Bush, the Nazis and America
Saturday, September 06, 2003
[Introducing a short series ...]
1: Falsifying History
I'd like to return, if I may, to the Rich Lowry column, "Among the Bush Haters," which I examined earlier as a prime example of the way conservatives are increasingly not only trying to revise history, but falsify it, by presenting a version of reality that stands fact on its head.
There was a snippet of this column that particularly caught my attention as an example of the way conservatives' propaganda elides factual history about prominent Republicans so as to tar their critics as extremist:
- The anti-war Web site Takebackthemedia.com features a Flash movie complaining that "the media will not tell you of the Bush family Nazi association" and theorizing that in order "to offset their reputation as World War II traitors, former President Bush joined the U.S. Navy as a pilot." (Clever, those Bushes.)
Thus with a simple, sneering aside Lowry casually dismisses what should in fact be a serious question worth addressing. Other conservatives, notably Jonah Goldberg, have given this question more or less the same contemptuous treatment -- as if the accusation were too over-the-top, too ludicrous to even dignify with a serious response.
The problem is, it isn't. In fact, there is a great deal of factual truth to it.
The questions raised by the known facts about the Bush family's connections to the Nazi war machine should really be a matter of some national moment, because they raise serious issues about the relationship between America and Nazism and its atrocities, and the ramifications of those ties in today's world.
These are not only serious but deeply disturbing issues, which may be why there has been relatively little mainstream effort to address them. Unfortunately, the highly partisan way that they have been framed to date has done little to make the debate a serious or thoughtful one. And conservatives' attempts to pretend that the questions should not even be taken seriously are a sort of historical revisionism -- falsifying history by pretending it didn't even happen.
TakeBackTheMedia has already fired back at Lowry and other critics, including Fox News, by observing:
- The point was that George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, had the assets of the family business seized by the U.S. Government under the Trading With The Enemy Act of 1941. Much of the Bush family fortune was made by dealing with Nazi Germany -- both before and during World War II.
This in fact is entirely accurate -- more so, I might add, than the TakeBack's original description of the connection. More on that later.
The claim that some of Prescott Bush's assets were seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act for his dealings with Nazi Germany has been thoroughly documented. Here, for instance, is a copy of the 1942 Vesting Order naming Bush, among others.
Michael Kranish at the Boston Globe discussed this in an April 23, 2001 piece titled "Triumphs, Troubles Shape Generations," that explored some of the Bush family's past troubling connections. It began like this:
- Prescott Bush was surely aghast at a sensational article the New York Herald Tribune splashed on its front page in July 1942.
"Hitler's Angel Has 3 Million in US Bank," read the headline above a story reporting that Adolf Hitler's financier had stowed the fortune in Union Banking Corp., possibly to be held for "Nazi bigwigs." Bush knew all about the New York bank: He was one of its seven directors. If the Nazi tie became known, it would be a potential "embarrassment," Bush and his partners at Brown Brothers Harriman worried, explaining to government regulators that their position was merely an unpaid courtesy for a client. The situation grew more serious when the government seized Union's assets under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the sort of action that could have ruined Bush's political dreams.
As it turned out, his involvement wasn't pursued by the press or political opponents during his Senate campaigns a decade later. But the episode may well have been one of the catalysts for a dramatic change in his life. Just as the Union Banking story broke, Bush volunteered to be chairman of United Service Organizations, putting himself on the national stage for the first time. He traveled the country raising millions of dollars to help boost the morale of US troops during World War II, enhancing his stature in a way that helped him get elected US senator. A son and grandson would become presidents.
The Globe story, however, manages to overlook some of the grave issues that are raised by Bush's connections to the Nazi regime. Foremost among these: To what extent is the Bush family fortune -- which is unquestionably one of the foundations of the current American presidency -- based upon the wealth engendered by its role in building the Nazi war machine?
However, a close examination reveals this is not so easy to answer as either side would suggest. What is clear is that the evidence that doing business with the Nazi regime substantially enhanced the Bush family fortune is nearly overwhelming.
The main remaining questions are: What proportion of the Bush fortune is based on this trade? And what were the family's ideological connections to the Nazis? These are much murkier issues that remain unresolved.
Next: The Bush Fortune
On MEChA's 'radicalism'
A reader named Thomas writes in about MEChA:
- I've no direct experience with MEChA, but was involved in student politics in the UK (worked for the National Union of Students as an area officer for a year, full-time). During that time, I learnt to just *love* in-fighting between student political groups (these were the happy, happy days when the UK Labour Party was kicking out Trotskyist entryist groups -- mmm, good times, what can I say).
Reading some of the MEChA documents, given the time that they were written in, makes me slightly surprised that they weren't *more* rabid. Remember, this was in the late 1960s, in the days of the Black Panthers, and SDS. If there's a radical student organization (that isn't an offshoot of some Trotskyist-like sect) that's survived from the early 1970s, I can't think of one.
The other question I have is: Why has MEChA survived this long? SDS disintegrated after the Maoists of the PLP infiltrated it -- why didn't MEChA suffer the same fate, of getting raided by splinter Leninist groups looking for recruits to sell godawful newspapers?
Well, it seems that MEChA has dealt with entryism in the past, c.f. the Berkeley version of "Philosophy of MEChA" (scroll down to "Historical Examples of Infiltration into M.E.Ch.A." and the section "M.E.Ch.A.'s Relationship to Outside Organizations")
This includes: "Meanwhile, on an apparent 'different' side, opportunistic, multi-national 'left' organizations continue in their manipulative covert attempts to control and/or destroy our Movement."
