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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The white supremacist roots of Glenn Beck’s ideology

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th October 2010

Last weekend I went to the “One Nation” march — a rally designed at least in part as a rebuke to Glenn Beck’s 8/27 event at the Lincoln Memorial, hijacking the date and meaning of the March on Washington 47 years earlier.  At least one “Tea Party” advocate stood alone (and unmolested) among the swirling crowd near the Washington Monument on their way towards the event.  His sign had words to the effect “I’m with the Tea Party .  But I’m not racist, I don’t hate.”

Maybe not.  Few people like to think they’re racist.  Many people try not to be.  But we’re not usually the most objective judges of whether we’ve succeeded.

More to the point here, when their leaders — by intent, by ignorance, or by intentional ignorance — misrepresent the history of race in America that they claim to be explaining, the practical effect is racist.  Listen to the ‘MediaMatters’ tape excerpt of the October 1 Glenn Beck show, starting at 2:14:

…I would like to propose that the president is exactly right when he said “Slaves sitting around the campfire didn’t know when slavery was going to end, but they knew that it would.” And it took a long time to end slavery. Yes it did. But it also took a long time to start slavery. And it started small, and it started with seemingly innocent ideas. And then a little court order here and a court order there, and a little more regulation here and a little more regulation there, and before we knew it, America had slavery. It didn’t come over on a ship to begin with as an evil slave trade, the government began to regulate things because the people needed answers, they needed solutions. It started in a courtroom, and then it went to the legislatures. That’s how slavery began. And it took a long time to enslave an entire race of people and convince another race of people that they were somehow or another “less” than them. But it can be done. I would ask you to decide: are we freeing slaves, or are we creating slaves? That’s a question that must be answered.

Hokaaay.  There’s a whole discussion one might have about how all this is delivered — the weary would-be freedom rider’s ‘yes it did,’ the oddly mocking, skeptical ‘evil slave trade.’  But it’s the content that concerns me here: where in God’s name does Beck come up with this stuff?

W.C. Skousen and the Lost Cause
The answer appears to be that ‘in God’s name’ is about right: it may be largely from one Willard Cleon Skousen (1913-2006).  National Review Online’s Mark Hemingway described him as “by turns an FBI employee, the police chief of Salt Lake City, a Brigham Young University professor, consigliore to former secretary of agriculture and Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson and, well, all-around nutjob.” (emphasis added)

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The Great Betrayal, judicial activism, and a living Constitution

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd October 2010

September 17 was Constitution Day, always a good opportunity to reflect on that document and what it means to us.  Unfortunately, I missed that opportunity.  But of course every day is Constitution Day!  So I’ll go ahead and write down a few things I’ve been thinking and reading about lately on that subject and its intersection with another that has been occupying me lately: post Civil War American history.

In a note he published on Facebook, Patrick Bruckart wrote,

…the Bill of Rights was intended to restrain the federal government’s authority and provide citizens a means of redressing grievances against it. The BOR did not originally apply to the states. The Fourth Amendment, for example, was later applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment and subsequent court decisions. The next time we are inclined to complain about “judicial activism,” we should ask ourselves whether it would be acceptable for state or local law enforcement officials to search our homes (or property) without having first obtained a warrant based on probable cause. And that’s just one example.
(links added)

Even in colonial times, some states provided their own constitutional guarantees — that is, they acknowledged their own limitations — regulating searches and seizures.  But it was optional — especially with respect to the lower and disenfranchised members of society.


The Fourteenth Amendment
1. All persons born or naturalized
in the United States, and subject to
the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens
of the United States and of the State
wherein they reside. No State shall
make or enforce any law which shall
abridge the privileges or immunities
of citizens of the United States; nor
shall any State deprive any person
of life, liberty, or property, without
due process of law; nor deny to any
person within its jurisdiction the
equal protection of the laws. […]
5. The Congress shall have power
to enforce, by appropriate
legislation, the provisions of this
article.

But the Fourteenth Amendment changed all that.  In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment — in both intent and language — clarified that rights guaranteed under the Constitution were a floor under state law, not merely interesting limitations on a far off federal government.  And both these rights and the promise of equal treatment under the law were guaranteed to everyone born in, naturalized to, or simply under the jurisdiction of the United States of America.

