The hate these days
Friday, June 18, 2004
Why, who should descend from Olympus to mingle with the common folk the other day but Tucker Carlson, (or "that smug little homunculus," as my friend Charles calls him) who held forth on various topics in a Washington Post chat (also carried as an item at Romenesko's Media News). Of particular note was this exchange:
- Albany, N.Y.: I recall reading not long ago that, as a joke, you gave out the number of the Fox news channel's Washington bureau, claiming that it was your own, and that in retaliation the Fox people posted your real home phone number. I also read that as a result of the Fox posting, your wife and children got threatening and obscene phone calls. Is this true? If so, doesn't it bother you that the people who did this have the same views and values that you have? If so, how can you possibly align yourself with such people?
Tucker Carlson: There are haters and morons on both sides, as you know. (In the case of Fox viewers, my impression was that most of them were drunk. No surprise there.)I must say, though, that most of the hate I run across these days seems to be coming from the left. Check out MoveOn.org some time if you don't believe me.
Well, I rushed over to the MoveOn.org Web site to take a gander at all this hate.
And, well ... you can judge for yourselves.
First there was the drive to "Protect Our Votes - Insist on a Paper Ballot." This is based on suspicions that touch-screen voting is vulnerable to being rigged. Not much hate there. A little paranoia, perhaps, but it's relatively reason-based paranoia.
Next there was "The Movie the White House Doesn't Want You to See." This part of MoveOn's effort to spur a discussion about global warming, based on the bad sci-fi flick The Day After Tomorrow. A bad idea -- this film is not the place to kick off a reasoned discussion of the subject -- but nothing particularly hateful.
Next one had some promise: "Fire Rumsfeld: View our new TV ad." Except that Rumsfeld probably should be fired, because his culpablity in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal mounts daily. That isn't hate. That's common sense.
Then we had the petition to "Censure Bush for Misleading Us." Again, the campaign is partisan and charged, but there is no abusive or demeaning language, and the issues are all based on facts, not on such emotional claims as the illegitimacy of his presidency or his corruption.
Then, if you go to the page for MoveOn's book, 50 Ways to Love Your Country, you get more of a rundown of their style. It's largely about empowering liberals. There's no smack talk about conservatives, no demonizing them, no insistence that they represent all of the nation's ills. It's not about tearing others down. It's about building your own base.
I happen to have a little experience with "hate." Especially after years of dealing with "hate groups" and "hate crimes." "Hate" is one of the most abused terms in the modern lexicon, because it can mean so many things. But in the contexts in which I've dealt with it, I've managed over the years to distill a certain essence of "hate" as we know it in the context of such groups and such crimes. It enables me to spot real hate when I see it.
Real hate, in the end, is about excluding, demonizing, and eliminating the Other. It finds its voice in sneering denigration and threats, focusing especially on depicting the Other as a disease or vermin or a source of betrayal, a threat in need of extirpation.
Maybe Tucker knows of some pages tucked away on the MoveOn site that I don't know about. But I could find no evidence of "hate" -- left-wing or otherwise.
Now, I wonder how Carlson would categorize the following material:
Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism
Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism
The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith and Military
Of course, Michael Savage should get his own section:
- Right now, even people sitting on the fence would like George Bush to drop a nuclear weapon on an Arab country. They don't even care which one it would be. I can guarantee you -- I don't need to go to Mr. Schmuck [pollster John] Zogby and ask him his opinion. I don't need anyone's opinion. I'll give you my opinion, because I got a better stethoscope than those fools. It's one man's opinion based upon my own analysis. The most -- I tell you right now -- the largest percentage of Americans would like to see a nuclear weapon dropped on a major Arab capital. They don't even care which one. They'd like an indiscriminate use of a nuclear weapon.
In fact, Christianity has been one of the great salvations on planet Earth. It's what's necessary in the Middle East. Others have written about it, I think these people need to be forcibly converted to Christianity but I'll get here a little later, I'll move up to that. It's the only thing that can probably turn them into human beings. ... Because these primitives can only be treated in one way, and I don't think smallpox and a blanket is good enough incidentally. Just before -- I'm going to give you a little precursor to where I'm going. Smallpox in a blanket, which the U.S. Army gave to the Cherokee Indians on their long march to the West, was nothing compared to what I'd like to see done to these people, just so you understand that I'm not going to be too intellectual about my analysis here in terms of what I would recommend, what Doc Savage recommends as an antidote to this kind of poison coming out of the Middle East from these non-humans.
[May 12 broadcast]
- "Well there's a big difference between fighting for civil rights, and fighting for homosexual marriage, you moron. It's a big difference for fighting for the equality of all men, despite their race, and fighting for perversion, you idiot! You think people are stupid?"
