Friday, February 10, 2006

Onward Christian Soldiers

I really think the General should check out the Combat For Christ site. Seems like his kinda place: Indoctrinating the younguns into the violent, manly side of Jesus' teachings.

I especially like the Course Descriptions:
Rappelling Course: Utilizes a 30-foot rappel tower which contrasts the two types of faith. Self vs. The Savior

"Woops! You weren't supposed to pick the Self!" "Aaaaaaah!"
Climbing Wall: Shows the student the importance of "having a good anchor" to climb upon. Also, teaches the principle of satanic sabotage!

"Now, Timmy, can you guess which wall anchor was secretly loosened by Satan?" "Aaaaaaaaah!" "Oops, bad guess!"
Weapons Course: This course challenges the Christian Soldier to engage and eliminate his greatest enemies.

"OK, you get 50 bonus points for head shots for liberals, 100 for homosexuals! And 200 if you get a Hillary!"

They're located nowhere near me, in the Cleveland, Tennessee, area. Thank goodness.

Tinfoil off

[A black helicopter image from the Militia of Montana's conspiracy manual, Enemies: Foreign and Domestic, p. 155]

Now, I understand that people have grave reservations about the government constructing mass detention centers without clear reasons for doing so. They should. (In fact, I'm a little surprised there hasn't been more discussion of it so far. Perhaps because anyone tackling it seriously runs the risk of coming off as an alarmist. )

But some of the responses to this news have been awfully fearful, if well-meaning. I don't think "arrests are coming," but I've always thought it was a good idea to acquaint oneself with fascism and how it works, because you can only effectively combat it if you understand it.

Do I think this is a sign of incipient fascism? No. I only think it's another progression in a trend I've already discussed at length, namely, that conservatives appear (consciously or not) to be laying the groundwork for an eventual outbreak of genuine fascism.

Still, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you can find liberal commenters who take this to the next step, claiming that we're on the verge of mass roundups. Then they begin culling information from far-right conspiracy sites to buttress their positions. There's no small irony in the fact that many of these same conspiracy theorists are themselves part of a far-right fringe that is essentially proto-fascist.

When I first began covering the Patriot/militia movement in 1994, I spent considerable energy chasing down the many and multifaceted claims of the militia leaders. In the process, I became well acquainted with their many conspiracy theories.

Chief among these theories was the claim that the Clinton administration was busy building concentration camps in preparation for a New World Order takeover, in which gun owners would be stripped of their rights and dissenters herded into the camps. They described various camps being built in remote rural locales in the Northwest, including Washington, Montana, and Idaho.

But the militiamen, when pressed, could never pinpoint the actual location of said camps. It was all secondhand information. At least one tip, in northwestern Montana, turned out to be a wildlife-management deer fence. The rest -- nothing.

Probably the leading proponent of these theories was John Trochmann, leader of the Militia of Montana, who I interviewed several times and observed in action a couple of others. I describe some of Trochmann's beliefs in my first book, In God's Country:
The New World Order, he says, is a shadowy one-world-government group that conspires to put an end to the U.S. Constitution by subsuming it under the "Communist" United Nations. Conspirators include the President, the Speaker of the House, and most financial and political leaders around the world.

The new world government Trochmann envisions would be a population-controlling totalitarian regime. Guns will be confiscated. Urban gangs like the Bloods and the Crips will be deployed to conduct house-to-house searches and round up resisters. Thousands of citizens will be shipped off to concentration camps and liquidated, all in the name of reducing the population.

These claims lingered well through the Y2K panic, which turned out to be a debacle for the militia movement: thousands of obedient Patriot movement followers (many with basements stocked full of beans, rice, generators, and other survival supplies) realized, a few months after the claims of impending apocalypse dissipated into the ether, that they'd been snookered. After that, the survivalist militias largely faded back into the woodwork, though the Patriot movement has continued to resurface in new guises, most recently in the form of the Minuteman Project.

The concentration-camp claims have continued to enjoy a kind of half-life as well. You can still find them on the Web at sites like this one, which offers the standard number of "over 800 camps" that we now see floating around the current claims.