And Congress could see to it.  According to Akhil Reed Amar’s indispensable “America’s Constitution: A Biography,” the final enabling clause — “Congress shall have power to make all appropriate laws” furthering this aim — was selected to echo specific Supreme Court rulings deferring to “appropriate” Congressional legislation. Amar:

And — here is the key point –the American people ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, with evident understanding of its, and also the Thirteenth’s, language authorizing “appropriate” federal legislation.  Knowing full well that Congress believed that this language authorized transformative new federal statutes to uproot all vestiges of unfreedom and inequality — and having seen with their own eyes that Congress had already acted on a similar belief in connection with the Thirteenth Amendment — Americans said yes.  We do.

Or so they believed.

“A vain and idle enactment”
To return to Bruckart’s remarks, I think one point to remember about judicial activism is that sometimes it’s needed simply to undo prior such activism.

The main example, to me, is in how the Fourteenth Amendment was bled nearly dry shortly after its ratification by one regrettable Supreme Court ruling — In re Slaughter-House Cases (1873; text)  — and one manifestly unjust one, United States v. Cruikshank (1875; text), a ruling rivaled in infamy by Dred Scott, Korematsu and few others.

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The enemy within

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th September 2010

One of those fascinating human interest stories got kicked around tonight on Facebook, this one about a Polish couple, Pawel and Ola, who grew up in the projects of Warsaw and ran with neo-Nazi skinheads there as teenagers.  As neo-Nazi skinheads are wont to do, Pawel would beat up whichever minority he could — and in Poland, that includes a remnant population of Polish Jews.

And in a nice twist, Polish Jews included Pawel and Ola.  Kristin Cuff, Secret Jewish heritage converts neo-Nazi (CNN):

…Ola was nagged by a conversation with her mother that she barely remembered — something about Jewish roots.  She found her answer at the Jewish Historical Institute, which says it has collections documenting 10 centuries of Jewish experience in Poland.  While there she said she felt compelled to also check Pawel’s family history — and he too came from a Jewish background.  Something told me to… It was unbelievable — it turned out that we had Jewish roots. It was a shock. I didn’t expect to find out that I had a Jewish husband,” she said.

Pawel:

“I was a nationalist 100 percent. Back then when we were skinheads it was all about white power and I believed Poland was only for Poles. That Jews were the biggest plague and the worst evil of this world. At least in Poland it was thought this way as at the time anything that was bad was the fault of the Jews…” he said.

But now he was one.  And eventually, he approached a rabbi and joined his synagogue.  Rabbi Shudrich:

The fact that they were skinheads actually increased the amount of respect I have for them. That they could’ve been where they were, understood that that was not the right way, then embraced rather than run away the fact that they were part of the people who they used to hate.” “I think also it says on a personal level, never write somebody off. Where they may be 10 years ago doesn’t have to be where they are today. And the human being has this unlimited capability of changing and sometimes even for the better.

Now this really is an interesting story, but — on the basis of what’s in the article, at least — I respectfully disagree with the rabbi that it demonstrates any of that.  As one person commented in the Facebook discussion I noticed, Pawel seems to just be a guy who had never put himself in someone else’s shoes — and found one day he was in them.  Nothing in the story suggests he’s suddenly noticeably, actively more tolerant to other minorities, and given how obviously interesting that would have been, I’m guessing it didn’t happen.  Indeed, Pawel is at less pains to express regrets about his bad old days than to say how untroubled he is by them :

I’m not saying that I don’t have regrets but it’s not something that I walk around and lash myself over… I feel sorry for those that I beat up… but I don’t hold a grudge against myself. The people who I hurt can hold a grudge against me.

People undoubtedly do have the capacity to change for the better.  But — at least as told — this is not such a story, I think.  Pawel ran with the skinheads and beat up Jews; then he found out he was Jewish; then he joined a synagogue.  But joining a synagogue or becoming Jewish doesn’t magically confer virtue on Pawel, it just identifies his new group.  Told this plainly, all the story really suggests is that people stick with whatever group they can identify with, and find a new one if they have to.

And that doesn’t change them, that just changes their allegiance.  Pawel is presumably no longer anti-Semitic.  But he’s still the kind of guy who would join them.  There’s nothing to suggest that guy — the enemy within — has gone away.

