Archive for May, 2021

Why the January 6 Commission Matters – posted 5/30/2021

May 30, 2021 Leave a comment

By a vote of 54-35, Senate Republicans defeated the bill to establish a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Normally, 54-35 would be a decisive win but under Senate filibuster rules, advocates needed 60 votes so the bipartisan commission failed.

You do not have to look too hard to figure why the Republicans do not want the truth to come out. They are afraid of the truth and what it will show about their complicity. To me this is very similar to their opposition to critical race theory. They do not want to critically re-examine the racial history of the United States. It is better to sweep it under the rug.

The questions a January 6 commission could investigate are straightforward and would be helpful to prevent future insurrectionary events. These questions occurred to me:

  • Who financed January 6 and who planned it?
  • Was the Capitol attack planned by Trump and his inner circle? How much was January 6 an inside job?
  • What was Trump doing before and during the riot?
  • What role did members of Congress or congressional staff play in the insurrection? Did any Congresspeople help plan it or coordinate with others before, during, or after the event?
  • What role, if any, did prominent figures like Michael Flynn or Roger Stone play in these events?
  • Why did security at the Capitol fail so badly? Why did the National Guard show up hours after it was needed?
  • Was physical harm intended against members of Congress, senators, or the Vice-President? Was the gallows set up outside the Capitol symbolic only or were hangings seriously contemplated?
  • What weapons did the insurrectionists bring to the Capitol?
  • How were the two bombs found connected to the insurrection?
  • Did insurrectionists actually believe they could disrupt or prevent Biden’s certification as president?
  • How coordinated were the actions of far right extremists like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Boogaloo Bois?
  • How much were extremist elements within the military and law enforcement involved in the insurrection, did they have any special role and were they coordinated?
  • What is the narrative the January 6 insurrectionists are telling to explain these events?
  • Was the January 6 insurrection a dress rehearsal for any future event? Is it part of a fascist radicalization process?
  • Why were so many Republicans opposed to even a bi-partisan investigation? Was it simply fear of adverse consequences in the 2022 mid-term elections?
  • What steps need to be taken to prevent any future January 6-type events?

When Republicans pretend there is nothing to be learned, you can only shake your head. There are so many questions that deserve real answers. I think many Democrats do not get the urgency and gravity of the situation and many Republicans do not want Trump to be held accountable for the effort to subvert democracy.

Forgetting January 6 serves a political and a propaganda agenda. That agenda is about burying the truth and denying obvious facts. All politicians lie but what sets Trump apart was the absolute lack of any intellectual integrity. Facts that conflict with his goals of power and profit are simply denied.

Trump is squarely within the tradition of fascist and authoritarian leaders who rely on disinformation and propaganda to instill loyalty and to motivate followers to carry out his agenda. Remember in 2018 when Trump said:

“Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news…Just remember: what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

The historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat has written:

“At its core, propaganda is a set of communication strategies designed to sow confusion and uncertainty, discourage critical thinking and persuade people that reality is what the leader says it is.”

Republicans have manufactured a mythology about January 6. A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll about January 6 found that 73 percent of Republicans pin “some” or “a great deal” of responsibility on “left wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad”. This is even though we all saw who was there with all the Trump flags and Trump paraphernalia. Were our eyes lying?

Other polls have consistently shown that two-thirds of Republicans believe Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. That Big Lie then feeds the Republican voter suppression efforts.

We are at a bad place when we as a nation lack a common baseline of facts. Fascism thrives on disappearing knowledge that conflicts with its ideology. The total fantasy of a stolen election can only harm our democracy. There is no credible proof of voter fraud in 2020 but millions seem to be buying in.

Without a serious investigation of January 6, Republicans will be even more empowered to allow political violence in the future.

Democrats seem to lack the toughness to deal with these very unpleasant realities and some like Joe Manchin seem genuinely surprised by Republican recalcitrance. Ignoring bad things will not make them go away. It is better to have a Select House Committee investigate, than nothing. Such a committee would still have subpoena power. It could address the many questions raised.

I would suggest it is a mistake to look at January 6 as an isolated event, separate and apart from earlier history. It should be seen as a step in the process of fascist radicalization by a significant part of the Republican electorate. By no means is the January 6 insurrection finished.

