Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Martrydom of LaVoy Finicum: What the Newest ‘Patriot’ Sainthood Means for the Rest of Us


[A heavily edited version of this post appeared in the Washington Post.]

They came carrying signs Monday in Burns, Oregon.

“FBI Go Home – LaVoy Can’t”

“Peace Can’t Be Achieved Through Murder”

“LaVoy’s Voice Lives On”

“Federal Supremacists Murdered An Innocent Man”

“YOU Murdered LaVoy!”

They came, a couple hundred strong, from around the interior West – from Idaho, and Washington, and Montana, and Utah. The hotels in Burns had all sold out of rooms, and few had places to stay except area campgrounds. So many of them came prepared for winter camping, replete with canvas tents and their own supplies of firewood.

In their minds, the cause was worth the trouble and discomfort. They came to protest on behalf of a man killed at a police checkpoint less than a week earlier, on Jan. 26.

His face – a skinny, bespectacled and pale man with a cowboy hat – adorned some of the signs that the protesters carried, mixed in with the American flags they carried, and a yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag or two. His name: Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.

He was the focus of their vocal chorus on Monday, even as the collection of antigovernment protesters came up against a wall of counter-protesters, a crowd even larger than theirs, comprised largely of local and area residents.

For some four hours, they stood off out in the cold, angrily exchanging shouts and chants. The “Patriots” announced that they wanted the sheriff and a local judge arrested for Finicum’s murder. That was met with jeers from the crowd of locals, whose signs proudly supported their local law enforcement as well as the federal agents in their midst.

The “Patriots” remained focused on what they called an “assassination.”

“Cold-blooded murder! Cold-blooded murder!” chanted the protesters. “He was executed!” shouted one.

After awhile, a new chant: “FBI killed LaVoy! FBI killed LaVoy!”

It is not only at “Patriot” demonstrations – right-wing websites are similarly running wild with rumors and conspiracy theories. It has become starkly clear: LaVoy Finicum is the latest in a long line of right-wing martyrs.

That outcome, no doubt, was exactly what the FBI was hoping to circumscribe when, two days after the shooting, they released video of the shooting and the circumstances leading up to it, as well as afterward. They knew all too well, of course, that already a panoply of conspiracy theories and wild speculation – all of it pointing the finger at federal authorities as out-of-control bullies – were brewing.

But if they were hoping to nip the speculation in the bud, they should have known better. The “Patriot” movement would never let a good martyr go to waste. And there has seemingly never been a circumstance yet to which they cannot apply some kind of wildly speculative conspiracy theory.

A video still from the moments before LaVoy Finicum was shot.
The video, which gave a bird’s-eye view of the arrests of the militants who took over a federal wildlife refuge center in rural Oregon, showed mostly a series of nonviolent arrests along a snowbound highway, beginning with ringleader Ammon Bundy and his crew in an SUV. But one moment in that video will now be seared in infamy into the nation’s collective consciousness: the moment when LaVoy Finicum was killed.

It is a grim and chilling scene that unfolds in the video: After the initial pullover, in which Ammon Bundy and two others surrender peacefully and another militant, Ryan Payne, climbs out of the white pickup being driven by Finicum, the truck takes off at high speed, only to be forced into a snowbank by a roadblock a short distance up the road. At that point, Finicum jumps out of the truck, holds up his arms as if in surrender initially, and then is shot by an Oregon State Patrol officer off to his side as he appears to reach into his jacket.

Slow-motion enhanced video analysis by the staff of The Oregonian makes clear that the FBI’s description of the shooting is largely accurate – that Finicum resisted arrest, shouted at officers as he emerged with his hands up (one of the passengers in truck agrees, saying that Finicum yelled at them to “Just shoot me”), and then reached for a pocket of his jacket that they said contained a handgun.

And indeed, most police officers are taught in basic training to shoot a resisting suspect in such a situation, as the OSP trooper did. Police are taught a “Use of Force Continuum” in which they respond to escalating force by a suspect with equal force. Any suspect resisting arrest who pulls or reaches for a gun can expect to be shot, regardless of the situation. Even a sympathetic “Patriot” blogger who reviewed the video agreed, noting that Finicum “made a motion consistent with drawing a weapon, and the officer was forced to respond.”

Greg Gilbertson, a police use-of-force investigator and specialist in the issue who frequently serves as an expert witness in court trials, said that after reviewing the video, it was clear to him that “most law enforcement agencies would characterize this shooting as ‘justified.’”

Gilbertson said that if Finicum was the driver, he “certainly escalated this situation unnecessarily, especially when he nearly struck the officer standing on the side of the road. “

“In addition, Mr. Finicum is seen reaching into his pockets or the interior of his jacket a number of times as the Oregon Trooper approached him,” Gilbertson said. “Mr. Finicum's actions are sometimes referred to as a ‘furtive movement,’ which the trooper could articulate placed him in imminent fear for his personal safety, especially in light of the fact that these activists were known to be armed and had made a number of inflammatory statements.”

Regardless, Finicum’s defenders claim the shooting was unjustified. His family members issued a statement saying that "what we believe the video shows is that LaVoy was being fired upon before he even got out of the truck."

Finicum, they said, left the pickup in order to draw gunfire away from its three other occupants. "We believe he had already been shot before he ever lowered his hands," the statement continued. "We believe some of his hand movements were a natural reflex to being shot."

Finicum, a 54-year-old Mormon rancher from Arizona who had been a participant in the takeover of the Bundy-led Malheur National Wildlife refuge since it began on Jan. 2, had indeed foreshadowed his own martyrdom. A week into the standoff, he had told reporters: “I’m not going to end up in prison. I would rather die than be caged. And I’ve lived a good life.”

That was consistent with what the video showed his actions in the fatal showdown to be: an act of resistance unto death, and a willingness to die for one’s cause. The act of someone determined to be a martyr.

This kind of talk had been rife in the camp of the Malheur occupiers, who began their standoff with authorities by declaring that they were seizing the refuge and its center on behalf of “the people,” and cited a long list of pseudo-legal “constitutionalist” claims to back up their occupation. The bottom line: They believe the federal government has no business owning large tracts of public land.

Understanding that federal authorities were likely to resist these claims, a number of the militants made bellicose remarks that they were “willing to die” and “to kill or be killed” to defend their position. One of them, a Phoenix militiaman named Jon Ritzheimer (who was later arrested in Arizona without incident), posted a bathetic plea to his children explaining that “Daddy swore an oath” and might not ever return home to them. Becoming a martyr for the movement was clearly on their minds.

With his death, Finicum’s supporters in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement were more than eager to give him that status. At the site of his death, alongside Highway 395 in a lonely, wooded stretch of rural Oregon, they have erected a makeshift memorial in his honor, replete with a cross, voluminous flowers, and handmade signs: “RIP LaVoy Finicum, A True American Hero,” and “The Fight Isn’t Over.” Someone attached a cowboy hat to the cross emblazoned with the words, “An American Hero.” (A few days later, locals tore down the memorial, furthering angering the “Patriot” contingent, who went out and rebuilt it.)

The elevation to martyr’s status was almost instantaneous, in fact. On the evening of the arrests, Nevada State Rep. Michelle Fiore, a Bundy ally, sent out a tweet to her followers: “My heart & prays [sic] go out to LaVoy Finicum's family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns OR.”

Another Nevada legislator affiliated with the “Patriots,” Rep. Shelly Shelton, compared Finicum to Jesus and Moses in a Facebook post: “In any given generation there are men who are willing to stand for what they believe,” Shelton wrote. “Most of the time they are demonized and the uninformed are made to believe they are criminals. From Moses who killed an Egyptian for abusing his people, to Jesus who died on a cross as a condemned criminal, many of those who operate outside the box and promote love and justice over the current form of government are treated as outcasts and many times murdered.”