-- [June 10 broadcast]
And how about Rush Limbaugh? He's supposed to be "mainstream", right, Howie? Here are some recent remarks, courtesy of David Brock's Media Matters:
- I'm going to tell you is what's good for Al Qaeda is good for the Democratic Party in this country today. That's how you boil this down. And it doesn't have to be Al Qaeda. What's good for terrorists is good for John Kerry. All you got to do is check the way they react. [3/15/04]
25) So the only real question is, if Al Qaeda's active and capable, what are they going to do? Because we know what they want: they want Kerry, they want the Democrats in power. They'd love that -- I mean, based simply on what they're saying and how they're reacting to what happened in Spain. I'm not guessing. [3/15/04]
26) They [Democrats] celebrate privately this attack in Spain. [3/16/04]
27) I mean, if you wonder -- if you want the terrorists running the show, then you will elect John Kerry, who is a bed brother with this guy who just won election in Spain. [3/18/04]
28) I'm telling you, we're in the midst of a huge liberal crackup. They are so motivated by the quest for power. They are so motivated by rage and hatred, that they are not in power. And they focus that on Bush. That they have aligned themselves unwittingly -- I'm going to grant them that -- with those who intend harm on this country. [3/24/04]
29) You don't hear the Democrats being critical of terrorists. In fact, you hear the Democrats saying, "We've got to find a way to get along with them." [4/5/04]
33) [Speaking about Democrats] I don't know who they are, I don't know what they believe, but I can't relate. I can't possibly understand somebody who hates this country, who was born and raised here. I don't understand how you hate this Constitution. I don't understand how you hate freedom. I don't understand how you hate free markets, but that's who elites are, because freedom and free markets challenge their power. It's the only thing I can come up with. I know it's much more insidious and hideous than that, but I still can't relate to it. [3/16/04]
Then there are other supposedly mainstream voices:
- The young Kerry seems to have fallen in the latter category, communist apologist. ... John Kerry deserves to make atonement to the Vietnamese people -- not for what he did as a young soldier but for what he has done ever since to justify communist tyranny in Vietnam and elsewhere.
-- Linda Chavez
- Miller is not alone, though some are more sanguine when it comes to evaluating the roster of contenders. Here's a note I got recently from a friend and former Delta Force member, who has been observing American politics from the trenches: "These bastards like Clark and Kerry and that incipient ass, Dean, and Gephardt and Kucinich and that absolute mental midget Sharpton, race baiter, should all be lined up and shot."
-- [Kathleen Parker]
- If the Democrats win the Presidency, they can veto Republican advances. If they lose, they don't eat. The very sinews of their political power will decay with increasing speed. The Democratic coalition will be weaker, shorter, and poorer in 2008 than 2004. This sense of desperation explains the "hatred" and vicious attacks on Bush.
This should not surprise us. Expect the crescendo to grow through 2004. The other team isn't being unreasonable. It is reacting rationally to a real threat to its ability to function. Anything short of placing snipers on the rooftops of D.C. would be an underreaction by the Left.
Cornered rats fight. Hard.
-- [Grover Norquist]
- I am absolutely convinced that God is far from finished with the story of the United States of America. ... First of all, [there's] the matter of the little battle that must be fought, just as it was in the 19th century." There were, and are, "two incompatible moral visions for this country. We had to settle it then. We're going to have to settle it now. I hope not with blood, not with guns, but we're going to have to settle it nonetheless. The good news is that I think our side is finally ready to settle it. Roll up its sleeves, take off its jacket, and get a little bloody. Spill a little blood. We'll settle it. And we'll win. And then there's no holding us back.
-- [Rabbi Daniel Lapin]
And then there's the blogosphere:
- I don't really consider the Democrat party a party of the people anymore, nor do I consider the socialist Democrats (they are not "liberal", that's just a euphemism for socialist anymore) "nice people who are misguided." I consider them to be pure, raw evil, who want to destroy everything rational or beautiful in sight: success, prosperity, even the very security of the country.
-- [Amber Pawlik]
- Not saying anything in specific, mind you, but we'd be damn careful about showing our face in public if we were you. You just never know who that perfect stranger behind you in that alleyway might be. Could be a sibling or other relative of one of the fallen soldiers that you just took a dump on the grave of, and G-d only knows what might happen then.
Eric may not be famous enough to be a pick for the 2004 Dead Pool, but there's another signed Imperial Mug for the first LC to inform me that Eric Blumrich has died in a "tragic" accident.
Accidents DO happen, you know, and that's the kind of news that would definitely make my entire day.
These are all the more civilized remarks. Meanwhile, on the street level, things are not so civilized. In an Oregon coffee shop, a woman is treated to the following diatribe:
- "I hate all you f*ing Democrats. You f*ng deserve to be die. Hopefully we can kill the f*ing bunch of you soon..."
And liberals regularly are treated to lovely responses from the pro-war right as well:
- Fuckin Leftist traitors break the law and think they should get away with it?! FUCK YOU YA GODDAMN LEFTIST PUKES AND DON'T EVEN THINK OF FUCKING WITH FREE REPUBLIC MOTHERFUCKERS!
WE WILL BEAT YOU DOWN IN THE STREETS NEXT FALL!!!!
... If I see you or any of your comrades from Dem Underground I will kick the living shit out of you you filthy faggotcunt traitor
DO NOT IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS LEFTIST OUT ON THE STREET YOU PIECE OF SHIT OR YOU WILL BE BEATEN UNCONSCIOUS YOU GODDAM ENEMY OF AMERICA!!!!!
