Friday, September 27, 2013

Reviving Orcinus: The fundraiser

I just wanted to make a brief reminder that, while I'm busy reviving this blog, I'm also just scraping by and am in need of whatever support you, the readers, are willing to toss my way. So far the fund-raising has been a modest success (a million deep thanks to those who have contributed), and I'm still hoping to do better.

I've already written about why Orcinus is worthy of your financial support:

I should also simply add that it's rare for journalists to take on the far right because they are quite capable of making your personal life difficult. Moreover, they are some of the most unpleasant people on the planet, and dealing with them -- let alone reporting on them -- is unpleasant in the extreme. I've had a number of colleagues jump off this beat for exactly that reason.

And since mainstream journalism is in raw survival/pure corporate mode these days, there is almost no interest in maintaining reporters on a terrorism beat, especially not one that includes right-wing extremism.

There is a real need for this kind of coverage, unpleasant as it may be. And I am not chased off so easily, in the fearless spirit of the animal who adorns the blog. So I will be maintaining this little space for the foreseeable, just so people can know where to come look for it when they need it.

The people who support Orcinus can see that we need this coverage now -- especially as the Republican Party sinks further into the madness Amato and I wrote about in Over the Cliff. If you are so inclined, please help as much as you can.

P.S. Be sure to check out my interview with Claudia Shambaugh of Orange County's KUCI-FM last week, discussing And Hell Followed With Her.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Far Right Embraces Book That Rewrites Matthew Shepard Case

Right-wing pundits, radio hosts and bloggers are celebrating a brand new book purporting to demonstrate that Matthew Shepard’s brutal 1998 murder in Wyoming was not an anti-gay hate crime, but rather a simple drug-motivated crime fueled by crystal methamphetamine. The book is capped by the sensational, and utterly unproven, claim that Shepard had previously engaged in gay sex with his eventual murderer.

These are not new claims — the allegation that the murder was primarily drug-fueled was in fact aired during the trial of Shepard’s killers. Similarly, claims that the chief perpetrator, Aaron McKinney, had had sex with Shepard, had previously surfaced. But McKinney has angrily denied those claims, and they are based on nothing more than hearsay evidence from questionable witnesses.

The book’s central assertions, in fact, are both factually flawed and, at bottom, profoundly irrelevant. They are also essentially recycled.

Indeed, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard is the work of Stephen Jimenez, one of the producers of an ABC News “20/20” report in 2004 that was widely criticized by other journalists, gay-rights organizations and the Shepard family for its factual inaccuracies and distortions, as well as its clear bias. For instance, ABC News failed to reveal to its viewers that Jimenez was a longtime friend of the defense attorney for McKinney co-defendant Russell Henderson  who, when he pitched the story to ABC producers, had already reached his sensational conclusions — long before ABC’s reporters had begun doing actual investigative work.

A number of right-wing pundits have seized upon Jimenez’s book, which was just published on Sept. 24, to claim that the much of the justification for the nation’s anti-gay hate-crime laws — including the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009 — is little more than a fabric of lies. These pundits claim that the Shepard “mythology” has been used to fuel a “grievance industry” that is based on the supposedly false notion that hate crimes, in particular anti-LGBT hate crimes, are widespread.

Even before taking on that claim, it should be noted that regardless of the realities of the Shepard case and its many complexities, it was only a single if symbolically galvanizing case.

That said, the greater reality, denied by those who complain of a “grievance industry,” is that gay people are the most targeted minority in America for hate crime. According to a detailed analysis of FBI national hate crime statistics by the Southern Poverty Law Center, gay people are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as black people or Jews, more than four times as likely as Muslims, and some 14 times as likely as Latinos.

