Friday, December 19, 2008

In Katrina's wake, white neighborhood 'militia' murdered blacks

A.C. Thompson has a devastating piece in The Nation this week describing the all-white militia that took up arms to defend one of the few neighborhoods in New Orleans to stay dry after Hurricane Katrina broke the levees in 2005:

Facing an influx of refugees, the residents of Algiers Point could have pulled together food, water and medical supplies for the flood victims. Instead, a group of white residents, convinced that crime would arrive with the human exodus, sought to seal off the area, blocking the roads in and out of the neighborhood by dragging lumber and downed trees into the streets. They stockpiled handguns, assault rifles, shotguns and at least one Uzi and began patrolling the streets in pickup trucks and SUVs. The newly formed militia, a loose band of about fifteen to thirty residents, most of them men, all of them white, was looking for thieves, outlaws or, as one member put it, anyone who simply "didn't belong."

It started out as a classic case of white paranoiac overreaction to fears of looting and rioting and whatever else it is those black people do -- rather like the reaction you saw in sundown towns in the 1920s, which were similar in being "defended communities," to supposed threats of black depredations -- but quickly morphed into something else altogether:

Fellow militia member Wayne Janak, 60, a carpenter and contractor, is more forthcoming with me. "Three people got shot in just one day!" he tells me, laughing. We're sitting in his home, a boxy beige-and-pink structure on a corner about five blocks from Daigle's Grocery. "Three of them got hit right here in this intersection with a riot gun," he says, motioning toward the streets outside his home. Janak tells me he assumed the shooting victims, who were African-American, were looters because they were carrying sneakers and baseball caps with them. He guessed that the property had been stolen from a nearby shopping mall. According to Janak, a neighbor "unloaded a riot gun"--a shotgun--"on them. We chased them down."

Janak, who was carrying a pistol, says he grabbed one of the suspected looters and considered killing him, but decided to be merciful. "I rolled him over in the grass and saw that he'd been hit in the back with the riot gun," he tells me. "I thought that was good enough. I said, 'Go back to your neighborhood so people will know Algiers Point is not a place you go for a vacation. We're not doing tours right now.'"

He's equally blunt in Welcome to New Orleans, an hourlong documentary produced by the Danish video team, who captured Janak, beer in hand, gloating about hunting humans. Surrounded by a crowd of sunburned white Algiers Point locals at a barbeque held not long after the hurricane, he smiles and tells the camera, "It was great! It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it." A native of Chicago, Janak also boasts of becoming a true Southerner, saying, "I am no longer a Yankee. I earned my wings." A white woman standing next to him adds, "He understands the N-word now." In this neighborhood, she continues, "we take care of our own."

Janak, who says he'd been armed with two .38s and a shotgun, brags about keeping the bloody shirt worn by a shooting victim as a trophy. When "looters" showed up in the neighborhood, "they left full of buckshot," he brags, adding, "You know what? Algiers Point is not a pussy community."

... Some of the gunmen prowling Algiers Point were out to wage a race war, says one woman whose uncle and two cousins joined the cause. A former New Orleanian, this source spoke to me anonymously because she fears her relatives could be prosecuted for their crimes. "My uncle was very excited that it was a free-for-all--white against black--that he could participate in," says the woman. "For him, the opportunity to hunt black people was a joy."

"They didn't want any of the 'ghetto niggers' coming over" from the east side of the river, she says, adding that her relatives viewed African-Americans who wandered into Algiers Point as "fair game." One of her cousins, a young man in his 20s, sent an e-mail to her and several other family members describing his adventures with the militia. He had attached a photo in which he posed next to an African-American man who'd been fatally shot. The tone of the e-mail, she says, was "gleeful"--her cousin was happy that "they were shooting niggers."

I'm just waiting for some Republican to tell us once again that "racism is dead."