Other “Patriots” followed suit in short order. “Tonight peaceful Americans were attacked on a remote road for supporting the Constitution,” read a graphic meme accompanying the post. “One was killed. Who are the terrorists?”

“LaVoy has left us, but his sacrifice will never be far from the lips of those who love liberty,” read another post on the Bundy Ranch page. “You cannot defeat us. Our blood is seed.”

At Monday’s rally in Burns, the belief that Finicum had been foully murdered by out-of-control federal agents was rampant, regardless of what the video showed. One protester showed up with red holes in a flannel shirt she wore to demonstrate how Finicum was “shot in the back.”

“He had his hands in the air!” she insisted.

“LaVoy’s blood is on your hands,” another told the counter-demonstrators, while squirting out a red blood-colored liquid into the snow in front of them.

“Let the camera decide!” an angry man shouted. After locals resisted an attempt by the “Patriots” to enter the courthouse, the same man screamed at them: “Oathbreakers! Oathbreakers!”

“The murderers are over there!” shouted another, pointing at the locals out to support their county officials. “They have blood on their hands!”

For the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, this embrace of martyrdom isn’t a bug, it’s a feature, an essential element of what makes such extremist belief systems tick. Born out of the whitewashed remnants of the radical racist-right movements of the 1960s and ‘70s – particularly the viciously anti-Semitic and racist Posse Comitatus movement, which then morphed into the “militia movement” of the 1990s, and which provided the structural framework for most of today’s claims by so-called “constitutionalists” and “Patriots” – this movement has a long history of attracting violent actors who are willing both to kill and be killed in the name of their extreme worldview.

The core of the “Patriot” system is the belief that the Constitution, as originally written, severely limited the scope of government powers to waging wars and other military and diplomatic ventures, and little else. In their view, the sheriff is actually the most powerful authority of American law, and that not only is federal ownership of public lands unconstitutional, but so are such federal law-enforcement agencies as the FBI. This helps explain, for instance, why the occupiers and their supporters have displayed such deep animus toward Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, who refused to go along with their nonsensical campaign from the get-go.

It also helps explain why they attempted the takeover of the refuge in the first place. The ranching Bundy family and their cohort subscribe to a particular Mormon-flavored version of “Patriot” beliefs which also contends that public lands belong in the hands of resource users like themselves. Not surprisingly, this agenda folds in neatly with right-wing corporate-funded entities who are campaigning to have public lands taken out of federal ownership for their own extractive and profit-making purposes.

Largely because it rests on a foundation of false information, distorted history, conspiracy theories and unadulterated fantasy, the “Patriot” movement also attracts followers of a particularly irrational stripe: people who reach conclusions based on their personal beliefs and biases first and then go looking for evidence to support it. Falsity and gross distortion are not a problem with the evidence these True Believers collect, and angry emotional outbursts are typical of the rhetorical style employed in their defense. What’s key in all events is that these followers envision themselves in the heroic mold – they are all God-fearing, flag-waving, America-loving “Patriots,” by God, and don’t dare suggest otherwise.

Sociologist James Aho studied these groups in the 1990s, and his essential 1994 work, This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy examines this dynamic in detail. Envisioning oneself as heroic, as Aho explains, requires the naming of an enemy, which means that much of their energy is devoted to synthesizing an enemy out of whole cloth when none are so readily apparent in real life – in this case, naming the federal government (and, in the eventual conspiracist drift these beliefs take, the New World Order) the mortal enemies not just of themselves but of all God-fearing, gun-loving Americans, inventing “tyranny” in a land where civil liberties, in reality, remain largely intact.

But the ultimate act of heroism, in this universe, is to become a martyr in the name of “liberty.” There’s a long history of this on the American far right:
  • In 1983, a North Dakota farmer named Gordon Kahl went on a multi-state shooting rampage in which three law-enforcement officers were killed. Kahl was an ardent follower of radical Posse Comitatus theories who had done prison time for refusing to file taxes, and believed that federal marshals and sheriff’s deputies alike were tools of Satan.
  • In 1984, a group of radical members of the Aryan Nations based in northeastern Washington state went on a multi-state crime rampage, mostly robbing banks and armored cars, culminating in the assassination of radio talk-show host Alan Berg in Denver. Most members were arrested by FBI agents, but the ringleader, Robert Mathews, refused to surrender and died when agents lobbed flares into the house where he had holed up and it was consumed in flames. Neo-Nazis and skinheads still hold annual commemorations at the Whidbey Island locale where the standoff occurred.
  • Randy and Vicki Weaver, a northern Idaho couple associated with the nearby Aryan Nations compound, were surrounded in 1992 at their home on Ruby Ridge after Weaver refused to surrender to authorities on a weapons charge, and their 14-year-old son was killed in an early exchange while Vicki was killed the next day in a barrage of sniper fire.
  • A cult calling themselves the Branch Davidians, based outside of Waco, Texas, came under investigation for a number of weapons violations, and when federal ATF agents came to their compound to arrest leader David Koresh and others, were fired on, and in their fierce exchange that ensued, four ATF officers were killed, while six members of the cult also died. After a standoff that lasted 51 days, the FBI led an attempt to raid the compound with tear gas that ended disastrously when cult leaders set the building aflame, and 76 people died, including Koresh.

These martyrdoms all had rippling effects, often into each other. Kahl’s death inspired Mathews to engage in his rampage. The Weavers’ tragic fate came about largely because federal authorities were determined to crack down hard on the activities out the Hayden Lake compound of the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho.

And the deaths of Vicki Weaver and the Branch Davidians became a battle cry for “Patriot”/militia movement followers then: “Ruby Ridge and Waco” even today is synonymous with “outrageous overreach by federal law enforcement,” even in the mainstream. So it was not at all a surprise to see it referenced in Oregon by the leader of one of the main regional “Patriot” groups defending the occupiers.

“We’ve got a third one. There was Ruby Ridge and Waco, now there is Burns,” B.J. Soper, leader of the Pacific Patriots Network, told Raw Story.

According to Aho, there is always a price to this martyrdom, as it comes to embody the ritual and “reification” process – that is, the squaring of accounts, the dispensation of justice – in the minds of the True Believers. That amounts to a kind of expiation in the form of retributive violence, the kind that was unleashed on the federal Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, by Tim McVeigh and his “Patriot” compadres.

That is the dark cloud that now hangs over the whole affair, beyond the deaths and injuries that came about because of the Bundys’ quixotic quest to prove their “constitutionalist” fantasia somehow legitimate. The death of anyone, even someone resisting arrest, is always deeply unfortunate, and it goes without saying that LaVoy Finicum deserved a better fate, even if he did seem to seek it out. But his martyrdom now means that someone, somewhere, someday, will be seeking retribution.

As in the 1990s, virtually everyone who works for a federal agency will have to become more concerned about his or her personal and work-related security. This is acutely the case for federal land managers, including all employees of the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, as well as the National Park Service, whose security their federal overseers will need to take especially seriously in the coming months.

Out in the field, many rangers and land managers are exposed and out in the open, and will make inviting targets for the angry radicals who have made it abundantly clear they see such federal employees as their named enemy. The law-enforcement wings of the agencies most at risk of being such targets would be wise to bolster their ranks and improve their intelligence gathering when it comes to dealing with the threat of another takeover, or some other incident in which, once again, more people inevitably get hurt. People on all sides.

That is why it was so encouraging to see the depth of the opposition to the “Patriot” protesters in Burns on Monday. According to most accounts, the locals from Harney County who came out to defend their law-enforcement officers and the FBI from the announced invasion of their town by a parade of “Patriot” protesters (the majority of whom came from neighboring states) were impressive in size and passion, and outnumbered the right-wing contingent that was demanding the arrest of the sheriff and a local judge, among others, for Finicum’s death. The pro-sheriff group surrounded the courthouse and would not allow the protesters to approach it (though county officials, apparently, had locked the doors in any event).