Reading the Philosophy of MEChA, it looks like:
(1) MEChA survived as a fairly loose organization until sometime in the mid-1990s, after which, 'cos of infiltration by Trots or other left sects, it adopted a more centralized constitution, presumably to allow it to kick out individual MEChA chapters. But there doesn't seem to be much in the way of a national infrastructure for MEChA (frex, I haven't found a website for National MEChA).
[I should point out here that I seem to have: MEChA National Web Pages, which is hosted at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg's MEChA section.]
- (2) El Plan de Aztlan, which predates MEChA, is less important in MEChA's than the later El Plan de Santa Barbara. The "Philosophy of MEChA" states:
- "Objective One: We recognize that Chicanismo is evolutionary and that a Chicano identity is not a nationality but a philosophy. Chicano nationalism is the key to taking our people forward. M.E.Ch.A. will not discriminate against any Mechista who works for and adopts Chicanismo as indicated in El Plan de Santa Barbara, and the Philosophy of M.E.Ch.A. This philosophy is the key to taking our people forward."
Note that adopting El Plan de Aztlan isn't included as a requirement for adopting Chicanismo. So, although reading El Plan de Aztlan is noted elsewhere in the "Philosophy of MEChA," the more radically nationalist position of El Plan de Aztlan doesn't seem to be a prerequisite for membership of MEChA. I'd read this as suggesting that the more separatist El Plan de Aztlan is (rightly) controversial within MEChA.
(3) The motto of MEChA is "La Union hace la Fuerza" not Por La Raza Todo, Fuera de La Raza Nada! There's a (not that great) refutation of some of the charges made against MEChA at http://www.azteca.net/aztec/mecha/MechaFact-Myths.html.
I'm originally from Northern Ireland, and the mixture of class-based and "anti-colonialist" nationalism in MEChA's rhetoric does remind me a bit of the Scottish Nationalists.
I should add that OC Weekly has a terrific, nicely balanced account that examines MEChA's admittedly radical roots:
- Fear of a Brown Planet
MEChA and the Transmission Belt
Thursday, September 04, 2003
Following up on the recent post about MEChA and the right-wing meme that it is a "racist organization"
I argued in that post that the meme has its origins in the racist right, and has become a prime example of the way extremist ideas and agendas work their way into the mainstream. Let's explore that in more detail.
As I mentioned, it has long been a favorite theme of the extremist right -- particularly neo-Nazis like David Duke and William Pierce, as well as Identity types like Pete Peters -- that civil-rights advocacy groups like the NAACP and the ADL are themselves racist. A fine recent example of this is Duke's rantings about "Jewish supremacism," which throws neoconservatives into the pot too.
The MEChA meme clearly resembles these claims in both form and substance, as I demonstrated, since the group clearly is multicultural in its orientation and not merely benign but probably a genuinely beneficial organization, at least in most regards. (We'll save a discussion of the merits of "identity politics" for another day.) But are the meme's origins in fact extremist?
I did a Google for "MEChA racist" and came up with 9,550 hits. The vast bulk of these have in fact originated in the past 30 days. I wasn't able to spend the time to count just how many have, but I scanned each page and was astonished by the count. A number of the hits included pages from MEChA activists denouncing racist behavior, which of course is not representative of this meme. But I would have to guesstimate that at a bare minimum, half of the 9,550 hits have been published since early August, when it first began gaining traction.
Nearly all of the oldest hits that seem to have originated the meme are in fact extremist in nature, including a few minor Web sites, but most significantly the far-right American Patrol.
Patrol, you may recall, is in fact designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is because it engages in heavily exclusionist rhetoric that constantly demeans Latinos. It also promotes a variety of anti-Latino conspiracy theories, including Victor Davis Hanson's Mexifornia, which claims that both Mexico and American Hispanics secretly intend to return "Aztlan" to Mexico.
Since the mid-1990s, American Patrol -- which is operated by a man named Glenn Spencer -- has also been closely associated with, and in some cases directly involved with helping to organize, a variety of Patriot/militia "border patrols" in various locales of the Southwest. The most recent manifestation of this (one in which Spencer has been again involved) is the "border militias" in Arizona, which in recent months have been reported to be harassing Latino Americans out camping in border areas.
Spencer seems to have been one of the first to begin claiming, on a regular basis, that "MEChA is racist." Indeed, his first foray into the argument appears to have been in 1996, with an article titled, "MEChA calls for the Liberation of 'Aztlan' ". As it happens, this was one of the first attempts to depict the "Aztlan" mythos as racist and exclusionist -- which, as the meme has been transmitted into the mainstream, has become the chief form of argument. (I hope I demonstrated clearly enough in the last post why the mythos is neither racist nor exclusionist, but as practiced by MEChA -- compared to such radical offshoots as La Voz de Aztlan -- is largely inclusionary and multiculturalist.)
Of course, American Patrol has since then made a positive festish out of MEChA in subsequent years, as demonstrated by the Web page its has devoted to the issue, "The Scourge of MEChA". On this page you'll find a collection of pieces to which it either has contributed material or simply continues the meme. Throughout, you can find Spencer's regular comparisons of MEChA to the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis as well.
Spencer's agenda has been seeping into the mainstream for awhile. Of particular note was Patrick Buchanan's regurgitation of David Duke's longtime talking point, namely, that the "white race" is about to be swamped by a horde of colored people, in his bestseller The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. According to Buchanan (who cites Spencer), MEChA is "a Chicano version of the white-supremacist Aryan Nation ... and is unabashedly racist and anti-American."