Growing up as a Jewish young person, I believed that the struggle against fascism was something that you read about or observed happening in other countries. Never did I think I would be living it here in America. How surprising life can be.

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Criminalizing protest as a symptom of fascist decay – posted 5/23/2021

May 23, 2021 1 comment

It has now been almost four years since neo-Nazi James Fields plowed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville during the infamous “Unite the Right” demonstration. Fields severely hurt over 30 people and killed 32 year old Heather Heyer. Fields was later convicted of first degree murder, malicious wounding and hit and run. He pled guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges to avoid the death penalty.

While the act of driving a vehicle into a crowd of people is deranged, the truth is that since the George Floyd protests, dozens of drivers have maliciously rammed into crowds of protesters marching in roadways. USA Today reported cars have hit demonstrators 104 times since the Floyd protests began. There have been two fatalities, one in Seattle and another in Bakersfield, California.

Instead of recognizing the criminality of such cold-blooded, vicious behavior, Republican legislators around the country responded with laws providing immunity for drivers who kill or injure protesters. It is like they are offering permission and a seal of approval to assault protesters with their cars. They are making it easier for that to happen.

The ACLU calls these bills “hit and kill” bills. In April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that grants civil immunity to people who decide to drive their cars into protesters who are engaging in non-violent civil disobedience, blocking a road. Republican legislators in Oklahoma similarly passed a bill that grants civil and criminal immunity to motorists who kill or injure protesters “fleeing from a riot”.

These bills are part of a broader effort to criminalize protest and narrow our First Amendment rights. GOP legislators in 34 states introduced 81 anti-protest bills since the beginning of the year. Using the excuse of being “anti-riot”, many of these bills make it dangerous to engage in mass public protests of any kind.

The bills do things like expand the definition of rioting to sweep up more protesters under that rubric. Florida makes it a crime to use what they call “mob intimidation” which is defined as when three or more people “gather to threaten to force another person from taking a viewpoint against their will”. What constitutes “mob intimidation” is beyond vague, just wildly open to interpretation. Vagueness allows prosecutorial mischief with chilling effect.

In Iowa, the legislature introduced an anti-protest bill that would increase the penalties for a riot from an aggravated misdemeanor to a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The bill enhances the punishment for unlawful assembly by those who block streets or sidewalks during protests. South Carolina has also proposed legislation that criminalizes blocking streets or sidewalks and imposes a punishment of five years in prison.

In power and rising to power, fascist parties typically do not tolerate political opposition and dissent. They have a history of gaining power by squashing political opposition. The anti-riot bills are the Republican response to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and the ferment caused by the repeated episodes of police brutality. They are a further step down the authoritarian road.

This criminalizing of protest is part of a broader pattern discarding any quality of normalcy in Republican politics. We are witnessing the degeneration of the party into a 21st century fascist entity.

I am not being hyperbolic. Consider the voter suppression legislation in many states, the refusal to accept the 2020 presidential election and the peaceful transfer of power, opposition to a January 6 Commission, the sexist effort to eliminate womens’ reproductive rights, and the Trump-inspired “patriotic education” bills which attempt to whitewash American history.

Winning at all costs is the game plan and amorality is the ethos.

These are all pieces of a bigger puzzle and the cumulative picture is not the old Republican Party of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. It is a different creature. The party is now unified in its submission to a cult of personality. Along with commitment to white supremacy, loyalty to Donald Trump, aspiring dictator, is the reigning ideology. Republicans must slavishly fall into line behind their Dear Leader or face the ostracized fate of Liz Cheney.

The party has wedded itself to the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. For Republicans, how humiliating to mouth a fraudulent narrative when the entire world knows it is a lie. You get the absurd spectacle of the Arizona audit.

Fear of Trump and his goons keep Republican officeholders in line. Some like Rep. Pete Meijer (R-MI) have expressed concern about the physical safety of Republican colleagues who told him they were afraid to impeach Trump after January 6. GOP freshman Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-S.C) applied for a concealed carry permit and sent her kids away out of fear because she opposed Trump’s effort to overturn the election. Trump increased tolerance for intimidation, hate and bullying inside the party.

Officeholders like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu who take the most modest steps to separate from Trump are extremely careful to never disparage him. This is no profile in courage. Behind his smiling face, Sununu must worry the Trump mob might turn on him. Only a very few Republicans have had the courage to speak up about the authoritarianism.

