Saturday, September 11, 2004

Feel the love

Caption: A member of the audience pulls a demonstrator's hair as he forces her out of an auditorium where President Bush was addressing a crowd of supporters at Byers Choice in Colmar, Pa. Thursday Sept. 9, 2004. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

Add this one to the growing collection.

Malkin in Puyallup

Incidentally, I attended Michelle Malkin's book signing last night at the Borders store in Puyallup, which is about an hour's drive from my home.

It was a very friendly crowd for her, the signing having been sponsored and promoted by the right-wing radio station KVI-AM, and all the questions were of the admiring variety (one asked her how it felt to be "avenged by Zell Miller").

I had a question for Malkin, but because I was late, I was toward the back of the crowd, so my briefly raised hand went unnoticed. So I hung around with my own copy of In Defense of Internment and went through the line.

When it was my turn, I warned Michelle she might not want to sign it, and told her my name. But she was gracious and gave it a nice "Best" and signature, and we chatted briefly.

Rather than just ask my question, I gave Malkin one of my cards and asked if I could interview her by phone. She agreed to do so, and gave me her e-mail address. We're planning to set something up after she returns from her book tour.

Before I left, I gave her a head start by telling her what my first question (which was the question I intended to ask her that night) would be:
How can you dismiss racism as a significant cause of the internment without addressing it in your book?

Here's hoping she provides some answers when we talk next week.

Malkin and historical revisionism

[Koyo Hayashida and her 2-year-old daughter wait to board the ferry at Bainbridge Island on March 30, 1942, en route to the concentration camp at Manzanar. Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, Museum of History and Industry. This photo is not a forgery.]

In her bestselling In Defense of Internment (which I have previously discussed here, here and here) Michelle Malkin extolls as among her chief qualifications for authoring such a text "the ability to view the writing of history as something other than a therapeutic indulgence."

There is no small irony in this, considering that Malkin's text is a crystalline example of "the abuse of history" (as she puts it elsewhere) as right-wing "group therapy." In Defense of Internment takes a few small slices of fact, removes them from their larger context or distorts their significance, embellishes them with non-facts, either sneeringly dismisses or utterly ignores an entire ocean of contravening evidence, and then pronounces the whole enterprise history.

That isn't history. It's propaganda.

Malkin, in fact, manipulates history in a way that makes clear that her entire methodology is little more than a polemical parlor game: Play up whatever scraps of evidence you can find to support your point, pretend that the wealth of evidence disproving your thesis simply doesn't exist, and then fend off your critics with a steady string of non-sequiturs and irrelevancies, never answering their core criticisms. This tactic is familiar to anyone who's dealt with the right much, especially in the past decade. Just call it Oxyconfabulation.

It can be an effective polemical style in terms of fooling mass audiences with little historical training or appreciation for the nuances of research, though it certainly hasn't fooled any serious historians.

What is grotesquely wrong, however, with playing parlor games with history as Malkin does is that it traduces and trivializes and rationalizes the very real injustice that was visited upon some 80,000 American citizens and some 40,000 of their longtime resident immigrant parents, whose primary reason for never gaining citizenship lay in the racist laws which prevented them from doing so.

There was real human pain and real human suffering produced by this episode, more than can ever be justified by the preposterously thin claim of "military necessity." Malkin thoughtlessly bulldozes over these people's lives, especially when she resurrects the old "A Jap is a Jap" canard by consistently clumping Nisei, Issei and Japanese spies together under the term "ethnic Japanese". More egregiously, she libels their good names by claiming, without anything resembling sound evidentiary support, that widespread suspicion of their loyalty as citizens was well-grounded. As I've mentioned before, I know some 442nd vets who would be happy to discuss this with her, since it is their loyalty she is impugning by associating them willy-nilly with Japanese consulate spies.

Unsurprisingly, her thoughtless wreckage of history is wreaking havoc in people's lives in the real world. Her book has inspired yet another right-wing maven wannabe to challenge her local school district's teaching of the subject, claiming that, contrary to the weighed judgment of hundreds of historians and legal experts, the forced incarceration of Japanese American citizens in World War II was not a mistake. And she is waving Malkin's book as "proof."

The real irony: it has happened on, of all places, Bainbridge Island.

That's right. The site of the first "test run" of the evacuation. A place where people's experience of the internment is more than a mere pedantic exercise.

Bainbridge Island's strawberry farmers were targeted that spring of 1942 by Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt because he feared they might be providing, via shore-to-ship communications, military data to Japanese subs about the movements of American ships moving in and out of the major naval port in Bremerton, which is a visual stone's throw from the island's western side. He also feared sabotage from the same populace. Of course, the only evidence he had for these fears were second-hand anecdotes and FBI reports of raids in which Nisei were found with such items as guns and dynamite (all of which, of course, were stock items for rural Washington farmers, who often hunted and whose work always entailed stump removal, which usually entailed explosives).

So Bainbridge Island was first on his list, and on March 30, 1942, Army personnel -- under the direction of Col. Karl Bendetsen, architect of the internment -- showed up on the island and escorted 276 Nisei and Issei from their homes, boarded them onto the ferry, and took them to Seattle, where they boarded a train that took them directly to Manzanar, California, where the first of the internment camps had been erected.

The Bainbridge evacuation went off so smoothly, in fact, that the government quickly realized that pulling off evacuation on a massive scale was possible, and proceeded apace.

But the evacuation was never popular on the island, because the Japanese had been there since the turn of the century, and they had long-established roots in the community. Their kids went to school with the Caucasian (mostly Scandinavian) population, and they played baseball together and looked out for each other as all neighbors do. Most of the island's residents were shocked, and on the morning they departed, many of them turned out to watch and were appalled.