Also of note was a piece in the Feb 25, 2002, edition of the Washington Times headlined "Activist warns of border war," which described an address Spencer gave to a Los Angeles group in which he argued that a "border war between the United States and Mexico 'could happen any day,' " and goes on to quote Spencer as saying: "We have on our hands a Mexican border civil war that could happen tomorrow
I think it's a matter of time.":
- With hundreds of Mexicans illegally crossing the United States' southwest border daily, Mr. Spencer said, conflict between the U.S. Border Patrol and Mexican authorities could touch off strikes, protests, and riots by Hispanic militants in the United States -- a combination border war and civil war that "could happen any day," he said.
Spencer cites MEChA documents to support his claims in the piece.
Similarly noteworthy is Bill O'Reilly's hostile March 8, 2002 interview with a Mechista in which he depicted them as desiring to retake "Aztlan" for Mexico and kick out whites in the process.
The "MEChA is racist" meme began percolating again last fall. The right-wing ChronWatch, which devotes itself to critiquing the San Francisco Chronicle through an ultra-right lens (and in fact has proven on several occasions to be a transmitter of extremist memes, most recently in its suggestion that, apropos of Ann Coulter's neo-McCarthyism, dissent against Bush's war agenda is seditious), attacked MEChA in a Nov. 19, 2002, piece, "More Reporting on MECHA at U.C. Berkeley. Disturbing", which describes MEChA's supposed "hatred and prejudice" by citing a piece from the right-wing California Patriot, which itself repeats Spencer's characterization of MEChA, citing (like Spencer) the early MEChA documents as proof of its ill intent.
But the piece that clearly kicked off the current frenzy about the meme was Lowell Ponte's Aug. 11, 2003, piece on David Horowitz's FrontPage magazine, "Bustamante: The Racist in the Race?" (As I have noted previously, Horowitz already has a history of spreading extremist memes at his Webzine.) Interestingly enough, Ponte does not cite Spencer as a source anywhere in the piece, but repeats Spencer's core themes: Aztlan is a racist concept, therefore MEChA is comparable to the Klan and Nazis. He also repackages much of Spencer's alleged "proofs"; most of Ponte's charges against the group can be found at American Patrol's Web site or in articles citing Spencer as the chief source. It also features bizarre speculation that Cruz Bustamante secretly fancies himself the future ruler of Aztlan.
Perhaps also worth noting about Ponte's piece: Its original versions included the accusation (since edited out) that MEChA was connected to the racist and anti-Semitic hate group La Voz de Aztlan, a charge thoroughly debunked here. This claim immediately surfaced in the blogosphere, notably at Alan Henderson's blog, and it has continued to resurface at such high-profile sites as Instapundit (who has since corrected the error) [more on that below].
The real spread of the "MEChA is racist" meme in the blogosphere came from Tacitus, who specifically cites both Ponte and American Patrol, though it disavowed Ponte's speculations about Bustamante's motives, and noted that he only cited American Patrol after satisfying himself that it was "factually correct" (a hazardous claim to make when citing anything Spencer produces). He also sounds a disturbingly McCarthyesque note by also hinting at a MEChA-La Voz connection, calling them "fellow travelers." (!) However, Tacitus mostly tries to make a reasonable argument that MEChA is racist, though as I have argued, his grounds for making that charge are more than thin -- and make no mistake, labeling someone "racist" is a very serious charge, one that requires solid ground. As I have suggested previously, one would think conservatives should be more aware of this than anyone.
Alas, Michelle Malkin a few days later demonstrated just how happily conservatives can bandy the "racist" label willy-nilly when given the chance. Her Aug. 20 column, "Bustamante, MEChA and the media," repeated the core points of the meme, comparing MEChA to Nazis and the Klan and various white supremacists (only revealing, once again, how little they understand or appreciate the horrors of those groups, and frankly demonstrating their crude insensitivity to the reality of those horrors). Malkin, of course, also contends that Aztlan is a racist and exclusionist program.
Malkin appears to be the source of the false translation of the MEChA slogan, Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada, which appears in an early MEChA document called the Plan Spiritual de Aztlan. Malkin translates this as "For the Race, everything. For those outside the Race, nothing." This translation has subsequently appeared in a multitude of conservative attacks on MEChA, both in the mainstream media (see, for example, Bustamante's Fox interview, cited by Mickey Kaus, at which he was obviously baffled by the distorted translation) and throughout the blogosphere.
As I noted last time out, this is false; the slogan is intended as a declaration of fealty to one's cultural heritage. Its syntax is clearly inward, not outward, in orientation. A more accurate translation would read, "In service of my people, everything; [for] apart from my people, [I have] nothing." There is neither the exclusionist nor the racist content that Malkin implies. La Raza, it must be noted, is not a racial concept but an ethnic one (it comprises multiples races, in fact).
Moreover, Malkin characterizes the slogan as its "motto." In reality, it is only a slogan that appears in a handful of MEChA documents. As Rodolfo Acuna points out, MEChA's actual motto is La union hace la fuerza, or "Unity creates power."
Shortly after Malkin's column, the meme exploded in the blogosphere and throughout the right side of the media, including WorldNetDaily.
