Dirt road revival as a way forward for Democrats in rural America – posted 7/17/2022

July 17, 2022 2 comments

Anyone concerned about the future of the Democratic Party has to be concerned about how poorly the party has performed in rural America over the last few election cycles. On TV, I remember looking at the red and blue counties of America after 2016 and 2020. There are blue coastlines and blue pockets in a largely red sea.

How did it come to be that Democrats are getting politically wiped out in so many rural places? I have seen different statistical explanations. One in Politico said two-thirds of rural voters chose Trump. Another said the Democrats lost 90% of rural counties. Trump actually did better with rural voters in 2020 than 2016. Whatever the numbers actually are, there is a basis for Democrats to be very worried.

It hasn’t always been like this. The red trend in rural America has accelerated over the last decade.

Two young Democrats, Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward, who co-authored the new book, Dirt Road Revival, take up the Democrat/rural voter question. And they do not speak as academics. In 2018, Maxmin and her campaign manager Woodward, flipped a state representative seat in a heavily red district in Maine. Then in 2020, they flipped a state senate seat running against the Maine Republican Senate Minority Leader.

Maxmin and Woodward argue that the Democrats have largely ignored rural America. The Democratic message to rural America: you don’t matter. They say Democrats stopped trying to persuade people who disagreed with them, focusing on running up big margins in urban and suburban areas.

The two young activists point to a long-standing pattern of neglect. In their 2020 campaign they describe how the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee told them it didn’t believe in talking to Republicans. Maxmin and Woodward recognized this as bad politics.They committed to reaching out much more to independent and Republican voters. Their strategy paid off.

Our octogenarian Democratic Party leadership is seriously out of touch. The party keeps losing in rural America but there is incomprehension in the face of the repeated losses. You might think the extent of the losses would lead to some soul-searching. Just the margin of the losses matter.

Many people in rural America see the Democratic Party leadership as elitist and not speaking to their needs. That is also true of the Republican Party leadership but Democrats have held themselves out as fighting for working people.

Democrats need to be self-critical. In the not so distant past, our leaders have called rank and file voters “deplorables” or “clinging to guns and religion”. It was our party leadership under Bill Clinton that presided over Wall Street deregulation, disastrous trade policies, continued de-industrialization of America, and mass incarceration. Neither party has clean hands.

Maxmin and Woodward show a different way forward. They lay out a how-to roadmap for organizing rural America. Maxmin emphasized door-to-door canvassing and the personal touch. She and Woodward dispensed with expensive party campaign consultants and conventional election literature, creating their own original signs and literature.

She focused more on listening than offering solutions. She engaged people in hearing what was on their minds. She was always respectful of people and their views even when she disagreed. She focused on values, not party. Maxmin also ran a 100% positive campaign. She refused to slime her rivals.

During the Covid lockdown in 2020, Maxmin and Woodward organized socially distanced phone banks oriented to relief for seniors who needed help. The campaign connected a network of volunteer drivers to pick up prescriptions for neighbors, deliver groceries, drop off toilet paper or find large-print books for people with eyesight problems who could not access public libraries which were closed. Their campaign was more of a social movement than traditional politics.

Campaigns of all political stripes strive for authenticity. That is why you see candidates shooting guns, wearing cowboy or baseball hats or riding a horse. Even Trump who looks like he sleeps in a suit wears a baseball hat. Maxmin was straight forward as a progressive Democrat. She never hid her views.

In her book, she describes a conversation with a guy who opposed Medicaid expansion in Maine. At first he had told her to get off his property but she persisted in asking him for his perspective. He explained that he had grown up without electricity or running water. He had worked hard to build a life, including buying his own health care. Maxmin thanked him for explaining. She said her support of Medicaid was not to take anything away from his hard work. It was about supporting others who remained in need. At the end of the conversation, the guy said he would vote for her.

Maxmin and Woodward point out the harm of negative stereotypes. There are many Democrats who will, out of frustration, dismiss people as “Trumpers”, “backwards” or “racist”. While there are no doubt many Republicans who will never be won over, that is not true for many others. Finding areas of agreement is possible but the Democrats have to try.

Working people across America have been screwed. Many do not bother to vote, feeling it makes no difference. When Biden ran against Trump he talked about returning things back to some type of normalcy, the way they were before Trump. That view is wrong.

Things are in a far worse and more precarious place than the ancient Democratic leaders seem to realize. Whether it is the climate emergency or the fascist threat to democracy, Democrats must be the Big Change party, recognizing the gravity of our present moment.

As Maxmin and Woodward explain, Democrats have failed to act on an understanding of the class structure of rural America. Too often they have not fought for rural low income or working people who all have the same needs everywhere. Rural families want to close the wealth gap with better incomes. They want their kids to have opportunities. They need broadband, affordable housing, affordable education, student loan debt relief, and universal health care.

But the Democrats have been shrinking violets. They will come up with $40 billion for Ukraine but American restoration remains off the table.

The future of the Democratic Party lies with outstanding young people like Maxmin and Woodward, not with corporate lobbyists tied to Wall Street. The young activists are right that the Party needs to reinvent itself so that we could actually hope to re-take some state legislatures.

The Democrats have an abysmal record at the state level. In 1978, Democrats controlled both chambers in 31 state legislatures. By 2017, that number was down to 13. During Obama’s presidency Democrats lost almost 1000 seats in legislatures. We need to look at that and not accept it.

