Thursday, April 05, 2007

Based in reality

Gavin at Sadly, No! has a little fun with Michelle Malkin's latest demand that local government officials adhere to right-wing dogma in education. What's Malkin outraged about? Well:
Here's an update to the whitewashing of jihad at Burlington Township High School. The district has released a statement about its mock terrorism drill, arguing that it really didn't mean Christian terrorists when it used "right wing fundamentalists" to portray the hostage-takers:


The fact that other public school districts have conducted similar mock terrorism drills, devised by emergency management officials singling out right-wing Christian fundamentalists, suggests that the district's statement is disinge[n]uous at best.

It’s not "insensitivity" that's the problem. It's willful ignorance. If the school district is truly committed to preparing its students for a terrorist attack, base it on reality, not P.C.

Actually, Malkin is just acting out the right-wing version of political correctness here: the only real terrorists, in her book[s], are foreign ones.

The "reality" that Malkin directs us to is a feverish Investor's Business Daily editorial imagining that Muslims are even now plotting to kill our children in their schools -- without even a shred of evidence that this is the case.

In the meantime, one might direct Malkin and the IBD to some actual reality:
In the 10 years since the April 19, 1995, bombing in Oklahoma City, in fact, the radical right has produced some 60 terrorist plots. These have included plans to bomb or burn government buildings, banks, refineries, utilities, clinics, synagogues, mosques, memorials and bridges; to assassinate police officers, judges, politicians, civil rights figures and others; to rob banks, armored cars and other criminals; and to amass illegal machine guns, missiles, explosives, and biological and chemical weapons.

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, confronting this reality severely undermines the Islamophobic populist campaign that Malkin has specialized in recent months, and the conservative approach to the "war on terror" in general:
Making the public aware of the threat from domestic terrorists, especially as part of a real war on terrorism, would require getting the public to confront the reality that the "axis of evil" comprises not merely brown-skinned people with turbans and fanatical gleams but also that surly white guy next door with the pipe-bomb arsenal in his basement.

No wonder Malkin wants schoolkids to have terrorism drills about evil Muslims -- that makes recruiting for the "John Doe" movement that much easier.

It won't do a damned thing to make us safer. In fact, by blinding kids to the real nature of terrorism, it will just make them more vulnerable to harm.

[More on domestic terrorism here, here, and here. Also, a gallery of right-wing terrorists.]

[Lightly edited at ending.]

The Neiwert Awards for 2006

It's been a little slow coming together this year, but the Northwest Progressive Institute has finally announced the winners of the 2006 David Neiwert Awards. (For an explanation of the awards, and a list of last year's winners, see here.)

Here's the entire rundown from NPI:

Since virtually all of the outstanding 2005 honorees continued to toil away last year without pause, we'd like to take the opportunity to recognize alumni for their accomplishments before presenting the 2006 recipients.

Michael Hood (Best Monitoring of Right Wing Media, 2005) has continued his impressive work at blatherWatch, chronicling the latest developments in talk radio both locally and nationally tirelessly throughout the year, whether that was sharing amazing tales of Mike Webb's legal troubles, critiquing the KTTH morning guys, or covering the memorable Eyman/Carlson feud from last summer and the Sims/Hutcherson debate comparing the civil rights movements of blacks and gays. Those of us who don't have the time nor the patience to follow conservative talk radio remain especially appreciative of his valuable work.

General J.C. Christian, Patriot (Best Humor/Satire, 2005) [of Jesus' General] has kept the snarky letters, storyboards, and graphics coming, much to the delight of progressive readers both inside and outside of the region. Highlights from 2006 included the "Give 'Em Zell, Joe" series egging on the arrogant Connecticut senator, the Howard Kaloogian foibles, and The Propagandists video taking aim at the people who made Disney's ridiculous "Path to 9/11" possible. The General fortunately shows no sign of weariness - so here's to another great year for the Official Online Organ of the Glorious Conservative Christian Cultural Revolution.

Lynn Allen (Best Interviews, 2005) continues to offer her thoughtful perspective at Evergreen Politics, and fortunately, new interviews were not in short supply. People Lynn interviewed this year included Jim Davis, the President of Washington Farmers' Union, Congressman Jay Inslee, State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, and Democratic legislators victimized by the GOP's unsuccessful sex offender postcard scandal. Lynn also helped out with Back to the Roots in 2006, a public discovery and networking program organized through the Institute for Washington's Future consisting of blog conversations, in-person forums, and other activities.

Daniel Kirkdorffer (Best Series, 2005) [of On the Road to 2008] put his incredible energy to work in 2006 in the 8th District race, tracking the vote, gaffes, and U-Turns of the district's clueless congressman (Dave Reichert) and supporting Darcy Burner, his Democratic challenger. Especially memorable was his outstanding, detailed coverage of the October candidates' debates in Bellevue and Newcastle. Darcy came closer than any Democrat ever has come to winning, but unfortunately lost a very, very close race, to the disappointment of many. Nevertheless, Dan has resolved to continue tracking a vulnerable Dave Reichert with the same vigor as before. His commitment is inspiring and admirable.

Carl Ballard (Best News Digest, 2005) quit writing the Washington State Political Report midway through 2006, but luckily he didn't quit blogging for good. Carl, along with a few friends, now snickers at the local right wing from the cleverly named EFF'in Unsound (a play on words mocking the state's most visible right wing blog and think tank). Carl's posts have gotten longer (on average) and his focus has changed somewhat, but it's been a good thing. EFF'in Unsound is guaranteed to be a fun read throughout 2007.

The folks behind BlueOregon, 43rd State Blues, and Washblog (Best Community-Driven Blogs, 2005) have continued to focus on community; each added more contributors in 2006 and increased the amount of content. Early in 2006 Washblog transformed itself into a site based on the Scoop platform, complete with a graphical redesign, and began allowing users to post their own stories. BlueOregon, meanwhile, has more frontpage bloggers than ever and has been visually restyled slightly to reflect the changing times. To the east, the increasingly larger crew of the 43rd State Blues continues to soldier on, blue-shifting the Gem State, one blog entry at a time. Their "Spud State Rundown", a regular feature summarizing the best posts from other Gem State blogs, is undeniably one of the best digests or roundups to be found across the Northwest. Alll three sites will undoubtedly remain popular in 2007.

Jim McCabe (Most Valuable Local Coverage, 2005) had a busy 2006. He retouched McCranium's appearance, brought aboard guest posters, and broadened the scope of his blogging. He closely followed the Wright and Goldmark for Congress campaigns all year (interviews were a highlight!) and ensured that Central Washington's voice would be heard. McCranium promises to be indispensable in 2007.

David Goldstein (Best Muckraking, 2005) [of Horses Ass] is the recipient of a new Neiwert Award tradition -- the LEAP Award for alumni. The LEAP Award recognizes bloggers who successfully make the leap from blogging to traditional media. In 2006, David's dreams of becoming a radio host became reality when 710 KIRO gave him a regular weekend show after just one appearance as a guest host. These days, he hosts the David Goldstein Show weekends at the station from 7 to 10 in the evening. At the end of the year, he was asked to fill in for fellow weekday KIRO host Dave Ross over the holidays. When he wasn't bringing liberal political talk back to 710 KIRO, Goldy was fundraising for netroots candidates or posting regularly at HorsesAss. His impact has been immeasurable and we're sure he'll have a very busy 2007. (For those who love acronyms, LEAP can stand for Liberals Earnestly Applying Potential ... or something like that.)

And's the 2006 winners!

Best Guest Blogger


When local progressive writers needed a vacation or break from blogging last year, a surprising number of them turned to one trusted individual to keep their blogs fresh: the multi-talented Darryl of Hominid Views, who held down the fort at HorsesAss, Jesus' General, and even blatherWatch in 2006 when their owners were away or unavailable. He was seemingly everywhere, and yet he still managed to keep Hominid Views updated! (A particular reader favorite from Darryl's own blog is his Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza, which features links to audio and video clips of interest.)

Given his creative flair, gift for humor, and his willingness to help his tired fellow bloggers, we're sure Darryl will be doing plenty of guest posting in 2007.