The same day, Investor's Business Daily produced a story titled "Who's Cruz?" that mostly duplicated Ponte's material. But it provided a springboard for whwat was unquestionably the most significant transmission of the meme into the mainstream: namely, at the hands of Rush Limbaugh, who on the same day produced his own version of the tale, "Bustamante Fondled Racist Group, Terms." Notably, Limbaugh conspicuously promotes that American Patrol favorite, Victor Davis Hanson's paranoiac Mexifornia.
The meme has continued to spread throughout the mainstream conservative media, notably at Fox News, where it has been receiving prominent play on its newscasts and talk shows as well. [It should be noted that the original version of the Fox story cited Spencer extensively; that material, as well as the original, more inflammtory headline -- which called MEChA "racist" -- has since been edited out.]
None of this should be a surprising development by any means. Fox has an extensive track record in transmitting extremist ideas into the mainstream, as does, of course, Limbaugh.
Finally, it is worth noting that all of this came bouncing back to American Patrol, whose Web site now proudly displays all these stories. It is clear that the proliferation of the meme is viewed by the hate group as a major validation of its agenda.
What is probably more disturbing is seeing the meme making its way from the conservative into the broader, centrist and even liberal mainstream. The most prominent example of this is Glenn Reynolds' extraordinarily shallow treatment of the issue, beginning with this post two days ago, and which continues with further nonsense yesterday and today. Most of all, Reynolds clearly has swallowed whole the falsehood that MEChA is racist and separatist. It is important to note that not one of the sources he cites is able to provide an adequate definition of just what they mean by "racist." Again, it is an extremely serious charge, and the thoughtless abandon with which it is now being flung is a disgrace.
Reynolds is widely regarded as more or less centrist, or at worst libertarian, though he is of course vehemently pro-war and has become increasingly conspicuous as a Bush apologist. Nonetheless, he is broadly viewed as a "common-sensical" voice by a broad range of pundits and commentators as well as readers, not to mention of course his outsize influence in the blogosphere.
In other words, for perhaps the first time since the early days of the civil-rights era, we have seen a mainstream, clearly multiculturalist organization being broadly portrayed as "racist." And if MEChA is "racist," in short order we will be hearing that the NAACP and the Urban League and the ADL and other ethnic "uplift" organizations, too, are "racist." Which, as I mention, is what white supremacists have been claiming for years.
The logical end point of this meme is the spread of the belief that multiculturalism itself is a kind of racism, an argument we also see in the easy dismissal of "identity politics" by people like Reynolds and Mickey Kaus.
My previous discussion of the transmission belt of ideas and agendas from the extremist right into the mainstream mostly provided a rough outline of the mechanisms by which it operates. But the MEChA meme provides us with an up-close view of the transmission as it proceeds.
Setting the record straight
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Glenn Reynolds calls my credibility into question in his floundering about on the MEChA question, after he rather lamely corrects the grotesque smear of MEChA and Cruz Bustamante he perpetrated by falsely connecting them to La Voz de Aztlan:
- It's a bit behind the curve, [my emphasis] but here's a post by David Neiwert defending Bustamante, just in case you're interested. Flatteringly, he seems to think that I'm more influential than Fox News, though that in itself may undercut his credibility.
Actually, anyone who reads the post can see clearly that I don't suggest Reynolds is "more influential" than Fox. What I said was that his post was one of the most "disturbing" aspects of the debate, and I briefly mentioned his "outsize influence". I describe in greater detail at the end of the post above just why I find it so. Nowhere do I suggest that Reynolds is "more influential" than Fox.
Reynolds' characterization is either purposely dishonest or a strangely egocentric misreading of what I wrote. I hope he corrects it.
Moreover, let me gently suggest that if Reynolds wishes to question someone's credibility, he should do so without misrepresenting what that person actually says.
As for being "behind the curve": I would be remiss if I did not point out that the false connection between MEChA and La Voz Aztlan which Reynolds egregiously repeated and then was forced to correct was in fact completely debunked at this site two and a half weeks ago. In fact, I have been involved in the MEChA debate since it first began popping up, and have played at least a minor role in its progress through the blogosphere.
It is likewise dismaying to see Reynolds use a false pretext to offhandedly dismiss a reasonably careful and logical post, which I think the post he links to is. Nowhere in Reynolds' discussion does he even remotely attempt to address any of its points -- particularly its debunking of the charge that MEChA is racist, secessionist or radical. For that matter, he has continued to trumpet these accusations throughout the week. Indeed, Reynolds continues to freely apply the "racist" label without ever clarifying what are his criteria for making that charge.
Tell you what, Glenn: Contact our Militia Watchdog listserv colleague, Mark Potok of the SPLC, and ask him whether or not MEChA is a racist group. Perhaps then you can begin getting up to speed as well.
Kynn Bartlett at Shock and Awe has followed up on my question about the supposed discrediting of "identity politics" with a great post:
Identity Politics: History of a Discredited Term
Kynn tracks through the data and essentially concludes that the attacks on multiculturalism by renaming it "identity politics" has been an important project of the right since about 1994, when the term first began appearing in the media. Indeed, the use of the term has clearly become the chief means of derogating multiculturalism.
I'll talk more about this next week. In the meantime, be sure and read Kynn's post. If anyone cares to comment at his site, I'll be lurking and may chime in.
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Say, can anyone tell me just when it was that "identity politics" officially became "distasteful and discredited"? And by whom, exactly?
Of course, I have yet to be convinced that it is "virulent and misguided" either.