Their message, time after time, chant after chant: “Go home!”

They too bore signs, all of them handmade.

“Stand Down, Leave Our Town”

“Militia – Thank You For Your Work But You’re Fired! Go Home!”

“We Support Our County Sheriff and FBI”
“More Would Be Here, But They Have Jobs – Go Home!”

“Militias – You Don’t Have to Go Home But You Can’t Stay Here!”

The local community’s defiance of their agenda took the wind out of the sails of the “Patriots” on Monday, and most of them had cleared out of Burns by Tuesday morning, no longer willing to camp in the snow.

If they were disconcerted by the resistance, however, they showed no signs of it. Already this weekend, “Patriot” groups began organizing more events commemorating LaVoy Finicum’s martyrdom.

On Saturday, an event was held in Boise, Idaho, to protest Finicum’s death (“In today’s society, our citizens are being gunned down by our law enforcement unjustly,” claims the flier advertising the rally). Participants were asked to bring signs reading “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” – an obvious reference to the signs carried by black protesters last summer in Ferguson, MO.

Similar commemorations are being planned around the country – from nearby John Day, Ore., where a candlelight vigil was held, to events in Arizona, Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Washington state, Ohio, Colorado, Massachusetts, and South Carolina.

And so the American far right’s endless cycle of violence and victimhood marches along.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Antigovernment Movement's Rank and File Want Retaliation for Arrests, Death in Oregon, But Their Leaders Are Reluctant

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Amid comparisons to Ruby Ridge and Waco, anger is pervasive on the far right, but militia leaders are mostly calling for ‘cooler heads’ to prevail.

While most of the mainstream media and other observers of the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon took a wait-and-see approach to the arrests of eight of the militants involved – and particularly the death of a ninth, Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, who was gunned down during the roadside confrontation just outside of Burns – there was little doubt among militia supporters on the far right about the meaning of it all.

The “feds” have declared war on them.

"It appears that America was fired upon by our government," one of the militants wrote on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page. "One of liberty's finest patriots is fallen. He will not go silent into eternity. Our appeal is to heaven."

“Tonight peaceful Americans were attacked on a remote road for supporting the Constitution,” read a graphic meme accompanying the post. “One was killed. Who are the terrorists?”

Perhaps the most striking declaration came from one of the militants still occupying the refuge, who appeared in a video released from the compound showing the men using earth-moving machinery to apparently dig a trench and create an earthen berm, while he and others patrolled with their assault-style rifles and ranted at the camera, pleading to their fellow “Patriots” to come and aid them.

“There are no laws in this United States now!” the man declared angrily. “This is a free-for-all Armageddon. Any LEO or military or law enforcement or feds that stand up and fuck their oath — don’t abide by their oath — are the enemy!”

“If they stop you from getting here, kill them!”

Leading the parade of declarations that Finicum was mowed down in cold blood by FBI agents was Michelle Fiore, the Republican legislator from Nevada who has been a supporter of the Bundy family since their April 2014 standoff in that state. She sent out a tweet on Tuesday night making that very accusation, and it immediately spread like wildfire: “My heart & prays [sic] go out to LaVoy Finicum's family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns OR.”

“LaVoy has left us, but his sacrifice will never be far from the lips of those who love liberty,” read another post on the Bundy Ranch page. “You cannot defeat us. Our blood is seed.”

Northwest “Patriot” leaders also chimed in. “It’s a dark day in America, a dark day for liberty,” said Washington “liberty speaker” Gavin Seim, who warned that “we stand on the brink of revolution.”

“We can no longer allow the government to murder and abuse and terrorize,” he declared in a video released Wednesday. “Will we allow this government to continue slaughtering, and to set an example that we must bow to them alone? …

“These criminals spilled the blood of patriots,” he continued. “They declared war on law and liberty. And this has been coming for a long time.”

 “I'm beyond pissed,” declared another “Patriot” named Denise Copper in a comment on the Bundy Ranch page. “They murdered an American. This intimidation has strengthened my resolve. We must rise up and take our country back, now!”

“What the government did is kill someone in order to take a rancher’s land,” wrote Facebook user Celesta Piliponis. “This is what the whole protest is all about … The BLM is doing it all over the U.S.”

“We’re having our constitutional rights stolen right out from under us by a corrupt government because too many people are uninformed. One day we are going to wake up and recognize we could have prevented this.”

Although Ammon Bundy’s attorney delivered a message to the men still occupying the refuge center urging them to leave, that message was greeted with skepticism. A post on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page – which was later removed – insisted instead on making a call to arms.

“From Ammon’s wife, Lisa: Ammon would not have called for the patriots to leave,” it read. “We have lost a life but we are not backing down. He didn’t spill his blood in vain! Hold your ground … Ranchers come and stand! Committee of Safety come and stand! Militia come and stand!”

Another occupier insisted that their fellow militiamen had a moral duty to come to their aid.

"You have an obligation to proceed to the Harney County Resource Center [the occupiers’ name for the refuge center] immediately, in order to protect the patriots still there," declared a militant named Gary Hunt on the Operation Mutual Defense discussion board. "If you fail to arrive, you will demonstrate by your own actions that your previous statements to defend life, liberty, and property were false."

“I’m putting III Percenters of Washington state on standby,” read a Facebook post from another Northwest “Patriot.” “Prepare yourselves. FBI, Oregon state patrol and the county sheriff ambushed their convoy. They fired on them before they could even got stopped. They shot these men before they could even get stopped. They shot these men with murder in their hearts.”

However, most of the leaders of the Northwest “Patriot” contingent were reluctant to issue any kind of clarion call, and instead counseled caution. The Pacific Patriots Network, one of the Bundys’ chief militia support groups, issued a statement: “We will not pursue any action until all of the facts have been pieced together regarding the traffic stop and the arrest of Ammon Bundy. During this time, cooler heads must prevail. We do not wish to inflame the current situation and will engage in open dialogue until all of the facts have been gathered.”

Similarly, the Douglas County, Ore., chapter of the Oath Keepers told people to stay home: “All those wishing to go and support the Patriots in Burns, OR, are being asked to stay put temporarily,” read their statement. “The reason for this will be given Thursday night at the Douglas County general meeting of DC Oath Keepers.”

And the main website of the “Three Percenter” militia movement similarly shut down revenge talk, saying “there is no call to arms at this time. There is no request for people to go to Oregon. The refuge and surrounding areas are under federal control and anyone traveling there to show support is being turned around and/or taken into custody. Right now, we ask that all patriots see this as a victory in the sense that there was no slaughter, like was asked, and that our demands were met. We are not looking for ‘vengeance’ for the fallen.”

Conspiracist radio host Alex Jones, a longtime antigovernment movement supporter who was skeptical of the standoff from the start, wrote: “This is not our Lexington.  It’s not our Concord.  It’s not the kick off of some new physical war. We’re in an information war, we’re actually starting to win it. So the answer is not physically to start going after the Feds, or the police, or any of this.”
However, that did not prevent Jones from indulging in the theory that Finicum had been murdered with his hands in the air, posting an “eyewitness” account from a woman who claims to have been riding in the same car as Finicum.

Many of the “Patriots” compared the Oregon showdown with two events that helped spur the movement into life in the 1990s: “We’ve got a third one. There was Ruby Ridge and Waco, now there is Burns,” B.J. Soper of the Pacific Patriots Network told Raw Story.