This was all well after the war began. Before we invaded Iraq, it was a common occurrence to read letters about "doing away with" Democrats, "Go back to France," and read fantasies about assaulting antiwar protesters.
Of course, the threats haven't been relegated merely to ordinary citizens and protesters. Objects of right-wing ire -- for instance, 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick -- are also targeted:
- "I can confirm that I've received threats at my office and my home," she told CNN on Saturday. "I did get a bomb threat to my home."
She added, "I have gotten a lot of very vile e-mails. The bomb threat was by phone."
Well, maybe I'm just being paranoid or shrill or some other thing that makes me easy to dismiss. But all of the above is what I think of when I think of "hate": the denigration, the venom, the demonization, the threats, the announced desire to eliminate.
And it isn't hard to see which side of the aisle it's coming from.
But then, maybe if I wore a bowtie, I'd see it differently.
The Bush Apologista
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
It's not easy being a Bush apologist these days. In fact, it's getting so bad that they have to just make shit up.
(OK, so they've always made shit up. But it's becoming pronounced.)
Anyone who listens to NPR or watches Fox knows, of course, that Juan Williams is a Bush Apologista of some repute. So it's not surprising that his recent New York Times op-ed is primarily an apologia for Bush's dismal standing in the black community.
Along the way, there's this:
- This is the record that President Bush can draw on to win a larger share of the black vote. But he has to want to do it. In private conversations, administration officials make the case that they want the black vote. But it is also clear that they are not planning to work hard to get it -- in part because they are still angry over the black response to their efforts in 2000.
Ah, yes. Of course, it's black people's fault that the Bush administration's photo ops with onstage minorities failed to attract votes. It probably doesn't cross these people's rather dim radars that if Bush had done something other than, say, obfuscate his dismal record regarding hate-crimes laws, play pitty-pat with neo-Confederates and slam affirmative action, something other than a handful of blacks might have considered voting for him. Even then, it's a hard sell.
Any, it goes on to a dramatic conclusion:
- Interestingly, the anger predates the post-election sparring in Florida. It has its roots in an ad, run nationally by the N.A.A.C.P., that implied that Mr. Bush, as governor of Texas, did not want to punish the white men who attacked and killed James Byrd Jr., a black man, in Jasper, Tex., in 1998.
The ad distorted a complex situation. As governor, Mr. Bush took the conventional conservative position that hate crimes legislation could lead to a dangerous increase in prosecutorial power. Mr. Bush argued that there were adequate criminal penalties to punish Mr. Byrd's assailants. No matter: the N.A.A.C.P. broadcast its ad. Mr. Bush, who won 30 percent of the black vote and 47 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 1998 gubernatorial campaign, was introduced to minorities as a man willing to stand with white lynch mobs.
It's hard to say where Williams came up with this nugget. Bush's position as governor, as far as the written and reported record goes, regarding hate-crimes legislation that was proposed during his tenure had nothing whatsoever to do with prosecutorial power.
Bush's actual, stated position was far more simplistic, and his shameful behavior during the whole episode involving James Byrd's family and the effort to pass a new hate-crime law in Texas -- behavior that was at the heart of the ad in question -- ranged from evasive and nasty to downright deceptive.
Here's an excerpt (pp. 109-110) from my forthcoming book, Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America:
- The hate-crime debate continued to rage on the state level, too -- especially in Texas, where James Byrd's killing inspired another effort to pass an effective law. The key player: the state's moderate Republican governor, George W. Bush.
Texas already had a hate-crimes law, passed in 1993 -- which was in fact the source of the problem. Passed amid a rancorous debate over the inclusion of sexual orientation as a bias category, it was watered down so that the law defined a hate crime by referring to the selection of victims "because of the defendant's bias or prejudice against a person or group." This language was so vague as to render the law constitutionally unsound and virtually worthless; a similar Utah statute was thrown out in 1999 by a state judge who called the law "incomplete" and "unenforceable." Consequently, Texas prosecutors rarely used the law -- and indeed, the cases pursued under the law in the ensuing years numbered exactly two.
Bush, however, had already made clear where he stood: "I've always said all crime is hate crime," he told a March 1999 news conference. "People, when they commit a crime, have hate in their heart. And it's hard to distinguish between one degree of hate and another."
But the governor was on the verge of launching his ultimately successful campaign to capture the presidency, and he had already made clear he intended to present to the voters a vision of "compassionate conservatism" -- a platform that suggested some moderation on social issues. At the same time, any bill approved in Texas that would expand hate-crimes categories to include gay-bashing, or might otherwise grant "special rights" to gays, was certain to attract the wrath of the Christian right, who constituted one of the Republicans' chief national constituencies.
So when State Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston introduced a bill in the 1999 Texas Legislature to replace the state's weak hate-crimes law, Bush chose to take, officially, no position on its passage. Indeed, when it passed the House eight-three to sixty-one, Bush said he would consider the bill if the Senate passed it. Then, quietly, his office went to work to kill it in the Senate, reportedly at the behest of Bush's political director, Karl Rove.