The legacy of that knowledge is imbedded deeply on Bainbridge. The island's most famous current resident, author David Guterson, is best known for his novel about the internment tragedy, Snow Falling on Cedars. Many internees and their neighbors, as well as their descendants, still make Bainbridge their home. In recent years, the island has been swamped by newcomers, but the long-established families still are a powerful presence in the life of the community.

So when a local mother, one of the relatively recent arrivals, who had read Malkin's book -- and, like most of the wannabe internment "experts" who have popped up on the Web, apparently little else about the internment -- decided to challenge the local schools' curriculum in teaching about the episode, it didn't go over very well.

As the Seattle Times reported:
Dombrowski, in her brown jeans and linen shirt and almost-clogs, has that artsy/graduate-student look, particularly with a satchel draped across her back. The satchel is stuffed with letters to the school district, letters written back to her, a paperback written by Lillian Baker titled "American and Japanese Relocation in World War II: Fact, Fiction & Fallacy."

The book is controversial, as is a new book by Michelle Malkin, a former Seattle Times editorial writer, that defends the internment. Malkin's arguments have fueled Dombrowski's resolve that the internment is a complex, nuanced historical event and that the subject ought to be presented as such.

... At Sakai Intermediate School, named after local internee Sonoji Sakai, Principal Vander Stoep acknowledged the internment is presented with one point of view.

"We do teach it as a mistake," she said, noting that the U.S. government has admitted it was wrong. "As an educator, there are some things that we can say aren't debatable anymore." Slavery, for example. Or the internment -- as opposed to a subject such as global warming, she said.

Thursday night, the Bainbridge school board made clear it had no intention of backing down, as The Sun reported:
A curriculum for Sakai Intermediate School sixth-graders about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was debated for about an hour and 20 minutes at Thursday's meeting of the Bainbridge Island School Board.

The night was civil, with most of the about two dozen speakers coming down in favor of the board's decision to continue teaching that the internment was a mistake.

The curriculum had its first run in February after its development by former sixth-grade social studies teacher Marie Marrs. The district received a $17,000 grant from the Washington Civil Liberties Education Program to offer the program to Sakai sixth-graders

Bruce Weiland, school board president, prefaced the discussion by saying the district's position, including some changes, had already been made.

-- The program would probably be shortened from the month it took last year to teach it.

-- A call for more historical context would be considered.

-- Linking the internment with modern issues would be done with care. Weiland said it's not the school's role to tell students whether the Patriot Act is good or bad.

-- The basic point, that the internment was a mistake, was illegal and a tragedy remains the same, Weiland said.

The Sun also carried a photo from the meeting that caught my interest:

Both of these men are 81. The man on the right is Jerry Nakata, who had graduated from Bainbridge High in 1941 and who was one of the islanders swept up in the evacuation; Nakata still lives on the island. The story quotes him briefly:
Nakata said he was forced to leave the island March 30, 1942, because he looked like the enemy. "The only guilt I had was my face," he said.

The man on the left is a World War II veteran named Earl Hanson. He was a neighbor and childhood friend of Nakata's and graduated from high school the same year. He also was an eyewitness to the evacuation.

I had the real pleasure of interviewing Earl Hanson earlier this summer for the oral-history organization Densho. He lives in nearby Poulsbo in a home built by his wife's parents, tucked away on a hillside. He's a very charming man and a devoted partisan of all things Norwegian. He also has very strong feelings about the internment.

Hanson, you see, also fought against Japan in the Pacific Theater. He joined the Navy shortly after seeing his friends shipped off to Manzanar -- the memories of which still bring tears to his eyes -- and wound up being shipped off to fight "the Japs." He saw action at Midway and elsewhere, and endured a couple of trans-Pacific crossings in the small Navy boats to which he was assigned.

Hanson, perhaps more than the average sailor, was acutely aware of the difference between "the Japs" he was fighting and the Japanese Americans back home. And he understood that what happened to them arose from other people's -- and especially the government's -- failure to comprehend the distinction.

He especially remembers a bus trip he took, late in the war, from a training station in Colorado to his assignment in Seattle, still in uniform. En route, the bus stopped in Walla Walla, and while at the station, Hanson espied a couple of Nisei classmates, members of a family who had made their way out of the internment camps by going to work for a local farmer. Hanson got off the bus and greeted them, and they were quickly joined by the rest of the family. A brief and happy reunion ensued.

As he returned to his seat, a man near the back of the bus began talking out loud about how those "damned Japs" had no business being anywhere but behind barbed wire. Hanson -- who is a big man even now, and he must have been imposing at age 20 -- took umbrage. He stood and "gave that guy an earful," pointing out that those were friends and neighbors of his and insisting that (in the inimitable lexicon of the prewar generation) "they were every bit as white as you and me."

The rest of the bus ride to Seattle (which in those days was about eight hours), Hanson said, there was nothing but silence.

It might not be a bad idea to somehow get Earl Hanson on the same bus as Michelle Malkin, since he no doubt would give her a piece of his mind as well (though who knows how he might put it). Certainly, it would remind her that there is a real human component to the history her book attempts to trivialize.

However, there's not much likelihood it would make any difference; she has not responded well so far to even measured criticism like that of Eric Muller and Greg Robinson. Petulance and arrogance are an ugly combination, but they are probably more honest than the quasi-objective pose she affected at the outset of the discussion.