Note some of the camp descriptions:

Minidoka/Jerome Counties - WWII Japanese-American internment facility possibly under renovation. Clearwater National Forest - Near Lolo Pass - Just miles from the Montana state line near Moose Creek, this unmanned facility is reported to have a nearby airfield. Wilderness areas - Possible location. No data.

[The renovations at the Minidoka camp are strictly for purposes of making it into a national monument in commemoration of the internment. The Lolo Pass facility is a Forest Service work camp. As for the wilderness area sites, well ...]

Malmstrom AFB - UN aircraft groups stationed here, and possibly a detention facility.

[There is no detention facility at Malmstrom.]

Seattle/Tacoma - SeaTac Airport: fully operational federal transfer center

Okanogan County - Borders Canada and is a site for a massive concentration camp capable of holding hundreds of thousands of people for slave labor. This is probably one of the locations that will be used to hold hard core patriots who will be held captive for the rest of their lives.

Sand Point Naval Station - Seattle - FEMA detention center used actively during the 1999 WTO protests to classify prisoners.

Ft. Lewis / McChord AFB - near Tacoma - This is one of several sites that may be used to ship prisoners overseas for slave labor.

[The three known facilities listed here all have legitimate purposes as part of the law enforcement or military systems. But the "concentration camp" in Okanogan County is entirely fanciful and does not exist. Nor is there any known project to hold or transport people for slave labor.]

Anyway, you get the idea. None of the so-called detention centers were designed or constructed for that purpose. Certainly there was never any publicly acknowledged program to build them during the Clinton years.

So that's part of what makes the recent announcement of contingency plans to construct mass detention centers for an "immigration emergency" so noteworthy: It marks the first time that such plans have actually been announced by the government in recent years.

Indeed, I can scarcely imagine the apeshit response from the militia contingent had it been Bill Clinton's administration making such an announcement. Not to mention that it certainly would have been headline-worthy to boot.

But then, I recall that the right also used to claim that Clinton was not just building concentration camps, but he was also secretly wiretapping American citizens. That he was assassinating political enemies in secret. That he was remaking the presidency into a virtual dictatorship with limitless powers. All without a smidgen of anything approaching factual evidence.

And now we have a president who really is not just preparing to building mass detention centers, but who has been conducting illegal domestic surveillance, who has claimed the power to order assassinations on American soil, who does appear to be claiming limitless powers as a "wartime" executive. Is it any wonder, really, that people's paranoia meters are running at full blast?

However, the paranoia can obscure the salient issues here, which are (as Tom Hennessy contends): 1) Why is the explanation for the need for constructing the camps so vague? and 2) Why award an open-ended contract that is most likely to just line Halliburton's pockets?

A subsequent New York Times piece carried at least some more details to flesh out an answer to the first question:
A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Jamie Zuieback, said KBR would build the centers only in an emergency like the one when thousands of Cubans floated on rafts to the United States. She emphasized that the centers might never be built if such an emergency did not arise.

"It's the type of contract that could be used in some kind of mass migration," Ms. Zuieback said.

A spokesman for the corps, Clayton Church, said that the centers could be at unused military sites or temporary structures and that each one would hold up to 5,000 people.

"When there's a large influx of people into the United States, how are we going to feed, house and protect them?" Mr. Church asked. "That's why these kinds of contracts are there."

The problem, though, is that these kinds of facilities are so open to abuse -- that is, they're quite readily converted to other purposes, as some immigrant advocates observe later in the piece:
Advocates for immigrants said they feared that the new contract was another indication that the government planned to expand the detention of illegal immigrants, including those seeking asylum.

"It's pretty obvious that the intent of the government is to detain more and more people and to expedite their removal," said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami.