The fine folks at Cursor have now published the entirety of "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" at their Web site. It's featured at the upper right of the site with a button headlined, "Has the 'F' word lost its meaning?", takes you to the introduction. From there you can navigate through the entire body of the series.
If you've already read the essay, you might want to click through just to look over some of the art we added. And if you've been putting off examining it because it's just too damned long and intimidating, let me recommend Cursor's nice work, which makes the reading experience much easier and rather more pleasant.
And of course, I'm flattered because Cursor is a cool site -- great navigability, aesthetically pleasing, and very smart.
The MEChA meme
The claim that the Chicano advocacy organization to which California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante once belonged, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, or MEChA, is "racist" (which I have discussed a couple of times) has been picking up a great deal of momentum in the past couple of weeks.
Now we're reading about it and hearing about it from Fox News, as well as Slate's Mickey Kaus and that paragon of right-wing virtue herself, Michelle Malkin. Most recently, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has weighed in.
The last is one of the most disturbing of these, because Reynolds (whose outsize influence is especially concerning) links to an article from the clearly racist and anti-Semitic La Voz de Aztlan to suggest that MEChA, and by extension, Bustamante, is "racist and homophobic." Yet this connection has been thoroughly debunked, particularly in these quarters. Most of the MEChA critics have, since then, avoided this clearly false meme -- and yet Reynolds repeats and endorses it here, giving it fresh life. One wonders how many times it has to be exposed before it will finally die.
In any event, these developments are extremely interesting to me, because the more I've examined MEChA, the more persuaded I am that it is decidedly not a racist organization. Indeed, the further I've looked, the more persuaded I am that this charge is itself a form of transmission of the right-wing extremist agenda into mainstream conservatism -- which is, of course, the main concern of "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism."
You may recall that much of this discussion originated with the eminently reasonable and intelligent Tacitus, with whom I've been engaged in something of a running debate over this (though I dropped out last week so I could finish the manuscript I've been working on). In his most recent post on the subject, he continued more or less the same line of argumentation, and discarded much of my analysis over my use of the definition for "hate" groups in analyzing MEChA.
Yet for all his extensive arguments, neither Tacitus nor anyone else offers what might pass for a reasonable definition of racism, nor (even more to the point) what constitutes a racist organization or group -- though they seem all too eager to bandy the term about. I thought I'd done so in the previous post, but obviously I need to make the point clearer. So let's begin by stipulating our terminology.
First, what is racism? Many are content to settle for a formulation derived from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech: that racism means we "judge the content of a man's character by the color of his skin." This is a nice intuitive definition, but applied to the real world, it's also clearly incomplete, because it would also subsume the view of those people who seek to protect and promote their ethnic identities (this runs the gamut from Hutterites to Jews to Irish-American societies), including those who would lift up victims of racial oppression by reassuring them of their worth in society (including the JACL and NAACP). In the latter case particularly the term "racist" is inapplicable, because these groups are specifically devoted to combating the effects of racism. In other words, merely advocating the worth of one's racial or ethnic identity does not make one racist.
Racism has important elements that extend beyond mere racial awareness or advocacy: specifically, it emphasizes exclusion and bigoted discrimination, and often extends to outright eliminationism. (Some have argued that it must also include elements of power, that is, it is only real racism if it arises from the element that controls society -- viz., white people are the only American racists. I believe this argument is neither logically sound nor reflective of the real world. What is true is that racism's effects are especially pernicious when practiced by those in power and institutionalized.)
Now, to define a racist organization obviously must take these elements into account. This is why, last time out, I referred to the SPLC's definition of a hate group:
- All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
Let's make the use of the term "hate group" clear. This term is meant as an umbrella to include various kinds of bigotry, including racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. Just so we can describe specifically racist organizations, we can refine our terms further, i.e.:
- All racist groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire race of people.
To which, just for purposes of clarity, let's specify: these attacks are characterized by exclusionism, eliminationism and bigoted discrimination.
All right, let's see how well MEChA fits this definition. We'll start by looking at the area on which most of its critics have focused, its rhetoric.
Most of the characterizations of MEChA's rhetoric have ranged from the extremely tendentious to outright gross distortions. And nearly all of them are devoid of both historical and current social context.
One of the prime examples of distortion in the debate is the way a number of the anti-Mechistas, including Malkin and Kaus, have zeroed in on the MEChA slogan: Por la Raza, todo. Fuera la Raza, nada.
Kaus offers the translation of this slogan that in fact has been used by every one of the MEChA critics:
- (Many American Jewish groups fight against assimilation too, but I haven't seen any with a slogan equivalent to "For the Race, everything. For those outside the race, nothing.")
Before supposedly smart people go publishing such nonsense, it would help if they consulted, say, a native Spanish speaker (and one would think one would be available somewhere in Santa Monica).
A more accurate translation of the slogan would recognize that though "Por" translates to the English "For," it is used in a very specific sense of the word -- namely, "On behalf of" or "In the service of". "Fuera" is not "for those outside" but rather refers to the speaker, and means "Apart from." So what the slogan actually says is this:
- In the service of the race, everything
Apart from the race, nothing
There is nothing remotely racist, particularly in the sense of being exclusionist or derogatory, about this, of course. The second line clearly only refers to the need to maintain one's ethnic and cultural identity. It is only racist if you deliberately mistranslate it: "For those outside the race, nothing."