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A German “Bell Curve”? Sarrazin’s “Deutschland schafft sich ab”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th September 2010

Thilo Sarrazin (TEE-lo sahr-ah-TSEEN) is a high-ranking member of Germany’s left-wing SPD party, having served in the “Treuhand” agency charged with privatizing East German assets after reunification, and as finance minister for the city-state of Berlin.  In 2009, he was appointed to the Executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank — more or less Germany’s Federal Reserve.


“Germany is abolishing itself: How
we are putting our country at risk”

None of which is particularly interesting.  But Mr. Sarrazin is also the author of a regrettable book titled “Deutschland schafft sich ab” — “Germany is abolishing itself.”  How is Germany doing so?  By allowing Muslim immigration that inexorably makes Germany less integrated, poorer and less intelligent.

Establishment Germany — most prominently Chancellor Angela Merkel — has for the most part reacted with disdain to Sarrazin’s book and arguments, but advance book sales are apparently high enough that the book is currently at or near the top of the German charts, and the continued publicity is likely to keep it there for a while.

SPIEGEL Online reports that Merkel’s reaction was: “The statements from Mr. Sarrazin are completely unacceptable. They are exclusionary in a way that shows contempt for entire groups within our society. For me, the worst part is that by confronting the issue the way he does, he makes a discussion of that issue much more difficult.”

So what are those statements?  It would be best if I had a copy, of course, but excerpts show a book that seems to range from Islamophobia to outright eugenic racism:

  • In no other religion [than Islam] is there such an easy crossover to violence, dictatorship, and terrorism.” (link)
  • The cultural foreignness of Muslim immigrants could be deemed less significant if these immigrants promised special skills or intellectual potential.  But indications are the opposite, and it’s by no means certain that this is only due to the educational poverty of their origins.   Genetic burdens — caused by the common intermarriage of relatives — also play a major role among immigrants from the Middle East and bring about higher than average proportion of various heritable diseases.” (link)
  • “The problem is not that the number of descendants of people with an advanced education shrinks from generation to generation. That would not be so important if all people were equally gifted, because then education would be a mere question of upbringing. But since the education level and inherited intelligence impact one another, this represents a negative trend over time for the population’s intellectual potential when people with a high educational level show below average fertility and people with low education show an above average fertility. […] …human evolution ultimately depends on the process of natural selection: The genetic material of those who survive the best and reproduce the most spreads. Since the survival chances in modern society are identical, the genes of those with the highest fertility are spread the farthest.” (link)

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“The other folks are voting”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st November 2008

Assume, for the sake of argument, that America’s previously most important election campaign is now a mortal lock.  Then America’s newest most important election campaign is in Georgia. From “Heavy Black Turnout Threatens Georgia Senator,” Carl Hulse, New York Times:

Nearly 1.4 million Georgians have voted, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, and more than a third were black. (Blacks make up just over 29 percent of registered voters in the state, which keeps track of racial data under civil rights laws.) Early voting began Sept. 22, and this week the state opened extra polling stations and extended their hours. The development is not lost on [Senator] Chambliss. “There has always been a rush to the polls by African-Americans early,he said at the square in Covington, a quick stop on a bus tour as the campaign entered its final week. He predicted the crowds of early voters would motivate Republicans to turn out. “It has also got our side energized, they see what is happening,” he said.

From “Obama shakes up Georgia Senate race,” David Rogers, Politico.com:

[Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss] is outwardly confident, but there’s urgency in his voice as he tours North Georgia, trying to boost turnout in his predominately white base: “The other folks are voting, he bluntly tells supporters.

(Via A. Serwer (TAPped), brownsox (Daily Kos), and ultimately a friend I’ve never met, Isaac Smith.)

Dear good people everywhere: this, too, is why we fight.  So excuse my language, but please help blow this asshole out of the water — give to the Jim Martin for Senate campaign, if you can’t go door to door for him.

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Respect for Rutgers

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th April 2007

The Post had a nice front page photo of the Rutgers women’s basketball team today — nice in that you saw the women as thoughtful, quiet people — and so I read the accompanying articles, not really expecting to get much more out of the ugly story of Imus’ ugly comments.

