Friday, January 09, 2015

As Extremist ‘Constitutional Sheriffs’ Meet With Senators, Their Supporters Call for Obama’s Lynching

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

In one of the spacious meeting rooms of the Russell Senate Building in Washington, D.C., last month, three conservative members of Congress had an unusual meeting with a small group of law-enforcement officers who ascribe to far-right “constitutionalist” theories.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and David Vitter, R-La., and Rep. Martha Blackburn, R-Tenn., all met with former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack, the far-right former lawman from Graham County, Ariz., who now leads the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), a group of “constitutionalist” sheriffs who see themselves the last line of defense against those who would seek to infringe on the U.S. Constitution.

Originally billed in the National Review as a “massive gathering” of sheriffs from around the nation to protest immigration, the event was organized by two sheriffs who are active leaders in former Mack’s CSPOA and drew a much smaller crowd. And while CSPOA promoted the event and reported on it afterward, Mack told Hatewatch that it was not the chief organizer.

“I was invited to attend and we provided a little hors-d’orevers,” he told Hatewatch. Still, he said, “I was really proud of these sheriffs for trying to take care of something on their own.”

The focus of the event was to stand in protest of President Obama’s executive action, taken after years of congressional inaction, to offer temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years and whose children were born here and are U.S. citizens, provided they pass a background check and pay taxes. But it wasn’t long before a group of extremists supporting Mack made itself known.

Just down the Capitol Mall that same day, a small group of protesters supporting the sheriffs gathered at the White House and began shouting slogans and demanding the removal of President Obama. Some in the crowd demanded the president be lynched–”Hang the lying Muslim traitor!” one of them shouted.

The same group of protesters then proceeded to the Senate building where the sheriffs were meeting, but were not permitted inside and instead lingered in the foyer. When the meeting ended, the demonstrators lustily greeted the emerging law enforcement officers and Congress members, some of them shaking hands and hugging the participants.

Mack told Hatewatch that he was unsure who organized the supporting protest. But he stressed, “That was not us.”

Obama’s executive action, taken after years of congressional inaction, offers temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years and whose children were born here and are U.S. citizens, provided they pass a background check and pay taxes.

Obama’s executive action “is taking jobs and benefits directly from struggling American lawful immigrants and our native-born,” Sessions said. “A government must serve its own citizens.”

The sheriffs were largely on the same page. “When it comes to immigration, there is no law because there are no consequences, and that is something we in law enforcement have to deal with and have to fight,” Paul Babeu, sheriff of Arizona’s Pinal County, said. “Instead of putting illegals first and their rights, what about putting Americans and our rights and our security once, first?”

But what measure and reserve was on display inside the Senate Building was not apparent outside the White House.

That rally organized by an antigovernment group calling itself Operation American Freedom,” which had issued an “arrest warrant” to government officials in Washington earlier this year–was intended to support the sheriffs. An earlier video by Blaine Cooper, a “Patriot” who help organized a livestream of the event, announced that “we are gonna be at the White House at 10 o’clock tomorrow. The sheriffs are gonna be here doing their rally, and Operation American Freedom, or O.A.F., are gonna be there as well.”

Cooper’s livestream video also provided an unusual inside look at the protest.

There appear to have only been a couple dozen gathered to protest. Most of the noise at the demonstration was created by one man, wearing a tricorn hat and shouting into a bullhorn. One protester in particular—a bearded man toting an American flag—seemed especially intent on seeing Obama hung.

“Hang the lying Kenyan traitor terrorist piece of shit,” he shouted at one point. “He’s a traitor! Hang him!” The same man kept shouting variations of this throughout the protest.

When a large wood chipper drove past the scene, one of the protesters remarked: “Hey, a wood chipper! That gives me an idea” – suggesting he would like to run the president through the machine.

When the press conference had finished, the participants were swarmed by the sheriffs’ supporters in the foyer, who cheered loudly as they exited and swarmed Sessions to express their admiration.

“We love you, God bless you,” one said. “Thank you for all your work in the Senate, and thank you for all of this – fighting Obama tooth and nail.”

In the video, Mack could be seen embracing a man with the tricorn hat as he departed. However, he could not tell Hatewatch afterwards anything about the man or the group: “I didn’t know if they were pro or con,” he said via e-mail.

Afterward, Mack was less than optimistic about the outcome of the event.

“My overall feeling was that Washington D.C. wasn’t going to do anything to enforce the law or fix the problem,” he said. “I don’t believe the leadership will allow the problem to be fixed. … And it’s really a slap at the black community that so many millions are going to be competing with low income minority groups for jobs. I don’t think there is any way around that. The president has once again shown that he’ll do anything he wants, whether its lawless or not, no matter who it hurts.”

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Twelve Years Before the Blog

It was exactly twelve years ago today that -- encouraged by my friend Duncan Black -- I decided to give this blogging thing a try. I built the original version of Orcinus at what was then called Blogspot, wrote a couple of posts (one of them about the Tombstone Militia, which eventually morphed into the Minutemen) and figured that, if nothing else, it felt good to just be writing and publishing again, even if only a tiny handful of people read it.

Now -- all those years, more than 3,500 posts, and something like 1.2 million pageviews later -- it is all obviously quite a bit more than that.

I don't think of any of us who got into blogging early really expected it to become the phenomenon it did. I know that Duncan had spotted its potential early as a way to get around the informational bottleneck that had been created by the corporatization of the media, and that certainly was what attracted me to it.

After all, I had been finding it increasingly difficult to find editors interested in my work covering the extremist right and domestic terrorism -- editors then, as now, were terrified of being accused of a "liberal media bias" if they ran the material, though inevitably they proved eager to run it when someone blew up a building full of children -- and I had built up a large backlog of material related to it.And I was determined that, even if I received no money for the work, that the information be available to the general public. Then, as now, I believed it to be vital.