The bill faced difficulties anyway; Texas legislative rules severely limit the length of time bills are allowed to linger between houses, and Senate Republicans promptly set about sidetracking the measure in the Criminal Justice Committee, where it remained. Supporters then turned to their trump card: James Byrd's family, who came to Austin in May to lobby Bush for his support.
Byrd's twenty-nine-year-old daughter, Renee Mullins, met with Bush on May 6 in his office. Accompanying her were a cousin, Darrell Verrett; state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from Houston; and a gay-rights lobbyist.
Mullins later described the meeting: "I went in there pleading to him. I said that if he helped me move it along I would feel that [James] hadn't died in vain. . . . [Rep.] Thompson said, 'Governor Bush, what Renee's trying to say is, Would you help her pass the bill?' And he said, 'No.' Just like that.
"He had a nonchalant attitude, like he wanted to hurry up and get out of there. It was cold in that room."
A week later, after a Bush staffer met with the Republican caucus, the Senate officially let the bill die in committee. However, the matter would continue to haunt Bush.
The facts of the NAACP ad campaign are also rather at odds with Williams' characterization of the situation. They began running shortly after Bush rather blatantly misstated, during his nationally televised second debate with Al Gore, his position on hate-crimes laws and his handling of the legislation in Texas (as well as the outcome of the Byrd murder trials). Also from the text (pp. 112-113):
- James Byrd's family was outraged [by Bush's debate performance] but not surprised. Renee Mullins in particular was angry about Bush's performance, saying: "It was just another way of him misleading the public. He didn't have the statistics right."
The NAACP, which had supported the Byrd family's efforts in Texas, made a national campaign issue out of Bush's handling of bias-crime laws, with the family in a starring role. It prepared a series of television, radio and newspaper ads questioning the governor's commitment to racial justice, featuring Renee Mullins saying: "I went to Governor George W. Bush and begged him to help pass a Hate Crimes Bill in Texas. He just told me no."
The Bush camp responded testily: "Throughout the process, Governor Bush has treated the Byrd family with a great deal of respect," spokesman Ray Sullivan said. "He spoke to them prior to Mr. Byrd's funeral. He gave forty-five minutes of his time to meet with Miss Mullins. The governor's office helped to fund the prosecution of Mr. Byrd's killers."
But in truth, no one in the Byrd family could recall Bush phoning the family -- and in fact, he had stayed away from the funeral by suggesting that the atmosphere was too "politically charged," even though other top state Republicans (including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison) had shown up. Nor was the contribution from the governor's office to the prosecution anything out of the ordinary -- $100,000, or about an eighth of the actual costs (the federal government, in contrast, contributed about $250,000).
Reality notwithstanding, Republicans in short order turned the NAACP's attack ads into a liability for Democrats, accusing the civil-rights group of "reprehensible" behavior for linking Bush to the Byrd killing. By the time the election rolled around in early November, conservative commentators offered as conventional wisdom the idea that the ads "implied that George W. Bush killed James Byrd." Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter featured the meme in her later book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, suggesting that Bush's support for the penalty should have mollified his critics, but instead, "they would not rest until the killers were found guilty of 'hate' and forced to attend anger-management classes."
The ads, of course, reasonably took Bush to task for his awful record on hate-crimes legislation, but with an emotional twist. Yes, it was a gut punch -- and conservatives responded in kind.
It's too bad Juan Williams couldn't be bothered to at least describe the actual content of the ads. Or perhaps explain just where in Bush's speeches or policy statements he opposed hate crimes out of a concern for prosecutorial abuse. And is there any mention of Bob Jones University here?
But then, that would make his job as an apologist that much harder all over again.
[Pssst. Death on the Fourth of July is supposed to be hitting the shelves this week. More soon.]
Speaking of right-wing politics creeping into the mainstream ...
Has anyone else noticed that one of the candidates for the Showtime "reality" show American Candidate -- in which average Americans compete to become the contestant chosen to be an "official" candidate for president -- is none other than Richard Mack?
Yes, that Richard Mack. The fellow who was the NRA's "law enforcement officer of the year" at the same time he was touring the country promoting militias. A quick profile from In God's Country:
- Richard Mack. An Arizona sheriff who gained notoriety for refusing to enforce the Brady gun-control law in his county, Mack is a disciple of the late W. Cleon Skousen, a Mormon conspiracy theorist and John Birch Society pillar. Mack travels the nation giving seminars on how to resist the New World Order, embodied in gun-control measures, and he recommends militias as an effective step. The National Rifle Association named him the organization's "Law Enforcement Officer of the Year" for 1995. Mack's drawing card is gun control, but often a point of emphasis is what he calls the "myth of the separation of church and state."
Mack was defeated in his bid for re-election in Arizona in 1998 and wound up moving about in search of fresh causes, first in Nevada and then Utah, where he currently resides.
Of course, Mack is only one of several hundred contestants, and it figures that at least one or two extemist figures would creep into this list. Moreover, at this point it's hard to tell if his 516 supporters are even significant. It will be noteworthy, however, if Mack moves on from the early rounds.
In the meantime, voters in Mississippi's third congressional district will have the option of voting for an independent candidate who bills himself as "Jim Giles, White Patriot". A quick review of Giles' Web site reveals certain predilections:
- And don't forget to Practice tolerance!!