But I’m glad I did. I didn’t watch much of the college basketball tournaments this year, so maybe that’s why I was surprised to find myself suddenly getting something I hadn’t: how the great achievement of those young women was trampled and vandalized by this lowlife’s remarks. From Adam Kilgore’s article in the Washington Post:

Said [Rutgers coach C. Vivian] Stringer: “While all of you come to talk about this great story, this Don Imus story, in the translation you have lost what this is really all about. At the beginning of the year, we were humiliated. But through perseverance and hard work, determination, ultimately they ended up playing for the national championship. And no one believed in them but them. That’s the greatest story. It’s not where you came from, but where you’re going, not where you start, but where you finish.With five freshmen and no seniors on its 10-player roster, Rutgers lost its first two games of the season and stood at 5-5 after 10 games. Players studied film and practiced for 10 hours daily over winter break, Stringer said, and from that point the Scarlet Knights won 22 of 25 games before Tennessee beat them in the national championship.

Along the way, Rutgers demonstrated its perseverance with stunning victories. It lost to Connecticut by 26 at home on Feb. 26, then beat U-Conn. by eight points eight days later in Hartford, Conn., to win the Big East tournament, the school’s first league championship. In the NCAA tournament, the Scarlet Knights beat No. 1 Duke, which had throttled Rutgers by 40 points in December. Stringer told her players then they were her worst defensive team in 35 years of coaching. In the Final Four, Rutgers set a semifinal record by allowing just 35 points against LSU.

“You are familiar with what you might think is the story,” said Rutgers Athletic Director Robert E. Mulcahy III, who attended the team’s news conference along with Corzine and the school’s president, Richard L. McCormick. “But the real story is not the despicable and degrading comments issued by Don Imus and his producer. The real story is about the 2007 Rutgers women’s basketball team: their incredible accomplishments, where they came from and how far they went.

(Emphases added.) There will be time enough for a reckoning with serial jockass Imus and his misguided friends, defenders (Tom Oliphant!?), employers, and advertisers. But for now, I suggest that if you’re appalled at what Imus spewed over the airwaves, go over to Hillary Clinton’s web site — and great credit where it’s due for her quick reaction — and join her and others in “Respect for Rutgers.” Don’t let Imus be who that Rutgers team remembers years from now. Instead, as Hillary put it:

Show them that we are proud to stand with them and for them.

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"Welcome to America," George

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 15th August 2006

So (1) Senator George Allen told an Indian-American filming him “Welcome to America,” and repeatedly called him a “macaca“, (2) “macaque” or macaca are both a kind of monkey and a racial epithet among white supremacists, particularly French-speaking ones, for Africans and Arabs, and (3) it’s not far-fetched Senator Allen would know that: his mother immigrated from French Tunisia,* and his siblings reportedly say he takes more after her than his famous football coach father.

Ryan Lizza recently had a fascinating and disturbing profile of the senator in the New Republic. I’d already read that Allen was given to bizarre football metaphors serving to remind listeners of George Allen, Sr., and enhance the folksy Southern schtick that is Allen’s trademark. But Rizza’s account also revealed a racist bully with a cruel streak and delusions of honorary Southern roots — the latter even though he actually grew up in California, and learned what he thinks he knows about the South from watching “Hee Haw.” (Lizza also mentions Allen’s mother in a couple of paragraphs; nothing there makes it implausible Allen learned his use of “the M-word” at her knee.)

Normally, watching this kind of career crash and burn would be pure entertainment — a knave who thinks he’s clever in a train wreck of his own design. But I was sobered by Lizza’s observation that Allen had “emerged as the principal conservative alternative to John McCain in the early jockeying among 2008 Republican presidential candidates…” To think all it takes these days is being a Confederate poser who made his reputation in his adopted state by publicly opposing Martin Luther King Day — and privately hanging a noose from an office plant.

A Washington Post editoral today quickly chastised the Senator for the incident, but ended with the Church Lady-style comment that “really, by mocking Mr. Sidarth, Senator George F. Allen demeaned only himself.” He did a little more than that. He — and his supporters who rewarded him with chuckles — demeaned a state and a country that are both better than that with these racist, nativist put-downs. Let’s help Jim Webb give him the Election Day thrashing he deserves.