Moreover, these FBI statistics have been well known for some time to vastly underreport the actual levels of hate crime for a variety of reasons. Recent studies by the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics suggest that there are more than 250,000 hate crimes in America per year — not the 6,000 to 10,000 annual total that the FBI has reported since 1995. If those studies are correct, the real level of hate crimes in America is some 25 to 40 times higher than the numbers given in the FBI’s annual reports. Assuming that that also roughly applies to anti-LGBT hate crimes, of which there were about 1,100 reported by the FBI in its most recent report, then there may really be some 32,000 to 52,000 anti-LGBT hate crimes every year.

In any event, there are serious flaws with Jimenez’s attempt to rewrite the history around Matt Shepard’s murder now, just as there were 10 years ago with ABC News’ reportage. The most obvious is in the book’s central thesis — that anti-gay animus was not involved Shepard’s murder. Or, as U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) notoriously put it in 2009 in speaking out against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act: “[W]e know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay. … [I]t’s really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”

This conception of the nature of hate crimes is innately flawed. All bias crimes in fact are acts (including, say, robbery) which are already crimes but which are committed with a bias motive. More to the point, the presence of drugs as a factor doesn’t negate the concurrent presence of a bias motive.
Jimenez’s account omits central pieces of evidence which established clearly that it was no mere theory that McKinney had committed an anti-gay hate crime.

What we know, from multiple witness accounts at the trials, is this: Shepard, a 22-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was openly gay, and was somewhat flamboyant about it, at least by Laramie standards. Hanging out in a local bar the night of Oct. 6, he managed to attract the attention of two local rednecks, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who were looking for someone to rob, and picked Shepard because he was gay. They told Shepard they too were gay and offered to give him a ride home in their pickup truck, and Shepard accepted.

McKinney later gave multiple, conflicting accounts of what happened that night. He told a police detective that Shepard had not made any advances toward him at the bar, but that Shepard put his hand on McKinney’s leg inside the pickup, at which point McKinney told him: “Guess what? We’re not gay. You’re gonna get jacked.” From prison, he wrote to a friend that he started beating Shepard in the car because of an even more naked advance: “When we got out to where he was living, I got ready to draw down on his ass, and all of the sudden he said he was gay and wanted a piece of me. While he was ‘comming out of the closet’ he grabbed my nuts and licked my ear!! Being a verry drunk homofobic [sic] I flipped out and began to pistol whip the fag with my gun, ready at hand.”

Later, at trial, McKinney attempted to claim that Shepard had in fact made an advance on him at the bar, whispering a sexual proposition into his ear and then licking his lips suggestively. The humiliation he felt at the advance, he claimed, spurred a violent rage that made him want to beat Shepard. (The judge, however, struck down this testimony.)

Whatever the sequence of events and motivations, the three men wound up southeast of town in a remote area. McKinney and Henderson robbed Shepard and tied him up with rope. As Shepard begged for his life, McKinney proceeded to beat him severely, ultimately pulling out a gun and pistol-whipping him about the head. They left him to die, in the freezing night air, leaned up against a wooden rail fence.

It was in that pose that two mountain bikers found him, some 12 hours later, at first thinking he was a “scarecrow” someone had propped up on the fence. (Their original description created a popular image of Shepard strung up on the fence like a crucified martyr, though in fact his arms were tied behind him and he was seated on the ground.) He was barely alive, and lingered for another five days at the Laramie hospital before he finally died of his injuries.

Jimenez’s books also substantially omits evidence that was produced at the time establishing McKinney’s bias motivation. And indeed, McKinney not only did not deny the existence of this bias, he positively embraced it at trial by attempting a “gay panic” defense – claiming that he had “freaked out” at Shepard’s sexual advances and beaten him to death in anger – that ultimately failed before the jury.

There’s more. The lead investigator in the case, a detective named Rob DeBree, has repudiated the crystal meth theory. Debree told Beth Loffreda, author of Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of an Anti-Gay Murder, that “the murder didn’t look like any meth crime” he had seen. Debree said the attempt by McKinney’s defense team to paint him as being under the influence of crystal meth had no evidence to support it: There was no evidence, he said, of recent drug use “found in the search of their residences. There was no evidence in the truck. From everything we were able to investigate, the last time they would have done meth would have been up to two to three weeks previous to that night. What the defense attempted to do was a bluff.”