Nor is that the only potential area of abuse. These facilities also have a history of being used to deprive citizens of their civil liberties, embodied in the World War II internment camps. Some of the camps' most vociferous progressive critics point this out as well:
For those who follow covert government operations abroad and at home, the contract evoked ominous memories of Oliver North's controversial Rex-84 "readiness exercise" in 1984. This called for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to round up and detain 400,000 imaginary "refugees," in the context of "uncontrolled population movements" over the Mexican border into the United States. North's activities raised civil liberties concerns in both Congress and the Justice Department. The concerns persist.

"Almost certainly this is preparation for a roundup after the next 9/11 for Mid-Easterners, Muslims and possibly dissenters," says Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers, the U.S. military's account of its activities in Vietnam. "They've already done this on a smaller scale, with the 'special registration' detentions of immigrant men from Muslim countries, and with Guantanamo."

Considering these latter points, Ellsberg's fears are at least not groundless, and may prove prophetic.

Where progressives go off the rails is when they pursue theories that the Bush administration has been preparing for martial law and intends to impose it, with these camps being prepared to house civil dissenters. There's simply no evidence to support such a theory -- other than those that were trotted out against Bill Clinton (particularly regarding FEMA orders) in the 1990s, and which proved similarly bogus.

Confronting, and overcoming, the American right's totalitarian impulses requires keeping our heads about us. The last thing that progressives need is to start adopting a conspiracist mindset, watching for the same black helicopters that visited the nightmares of '90s militiamen.

It's important to ask serious questions about the kinds of steps the Bush administration is taking, from the Patriot Act to the NSA surveillance program to the construction of mass detention centers. And they need to be asked seriously, without the taint of wild-eyed charges.

If there is a legitimate need for these preparations, then they should proceed -- but only with complete transparency. The potential for abuse that such facilities create requires real openness on the part of the government, and genuine oversight and accountability. From the outset, that appears not to be the direction this administration is taking.

That doesn't surprise anyone, of course. But it should raise real concerns -- not conspiracy theories.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

From rhetoric to action

Regular readers know that the main reason I keep harping on the rise of right-wing eliminationist rhetoric is that history tells us that this rhetoric always precedes action.

Last weekend, Jacob Robida acted out this dynamic in real life: He walked into a tavern in New Bedford, Mass., and, after inquiring whether it was a gay bar -- and being informed that it was -- began a murderous rampage with a hatchet and a handgun, leaving three bar patrons injured, one of them in critical condition. When pulled over in Arkansas for a traffic violation, he shot and killed a Gassville police officer, launching a 20-mile pursuit that culminated when his car was disabled in nearby Norfolk. He then killed his female passenger, 33-year-old Jennifer Rena Bailey, and then was shot himself when he pointed his weapon at police.

Like all such rampages, this one did not occur in a vacuum. Robida had a Web site on which he posted a number of entries regarding his fascination with all things Nazi and murdering people in general. A search of his room turned up Nazi regalia and literature. David Ehrenstein has a pretty complete rundown of the details.

It is a dynamic -- almost a kabuki dance of death, really -- we have seen played out many times among the inhabitants of the fringes of the far right. From Benajmin Smith to Buford Furrow to David Lewis Rice, America over the last couple of decades has seen a regular parade of "lone wolf" killers, often mentally unstable or even mentally ill, who spin off into violence after being inspired by the hateful rhetoric of the extremist right.

Of course, as I've explored before, these cases are always more complicated when mental illness is involved:
Regardless of the outcome in terms what kind of justice the perpetrator will face, this story drives home one of the real truths about hatred -- not just racial hatred, but all kinds of hatred of The Other: It is a festering toxin that infects all our lives and brings ruin to our homes.

Nonetheless, it is not hard to see the wellsprings of their actions -- who are often impotent old men babbling out endless conspiracy theories and vile bigotry neatly packaged together. It is easy to respond with contempt to such men; it is not so easy to do anything about them.

As Radical Russ at Pam's House Blend points out, we can't directly attach the anti-gay hatred people like Fred Phelps foment to people like Jacob Robida. At the same time, the bloodstains are not so easily washed off their hands.