In rural America, a dirt road revival is the best hope for fighting the Republican authoritarians. The Republicans have utterly debased themselves but the Democrats have only weakly shown themselves worthy. The stakes could not be much higher.

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Walter F. White, early civil rights hero – posted 7/10/2022

July 10, 2022 Leave a comment

Before Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, there was Walter F. White. From 1931 to 1955, he was a leader of the NAACP. He made an enormous contribution to the cause of civil rights in America but he remains a virtual unknown. White deserves to be far better known.

A big part of the story of American history is filling in the gaps of the conventional story we have been bequeathed. A new biography, White Lies, by A. J. Baime, tries to correct the disappeared record. Walter White’s life was contemporaneous with the Jim Crow era.. White was born in 1893 and he lived until 1955. In his obituary, the New York Times wrote:

“Only five-thirty-seconds of his ancestry was Negro. His skin was fair, his hair blond, his eyes blue and his features Caucasian. He could easily have joined the 12,000 Negroes who pass the color line and disappear into the white majority every year in this country.”

But White always identified as black. His parents were born into slavery. As a teenager, he lived through the Atlanta race riot of 1906. White’s family home was almost torched by a racist mob. That experience left an indelible impression.

As a very young person, White took the initiative to start an NAACP chapter in Atlanta. He invited the legendary James Weldon Johnson, who wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and who was the national leader of the NAACP to come and speak in Atlanta. In that era, the NAACP was considered the most militant organization fighting for civil rights. Johnson was so impressed with White that he recruited him to move to New York City and work for the organization. White arrived in the city in February 1918.

At the same time White arrived in the city, the national NAACP was contending with an epidemic of lynchings, mostly in the South. In Estill Springs, Tennessee, a mob of 1500 people burned a black man, Jim McIlherron, at the stake. McIlherron was believed to have shot and killed two white men. The New York Times reported “hot irons were applied to his body for about ten minutes in an effort to get him to make a confession”. Before he was set on fire, members of the mob unsexed him.

The NAACP telegrammed President Woodrow Wilson and Tennessee’s governor, appealing for them to break the silence and denounce the terrible mob acts. A U.S. assistant attorney general responded that under the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government had no jurisdiction over matters of this kind. The Tennessee governor said he would only take action if requested by local officers, something that would never happen.

This was the heyday of lynchings and Ku Klux Klan resurgence. Racist crimes were not investigated and perpetrators were never punished. Those who lynched had no apprehension about adverse consequences.

White came up with an idea. Beginning with the McIlherron case, he decided to go South to investigate lynchings as an undercover investigator. Once back home, he would publish his findings. Because of his skin color, he could go to the scene of lynchings and do first hand investigations. He did not find it difficult to penetrate to the heart of these crimes as perpetrators were often willing to talk freely.

Following in the anti-lynching tradition of Ida B. Wells, White published expose after expose in a range of newspapers and magazines. Between 1918 and 1930, White made 41 undercover investigations, repeatedly placing himself in great danger.

On one occasion, he almost got himself lynched. After a racist massacre in Arkansas, word leaked that there was a black man posing as a white reporter. White hightailed it to a train to get out of the South. A mob was looking for him. Not realizing who he was, the train conductor told him he was “about to miss some fun”.

White asked the conductor “What’ll they do with him? The conductor replied “ When they get through with him, he won’t pass for white no more”.

White wrote a book about lynching disputing the false narrative that lynchings were a result of black men sexually assaulting white women. He found that blacks were getting lynched for being successful at business. It was part of a disenfranchisement effort rooted in white supremacy. Lynching was meant to keep black people down through intimidation. White wrote:

“..mobbism has inevitably degenerated to the point where an uncomfortably large percentage of American citizens can read in the newspaper of the slow roasting alive of a human being in Mississippi and turn, promptly with little thought, to the comic strip or sporting page. Thus has lynching become an almost integral part of our national folkways.”

His courage and advocacy were so remarkable that at the age of 36 White was catapulted into national leadership of the NAACP. He pushed hard on both President Roosevelt and Truman to support anti-lynching law. Initially in 1934, FDR would not support the law out of fear it would block the rest of his agenda. He was trying to hold together a coalition that included Southern Democrats. Finally in 1938, FDR supported the anti-lynching bill. Eleanor Roosevelt helped behind the scenes.

Although he was not ultimately successful in passing anti-lynching legislation (that just passed in 2020), White pushed FDR to issue an Executive Order in 1941 that outlawed discrimination in employment. It was the first time the federal government ever issued such an order.

In 1946, this was followed by an Executive Order issued by President Truman creating a President’s Commission on Civil Rights. White had access to the White House and he educated Truman about lynchings and other horrible acts like the blinding of Isaac Woodard. Truman was genuinely shocked and said, “My God! I had no idea it was as terrible as that!! We’ve got to do something”. White succeeded in raising the profile of civil rights as a national issue.

With help from Charles Houston, White also recruited a young Thurgood Marshall to join the NAACP legal staff. To say this move worked out is a giant understatement. In a series of blockbuster cases, Marshall deconstructed laws upholding segregation in education and voting rights. Marshall’s biographer Juan Williams has written that White “opened Marshall’s eyes to the idea of civil rights as theater and the power of using dramatic situations to the NAACP’s advantage”.