In both 2016 and 2020, Trump said losing was not an option. In 2016, he had said he would not accept the results of the election – until he won. In 2020, Trump lost but refused to concede. Refusing to concede broke with a democratic tradition dating back to 1797 when George Washington willingly stepped down as our first president.

If you argue that losing is an impossible result, you are mirroring the behavior of autocrats who refuse to give up power and who reject the results of democratic elections.

What motivates rank and file Republicans to reject democracy in favor of a Putin-wannabee figure like Trump? Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, offered a surprising answer. Researching 377 people who were arrested in connection with the January 6 insurrection, Pape found that fear of the “Great Replacement” was a powerful motivator.

Insurrectionists interviewed believed minorities are replacing white population due to mass immigration policies and low white birthrate. Pape found that the insurrectionists were generally older and more professional than right wing protesters surveyed in the past. They were overwhelmingly white and male. A high percentage of the insurrectionists hailed from counties experiencing a significant decline in the non-Hispanic white population.

Fascist movements rely on scapegoating and, in America, immigrants are playing the role the Jews played in Nazi Germany.

People who identify as Republicans need to ask themselves: are you on board with junking democracy for fascism? What happens next with the Republican Party could make or break our democracy.

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Seen on the wall in Provincetown last Saturday -posted 5/18/2021

May 18, 2021 Leave a comment
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My May Day, 1971 – posted 5/9/2021

May 9, 2021 4 comments

50th anniversaries have a way of sneaking up and, for me, that was true about May Day 1971. I was one of the more than 12,000 people arrested in Washington D.C. at that largest ever act of civil disobedience.

The May Day Tribe, a loose-knit coalition of anti-Vietnam war activists, organized the demonstration around the slogan “if the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government”. Activists adopted a posture that has been described as “disruptive but non-violent”. We intended to block city streets and bridges to stop business as usual. A goal was to create gridlock in the city.

It is hard to recreate that time. Among those on the anti-war side, there was a consuming hatred for the Vietnam War. On TV, we observed nightly body counts. There was broad awareness that the war was an unjustified horror and a racist, imperialist enterprise.

The tide of public opinion had swung against the war but the U.S. remained stuck in the quagmire. Nixon was president and he had run in 1968 on the false promise that he intended to end the war. His plan was actually to escalate.

The May Day demonstration came at the end of a series of protests in April. Earlier, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War had conducted an incredibly powerful event, Operation Dewey Canyon III, where they threw back medals that they had received for their service in Vietnam. Also, a mass rally organized by the National Peace Action Coalition drew 500,000 people.

I was in college at the time, outside Boston. My girl friend of the last year had just dumped me and I was feeling blue. Pretty spontaneously, I decided to head down to Washington D.C. for the protest. Since I did not own a car, I hitchhiked. Hitching was different then. There was less fear you would become the victim of a serial killer.

When I got to D.C. there were crowds of people on the National Mall and in West Potomac Park. I had hoped to meet up with friends who were going but this was a time before cell phones and it was not so easy to connect. The day before the blockade demonstration, there were planning meetings for the thousands who had descended on the city.

People formed small affinity groups and developed plans consistent with the May Day tactical manual about where they would go the next day. There was a concert that night and I remember seeing Phil Ochs perform. D.C. locals generously put up some of us (me included) in their homes that night. Early the next morning, my affinity group headed out to march toward the Pentagon.

We did not get that far. The Nixon administration had brought in 20,000 local state and federal police officers. I have a distinct memory of hearing the sound of police nightsticks connecting with the bodies of demonstrators. That sound focused the mind. The police were on horseback, motorcycles and patrol cars and they charged us.

Running away, I got completely separated from my affinity group. I was not sure what to do next but I ran back downtown to try and evade the police. They were omnipresent, including overhead in helicopters.

The police tactics changed that morning. Soon they started arresting anyone who had long hair or looked like a hippie. Then they started arresting anyone who was on the street downtown. The police made no effort to collect information about the people arrested, what they had done or who arrested them. They suspended using field arrest forms.

Turning a corner, I ran into a group of police who grabbed me. Asking me nothing, they immediately took me to a paddy wagon. I remember in my paddy wagon there was a Canadian family. They were tourists who had come to see the sights but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of them told me they had come to see how the U.S. government operated.