Most Valuable Faith Perspective


A leading American advocate for the homeless, the Reverend Chuck Currie of Portland is the ardent author behind a fascinating blog focusing on the United Church of Christ, ecumenical issues, faith, and politics. He thoughtfully presents a progressive viewpoint on controversial issues such as immigration, prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and stem cell research. Commentary on current events is integrated with useful references to Scripture, and multimedia is frequently embedded (such as videos and podcast sermons). The seamless blend of Christian teachings with progressive values is refreshing and invigorating. Chuck's perspective as a minister is invaluable and his words of wisdom are uplifting to progressives of all faiths. Besides writing his own blog, he participates in an offshoot of the DailyKos community (Street Prophets). We're thankful that Chuck takes so much time out his life to share his spirituality through the revolutionary medium of the Internet.

Best Campaign Blog


A leader in Idaho's netroots community, Julie Fanselow is one of Idaho's most capable progressive bloggers (there are quite a few of them in the Gem State now!). Along with Jim McCabe of McCranium, she received the 2005 Neiwert Award for Most Valuable Local Coverage for her writing at Red State Rebels. Julie spent a good part of 2006 working on the Larry Grant for Congress campaign and writing Grassroots for Grant, perhaps the best campaign blog in the country. Her boundless enthusiasm and tireless pursuit of victory helped ensure Larry was nominated and chosen as a Netroots Endorsed candidate for the midterm elections. Larry didn't manage to capture Idaho's 1st District, but he came very close, and tied up Republican expenditures in a district that wouldn't normally be competitive. We hope Larry runs again -- and we hope Julie has no plans to quit what she's been doing. Idaho needs both of them.

Most Valuable Explanatory Reporting


The regional blogosphere continues to grow at a rapid pace, and in 2006, the Northwest netroots community was fortunate to be joined by an experienced activist who is a veteran of many past campaigns for progressive policy solutions. Steve Zemke, who in 2003 founded MajorityRules, launched a new blog early in 2006 and found a key niche covering issues not receiving prominent exposure on other blogs. Most significantly, in the summer of 2006, Steve maintained a consistent and unyielding focus on judicial races targeted by the right wing Building Industry Association of Washington. He profiled the incumbent justices and judges under attack, urged readers to donate to help their campaigns, dissected campaign expenditure reports from the Public Disclosure Commission, and explained how judicial races work (if there are only two candidates running in the primary, the election is decided in the primary and only one candidate goes on to the general). The right wing effort to pack the courts was ultimately a failure and we commend Steve for his efforts to mobilize the community and inform the public.

Best Series


One of the oldest progressive blogs in the region ended a long and thoughtful series in late 2006. Upper Left's "Sunday with Speaker Sam", posted nearly every Sunday by author Shaun Dale, featured musings and observations on politics from Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn, who ably served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives for 17 years... and is considered by many experts to be the most effective speaker in American history. The series began in July of 2005 and ran regularly until on December 17th, 2006, with over seventy installments, each featuring a quotation next to a portrait of the famous Speaker. It had a philosophic, contemplative, and even meditative quality that made it enjoyable. Though the cherished "Sunday with Speaker Sam" has been retired, it has a successor - Passages from the Prairie Populist (William Jennings Bryan). We look forward to future chapters of the new series.

Most Innovative Post


Mollie Martin's Liberal Girl Next Door, which offers thoughts on politics from an American girl, was already a fun read well into 2006 when its author decided to introduce her readers to the Democrat challenging Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the eastern part of the Evergreen State. In an innovative post entitled "Meet Peter Goldmark, The Next Congressman From Washington's 5th District", Mollie furnished a background of the district (once held by Speaker Tom Foley), a brief biographical sketch of the candidate, and finally a transcript of the instant message (IM) exchange from her conversation with Goldmark the morning before. It was a unique, informal, and cheery interview. If the past is any indication, we're bound to see more creative and original posts from Mollie in 2007.

Best Local Party Coverage


Though most of the bloggers and activists that comprise the regional netroots community consider themselves Democrats (or align Democratic), there remains a lack of coverage of party activity at the local level. Washington State has forty nine legislative districts and thirty nine counties - almost all of them have an active, organized membership of precinct committee officers and activists meeting regularly to elect Democrats and influence public policy, but not many are well covered online. Filling this void in a northern corner of the state are the contributors of Washington Outsiders, who closely follow the 42nd LD Democrats. Throughout 2006, Steve and "JPEG" extensively disseminated the local party's events and meetings as well as the campaigns of Jasper MacSlarrow (who defeated Republican Doug Ericksen) and Jesse Salomon (who challenged incumbent Republican senator Dale Brandland.) Their photoblogging was particularly well done. We hope to see other activists following in their footsteps in 2007.

Most Valuable Partnership


TJ and Carla, who we recognized last year (for Best In-State Political Coverage from Out of the State, 2005) decided to take their activism to the next level by jointly starting a new blog with a mission of providing strong advocacy based reporting and opinion from the left -- Loaded Orygun. The site launched on February 1st, 2006 with a press release that mentioned the Neiwert Awards. LO has grown a lot since then -- today it's a must read that the Beaver State political establishment can't ignore, with reporting on the Oregon Legislature, the consequences of Measure 37, right wing corruption, and a wide range of top issues. LO has also helped hold prominent Oregon Republicans like Gordon Smith and Karen Minnis accountable. TJ and Carla are a terrific, very dedicated team ... to call them the regional community's most valuable partnership is really an understatement.

Best Electoral Commentary


Idaho's progressive blogosphere grew by leaps and bounds in 2006, and one of the new faces was a senior staff officer in the Idaho Army National Guard, who founded a new blog called Idablue in March. It quickly became notable for its thoughtful electoral commentary on federal, state, and local races. Whether Alan was speculating on Idaho Speaker Bruce Newcomb's retirement, recounting experiences meeting progressive Gem State candidates, crunching campaign finance numbers, critiquing Bill Sali and Dirk Kempthorne, or analyzing the Risch/Otter contest for Governor, IdaBlue stayed informative and even entertaining throughout 2006. Alan's perspective is unquestionably valuable -- he is a great Idaho netroots resource -- but what's truly remarkable about his writing is its depth. We're very glad he's blogging and we foresee his impact will be even greater in 2007.

Best Neighborhood Newsgathering


OlyBlog is an online destination "devoted to hyperlocal news and discussion" with a focus on the city of Olympia. Run by volunteer citizen journalists, it is an exemplary example of successful neighborhood newsgathering. Its slogan says it all -- "We Are the Media". (An older, more humorous slogan was "This ain't CNN"). The site not only allows users to post stories or entries, but also encourages inclusion of video and imagery as well. It features chat, links to local artists, events, and forums. Posts range from politics to dining to theater reviews. There's even an advice column and court reporting. A significant number of residents from the from the state's capital city have joined the site since it was initially founded in 2005. It will be exciting to watch OlyBlog continue to evolve as 2007 progresses.

Best Topical Blog


The tremendous environmental challenges faced today by humankind require out of the box, inventive thinking as well as vision and action, say the contributors of Radical Noesis, who are committed to facilitating a discussion about the Earth and two major threats to a sustainable future -- global warming and the end of oil as an accessible resource. In 2006 the authors explored a multitude of issues -- green building, electronics recycling, organic farming, biofuels, changing energy consumption habits, conservation, and the feasibility of rapid adoption of renewable sources such as solar. One of the most interesting posts, from October of 2006, was a recap of a "town hall" event put on in Portland, Oregon, by Shell Oil, a subsidiary of the European fossil fuels giant Royal Dutch Shell. The complete lack of entries about the "horse race" aspect of electoral politics makes the blog a soothing, no-nonsense read. Highly recommended for those concerned with our ability to live ... which, as Al Gore has said, is what is at stake.

Finally ... A Word of Encouragement

Obviously, it's impossible for us to honor every single blogger in the regional progressive blogosphere at once ... there are just too many good blogs with good people behind them. The Regional Blogs Directory on Pacific Northwest Portal currently stands at 242 progressive blogs from five NW states. That's a lot. And the directory is only going to get bigger, because there are good blogs out there that we haven't listed yet, and new blogs will be created.

If you didn't get recognized with an award for 2006, there's no reason to feel disappointed. If you're a progressive and you're blogging, you're already a winner, because you've taken your activism to a whole new level. Stay committed. Pick an issue or a campaign in the new year and resolve to work as hard as you can to change this nation for the better. Let us know what you're up to - tell us what you're doing to make a difference. The more involved you are in these next twelve months, the more likely you'll be recognized with an award a year from now. Remain focused and keep blogging. Your nation, your region, your state, and your community need you.