About himself, White wrote that he embodied the “enigma of a black man occupying a white body”. Although he was married, he had a long-standing secret affair with a white woman, Poppy Cannon. He divorced his wife and married her. Angry mail poured into the NAACP headquarters. At that time, interracial relationships were far from accepted. White’s reputation took a hit.

In considering why Walter White has been disappeared historically it would appear his affair contributed as did his skin color but any fair assessment must acknowledge his over three decades of outstanding advocacy. White wrote:

“I am one of the two in the color of my skin; I am the other in my spirit and my heart. It is only a love of both which binds the two together in me…I am white and I am black, and know that there is no difference. Each casts a shadow, and all the shadows are dark.”

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Mail and wire fraud are part of the January 6 story – posted 7/3/2022

July 3, 2022 Leave a comment

As the January 6 Committee continues its investigation into the Capitol insurrection, there are some lesser-discussed aspects of the story that deserve more attention.

In their second hearing, the Committee showed that Donald Trump and his campaign raised $250 million dollars for a Trump “Official Election Defense Fund”. That fund did not exist and, in fact, it never existed. The scam began on November 4, the day after the election. By that point, Trump and his aides were well aware he had lost even though the election was not definitively called on TV until November 7. Trump sent out an email from the address contact@victory.donaldtrump.com:

“Friends, the Democrats are trying to STEAL THE ELECTION. I’ve activated the Official Election Defense Fund and I need EVERY PATRIOT, including YOU, to step up and make sure we have enough resources to PROTECT THE INTEGRITY OF OUR ELECTION.”

The Trump team followed with a fundraising email claiming that “President Trump will easily WIN the Presidency of the United States with only legal votes cast”. They asked for supporters to donate any dollar amount to the “Election Defense Task Force”. This was followed by a barrage of emails over a nine week period, as many as 25 a day, pleading with Trump supporters to contribute to prevent the “Radical Left from DESTROYING America” These emails continued until January 6.

In the first week after the election, the Trump campaign raised $100 million. They got donors to kick in $150 million more all supposedly for the goal of helping legal challenges to the election results. However, according to the video testimony of Amanda Wick, the January 6 Committee’s chief investigative counsel, the Trump “Official Election Defense Fund” never existed. This was corroborated by the Committee testimony of two Trump campaign aides Hannah Allred and Gary Coby.

The $250 million was diverted into a new Trump entity, Save America PAC. The PAC made contributions to Trump hotels, to a conservative organization employing former Trump staffers and to the company that organized the rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

Asking for money for election defense and then switching to using it to pay other debts sounds like a fraud. It is a deception and a misrepresentation, bilking your own supporters.

It is significant that many advisors, including Attorney General William Barr, had told Trump there was no voter fraud. According to the video testimony of Jason Miller, a Trump advisor, the campaign’s head of data told Trump “in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose”. Yet, it did not stop Trump and his organization from aggressively dishing out fundraising emails even when they knew there was no evidence of voter fraud.

The January 6 Committee has subpoenaed the Republican National Committee’s digital marketing vendor, Salesforce, to obtain information about who initiated and signed off on the emails and about the whole fundraising scheme. The Republican National Committee is fighting the subpoena in court.

Paul Ryan, vice-president of policy and litigation with Common Cause has said,

“Donald Trump is a one-man scam PAC. Bait and switch is among his favorite fundraising tactics.”

Most of the public discussion about Trump’s crimes have focused on conspiracy to commit sedition as well as his efforts to intentionally obstruct Congress’s certification of Biden’s win. We never had a President attempt a coup before. Still, the scam fundraising should be considered too. It is not simply unethical – it is mail and wire fraud.

I would compare the crime to the Build the Wall fraud committed by Steve Bannon and his co-defendants. They advertised that fundraised money was going to build the wall between Mexico and the U.S. but it was actually used for other purposes like funding luxury lifestyles. Bannon pled not guilty to pocketing $1 million before he was pardoned by Trump. Two of Bannon’s co-defendants pled guilty and were sentenced to prison.

Mail fraud and wire fraud are both serious federal offenses. They are punishable by $1,000,000 fine or imprisonment up to 30 years. The crime is when a person knowingly devises a scheme to “obtain money” through “false or fraudulent pretenses, representation or promises”. The crimes must be committed through the U.S. mail system or a private delivery service or through phones or emails, among other means.

No doubt it is often difficult for prosecutors to prove criminal intent but a fraud case against Trump and his campaign has a very strong factual basis. As Elie Mystal has pointed out, the Department of Justice could pursue getting records from the RNC’s digital marketing vendor, Salesforce. Maybe Trump himself signed off on the plan for his election defense fund.

Many have pointed out that Trump learned lessons from Roy Cohn, who was his mentor. Trump has generally not been careless about leaving his finger prints at the scene. The Election Defense Fund scam is textbook fraud. It remains unclear if the will and prosecutorial zeal to pursue this case exists at the Department of Justice.

There is tremendous cynicism about our justice system. I think the public expects Big Fish to routinely commit crimes and get away with it. A long time ago, Eugene V. Debs captured the problem. He wrote:

“There is something wrong in this country; the judicial nets are so adjusted as to catch the minnows and let the whales slip through.”

Time will tell if the whale again slips through.