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]>

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hate crimes: It's time to finally pass a federal law

-- by Dave

The most recent well-publicized anti-Latino bias crime -- this time involving the death of an Ecuadorean immigrant -- has prompted the National Council of La Raza to push for the passage, at long last, of a federal hate-crimes law:

Today the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)—the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States—joined leaders from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda on Capitol Hill to urge Congress and the new Administration to make passage of the “Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act” a priority. Following on the heels of November's brutal battery and murder of Marcelo Lucero in Suffolk County, NY, another senseless death has provoked outrage in communities throughout the nation. Two Ecuadorean brothers were assaulted on December 8 in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Jose Osvaldo Sucuzhanay died last week as a result of his injuries.

“President-Elect Obama and the new Congress should not waste any time in immediately passing the ‘Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act’ so that more lives are not lost in senseless attacks,” said Janet MurguĂ­a, NCLR President and CEO. “The wave of hate unleashed by the polarized debate over immigration has led to an increase in violence and hate groups targeting Latinos. These recent deaths are a direct outcome of the anger and hatred spurred on by people who mischaracterize all Latinos and the institutions that serve them as a threat to our country.”

No doubt Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly will promptly find ways to distort this debate. But they need a little reality check:

Hate crimes-Latinos chart_4e3d1.JPG

As the SPLC reports:

Hate crimes targeting Latinos increased again in 2007, capping a 40% rise in the four years since 2003, according to FBI statistics released this fall.

As anti-immigrant propaganda has increased on both the margins and in the mainstream of society — where pundits and politicians have routinely vilified undocumented Latino immigrants with a series of defamatory falsehoods — hate violence has risen against perceived "illegal aliens." Each year since 2003, the number of FBI-reported anti-Latino hate crime incidents has risen, even as a swelling nativist movement has become larger and more vitriolic.

This about more than just Latinos, though. This is about black people (remember the Jena 6?), gays and lesbians, Muslims ... every kind of minority. And for that matter, it's about white straight people too:

Bias-crime laws are a way for society to make clear its condemnation of such acts, recognizing them as more heinous than simple crimes because they cause greater harm. Indeed, pretending as opponents do that a cross burned on the lawn is the same as being egged and toilet-papered, or that a gay-bashing rampage by young thugs is the same thing as a bar fight, simply tries to pretend away the truly hateful and terroristic element of the former of these, as though it doesn't exist. But it does exist, and its effects poison our society and make a joke out of our self-belief in ourselves as an "equal opportunity" society.

This, in the end, is the single clearest reason why progressives should avidly support a federal hate-crimes law: These are crimes whose primary purpose is to disenfranchise, to expel, to deny the most basic rights of association and opportunity to millions of Americans of all stripes. Civil libertarians need to come to grips with the fact that these crimes are real, their effects are real, and they represent, as Donald Green argues, a real "massive dead-weight loss of freedom" for those millions of Americans.

Americans lose their freedoms not just through government oppression; an honest appraisal of our history forces us to recognize that there is a substantial track record of Americans losing their freedoms (up to and including their lives) through the actions of their fellow citizens: the genocide of Native Americans; the long reign of terror of the "lynching era" and associated "sundown towns" that infected the entire nation; the expulsion and incarceration of Asian Americans; the long-running campaign of vicious hatred directed against gays and lesbians.

Hate crimes are an integral part of that history, and laws intended to punish their perpetrators with stiffer sentences are an important blow for the cause of very real and substantial freedoms for millions of Americans. Trying to argue that, in some esoteric sense, they constitute "thought crimes" that somehow deprive us of our freedoms (to what? commit crimes?) turns this reality on its head.

Yet progressives haven't yet figured out that framing hate-crime laws as a defense of people's civil liberties is precisely the argument that will instantly deflate the long-running "thought crime" argument. In all the debate over the legislation, I haven't seen the point raised once.

As long as small-town -- and even big-city -- law-enforcement officers labor under misconceptions about bias-crime laws and fail to properly identify, investigate, or prosecute them, places like Jena are going to fester. And this is where the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act comes in -- because its primary mission is to help local law cops and prosecutors do their job well -- by providing logistical and investigative support, grants, training, and other kinds of assistance.