That view was pervasive on the far-right discussion boards, including those at neo-Nazi websites such as Stormfront, where one of the commenters acidly observed: “Just typical of the New World Order … the Devil’s Government. Should be a lesson for others you can’t win in this Empire. Randy Weaver and many others have been right over the years. All fought the good fight and so have the militia. Should be a rally call for our people working together for a secure future for our people.”

In case anyone there was unsure about the relevance of the showdown, a Stormfront “sustaining member” named “PrairieSister” chimed in: “This is a direct, frontal assault on White America by the hostile, occupation government in Washington, D.C. The authorities shoot and kill a White man for exercising civil rights while blacks, browns and their liberal enablers get protected and publicly lauded for exercising the same civil rights.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

Oregon Militants Try to Recruit a ‘Constitutional’ Sheriff From Neighboring County, But Fail

Sheriff Dave Ward of Harney County, Oregon

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Since so much of their extremist worldview hinges on the idea that the county sheriff is the highest authority in the land, the “constitutionalists” who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., last week have been extremely vocal about their displeasure with Sheriff David Ward of Harney County.

Ward, they say, has failed in his “constitutional duty” to defend ranchers in his county against the federal government. It’s widely believed the sheriff is one of the chief targets of the “citizens grand jury” the Ammon Bundy-led invaders plan to convene soon.

Sheriff Glenn Palmer of Grant County, Oregon
So the militiamen recently turned to a sheriff they believed to be more sympathetic to their cause:  Glenn Palmer, the sheriff of Grant County, which is adjacent to Harney County directly to the north.

According to Palmer, the men showed up in the town of John Day and arranged a meeting at a local restaurant. In the end, they failed to get what they came for –– Palmer’s assistance.

“I had no idea who I was meeting with when we had lunch yesterday,” he said. “I walked in, I realized who they were and I sat and listened to them. ... They actually wanted me to come down there and make a stand, and I said, ‘not without the sheriff’s blessing.’”

The men had reason to believe that Palmer would be sympathetic to their cause. Palmer calls himself a “constitutional sheriff” and is not only a member in good standing of the far-right Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), but was named that organization’s “lawman of the year” in 2012. He also traveled to Washington, D.C., in 2014 to participate in a CSPOA-led meeting with two U.S. senators about immigration.

Palmer’s claim to fame among their ranks lies in his feud with the U.S. Forest Service over policing powers in Grant County. Palmer told USFS officials that their rangers only had jurisdiction in the federal building in John Day.

And while the sheriff was unwilling to go to Harney County to help bolster the Bundys’ cause, Palmer told the East Oregonian that while he has “a pretty good working relationship” with the neighboring sheriff, he was also unwilling to go to Burns to support Sheriff Ward.

“About the only thing (Ward) really told me is I’m welcome to come down there if I would shame and humiliate them into giving up and I said, ‘No, I won’t do that,”’ Palmer said. “I’m not in the business of denouncing or shaming or humiliating anybody.”

Palmer described the participants in the takeover as “patriots,” and generally spoke of the occupation in glowing terms: “I think it’s brought some things to light that might not have otherwise got the attention that they did. … I do believe that the resolution and solution to the way this is going to be handled, if it’s handled properly, could have a long-lasting effect on our county as well.”

He was also clear in his view that such an outcome would require the government to make concessions.

“I believe the government is going to have to concede to something,” he said. “I don’t think these guys are going to give up without knowing that they’ve done something that benefits the people of our country or our region.”

CSPOA president Richard Mack, who participated in the rally in Burns supporting two local ranchers whose imminent imprisonment served as the Bundys’ excuse for the takeover later that day, initially backed away from the protest, saying the “CSPOA does not support or condone the occupation.”

But in a video released earlier this week, Mack told right-wing interviewer Joshua Cook that while he disagreed with the takeover tactically, he fully supported the ideology behind it, explaining that it was a logical response to federal “tyranny.”

“The media that wants to label Ammon Bundy as a nut and extremist, that is a lie,” he said. "I don’t agree with what Ammon’s doing, I’ve told Ammon so. But Ammon Bundy is a friend of mine; he is a good man, he is a good person. Anybody who knows him, they’ll tell you the same.”

Mack not only excoriated David Ward in the interview – saying “the sheriff of Harney County should have stopped this”– he called for sheriffs around the country to begin arresting federal officials, who he claimed were just as guilty of arson: “Every sheriff now, in this country, needs to start filing charges against federal officials who do the same thing, and charge those people with domestic terrorism and arson and put them in prison, just as they did the Hammonds.”

For his part, Ward has been clear and outspoken about the antigovernment militiamen who have invaded his county, telling them repeatedly that they need to pack up and “go home.”

Ward recently excoriated the Bundy group and other militiamen for the reports of intimidating and threatening behavior that have beset residents of Burns since even before the standoff got under way. According to Ward, some federal employees have been harassed in town while grocery shopping or running errands, while others have reported vehicles following them and parking outside their homes.

"The people on the refuge – and those who they have called to our community – obviously have no consideration for the wishes or needs of the people of Harney County," Ward said. "If they did, they, too, would work to bring this situation to a peaceful close."

Ward, who has weathered death threats from the militiamen’s supporters, has received the official support of the Western States Sheriffs Association, which noted in its press release that “the WSSA does not support efforts of any individual or groups who utilize intimidation, threats or fear in order to further an agenda.”

He also has broad support in Harney County, where local crowds gathered to discuss the standoff have made overwhelmingly clear their support for his tough approach to the militiamen. “This county is a united family and we don’t need people to come here from someplace else and tell us how to live our lives,” Ward told one community gathering. They gave him a standing ovation.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Infighting Over Oregon Militia Takeover Reveals Deep Divisions Among ‘Patriots’

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]
Protest events organized by antigovernment movement "Patriots  have a long history of being internally contentious affairs, and this week’s standoff with federal authorities in Burns, Ore., is no exception.

The internal dissent over the invasion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by Ammon and Ryan Bundy and a group of out-of-state militiamen has, in fact, been very public. Indeed, the majority of “Patriot” and “constitutionalist” organizers have adamantly denounced the takeover and pleaded with the Bundy brothers to back off.

For their part, the Bundys and their militia cohort have been defiant, insisting that the cause of the Hammond family – the ranchers whose arson convictions provided the centerpiece of the original protest last Saturday that led to the takeover – is worth “taking a stand” over.

But other “Patriots” who participated in the Saturday protest disavowed the takeover, notably the leadership of the contingent of militiamen from the “III Percent of Idaho” organization who had traveled from Boise to participate.

“The 3% of Idaho, 3% of Oregon, The Oregon Constitutional Guard, and PPN organizations in no way condone nor support these actions,” announced a press release. “They do not mirror our vision, mission statement, or views in regards to upholding the Constitution, The Rule of Law, or Due Process.”

Similarly, “constitutionalist” Sheriff Richard Mack – who was present at the Saturday rally as well – issued a statement denouncing the action: “CSPOA does not support or condone the occupation by those individuals who have taken over the Federal Wildlife building just outside Burns, OR. With all our hearts we appeal to all those occupying the federal facility to immediately vacate the building and to go home to their families!”

Likewise, Stewart Rhodes, president of the Oath Keepers, the antigovernment group that was a major participant in the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, backed away from any involvement in the takeover.

“By doing this, they have given Obama the best New Years present he could hope for – an example of militia movement/patriot aggression, which gives up the high ground while also having the least credibility and support from the locals possible, after lying to them, and also the least support from the patriot community, who were also blind-sided by Ammon and Ryan Payne,” read a statement issued by Rhodes.

Conspiracist radio host Alex Jones took that speculation to the next level, claiming on his daily show that the Oregon standoff was actually the work of agents provocateur who had supposedly swindled the Bundys into taking this course of action.