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Misunderstanding the Julian Assange case – posted 6/26/2022

June 26, 2022 1 comment

There is no doubt that Julian Assange has been a polarizing figure. He has been hated by both liberals and conservatives.

Many liberals hate him for Wikileaks’ role in releasing John Podesta’s Democratic National Committee emails before the 2016 presidential election. It was a factor that helped Trump at a critical time in the campaign. It showed the Democrats’ national committee favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the primaries. This probably depressed the election turnout for Clinton.

Conservatives have hated Assange on an entirely different basis. They have argued Assange’s work placed U.S. personnel and agents in danger. They have hated that he exposed military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Republican politicians like Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sarah Palin have called Assange a “high-tech terrorist”.

Along the way, Assange was also accused of sexual misconduct by two Swedish women. These charges were eventually dropped by Swedish prosecutors but they also placed Assange in a most unflattering light.

I believe the hatred and anger stirred up has confused the public’s view about what is at stake in Assange’s legal case. The government is turning investigative journalism into a criminal act. Assange, through Wikileaks, published classified documents in 2010. He didn’t leak them – Chelsea Manning did that.

Wikileaks published hundreds of thousands of documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The documents revealed the U.S. had killed hundreds of innocent civilians in these wars. Wikileaks released the infamous Collateral Murder video which showed 2007 footage of U.S. soldiers gleefully murdering a crowd of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists.The Iraq war logs also showed over 66,000 Iraqi civilians were murdered by Iraqi forces.

In addition, the documents exposed torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Over 150 innocent Afghans and Pakistanis were held for years without charges. Prisoners included an 89 year old man and a 14 year old boy. The files revealed the government was holding prisoners to try and extract intelligence. The government relied heavily on evidence obtained from people who had been tortured, including at black sites. The files showed that many of those being held at Guantanamo were not considered dangerous.

Without Wikileaks, none of this information would have been made public. Knowing your government is conducting state torture at black sites and at Guantanamo is not some minor detail. So far, U.S. authorities have been unable to name one person who could have been shown to have died as a result of these disclosures.

George Orwell once wrote:

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.”

Assange is being prosecuted for revealing war crimes. I believe he was engaged in protected First Amendment activity. Assange was publishing truthful information that was in the public interest to be disclosed. This is particularly true because of the continuing disastrous record of American engagement in foreign interventions.

To me, it is significant that Daniel Ellsberg, exposer of the Pentagon Papers and one of the heroes of our time, has spoken up so forcefully on behalf of Assange. He has said he feels “a great identification” with Assange’s work. Both were charged under the Espionage Act of 1917.

Ellsberg has asked President Biden to drop any prosecution of Assange. The Obama Administration, after a thorough review, declined to pursue Assange’s prosecution. It was the Trump Administration that initiated the prosecution and Biden is seemingly carrying the Trump effort on. Biden can decide to drop the prosecution.

Assange faces 17 counts of violation of the Espionage Act with a possibility of having to serve 175 years behind bars. Considering he is being charged under an Espionage Act, you might think Assange was acting as an agent of a foreign power. He was not. Nor did he sell any documents Wikileaks acquired. He simply made them available to the public.

The Espionage Act has an ignoble history. It was first used to prosecute Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs for opposing World War 1. Assange’s prosecution represents the first time in American history that a journalist, rather than a source, has been charged with Espionage Act violations.

A free press exists to serve citizens – not the government. In the Pentagon Papers case, the Supreme Court wrote:

“The press was protected (by the Founders) so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fever and foreign shot and shell.”

The indictment of Assange threatens press freedom. His prosecution has a chilling effect on journalists who are shining sunlight on dark places. The government message is unmistakeable: reveal secrets and you will pay a big price. There is no way to distinguish Assange’s actions from investigative journalism practiced by the New York Times or the Guardian. They too rely on publishing information that was deemed “secret” or “classified”.

The ACLU, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, PEN International and Human Rights Watch, among others, have asked the Justice Department to drop the case against Assange. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has written:

“President Biden should avoid setting a terrible precedent by criminalizing key tools of independent journalism that are essential for a healthy democracy.”

Assange is being held in maximum security Belmarsh prison in England. He has been in Belmarsh for three years without being convicted of any crime. Assange has had a stroke and is in poor physical and psychological condition.

The British Home Secretary Priti Patel very recently approved his extradition to the U.S. to face trial here. That decision is under appeal.

Former President Trump has demonstrated no respect for press freedom and clearly hates journalists. It is hardly surprising that he would not care about the First Amendment or journalism. However, we have a right to expect better from President Biden.

The job of a journalist is to question governments and to put out information that governments hate having disclosed. We do not need journalists who act as courtiers to power. History shows that survival of democracy necessitates journalists like Assange who are willing to expose the powerful. Without such journalists, the public is much more likely to be led into more imperialist misadventures like Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq..

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My sister, Lisa Baird, circa 1970 – posted 6/22/2022

June 22, 2022 3 comments

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Hiking and swimming around Wilmot on Juneteenth long weekend – posted 6/20/2022

June 20, 2022 2 comments
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The dark history of the Second Amendment – posted 6/18/2022

June 18, 2022 4 comments

With mass shootings practically a daily event, defenders of unrestricted gun owner rights typically invoke the mantra of the Second Amendment. Attention is rarely paid though to the historical circumstances surrounding the origins of the Second Amendment.