As Luke Brinker at Media Matter observes, it isn’t difficult to discern the motives of the right-wing pundits eager to embrace this revisionist smear of Matthew Shepard: “It’s also an opportunity to assail the LGBT community’s campaign for equal rights and protection from violence and bigotry,” Brinker wrote.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation, responding to the latest attack on the memory of Matt Shepard, issued a brief response: “Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law. We do not respond to innuendo, rumor or conspiracy theories. Instead we recommit ourselves to honoring Matthew’s memory, and refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to tarnish it.”

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Ranting Ex-Police Chief Hooks Up With Vicious Radio Host for Show

Former Police Chief Mark Kessler didn't take long to bounce back from his firing by the borough council of Gilberton, Pa., where city fathers finally had enough of his expletive-laced and conspiracy-riddled "Patriot" rants on video.

Kessler now has a radio show. And for audiences eager to lap up angry-foul-mouthed anti-liberal rants alongside a heaping helping of right-wing conspiracism, he has partnered for the enterprise with another far-right figure, radio host Pete Santilli.

Santilli's idea of civil discourse is very similar to Kessler's. Last May, Santilli told listeners that he wanted he wanted to "shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina" and then watch her slowly die afterward:
I want to shoot her right in the vagina and I don't want her to die right away; I want her to feel the pain and I want to look her in the eyes and I want to say, on behalf of all Americans that you've killed, on behalf of the Navy SEALS, the families of Navy SEAL Team Six who were involved in the fake hunt down of this Obama, Obama bin Laden thing, that whole fake scenario, because these Navy SEALS know the truth, they killed them all. On behalf of all of those people, I'm supporting our troops by saying we need to try, convict, and shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina.
Kessler announced the radio show on his website, saying the show would be broadcast Mondays and Fridays for one hour. Santilli's regular show runs daily.

Santilli's hate-filled rants are reminiscent of those of another of his radio guests, Ted Nugent, who once told an audience onstage, waving an assault rifle, that he wished Clinton would "ride one of these into the sunset."

They also reflect the same kind of rhetoric Kessler spewed at length in the videos that got him fired:
“F*ck all you libtards out there, as a matter of fact, read my shirt,” he says, turning around to show a message on his back which read, “Liberals take it in the a**.”

“You take it in the ass and I don’t give a f*ck what you say so you can all just go f*ck yourselves. Period. I wont be going to D.C. and I don’t give a f*ck. If you f*cking maniacs want to turn this into an armed revolt, knock yourselves out. I’m not about that, so see you on the other side.”
In the wake of his termination, Kessler has turned conspiratorial on his own website:
The real reason he was suspended was because elites in Washington D.C. demanded his JOB for videos depicting the Chief exercising his First & second amendment right! although the Videos are spicy the Chief violated no policy, broke no law, because the chief stood his ground and said no more, no more will he stand idle and watch as his country crumbles, for this the Chief was selectively persecuted by elected elites who only want to instill their will onto Americans despite what we the people say! so now Gilberton, officials sided with tyranny, abandoned the constitution & folded like a deck of cards.
Kessler, when contacted by SPLC reporter Ryan Lenz about his termination, insisted he would take legal action against the Gilberton town fathers. And then he launched into a vicious verbal assault on the SPLC and Lenz.

“Russia needs good people. Why don’t you get on a boat, and take your whole organization with you?” Kessler said. “You’re disgusting. You’re vile creatures. You don’t belong in this country.”

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why It's Important for Communities to Confront Nazis

(YouTube version here.)

It turns out that North Dakotans are more than happy to let neo-Nazis know they are not welcome to come in and take over their small towns.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in a North Dakota town on Sunday to speak out against plans by an American Nazi group to buy up property and take over the local government in an effort to build a bastion against diversity.