Moreover, as Steven D at Booman Tribune points out, acts like Robida's are a natural product of the kind of hateful eliminationist rhetoric that is common throughout so much of right-wing discourse anyway: "joking" about doing away with liberals, demanding that we round up and deport all illegal aliens -- and most of all, complaining that hate-crimes protections for gays and lesbians represents an "infringement" on the rights of conservative Christians.

The natural implication of this argument -- which has been proffered by a range of fundamentalist organizations from Traditional Values Coalition to the Family Research Council -- is that beating the crap out of gays, even to the point of death, is a God-given right for Christians. Combined with a mood in which "getting rid of them" is a favorite option among the trend-setting pundits, it's not hard to see where people like Jacob Robida get their ideas.

But as I explained in Death on the Fourth of July [p. 140]:
The First Amendment protects speech, not conduct—thoughts, not crimes. One cannot commit a crime and simply claim it as an act of free speech. An assassin cannot kill the president and pretend he is protected by First Amendment rights to political speech.

Indeed, underlying many of the arguments offered by opponents of hate-crime laws (reflected, for instance, in the Traditional Values Coalition's charge that they are "anti-Christian") is the notion that criminal behavior (such as assaulting or threatening a gay person) somehow deserves First Amendment protections. But crimes are not a form of free speech. Gay-bashing is no more a right than is lynching or even, say, assassinating the president. Political thought may motivate all of them, but that doesn't mean the Constitution protects any of them.

The problem is that, logic notwithstanding, the fundamentalists' argument has held sway for the past decade or more when it comes to a federal hate-crimes statute. It was, after all, at the behest of the religious right that the Republican leadership killed -- for the third consecutive time -- legislation that would have enacted the first true federal hate-crimes law in October of 2004. Since then, there have been only empty gestures and no action to finally pass the bill.

If there is anything good to be obtained from tragedies like Robida's rampage, it is that finally, perhaps, the rhetoric on our side can also turn to action. As Pam Spaulding at Pandagon notes, a number of politicians -- including Ted Kennedy, who has been chief sponsor of the LLEEA all along -- have taken the rampage as a call to action and are moving ahead to once again pass the bill.

Perhaps this time, both fence-sitting liberals and freedom-loving conservatives can see the bigger picture when it comes to these laws:
[H]ate-crimes laws are not about taking away anyone's freedoms -- rather, they are about ensuring freedoms for millions of Americans.

As I point out in the book, hate crimes have the fully intended effect of driving away and deterring the presence of any kind of hated minority -- racial, religious, or sexual. They are essentially acts of terrorism directed at entire communities of people, and they are message crimes: "Keep out."

Rural dwellers' dread of the dark colors of the inner city is something of a cliche, one based nonetheless on reality. What is less observed, however, is the common dread held by many minorities for America's more rural spaces. Black people fear stepping foot in Idaho because of the presence of the Aryan Nations in the state's Panhandle. Gays and lesbians view driving through places like Wyoming and Montana with a palpable anxiety.

If you get out a map of the country and put yourself in the shoes of a person of color or another sexual persuasion, and start looking at the places you would feel safe visiting, you'll suddenly realize that this can be a very small country indeed for people who are not white heterosexuals. This is what Yale hate-crimes expert Donald Green means when he says that hate crimes annually create a "massive dead-weight loss of freedom" for Americans.

Jacob Robida's rampage was all about reminding gay Americans that they are unsafe in our society -- that their lives are forfeit because haters like Robida say so. People like this get their fuel from demagogues who claim that inflicting this kind of violence on such outcasts is their right. Not only is it their right, but it is the right thing to do.

Now, is there any chance a hate-crimes law would have stopped Jacob Robida? No, of course not. But having a hate-crimes law on the books is an essential first step in changing the environment in which all the little Jacob Robidas out there become possible.

Haters like these always believe that they are acting out the real wishes of the majority community. And so it is essential -- always -- that they be repudiated. Publicly and with great fanfare.

Passing, after all these years, a true federal hate-crimes statute would be a good place to start.