The hallmark of Malkin's response has been to ignore the core criticisms -- particularly the absence of any discussion of the role of racism and its history in a text one of whose central theses is that racism was not a proximate cause of the internment -- and to instead launch a thousand non-sequiturs, while mischaracterizing and distorting her opponents' arguments.

This is true not merely in her response to Muller and Robinson, but other critics as well. Her response to the debate on Bainbridge Island: "What are they so afraid of?"

Of course, no one is afraid of anything. But what they won't condone is the falsification of history.

My old friend and colleague Danny Westneat had a thoughtful column about this earlier this week:
Even if you discount these 39 historians, and also ignore the moral implications of jailing innocent people, it still is indisputable in hindsight that the internment was a failure and a colossal waste of money. There just isn't any evidence it fulfilled its stated purpose, which was to catch spies and prevent acts of espionage.

That's what they are teaching the sixth-graders on Bainbridge Island -- that the internment uprooted the lives of American citizens and failed to achieve its security goals.

What's more, students explore how echoes of the internment can be found in the current war on terror, what with some people being jailed without being charged or having access to a lawyer.

Isn't this what the teaching of history is for? It's not to give equal time to all ideas, regardless of merit. It's to describe the past accurately, and then analyze it to learn why it happened and what it means today.

What Malkin (for obvious reasons) refuses to acknowledge is that, in terms of the writing of history, her work is demonstrable rubbish that simply does not withstand serious scrutiny. We don't give equal time so our children can hear from the Flat Earth Society or the defenders of slavery or the Holocaust revisionists. Demonstrably false beliefs do not rate equal time with the broad consensus of several decades' worth of factual historical research.

Unsurprisingly, Malkin has mischaracterized Westneat's argument as "that internment ought not even be debated". Of course, what he's saying is that giving fraudulent propaganda that falsifies history enough credence to present it as "just another viewpoint" -- in other words, giving falsehoods equal footing with established truth -- is not a "debate". It's a travesty. And our schools have no business exposing our kids to it.

Had Malkin attempted a serious work worthy of real debate, it would have honestly examined the role of racism as a significant if not decisive factor at nearly every crucial juncture in the unfolding process that eventually produced the internment travesty. It would have reckoned with the mountain of overwhelming evidence, produced in historical text after text, that this was the case. It would have discussed the role of the "Yellow Peril" conspiracy theories, the anti-Japanese agitation of 1912-24 that culminated in the Alien Land Laws and the Asian Exclusion Act, eugenics and the ascendance of white supremacism, and the permeation of these beliefs in nearly every level of society, including those of the key decision-makers.

If Malkin were serious about attacking the thesis that these factors were significant, she'd have produced a work that addressed that evidence and offered both counter-evidence establishing that this racism did not exist and was not present in the many rationalizations for the internment, as well as both a long-term and a proximate cause for the political pressure favoring the evacuation.

But what do we find in her text?

Nothing. Not a single word. The only time racism is mentioned is when Malkin is simply dismissing it as a cause.

Malkin has likewise airily dismissed suggestions that her work is akin to that of Holocaust revisionists, pointing to a brief passage in her book that doesn't actually address the issue, but simply discards the comparison as somehow beyond the pale. But as Eric Muller and others have observed, the comparison is quite valid when we're talking about methodology and history.

As Muller says, comparing Malkin to David Irving (as both I and Timothy Burke have done) is not to suggest that the American internment tragedy is somehow analogous to the Holocaust. What it does say is that Malkin's methodology is nearly identical to that of Holocaust deniers like Irving.

I happen to know a little about Holocaust denial, since it is a prominent feature of the neo-Nazi and Patriot right. A number of my interview subjects for In God's Country expounded on Holocaust-denial ideas, and I've also had the distinct displeasure of having waded through more than a few Holocaust-denial texts and Web sites. (I showered afterward, I promise.)

The truth is that Malkin's methodology in terms of historical analysis is identical in nearly every respect to that of Irving and his fellow deniers at places like the Institute for Historical Review and the Barnes Review.

You see, Holocaust deniers don't exactly deny that there was mass genocide directed at the Jews. But they minimize it systematically: Arguing that there weren't 6 million Jews murdered -- the number, they say, was more in the range of 100,000. Then placing it in the "broader context" of the millions of people killed by the war itself (war is hell, you know), thus suggesting that the Holocaust was an act of war and not of mass genocide. Finally, throwing up "previously undiscovered" counter-evidence -- like the claims that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz -- that, on close inspection, proves either bogus or a gross distortion, often by omission.

For those not familiar with the milieu, David Irving remains the best and most illustrative example of this kind of approach to history. Irving, unlike Malkin, is an academically trained historian, one whose career arc traversed from "controversial" to "extremist" over the course of several years. (Malkin's arc, comparitively, is now somewhere in between.)

Even in his early, "controversial" years, careful examination of Irving's methodology revealed "that he omitted important evidence and that he misused, manipulated and even altered documents to support his theory" (sound familiar?). Eventually, rather than accept the criticism and alter his approach accordingly, Irving defiantly drifted into the murky waters of Holocaust denial:
Until 1988 Irving refrained from supporting the deniers' outlook explicitly. The event which caused him to cross the line and join the deniers' camp was the publication of The Leuchter Report. Fred Leuchter, who claimed to be a specialist in constructing and installing execution apparatus in US prisons, was hired by the Canadian Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel to be an expert witness at his trial. Before the trial, with Zündel's financial assistance, Leuchter traveled to Poland where he visited Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek and illegally collected "forensic samples" for chemical analysis. In his published findings, he claimed that the facilities in these camps were not capable of mass annihilation. The allegation that the gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps in general and in Auschwitz in particular were used only for disinfection purposes was not new, having been raised already a few years after the war by one of the first European Holocaust deniers, the French fascist Maurice Bardèche, and from then on it appeared in numerous Holocaust denial publications. For Holocaust denial writers, however, Leuchter's report was significant. It was introduced as a major breakthrough for those who were "seeking the truth"; now their claim had allegedly been proved scientifically. "For myself, shown this evidence for the first time when called as an expert witness at the Zündel trial in Toronto in April 1988, the laboratory reports were shattering. There could be no doubts as to their integrity," wrote Irving in his introduction to The Leuchter Report, which was published in the United Kingdom by Irving's publishing house Focal Point Publications.