“Guaranteed provocateurs are showing up and other things are happening, the whole Soros group is saying, ‘Here are our white terrorists, here are our cowboy-hat wearing terrorists,’ it gives them the backdrop they need, they want to start a civil war,” he told his national audience.

He went on: “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t let Obama be successful when it comes to starting civil unrest and riots in this country. They will use that as a civil emergency to bring in a type of soft martial law.”

Mike Vanderboegh, the national cofounder of the “III Percent” movement, was equally conspiratorial and vociferous at his blog: “My initial reaction was to observe that at least afterward we’ll know who the federal snitches are because they will be the only ones who survive the raid to take back the building,” he wrote.

“There is nothing on the talking heads channels as yet, but by Monday, when Obama meets with his Attorney General on the subject of citizen disarmament, you can bet the farm that this will play right into that narrative. Perfect timing. You’ve got to give the federal handlers of these pukes credit. This is precisely the sort of offensive action on the part of the ‘militia terrorists’ that they needed.”

Ammon Bundy and the militiamen accompanying him have been defiant. One of the militia leaders, Jon Ritzheimer of Phoenix – who has been previously involved in organizing armed anti-Muslim events at mosques around the nation – filmed a much-mocked video of himself bidding farewell to his family, which included some shots at Rhodes and the Oath Keepers.

“I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down to fight against tyranny in this country,” a teary-eyed Ritzheimer declared. Then he launched into a rant against what he called a “smear” campaign against the Hammonds, saying it wasn’t true that they wanted to turn themselves in, because they were being coerced.

He named the perpetrator: “Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers, saying, ‘Well, they want to turn themselves in, so it’s, they have their right to turn themselves in.’ By your logic, I guess we shouldn’t offer any help to these veterans who want to commit suicide. Just let them suck-start their 9-mil, because it’s their right.”

Ammon Bundy also issued a videotaped response to Rhodes and other critics, claiming that he had been called by God to stand up on behalf of the Hammonds:

“I have respect for Stewart Rhodes,” Bundy said. “But he does not understand what is truly transpiring, or he has chosen to be in opposition.”

Bundy went on to explain that he had come to envision the plan to take over the wildlife refuge because God led him there. “And so I am asking you to come to Harney County – to make the decision right now, of whether this is a righteous cause or not, whether I am some crazy person – or whether the Lord truly works through individuals to get his purposes accomplished.

“I know that we are to stand now, and that we are to do these things now, or we will not have anything to pass on to our children.”

This kind of internecine bickering is a common feature of far-right organizing, especially in the antigovernment realm. For instance, while far-right mythology now enshrines the Bundy Ranch standoff as an epic moment of victory for their cause in which disparate groups came together, the reality is that the Bundy scene quickly dissolved into nasty factional quarrels, replete with drawn weapons and death threats.

So far, things haven’t devolved that far in Burns. However, no one has spread rumors (as they did at Bundy Ranch) of an imminent drone attack over their encampment, either – though Rhodes’ Oath Keepers website did post a warning that “military special op assets have been assigned for the standoff,” along with the advice to “keep women and children out of there.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gaffney’s ‘Summit’ in Nevada a Nonstop Procession of Extremism, Conspiracism — and Candidates

Sen. Ted Cruz addresses the 'National Security Action Summit'
 [Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

President Obama is a secret Muslim conspiring to destroy the United States and is using the Justice Department to squelch anti-Muslim speech. Liberals are covertly working with radical Islamists to transform the country into a radical socialist state while Muslims are pouring over our borders. Hillary Clinton is not only a liar and criminal, she is likely blackmailing the FBI director and other authorities to keep out of prison.

All these theories and many more were featured Monday at the Nevada version of the Center for Security Policy’s “National Security Action Summit” at the International Peace Education Center in Las Vegas, a meeting hall owned by the Unification Church. It was everything its chief organizer, noted anti-Muslim extremist Frank Gaffney, could have hoped for.

Gaffney’s CSP has been riding high on the tidal wave of Islamophobia he and similar anti-Muslim organizations have created, with the help of right-wing political candidates who have legitimized their dubious and often outrageous claims. CSP made headlines this past week when Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, cited dubious statistics generated by Gaffney’s group in defending his proposal for a ban on all immigration by Muslims into the United States.

Indeed, Monday’s gathering was timed and located to coincide with Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate at the Las Vegas Hilton, the better to attract the participation of the candidates. Gaffney’s hopes were largely realized: Four candidates participated in the gathering, three of them (Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson) via videotaped messages, and one – Rick Santorum – in person. The procession underscored the extent to which CSP’s extremism has been embraced by ostensibly mainstream conservatives.

That extremism was on full, if not constant, display Monday. By the end of the eight-hour conference, attendees had been treated to a nonstop cavalcade of extremism and conspiracy.

Leading off the parade was a retired Navy admiral, James “Ace” Lyons, who claimed that not only had President Obama “embraced” the Muslim Brotherhood, but that its radical Islamists had infiltrated the nation’s security agencies and the administration itself (a claim he has made previously). Lyons frequently seized the microphone to ramble about various topics, including gays in the military and women in combat, even at the end of other speakers’ appearances during question-and-answer sessions.

His official speech was mostly an extended rant about Obama’s supposed Muslim affinities:
You understand that we have not only a constitutional crisis, because our Congressional leadership fails to understand why they were given that leadership role. It was to stop the fundamental transformation of America – not to facilitate it.

But it was [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, who said it best: “Islam is Islam. There are no modifiers. Democracy is the train we ride to our ultimate objective, which is imposing Sharia law throughout the world, and replacing our Constitution with Sharia law.” [Note: While Erdogan did say “There is no moderate or immoderate Islam -- Islam is Islam and that's it,” the remark was widely interpreted as arguing against the legitimacy of radical Islamists. Erdogan also is credited, somewhat dubiously, with saying that “Democracy is the train we get off once we reach our destination,” he has never said anything regarding the imposition of Sharia law.] What else needs to be said? So here we go. I’ve gotta say: We cannot let this stand. We have to take up and challenge everything by this administration.

… You know, for those of you who say the Obama administration has no policy, well let me tell you, you’re all wrong. They have a policy, and they’ve been executing it brilliantly – with the complicity of our Congressional leadership, and the mainstream media. And let me tell you – any thinking American can grasp it. It’s anti-American, anti-Western, but pro-Islam, pro-Iranian and pro-Muslim Brotherhood.

I have to ask you: Why would an American president embrace the Muslim Brotherhood when their creed is to destroy America from within by our own miserable hands and replace our constitution with Sharia law? It makes absolutely no sense.

And here is a group that has been able to penetrate all our national-security agencies, our intelligence agencies, and have had a massive impact on our rules of engagement, our foreign policy. This has got to stop.
Lyons also turned his venom toward Clinton, calling her “the pathological liar” and castigating her for her role in the so-called Benghazi scandal, which Republicans and right-wing media generated by claiming that Clinton had ordered American forces to “stand down” rather than rescue the American ambassador to Libya who was killed in the incident. Lyons claimed that “we switched sides in the war on terror, we facilitated the Al Qaeda militia and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Lyons also claimed that administration officials had committed crimes by lying to Congress:
“What more do you need? All of our senior leadership – [CIA directors Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, and Michael Hayden, as well as Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] – all lied before a congressional committee. They must be held responsible. Those are felonies. You go to jail for 15 years.”

Lyons was followed by Mark Krikorian of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, which specializes in manufacturing dubious statistics and pseudo-academic “studies” purporting to support various smear-driven claims against immigrants, and which has a history of dalliances with white nationalists.

Krikorian, whose remarks were delivered via videotape, focused on Trump’s proposed Muslim immigration, which he dismissed as a “crude, sledgehammer approach.” However, he also defended its legitimacy, saying the matter was “not a constitutional issue” since “there is no right for foreigners to come to the United States.”