=====
* French North Africa was arguably the real heart of Vichy France; I’m reminded of WWII correspondent AJ Liebling’s comment to the effect that many upper class French North Africans “had not really collaborated with the Nazis; the Nazis had come along belatedly and collaborated with them.”
NOTES: “racial epithet” reference–Jeffrey Feldman (“Frameshop”); “French Tunisia” reference–“Raising Kane”.

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New Orleans horror stories: everything you know is probably wrong

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th September 2005

New Orleans Times-Picayune reporters Brian Thevenot and Gordon Russell report (“Rumors of deaths greatly exaggerated“):

After five days managing near-riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA – Beron doesn’t remember his name – came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

“I’ve got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome,” Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said. […]

As the fog of warlike conditions in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath has cleared, the vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

Via Michael O’Hare, who comments “If you believed the Grand Guignol news for even a minute, as I did, you owe it to your conscience to take a complete reality soak here; read it!”

No freezers full of bodies. No police officer shot by a brazen thug at the Convention Center — his gun went off and hit him in the leg during a scuffle; the man he was hit by was arrested. One ‘muzzle flash’ leading to an arrest at the Convention Center — not thirty.

The Times-Picayune reporters could also find no supporting evidence for a particularly gruesome story that made the rounds, about a little girl whose throat was cut after being raped. There appears to have been one case of a child molester being beaten up by others at the Convention Center, an incident Thevenot and Russell suspect was magnified to the bloodier rumor.

For what it’s worth, I’ve found a couple of alleged eyewitness accounts of child rape and other horrific behavior at “Alive in Truth,” a New Orleans/Katrina oral history site. “Wayne G.” recalls:

Raping little—gangs raping little females, cuttin their throat. This is at — this is — I seen it all. Little babies dying. (Crying.) They were stompin little babies. (Crying.) They started killin’ little children for nothing. They had nobody to protect us, at all.

See also “Antoinette 7“, who claims,

I saw a girl raped and her throat cut. The mens found the man that did that and cut his throat. He had come over from the Superdome where he was raping babies and started doing it there, so the mens hunted him down and they slit his throat.

Other interviewees at the site merely talk about the rapes and killings as fact, without claiming they saw them.

On the face of it, an eyewitness account deserves to be taken seriously — and the Times-Picayune report doesn’t claim to have disproven the child rape story, only that it could not find evidence to support it. But on the whole, while I hesitate to call out people who’ve been through so much, I wonder if they were saying what they thought interviewers wanted to hear. A constant throughout the “Alive in Truth” oral histories was a justifiable sense of bitterness by survivors of the Convention Center and Superdome at the abandonment, filth, and chaos of those places — which may have implanted some ‘memories’ spun from rumors mixed with stress.

Regardless of the truth of that story, the overall impression — widespread savagery and predation of survivors against each other — was clearly incorrect. Both the Times-Picayune story and many stories you’ll find at “Recording Katrina” document the opposite: survivors taking care of eachother. Much of the supposed “looting” by “thugs” was actually young men going out and getting food, water, and diapers for the thousands of people the authorities had all but abandoned.

In addition to doubtless contributing to the documented contempt that many law enforcement and military personnel showed towards survivors, the “Grand Guignol” rumors delayed relief and law enforcement, while thousands of American citizens suffered, and too many died:

Authorities provided no food, water or medical care until troops secured the building the Friday after the storm. […]

Rumors of rampant violence at the Convention Center prompted Louisiana National Guard Lt. Col. Jacques Thibodeaux put together a 1,000-man force of soldiers and police in full battle gear to secure the center Sept. 2 at about noon. […]

{Chief Eddie] Compass said rumors had often crippled authorities’ response to reported lawlessness, sending badly needed resources to respond to situations that turned out not to exist. He offered his own intensely personal example: The day after the storm, he heard “some civilians” talking about how a band of armed thugs had invaded the Ritz-Carlton hotel and started raping women – including his 24-year-old daughter, who stayed there through the storm. He rushed to the scene only to find that although a group of men had tried to enter the hotel, they weren’t armed and were easily turned back by police.

The reporters point out that rumor-mongering wasn’t confined to Superdome and Convention Center survivors — law enforcement officials did it, too:

Compass, however, promulgated some of the unfounded rumors himself, in interviews in which he characterized himself and his officers as outgunned warriors taking out armed bands of thugs at every turn.