A question of when

You know, it seems pretty obvious that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee had good reasons not to have Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sworn in before he gave his testimony on the NSA surveillance program earlier this week.

Because it's very questionable whether Gonzales was telling the truth, particularly regarding when the Bush administration authorized the NSA surveillance. Gonzales was adamant that it came after Congress authorized the use of military force against Al Qaeda:
LEAHY: Let me just ask you a few questions that could easily be answered yes or no.

I'm not asking about operational details, I'm trying to understand when the administration came to the conclusion that the congressional resolution authorizing military force again Al Qaida, where we had hoped that we would actually catch Osama bin Laden, the man who hit us -- but where you came to the conclusion that it authorized warrantless wiretapping of Americans inside the United States.

Did you reach that conclusion before the Senate passed the resolution on September 14th, 2001?

GONZALES: Senator, what I can say is that the program was initiated subsequent to the authorization to use military force.

LEAHY: Well, then, let me...

GONZALES: And our legal analysis was completed prior to the authorization of that program.

LEAHY: So your answer is you did not come to that conclusion before the Senate passed the resolution on September 14th, 2001?

GONZALES: Sir, I certainly had not come to that conclusion. There may be others in the administration who did.

LEAHY: Were you aware of anybody in the administration that came to that conclusion before September 14th, 2001?

GONZALES: Senator, sitting here right now I don't have any knowledge of that.

LEAHY: Were you aware of anybody coming to that conclusion before the president signed the resolution on September 18th, 2001?

GONZALES: No, sir.

The only thing that I can recall is that we had just been attacked and that we had been attacked by an enemy from within our own borders and that...

LEAHY: Mr. Attorney General, I understand. I was here when that attack happened. And I joined with Republicans and Democrats and virtually every member of this Congress to try to give you the tools that you said you needed for us to go after Al Qaida, and especially to go after Osama bin Laden, the man that we all understood masterminded the attacks, the man who's still at large.

LEAHY: Now, back to my question: Did you come to the conclusion that you had to have this warrantless wiretapping of Americans inside the United States to protect us before the president signed the resolution on September 18th, 2001? You were the White House counsel at the time.

GONZALES: What I can say is that we came to a conclusion that the president had the authority to authorize this kind of activity before he actually authorized the activity.

LEAHY: When was that?

GONZALES: It was subsequent to the authorization to use military force.

LEAHY: When?

GONZALES: Sir, it was just a short period of time after the authorization to use military force.

LEAHY: Was it before or after NSA began its surveillance program?

GONZALES: Again, the NSA did not commence the activities under the terrorist surveillance program before the president gave his authorization.

Unsurprisingly, the White House is withholding the documents authorizing the program, because those indeed would tell us when Bush signed them.

The problem with Gonzales' testimony is that it is contradicted by what we already know about the surveillance, as Jason Leopold explains at namely, that Bush authorized it before 9/11. He points to James Risen's State of War:
"The president personally and directly authorized new operations, like the NSA's domestic surveillance program, that almost certainly would never have been approved under normal circumstances and that raised serious legal or political questions," Risen wrote in the book. "Because of the fevered climate created throughout the government by the president and his senior advisers, Bush sent signals of what he wanted done, without explicit presidential orders" and "the most ambitious got the message."

... According to the online magazine Slate, an unnamed official in the telecom industry said NSA's "efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a 'data-mining' operation, which might eventually cull 'millions' of individual calls and e-mails."

Of course, even if Gonzales' chronology were correct, his entire claim is of course dubious, as former CIA General Counsel Jeffrey Smith points out:
"It is not credible that the 2001 authorization to use force provides authority for the president to ignore the requirements of FISA," Smith wrote, adding that if President Bush's executive order authorizing a covert domestic surveillance operation is upheld as legal "it would be a dramatic expansion of presidential authority affecting the rights of our fellow citizens that undermines the checks and balances of our system, which lie at the very heart of the Constitution."

If indeed Bush took these steps before 9/11, then it should be plain it has little, indeed, to do with fighting terrorism, and everything to do with expanding presidential powers.