He went on to explain his own proposal for dealing with Muslim immigrants:
This is purely a question of ‘is it good policy to simply keep all Muslims out of the United States, or not?' The way it’s formulated by Mr. Trump is not good policy, certainly not in my opinion. Because the issue is not keeping out anyone who identifies as a Muslim, or is identified as a Muslim. Rather, the issue is to keep out people who adhere to the political aspects of Islam. If someone prays five times a day and fasts during Ramadan, that’s none of anybody’s business. But, someone who supports killing homosexuals, killing adulterers, using the law to punish blasphemers, that sort of thing – the Sharia aspect of Islam, rather than the strictly religious parts of it. That, we can and should exclude people for.

And there are a number of ways we can do it. The simplest, first thing to do is to use ideological exclusion – that’s a provision, a concept that’s been in the law, or was in the law for a long time, that a person who wasn’t actually a member of a totalitarian party, isn’t actually a terrorist or using violence but still expresses support for essentially overthrowing the Constitution or replacing the Constitution can be kept out, should be kept out.

We changed the law after the Cold War, thinking history had ended. We need to reinstitute that idea so that on visa applications and what have you, we ask some very basic, lowest-common-denominator types of questions: Do you support freedom of speech for people, even if it insults religious sensibilities? Do you support freedom of religion, or changing religions? And you know, some people will lie, but we will be setting a marker, you know – these are things that are not permitted, that Islamic supremacism has no place in the American constitutional order or American society.  
Krikorian is referring to laws passed in the 1950s during the height of anti-Communist hysteria, notably the 1950 Internal Security Act (which excluded communists, totalitarians, and fascists from immigrating) and the 1952 Walter-McCarran Act, which further codified those exclusions. Those exclusions were largely overturned in the Immigration Act of 1990, which limited the exclusion of aliens to those whose "entry or proposed activities within the United States would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences."

However, the kind of exclusion that Krikorian favors is actually present in current immigration law, which requires that applicants be "attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same.” There also remain several ideological bars, including “advocates of assassination, government overthrow by force, destruction of property, and sabotage.”

Krikorian’s comparatively reasonable remarks shortly gave way to a presentation by James Simpson, introduced by Gaffney as an “investigative journalist” and the author of The Red-Green Axis: Refugees, Immigration, and the Agenda to Erase America, a book available for free online at CSP’s website. Simpson has previously promoted similar conspiracy theories, including one claiming that communists were behind major Latino-rights organizations.

Simpson’s latest bĂȘte noire is the U.S.’s refugee-resettlement program, which he claimed is providing “extreme leftists” all the pretext they need to “fundamentally transform America.” According to Gaffney, Simpson travels the country providing training sessions for anti-Muslim activists in communities dealing with an influx of refugees under these programs, which are all overseen by a nefarious United Nations and its cabal of conspirators who want to “erase America.”

He opened his presentation by claiming a quote from a supposed 1960s left-wing radical (actually sourced as an unnamed “SDS radical” ostensibly quoted by right-wing pundit David Horowitz) that he claimed showed their true nature: “The issue is never the issue. The issue is always the revolution.”
What he meant was that issues for them – and it doesn’t matter. You can pick immigration, gay rights, welfare, civil rights, it doesn’t matter. The issue for them is only relevant insofar as it can be used as a vehicle to advance them into positions of power so that they can move forward with the fundamental transformation of this country into a leftist – God knows what. Yes, thank you – socialism.

… This is what we are up against. And the resettlement immigration open-borders agenda is a perfect vehicle for the Left to complete its agenda. And let’s just be clear about it. This is not a new agenda. It’s been going on since the dawn of time. These are simply unscrupulous people, corrupt people who are willing to use any and every tactic to insinuate themselves into positions of power. That’s all it is.

Socialism puts a pretty face on it – ‘We’re here to help the little guy.’ No we’re not. We’re here to insinuate ourselves into power, suck all resources into the federal government, so we can redistribute to our friends and people who are gonna support us. That’s what it’s about.

The resettlement immigration issue is perfect for that. We’re all seeing it. It dilutes American culture by bringing in people from all over the world of disparate cultures who have no understanding of our Constitution, no understanding of the rule of law, no interest in any of that, but only what American society can provide in benefits to them. 

They will not support the notion of a constitutional Republican government. That is what is critical and essential, that’s what has made us special, that’s what’s made us the most prosperous nation in the world, and that’s what the Left wants to destroy, because it’s standing in the way.
Simpson explained that the United Nations is the center of this leftist conspiracy, working in cahoots with Islamist radicals to allow in more extremists. Their main vehicle, he claimed, is refugee resettlement.

As evidence of the danger, he claimed that “at least two Paris attackers entered as refugees” (in reality, the only supposed refugee passports found near the bodies carried of two of the ISIS terrorists who killed 140 people in Paris in mid-November are now considered fakes).

And he touted the growing “pockets of resistance” in communities, particularly smaller rural towns such as Twin Falls, Idaho, and Duncan, S.C., where there is growing resistance (some of it led by extremist militiamen) to the possibility that refugees from Syria might be relocated in their midst.

Simpson claimed that these communities face demonization at the hands of “leftist” organizations such as the SPLC:
The resettlement agencies and their various supporters actually went forward and created this campaign designed specifically to oppose these pockets of resistance. And it’s an organized nationwide campaign of vilification. Guess what? Can you just fill in the blanks? What is anybody who opposes the out-of-control, insane refugee resettlement program? You wanna fill in the blank? “Racist! Bigot! Xenophobe! You’re all bad people!”

And it’s an organized effort using the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations funded by George Soros and other radical leftist organizations. They’re trying to change the culture by changing the narrative. And it’s a massive, massive operation.

But people are fighting back all over the country. And we call ourselves pockets of resistance. That’s what we’re doing. We’re resisting them.

Simpson was shortly followed by a video presentation from right-wing stalwart Phyllis Schlafly, who has made a career out of leading a number of arch-conservative political battles, beginning with women’s rights and continuing with battles over gay rights and education. But it was immigration and refugee resettlement that were her main focus Monday.

She opened with praise for Gaffney and the CPS:
The American people need someone to alert them to the dangers to our sovereignty. … Illegal immigration is a tremendous attack on our sovereignty. Because the people coming in don’t necessarily want to be Americans, they don’t want to speak English, they don’t want to adopt our ways. They want to help Obama engage in his transformation of the United States of America. But we think we have a perfectly wonderful country, and we want to make it great again.

Obama seems to want to bring into our country anybody who shows up at the border, but we need to be careful about who we let into our country. We want people to come who love us, who want to be Americans.

A few months ago, I wrote about the Syrian immigrants, and they are a real danger. And it’s not only the people who might be vetted – and I don’t think they are vetted when they come in – but even if they were, we find that the next generation of people can be easily radicalized. And they are a danger right in the midst of our country. 
Just before lunch, Gaffney introduced Connie Foust, the self-proclaimed “Border Granny” who has made a career as a nativist border watcher based in Arizona.

Foust had a long and colorful career, beginning in 2005, as one of the leaders of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, where, as she described for the audience she eventually became “national border operations director for Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.”

The MCDC, however, has been defunct since 2010, and its onetime leader, Chris Simcox, is currently awaiting trial in Phoenix on two counts of child molestation. Nowadays, as Foust explained, she is primarily involved with another Arizona border-watch operation called Project Bluelight.

Project Bluelight is run by a resident of Arizona’s Altar Valley, south of Tuscon in the desert borderlands, named Joe Adams. Adams is something of a shadowy figure himself, with a background as a CIA operative and drug smuggler. He was indicted in 1988 for violations of the Neutrality Act as a result of his work helping to fund (often through drug smuggling) and organize the right-wing Contra death squads in Nicaragua in the 1980s, and he later became a private investigator with ties to the Jimmy Hoffa family.