Congratulations to all the winners; be sure to check them out. The awards are terrific reminder of all the blogs working hard out there in our neck of the woods, and just the process of watching the awards has tuned me in to the excellence of their work. I'll be adding to my blogroll those award winners not already on it.

And just remember: I'm not dead yet!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Populism, Malkin style

Among the many egregious flaws of Michelle Malkin's In Defense of Internment, the foremost is unquestionably its overt support of a government policy that cannot be described as anything but racist -- that is, the forced incarceration of an entire bloc of the American citizenry (some 120,000 people, in fact) based solely upon its ethnicity.

But what undergirds her entire thesis is a historical approach that would be kindly described as shoddy, though more properly it would be called profoundly mendacious, the kind of outrageous lie that belies the very real suffering of thousands of Americans. She achieves this by using the methodology of other historical revisionists -- namely, by carefully omitting the mountain of evidence that contradicts the thesis. (This is also, I've detailed previously, the methodology of her liberal-bashing book Unhinged.)

In this case, Malkin argues that the race-based internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans was entirely justifiable based on a handful of diplomatic-cable intercepts whose import was vague at best, while ignoring the broad array of evidence that the entire enterprise was driven by a longstanding racial animus. As I've explained before:
One of Michelle Malkin's major themes -- her chief claim on the flyleaf -- is that racism was an insignificant factor in the decisions that led to the internment. (Her trump card is the MAGIC cables, the significance of which Robinson thoroughly debunks; but even then it seems to have eluded her that racism might have played a role in how government officials interpreted that intelligence.) And as you can see, there is an abundance -- an overabundance, really -- of evidence that racism played a decisive role in the internment drama at nearly every step of its unfolding.

How does Malkin deal with this evidence? By ignoring it, of course.

I describe this in more detail in the epilogue of my book Strawberry Days:
Peculiarly, Malkin's book dismisses racism as a proximate cause without spending even a sentence addressing it; there is no mention of the Alien Land Laws, the Asian Exclusion Act, or the "Yellow Peril" anywhere in her text, nor even a brief passage alluding to the mountain of evidence regarding the role of racism in the internment.

That sort of omission amounts to a grotesque distortion. As this book has detailed, at every step of the long unfolding drama that led to the internment, racism played a significant if not decisive role. These steps included:

-- The anti-Japanese agitation and resulting disenfranchisement of Japanese immigrants in the 1912-24 period (which included their being denied the right to citizenship), steeped in overt racial hatred and a belief that "oil and water will never mix."

-- The passage in 1924 of the Asiatic Exclusion Act, an explicitly racist law which so angered the Japanese nation that it instilled an implacable anti-Americanism and empowered the military authoritarians who eventually took the nation to war 17 years later. This may not have been, as Pearl Buck later argued, the fatal step leading inevitably to war (there is, after all, no evidence that the nascent campaign to establish democracy in Japan, snuffed out by the act, would have succeeded in any event, as Buck supposed). But there is little doubt it played a fateful role.

-- The decision to intern the Japanese, predicated in large part on the predispositions of the key players in the policy, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Lt. Gen. John DeWitt to Col. Karl Bendetsen, to believe prewar "Yellow Peril" stereotypes regarding the loyalty of Japanese Americans, and the unmistakable influence those biases played in their policymaking.

-- The public agitation for evacuation and incarceration of Japanese Americans, featuring an explicit racial animus, much of which was clearly predicated on prewar anti-Japanese agitation, as well as explicit white-supremacist ideology. (This public racism was most concretely manifested in the refusal by Western governors to admit Japanese evacuees within their borders unless they were placed under armed guard in concentration camps, a demand that brought a screeching halt to the plans for a "voluntary evacuation," and forced the decision to incarcerate the evacuees.)

-- The anti-Japanese agitation that greeted the returning Japanese at the war's end, much of it explicitly commingling racial bigotry with economic interests. This agitation played a major role in the permanent decline of the Japanese in Pacific Coast agriculture, since most Nikkei farmers gave up any hope of returning to their former lands, as was the case in Bellevue.

The fourth of these -- the wartime hysteria directed at people of Japanese descent -- is especially germane these days in light of Malkin's promotion of a populist "John Doe" movement that promotes a kind of paranoid campaign to "keep an eye" on the terrorist Muslims supposedly operating in our midst (even, apparently, indoctrinating children in our schools).

Probably the definitive commentary on Malkin's "movement" comes from Chris Kelly at HuffingtonPost, who observed:
All you have to do to join is report everyone you see who seems to be a foreigner. Or who seems to tolerate foreigners. Or who may be thinking foreigner-tolerating thoughts.

It's like the Junior Spies in 1984, only totally fun.

It's called The John Doe Movement and it's got an oath and everything. And if you join not only will you fight Islamofascism, but you can also come to Michelle's house after school, have a healthy snack, and play with her Breyer Horses. Well, not play with them. But, you know, look at them.

The ethos of fear-driven "watchfulness" that Malkin's movement would, if successful, engender is also a familiar one: it is remarkably similar in nature to the extraordinarily bigoted popular sentiments that drove the internment episode. As I explain in Chapter 3 of Strawberry Days:
For a war-happy press anxious for a local angle on the conflict, the prospect of a West Coast invasion made great-selling copy. The Los Angeles Times ran headlines like "Jap Boat Flashes Message Ashore" and "Caps on Japanese Tomato Plants Point to Air Base". Pretty soon, everyone was getting into the act. Reports of "signals" being sent to unknown, mysterious Japanese boats offshore began flowing in. One report, widely believed at the time, came from someone who heard a dog barking somewhere along the shore of Oahu, and believed that it was barking in Morse code to an offshore spy ship.

In the Seattle area, the stories were almost as ridiculous. "Arrows of Fire Aim at Seattle" shouted the Seattle Times' front-page headline of December 10. It told of fields in the Port Angeles area, between Seattle and the Pacific Ocean on the Olympic Peninsula, that had been set afire by Japanese farmers in a shape resembling an arrow when viewed from the air; ostensibly, the arrow pointed to the Seattle shipyards and airplane-manufacturing plants, a likely target for incoming bombers. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer blared a similar front-page story the next morning. Neither paper carried any subsequent stories about the fires -- which investigators soon determined had been set by white men who were clearing land.

[A Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoon from February 1942.]

... By late February the removal of all Japanese from the West Coast had become a favorite topic from Los Angeles to Seattle, led particularly by politicians. One of these was Rep. Andrew Jackson Hinshaw, an Orange County Republican, who demanded in early March that the Roosevelt administration “stop fiddling around” and begin removing all Japanese from the coast. According to the Associated Press, Hinshaw “said he had word that Japanese plans call for a major attack on Hawaii and West Coast sabotage next month. His information, he added, came 'from a source which has been heretofore reliable, though unheeded by our government.' "

... The press became the chief cheerleaders for removing the Japanese. The Seattle Times ran a news story alerting its readers: "Hundreds of alien and American-born Japanese are living near strategic defense units, a police survey showed today. ... There are Japanese in the neighborhood of every reservoir, bridge and defense project."

The Times also ran columns by noted conservative Henry McLemore, who frequently attacked the presence of Japanese descendants on the West Coast. In one column, headlined, "This Is War! Stop Worrying About Hurting Jap Feelings," McLemore fulminated: "I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don't mean a nice part of the interior, either. Herd 'em up, pack 'em off and give 'em the inside room of the badlands. Let ‘em be pinched, hurt, hungry and dead up against it. . . . Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them."

His sentiments were shared by many of the locals. Wrote W.M. Mason of Seattle, in a letter to the editor of the Post-Intelligencer: "If there be those who would say we can't do this to citizens, let them remember that we took this country from the Indians, killed thousands of them, arbitrarily moved other thousands from their homes to far distant lands, and to this day have denied them the rights, duties and privileges of citizenship.

"If we could do that to the Indians, we can do something about the Japs.

"Let's do it now!"

You can hear the echoes of this hysteria ringing throughout Malkin's "John Doe" manifesto, which is replete with McLemore-like exhortations to ignore issues of "sensitivity" and other mushy nonsense, as well as the insistence that such issues as people's rights are inconsequential before the "national security" banner they erect on their bulldozer.

