any new federal taxes or gun laws: "[T]he duty of us good and faithful people will not be to obey them but to alter or abolish them and institute new government laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to us shall seem most likely to effect our safety and happiness."

Then there's Jim Gilmore, who took over the reins at Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation in 2009. The FCF likewise has a substantial history of promoting right-wing extremism (it too was a great promoter of the militia concept in the 1990s) and has more recently been closely linked to one of the most heinous acts of right-wing violence -- namely, Ander Breivik's horrific terrorist attack in Norway in which 93 people were killed:
The Free Congress Foundation (FCF), a think tank that promotes the far-right’s viewpoint in the “Culture War,” has courted a great deal of controversy. Gilmore effectively succeeded FCF President & CEO Paul Weyrich in 2009. On replacing Weyrich, Gilmore said, “Paul Weyrich blazed the trail for many conservative themes and I want to continue that leadership.” The “themes” advocated by FCF have included the following:
In his manifesto, Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of a July 2011 terrorist attack in Norway that left 77 dead, quoted extensively and at length from a FCF-published book about “Cultural Marxism” entitled “Political Correctness: A Short History of Ideology.” The book was written by the former head of the FCF’s Center for Cultural Conservatism William Lind. According to investigative journalist Chip Berlet, “Breivik's core thesis is borrowed from William S. Lind's antisemitic conspiracy theory about 'Cultural Marxism'.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Lind as “a key popularizer of the idea of cultural Marxism.”
One of the more colorful NRA board members if rock guitarist Ted Nugent, whose fondness for saying outrageous things is accompanied by a willingness to embrace ethnic, racial and sexual hatemongering and their associated far-right conspiracy theories. The Educational Fund's site has a pretty good array, including this nugget:
Among "What I said is, 'If you can't speak English, get the fuck out of America.' Spurred by a first-person, hands-on, eyewitness experience in America, where I've gone to enough fuckin' convenience stores where the cocksucker behind the counter can't translate 'doughnut' for me. I never mentioned the word 'Hispanics.' I never mentioned the word 'Mexicans.' I never mentioned the word 'Latinos.' I never mentioned the words 'Spanish language.' I merely said, 'If you can't speak English, get the fuck out of America.”
Of course, we also recall how Nugent issued threats to both Obama and Hillary Clinton onstage in 2007:
Nugent: I was in Chicago last week I said---Hey Obama, you might want to suck on one of these you punk? Obama, he's a piece of shit and I told him to suck on one of my machine guns...Let's hear it for them. I was in NY and I said hey Hillary---you might want to ride one of these into the sunset you worthless bitch...Since I'm in California, I'm gonna find-- she might wanna suck on my machine gun! Hey, Dianne Feinstein, ride one of these you worthless whore. Any questions? Freeeeedom!
Once Obama was elected, Nugent just ratcheted it up, including his violent talk on Neil Cavuto's Fox News show in 2010:
I’m the expert on the health care bill because I kill pigs. And it’s the communist, Mao, Che agenda of the communist, Mao, Che fans in the White House. They’re pigs, Neil! We gotta kill the pig.
Talk like that earned Nugent inclusion on a list detailing "Hate in the Mainstream" compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Nugent also ardently promoted the theory that Obama planned to grab Americans' guns:
Meanwhile, in order to stop the drowning and murders, I will work on banning water, Obama can try to ban guns. Good luck. Save an innocent life, join the NRA and celebrate 138 years of keeping and bearing. Drive a bad guys nuts. Then shoot him while he’s committing a violent crime.
Some NRA board members, like Sandra Froman, don't have any associations with right-wing extremists in their backgrounds -- they just ardently promote their conspiracy theories:
In the August 2006 edition of America’s 1st Freedom, Froman claimed, “The United Nations is engaged in a global gun ban-scheme. It is well-organized and well funded by eccentric anti-gun billionaires. The goal of this movement is to get every nation to sign a treaty banning the private ownership of firearms worldwide and giving U.N. troops authority to enforce the treaty.” She was referring to a United Nations treaty dealing with small arms trafficking. The treaty’s actual goal is to reduce the illicit international trade in small arms—it does not address the issue of private firearms ownership. In any case, foreign treaties require approval by two-thirds of the members of the U.S. Senate in order to be ratified.
This undercurrent is nothing particularly new for the NRA -- it has a long history of these kinds of dalliances with the far right. But it appears to be growing stronger and louder and more radical than at any time since the militia-loving heyday of the 1990s.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whoda Thunk? Michele Bachmann Is A Big Fan Of The 1924 Asian Exclusion Act