Holocaust denial recently crossed a number of people's radars because of the controversy over Mel Gibson's The Passion and its anti-Semitic nature. Regular readers will recall that Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, speaks at Holocaust-denial conferences and has been interviewed several times expressing such beliefs quite unmistakably.

Mel Gibson himself has referred to his father as an intellectual mentor several times, though he heatedly denies being anti-Semitic. But the denials are couched in the evasive language used by Holocaust deniers, as on the occasion when he sat for an interview with Peggy Noonan and said the following:
"I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

As you can see, nearly all of Gibson's "factoids" are those trotted out by the likes of David Irving and Ernst Zundel: Yes, there were many Jews killed in Europe during World War II, but they were only a small part of the total who died in the war, and the "6 million" number is grossly exaggerated. Irving himself put it this way:
I am not familiar with any documentary evidence of any such figure as six million ... it must have been of the order of 100,000 or more, but to my mind it was certainly less than the figure which is quoted nowadays of six million ... .

In Defense of Internment is less, perhaps, David Irving and more Mel Gibson, since it lingers just short of explicit radicalism. However, it employs a methodology very similar, if not identical, to the deniers: It fudges numbers, claiming, for instance, that the numbers of Nisei serving in the Japanese Army ranged "from 1,648 ... to as high as 7,000", a range that renders it almost meaningless, while omitting the fact that many of those Nisei were unfortunate students forcibly conscripted into service. It elides whole ranges of evidence and manipulates other pieces of evidence in a way that is clearly deceptive. It rationalizes the internment by raising the canard that because many of the Nisei were technically "dual citizens," their loyalty was suspect, thereby minimizing the impact of the incarceration for thousands of loyal citizens. It tries to place the decisions that drove the internment in a false "context" of supposed military concerns about an imminent invasion (though Malkin has since conceded that the military's only real concern was about spot raids similar to those that wracked the East Coast -- where German American citizens were not incarcerated -- as well). And it raises "fresh evidence" in the form of MAGIC encrypts, the significance of which has consistently been discarded by serious historians as minimal at best, for sound factual reasons.

As the Irving example suggests, this kind of approach to history -- in which facts are mere indulgent playthings to be manipulated and distorted at will, all in the service of "proving" a thesis -- is more than a mere exercise in pedantic polemicism. It inflicts real-world harm on the lives of ordinary people by minimizing the tragedies of those who actually lived through the events whose memory they abuse so blithely.

Worst of all, in doing so, they pave the way for these tragedies to repeat themselves. And that, really, is what makes Malkin, Irving, Gibson and their like truly reprehensible.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Supremacism's silent creep

[The last days of the Aryan Nations compound: Winter 2000. The church and the surrounding buildings, including the shed with the swastika, were burned to the ground the following summer by the new owner.]

There's a scene in the Coen Brothers' O Brother Where Art Thou in which our three heroes have crept their way into a Ku Klux Klan rally in hopes of rescuing a black friend of theirs (the scene, incidentally, is a delicious homage to The Wizard of Oz). At one point the marching stops and the Grand Kleagle on the mainstage begins singing, a capella, the song "O Death":
O, Death
O, Death
Won't you spare me over til another year
Well what is this that I can't see
With ice cold hands takin' hold of me
Well I am death, none can excel
I'll open the door to heaven or hell
Whoa, death someone would pray
Could you wait to call me another day

It is an old man who sings this (Ralph Stanley, who was 72 at the time, provided the voice), and in the setting of the mass spectacle lynching under way, its effect is chilling to the bone, since the song speaks to the heart of evil itself.

The last time I saw Richard Butler alive, he was in the process of losing title to his Aryan Nations compound. This was in February 2001, and I was covering (for the Washington Post) the court hearing that would officially award the compound to the family whose lawsuit bankrupted him.

At a press conference afterward, the 82-year-old hatemonger was defiant, claiming that Jews were responsible for his troubles, and vowing to continue preaching and organizing as he has for decades: "I'm not going leave like a whipped dog. Period."

I stood close to Butler that day and was intrigued by his features up close: his leathery skin sagged in a way that made it seem strangely artificial, as though all the hate that had been festering inside him for years somehow kept him propped up, just enough alive to keep spewing bile. I thought of that scene in O Brother, and the thought crossed my mind that it could have been Butler up there in those robes, pleading with death to pass him over.

Now that Butler has earned, one hopes, his final headlines by passing on to the Great White Father in the Sky, it's perhaps worth remembering that hate like that which drives Butler and his cohorts never really dies. It's like an infection that is handed on and on, and its effect on the body politic ebbs and flows like a low-level fever.

Indeed, while it's doubtful that Butler was even cognizant of it, his white-supremacist worldview, even as he was dying, appears on the verge of achieving his fondest hope: becoming, once again, part of the mainstream public discourse.