Even more telling, perhaps, is the echo that Kelly observes, namely, the almost bizarre choice of "John Doe" for the name of Malkin's movement, given the iconic position of Frank Capra's great film, Meet John Doe, and the cultural significance of its message:
Frank Capra's Meet John Doe is a minor but muddled classic of '40s cinema. It concerns a journalist who creates a populist movement, only to discover that she, and her creation, are being manipulated by a right wing media empire.

... Capra said Meet John Doe was about, "contemporary realities: the ugly face of hate; the power of uniformed bigots in red, white, and blue shirts; the agony of disillusionment, and the wild dark passions of mobs."

I like Meet John Doe better than Kelly does; it's beautifully shot and has, like most Capra films, sparkling dialogue. The film features great performances by Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, though I loved Walter Brennan in it too. It turns preachy at times, but in the end its raw emotional power rings true.

So you have to ask yourself: Before naming this movement after "John Doe," couldn't Malkin or her husband have availed themselves of a copy of the film, just so they would know exactly what kind of populism under that name they were proposing to embark upon? Don't they care, really, that Capra's film was a warning against home-grown fascism, very much in the spirit of Sinclai Lewis' It Can't Happen Here? Don't they care that they are adopting in name a movement that, in our culture anyway, is synonymous with pseudo-populist fascism, manipulation of the masses by a mendacious right-wing cadre?

In examining Malkin's proposed populist movement, I'm also reminded of the definition of fascism proposed by Oxford Brookes scholar Roger Griffin in his definitive text The Nature of Fascism:
Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultranationalism.

(For an understanding of palingenesis, see more here and here.)

So far, the "John Doe" movement is clearly both populist (practicing, as in all fascist entities, a highly selective brand of populism) and ultranationalist. It is not, as yet, particularly "palingenetic" -- that is, it isn't driven by a myth of a national rebirth fueled by a purifying elimination of corrupting elements.

But it's only a step away. When we hear Malkin's "John Does" talking more about "taking the country back from the multiculturalists who are endangering our lives" and demanding that Muslims be rounded up, they'll have metastasized into full-fledged little brownshirts. Just like the people who wanted to round up the Japanese Americans sixty-five years ago.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Virtual Hate Crimes

by SaraThe Kathy Sierra episode has been weighing on my mind over the past week. While there's been some excellent commentary on it (Joan Walsh's take at Salon, which I quote below, may be the best of the bunch), I'd like to take a bigger step back, and look at the episode in the context of what we know about misogyny, hate crime, and authoritarianism.

What happened to Kathy Sierra is a hate crime. Let's be very clear about that. Sending death threats via the Internet is a criminal offense. And a hate crime, by definition, is a crime that's committed with the intent of "sending a message" that will intimidate an entire group, and change their behavior in ways that will ultimately marginalize and silence them. Whether or not Sierra would actually be able to use hate-crime law in a court case is a matter of jurisdiction; but by the definition and intent of hate-crimes law, that's what this was. Sierra was threatened because she was a woman -- and the purpose of the attack was to silence any woman who dares to raise her voice in a blog.

It's not news to anyone that misogyny is alive and well on the Web; but what we're reckoning with now is both the number and the ferocity of the men who seem committed to silencing strong female voices in this medium. The Sierra debacle has prompted concerned bloggers, both female and male, to stop and consider the totality of its sheer pervasiveness. Walsh describes her moment of epiphany:
Once I joined Salon I started receiving the creepiest personal e-mails about my work. Anything I wrote that vaguely defended President Clinton or criticized his attackers, in particular, would get me a torrent of badly spelled e-mail, often from Free Republic readers and posters. There were themes: A significant subset tended to depict me in a Monica Lewinsky role, often graphically. Like Kathy Sierra, I endured too many references to "cum" in those e-mails. I'll forgo other details for the sake of brevity and discretion.

But it was hard to know for sure how much had to do with my gender. David Talbot was regularly attacked by wingnuts as a Clinton "butt-boy," so it was impossible to say it was all about my being a woman. It still seems that when a man comes in for abuse online, he's disproportionately attacked as gay -- and if he is gay, like Andrew Sullivan, who wrote a column for us for a while, his hate mail at Salon is likely to be comparable to mine: heavy on sexual imagery and insult, sometimes bordering on violence. Yuck. I couldn't see into anyone else's in box to be sure if the abuse I was getting was disproportionate, but I suspected it was. Mostly I just ignored it.

When Salon automated its letters, ideas that had only seen our in boxes at Salon were suddenly turning up on the site. And I couldn't deny the pattern: Women came in for the cruelest and most graphic criticism and taunting. Gary Kamiya summed it up well in a piece on overall online feedback, noting "an ugly misogynistic aspect" to the reaction to women writers. One thing I noticed early on: We all got nicknames. I'm "Joanie," Rebecca Traister is "Becky," Debra Dickerson is "Debbie" and on and on. There are lots of comments about our looks and sexuality or ... likability, to avoid using the f-word, a theme you almost never see even in angry, nasty threads about male writers. Most common is a sneering undercurrent of certainty that the woman in question is just plain stupid; it's hard to believe we have jobs at all. (But then, since a woman is, unbelievably, the clueless, incompetent boss of Salon, it makes a certain kind of sense.)
Hate crime is a low-level form of terrorism designed to disenfranchise, stifle, and ultimately remove certain people from the public sphere by forcing them to erect imaginary boundaries of fear in their own heads. It causes people to change their behavior, shrink their horizons, and stop participating fully in their own lives. Suddenly, there are places -- the synagogue, the clinic, downtown after dark, professional conferences, the comments threads that form the living rooms of their own online homes -- that they can no longer approach with a feeling of acceptance, belonging, and safety. Walsh notes that the hate mail she gets has definitely had this effect on her own writing, and that of her other female writers.
But it coarsens you to look away, and to tell others to do the same. I've grown a thicker skin. I didn't want skin this thick. And what does it mean that women writers have to drag around this anchor every time they start to write -- that we reflexively compose our own hate mail, and sometimes type and retype to try to avoid it? I can honestly say it's probably made me more precise and less glib. That's good. But it's also, for now, made me too cautious. I write less than I would if I wasn't thinking these thoughts. I think that's bad. I think Web misogyny puts women writers at a disadvantage, and as someone who's worked for women's advancement in the workplace, and the world, that saddens me.
Sierra herself has come to similar conclusions. From a BBC report:
Since describing the campaign against her, [Sierra] has been shocked to discover that cyber-bullying is widespread.

"As well as around 900 comments on my blog and hundreds of comments on other blogs, I have received around 300 personal e-mails and about 70% of them say they have been through a similar thing," she told the BBC News website.

Among the messages is one from a blogger Ms Sierra described as "far more prominent than me" who has been avoiding industry conferences because of persistent online threats.
Men have always used the threat (and, too often, the actuality) of violence to keep women in line. Perhaps we were naïve to think that Web culture would somehow be any different. But what we're seeing in the Sierra episode also violates some essential meat-world community norms in ways that we should find particularly disturbing.

Back in the bad old days, in most Western cultures, abusive men were protected by a sweetheart deal with the rest of society. The line was clear, simple, and firm: Within the privacy of your home, you could abuse the women of your household in any way that pleased you. That was your right as lord of the castle. As long as you kept it behind closed doors, the community would take your word over hers about what happened, and look the other way rather than notice her bruises. A man's right to abuse women was absolute and protected -- as long as he kept it out of the public eye.

But -- and this was the catch -- if a man abused a woman in public, where other people would be forced to acknowledge the brutality, all bets were off. Once there were witnesses, it became everybody's business. Of course, the sanctions focused less on the welfare of the victim, and more on society's perception of the perpetrator: a man who lost emotional control in front of others lost status and deniability (from then on, those bruises might be noticed after all) -- and was at risk for losing his job, his money, and his freedom as well.

There was, however, one place this contract didn't reach. In war zones, even "civilized" men were excused from any accountability for their actions towards women. In wartime, even "civilized" nations have regarded the public rape and slaughter of women as just another act of war.

And that's what concerns me here. Metaphorically, the Web is analogous to a public street or meeting hall, and most of us adhere to the same social conventions that we'd use in real-world public places. Women may get whistles and cat-calls (which are every bit as annoying online as they are on a city street -- and, fortunately, as ignorable as well); but by and large, we reasonably expect that men will let common courtesy govern their interactions with us.