“People would be shooting at us, and we couldn’t shoot back because of the families,” Compass told a reporter from the (Bridgeport) Connecticut Post who interviewed him at the Saints’ Monday Night Football game in New York, where he was the guest of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. “All we could do is rush toward the flash.”

Compass added that he and his officers succeeded in wrestling 30 weapons from criminals using the follow-the-muzzle-flash technique, the story said.

“We got 30 that way,” Compass was quoted as saying. […]

But Winn, when asked about alleged shootouts in a separate interview, said his unit saw muzzle flashes and heard gunshots only one time. Despite aggressively frisking a number of suspects, the team recovered no weapons. His unit never found anyone who had been shot.

The unremarkable conclusion that I take out of this for both the press and officials on the scene: in conditions of panic and distress like those in New Orleans after the levees broke, if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes, you just don’t know it’s true. And if you don’t know it’s true, you should be careful of broadcasting the rumor.

And if you have reason to think horror stories are rumors, you should be willing to discount them rather than take them at face value — especially if you’re charged with bringing relief and restoring order to a desperate, endangered population.

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Guard needed "overwhelming force" to "take down" convention center

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th September 2005

So why did it take forever and a flipping day for relief to get to the New Orleans Convention Center? Why did New Orleans citizens desperate for food and water come to believe they were going to be killed, not rescued?

A September 3rd Defense Department briefing sheds some light — whether embarrassing or infuriating depends on your Myers Briggs scores, I suppose — on the mindset of our supposed protectors. DoD News: Defense Department Briefing on Ongoing National Guard Response to Hurricane Katrina:

The most contentious issues were lawlessness in the streets, and particularly a potentially very dangerous volatile situation in the convention center where tens of thousands of people literally occupied that on their own. We had people that were evacuated from hotels, and tourists that were lumped together with some street thugs and some gang members that — it was a potentially very dangerous situation.

General Steven Blum (“chief, National Guard Bureau”) continued:

We waited until we had enough force in place to do an overwhelming force. Went in with police powers, 1,000 National Guard military policemen under the command and control of the adjutant general of the State of Louisiana, Major General Landreneau, yesterday shortly after noon stormed the convention center, for lack of a better term, and there was absolutely no opposition, complete cooperation, and we attribute that to an excellent plan, superbly executed with great military precision. It was rather complex. It was executed absolutely flawlessly in that there was no violent resistance, no one injured, no one shot, even though there were stabbed, even though there were weapons in the area. There were no soldiers injured and we did not have to fire a shot.

Some people asked why didn’t we go in sooner. Had we gone in with less force it may have been challenged, innocents may have been caught in a fight between the Guard military police and those who did not want to be processed or apprehended, and we would put innocents’ lives at risk. As soon as we could mass the appropriate force, which we flew in from all over the states at the rate of 1,400 a day, they were immediately moved off the tail gates of C-130 aircraft flown by the Air National Guard, moved right to the scene, briefed, rehearsed, and then they went in and took this convention center down.

(all emphases added) Put me down for “infuriated.” The briefing comes via tex of “UnFairWitness,” who you should go read, it’ll save me a rant.

“tex” takes it another step, juxtaposing the National Guard spokesman’s breathless assessment of the situation with that of Dumas Carter, an eight year New Orleans Police Department veteran who was on the scene at the Convention Center throughout the ordeal. His story — which matches up well with others* eRobin and I are collecting at “Recording Katrina” — is that the vast majority of people at the Convention Center were (a) law abiding, “aside” from procuring foodstuffs and necessities for survival, (b) cooperative with him and other police, (c) positively hoping for security from the relative handful of predators in their midst, and (d) too physically spent to have resisted a boy scout troop, much less the National Guard. Carter:

At this point it’s like four days into it, and we’re trying to explain to the captain, these people are so tired and thirsty and hungry they couldn’t flip over a lawn chair if they wanted to riot. […]

The majority of the people were staying outside. We were hearing all kinds of horror stories from inside, murder to rape to robberies to shootings to beatings. There was no way to verify any of that stuff. Ninety-seven percent of these people were behind us. They wanted us to be the police and they loved that we were still there. We were the only police they saw for four or five days. The majority of the conversations were, “Baby, I know you’re being left here just like we’re being left here and you don’t know anything, but if you find out something, could you tell us?” My response was, you’ve got the radio–you tell us what’s going on. And these people would come over and give us bulletins as they heard it from the news.