Because so many people were arrested, the jails were full. The police took us to a Washington Redskins practice field surrounded by a chain link fence outside RFK Stadium. National Guardsmen patrolled the perimeter outside the fence. There was a large make-shift tent inside on the field. Some people huddled under the tent because it was unseasonably cold. I saw Dr. Benjamin Spock and the poet Allen Ginsberg. Tons of people kept arriving.

We were held at the football field most of the day. In the late afternoon buses arrived and many of us were taken to the old Washington Coliseum, an indoor sports arena. It looked like ice hockey was played there.

I ended up staying inside the Coliseum for two nights. Thousands of us were jammed onto the floor and the stands. I remember people snake-dancing through the crowd and singing Power to the People. We never got formally charged. I recall people joking about giving the police false names and trying to mess up their fingerprints with vaseline. Back then, the technology to track people was not remotely like what it is now.

We were allowed one phone call. I remember calling my parents and speaking to my mom. She was less than thrilled.

We did know the ACLU was working on getting us released. After two days, news came that we could leave the Coliseum. We had to pay ten bucks to get released. Later there were class action lawsuits filed about the mass preventive detention. Those suits went on for 16 years and the plaintiffs were ultimately vindicated and won. Nixon was quoted saying: “I think we should have clubbed a few more of the bastards”.

Then a Justice Department official (and later Chief Justice of The U.S. Supreme Court) William Rehnquist described the government’s action as the imposition of “qualified martial law”. Rehnquist wrote a memo saying Nixon had inherent constitutional authority to use federal troops to ensure that the May Day demonstrators do not prevent federal employees from being able to carry out their government functions.

Charges ended up being dropped against virtually all May Day demonstrators and some won monetary damages for their mistreatment. As the writer Lawrence Roberts has written, key Nixon administration players in the suppression of May Day ended up spending more time in jail for more serious offenses than anybody who blocked traffic to end the war in Vietnam.

About May Day, Federal Judge Harold Greene said:

“Whenever American institutions have provided a hysterical response to an emergency situation, we have come later to regret it.”

The value of protest is sometimes not immediately apparent. Daniel Ellsberg has said that President Nixon was alarmed and worried by the growth of the anti-war movement. Ellsberg says Nixon had picked out targets in North Vietnam to use nuclear weapons and he didn’t do it because of his fear of the anti-war movement.

May Day 1971 broadened the scope of demonstrations, free speech and the right of assembly. As with Black Lives Matter, it expanded our notions of non-violent protest. It is distressing to see Republican-led states enacting laws that drastically suppress protest and First Amendment rights. Republicans have now introduced 81 bills in 34 states that limit protest.

At a time when fascism lurks in the wings and the Republican party has rejected democracy, nothing is more important than protecting our democratic rights, including the right to protest non-violently. Our futures depend on it.

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Erasing history or what Rick Santorum got wrong – posted 5/5/2021

May 6, 2021 4 comments

At a recent conference of right-wingers from the Young Americas Foundation, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum created a stir. He stated:

“We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

Candidly, it is hard to know where to begin with a statement of such profound ignorance. If there was nobody on the land, what happened to the Native Americans?

Santorum appears to know nothing of early American history which should not be surprising because, after the revolution, early American history is not generally well known. I think history between the Revolution and up until the Civil War is generally overlooked.

Saying there was nothing in America when the settlers arrived hides the history of the campaign to expel and exterminate Native peoples from the area east of the Mississippi River. It is impossible to understand early American history without seeing the centrality of that expulsion and extermination.

For the southeastern states, deportation of the Indians was necessary to clear the land for the growth of cotton plantations and the full emergence of the slave economy. The white planter class profited hugely from the dispossession.

From even before the Revolution, back country settlers burned Indian villages and waged a war of aggression. Settlers saw the Indians as savages and acted with genocidal intent.

For example, in April 1779, New York militia attacked Onandaga, the center of the Iroquois League, and they burned the town. Shortly after, the American army invaded the Seneca and Cayuga homelands, burning 40 towns. From 1810-1814, brutal military campaigns were conducted against the followers of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh in the Ohio River Valley and against the Creek Confederacy farther south.