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Among many other lunacies from last night's tea party debate, Michele Bachmann uttered this:
The immigration system in the United States worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s when liberal members of Congress changed the immigration laws. What works is to have people come into the United States with a little bit of money in their pocket, legally, with sponsors so that if anything happens to them they don’t fall back on the taxpayers to take care of them.
Ian Milhiser at ThinkProgress explains:
In 1924, Congress passed a package of immigration laws — including the National Origins Act and the Asian Exclusion Act — establishing a quota system giving preferential treatment to European immigrants. Under these laws, the number of immigrants who could be admitted from a given country was capped at a percentage of the number of people from that nation who were living in the United States in 1890. Because Americans were overwhelming of European descent in 1890, the practical effect of these laws was an enormous thumb on the scale encouraging white immigration.
These quotas were eliminated by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, an act which is widely credited for opening up our nation to new Americans of Asian and Central and South American descent.
As Milhiser explains, these laws were notorious for singling out Japanese immigrants -- and all other Asians as well -- for exclusion from immigration, which had the effect of reinforcing existing laws that prohibited Asians from even becoming naturalized citizens:
It’s worth noting that the 1924 laws that Bachmann believes to have worked so very well singled out certain people for particularly harsh treatment. As immigration scholar Roger Daniels explains:
1924 law also barred “aliens ineligible to citizenship” – reflecting the fact that American law had, since 1870, permitted only “white persons” and those “of African descent” to become naturalized citizens. The purpose of this specific clause was to keep out Japanese, as other Asians had been barred already.
The prohibition against naturalization embedded in these laws was slowly eradicated by the effects of World War II. Chinese -- who had been prohibited from emigration to the U.S. since 1884 -- were permitted to become naturalized American citizens in 1944 as a result of China's alliance with the U.S. Meanwhile, Japanese immigrants were finally permitted to become naturalized American citizens with passage in 1952 of the McCarran-Walter Act. But the race-based system of quotas persisted, and Asian immigration remained at a trickle as a result during those years.

This is the system that Bachmann thinks is just hunky-dory. Which is even more appalling when you consider its origins.

As I explained in my book Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, the 1924 Immigration Act was passed at the height of racist anti-Japanese xenophobia, the culmination of a long campaign to exclude Asian immigrants of all stripes. It began on the local level in Pacific Coast states like Washington and California, and eventually became a national phenomenon -- one that had powerful consequences 17 years later:
Politicians like Albert Johnson [a congressman from Hoquiam, Washington] in particular were prone to picking up the anti-Japanese cause, since the agitating factions represented several key voting blocs, while the Japanese themselves were excluded from voting and thus had no political clout whatsoever. Various officeholders, especially rural legislators, found that attacking the Japanese threat, and piously talking about saving American civilization, went over well with the voters. But even on a statewide level, the issue received prominent play; Governor Hart, a Republican, campaigned for his ultimately successful re-election on a promise to outlaw the leasing of any property by the Issei, while one of his GOP primary opponents, John Stringer, took it a step further: “It is our duty to take every acre of land on Puget Sound away from the Japs and place it in the hands of our ex-soldiers.”