Butler was an old-style hater. He came out of a milieu in which his Christian Identity belief system was originally relegated to a handful of tiny churches scattered around the country, and these churches attracted tiny but hard-core devotees.

Butler, a quiet-spoken Lockheed engineer and Army veteran, first was attracted to this milieu when involved, in the early 1950s, in a neo-McCarthyite campaign to "expose" California schoolteachers suspected of communism; it was there that he met William Potter Gale, a former aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur who was running for governor on a platform calling for the impeachment of Eisenhower and the Supreme Court for their roles in the unfolding desegregation drama. Gale introduced Butler to a congregation in Lancaster, Calif., called the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, operated by an Identity preacher named Wesley Swift.

Butler eventually took over the reins of the congregation following Swift's death in 1971. On a visit to northern Idaho in the early '70s, he decided it was time to fulfill his dream of creating an all-white "Aryan Homeland," and the Northwest was where he wanted to do it. In 1974, he purchased a 20-acre tract surrounded by forest near Hayden Lake and proceeded to move the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian from Hollywood to Idaho.

By the time the compound finally was forced out of his hands some 27 years later, it had been the wellspring of an unending litany of violence and hate, ranging from the yearlong criminal rampage of The Order to the travesty of Ruby Ridge. There are indications Tim McVeigh made a pilgrimage to Aryan Nations as well; certainly, he was deeply influenced by its neo-Nazi ideology.

The end came because Butler never could control the criminals and thugs who flocked to his property. Three of them one night attacked a mother and her teenage son who'd made the mistake of driving up their driveway by accident. The resulting civil lawsuit bankrupted Butler. In his declining days he was mostly isolated, surrounded by a small cluster of family and friends, though he did make a pallid appearance at this year's annual Aryan Nations parade in Couer d'Alene, where some 40 supporters joined him. He was seated in a lawn chair in the back of a pickup truck, and scarcely moved during the eight-block parade route.

Shortly after Butler lost the property, I interviewed Michael Barkun, the Syracuse University political-science professor and author of Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement, for a thinkpiece I wrote for MSNBC.

"Obviously, Butler is just about the last of his generation and certainly the group by all appearances seems to be moribund," Barkun told me. "In a sense, while it has a high public profile, it is in many respects the old order, and in that sense the victory may not mean a huge amount, because I suspect that the problems are going to come from groups that are much more adroit in the managing of their public image than Aryan Nations ever was."

Indeed, the nature of Butler's demise -- through his culpability for others' actions -- is forcing the radical right to go in two different directions, according to Barkun, since the success of groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center at driving outfits like his out of business "puts even more pressure on the organized groups to distance themselves from culpability, and therefore have no organization at all or radically decentralized organizations, or organizations that look to be simply avenues for presenting their views to the public.

"One way of protecting yourself was to advocate leaderless resistance, and another was to take the kind of position that Butler and his fellow defendants did at Fort Smith, saying, 'All we're doing is presenting opinions, and therefore we can't be held accountable. This is all either protected speech or free exercise of religion.' So I think that these groups will go in one of two directions -- they will either fragment into small cells that are even more difficult to trace and monitor, or they're going to try to look like interest groups and therefore claim that whatever they're doing constitutes not the advocacy of violence but simply the expression of ideas."

Barkun was exactly on the money. As I just noted, militia and other extremist cells remain a volatile presence in America, keeping a low profile through a tactic that relies on diffuse memberships and "leaderless resistance."

The other shoe, of course, involves the mainstreaming of extremism, a phenomenon I've described at length previously. Max Blumenthal recently filed a thorough report for American Prospect that describes in detail how white supremacists have positioned themselves, through the rising anti-immigration movement, to become a major player in Republican politics:
White Noise: Anti-immigration zealots have launched a stealth campaign to "fix" Bush's policies

Blumenthal's report focuses largely on the activities of the white supremacists involved in Occidental Quarterly, whose mission statement is fairly unambiguous:
Race informs culture; it is the necessary precondition for cultural identity and integrity. In 1950 whites represented 30 percent of the world's population. If current trends persist, this number will plummet to 8 percent by 2050. In the United States, whites are projected to become a minority of the national population in less than fifty years. The result will impoverish not only their descendants but the world in general and will jeopardize the civilization and free governments that whites have created.

As I've discussed previously, white supremacists from the Occidental Review are playing roles in such statewide ballot measures as Arizona's Protect Arizona Now, which is still heavily favored to win in spite of the campaign's open association with this element. If the measure carries, as expected, then its backers are going to be positioned to have an impact on the direction of the larger conservative movement.

Blumenthal also describes the role of certain Republican politicians:
The anti-immigrant activists on the Occidental board have united behind Representative Tom Tancredo, a virulently anti-immigrant Republican from Littleton, Colorado (home of Columbine High School). As the Republican convention opens with the Republican National Committee endorsing George W. Bush's guest-worker proposal for undocumented immigrants, Tancredo is working behind the scenes to make sure that the convention plank supports his anti-immigrant politics. He's vowing "to raise hell" if he's thwarted.

Tancredo's frustration is echoed by Jared Taylor, Occidental Quarterly board member and editor of American Renaissance, a magazine that he says approaches issues of race and culture "from a white perspective."

Says Taylor: "The amazing thing about Republicans is they keep saying, 'If we could only get 12 percent instead of 2 percent of Hispanics to vote for us, we'd be in fat city.' All they need to do is raise their percentage of the white vote one-half a percent and that would make much more difference than all of this futile pandering to minorities. Clearly Bush is going to have sacrificed votes all over the country, although how many is hard to say."