Stand next to a tree and let the dogs piss on your new shoes.
Wander through a ghetto about 2:00 AM and let the brothers have a great time stomping your white ass.
When you catch a stud pumping up your wife, just smile and say "Excuse it please."
When a nog rapes your daughter, please understand that he was caught in the throes of an irresistible impulse.
Stand under a statue and let the pigeons shit on your head.
When a mestiza tosses a crap filled diaper onto your lawn, tell her the lawn is big enough for more.
When a ricer steals your cat for his next meal, ask him if he'd also like your dog.
When a mugger takes your wallet, tell him he's also welcome to your jacket, shoes and watch.
When a scum bag is doing a pipe number on your BMW, thank him and let him know you wanted to buy a new car anyway.
Be tolerant. Pretend you are a roll of toilet paper. Be happy with what happens and thank God for blessing you so.
Of course, he happens to be running primarily against Chip Pickering, a conservative Republican who gets to come off looking positively enlightened when contrasted with a Giles.
Seceding from the world
This story is worth noting, though there are reasons to be skeptical:
- Group promotes secession from U.S.
A Texas group wants conservative Christians to move to South Carolina -- 12,000 at a time -- to form a biblically inspired government and secede from the United States.
Decrying a national tolerance of abortion and gay marriage, and the teaching of evolution, ChristianExodus.org hopes to achieve a majority of like-minded Christians in the state by 2016, the planned year of secession.
Scholars say the group is symptomatic of an alarming rise of separatist sentiment that is particularly strong in the South.
The piece later reports that the organization is run by a 28-year-old Texan named Cory Burnell, but notes that he is operating in conjunction with the League of the South, an openly secessionist neo-Confederate group with strong connections in South Carolina.
A quick visit to the ChristianExodus.org Web site -- and especially a survey of the group's position statements -- makes clear pretty quickly that this is a neo-Confederate version of the "white homeland" fantasy promoted by Richard Butler of the Aryan Nations and others in which white supremacists would move to northern Idaho en masse. Another version of this was the Montana Freemen's fantasy of creating a "constitutional" sovereign state in Jordan, Montana.
Like those other movements, there was an assumption that the local populace would welcome them with open arms, which turned out not to be the case in Idaho and Montana -- and may or may not be in South Carolina:
- Burnell is relying on local groups to help accommodate his fellow Christian secessionists, who will need jobs and homes.
"It's a movement that appeals to us because we're also in favor of state rule," said James Layden, chairman of the S.C. League of the South. "If things continue to slide toward perversion, we're going to have to do something."
The alliance is a natural one, many say.
Burnell's plan is an outgrowth of the Christian Reconstruction movement, a backlash against the Civil Rights advances of the 1960s, Potok said.
Such movements often combine fundamentalist theology with Confederate nostalgia, a mix that can be traced back to the writings of Robert Dabney, chaplain to Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
The creation of ChristianExodus.org is just another sign that separatist sentiment is rising in the South, said Potok. (Potok pointed out that Texas already has its own neo-Confederate secessionist movement called The Republic of Texas.)
Burnell's program "is very, very similar to the original Confederacy," said Harry Singleton, a professor of religion and philosophy at Benedict College. "Basically what they're trying to do is re-establish a reality where for them the divine and the secular mesh."
At this point Burnell's fantasy appears to be just that and little more. It bears watching, though, to see if his plan bears any kind of strange fruit.
Terry Nichols and the truth
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Things certainly looked grim for Terry Nichols last week after the Oklahoma City bombing jury spent only four hours deliberating in convicting him of 161 counts of first-degree murder as well as arson and conspiracy charges. Justifiably so.
So it was quite a surprise, really, when the same jury proved incapable of sentencing Nichols to death last weekend.
For those keeping track, we are now exactly back to where we were at the end of Nichols' first trial: Nichols will spend the rest of his life behind bars, but he will not face the death penalty. The end result, then, was that the Oklahoma City trial achieved mostly nothing, at a cost to the Oklahoma taxpayers estimated at about $10 million.
The L.A. Times story touches on this aspect:
- The jury's inability to agree on a sentence renewed charges that the case was motivated by vengeance and was a waste of energy and resources.
"The politics of the death penalty need to be addressed," said Garvin A. Isaacs, a Oklahoma City attorney who lost two friends to the bombing. "I've just had bad feelings about this whole exercise. When you look at the fact that this man is not going anywhere and will never hurt another person, it seems to me that reason should apply. I just don't understand this. It makes no sense."
Certainly, the trial took a toll on the jury, the majority of whom favored a death sentence, as the Oklahoman reported:
- Jurors said they voted repeatedly, with outcomes of 8-4 and 7-5. The majority always wanted death for Nichols for the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
... Jurors Saturday said they were upset and frustrated by the outcome.
Juror Joseph Reynolds, who voted for execution, said one question was asked "over and over and over" in the deliberations. If this crime doesn't justify the death sentence, what one would?
He said those voting for life without parole never could give an answer.
He said the deaths of 19 children inside the federal building -- most in the day care -- were reason enough for a death sentence.