Others have focused on the rhetoric contained within MEChA's founding documents, particularly certain passages in El Plan de Santa Barbara, which I explored in depth last time out and observed was only exclusivist under an extremely tendentious reading, and is only mildly derogatory in one notable instance, the use of the word "gabacho" to describe non-Latinos (and this is only mildly derogatory; it roughly translates as "Frenchy").
To this, Tacitus responds with a post in which he displaces the nouns in El Plan de Santa Barbara referring to Latinos and whites and Aztlan with similar nouns describing whites and other races or ethnicities and a "white homeland." The resulting statement, of course, is rather nakedly racist, and Tacitus concludes that El Plan de Santa Barbara must be so as well.
This is not a real argument but a rhetorical trick, one that conveniently elides both the historical and social context of the respective statements in a way that occludes the respective truthfulness and purpose of each. It assumes a kind of zero-sum view of both history and the current society in which the real-world oppression of minorities is a null factor, when in truth it affects the entire meaning of the words.
It is important to remember who were the chief practitioners of racism for most of this nation's history: namely, its dominant white majority. Blacks, Indians, Asians, Jews and certainly Latinos have all, in the past few centuries, faced an uphill battle against this institutionalized racism, and they have only made gains by asserting without apology their right to a full place at the table -- full political, social and economic equity.
And America, to its credit, has finally responded in the past half-century. There can be little question that all these races have made great strides, in no small part because of a massive change in attitudes among majority whites. However, anyone assuming that these changes have meant that racism is dead and a non-factor in modern society is conveniently ignoring the 8,000 or more hate crimes that occur every year in this country; they overlook the continuing overwhelming poverty that is endemic both to Indian reservations and migrant-labor camps; they gloss over the continuing effects of redlining on creating racial balkanization, all the while undermining genuine attempts to address these problems by claiming that they actually deepen our racial divisions.
If indeed racism is only a problem in our rear-view mirrors, then why the uproar over Trent Lott's fondness for segregation and his long-term connections to white-supremacist organizations? Why are we still having debates over whether or not such clear continuing manifestations of mainstream white supremacism as Charles Murray and The Bell Curve are racist? Why are we now faced with fresh anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about "cultural Marxism" from mainstream conservatives?
It is also important to remember that the chief factor in the past half-century's change of attitudes among the white majority has been the rise of multiculturalism, which as I've discussed previously, was specifically a response to white supremacism, which it ultimately replaced. This was, frankly, a necessary step for any democratic society that extols equal opportunity and fair play.
Multiculturalism, it must be understood, is not reverse racism, as some of its current critics might have you think. Rather, it is a sort of cultural expression of the economist's adage, "A rising tide lifts all boats." The empowerment of every member of society, of every racial group, is a net gain for society and benefits everyone of every race. Gains for Latinos, as such, do not need to come at the expense of other groups, nor should they be viewed that way in a democratic society.
It may be convenient for a privileged white male like Mickey Kaus to sniff about "a distasteful and discredited identity politics," which has become a code word for multiculturalism. The reality, however, is that the primary alternatives to this worldview remain either white supremacism or watered-down versions of it that are nonetheless essentially anti-egalitarian and undemocratic. Moreover, multiculturalism has been the chief vehicle for a cultural change that has been both necessary and healthy. Of course, much of today's conservative movement is making a concerted drive to undermine it, while conveniently neglecting to offer constructive alternatives.
Placed in its proper context, the rhetoric of the early Mechistas is clearly a reaction against the historical oppression of Latinos by whites; its characterization of the invasion of the North American continent by whites may be colored by resentment and a desire to refute the white-supremacist view that Latinos are undeserving of a place at the table, but it is essentially accurate. Whites did invade the continent. They not only displaced the native peoples, they committed widespread acts of murder and genocide against them, and oppressed them politically and economically for centuries. Anyone who tries to claim this is not historical fact is either self-blinded or unread.
Nor, for that matter, is there anything essentially exclusionist or derogatory about the early Mechista worldview. (I must also note that while the language may be read as suggestive, it is never specifically secessionist.) After all, there is a significant difference between refuting the worldview that justifies the practice of racial discrimination against you and your fellow minorities, and practicing that racial discrimination. Indeed, they are diametrically opposed to one another.
Comparatively, the document produced by Tacitus is in fact fairly typical of the kind of nonsense practiced by whites: a paranoia about an invasion of "blacks" or other races, and depredations by Jews and other conspirators, is only a fantasy that has been deployed over the past century or more by the historically dominant white majority to heighten the bigoted oppression of minorities. The altered context makes it quite specifically exclusionist as well as derogatory.
Indeed, it well echoes the kind of genuinely racist material that is produced by such former Trent Lott allies as the neo-Confederate League of the South (about whom, it must be noted, conservatives continue to evince strangely little concern, at least compared to the volumes now spewing about MEChA). Consider, for instance, "Statement of Purpose" from the LoS:
- Consequently, we reject the central government's continuing usurpation of state sovereignty and support the restoration of self-government to the Southern people. If this means secession and formation of a Southern nation, then so be it. Self-government, as our forebears understood, is necessary for the preservation of ordered liberty.
If the South were its own nation, its GNP would rank it in the top five nations of the world. Its laws would better reflect the natural conservatism and Christian roots of the Southern people. We could enjoy low taxes, sound money, secure private property rights, and a free-market economy. We could follow a foreign policy of armed neutrality, leave the UN, and oppose the New World Order. We could once again reward merit and abolish the Welfare State and Affirmative Action. We could severely limit immigration. We could get government out of our children's education. We could remove ourselves from the current judicial tyranny. In short, we could seize control of our destiny as a distinct people.