But if you read her blog, it's obvious that Sierra's attackers weren't adhering to anything like the town square behavior code. (To make the point: if a gang of men had surrounded her and threatened her with rape and murder on a city street, she could have called the cops and had them put away for a long, long time.) Instead, everything about these attacks suggests that those responsible assumed they had a war zone exemption, which suspends accountability for even the most extreme forms of violence against women. Which tells me that, somewhere in their minds, these guys no longer recognize the Web as a community, or the women they meet there as legitimate and equal members of that community. Instead, they see it as a battlefield, where violence is the expected norm. In this imaginary war zone, any woman who's out in public without male escort has already forfeited any claim to dignity or life.

Where did they get this idea? Sierra's blog was a downhome tech blog, not a political free-for-all. Her readership was largely male, and she'd served them well for over four years. The vast majority of men would never allow themselves to be seen treating a woman (or anyone, for that matter) this way in public; but these guys figured they could brutalize her, in broad daylight in front of hundreds of other people, with impunity. Why?

Most likely, it was because the men who put up the most heinous comments were right-wing authoritarian followers (RWAs), whose high-social-dominance (high-SDO) leaders given them permission to unleash their violent impulses, and encouraged them to direct it toward high-profile female targets. They did it because someone they regarded as an authority figure told them that the community rules don't apply any more. America is a war zone. The President has told them so. Their leaders have given them the formal go-ahead to behave accordingly. And that has very specific implications for how they're allowed to treat women they see as standing outside their own in-group.

The transmission belt Dave writes of carries not only ideas from the extreme right to the mainstream; it carries behavioral norms as well. The targets may have been limited to politicians and political blogs at first; but the now the stated targets include liberals, the educated, minorities, and (increasingly) women. And the venues are expanding, too, to include places far outside the original arena.

Given that, it seems possible that Kathy Sierra may have been collateral damage in the right wing's continuing escalation of hostilities, both in the real world and on the Web. Years of acrid bile form Coulter and Malkin and Rush have corroded the tenuous bonds that keep these people civil, and given overt sanction to outrages that any serious civilization would regard as barbaric. It's hardly surprising that all those years of misogynist hate speech from the right have congealed into eliminationist threats against a woman who did nothing more than show her face in virtual public.

Which leaves us with the question: What can we do? Tim O'Reilly points out that:
"The fact that there's all these really messed-up people on the internet is not a statement about the internet. It is a statement about those people and what they do and we need to basically say that you guys are doing something unacceptable and not generalise it into a comment about this is what's happening to the blogosphere."
Dave and others who've worked against real-world hate crimes have told us that RWA followers only turn violent when they believe their actions are sanctioned by their leaders, and express unspoken community norms. While female bloggers will no doubt have a great deal more to say about those norms in the months ahead, the sad fact is that RWA followers won't hear any of it, because they have no respect for women. It galls me to admit this -- but the only way the message will get through is if it's delivered in an authoritative baritone command voice. They need to hear, in no uncertain terms, where the boundaries of civilization lie. And they need to hear it from other men.

Misogyny has always been a core piece of authoritarianism; and so many of the issues feminism addresses -- sexual violence, silencing women's public voices, respect for female authority -- depend, utterly and completely, on how effectively we can identify and reduce the authoritarian impulse in our culture. When women like Joan Walsh and Kathy Sierra are tempted to stifle their voices or hide their faces to shield themselves from a never-ending onslaught of male rage, we all feel a measure of exhaustion at how very far we have left to go.

Red State Blues

by Sara
A gorgeous and poignant short piece by Michael Ventura from the Austin Chronicle on the state of rural America.
These people are watching their towns die. Watching their way of life die. They are living the end of their dream, and they didn't believe that could happen. Like their ancestors, they've worked hard and hard and hard. They've played by the rules, believed the right things, worshipped the proper God, lived as they deeply felt life should be lived, and they're losing everything that matters to them. And there's nothing they can do about it except to keep working hard, because that's all they know. They're losing a way of life because of forces beyond their ken. Giant agribusiness, globalization, politicians selling them out, a tidal wave of history sweeping them away. Republicans and right-wing demagogues play to them, so they vote for Republicans. But it doesn't help. Liberals and Democrats rarely come to talk to them, and still more rarely talk with them – why, then, would they vote for liberals and Democrats? "Blue state" snobs make jokes about the stupid "red states." These rural people are not stupid. They're furious. Time has passed them by, and they don't know why. They've done and been everything that they were taught to do and be, and it's come to nothing. That's what liberals don't get. These people are furious, and they've got something to be furious about, however much their fury may be misdirected. They want somebody to blame – a useless but human need.

So I walk into their Kansas diner, and in my differentness I become an instant symbol of what's pulling them down. Their kids are leaving town, their towns are dying, their leaders are failing them, they're helpless to stop it. They expected to live prosperously in these places for centuries – their courthouses were built to last centuries. They're losing it all, and there's no one to give a damn. They didn't believe this could happen – could not conceive that their time would be so short and that their toil would be futile and that their dreams would die so hard.
You can't understand the rage and the reasons until you've spent some time in towns like these, talked to the people, and considered the widening gap between their dreams and their reality. Until then, it's all an intellectual exercise, the kind of abstraction that liberals pride themselves on.

We're not going to be able to change anything until we start hearing the stories of these people and their vanishing places first-hand. Which reminds me: What are you doing with your summer vacation?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Borderline Personalities

-- by Dave

[Note: With the news this week that the Minutemen have returned to their stations on the Washington border, I thought it would be an appropriate time to run the full, unedited version of the article I wrote last year about them, published in August in Seattle Magazine (and not available online). This version was edited down for length in the magazine edition.]

The Canadian border, at certain stretches in northern Whatcom County, is a six-foot-wide ditch running between a pair of parallel two-lane country roads. You could walk across it with a long hop and hardly a soul would notice.

Except on this day, because the Minutemen are out here.

One of them, a retiree named Larry Pullar, has set up his observation post right at a corner of one of these roads on the American side. Mostly, he sits in his PT Cruiser and watches for what he calls "suspicious behavior."

Pullar says that on one of his patrols, back in December, he called in a car that was behaving oddly, and Border Patrol agents made an arrest. "We never heard back about it," he adds. "But I do know there have been five incidents we reported, and that was one of them."

Still, Pullar admits that he's not really on the border to report on bad guys in the act. After all, there aren't hordes of Canadians coming over the border into the U.S. surreptitiously; the biggest border problem out of Canada involves drug trafficking, which generally comes either through ports of entry or remote wilderness areas. This border isn't like the one with Mexico, where the prevailing issue is human traffic.

"I'm just -- our government is not controlling the borders," Pullar says. "Essentially, nobody's doing it, and it's been that way for years. It's just time for people to come out and make a statement that it's time to do something."

That's what he and his fellow Minutemen all say they're doing: Making a statement.

But what exactly is the statement? The Minutemen uniformly say it's about border security. Others are not so sure.

"What we are doing is we are showing that we want the national attention on the fact that the borders are wide open," says Gary Cole, national operations director for the Minuteman Project, who has come up to Whatcom County to observe the goings-on. "To say that we are going to stand out here on one of these roads and be able to spot a whole bunch of people is, at very best, an overstatement. It's not going to happen."

The problem is as plain as the ditch between the two roads, as Cole says: "You look out here and you drive the border, anybody with three IQ points to rub together could figure out, 'Hey, somebody who means us damage could come across this border.' And there's nothing being done by the United States government to stop that."

The Washington Minuteman Detachment, as they officially call themselves, began organizing last summer, taking their impetus from the Minuteman Project that drew national headlines and TV coverage for their month-long border watch in Arizona earlier that April. The project drew many fewer volunteers than it had originally projected, but it was a smashing success media-wise, drawing lots of coverage that fueled nationwide recruitment and chapters in many states.

Among these was the Washington outfit. Officially an offshoot of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, it was organized largely at the behest of the group's national leaders, who wanted a presence on the Canadian border as well. Tom Williams and Claude LeBas, two Whatcom County residents who had taken part in the Arizona border watch, were chosen to head up the detachment.

Their first official border watch, which gathered at a Lummi Indian Reservation site in September, drew only a handful of volunteers and fairly light media coverage. But it sparked a controversy in the community that continues to smolder -- and threatens to break out into a much broader culture-war wildfire.