About 300 protesters, including some 200 Native Americans from nearby reservations, gathered outside the Leith City Hall where Jeff Schoep, leader of the National Socialist Movement presented his plans for turning the tiny North Dakota town  – population 24 – into a segregated place where whites can live among themselves. 

Native Americans in particular took an active role in  organizing the protests:

Various protest speakers took the mike and denounced the neo-Nazis peacefully, but emphatically. “We want the Nazis to know this is not a one day protest. We’ll be watching everything you do.” The protestors chanted, “No Nazis, no KKK!” A World War II Veteran said, “Let these creepy Nazi-Ku Klux people get out.” “Hey, hey! Ho ho! These Nazis have got to go!” the protesters chanted. “Our grandmothers will stand up to you! Our women will take you on!” one speaker said. “This is not your land. This is my land and you can go back home.” “On behalf of everybody here I’d like to say, go home.” “Go home, go home!” the crowd chanted.

Somewhat predictably, all this gets a mixed review from the hand-wringing conservatives at one of the leading North Dakota political blogs:

I admire what the folks at UnityND have done in organizing a social media and in-person response to the nazis, but in a way I think they’re helping those they oppose more than they like to realize.

I can’t help but feel as though the best response to the nazi “town hall” would have been no response at all.

It has to be cathartic to show up and scream at nazis. To call them names, mock their movement and denounce their bigoted ideology. I’ll bet that feels good, particularly for the large Native American contingent on hand who know a thing or two about racism, but what does it accomplish? Very little, as the right of these nazis to organize, hold meetings and purchase property is as sacrosanct as it is for any of the rest of us. Protesting isn’t going to stop them.

In fact, protesting gives them the one thing they need desperately from outside of their movement, and that’s attention.

These creeps live on the margins. Their ideas find few adherents. They have very little political and social clout. Except when they are given attention from outside of their movement.

They accomplish this by causing a stir. By doing and saying controversial things that fire up the public, and draw media attention.
Once upon a time -- when I was confronted with the decision on whether or not to devote news coverage to the activities of the neo-Nazi enclave known as the Aryan Nations -- I actually agreed with this.

And then I learned that following this advice -- ignoring the Nazis in the hope they will go away -- was a huge mistake. I have never forgotten it.

This was a debate with which I have become all too familiar over the years. I first dealt with it in the late 1970s, when I was the editor (something of a punk, at age 21) of the little daily in Sandpoint, Idaho, some 25 miles north of the new arrivals at Hayden Lake who called themselves the Aryan Nations.

I described some of my early encounters with the dilemma in Chapter 3 of In God's Country:
The letters all arrived the same way: neat, clean, carefully typed in all capitals. It was the neatness -- and the capitals -- that made them distinctive from many of the letters to the editor that crossed my desk at the Sandpoint Daily Bee. But after awhile, it was easy to recognize the correspondence from Robert Mathews.

The Bee was really a small-town paper; we only published five days a week and the paper itself was sometimes only ten or twelve pages thick. We didn't get all that many letters to the editor, so we treasured the few we got. You wrote a letter to us, it was probably going to get published.

Robert Mathews, though, was a little different story.

Mathews sent us letters regularly, one about every three or four weeks, from his home in Metaline Falls. This was actually out of the Bee's circulation area, and we knew he sent the same letters to our sister paper, the weekly Priest River Times, and its cross-river competitor, the Newport Miner. Since we preferred to publish letters from people who lived among our subscribers, we had an easy excuse not to run them.

There were better reasons, though. Almost inevitably, Mathews' missives were filled with anti-Semitic rants about the "Zionist Occupation Government" and the international banking conspiracy, at other times attacking "shiftless blacks" whose welfare burden was killing the nation with taxes. Yes, we welcomed an open debate on the pages of the Bee; but we felt like we had to draw a line when it came to spreading hate and falsehoods.