According to Devin Burghart, director of the Center for New Community, a Chicago-based group that monitors the far right, rising anger against the Bush administration's immigration policy within the GOP could provide a prime opportunity for the white nationalist and anti-immigrant movements to incorporate their ideologies into the party.

"There is a huge backlash right now, and, quite frankly, if Bush loses, there's going to be quite a bloodletting within the GOP," Burghart says. "If the anti-immigrant folks can demonstrate that 'compassionate conservatism' was somehow responsible for turning away the Republican base and losing the election, they can move their politics from the fringes into the mainstream."

It's clear, in fact, that the anti-immigration crowd has already had an impact on this year's presidential campaign. Or did anyone else notice that the immigration issue was yanked off the GOP agenda for its national convention? Oh, and did anyone hear a word about the temporary-worker program?

In the meantime, the mainstream press dutifully plays along. Did you all notice last week how an outfit called the Center for Immigration Studies published a report -- titled "The High Cost of Cheap Labor Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget" -- which concluded that illegal immigrants cost taxpayers in the vicinity of $10 billion a year.

And the mainstream press played it as if it were a legitimate and serious study: "Illegal Immigrants Cost U.S. $10 Billion a Year, Study Says" read the Knight Ridder headline. Copley News Service's read: "Immigration Proposals Could Cost Taxpayers Plenty, Study Says." "Report Says Illegal Immigrants Cost Country Billions" was the Gannett News Service headline.

As Jessica Azaulay at ZNet points out, the media's gullibility in its handling of this study is relatively noteworthy:
To their credit, some newspapers waited a day to release news of the report, presumably to gather responses from the other side of this issue, but even articles including extensive quotations from immigrants' rights advocates heavily favored the Center for Immigration Study's report in their coverage. In the dozen major newspaper and wire service articles reviewed for this analysis, the bias toward the Center's report was revealed in the comparative number of words given to each side, the placement of quotes and points of view, and the framing of the debate.

Scattered throughout reporting on the issue are various challenges to the Center's study, though these are outnumbered by a ratio of more than two to one and receive little help from the media in terms of cohesion or prominence.

Azaulay also offers an incisive critique of the study's methodology. There was also a lawyerly response from Frank Sharry that is thorough and pretty devastating. Finally, Juan Esparza Loera at The Fresno Bee did a nice job of running down the study's more egregious flaws.

What's important to note, though, is that the CIS is a creature of the Federation for American Immigration Reform -- run by the same people involved in the Occidental Review. The easy spread of their propaganda into the mainstream was facilitated by lazy editors more eager for "hot" headlines than fairness or accuracy.

It reminds me of something Devin Burghart told me when I interviewed him for the 2001 MSNBC piece, discussing the rise of white nationalists within the ranks of mainstream conservatism.

"They're focusing far more on ballots this time around than bullets," he said. "And that's why you see the fights around the Confederate flag, or immigration or affirmative action, or other issues which are racially and ethnically charged becoming issue points for this newly emergent white nationalism, to act as a contending ideology, both here in the United States as well as in Europe."

This effort by the white-supremacist movement, to package itself in mainstream clothing, is nothing new. But its increasing sophistication, and the challenges it now presents, make any legal victories over the Aryan Nations seem small and short-lived.

"It poses a major challenge, particularly when much of racial nationalism is disguised as a kind of America First economic nationalism," said Burghart. "It means that those who are concerned about pluralism and democracy in the United States need to be equipped with the tools to be able to ferret out white nationalism when it emerges in the public sector, when it rears its ugly head in the political process, or makes itself known in any attempt to move into the mainstream."

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Taking hate crimes serously

One of the more common arguments made against hate-crime laws is the notion that, because they have been avidly supported by civil-rights and minority advocacy groups, they represent primarily "identity politics" whose sole purpose is to appease aggrieved groups.

Longtime readers (as well as those who've read Death on the Fourth of July) know that I've discussed previously the broader reality -- which is that hate-crime laws actually enjoy serious support from communities and local officials who are trying to grapple with the manifestations of these crimes. These smaller entities often lack the political or PR punch of larger advocacy groups, and so their roles are often obscured; but in fact, many hate-crimes laws originate not with "identity politics" but with real grass-roots needs.

This was driven home recently in northern Kentucky, where a local prosecutor is calling for a tougher state law in the wake of a series of incidents in her district:
Boone County Attorney Linda Tally Smith is pushing for tougher penalties at the state level in the wake of the cross burning at the home of the African-American family in Burlington that led to Frederick Mahone, his wife and two teenage children moving out of Burlington and out of the county.

Smith said the cross burning was the first hate crime in the area since she began working here 10 years ago. She said she was surprised at limitations of the state law.

Under current state law, the men charged -- Matthew Scudder, 18, of Hebron; Jimmy Foster, 19, of Independence; and two juveniles -- would only face misdemeanor criminal mischief and criminal trespass with one year in jail and possibly denial of probation or parole if they are convicted and a judge determines the crimes were motivated by bias.

"It's frustrating from a prosecutor's point-of-view when you have to tell a victim you can't do anything for them," Smith said.

The Burlington case was turned over to the FBI and categorized as felony civil rights violations. The men charged face 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted.

Smith is researching penalty enhancement statutes in other states and working with city officials and legislators in Frankfort to strengthen the penalties for hate-motivated crimes. One approach she is exploring involves ratcheting up penalty for a crime in which hate plays a role just as offenders in possession of firearms during a drug arrest would face harsher penalties than those without firearms. That could help nullify the need to hand such cases over to federal courts.