So that was what I set about doing. And the shocking thing was that suddenly, my site meter was showing that I was getting not just hundreds but thousands of readers. A lot of that had to do with Duncan, whose Eschaton remains a daily read for me, as well as another online friend from our days roaming the halls of Salon's Table Talk forum, Digby. Their blogs were drawing even larger numbers of readers, and they were kind enough to shuffle some of that traffic in my direction.

The one thing that distinguished Orcinus was that it specialized in long-form posts. I wrote plenty of quickie posts, but I also was publishing long disquisitions making use of the massive amounts of data I had collected over the years. The trend in blogging before then had been to keep things short and succinct (indeed, Duncan remains the master of this). I ran completely against the grain and ran long think pieces with lots of information.

Oddly enough, it worked reasonably well, at least for awhile. Orcinus never drew the levels of readers that the Big Dogs did, but on certain days it neared 50,000 readers, which was a mind-blowing thing for me at the time. And my most popular posts, by far, were my long ones, particularly the extended series such as "Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism" and "The Rise of Pseudo-Fascism".

But, driven largely by the arrival of all those readers, the blogging landscape quickly began to change, and with it the nature of blogging. Soon, large multi-contributor blogs such as Firedoglake were dominating the traffic flow of the blogosphere. Video-driven blogs like John Amato's Crooks and Liars were also drawing huge levels of traffic and distributing it to smaller blogs like mine.

Eventually, fatigue and reality set in: It became tougher and tougher to devote the energy to long-form writing, especially as I was working to write books at the same time. So, after five years of getting by with the relative pittance of funding that came in through fundraisers -- and still intent on remaining ad-free here -- I went for paying positions editing large blogs. I signed in the spring of 2008 as the editor of Firedoglake. I remained there for eight months and then switched to the team at Crooks and Liars, where I then remained as editor for the next four-plus years, and where I am still a senior editor. I now am able to collect a reasonable paycheck by blogging for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch, and the bulk of the posts you see here today are crossposts from there.

My style of blogging shifted accordingly, because at both FDL and C&L the emphasis was on hourly production of posts and a steady flow throughout the today. This meant writing a lot more posts that were much shorter. And as you can see from my archives here, some of my heaviest production came as the editor of C&L, when I was also creating videos to accompany most of my writing. It also meant that I wrote a lot more on daily politics, though what I tried to really specialize in during those years was a sustained media critique, along with my usual focus on the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism.

Unfortunately, I  also made the mistake during those years of letting Orcinus more or less wither and die. I started out trying to crosspost all my work from those blogs, but soon ran out of gas and began letting Orcinus go un-updated for weeks and months at a time. After all, it was by this time drawing only a few thousand readers daily, and I was editing blogs that were north of 150,000 daily readers. Pretty soon, all the readers went away.

In some ways, that actually makes Orcinus today much more comfortable for me, because there is no longer any pressure to produce material or to weigh in on given subjects. I'm able to post at a more considered pace, and the material I'm producing is a bit more substantive.

I revived the blog in the fall of 2013, and had a reasonably nice reception from some of the older quarters of my friends in the blogosphere. I did recently go back and crosspost, ipso facto, all the material I wrote for C&L and FDL over the years, making the archives here now a complete record of my blogging work since January 2003. I think if you spend some time going back and scrolling through some of it, you'll find it a pretty substantial body of work, some of it prophetic, and much of it still relevant even today. There's also a lot of pretty funny stuff thrown in for good measure -- that is, if exposing the mindless idiocy of right-wing talkers makes you laugh.

However, the readership of the blog has remained at only a trickle, largely because I haven't had the ability to come in and create original material for Orcinus itself.

That's going to change in the coming weeks and months. I will continue, of course, to crosspost my work from Hatewatch, as well as the occasional orca-related post I sometimes write for C&L and The Dodo. But I also have a specific long-form project in mind -- one that will rely on the participation of my readers.

The project I have in mind is to tackle the big challenge that progressives face: How do we create a sustained and viable movement, a real and substantive Left Wing that has real power in American and global politics?

I believe we need to reconceive not just the meaning of "the Left," but of movement politics themselves. We need to reconfigure not just the purpose and meaning of progressivism, but the underlying dynamic that feeds the increasingly intractable left-right divide currently in play.

The core idea is to create a "Human Movement" -- a mass movement predicated on enshrining the value of every individual human being, of ensuring the dignity and value of every life and every person. It will be fundamentally anti-corporate, anti-plutocratic, and anti-authoritarian, but moreover will positively embrace the advancement of the welfare of ordinary people, relying on the power of communities and networks to secure it. The essential value that it will embody will be empathy and its immanations.

I've had these ideas working around in my head for some time, and believe it or not, a lot of my thinking was refined while spending time in wild places, hanging out and observing killer whales, all for my next book, Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us, due out June 30 from The Overlook Press.

These essays will fundamentally bring together a lot of my thinking on the many subjects that have interested me over the years and about which I have written here: Toxic right-wing extremism, domestic terrorism, immigration, the media, and environmental issues. It's going to be fun and interesting. And I hope you join me.

Most of all, I hope you will join in the conversations here. As with some of my previous projects, the final shape of the work is often affected by the kind of input I get from readers. As many of you know, I frequently incorporate other people's ideas into my work, and also quite openly acknowledge that participation, since it's vital to this kind of work. It seems especially appropriate when exploring a movement devoted to encouraging a community built around empathy.

I'm also setting out my tin cup this month. If you feel like helping out by chipping in to this effort monetarily, you will know that the money will not be wasted. Twelve years later, I'm still here.