The first note of opposition was sounded by the Bellingham City Council in October, with a nudge from Whatcom County Human Rights Task Force.

Barbara Ryan, the council president, sponsored a task-force resolution regarding the presence of the Minutemen, decrying "the activities of self-appointed militia or vigilante groups or individuals with limited training and no legal authority" and pointing out that "the existence and activities of vigilante groups or individuals in other regions have created fear, an atmosphere of racism and violence, and increased suspicion, intolerance and even hate in those regions."

The opposition quickly went statewide; the Washington State Democratic Central Committee passed a nearly identical resolution. Moreover, two local groups formed specifically to oppose the Minutemen: one calling itself the Coalition for Professional Border and Law Enforcement, and another called Not In My County. A host of local and regional human-rights groups joined in as well. The American Civil Liberties organized teams of "legal observers" to watch the watchers and make sure that no one harassed Latinos.

Bellingham resident Aline Soundy told the Bellingham Herald she was openly skeptical of the Minutemen's claims that they were only concerned with border security: "I understand the security issues with terrorism, but this isn't about terrorism. They're not here to protect us from terrorists but from illegal aliens."

The opposition did not go unnoticed. In Seattle, conservative radio hosts pounced on Ryan's resolution, particularly the language suggesting that the Minutemen were racist. In short order, she was appearing on national right-wing talk shows, where she found she was being used as a whipping post for defenders of the Minutemen.

Some of the counter-reaction had a sinister side: Ryan's home address and phone numbers were posted on at least one white-supremacist Web site, and she was inundated with hate mail and phone calls, some of it threatening.

It all came to a head in mid-April, at a town-hall gathering in a Bellingham church, which hosted an official meeting of the state Human Rights Commission. About 200 people showed up for what was supposed to be an evening of testimony and debate about the Minutemen, but became largely a series of harangues against the border watchers.

At times the testimony was reasonable and well-intended. Researcher Paul deArmond explained that the Minutemen represented the latest cycle in a recurring wave of far-right activism that had been part of western Washington society for decades, including the Bellingham-based Washington State Militia, which in the mid-1990s had similarly presented itself as a "neighborhood watch group." The militia broke up in 1996 when the FBI arrested its leaders and several members on bomb-building and conspiracy charges.

The specter of this not-so-distant earlier ugliness weighed on many of the concerns voiced that night by members of the Latino community, and it raised the temperature accordingly. “Latinos have been many times persecuted,” said Larry Estrada, a Western Washington University professor. “We have been under the gun by vigilantes, and that’s not going to happen any more. … We say to the Minutemen, ‘Not in our city, not in our county, not in our neighborhood.’”

Others pointed out that while the Minutemen might eschew racism publicly, their entire existence was part of a larger movement opposing Hispanic immigration, often by scapegoating Latinos. "The Washington Minuteman Detachment is nothing more than a clever PR campaign attached to anti-immigration legislation," said David Cahn of the local Community to Community Development organization.

Others were more conciliatory, noting that the local detachment was not necessarily a pack of racists. Rosalinda Guillen of the Coalition for Professional Border and Law Enforcement welcomed the twenty or so Minutemen who clustered in a section of the pews.

“It’s preferable that you meet us and get to know who we are,” she said.

As the charges of racism mounted, though, the hyperbole grew. "I ask the law enforcement: What is your plan when the lynching happens and what is your plan when the intimidation happens?" Another critic suggested that the Minutemen admired the Nazis his father fought against in World War II.

But others defended the Minutemen, particularly the most prominent member in the room: Chris Simcox, one of the Minuteman Project's co-founders and leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

Simcox had been in town to meet with the Whatcom outfit, and attended out of curiosity. He was one of the last speakers at the gathering, and he was adamant that the charges of racism were groundless.

"I don't think I've been in a room full of such fear and hate such as I have tonight in my whole life," he said. "We don't discriminate on the color of anyone's skin. We watch the border. We answered our civic duty and our call of our nation and our president to be vigilant, to be observant, and to report suspicious illegal activity to the proper authorities, which is what we've done.

"I don't care what color your skin is, where you come from, or what language you speak or what your purposes are. If you're breaking into our country in a post-September 11 world, you are a potential problem and should be reported to proper authorities."

Some of the Minutemen's defenders tried to shame the crowd for what they saw as a kind of reverse prejudice: "Ask yourselves: What would Martin Luther King say?" retorted one.

At the evening's end, the commissioners offered their thoughts. Ellis Casson, a Seattle pastor who actually knew King, offered a response to this earlier challenge.

"I knew Dr. King," he said. "I think I know what he would say." He shook his head slowly.

"'Here we go again.'"


The shadow of the militia movement of the 1990s hovers over the Minutemen like a dark cloud, both nationally and locally. After all, Simcox's first border-watch organization in Arizona, formed in early 2003, called itself the Tombstone Militia, and was actually modeled on similar local organizations in Texas and Arizona that likewise called themselves "border militias."

I'm reminded of this the first time I see "Camp LeBas," the rural acreage north of Bellingham the Minutemen use for headquarters for their month-long border watch in April, designed to coincide with a similar Minuteman campaign on the southern border. In the '90s, I had visited a number of "Patriot" movement properties, including the Freeman compound in Montana and Bo Gritz's separatist community in northern Idaho.

The Minuteman HQ had the same look: the rough edges; the clusters of cars, RVs, and trailers; the flags and signs. It was déjà vu all over again.

I especially took note of the flags, since one of them -- a "Don't Tread on Me" Revolutionary War flag -- was identical to one popular with the Militia of Montana. It didn't necessarily indicate these were militiamen, but it certainly brought back memories of them.

The people at the Minuteman headquarters, however, were an entirely different story. At militia compounds, the air was thick with paranoia, and interviews were often terse and unfriendly affairs, since media people were often highly suspect in their New World Order-tinged worldview. In contrast, the Minutemen were jovial, friendly, and seemingly well organized.

It was clear that "making a statement" entailed attracting as much media attention as possible, which meant that they were far more media-friendly than the militias and Freemen ever were. They were quite successful, too; the first weekend out, there were Seattle TV news stations there, and a variety of newspapermen too. They kept track of how many reporters they'd talked with that weekend, and they carefully tailored their talk for the cameras and tape recorders.

Most of the organizing takes place inside a little camper trailer pulled up on Claude LeBas' property, where they have radio communications working with all the Minutemen out on border patrol, as well as computers for tracking the day's work and tying into the national network. People wander in and out, joke a bit, or hang outside the trailer and chat.

The Minutemen gather for their "musters" inside a large equipment shed next to the trailer, a section of which has been portioned off with temporary walls on which they have tacked their maps showing the border-watch sites, along with posters like the one of the Beverly Hillbillies as "Department of Homeland Security." On rainy days, there's a blast heater running, and a table with a coffee pot and some doughnuts on it.

Tom Williams, the 64-year-old Marine Corps veteran who the Minutemen call "Skipper," pours himself a cup, sits down at the table and leans back, smiling. He's affable and pleasant, the opposite of the frequently high-strung militiamen.

The shadow of the militias hangs over Williams personally; he lives in Deming, not far from the onetime home of John Pitner, leader of the Washington State Militia. But Williams seems baffled by the connection; he says he'd never even heard of Pitner until recently, and his group had nothing to do with the earlier one.

Indeed, having been to several of Pitner's gatherings and covered his trial, there are no familiar faces in this group. And while both were middle-aged veterans, the contrast between Pitner and Williams couldn't be more striking personally: Pitner liked not just to play up his military credentials but to hyperinflate them, telling his troops that he had been part of a secret special-ops team in Vietnam called the "Daiwee," when a check of his actual record revealed that in fact he had never risen above Navy grunt and had been shoved out with a less-than-honorable discharge after stealing a fellow recruit's car.

Williams, on the other hand, not only really did serve two tours in Vietnam with the Marines, he also obtained a degree in clinical psychology and later developed nationally recognized expertise on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and published a text on the subject. He really has done extensive work for the National Organization of Victims Assistance, and really did provide counseling to victims and the families at a number of disasters, including Oklahoma City in 1995, and was on its international team in Kobe, Japan, the same year.

Williams, in fact, is everything Pitner wanted to be, and more: the real deal. By all outward appearances, he's a decent man, and an intelligent one. That's why, two days after the Human Rights Commission hearing, he's still steaming at what he heard.