"We should be equipped to handle it at either level (state or federal)," Smith said.

Kentucky, it should be noted, has a notoriously weak hate-crime statute, and Smith's crusade for an effective law that can actually be put to use is only a matter of common sense. And Smith, it should be noted, is a Republican.

I was, however, struck by something my friend Mark Potok said in this story:
Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's intelligence report, said he sees some value in enhancing penalties for hate crimes but in the long run doesn't believe they will deter the crime.

"They are a good thing in the sense that it is a declaration that these crimes are a detriment to society," Potok said.

But, he doubts those committing such crimes will stop to consider possible sentencing.

I think Mark would probably agree that the laws are needed if for no other reason than to give these communities effective tools for countering them. The salutary effect of one hate-crime perpetrator's extended sentence can in fact make another would-be perp -- particularly a "reactive" offender -- think twice.

However, he is exactly right that the laws alone are not enough to prevent these crimes. What has been proven to be effective is high-profile community repudiation of white supremacist activities and especially hate crimes. As I've mentioned previously, the public protests, marches and demonstrations against hate crimes often come wrapped in PC flavorings, but they in fact play significant roles in deterring would-be hate criminals, who almost uniformly believe that their attempts to drive out "outsiders" -- which in the end is what hate crimes are about -- actually have the implicit support of their communities.

Because silence is interpreted as assent, communities that do nothing run the risk of encouraging serious and potentially devastating violence. And for that reason alone, standing up to hate crimes is a simple matter of good common sense.

Militias march on

We've known for some time that militias and the Patriot movement generally have been in serious decline since their bubble burst Jan. 1, 2000, the day the world was supposed to fall apart but didn't.

A lot of people have misinterpreted this decline as indicating the demise of these groups. If only.

The reality is that the extremist right has always been with us and probably always will be; it just morphs into new faces and shapes, the Patriot movement being the most recent. It also rises and falls in nearly predictable cycles, and the recent down cycle is typical.

What down cycles disguise is the reality that in some ways, the far right becomes more dangerous in these periods. Their remaining True Believers typically become more radical, more prone to violence, and more determined to take action, much of which doesn't manifest itself until later, often during an upward swing. The far right also tends to reinvent itself during these periods, ultimately re-energizing itself with fresh strategies (the "militia movement" itself being simply one of these).

A new report from the Anti-Defamation League documents how the Patriot movement has been working its way back into business, gradually, using a low-profile approach that tends to attract more hard-core believers:
Thought by many to have been in decline, right-wing militia groups in the United States have experienced a growth in activity in recent months that indicates a quiet attempt to revive the anti-government movement. These "new" militia groups operate more quietly and train more intensely than their 1990s counterparts, and have new, post-September 11 versions of the "New World Order" conspiracy theories that motivated their predecessors.

The section on "Renewed Activity" provides some detail:
The more recent resurgence of activity has attracted little attention, in part because militia activists generally keep a much lower profile then they did in the 1990s, when militia-related Web sites and public meetings were more common. Militia activists still use the Internet, but tend to prefer the lower-profile arenas of online discussion forums and mailing lists over Web sites.

Using these technologies, militia activists have increasingly begun to connect with each other and seek recruits. In June 2004, for example, the East Central Mississippi Militia, based near Meridian, Mississippi, posted a message asking for "like minded folks to be part of a mutual aid group, and possibly join our unit." The group would meet for training, shooting, and "to build the group's trust/cohesiveness."

This lack of trust -- because of fear of federal informants as well as fear of nongovernmental "watchdog" groups -- governs many modern-day militia interactions.

The ADL report doesn't mention Montana (though Washington is mentioned in the section on "Recruitment"), but the report's essence is corroborated by a recent report out of the Bigfork Eagle, the local weekly on the eastern side of the Flathead Valley:
Separatists, militia have supporters in Flathead Valley

One aspect of this report that stands out is the clear association between white supremacists and "militia" activities, which is unmistakable in western Montana. According to the report, the presence of militiamen in the valley has been steadily increasing in recent years, spurred almost certainly by the region's reputation for being congenial to such activities. The most notorious of the groups around which many of these "Patriots" circulate is one that formed in the wake of the demise of the Aryan Nations (more on that in a moment) calling itself the Church of True Israel. The CTI is unabashedly Christian Identity, which is to say, its members subscribe to the belief that white people are the true children of Israel, while Jews are the spawn of Satan and blacks and other nonwhites are soulless "mud people":
According to the CTI Web site, "We expect you to be a race-loyal Aryan of mature judgment, and adherent to the Doctrine of Dual Seedline Identity. But foremost in importance, you must be a person who can be trusted with the life of our Race (True Israel)."

The spokesman said, "We as a white race have our God. The Muslims have their God. The Islamics have their God. The Jews have their God. A lot of the lesser cultures or classes of people have their Gods. In a lot of these other countries, if you marry out of race you are cast out by law," the spokesman said.

... The CTI spokesman said he does not like the term racist; instead he calls it "a racialist church."

"I prefer my own race, but I don't go out in public and call blacks derogatory names. I don't need to do that. That would be counterproductive," he said.

In Montana, there are an estimated 400 members of CTI, more than 80 of whom reside in the Flathead Valley. The group began in 1995 when a confederation of several families "wished to carry out the word and expand from the home Bible study unit. We all shared the same beliefs, and did not choose to go with other churches that were militant in nature." Some Church of True Israel founders had previous links to the Aryan Nations in North Idaho.