The Japanese and their few allies, which included the produce and agricultural associations that helped distribute their goods, were poorly organized compared to their opponents. They offered token protest of the proposed laws, but found themselves out-manned. When the legislature convened early in 1921, a flood of anti-Japanese bills awaited. The first proposal would have made it mandatory to post American citizens as guards at any Japanese-owned hotel. Another called for an official investigation of the Japanese immigrants. A third prohibited any “aliens and disloyal persons” from teaching in any public or private schools. All these faltered in the legislative process. But the fourth and centerpiece bill—a land law that forbade ownership of land by all “aliens ineligible for citizenship,” and making it a criminal offense to sell or lease land to any such alien—flew through both houses nearly unimpeded, passing the House 71-19 and the Senate 36-2. Governor Hart, freshly re-elected, signed the bill in short order.

Flush with political victory, Miller Freeman [leader of the anti-Japanese campaign in Washington] had the final say on the matter. In an article addressed to the Japanese community, he minced no words: “The people of this country never invited you here. You came into this country of your own responsibility, large numbers after our citizens supposed that Japanese immigration had been suppressed. You came notwithstanding you knew you were not welcome. You have created an abnormal situation in our midst for which you are to blame.”

The storm of venom against Japanese immigrants kept raining down for the next three years, often with an official imprimatur. New Mexico passed an alien land law in 1922, and Oregon, Montana, and Idaho all followed suit in 1923. Washington’s legislature tightened its own alien land law in 1923 by empowering the attorney general to seize the property of anyone who leased or sold to ineligible aliens.

The United States Supreme Court weighed in as well. Its 1922 ruling in Ozawa v. United States officially sanctioned the exclusion of all Asian races. A Japanese immigrant named Takao Ozawa—arguing that he had been almost entirely raised and educated in the United States, was a product of its universities, and was a Christian who spoke English in his home—sought to overturn a district court ruling that denied him the right to seek citizenship. And though the court agreed that he was “well qualified by character and education for citizenship,” it denied his appeal on the grounds that immigration laws limited naturalization to “free white persons and aliens of African nativity.” Then, in 1923, the court upheld the constitutionality of Washington’s alien land law with its Terrace v. Thompson ruling (in a case involving a King County landowner named Terrace who openly declared his wish to lease his land to an Issei farmer, and sued the state's attorney general over efforts to enforce the alien land law) which found that an alien ineligible for citizenship did not enjoy equal protection under the law.

The final blow came in 1924, when Albert Johnson, using his offices as chair of the House Immigration and Naturalization Committee, introduced a bill that would limit immigration to a 2 percent quota for each nationality, but further prohibiting the admission of any “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” The bill easily passed the House, but once in the Senate, the provisions were altered to allow for a Japanese quota as well.

However, Republican Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts then stood up in the Senate and denounced a letter from the Japanese ambassador—which had warned of “grave consequences” for relations between the two nations if the measure were to pass—as a “veiled threat” against the United States. Lodge led a stampede of support for the House version of the bill, and the era of the Gentlemen’s Agreement was over.

Signed shortly afterward by President Calvin Coolidge, complete Japanese exclusion was now the law. Officially called the Immigration Act of 1924, it became known popularly as the Asian Exclusion Act. (Its final clause: “The terms ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ do not include a wife husband by reason of a proxy or picture marriage.”)

Taken in isolation, these little acts of racial mean spiritedness may have seemed of little moment. But in fact they had consequences that eventually exploded into the history books. In Japan, the public had been closely watching the passage of the alien land laws with mounting outrage. And when news of the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act was announced, mass riots broke out in Tokyo and other cities. As Pearl Buck would later observe, the then-nascent movement for American-style democracy, which had been slowly gaining momentum in Japan, was effectively wiped out overnight. The military authoritarians who would control the nation for the next 20 years gained complete political mastery, and one of the cornerstones of their rule was a bellicose anti-Americanism that would finally reach fruition in late 1941.
Moreover, the groundwork laid by the success of the nativist campaign led to one of the nation's great historical atrocities -- namely, the incarceration of 110,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II.

And we all remember how Michele Bachmann deplored that episode -- when it suited her own fearmongering purposes. Guess it's another story when it comes to immigration, eh?