As part of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment is shrouded in a benevolent mist. That mist obscures more than it enlightens.

The truth is that the Second Amendment was largely a response to Southern interests who feared slave revolts. Slaveholders wanted the firepower through militias to repress slave uprisings.

James Madison crafted the Second Amendment to strike a balance. He believed a strong central government was necessary but he also wanted to assuage pro-slavery interests. Southerners feared the federal government would try to destroy slavery and Madison was determined to keep the South on board as part of the United States. Patrick Henry and George Mason led the Southern advocacy. They had threatened to shatter the shaky union that did exist.

The historian Carol Anderson has best described the historical circumstances around the Second Amendment. In her book, The Second, she wrote:

“The Second Amendment was, thus, not some hallowed ground but rather a bribe, paid again with Black bodies. It was the result of Madison’s determination to salve Patrick Henry’s obsession about Virginia’s vulnerability to slave revolts, seduce enough anti-federalists to get his Constitution ratified and stifle the demonstrated willingness of the South to scuttle the United States if slavery was not protected.”

Anderson argues that the role of the militia is key to understanding the Second Amendment. Recall the Second Amendment’s language: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the rights of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Anderson’s perspective is obviously quite a departure from the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence as best exemplified by Justice Scalia’s opinion in the Heller case. Responding to the gun lobby, Scalia downplayed the militia part and emphasized the individual right to gun ownership. Anderson says the primary function of the militia was slave control.

As a historian, Anderson does not deny that militias in that era had multiple purposes. Many American revolutionaries feared a standing army. Militias were used to wage war against Native Americans and to quell slave revolts. They were also seen as needed to repel any possible foreign invasions.

The eighteenth century featured a huge importation of kidnapped Africans to America. Plantation owners brutalized the Africans with absolutely barbarous treatment. The goal was to induce submission in the quest for maximum profit. Slaves were the principal basis for Southern wealth.

As far back as 1639, Southern states prohibited Africans from carrying guns. In the eighteenth century Black people were forbidden from owning or carrying firearms but white men were required to own “a good gun or pistol” to give them the means to “search and examine all negro houses for offensive weapons and ammunition”.

As noted, the right to own firearms generally did not extend to Black people. New Hampshire, Delaware, Massachusetts and New York banned Blacks from military service in the Continental Army and the militias. It was only when there was a manpower shortage during the revolutionary war that the Continental Army reconsidered its “whites only” policy.

There was also the matter that in 1775 Virginia’s royal governor, the Earl of Dunsmore, said the British would emancipate every male slave of a rebel “who could and would bear arms for King George III”. There was fear that the enslaved might opt for the British side.

A deep fear of slave revolts permeated the white power structure in the South. In 1739, the Stono Rebellion in South Carolina saw a series of pitched battles in which a bloody slave rebellion was mercilessly put down. According to Anderson, the enslaved were tortured, shot, hanged and gibbeted alive”. Then another fifty slaves “were taken by their Planters who Cut off their heads and set them up at every Mile Post they came to”. Serving in slave patrols was required for all able-bodied white men.

Later in the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, the fear of slave uprisings only increased. The Haitian revolution which began in 1791 terrified American slave owners. Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion in 1800, the German coast rebellion of Louisiana in 1811 and Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831 all demonstrated the slave desire for freedom.

Those slaves who did try to escape were hunted down by militias and bounty hunters. Both horses and dogs were used by slavers. Slave patrols subjected Black people to questioning, searches and floggings. Guns were a key instrument in a regime of systematic control.

In the nineteenth century, the fugitive slave laws contributed to the growth of militias. The South wanted escaped enslaved people to be returned to their masters. Before our civil war, huge political battles were fought around the issue of fugitive slaves’ rights.

Many on the political right seem to think the Second Amendment was carved in marble by God. On TV, I just saw a political ad about how President Biden was supposedly trying to take away our “god-given” Second Amendment rights. Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke was spouting this.

The irony could not be more extreme. Instead of being god-given, the Second Amendment emerged as an instrument to protect slavery and slavers’ rights to control black people. Its history is anything but noble.

Rights, even constitutional rights, do not come out of nowhere. They are rooted in a historical context. Those who want to whitewash American history ignore the centrality of slavery in our past. Unlike other constitutional rights in the Bill of Rights which have had a more positive and civilized evolution, I would argue the Second Amendment is unique. It was a gift to Southern slave interests to bribe them to stay part of the U.S..

The historian W.E.B. Dubois once wrote “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line”. I think that statement is true for all of American history. It is impossible to understand where the Second Amendment came from without placing it in the middle of the American battle around the maintenance and preservation of white supremacy.

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Fritz Bauer’s untold story – posted 6/5/2022

June 5, 2022 3 comments

When it comes to little-known, important stories about Jewish resistance to the Nazis in the 1930’s and after, the story of Fritz Bauer stands out. Hailing from Stuttgart, Bauer was a lawyer, a judge and a prosecutor in Germany both before the Nazis came to power and after they were vanquished.

For 38 years, he used his legal skills to defend democracy and then later to pursue Nazi war criminals. After the war, his mission was lonely and he faced unremitting German hostility.

People might assume that after the Nazis were defeated in 1945, public opinion turned. That was not the case for many years in Germany.