Here’s a link to the most recent version of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Spineless Democrats -- facing a certain G.W. Bush veto -- crumbled when it counted last year when there was a historic chance for its passage. This year, they will have no excuse -- especially with Latino groups getting on board.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No, Bill O'Reilly, they're laughing at you

-- by Dave

My home state has been getting an inordinate amount of attention from Bill O'Reilly lately over that awful, horrible, teeth-gnashing, faint-inducting display by atheists located next to the Nativity scene in the state Capitol.

You can tell it's really been a slow couple of weeks because O'Reilly is still flogging this worthless story. The only thing O'Reilly has to show for it is a group of state workers who've been inundated with out-of-state callers wasting their time.

Oh, that and all the additions to the Capitol display, which now includes a sign honoring the Flying Spaghetti monster and a Festivus display.

It came up in yesterday's O'Reilly Factor show on Fox, while he was discussing the issue with Megyn Kelly. O'Reilly said this:

The Flying Spaghetti Monster holiday display. All these people are doing is mocking her. That's why they're doing it.

No, Bill. They're mocking YOU. That's why they're doing it.

The FSM and Festivus displays were intended to drive O'Reilly and his supporters even further nuts. After all, the core of O'Reilly's original complaint was that the atheists were taking advantage of their free-speech rights; the displays that piled on specifically were intended to make the same point even further. (This is particularly so for the FSM folks, whose whole point is to make as much fun of organized religion as possible.)

Of course, Gov. Gregoire has called a halt to this nonsense, so O'Reilly's story is going away. With a whimper from Papa Bear himself.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nazis in the military: 'I'm so proud of my kills'

Shawn Stuart-764380_36d56.jpg

[Shawn Stuart, Iraq War veteran, at a 2006 neo-Nazi rally in Olympia, WA.]

-- by Dave

Two years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center ran a devastating report describing the infiltration of neo-Nazis into the ranks of the American military. The Pentagon's official response was steadfast denial of the problem.

The SPLC's David Holthouse just published a follow-up report, and found, predictably, that the problem is getting worse as the conflict in Iraq drags on:

A new FBI report confirms that white supremacists are infiltrating the military for several reasons. According to the unclassified FBI Intelligence Assessment, "White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11," which was released to law enforcement agencies nationwide: "Sensitive and reliable source reporting indicates supremacist leaders are encouraging followers who lack documented histories of neo-Nazi activity and overt racist insignia such as tattoos to infiltrate the military as 'ghost skins,' in order to recruit and receive training for the benefit of the extremist movement."

The FBI report details more than a dozen investigative findings and criminal cases involving Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as well as active-duty personnel engaging in extremist activity in recent years. For example, in September 2006, the leader of the Celtic Knights, a central Texas splinter faction of the Hammerskins, a national racist skinhead organization, planned to obtain firearms and explosives from an active duty Army soldier in Fort Hood, Texas. That soldier, who served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, was a member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group.

I observed at the time that one of the uglier aspects of the presence of neo-Nazis in Iraq would be the behavior of American soldiers among civilians there:

As Atrios notes, the SPLC report raises immediate questions about the kind of men we're sending over to Iraq. To what extent, really, does the spread of white-supremacist attitudes in the military bring about atrocities like the recent murder of a 14-year-old girl and her family, or the Haditha massacre? It isn't hard to see, after all, attitudes about the disposability of nonwhite races rearing their ugly head in those incidents.

Sure enough, as Holthouse reports:

Earlier this year, the founder of White Military Men identified himself in his New Saxon account as "Lance Corporal Burton" of the 2nd Battalion Fox Company Pit 2097, from Florida, according to a master's thesis by graduate student Matthew Kennard. Under his "About Me" section, Burton writes: "Love to shoot my M16A2 service rifle effectively at the Hachies (Iraqis)," and, "Love to watch things blow up (Hachies House)."

Kennard, who was working on his thesis for Columbia University's Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, also monitored claims of active-duty military service earlier this year on the neo-Nazi online forum Blood & Honour, where "88Soldier88" posted this message on Feb. 18: "I am in the ARMY right now. I work in the Detainee Holding Area [in Iraq]. … I am in this until 2013. I am in the infantry but want to go to SF [Special Forces]. Hopefully the training will prepare me for what I hope is to come."