And the more I watch them twist and deny, the more inclined I am to believe that someday, when the details are exposed, we will be reading about grotesque abuses of the program -- including expanding it to surveillance of political opponents.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Don't mind that barbed wire

I guess it only makes sense, in that Bushworld kinda way, that when the government starts building mass detention centers that Halliburton would get the contract:
A Houston-based construction firm with ties to the White House has been awarded an open-ended contract to build immigration detention centers that could total $385 million, a move some critics called questionable.

The contract calls for KBR, a subsidiary of oil engineering and construction giant Halliburton, to build temporary detention facilities in the event of an "immigration emergency," according to U.S. officials.

"If, for example, there were some sort of upheaval in another country that would cause mass migration, that's the type of situation that this contract would address," said Jamie Zuieback of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Essentially, this is a contingency contract."

The concern raised in the story, though, is more over who got the contract and its nature:
The open-ended nature of the contract raises concerns about overcharging and other potential abuse, said Charlie Cray, director of the Washington-based Center for Corporate Policy and a frequent Halliburton critic.

Which is fair enough: It does have the reek of corrupt cronyism that is the hallmark of the Bush administration:
There's no guarantee that any work will be performed under the contract; if no immigration emergency or natural disaster occurs, there won't be anything for KBR to do, said company spokeswoman Cathy Mann.

But the bigger question went unasked: What the hell is the government doing building mass detention centers?

Columnist Tom Hennessy asked just this question a few days later:
That sounds a tad fuzzy, but let's concede that the camps do have something to do with immigration, illegal or not. In fact, there already are thousands of beds in place at various U.S. locations for the purpose of housing illegal immigrants.

But for anyone familiar with history -- U.S. or European -- the construction of detention camps for whatever purpose should prompt a chilling scenario.

The new detention camps will be built by Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton. The latter, as you likely know, is the defense-related corporate giant with fists full of contracts involving the war in Iraq.

... KBR, in fact, had the $9.7 million contract to build the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. This facility, popularly dubbed "Gitmo," holds 660 prisoners classified by the government as "enemy combatants."

This column is written with the distinct feeling that not many people will give a hoot about any or all of this. But as already noted, a news story about construction of government detention centers should give us all pause.

Considering what took place in Nazi Germany, as well as the shameful incarceration of Japanese-Americans in 1942, no detention camp should be built without the widest possible public scrutiny.

Bottom line: The contract cries out for greater attention. So far, the government's expressed reason for building them is insufficient and ill-defined. And even if the camps do relate to illegal immigration, their purpose could be changed overnight.

This is an instance in which we could be well served by our representatives in Congress. They need to look at this and give constituents a better picture of what is going on.

Let's not have it said, years from now, that no one ever questioned this.

Hennessy's point is especially vital for those of us familiar with the history of the Japanese American concentration camps of World War II.

After all, as Testsuden Kashima established in his landmark work, Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II, preparations for a mass incarceration of citizens based on their ethnicity had been long underway in the halls of American government well before the outbreak of war -- dating back, in fact, to the early 1930s, before Japan even began its military aggression. Most of these preparations, of course, were kept well under wraps.

And remember that the first two concentration camps holding Japanese Americans -- Manzanar and Poston -- were originally constructed by the Wartime Civil Control Administration in early 1942 as "reception centers" that were supposed to only provide temporary housing for Japanese evacuees seeking new homes under the original "voluntary relocation" scheme.

What happened next, as Eric Muller describes in Free To Die For Their Country, was a classic instance of the critical role played by overt racism in the drama: A group of governors from various Western states got together and announced that they would not accept these evacuees within their borders unless they were placed under armed guard and behind barbed wire. So those innocent-seeming "reception centers" became de facto concentration camps ... with just a twist of the euphemism. The new name was "relocation centers."

So, as Hennessy suggests, it would behoove all of us to begin asking: Just what crisis of "mass immigration" does the government foresee as a possibility? And is it strong enough to warrant the actual construction of concentration camps?

And most of all: Why now?