"It was their contention that he might be able to do somebody some good someday," Reynolds said of the jurors against a death sentence. "They thought he might be able to talk to a prisoner and do him some good. ... They thought he might do his children some good, also."
Other accounts suggested that the jurors were influenced by Nichols' supposed conversion to Christianity. Meanwhile, the prosecutor questioned the dissenting jurors' honesty, but the complaint had no evidence to support it. Besides, as defense attorney W. Creekmore Wallace told the Oklahoman, jurors often come to such decisions during the course of the trial:
- Few jurors know in advance how they will respond when faced with the prospect of actually condemning someone to die, Wallace said -- especially a case as complex as Nichols'.
Lead defense attorney Brian Hermanson said jurors who rejected the death penalty were brave.
"While most people in Oklahoma did not want a second trial, almost everyone in Oklahoma has strong feelings about Terry," he said. "Those jurors knew that and still followed their consciences."
While most of the accounts so far have focused on jurors' perceptions of Nichols, few have mentioned a factor that may have played an equally significant role: the suggestion that Nichols was only a minor participant in the bombing plot, someone who was easily manipulated by Tim McVeigh, and that "others unknown" may have played more substantial roles.
Indeed, even before sentence was announced, the Oklahoman reported that many observers, including the families of victims, were hopeful that Nichols would be spared, precisely because he may know the names of those other participants.
This point did receive considerable attention, however, in Scott Gold's follow-up in the L.A. Times:
- Perhaps the most unanticipated response came from those who believed Nichols was the state's best and last chance for unraveling what they saw as an enduring and maddening mystery. The end of the trial -- a quick conviction, but a division among jurors as to the sentence -- rekindled the belief among some that the Oklahoma City bombing plot was more complex than government officials had allowed, and involved people who had not been identified or caught.
Jannie Coverdale, 66, an Oklahoma City retiree whose two grandchildren died in the bombing, said she did not believe in what she saw as more fanciful conspiracy theories. But she said she believed others helped plot the bombing.
"And some people believe Terry Nichols is going to give up the information one of these years," she said. "These people operate in cells. I will always believe that other people were involved. And I don't believe that we should be crucified for that."
Relying on Nichols to reveal whether others were involved, if there were any others, is a longshot, acknowledged Gloria Chipman, an Edmond, Okla., resident whose husband, Robert, was killed in the blast.
"I hope they keep a good eye on him," she said. "But if he hasn't talked before, I don't think he's going to start now."
As regular readers will recall, I've described in detail previously the many facets of this point. Nichols' first trial, as I explored in a Salon piece about the John Doe 2 mystery, ended as it did precisely because there were serious doubts in the minds of both the jury and the judge that Nichols and McVeigh acted alone:
- A more reasonable explanation for the construction of the bomb can be found in the testimony at Terry Nichols' trial. Charles Farley, a local sporting-goods rental shop worker, told the courtroom that he passed by Geary Lake at the time the bomb was being built, and saw not only the Ryder truck, a two-ton farm truck loaded with white bags of fertilizer and a car similar to McVeigh's getaway car, but at least five men working around the scene.
"Initially, when I got to the gate, there was one individual standing at the back of the farm truck, at the back left corner of the farm truck," Farley testified. "I seen three individuals standing down between the Ryder truck and the brown car, one of them standing in the -- in the road just a little bit, one of them leaning against the front of the Ryder truck and the other one just kind of standing between them."
Farley said he made to drive out of the area, pulling just beyond a gate nearby. "As soon as I was out, I seen an individual walking alongside of the farm truck. He was probably at the cab when I first seen him. And I was really going slow. I mean, I was just creeping. And I was going to roll the window down and ask him if he needed some help. And -- give me kind of a dirty look and I decided, well, if you're going to be that way, me too, and I'm just going to leave; so I just drove away."
Farley said he couldn't identify any of the other men, but he got a clear view of the man who shot him a look. Nichols' defense attorneys handed him a photo of a gray-bearded man and asked if that was him, and Farley said it was. The Rocky Mountain News later tracked down the identity of the man in the photo and found it was a sixtyish member of a local Kansas citizens' militia group named Morris Wilson.
Strangely, prosecutors did not attempt to rebut Farley's testimony, which came on the last full day of defense testimony. It was a crucial error in judgment. The jury convicted Nichols, but only of the lesser crime of taking part in the conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter, eschewing the murder and bombing charges that would have brought him the death penalty. Several of the jurors later said that Farley's testimony had convinced them that there was a wider conspiracy.
The jurors were not alone. In the sentencing phase of the trial, Judge Matsch himself indicated he was not convinced that everyone involved in the bombing had been brought to justice when he offered to lighten Nichols' life sentence in exchange for information about other participants. He said many questions about the case remained unanswered, adding: "If the defendant in this case, Mr. Nichols, comes forward with answers or information leading to answers to some of these questions, it would be something that the court can consider in imposing final sentence," Matsch said.
Nichols chose not to act on Matsch's offer precisely because the Oklahoma charges still awaited. But now that those have been resolved, Nichols is free to open up and begin identifying any other perpetrators. His lawyers may even offer such information as part of final sentencing; it will be interesting to see if Judge Steven Wilson, who has presided over this trial, will make an offer similar to Matsch's.