Or this "Position Paper on Race":
- This does not mean, however, that we must subscribe to the flawed Jacobin notion of egalitarianism, nor does it mean that white Southerners should give control over their civilisation and its institutions to another race, whether it be native blacks or Hispanic immigrants. Nowhere, outside of liberal dogma, is any nation called upon to commit cultural and ethnic suicide. Furthermore, our surrender would ultimately be regretted by all parties as the remaining liberties were squandered by those who had no desire to preserve the Eurocentric, (and therefore "racist"), institution of the rule of law.
This language is not only clearly derogatory and exclusionist (you can look elsewhere on the LoS site for lots more of both) it is quite openly secessionist. Notice that the language here is unmistakable; one does not require a tendentious reading to find these passages all of the above.
In contrast, the MEChA documents are quite benign. Its rhetoric is, undoubtedly, inflammatory and angry, but it is only vaguely exclusionist and decidedly short on the attacks on other races and derogation of them. The strident tenor seems shrill and overstated in today's context -- but then, it is important to remember that most of these documents were written in 1969, a time when the effects of white racism were still much more apparent.
Perhaps more representative of the direction taken by the organization is "The Philosophy of MEChA", written apparently in about the same time frame. Especially noteworthy is this passage:
- As MEChA, we must accept the challenge to combat all forms of oppression, and manifestations as experienced through racism, sexism, and homophobia, both inside and outside of our Movement.
Indeed, the entirety of this document is focused on civic duty and coordinated action, all of which are time-honored principles of peaceful social change. Its orientation is unquestionably multicultural.
Moreover, a survey of campus Mechista Web sites reveals this same kind of benign advocacy. It is clear that this, and not creation of an exclusivist Aztlan and a plan to "drive out the gringos," is what MEChA is primarily about.
Rhetoric, of course, is one thing. But any organization's true purpose is revealed by what it does.
In this context, it is clear that not only is MEChA not racist, it is a constructive and entirely mainstream organization that is in the best tradition of civil-rights advocacy in America.
Perhaps it would help first to review the histories of definitively racist groups in America, particularly in what their actions were compared to their rhetoric. It is worth observing first broadly that white supremacism as a general factor has been responsible for a multitude of atrocities, ranging from slavery to the genocide of Native Americans to the "lynching era" to segregation and Jim Crow -- as well, of course, as the mistreatment of Latinos.
Consider the record of racist organizations -- particularly those to which MEChA has been compared by conservatives in this current brouhaha. First, there is the Ku Klux Klan, which has endured even today through multiple incarnations in America. The first of these was, according to Robert Paxton, the first historical emanation of fascism, the Reconstruction Klan. Here is its record, according to Philip Dray in At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America:
- Richard Maxwell Brown's comprehensive study of vigilante violence in America estimates that in the four years 1868-71 there were more than four hundred Klan lynchings in the South, Union general Phil Sheridan calculated that 3,500 whites and blacks were killed between 1865 and 1875, Ida Wells-Barnett, writing in the 1890s, put the number of Negroes killed by whites since 1865 at 10,000m with only three white men executed for crimes against blacks in that period.
Author Dorothy Sterling, who combed through man thousands of documents and oral histories in her preparation of a noted compendium on the Reconstruction era, cited 20,000 as the number killed by the Klan just in the four years 1868-71.
The Klan revived in 1916 after years of dormancy and was responsible for a broad range of lynchings, "race riots" and anti-black purges in the South over the ensuing 15 years or so. And it has continued to be associated even today with an array of hate crimes and heinous acts of terrorism against various minorities.
Overseas, the most notorious racist organizations were the European fascist governments, particularly Nazi Germany. I trust I don't even have to go there.
For those who would argue that a group like MEChA is only nascent in its racism, and could eventually wreak such horrors if its agenda flamed out of control, it is worth remembering that racist organizations nearly always display their true colors almost immediately. The Klan, as just seen, was violent and terroristic from the start; so, too, were the European fascists, particularly during the fascista and SA years.
And what has MEChA done? Advocate for increasing the numbers of Latinos in higher education. Organize student rallies. Emphasize self-determination.
Here is how one commenter named "cat" on Atrios' boards put it:
- MeCHA has been an integral part of student life for decades; many, if not most, of my Chicano friends and acquaintances were involved with it; it was then and probably is now an advocacy organization which worked to bring Chicanos (now Latinos) into the educational institutions, to feed and clothe underprivileged children in the community, including those of the migrant farmworkers, was involved with Caesar Chavez in advocating for better working conditions for the migrant workers, and provided tutoring, mentoring, and fellowship for students, as do many other student organizations.
This view is one expressed consistently by people who have experience with MEChA. Among these is O. Ricardo Pimentel, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, who recently penned a column addressing the current campaign from the right, "California coup plays a race card on Bustamante":
- But let us acknowledge that MEChA was born in the racial turmoil and rhetoric leading up to 1969. Its founding historical documents, El Plan de Aztl?n and El Plan de Santa Barbara, contain incendiary language.
But the truth is, few joining even back then were thinking of overthrowing government. They were talking about changing society, for the better.
"We all understood the history of MEChA," says Loredo, a MEChA president at Phoenix College in 1987. "We took it in the context of the times, 1969 (the founding year)."
To liberate Aztl?n, Loredo and other MEChistas pushed to get more Latinos into college and performed community service. Many, like Bustamante, entered public service.