One of the Blood & Honour members claiming to be an active-duty soldier taking part in combat operations in Iraq identified himself to Kennard as Jacob Berg. He did not disclose his rank or branch of service. "There are actually a lot more 'skinheads,' 'nazis,' white supremacists now [in the military] than there has been in a long time," Berg wrote in an E-mail exchange with Kennard. "Us racists are actually getting into the military a lot now because if we don't every one who already is [in the military] will take pity on killing sand niggers. Yes I have killed women, yes I have killed children and yes I have killed older people. But the biggest reason I'm so proud of my kills is because by killing a brown many white people will live to see a new dawn."

The July 2006 report by the SPLC found this infiltration occurring at an alarming rate. Neo-Nazis "stretch across all branches of service, they are linking up across the branches once they're inside, and they are hard-core," Department of Defense gang detective Scott Barfield told the SPLC. "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," he added. "That's a problem."

The source of the problem, as the report explained, was the extreme pressure military recruiters were under to fill their recruitment quotas. "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces," said Barfield, "and commanders don’t remove them . . . even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members." The military downplayed a neo-Nazi presence in the ranks, Barfield added, "because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they’ll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."

One of the noteworthy aspects of this phenomenon is the increasingly military style of the Far Right in recent years, particularly the militias in the 1990s, who openly recruited veterans and current military members. The two cultures have become increasingly enmeshed, as embodied by Steven Barry's recruitment plan for neo-Nazis considering a military career as a way to sharpen their "warrior" skills.

The FBI's assessment in the "White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11" report found that the numbers of identifiable neo-Nazis within the ranks was quite small (only a little over 200), but warned:

Although individuals with military backgrounds constitute a small percentage of white supremacist extremists, they frequently occupy leadership roles within extremist groups and their involvement has the potential to reinvigorate an extremist movement suffering from loss of leadership and in-fighting during the post-9/11 period.

Looking ahead, current and former military personnel belonging to white supremacist extremist organizations who experience frustration at the inability of these organizations to achieve their goals may choose to found new, more operationally minded and operationally capable groups. The military training veterans bring to the movement and their potential to pass this training on to others can increase the ability of lone offenders to carry out violence from the movement’s fringes.

Military experience—ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces—is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement. FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color.

... The prestige which the extremist movement bestows upon members with military experience grants them the potential for influence beyond their numbers. Most extremist groups have some members with military experience, and those with military experience often hold positions of authority within the groups to which they belong.

... Military experience—often regardless of its length or type—distinguishes one within the extremist movement. While those with military backgrounds constitute a small percentage of white supremacist extremists, FBI investigations indicate they frequently have higher profiles within the movement, including recruitment and leadership roles.

... New groups led or significantly populated by military veterans could very likely pursue more operationally minded agendas with greater tactical confidence. In addition, the military training veterans bring to the movement and their potential to pass this training on to others can increase the ability of lone offenders to carry out violence from the movement’s fringes.

This problem doesn’t involve only the Nazis, gang-bangers, and other violent personalities worming their way into the military. It also affects the many more formerly normal, non-racist recruits who have been dragged into multiple tours of duty in Iraq, regardless of the psychological dangers of such treatment. This includes many people whose evaluations have recommended they not be returned for duty but have been sent back regardless. Thus the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School continues to operate.

This has the deadly potential to become a significant component of the predictable surge in far-right activity likely to manifest itself in the United States in the coming months and years, especially as Democrats and liberals expand their hold on power. We run the risk of re-creating the conditions that arose in Germany and Italy after World War I: the presence of scores of angry, disaffected, and psychologically damaged war veterans, fed a steady diet of "Dolchstosslegende," poised to organize into a political force aimed at "rebirthing" the nation and its heritage.

In our current situation, these veterans not only will have served with neo-Nazis amid their ranks, they will likely be faced with unemployment and a wrecked economy, eager for someone to blame and fully trained and capable of violent action.

SPLC Chief Counsel Richard Cohen has written another letter to the Defense Secretary pleading that the DoD take concrete steps to deal with this problem. Here's hoping he produces something other than denial this time.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]