"It was a rhetorical lynching," he says. "None of us were invited to speak. And then when we got there, people were saying, 'Hurry up and sign up before they get here.' They wanted us later on in the evening, I suppose.

"I was stunned, just stunned. I don't want people like that in my country. I never have been a victim of hate like that before. You know, I've had people spit at me after Vietnam. … You know, I didn't pay much attention after Vietnam. But it sure brought back that stuff. Where somebody can sit there and say I worship Adolph Hitler and there's nothing I can do about it. And to see these people that represent the government of the state of Washington to applaud that … was stunning to me."

Williams says he first moved to the Bellingham area in about 1995, after visiting on business and liking what he saw. He says he's retired now, disabled by a combination of old war injuries and PTSD.

He first heard about the Minutemen through a Court TV interview with the project's co-founder, Jim Gilchrist. Williams said he was impressed and, since he was planning a trip to Arizona that spring anyway, began making inquiries. One of these was with a friend of his, a retired FBI agent named Jim Horn with whom he had served as a Marine officer, and who knew Gilchrist as well.

"So I talked to Jim Horn and I said, 'What's the deal,' and he said, 'Well, I wanted to come but I've still got three kids in college.' He's retiring. And runs around and does guest lecturing and stuff like that. I said, 'Well, what’s with this Gilchrist guy?' And he said, 'Well, you know, it's legitimate, and we've helped him work out the paperwork, and I'd really appreciate it if you go -- I wish could go, but if you could go, I'd be fine.'

"So I said, 'Yeah, I'll go. But I'm not gonna stay if they're gun nuts. So I got a laptop computer with a wireless so I could have a little more flexibility, and Claude [LeBas] here decided I was gonna get in trouble by myself since I was an officer, so he'd better come 'cover my 6,' which is what he's been doing ever since."

When they got to Arizona, his background in military intelligence wound up getting he and LeBas involved in the work of assessing the people who were joining the Minutemen. Their arrival coincided with a report that there was an armed contingent of Latino MS-13 gang members in Naco, on the other side of the border, poised to attack them. He and LeBas were asked to assess the situation, and they soon realized that there was no threat from MS-13, but the jittery border watchers were another story.

"We realized, after we assessed the place, our biggest danger is the Minutemen," Williams says. "Because everybody's armed -- well not everybody, we weren't. But everybody seemed to be."

The Minutemen's security chief asked them to help get the situation under control. "So we sort of string along and he says, 'Here's the deal, in an hour and a half, we're having a meeting with all the people who are going to volunteer to be on the reaction force.' I said all right, cool.

"Then we had this meeting. And of course every gun nut shows up. So we sort of cull them out. Get rid of some of them, use some others, and keep some real close to us. Of course, everybody we throw out we give the name, rank and serial number to the sheriff so that everybody knows exactly what's happening."

Williams says only three recruits were actually let go from that first group. "That was it. We had to make an assessment -- it was just a job assessing people. I'd been in counterintelligence, I did at as a police psychologist, and I did it as an employer."

Williams and LeBas continued to help the Minutemen cull out white supremacists and criminals, mostly relying on Internet-based background checks. On occasion, he was asked to provide security for visiting celebrities, including Fox's Sean Hannity.

At the end of April, they packed up and went home. "And one of the best things when we left there, we got stopped on the border checkpoint, you know, and they look at us, and we're driving a huge truck with a big camper on it and pulling my Jeep, you know, and they see we're Minutemen and they stop, and they said, 'Wait a minute,' and they called the guys in the truck, and they all come out and clap and wave and yell at us. That was a good, good feeling, when that happened."

After returning home, they were contacted by Gary Cole, who was looking for people to organize a Minuteman detachment in Washington state, and Williams and LeBas were not only experienced and trusted hands, but ideally situated. They started advertising for recruits and were up and running by September.

Williams says he maintains the same kind of vigilance over his outfit as he did in Arizona, weeding out the "gun nuts" and extremists. Some are obvious: "Somebody sent me an e-mail saying he wants to join, and what kind of guns to bring, and dah dah dah." It's a dead giveaway. "And that goes to the FBI and the sheriff."

His average recruit, he says, is "a 62-year-old, former military and law enforcement, disabled or retired, guys."

And what motivates them?

"Well, border protection is what we started with. Some people are getting pretty hot about the illegal immigration, and getting some resolution to the illegal aliens. But you know, universally, what keeps us together is border protection, and to support the Border Patrol. We wouldn't be here if the individual agents didn't think we were doing some good."

But the underlying emphasis on illegal immigration, in the minds of many Latinos, conveys the message that they are the problem, and not border security. That's why they're concerned.

"I can understand, obviously, why they're scared to death. They're here illegally. Of course, they're scared to death," Williams says. "What I'm getting from the phone calls, what I'm getting is an increased level of support from people that identify themselves as silent majority, saying, 'I don't want to see these Mexican flags.'

"I don't like people to be afraid of me. But I want the border secure. I want those Border Patrol agents to get what they need to do the job. They're fine, hard-working men and women, you know, they're just like our troops in Iraq, and half of them were troops in Iraq. They need what they need to do their job."

Williams acknowledges that some of their fears, given the history of militias in Whatcom County, aren't completely groundless. He says he'd like to find common ground with the Latino activists, but blames them for creating the gap in the first place.

"Here's what happens from a psychological standpoint," he says, calling upon his background. "It's called cognitive dissonance. What happens is, the more you have to solidify your position, the more polarized it gets, the more I get called a violent racist vigilante. … The fact is that he polarized me. He's painted me into a corner, poking a stick in my eye. And the more pokes a stick in my eye, the more I am going to get against illegal immigration.

"Who's the hatemonger? The hatemonger is Barbara Ryan, the hatemongers are the county Democrats that, without even asking us who we were, said we were a bunch of racist vigilantes, and Barbara Ryan says, 'You bet they are. And by the way, listen up, community, we have violent racist vigilantes and there's one of them right there. So you better start getting scared. You better get your people together and protect yourselves because these people are going out to get you. Go get guns and rakes and beat them about the head and shoulders, tar and feather them. Run them out of this community.' They forgot we were part of this community."

Of course, Barbara Ryan never said any such thing; her resolution was careful to point out that the racism associated with the Minutemen had been observed elsewhere, and that the concern was that it might attract similar ugliness in Bellingham. But when the rhetoric starts to fly, such nuances are often buried -- and while Ryan may not have said such things, there are others who have come close. In the process, the gap within the community widens.

Williams, for his part, is stumped about how to respond to the concerns within the Latino community that the Minutemen are part of a movement that scapegoats them.

He pauses. "I don't know. Like I say, I don't want somebody coming across this border and blowing something up again. I was there at Oklahoma City, and it may not have been somebody who snuck across the borders, but that sort of thing obviously happened at 9/11. If it hadn't been for 9/11, we wouldn't sitting here.

"We all know that his is awfully symbolic. Minutemen aren't going to catch them anyway -- they're just going to observe and report."


The rest of the Minutemen are equally sensitive about the criticism, and equally adamant that their only real concern is border security.

"We're just making a statement that the border should be secure," says Gerrit Terpsma, an elderly border watcher who has a spot along another pair of parallel roads. "The other people say we are intimidating them, we're not intimidating anybody."

Benjamin Vaughan and his wife are there on the border -- parked at the end of a dead-end road, watching a wooded copse while listening to books on tape -- because of border concerns, too.

"I've seen people cross," says Vaughan, who lives in Bellingham. "Only problem was, they were going the wrong direction. It was like one of those things down south where you got a whole family group, about four adults and maybe three or four kids. That was what I saw, and it was going north. The only thing we could was we called the Border Patrol, and then they called the Canadians."

After 9/11, he said, he grew seriously concerned about border control. "The only thing I do is support the Border Patrol," he says. "I've got six grandkids, and I've still got the heart that says I signed up, and I've never quit."

But not all of them are focused on border concerns. If you talk to the Minutemen long enough, the subject of immigration inevitably floats to the surface.
"I see the nation descending into poverty, philosophically, and part of it is illegal immigration, a big part of it," says a twentysomething young man named Eric, who declines to give his last name. "It's also outsourcing, increasing corporate power, excessive corporate power, that kind of stuff. What I can do here, since I'm so close to the border, is help out with the immigration issue." His fiancée, he says, can't understand why does it.