The Native people called the settlers “long knives”. Scalp hunting by the settlers developed into a lucrative commercial practice. The settlers practiced extreme violence against Native civilians, prompting indigenous resistance.

The history of the early 19th century was euphemized into what was called “Indian removal”. Readers can take their pick about what decade in American history has been most hidden and obscured. I would pick the 1830’s as a culmination of years of struggle between American settlers and Native tribes.

The 1830’s saw the passage of the Indian Removal Act promoted by President Andrew Jackson. The law proved pivotal in forcing 80,000 Indians westward. The story of this epic struggle is told in Claudio Saunt’s revelatory book, Unworthy Republic.

The sustained brutality of the removals, the failure of government accountability, and the sheer racism of the entire enterprise are mind-boggling. The Choctaw, the Creek, the Chickasaw, the Cherokee and the Seminoles all faced massive dispossession.

Still, it was not a given that Native Americans would be expelled from the eastern U.S. There was a ferocious political battle between the forces favoring Indian removal and those who opposed it.

Part of what is insidious about Santorum’s comment is the way it erases the real struggle that did take place. If America was a blank slate, then it was only about the settlers’ actions to conquer a wilderness. While many settlers saw no value in Indian culture, that view was not universally shared. When the Indian Removal Act passed Congress in 1831, it barely squeaked through the House by a vote of 102-97.

The Indians had supporters. When debating removal in the Senate, New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen argued:

“We have crowded the tribes upon a few miserable acres on our southern frontier; it is all that is left to them of their once boundless forest; and still like the horse-leech, our unsatiated cupidity cries, give! give!…Sir…Do the obligations of justice change with the color of the skin?”

Many Native Americans did not want to be forced West. An impressive Native American resistance to Jackson emerged. The Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper published in English and Cherokee, forcefully advocated for Indian concerns. Cherokee Chief John Ross tried to stop the removal effort. He had negotiated with the U.S. government and effectively defended Cherokee interests.

When Ross was unsuccessful in protecting Cherokee land through his efforts in Congress and with the Executive Branch, he creatively pursued a judicial strategy at the U.S. Supreme Court. That also ultimately proved unsuccessful.

The challenges presented the Native Americans were overwhelming. Federal treaties and federal laws gave Congress authority over the tribes. The Indian Trade and Intercourse Act passed by Congress in 1802 had previously said that there could be no land cessions except by treaty with a tribe.

President Jackson ignored treaties and laws. He also disregarded a Supreme Court mandate barring Georgia from intruding on Cherokee lands. Southern states passed state laws to exert control over Indians in their territory. As Howard Zinn wrote:

“These laws did away with the tribe as a legal unit, outlawed tribal meetings, took away the chief’s powers, made the Indians subject to militia duty and state taxes, but denied them the right to vote, to bring suits or to testify in court. Indian territory was divided up, to be distributed by state lottery. Whites were encouraged to settle on Indian land.”

It proved hard to maintain a unified opposition among the tribes. Pressures on the tribes led to some agreeing to removal in exchange for financial help in leaving, some compensation and a guarantee they would never again be required to move.

Land speculators and voracious capitalists descended on Indian lands like a plague. Fraud and deceit were epidemic. In Florida, a white invasion of Indian lands led to a guerrilla war between the Seminoles and government troops. That war went on for years.

The multiple horrors of the removal make it hard to tell this story in a manner commensurate with the degree of tragedy inflicted on the Indian tribes. The removal killed Indians through exposure to freezing temperatures, cholera outbreaks and starvation. Thousands died before reaching their destinations.

In October 1838, President Martin Van Buren ordered Major General Winfield Scott into Cherokee country with the mission of forcibly relocating the tribe westward. The U.S. military rounded up 17,000 Cherokees and forced them into stockades. That led to the Trail of Tears. Over a four month period in wintry conditions, nearly 4,000 Cherokees died while trying to walk the 1,000 miles to where they had been ordered to live.

The government, in a paternalistic way, sold the Removal Act on the basis that Native Americans who made the journey west of the Mississippi would never have to move from their new homelands. That later turned out to be a lie. The passage of the Dawes Act in 1887 again drove out indigenous people.

If you are going to say the country was birthed from nothing, which is ridiculous, you should at least explain. Like other conservatives who do not want the true story told, Santorum is another phony who cannot stand the truth.

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