He told a reporter he was naturally attracted to the Minutemen and first joined Chris Simcox’s Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in 2006, but he then left (saying MCDC was “a bunch of people who want to do a good job but don’t know what they’re doing”) to eventually form his own offshoot, which he called Project Bluelight, suggesting that it operates with the tacit cooperation of law enforcement (“blue light” being law enforcement lingo for proceeding with the blessing of police).

Adams also had a yearlong, frequently contentious association with onetime Minuteman border-watch leader Shawna Forde, whom he met when she showed up to promote her own border-watch outfit at a Bluelight border-watch operation. Forde was later charged and convicted in the murders of an Arivaca, Arizona, marijuana smuggler and his nine-year-old daughter in their home in the early morning hours of May 30, 2009, and now sits on Arizona’s Death Row. Adams sent Forde an email breaking off their association the same day the murders took place.

During her speech, Foust described Project Bluelight  as “some pretty cool guys” and added: “These are American patriots like no other.” Then she went on to claim that the border watchers had “assisted over the course of these years the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and Border Patrol in the apprehension of 10,000 persons plus. They have seized over 200 loads of narcotics, they have rescued over 100 persons in distress.”

“We have no interest in the worker coming over for a better life. We have an interest in securing our border so we can all have life.”

She then went on to describe in detail how she and other border watchers had observed Muslims coming over the border with “full beards” and “prayer rugs,” and claimed she had the video to prove it.

The extremism and conspiracism reached a real fever pitch, however, when right-wing pundit Wayne Allyn Root – who nowadays styles himself as “the poor man’s Donald Trump” – took to the stage.

Root covered a range of topics. He opened up by ranting against Obamacare, claiming that President Obama nakedly lied in his claims while selling it to the American public. “Now, if I do that, I’m in prison for life like Bernie Madoff,” he said. “It’s called fraud. Someone needs to hold them accountable. Someone needs to put people in jail.”

He called Obama the “worst gambler, degenerate gambler in history” because he is someone who “makes bets he cannot win” and he is “betting with your money and your children’s lives.”
Root also joined in castigating plans to bring in Syrian refugees, and also claimed that he had eyewitness accounts of Muslims coming over the Mexico border.

“No one gives a damn in the media, they don’t care,” he said.
Because their agenda is helping Obama, supporting Obama, defending Obama, championing Obama, and soon it will be helping, championing, and supporting Hillary Clinton, even though we all know in this room that if it was a Republican guilty of everything Hillary’s guilty of, he’d be in prison for the next 20 years. Everyone knows that."

The crimes that Hillary Clinton has committed, no Republican on Earth could get away with – and I’m not talking about Benghazi, I’m not talking about the emails, I’m not talking about the secret surveillance emails.
All I’m talking about is: Can you imagine a Republican Secretary of State working for a Republican president starting a foundation for charity that collects money from foreign governments by the hundreds of millions and billions and then takes the money and hands out government contracts to the same country that made the contribution from the State Department? That’s not a criminal offense, that’s a hanging, treasonous offense.
During the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience asked Root “when we are going to nail Hillary. Is she gonna go to jail?” Root replied that he wasn’t sure: “I don’t know if Comey, the FBI director, is totally on the straight-and-narrow.”

“I believe we’ve got massive blackmail going on in the United States government,” he said. “The NSA, the IRS, their goal is to find out everything about Republicans — not everybody. Republicans.”
“They want to know everything about us, especially Republican politicians in Washington, D.C., and then they blackmail them,” he explained. “Is Comey susceptible to that? I have no idea, but I certainly have my suspicions about the Supreme Court justice of the United States voting twice for Obamacare.”

The day wrapped up with a series of appearances from GOP presidential candidates, who themselves managed to pile on with more extremism.

That was especially the case with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, whose 15-minute video message ran earlier in the day. Cruz also had praise for Gaffney, who he described as a “patriot” who “has been attacked over and over again for having the courage to stand up and speak the name ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ of the enemy that is waging jihad against us.”

He then went on to claim that President Obama was using the Department of Justice to “attack the First Amendment” by threatening anyone critical of Muslims with prosecution:
It raises the specter that Americans will be labeled as bigots if they dare utter the word “Islam” in connection with a terrorist attack. Our president refuses to do so – in fact, he spent a significant portion of his Sunday address as an apologist for Islam.

… And the Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, told a gathering the day after the attacks in San Bernardino, that her department would move to prosecute anyone whose, quote, “anti-Muslim rhetoric edged toward violence.” As has been the case all too often in the Obama administration, we may be facing the weaponization of one of our own government agencies, deployed not to protect Americans, but to try to force them to submit to the Obama administration’s code of what is and is not acceptable speech.
Cruz did not, however, acknowledge or address the wave of hate crimes and ugly attacks on Muslims that followed immediately in the wake of the San Bernadino murder spree.

The day's events ended with the Senator Rick Santorum and the videotaped messages from fellow GOP candidates Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, giving Gaffney and the CSP exactly what they wanted: a stamp of approval from mainstream political leaders of all the conspiracy and extremism that came before it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Candidates Who Criticized Trump's Muslim Ban Proposal Make Appearances at Anti-Muslim 'Summit'

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Last week, a number of Republican presidential candidates – including Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, and Rick Santorum – devoted time to criticizing fellow candidate Donald Trump for his proposal to ban all Muslim immigration into the United States.

But on Monday, all three of them made appearances (some of them videotaped) at a Nevada conference run by the same organization who gave Trump the idea for his ban.

The “National Security Action Summit” in Las Vegas was primarily devoted to exploring all the possible dark corners of the possibility of a terrorist attack committed by Muslim immigrants, a constant theme of the Center for Security Policy, the extremist anti-Muslim group run by Frank Gaffney.

This included discussions of the possibility that President Obama is secretly a Muslim, the fear that refugees from Syria will include large numbers of embedded terrorists and the notion that American communists and liberals are conspiring with Muslim radicals to end democracy in the United States. One speaker even claimed that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is blackmailing people in Washington, including the current director of the FBI, just to stay out of prison.

But the highlight of the conference was undoubtedly the guest appearances by four presidential candidates – Cruz, Fiorina, Santorum and Ben Carson. Santorum appeared in person, while Cruz, Fiorina and Carson all sent recorded messages that were played for conference attendees.

Cruz was especially effusive in his praise for Gaffney, saying he was “a patriot, he loves this country, and he is clear-eyed about the incredible threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”

“Frank Gaffney has been attacked over and over again for having the courage to stand up and speak the name ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ of the enemy that is waging jihad against us,” Cruz said, claiming that Obama won’t use the term.

Last week, Cruz addressed Trump’s proposed ban, saying: “I disagree with that proposal. … I believe we need a plan that is focused on the direct threat."

Fiorina’s video appearance was relatively brief. She told the audience: “I apologize that I can’t be with you today,” and then launched into harsh criticism of Obama and Clinton, saying their response to terrorist attacks made her “angry."

“Our most pressing national security threat is radical Islamist terrorism around the world and here at home, both lone wolves and packs of wolves. ISIS is an evil that must be confronted, it must be destroyed. They are at war with us and all we represent. And so we must wage this war and we must win.”

But last week, Fiorina had told an audience: “Donald Trump, for example, has been saying we’re going to use a religious test and ban people from coming into this country. … It’s a violation of our Constitution, but it also undermines the character of our nation. We stand for religious liberty.”