There was a protection racket or it could be called a conspiracy of silence to hide Nazi crimes. The German judiciary remained reluctant to prosecute Nazis. Thousands of former Nazis were returned to positions of power in West Germany in government ministries, the police and the judiciary. Only a very tiny number of Germans who participated in war crimes or crimes against the Jewish people ever faced prosecution.

This history is little-known as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union superseded the demise of German fascism. It is notable that in 1958 Germany’s highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court, claimed that not one of the verdicts of the Nuremberg trials was legally valid.

Bauer was a legal renegade. To appreciate his later accomplishments after World War 2, it helps to know about the pre-war period. Bauer became a criminal judge as a young man in 1930. Unlike most judges who were conservatives, Bauer was a member of the German Social Democratic Party, a left party opposed to fascism. Although he was Jewish, he downplayed his background.

Even before they came to power, the Nazis targeted Jewish judges. Victimized by anti-semites who made accusations, Bauer was demoted and taken off criminal cases. He had become better known because he and Kurt Schumacher, the head of the Social Democrats in Stuttgart travelled around Germany giving speeches defending the Weimar democracy. It was a time of intense political polarization.

After the election in 1933 with Hitler appointed Chancellor by President von Hindenburg, Nazi partisans arrested Bauer and sent him to a concentration camp where he spent eight months. He faced torture and relentless abuse. The Nazis forced him to clean the “twelve-cylinder”, a filthy pit beneath the camp’s latrine.

As noted, Bauer managed to get out of the concentration camp. He believed his release was due to friends in the judiciary. Out of captivity, he was treated like a criminal. He could no longer earn a living as an attorney as Jewish lawyers were banned. Bauer and his family escaped to Denmark which also proved to be a hostile environment. As the Nazis pursued their opponents in Denmark, Bauer ended up locked up again first in a Copenhagen prison and then in an island prison camp. He got out after a couple months.

In 1943, Bauer heard there was a plan to round up Denmark’s Jews. He went into hiding. He and his family escaped to Sweden in a motorboat owned by a Danish fisherman. His family members who had remained in Stuttgart were murdered by the Nazis.

When the Nazis capitulated in May 1945, Bauer wanted to return to Germany as soon as possible. Regarded as “too Jewish”, Bauer remained a pariah. He could not get any job offer even though he tried to sell himself as now having “no religion”. In spite of a very strong legal background, the Jewish tag diminished employability prospects because of profound anti-semitism that remained the rule in Germany.

He resettled in Germany in 1949. He was finally able to get a legal job as a provincial attorney general in an obscure court close to the East German border. It was from this perch that Bauer made his mark.

Prosecuting Nazis was not the path to success and popularity in Germany. A case came along though that grabbed Bauer. A prominent former Nazi, Otto Ernst Remer, had called the plotters of a July 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life “traitors”. At issue in the case was whether Remer had made a factually false statement.

Being media savvy, Bauer engaged the press. He used the trial as a consciousness-raising exercise about the evils of fascism. Bauer persuasively argued that disobeying a tyrant was patriotic. Remer ended up with only a three month sentence he never served but Bauer succeeded in sparking a national debate.

It was not lost on Bauer that the Holocaust was not the focus of the Nuremberg trials in 1945. The Nuremberg prosecutors picked 24 defendants who were tried for waging a war of aggression. Nuremberg did not focus on the concentration camps. The Holocaust was included in the list of indictments but it played a marginal role in the trials.

Bauer gained fame and notoriety because unlike almost all other German jurists he pursued bringing Nazi criminals to justice. Nothing like that had been done by the German judicial system. Thousands of Germans implicated in mass murder simply disappeared into the post-war normalcy of everyday life.

In 1957, an Argentine Jew, Lothar Hermann, privately wrote Bauer that he knew Adolf Eichmann, chief organizer of the Holocaust, was alive in Buenos Aires. Eichmann was living under an assumed name and Hermann had his address. The West German intelligence service had known about Eichmann since 1952 but sat on the information. Even worse, Nazis like Eichmann, were protected by a well-connected network of sympathizers.

Bauer secretly passed his Eichmann file onto the Israeli secret service, the Mossad. He could tell virtually no one because experience had proven that any leak would allow Eichmann to escape. Bauer’s work had been frequently thwarted by other civil servants sharing information and warning Nazi suspects in advance of their possible arrest. In this instance, Bauer played a key role behind-the-scenes in Eichmann’s apprehension by the Israelis.

In 1963-1964, in Frankfurt, Bauer pursued his most audacious mass trial, prosecuting war crimes committed at Auschwitz. Bauer sought to reveal the historical truth of that concentration camp. He recruited the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich to prepare expert reports on Nazi persecution. He selected defendants who represented a cross section of the whole camp that would expose the system as a whole. In his biography, titled Fritz Bauer, Ronen Steinke wrote:

“Bauer and his team of prosecutors wanted to highlight the division of labor that had enabled the Nazi killing machine to run so smoothly, a division of labor that historians would later identify as the key structural feature of the Holocaust…The savage efficiency with which the mass killings were performed depended on highly specialized tasks being distributed through the Nazi workforce in a factory-like manner.”

The Auschwitz trial did not result in long sentences for the defendants. The judges assigned responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust only to the men who gave the orders like Hitler, Heydrich and Himmler.