Regular readers will recall that I paid a visit to the Flathead Valley two years ago as part of a community response to a rash of attacks on liberals inspired by a right-wing radio host whose Patriot sympathies are clear and unmistakable.

But it's worth remembering, of course, that this resurgence threatens not only to tear apart communities where Patriots manifest themselves, but it almost certainly will lead to a real resurgence of far-right domestic terrorism to accompany it. In a post-9/11 environment, that's a significant threat.

Ah, I know. Silly me. How could I have forgotten that domestic terrorists are no longer considered real terrorists anymore anyway.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Vulnerable indeed

It's now official: "A vote for a Democrat is a vote for Al Qaeda" is (as predicted) officially the central theme of this year's Republican presidential campaign.

Dick Cheney trotted it out for national consumption this weekend:
Vice President Dick Cheney says the United States will risk another terrorist attack if voters make the wrong choice on Election Day, suggesting Sen. John Kerry would follow a pre-Sept. 11 policy of reacting defensively.

"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States," Cheney told supporters at a town-hall meeting Tuesday.

Cheney was providing the followup punch to the rather sly introduction of the meme last week at the GOP National Convention by the phony "Democrat" Zell Miller, who claimed that "our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our Commander in Chief".

Never mind the hilarity of Republicans (or faux Democrats) pontificating about an obsession over "bringing down" an elected President, especially considering the difference between the traditional democratic institution of presidential elections and a transparently illegitimate impeachment that was little more than an attempt at overturning the will of the electorate. (It's also worth remembering that Republicans were famously loath to acknowledge Bill Clinton as the "Commander in Chief".)

No, what was insidious about Miller's characterization of the opposition to George W. Bush was the way he identified it with attacks on the national interest by referring to him as "the Commander in Chief." It's a sly way of identifying Bush's political enemies with our national enemies -- Democrats with Al Qaeda.

Cheney, ever the master of the one-two punch, carried that suggestion a notch further on Tuesday. But in the process, he created an opening for Democrats to begin asking the question that really needs to be asked: In looking at Bush's record, why would anyone think that he has made us safer from terrorism?

Cheney has created an opening for Democrats, really, to say what needs to be said: When it comes to terrorism, Bush was asleep at the wheel on Sept. 11. And he has driven us deeper into the ditch in the years since.

Just remember:

-- It wasn't Democrats who dragged the presidency through the mud with a political witch hunt culminating in a bogus impeachment trial, diverting the national interest from serious issues -- like the mounting threat of terrorism -- at a time when the threat was first manifesting itself.

-- It wasn't Democrats who minimized the seriousness of the Al Qaeda threat by dismissing President Clinton's missile strikes on their camps as mere "wagging the dog."

-- It wasn't Democrats who dismissed the warnings of the outgoing Clinton team regarding the need to take Al Qaeda and the larger threat of terrorism seriously, simply because they came from Clinton's team.

-- It wasn't a Democrat who went on vacation for month after receiving initial intelligence warnings about an imminent terrorist threat, and who failed to act on that intelligence in any discernible fashion.

-- It wasn't a Democratic administration that first focused its attentions on Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, only changing to Afghanistan after it became irrevocably clear that Osama bin Laden, and not Saddam Hussein, was responsible.

-- It wasn't a Democratic leadership that then withheld manpower from Afghanistan (almost certainly in anticipation of an Iraq invasion), depending to a large extent on help from local forces, which created an opening for the majority of the Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan -- including Osama bin Laden -- to escape over the Pakistani border.

-- It wasn't a Democratic president who then proceeded to (perhaps intentionally) misread intelligence and mislead the public about the nature of the threat posed by Saddam, successfully portraying him as an essential component of the "war on terror," when the reality both before and after the subsequent invasion was that Hussein played no role whatsoever in the events of 9/11, and had only a secondary and relatively minor role in terrorist activity. (It's worth remembering that a substantial number of the horrifying victims of his brutal regime were radical Islamists.)

-- It wasn't a Democratic administration that so poorly prepared for the post-invasion reality of the forced occupation of Iraq that it created a violent quagmire in which the death toll for American soldiers (not to even mention the thousands of civilians) has now passed 1,000. This quagmire is gaining all the earmarks of an insoluble mess, regardless of who inherits it, and competence and measured judgement -- none of which Bush has displayed -- will be required to deal with it.

-- Nor was it a Democratic president who, by creating the opening for an armed insurgency, has actually fanned the flames of terrorism by creating a massive cauldron for anti-American hatred and an environment rich for swelling the ranks of Islamic radicals.

-- It wasn't, in other words, a Democratic administration that foolishly, through its own arrogance and incompetence, handed Al Qaeda leadership nearly everything it hoped for at nearly every step of the drama: a lax mindset regarding security, an escape through Pakistan, a gift invasion of Iraq that diverted precious resources from the serious work fighting terrorism, a mishandled occupation that provided a groundswell of recruitment.

Bush's entire appeal is crafted around the notion that he is a strong and decisive leader -- even if he does sometimes make the wrong call, this meme hints. But being wrong again, and again, and again, makes all the decisiveness in the world a mere figleaf for what can only be described as overwhelming incompetence. This is incompetence that, when the record is tallied, leaves no doubt that the voters already made the wrong choice, back in 2000, a choice that clearly left us vulnerable to being hit by terrorists in a way that is devastating to the nation -- then, now, and for the forseeable future.

If Democrats are serious about fighting Bush's "You know where I stand" meme, they have to make this clear, in simple and unmistakable terms.

Wrong leadership is not strong leadership.

Drill that into the public consciousness, and the rest will follow.