The mystery, it's clear, will live on -- and as long as it does so, the nation will be unable to resolve the serious issues raised by the Oklahoma City bombing. But there is some small comfort, at least, knowing that the sole person capable of revealing the truth will remain alive for the foreseeable future. Perhaps, at some point, that newly acquired Christian conscience will kick in.
Stick a fork in Ralph
Monday, June 14, 2004
Well, I've been arguing for some time now that Ralph Nader has clearly become a right-wing tool.
Now he's gone and removed all doubt:
- Nader does Buchanan
There are many choice bits worth commenting on, but most noteworthy is Nader's pandering to the right on immigration:
- PB: Should illegal aliens be entitled to social-welfare benefits, even though they are not citizens and broke into the country?
RN: I think they should be given all the fair-labor standards and all the rights and benefits of American workers, and if this country doesn’t like that, maybe they will do something about the immigration laws.
Why any progressive with two brain cells left to rub together would vote for Nader is beyond me. But then, that was what I thought in 2000.
An unexpected bulwark
I'm still trying to play catch-up, so it will be old news to many of you that University of Idaho computer-science student Sami Al-Hussayen was acquitted of a variety of terrorism charges late last week. The jury was hung on eight lesser charges. (Here's the Washington Post report on the trial's outcome.)
As I discussed earlier, the case was a real test of the Patriot Act -- and it came up far short. Indeed, there are grave questions now about whether its provisions are acceptable in the broader context of American constitutional law.
The L.A. Times zeroed in on this aspect of the verdict:
- Acquittal in Internet Terrorism Case Is a Defeat for Patriot Act
The Boise case in fact is only the latest and most noteworthy of a series of failures by John Ashcroft's Justice Department to apply the law appropriately:
- The verdicts point up a little-known reality of the Justice Department's war on terrorism since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. While it has won scores of highly publicized guilty pleas in terrorism-related cases -- often by dropping the most serious charges -- its trial record is mixed.
It has taken only two other major terrorism-related cases to trial since the Sept. 11 attacks, and at least some defendants have been acquitted in each.
In one case involving an alleged domestic "sleeper cell" in Detroit, the judge has threatened to throw out all three convictions because prosecutors allegedly withheld exculpatory information.
The case against Al-Hussayen, the son of a retired Saudi education minister who had been studying in the U.S. for nine years, raised questions from the start.
His arrest 16 months ago shocked the local Muslim community in the college town of Moscow, where he was known as a family-oriented father of three who shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks organized a blood drive and a candlelight vigil that condemned the attacks as an affront to Islam.
He was eventually charged under a section of the Patriot Act that makes it illegal to provide "expert advice or assistance" to terrorists. The provision was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Los Angeles in January, although that ruling was not binding on the Idaho case.
"In some respects, this was the broadest reach in all of the government's anti-terrorism prosecutions," said David Cole, a Georgetown University Law Center professor.
"When President Bush and [Vice President] Dick Cheney say, 'You have not shown me a single abuse of the Patriot Act,' I think people can now say, 'Look at the Sami Omar Al-Hussayen case -- a case where the government sought to criminalize pure speech and was resoundingly defeated.' "
Idaho is often reviled by liberals for many reasons, some of them well earned. But it's worth remembering that nearly a century ago, a Boise jury delivered a verdict that kept the nation's nascent labor movement from being crushed into oblivion (see J. Anthony Lukas' Big Trouble for the details). I wonder if another Boise jury has performed a similar national service.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
[San Franscisco gallery owner Lori Haigh, after being assaulted for displaying an antiwar painting.]
This is how it begins. One little step at a time.
A death threat here. A fistfight there. An act of vandalism here. An assault there.
Keep adding them up, and pretty soon something takes root. Something dark and hateful.
Consider what's been happening in the past few weeks, as bad news has mounted atop of scandal for George W. Bush and his dwindling base of supporters.
Two weeks ago, there was the vicious attack on gallery owner Lori Haigh in San Francisco's North Beach area. Haigh'd had the audacity to display a painting by artist Guy Colwell that depicted the torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. As the Chronicle reported:
- Two days after the painting went up, Haigh arrived at her gallery to find broken glass, eggs and trash strewn outside her storefront. Haigh also began receiving the first of about 200 angry voice mails, e-mails and death threats.
A week ago, a man walked into the gallery and spat in Haigh's face. On Tuesday, Haigh decided to temporarily close the gallery and began to consider giving up on her dream of owning an art gallery. Just two days later, another man knocked on the door of the gallery and then punched Haigh in the face, knocking her out, breaking her nose and causing a concussion.
According to Fenimore Cooper, who has been tracking the Haigh case closely, haigh chose to close up shop, and Colwell has removed the painting from public display. So in a sense, despite the large show of support for Haigh, the thugs have won. For now.
It is worth noting that a San Francisco city supervisor named Aaron Peskin has proposed putting Colwell's painting on display at City Hall as a way of repudiating the intent of the thugs. Somewhat predictably, a local Republican dissented:
- Prominent Republican Mike DeNunzio called Peskin's plan "a shame."