In 1968, Bauer died. His personal bravery paved the way for greater change that came over ten years after he was gone as Germany did ultimately reckon more with the legacy of the Holocaust. One of Bauer’s own prosecutors described him as “ a powder keg”.
During his life he faced constant death threats and late night phone callers screaming things like “Die, you Jewish pig!”.

Whether democracy and the rule of law will survive in America may depend on whether there are jurists and prosecutors with the courage of a Fritz Bauer.

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Breaking the deadlock on guns – posted 5/29/2022

May 29, 2022 2 comments

It is hard not to feel hopeless and cynical in the face of mass shootings like Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. The national failure to act is long-standing and could not be more apparent. Beyond sending prayers, all legislation has been sclerotically deadlocked in Congress. Republicans, captive to the gun lobby, stonewall. Democrats lack the votes to move forward any gun control legislation.

If we step back though, it should be clear that these mass shootings are not inevitable. They are largely preventable. It is not a given that the United States should have a gun homicide rate 25 times higher than peer advanced countries. The problem is too easy access to too many guns.

There are estimated to be over 400 million guns in the U.S.. Constitutional protection for gun ownership does not preclude reasonable regulation of guns. No constitutional right is absolute. While the Supreme Court appears poised to loosen gun restrictions in a New York case, that does not mean that all gun control reforms will not pass constitutional muster.

In spite of the current political balance of forces and the likelihood the filibuster can stop reform now, there is a strong and popular gun control agenda which could be winning but it requires a long-term perspective. It will take some years to achieve to get the votes. Such an agenda could, over time, significantly reduce mass shootings.

The organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, has an agenda of reforms: background checks on all gun sales, red flag laws, prohibiting people with dangerous histories from having guns, banning assault weapons, and barring high capacity magazines and bump stock devices.

Background checks are currently required for all gun sales by licensed gun dealers but not for unlicensed sellers. Unlicensed sellers could be doing business at gun sales or online. If you have a felony conviction or a domestic violence restraining order or some other reason to evade a licensed seller, no universal background check fast tracks lethal access. Why in the world should this be allowed?

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, one in three mass shooters have been legally prohibited from possessing firearms at the time of their shooting. We should not be making it so easy for mass shooters.

Red flag laws allow relatives or law enforcement to temporarily remove a person’s access to guns when there are warning signs that the person is in crisis and they might harm themselves, family members or others. Such laws require a due process hearing before a judge.

Nineteen states already have such laws. Everytown for Gun Safety says that in 56% of mass shootings, the shooter exhibited dangerous warning signs before the shooting. In 2020, Governor Chris Sununu vetoed a red flag bill that passed the N.H. Legislature. Do we really want people who are threatening others or themselves to have access to lethal weapons? That is crazy.

One thread that has been inadequately explored by the media is the relationship between mass shooting and hatred of women. In so many mass shootings, misogyny motivates violence and guns have had a major presence just as they have in everyday domestic violence. Guns are typically the weapon of choice.

Guns seem to provide abusers a sense of empowerment they are lacking in their life. Earlier in my life, when I represented domestic violence victims in court, I was struck by how abusers used their guns to threaten, intimidate and control their victims. More than half of mass shootings are domestic violence-related.

Preventing people with dangerous histories from having guns should be a no-brainer. If you are a convicted felon, a domestic violence abuser under a restraining order, a convicted stalker or someone suffering from severe mental illness, guns are not for you. Under these circumstances, the law should mandate forfeiture of lethal weapons and gun rights.

Now there is a creepy online subculture of incels, misogyny and male supremacy. Mass shootings are almost exclusively committed by men. We should be studying how and why male rage is playing.a role in these shootings. The mass murder committed by an incel in Isla Vista, California in 2014 is a blueprint and reflects an ideological viewpoint.

Quite a few of these mass shootings connect up to a violent ideology of the far right. The shooters are often performing for an online audience of male supremacist and white supremacist haters. It is generally a mistake to see these shooters as lone wolves. I suggest, as in Buffalo, their motivation is revealing and provides clues for those investigating why these shootings are happening.

Mass shooters typically now use assault weapons which are really military weapons. They fire far more bullets much faster than manual-action hunting rifles. When assault weapons are used in a mass shooting six times as many people are shot. Each round from an assault weapon also inflicts greater damage to the human body than a round from a typical handgun.

High capacity magazines and devices like bump stocks also have no legitimate civilian use. They are about killing more people faster. Bump stocks are used to convert rifles into machine guns. The 2017 Las Vegas shooter who used AR-type rifles with bump stocks shot over a thousand rounds in a matter of minutes. He killed 59 and injured over 500 others.

As with assault rifles, high capacity magazines (defined as ammunition feeding devices capable of holding more than 10 rounds) lead to many more shot quickly without needing to pause to reload. Mass shooting incidents where the firearm was equipped with a high-capacity magazine resulted in nearly five times as many people shot and twice as many fatalities.

It is highly likely those opposed to any gun control will talk about the slippery slope and how gun control would interfere with self-defense. It should be clear that such arguments are false on their face. Many gun control reforms do not interfere with law-abiding gun owners’ rights.

There are no miracle cures for America’s mass shootings but that does not mean that nothing can be done. It is going to take political will and a long-term strategy committed to reducing the incidence of mass shootings. Mass shootings are a horrible indictment of America and they should be considered unacceptable for any civilized society.