Most of Mathews' letters went directly to the "round file." Because he wrote so regularly, though, I looked for opportunities to reward his doggedness, deciding I would run the letters if they appeared free of racist or anti-Semitic references. This, however, never did occur.

Robert Mathews' letters were part of a disturbing tide of racial hate, and bizarre radical-right belief systems, that we had observed rising in the Northwest in the 1970s. The phenomenon was a puzzling one, especially for those of us in the newspaper business, because we were uncertain how to respond to it. Were we simply observing a few loud-mouthed ranters wishing to attract attention to themselves? And would covering them or allowing their hate to spew on our pages just give them the publicity, and the foothold, they sought? Would reporting on them just encourage them?

This was not the only context in which we discussed the Aryan Nations in our newsroom. We also discussed -- with the publisher/owner, Pete Thompson, in the mix -- whether or not we should even cover the activities at the compound, as well as some of the hateful material its followers trafficked in beyond even letters to the editor. And we decided not to. With our resources limited in the first place, it seemed as though giving their fringe fantasies about creating a "white Northwest" was not just a waste of space, but something that might actually help distribute those views and, worse yet, recruit fresh followers.

The moral of this story, of course, is that Robert Mathews was not just a typical writer of letters to the editor. Some four years later, he would organize a group of extremist revolutionaries who called themselves the Bruders Schweigen (Silent Brotherhood), more popularly known as The Order. By the time their yearlong crime spree was done, they ended up with an astonishing record of havoc in their wake: some twenty-odd bank robberies and armored-car stickups, including the largest take in an overland-carrier holdup in history ($3.6 million from a Wells Fargo armored car in Ukiah, Calif.); operating a large counterfeiting ring; and most notoriously, the assassination of Denver radio talk-show host Alan Berg.

As I noted in the book, the Daily Bee changed its policies by the time it was all over. In his last week alive, Mathews penned a long letter and sent it to a few newspapers, including the little paper in Sandpoint. A few days later, he was cornered by the FBI on Whidbey Island and went out in a blaze of glory, remaining inside his cabin after an incendiary device was lobbed into it. The Bee finally ran that letter.

What that incident, and many subsequent cases, convinced me of was this: We can never let our guard down when it comes to fascists and fascism -- especially when it is the real thing. We dismiss them as inconsequential at our extreme peril.
It's not that the counterpoint is meritless:

There is, in fact, a real danger that giving liars like the Holocaust deniers and the neo-Nazis any kind of publicity at all will help them spread their poison and gain new followers. In fact, it's almost certain that this will happen to at least a minor extent. However, that problem is far outweighed by the extent to which the larger society can see this kind of activity for what it is. In this sense, the kind of reporting that's done is essential; if it's shallow reporting that resorts to a phony "balancing" act, then the more likely the extremists are to succeed; the more grounded and in-depth it is, the more likely you are to blunt any potential recruitment effect.

Worse, trying to create an information vacuum only leaves society even more vulnerable. Pretending they don't exist, for one thing, plays into extremists' own mythology, particularly the belief that the "mainstream media" don't "dare" to run their conspiracy theories because it's the "truth". It also means that the widespread opprobrium they should be hearing is absent. Haters love to believe they're carrying out what the rest of society really, secretly, wants, but no one dares say so because of "political correctness."
Haters and racists thrive in darkness, and they thrive on silence. They look for approval from whatever source they can muster. For them, silence equals tacit approval.

But paying attention to haters and, moreover, standing up to them requires both constant vigilance and a keen awareness of the dangers inherent in doing so. In my experience, the best response it to make a complete mockery of them, as a crowd of counter-protesters did several years ago in Olympia. (Talk about a bunch of guys going home with their heads down and their tails between their legs.)

The important thing, though, is for these communities to be able to stand up and say "Not In Our Town". And this time it was successful.