"Illegal immigration is my concern," he says. "Now, how to control it, of course, is to have better border security. That's what the purpose of border security is -- preventing drugs and illegal immigration to enter. If we could help, then supposedly activity decreases on the border when we're out here. It's very boring. It's hard to stay awake."

At the border-watch site at Peace Arch State Park, Terry Schrader -- a middle-aged man from the Olympia area -- keeps an eye on another ditch borderline that runs the length of the park.

It's a rainy day and there's not a person in sight. What brings him out here?

"The Minuteman thing? Oh, I was just a normal person a few years ago, have Mexican friends, my best friend is a Colombian guy. Moved here many years ago. We worked together for years.

"But I've just seen the hordes of Mexicans, in particular showing up in my little town -- I live south of Olympia. Just the hordes of Mexicans coming in and taking over several occupations. In particular, construction, which I used to do -- used to build houses.

"I'm building a new house right now. Trying to get a few subcontractors here and there, so I call them, and I say, 'Do you hire Mexicans?' Most of 'em say they do. Building trades like insulation, drywall, roofing, have pretty much been gutted by the illegal trade. And they're not -- the guys running the businesses aren't Mexican -- they're American, speak English, hire illegals. So it looks sorta legal on the surface."

They're not the only Minutemen preoccupied with illegal immigration. Some of them even pursue punitive measures against illegal immigrants.

One of them is Bob Baker, a Mercer Island resident who joined the Washington Minuteman Detachment and has been to the border a couple of times. As part of a separate project called Protect Washington Now, he also has filed an initiative -- I-946 -- that would require the state to deny any kind of "non-federally mandated" public benefits to illegal immigrants. It also would require state and local government employees to ascertain applicants' immigration status.

Another is a Seattle Minuteman named Spencer Cohen, who was a regular attendee at Minuteman musters through the month of April. Cohen, a political consultant, organized his own kind of watch in Seattle, hanging out near day-laborer pickup sites and photographing the people who pick up workers there, then posting them on a Web site.

But while this kind of activism may send up red flags for civil-rights watchdogs and the Latino community, what really sets off their alarms is the kind of activism that has turned up elsewhere among the Minutemen and around them.

At an anti-immigration "Save Our State" rally late last summer in Laguna Beach, Calif., at which Jim Gilchrist made an appearance, agitated supporters were photographed taking out and waving large Nazi and Confederate flags. In Arizona, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented the presence of several Aryan Nations members within the Minutemen's ranks, Tom Williams' vetting efforts notwithstanding. Nearly everywhere the Minutemen crop up, they seem to draw white supremacists out of the woodwork, and many of them are able join in spite of the organization's proclaimed efforts to weed them out.

Then there was the former Minuteman volunteer -- and participant in Simcox's original Tombstone Militia -- named Laine Lawless, who broke off and started up her own group called Border Guardians. The SPLC uncovered a secret e-mail Lawless sent this spring to an Ohio leader of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement outlining a plan of attack for white supremacists to deal with illegal immigrants: stealing money from them, beating them up, mistreating their children, making death threats.

The Minutemen's bigger problem, though, is with their leaders, or more precisely, with the extremism into which their founders readily delved while first organizing the project -- and whose effects are woven into their basic fabric. The early Minutemen tended to recruit on the fringes of the far right, especially among the old "Patriot" contingent, and so the rhetoric from Jim Gilchrist and Chris Simcox was tailored accordingly.

Gilchrist posted on the Minuteman Web site about "tens of millions of invading illegal aliens who are devouring and plundering our nation."

"These people don't come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs," Simcox told the SPLC's Intelligence Report in 2003. "We need the National Guard to clean up our cities and round them up."

Simcox also is prone to bizarre conspiracy theories. He told a California Coalition on Immigration Reform gathering: "There's something very fishy going on at the border. The Mexican army is driving American vehicles -- but carrying Chinese weapons. I have personally seen what I can only believe to be Chinese troops."

The old Simcox had quite a different appearance. He sported a scruffy look with jeans and ballcap, and that same high-strung demeanor so common among militiamen. In Nikolas Vijborg's documentary USA Under Attack, filmed on the border in 2003, Simcox holds forth:

I feel that the people that are coming across, invading this country, I think that they should be treated as enemies of the state. We need to putting them in work camps. Anyone could walk through these borders of this country bringing bombs, chemicals, weapons of mass destruction. I think they should be shot on sight, personally.

He's not the only one who holds that sentiment: One of his volunteers tells the cameraman: "We ought to be able to shoot the Mexicans on sight, and that would end the problem. After two or three Mexicans are shot, they'll stop crossing the border and they'll take their cows home, too."

The Chris Simcox who showed up in Bellingham was a transformed man: clean-cut, healthy-looking, with a straightforward demeanor. The team from Diener Consulting -- the D.C.-based public-relations firm that Simcox hired last year -- had clearly done a first-rate makeover job.

Simcox claimed the mantle of the civil-rights movement and emphasized how many lives the Minutemen ostensibly had saved. He also told the commission that the remark about shooting border crossers on sight actually was a case of "clever editing": "I said drug dealers should be shot on sight."

Afterward, I asked Simcox about Laine Lawless. "She was with us for two months," he claimed. "And we quickly vetted her out." Which was only true for the Minuteman Project; but in truth, she had worked with Simcox for over a year before that in Tombstone.

For most of the Minutemen manning the Canadian border, most of this doesn't matter. Several of them tell me they think the quotes a falsified. Others, like Larry Pullar, claim ignorance: "I haven't listened to him much that myself."

Tom Williams listens to some of Simcox's old remarks and nods and thinks, then finally says: "Simcox and I have a deal -- he doesn't tell me what to say, and I don't tell him what to say. That's what it is."


Williams is similarly not-so-forthcoming about his organization's support for activities like the anti-illegal-immigrant Initiative 946. "What I do is provide the information to all the membership, and if they want to take a thing around and get it signed, then it's up to them," he says. "We don't get into endorsing it."

But if you talk to the volunteers, and listen carefully to Williams himself, it's clear that they're unanimous in supporting the initiative. They're just too leery of how it would sound in the media to say so openly.

As they wrap up their day, they hold a "muster" in the equipment shed and compare notes about how the watch went. None of the watchers had any activity to report, except for the journalists who came out to talk to them.

That really is their whole purpose -- making a statement through the media. The little wrap-up is almost embarrassingly self-conscious, with several of the Minutemen offering mini-sermons on immigration for the consumption of the one reporter in the room.

Massive pro-immigration rallies around the country and a national boycott are planned for the following Monday -- as it happens, on May Day, which sets off the Minutemen's alarms as surely as the planned Spanish rendition of the national anthem -- and they begin talking about their planned response. Most of them say they intend to spend heavily to counter the boycott.

"I have a bunch of purchases I've saved up," says Eric, the young volunteer.

A Minuteman named Hal pipes up: "I've decided to make my annual purchase of ammunition on Monday."

Williams shakes his head a little: "Thank you for saying that in front of the media, Hal." Everybody laughs.

The Minutemen gathered here are acutely aware that they're essentially on a kind of public stage, enacting their own version of right-wing street theater. Their entire purpose, by sheer virtue of their presence on the Canadian border, is to refute potential charges that a sole focus on the Mexican border proves that Minutemen are more concerned about Latino immigration than they are about border security.

Williams emphasizes this in his closing remarks.

"What we're doing up here is important to Minutemen everywhere, because of the charge that we are racist," Williams tells them. "You know, Chris really impressed upon me, while he was up here, how important this was to everybody else."

The Washington Minutemen are incapable of adequately answering Latinos' concerns about racism and scapegoating within their movement because their entire existence is predicated on blunting such issues. Their critics might welcome dialogue, but when it comes to this cultural chasm, there are no real bridges in sight.

Rather than being a setback, though, this seems to actually energize most of the Minutemen. Before they wander out into the darkening rain for their homes, though, Williams offers some last thoughts.

"Those people weren't interested in a dialogue Thursday night about our shared interests," he says. "We do have a shared interest in getting the deadheads off their butts in Washington, D.C. We want something besides platitudes. We would rather have our congressmen kissing our ass than kissing each others' ass."

Though not exactly an olive branch, it might have been a start.