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The Buffalo shooter and the poison of white supremacy – posted 5/22/2022

May 22, 2022 1 comment

Among the extremely upsetting aspects of the Buffalo domestic terror shooting is the news that a great many Americans accept some version of the great replacement theory, the ideology espoused by the Buffalo shooter. That theory holds that elites are attempting to destroy the white race through systematic replacement by non-white groups.

In a new poll, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found one in three Americans believe in some variant of replacement theory. The theory had been fringe. The poll appears to indicate it is much more widely accepted by the American public.

The great replacement theory is often framed as anti-immigrant because they are the supposed replacers but in the case of Buffalo, the shooter blamed black people.The shooter argued genetics, white superiority and black inferiority. Somehow, he convinced himself that the threat to white people was so dire it justified mass murder.

Fear of whites becoming a minority in America along with fixation on white birthrates and white fertility consumed him. He maintained there is a genetic basis for the racial IQ gap. He also argued there is a genetic basis for higher rates of crime committed by black people.

His belief system led him to drive three hours to a largely black zip code he did not know and shoot complete strangers. He killed ten people and wounded three.

In his writing, the shooter also argued that blacks were not intelligent enough to engineer the replacement of whites. He blamed the Jews as the masterminds behind replacement. He said Jews control academia, the media and industry. He connected Jews to child abuse and pedophilia. Finally, he argued that Jews were behind both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.

I do wonder, given the rural area where the shooter lived, if he had ever had any kind of personal contact with a black person or a Jewish person in his life. He became a fascist through internet browsing. He said he was bored during the pandemic. His goal was to kill as many black people as possible.

There is no great mystery in how replacement theory became popularized. It used to be circulating very narrowly among white nationalists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis. Then cable TV, especially FOX and Tucker Carlson picked it up, sanitized it and mainstreamed it. Carlson doesn’t talk about Jewish cabals but the message is essentially the same. Instead of a Klansman in a robe, you have a very respectable-looking preppy wearing a suit.

The replacement theory is now talking points for all kinds of Republican candidates.

The New York Times investigation of Carlson identified more than 400 episodes of Carlson’s show where he pushed core principles of great replacement theory. Carlson reframed the issue as voter replacement. He has argued that President Biden weaponized immigration as a political tool to strengthen Democrats and weaken the power of white people.

There is little question that white nationalists love Tucker Carlson. Carlson remains extremely popular. His show remains the most watched cable news show for American adults between 25-54. In his book Rising out of Hatred, Eli Saslow showed how white nationalists consider Carlson one of their own because of his ability to carry their message into the public space like no one else.

It is a mistake to conflate the Buffalo shooter’s actions with mental illness. The shooter was meticulous in his planning and execution. As with the other white supremacist mass shooters in New Zealand, Pittsburgh and El Paso, a warped ideology drove him.

CNN reported the shooter had studied previous hate attacks and shootings. He had visited the Tops supermarket in early March and then again the day before the shooting. He had considered attacking a church or elementary school but chose a supermarket because of the number of people that go to grocery stores.

He looked to Google’s “popular time” graph for the Tops supermarket to figure the best time for his attack. He planned the attack for the time the store would be busiest so he could shoot the most people.

Rather than mental illness, I would locate the Buffalo shooting inside the context of American history. The great replacement theory is not new. Since the very beginning of America, there has been a struggle between the forces committed to the preservation of white power and those fighting for multi-racial democracy.

The Buffalo shooter is part of a deep-seated tradition of racism and white supremacy that goes back to the earliest days of the republic. The founding generation created a white republic. Democratic ideals were compromised by accommodation with slavery.

The three-fifths clause of the U.S. Constitution declared that for purposes of representation in Congress enslaved blacks would be counted as three-fifths of the number of white inhabitants of that state. The three-fifths clause remained in effect until passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

Ironically, the best argument for great replacement can be made by Native Americans. The country was founded on genocide and extermination of indigenous people. White people have been the replacers of Native Americans.

Along the way in American history, those committed to preservation of white supremacy have a formidable track record, using law and violence. I think of Dred Scott and the Supreme Court saying “Black people have no rights which the white man was bound to respect”. After Reconstruction, there was Jim Crow and the lynching of over 4000 African Americans.

The twentieth century featured the battle against racial segregation. Many white people persistently attempted to maintain white power. For example, Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo wrote a book in 1947 titled Take your choice: separation or mongrelization. An influential racist, Bilbo was a senator from 1935 to 1947. He claimed he was not prejudiced but he argued that he would rather see his race blotted out with an atomic bomb than destroyed by interbreeding and intermarriage.

I submit that the recurrence of mass murders committed by white supremacists is best addressed through anti-racist education in schools. Young people need to understand the harmfulness of white supremacy. Opposing critical race theory and education about racism is moving in a completely wrong direction. We need anti-racist education to counter the online white supremacists who target and prey on young people.

The Buffalo shooter’s half-baked ideas need to be confronted and refuted. There is no white genocide or imminent collapse of white people. Nor is there any replacement. Change is a constant but the Buffalo shooter’s ideas were a product of ideological delusion. Demographic change is not “an invasion”.

President Biden was right when he called white supremacy “a poison”. Experience shows that the “grooming” we should be most concerned about is the online grooming of young people into hateful white supremacists.The Buffalo shooting was a modern-day lynching. It is way past time for the horrifying practice of lynchings to end.

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