MEChA elsewhere also led walkouts and protests to form Chicano studies programs and to push for more Chicano faculty hires.
Indeed, Republicans who wish to push the argument that MEChA is racist might want to talk to Mike Madrid, an advisor to the GOP on Latino affairs (and someone for whom this meme is probably the biggest nightmare since Proposition 187), who had this to say in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:
- "It's bizarre to assume this is some kind of radical group, seeking to overthrow part of the United States," said Mike Madrid, who has worked on Latino affairs for the state Republican Party. "It was part of the Brown Beret and Chicano studies movement, but it's mainly a social group and has been for years. To suggest it's involved in paramilitary training or some underhanded conspiracy is ludicrous."
Or, as Nathan Newman adroitly puts it:
- No doubt there were individual members within MEChA way back who used such language, but for the organization as a whole, the idea of self-determination has been one of educational uplift within a multicultural country, as American a goal as apple pie. Anyone who has worked with MEChA students -- as I have -- can tell you they are committed to multi-racial organizing and respect towards people of all races, genders, and sexual orientation.
They are a hell of a lot more tolerant and supportive of diversity than any of their critics.
Let me extend that point even further: Their critics, intentionally or not, are actually helping to popularize one of the extremist right's longtime favorite claims: that the civil-rights groups that oppose them are themselves racist.
The origins of the meme
People who have tracked the extremist right for any length of time are more than abundantly familiar with one of the favorite arguments of such folk as David Duke and William Pierce: The NAACP, or the Urban League, or the Anti-Defamation League are all secretly racist.
We've been hearing it for years, and we still hear it today. Consider, for instance, Duke's latest opus, which is titled Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question.
What is clearly advocacy on behalf of minorities in the face of the long-term effects of white supremacism, and is in fact its clear antithesis, is declared by its very opponents to represent the same bigotry they practice. This is a kind of Newspeak or Doublethink that we have come to expect of incipient fascists, but it is not what we expect to hear from mainstream conservatives.
And yet that is precisely what has been happening as increasing numbers of conservative and even ostensibly "neutral" voices have been repeating the meme that MEChA is racist. The organization, as I've demonstrated, is discernibly neither radical nor extremist, but is in fact an effective, civic-minded and valuable component of the wholly appropriate advocacy of civil rights for Latinos.
If there is any doubt that the anti-MEChA meme is extremist in its origins, consider the Fox News story on the matter -- which is not only factually wrong throughout (it incorrectly identifies, for instance, violence that occurred at a 1996 San Diego rally as being caused by Mechistas, when in fact the attacks on anti-immigration protesters were carried out by a splinter group with no affiliation with MEChA), its original version (which has since been edited to remove the references) cited as one of its main sources none other than Glenn Spencer of American Patrol, which in fact is listed by the SPLC as a hate group. Spencer, of course, has been one of the chief progenitors of this meme, and there is little doubt that he is both a racist and an extremist.
This is not the only place it's turning up. In addition to mainstream conservative sites, the "MEChA is racist" meme is turning up all around the far right, particularly in racist anti-immigrant circles. And with it is emerging an attached stream of genuine and rather naked racism. This is occurring even in respectable circles of the blogosphere, including at the intelligent and thoughtful blog run by Tacitus, where this comment was made by one of his readers, someone named "J":
- So when they see aztlan belongs to us (those wo plant the seeds, water the fields) and not the foreign Europeans. Additionally they do not recognize the border between the countries. Now put into context the saying "For the race (Raza) everything. For those outside the race nothing."
Starting to get the picture.
That could explain why Mexicans are streaming into california like ants at a picnic. They are trying to take over Mexico from within because they believe it is theirs. So in addition to being racist against gringos, they are actually espousing takeover of sovereign american states. Makes you wonder about Bustamante in california, considering he was in Mecha at its most revolutionary time and refuses to dissacosiate himself fromt he group. Also his policies and those of Gray Davis seem to suggest that he is seeking unlimited imigration and benefits for all illegals. I guess, if you can take over a state without using guns why not work the system.
If California has any sanity whatsoever they will not elect Bustamante, and they will close their borders asap, instead of alowing themselves to be overrun by those who believe California belongs TO THEM.
Hint to Tacitus: One of the giveaway earmarks of genuine racism is vermin references, particularly comparisons of an entire racial group to various low forms of life. And arguments that we close the border are the purview of outfits like American Patrol and their white-collar counterparts like U.S. English.
I am fairly confident that bloggers like Tacitus and others who are presenting their arguments are devoid of any racist tinges themselves. They are arguing from a kind of logic and facts, misplaced as they might be. However, in many ways, this meme is simply the latest permutation in a meta-theme we've been hearing from the right for the past several years -- namely, that whatever stupidity the right might be guilty has its equal counterpart in the left (see, e.g., Jack Shafer's recent blithering nonsense).
Well, the truth is that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes the left is stupid in ways that are unique to itself. And sometimes, as in this case, so is the right.
It is hard in the end not to come to the conclusion that the proliferation of the "MEChA is racist" meme is intended to blunt the emerging news over Arnold Schwarzenegger's substantial connections to U.S. English, a group whose racist underpinnings are themselves fairly substantial. And indeed, there are good reasons why Schwarzenegger should distance himself from them and resign his position with them.
Cruz Bustamante, on the other hand, frankly has nothing to apologize for.
[Update: Ted Barlow at Crooked Timber has a long and insightful post on this topic too. He covers some of the same ground, but has other material -- and makes some key points too. Go read it.]