There’s even more at “Unfair Witness”, including a discussion of “clear and hold” tactics supposedly planned for the Convention Center — which turn out to be standard operating procedure in Iraq. (In a nice bit of snarling propaganda, the linked UPI report explains: “Once host to the 1988 Republican National Convention, the convention center was now unofficial host to thousands of refugees – squatters all – who were mixed in with criminals and thugs.”) Squatters, criminals, thugs — clear ’em out, take ’em down.

I should say I bought into the story of rampant, uncontrollable lawlessness and danger — even to troops — more at the time than I do now. That said, it’s not my professional duty to assess dangerous situations and deal with them expeditiously so I can protect or rescue fellow Americans.

The National Guard leadership was clearly more concerned for the lives and safety of its troops than for the lives of citizens it was supposed to protect. Moreover, it appears to have drastically overestimated the dangers involved, maybe because it was far too quick to cast the situation in racially charged terms (“tourists that were lumped together with some street thugs“).

The Guard leadership was derelict in its duty to provide quick, effective — and, yes, “potentially” brave — relief to American citizens who were counting on it to do so. That’s not what it’s for. Heads should roll.

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* See, for starters, two accounts by Denise Moore (I, II) at “Recording Katrina.” (Excerpts of Carter’s story are also posted there.) See also an earlier post on this blog about a Washington Post article on the Convention Center ordeal, and two others relaying a BBC reporter’s impressions (I, II).

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"The wrath of God struck New Orleans, and it spared us"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th September 2005

Mayor Ronnie Harris of Gretna, Louisiana — may its name live in infamy — actually spoke with Dr. Rob Loftis, a philosophy professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

Dr. Loftis maintains the blog “Big Monkey, Helpy Chalk” (his baby girl’s description of him, if I understand correctly), and shared the notes of his remarkably illuminating — and remarkably civil, on his part — conversation in “skynyrd did what they could do.” The mayor is unapologetic and even proud of what he did. Excerpts:

  • It was never our intent to call New Orleans and ask “how can I help you.”
  • And the incident on the bridge, what was it, it was civil disobedience. Where they were, the convention center was as safe as safe can be…except for the criminals. And I’m not saying they were all looters.
  • I see from these emails people are saying lives were lost because of what we did. That’s bullshit. No one died on that bridge. If people died it was because of the city of New Orleans.
  • No one died in my community.
  • Not a life was lost on the bridge. And the officer who fired the one shot was Black. And that shotgun blast set them straight. You do whatever is necessary to get these criminals in line. And they aren’t all criminals.
  • The wrath of God struck New Orleans, and it spared us.

Loftis concludes, “I can see quite clearly where he is coming from: He thinks he did the right thing, because he protected his people. His problem is that he has too small a view of who his people are.”

And/or too small a view of what his responsibilities and duties are. If I have nothing to share, I suppose I could claim to be protecting my family if I were to wave desperate survivors of some catastrophe away from my doorstep. But I can’t claim that lets me keep those survivors from escaping that catastrophe on my street — and forcing them, at gunpoint, back into the danger zone they’re trying to escape.

Loftis notes that Harris said “they aren’t all criminals” frequently during the conversation. Commenter ‘bellatrys’ notes that Harris is almost certainly mistaken about “one shot” by a black officer, according to eyewitness accounts she transcribed.* And his talk of God’s wrath striking New Orleans and sparing Gretna is especially contemptible and — dare I say it — unChristian.

Via Lindsay Beyerstein (“Majikthise”), who is fast moving up my list of most admired bloggers for her writing from the disaster areas. Along with Mr. Loftis.

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*Bellatrys transcribed Lorrie Beth Slonsky’s and Denise Bradshaw’s account of the Gretna story, as told to “This American Life” at her blog “Nothing New Under The Sun.” You can link to her transcript, the audio clip, and other segments of the broadcast “After the flood” via “Recording Katrina.” I think Mayor Harris would benefit from a recording of that TAL program.
NOTE: “unchristian” Leviticus 19:33-34 verse citation via Patrick Nielsen Hayden. See also Matthew 25: 31-46, quoted in full by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Note in both cases the absence of “void when darker skinned people across the river are involved.”

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