Santorum, who had been more temperate in his criticism of Trump, appeared in person, and never addressed the issue of Muslim immigration. He devoted most of his remarks to attacking Iran and defending Israel. At the end of his question-and-answer session, he was asked by a black woman to compare ISIS to American police who killed black men in custody, and adamantly insisted that the comparison was invalid.

Gaffney praised Santorum afterward, saying he had “maintained a perfect record” when it came to attending the “National Security Summits” the CSP had organized in various locales around the country.

Last week, he said he disagreed with Trump’s proposed blanket ban on Muslim, but suggested he would favor something similar, focusing the ban on travel from nations where extremism is rampant.

“I think that there are countries where we should not be bringing in people. Obviously, we should not be bringing in Muslims from those countries. I am not worried about radicalized Christians from Yemen, but I am worried about radicalized Muslims from those countries,” Santorum told a Des Moines audience.

Carson, who declined to criticize Trump’s proposal, also sent in a video, saying, “I wish I could be there with you. It’s such an important topic, particularly with the things that happened in France lately. And obviously, we all need to be thinking about what kind of security can we have at home.”

He continued: “We must recognize that we are at war. That means we must throw all this political correctness out the window, because that does not work when it comes to the safety of the American people. We have to learn how to prioritize. Safety of the people should always be right on the top shelf when it comes to our decision making.”

All of the Republican candidates are in Las Vegas today to participate in the final GOP primary debate.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Firestorm of Vicious Behavior Toward Muslims Rages in the Wake of San Bernardino Rampage

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]
The murderous rampage by two apparently radicalized Muslims in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2 has become the latest flashpoint in the massive bonfire of Islamophobia being whipped up by anti-Muslim extremists and their mainstream conservative enablers in the United States.

In the week since the massacre of 14 people by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, Muslims around the country have been confronted with a wildfire of retaliatory threats, vandalism, and attacks – even as politicians and pundits have stoked the flames of bigotry higher.

The ugliness began almost immediately after the shootings with a series of phoned-in and social-media threats, vandalizing attacks on mosques, and arsons of Muslim businesses, in locations all around the United States:
  • In St. Louis, Mo., a man phoned in a threat to the local offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, vowing to kill any Muslims who dared show up on his property. That man is unlikely to be charged with any crime.
  • In Manassas, Va., the local mosque was similarly threatened with a phoned-in threat from a man claiming to be a member of the extremist Jewish Defense League and vowing that his group “will do to your people what you did to them.” “We are checking now to see if one Jew has been shot or killed in California,” he said. “You all will be sorry. You all will be killed.”
  • In Palm Beach, Fla., a lone vandal attacked a local Islamic center, breaking windows and wreaking property damage inside. The man who was later arrested for the crime is the son of a well-known local educator.
  • In Philadelphia, Pa., someone in a red pickup truck rolled up next to a neighborhood mosque and hurled a severed pig’s head onto the steps of the building. Security cameras caught images of the perpetrators, but so far, investigators have had no luck tracking them down. The act was widely denounced, including by Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, who said: "We cannot allow hate to divide us now, in the face of unprecedented difficulties. I ask all Philadelphians to join me in rejecting this despicable act and supporting our Muslim neighbors.”
  • In Grand Forks, N.D., someone scrawled graffiti featuring a Nazi symbol and the words “Go home” on the walls of a Somali restaurant owned by a Muslim family. Two nights later, someone deliberately set an arson fire at the restaurant, causing an estimated $90,000 in damage.
  • In Twin Falls, Idaho, someone spray-painted boards that covered the windows of the local Islamic center with the words “Hunt Camp ?” The graffiti referred to the old Minidoka Relocation Center in nearby Hunt, the site of the massive Japanese American internment erected during World War II, apparently suggesting the same fate for Magic Valley Muslims. Local police were investigating the matter as a potential hate crime.
Graffiti at the Islamic Center in Twin Falls, ID
There has been a rash of other, mostly petty, ugliness as well: A sixth-grade Muslim schoolgirl in Brooklyn was attacked at the school – punched, her headscarf yanked, and called “ISIS” by classmates – but police declined to file a report in the matter. Two Muslim women were verbally assaulted by a fellow patron at an Austin, Texas, restaurant, and then told that “nobody” cared about them. A woman in Fort Worth, Texas, reported that an angry woman confronted her in her car, rolling down her window and shouting at her, before she spat on her.

The Twin Falls case provides a stark example of how extremist anti-Muslim rhetoric trickles down to create permission for violence in local communities. The local refugee resettlement center has in recent months become the focus of a virulent campaign stoked by national groups designated as anti-Muslim extremist and hate groups by the SPLC, even attracting the high-volume participation of armed militiamen from the antigovernment “III Percent” movement.

The spate of ugliness has wounded the Muslim community: “I think people are upset, people are humiliated,” observed Marwan Kreidie, director of the Arab American Development Corp., in an Associated Press interview following the incident with the pig’s head. “We’ve never had incidents like that – even after 9/11, we didn’t have anything like this.

“Unfortunately, some of the rhetoric – especially coming from the Republican candidates for president – has been atrocious. And words have consequences.”

Indeed, the GOP presidential field – led by Donald Trump – has already played a substantial role in whipping the embers of Islamophobia into flames in recent weeks, aided and abetted by both right-wing and mainstream media. Much of that focused on whether or not Muslim refugees from Syria should be welcomed, with Trump announcing that if he were elected, “They’re going back!”

The bonfire became a massive conflagration in the wake of the Nov. 13 ISIS-based terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead and another 368 injured. A parade of mostly Republican governors promptly announced they intended to close their doors to Syrian refugees, even though that decision is not within their purview. And Muslims began seeing a marked increase in hate crimes and other attacks.

After last Wednesday’s massacre, the issue blew up altogether, with a number of politicians and pundits lining up to declare that their fears about admitting Muslim refugees had been proven right. At the same time, the floodgates of ugly behavior toward Muslims appeared to open wide all across the country.

On Monday, in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, Trump turned the issue into a national uproar by declaring that he wanted to see all Muslim immigration into the United States shut off altogether – temporarily, he claimed, “until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.”

"In a country that is already thick with hateful anti-Muslim ideologues, Donald Trump may well be the person who has done more than any other to demonize Muslims and, ultimately, to subject them to criminal hate violence,” observed Mark Potok, the SPLC’s Intelligence Report editor. “Words have consequences. Although the hateful comments of Trump — not to mention those of a number of the other Republican presidential candidates — are protected by the First Amendment, there is little doubt that they will ultimately lead to more violence directed at minorities. What Trump is saying is despicable, un-American and a shameful moment for our country.”

The Republican candidates’ fearmongering, however, is only the culmination of a long-running campaign by extremist organizations to whip up fears about Muslims. A number of these groups – in particular, Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, whose misinformation was cited by Trump in his attempts to justify his call for a Muslim immigration ban – have been claiming for years that all Muslims are extremists in waiting. One of Gaffney’s acolytes, Ann Corcoran, has played a leading role in the effort to associate the refugee-resettlement programs with the ostensible threat of terrorism.

As a consequence of this rhetoric, hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed in recent years, even at a time when hate crimes against other minorities are declining. CAIR officials recently expressed concern about the recent escalation in bias crimes: “We don’t literally have time to issue a statement on every incident because they’re coming in so fast and furious,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said. “When the leading Republican presidential candidate can say, ‘Bar all Muslims coming to America’ and know he can get more support for it — it is truly frightening.”

In the meantime, Pentagon officials explained Tuesday that this kind of bigotry was playing directly into the hands of the terrorists, whose whole intention is to attempt to create bigoted attacks on Muslims in America and Europe so that those Muslims will have an incentive to become radicalized.

“Anything that bolsters ISIL’s narrative and pits the United States against the Muslim faith is certainly not only contrary to our values but contrary to our national security,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a news briefing.