"I would have thought better of Aaron Peskin," he said. "There is no need for something like that -- obviously he has some need to preserve publicity."
DeNunzio said he would "have more respect for Peskin's conduct" if the supervisor were willing to decorate City Hall with images showing the other side of the story.
"Would he also like to put a photograph of the young man whose head was sawed off by terrorists?" asked DeNunzio. "Would he also like to put up photograph of the thousands of men and women who were murdered by Saddam Hussein?"
Sure, and he could display a picture of the Easter Bunny, too, since it would have as much bearing on a commentary regarding the behavior of American soldiers. There is no "other side of the story" when it comes to torture.
In any event, it's also worth noting that the thugs appear to still be at work:
- In a related development, the owner of another North Beach art gallery -- Live Worms Gallery on Grant Avenue -- said someone has made a veiled threat against his gallery as well. Owner Kevin Brown said a man walked into his gallery and engaged him in a debate about the Capobianco attacks and the Iraq war in general. On his way out, he said, "you're next," according to Brown.
It may seem surprising that this played out in a liberal hotbed like San Francisco -- but that, frankly, is an accurate barometer of how broad, and how pervasive, the polarization that drives incidents like these has become. If it's getting bad in places like the Bay Area and Seattle, one can imagine what the atmosphere is like in rural areas, where antiwar sentiments are decidedly in the minority.
Only a few days before the Haigh incident, there was a similar problem with threats against an antiwar group in rural Nevada County, California.
A group of concerned parents planned to hold a meeting at the county schools office to talk about the presence of military recruiters in their schools. But when a cadre of local conservatives began calling in threats, the district simply cancelled the meeting, saying it feared "violence between Weiss' group and conservative activists."
Funny that, considering that conservatives were the folks making the threats:
- When word spread that a room at the superintendent's office was to be used for the gathering, Republican Central Committee Chairman Tony Gilchrease raised an alarm via e-mail.
"Please note that this Peace Group of Anti-Americans and al Quida (sic) supporters, as far as I'm concerned, are holding their rally and 'training' at the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office," Gilchrease wrote to several dozen area residents the day before the scheduled meeting.
"I suggest that each one of you that feel as outraged as I am about this, call Terry McAteer, a Republican and the Nevada County School Supt. and tell him just how you feel about allowing this traitorous activity to occur on Nevada County school owned property."
Gilchrease wasn't available for additional comment Wednesday evening.
After a brief article about the meeting appeared in The Union on Friday and Gilchrease sent out his e-mail, McAteer said he received several angry phone calls and was threatened verbally over the use of the room for Weiss' group.
McAteer said he neither took names of callers nor reported threats to police, but he said he chose to ask Weiss to move the meeting for the safety of all involved.
This is how it happens on the small, mostly unnoticed level -- what Ann Coulter affectionately calls a little "local fascism."
The most interesting development in this trend, however, is the way it appears to be coalescing on a national level -- aimed particularly at the antiwar wing of the liberal bloc, in the person of filmmaker Michael Moore.
I'm not a huge Moore fan [though he'll always have a place of affection in my heart for three things: 1) His marvelous interviews of Robert Miles in Blood in the Face; 2) his interview of James Nichols in Bowling for Columbine; and for his "Pedophiles for Buchanan" donation stunt detailed in Downsize This!, my all-time favorite bit of guerrilla politics]. The downside to Moore is that he plays fast and loose with facts too often, which makes him something of a loose cannon who can be as much embarrassment as asset.
There has already been a huge outcry over Moore's forthcoming film, Fahrenheit 9/11, partly because the Disney Corp. killed its distribution deal for the film due to its anti-Bush content. The movie is being released anyway, and it's garnering lots of attention, pro and con, all of which no doubt will make it a box-office hit.
It has all the earmarks of being a kind of cultural watershed, a reverse image, as it were, of Mel Gibson's The Passion. Where conservatives organized an off-the-boards campaign to drive out support for Gibson's anti-Semitic exercise in masochism, they appear poised to do the same to keep Moore's film from being shown.
There has recently appeared a Web site calling itself "Move America Forward" -- which in turn is being promoted by the right-wing Web site NewsMax -- that is dedicated to shutting down showings of Fahrenheit 9/11, at least in part by urging the public to contact theater owners directly. The result, according to What Really Happened, is that some of these owners "are reporting receiving death threats."
WRH also reports that it ran a DNS check on the "Move America Forward" site and found that it is owned by the San Francisco public-relations firm of Russo Marsh & Rogers. Sal Russo, one of the firm's principals, has extensive GOP ties, including service as an adviser for the "Recall Grey Davis" campaign. (Kurt Nimmo has been tracking these developments as well.)
None of this will ever be directly connected to George W. Bush, of course. There's no need. There are too many people out there willing to do whatever it takes to keep him in office. Whatever it takes.
[Many thanks to the many readers who wrote in about the Haigh case, including Jeremy at Fantastic Planet, who has some good posts of his own on the subject; Julius Civitatus, who also has more photos; as well as Suzanne, Jake, Martha, Thom, Kevin and George. I intended to post on it earlier, but delayed a bit to ensure it wasn't a hoax. It wasn't.]