My On-Again, Off-Again Romance With Liberalism

In honor of PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty, please enjoy this article originally published by the Women’s Theological Center (now known as Women Transforming Communities) in March 1996, as part of The Brown Paper series. Republished with permission.

Jean hardisty SLIDE

PRA founder Jean Hardisty

As I sit at my desk working my way through a stack of requests for donations and entreaties to renew my membership in various organizations, I am torn about when to write a check and when to save my money. At the moment, the pressing question for me is whether to support the larger, liberal organizations that do what I think of as “mainstream” liberal work—organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, The National Organization for Women, and People for the American Way.

For years I have written these checks, almost as an act of dutiful citizenship. After all, I am glad the organizations are there. I want them to continue to exist. That means I have to do my part to keep them alive. But this seems a rather lazy way to make a decision.

I feel I should decide what I really think about liberalism and its prospects in the 1990s. It is clear that in 1996 liberalism is in eclipse—or at least adrift and demoralized. Meanwhile, the Right is in its glory. It dominates the political arena, with an apparent lock on the new ideas, the money, the organization, and the attention that used to belong to liberalism.

Liberalism is nearly an orphan. It has a bad name in many circles. For the Left, it represents a compromised reformism. For the Right, it is socialism in disguise. For the center, it is a label associated with fuzzy thinking and do-gooder incompetence.

Liberals are divided and seem to have lost confidence in their own ideology. The vicious attacks mounted by the Right have scored points with the public by caricaturing liberal programs, their adherents, and their recipients. After fifteen years of such attacks there is now a proven formula: seize on an example of abuse of a liberal program, market an image of the program’s undeserving recipient (preferably a poor person of color) to the taxpaying public, then sit back and wait for the impact. The “welfare queen,” the Black rapist on furlough, the unqualified affirmative action hire—all have assumed powerful symbolic significance.

In the face of these attacks, liberals themselves seem to know on some level that their programs have not worked as planned. Even in defending them, they are forced to appeal to the spirit in which the programs were based, or the benefits they have delivered to their most deserving beneficiaries. Liberals seem unable to mount a vigorous defense of these programs—on their own terms, across the board, without regard to the worthiness of the recipients. By mounting a weak defense, liberals tacitly concede to their Republican attackers that the programs are at least flawed, perhaps even indefensible.

The Swinging Door

I have seen liberalism’s programs and ideology up close for over thirty years. At fifty, I have reached some clarity about liberalism, especially since I have the advantage of a Left perspective—a set of glasses, if you will, that helps to bring the shortcomings of both liberalism and conservatism into focus. Further, I learned my politics during the Vietnam War, a war waged by liberals as well as conservatives.

I know that domestic social programs are intended as amelioration, not real change. I know that the same men who voted for public housing programs voted for aid to the Guatemalan military. I understand liberalism’s self-serving tendency to preserve the status quo, why big business often has found it a useful ally, why its redistributive measures never really disturb the sleep of the rich. I understand why it tolerates police brutality, a rogue FBI, why NAFTA, why GATT. I know all that.

Yet as the Right picks off liberal programs one by one, I mourn each one as if it were the product of a golden age of liberty, equality, and fraternity. My understanding of liberalism’s shortcomings and its history of opportunism is gone. Liberal programs are bathed with a glow of benevolence, set off by a stark contrast with the anti-social and avaricious agenda of the Right.

Take public housing as an example. As it is defunded by the Right and its real estate sold off, I am torn by two conflicting images. In the back of my mind are the towers of Cabrini Green, a massive, notoriously rundown, and dangerous housing project in Chicago. Here the ultimate effect of a liberal program is to segregate poor Black people in a high-rise ghetto. In fact, the numerous high-rise federal housing projects in Chicago form a “wall” that cordons off poor people from the rest of the city. It is difficult to see the result of this liberal housing effort on behalf of low-income families without assuming a malicious intent behind the program.

But in the front of my mind are other images: a broken-down, substandard house in rural Mississippi transformed into a prefab house with indoor water, electricity, and walls that are tight against the weather. Or a range of housing such as scattered rent-subsidized low-income units, low-rise complexes, and rent-controlled apartments that allow people to live in decent conditions even though they have very little money. It is these images that draw me. Perhaps it is sentimental, but I am compelled by the notion of a society that will not tolerate extreme poverty and that responds with redistributive programs—even though the programs are often flawed and sometimes cynical.

This softness toward liberalism is not easy to admit. It can be especially embarrassing to defend liberalism when I am speaking to progressives. It feels like admitting a weakness in my political commitment to Left, progressive values, the values that demand fundamental systemic change and redistribution of power. But this soft-on-liberalism instinct is grounded in my progressive politics. I see the two in relation to each other. I understand the role that liberalism plays in facilitating the work that progressives do. The Left needs liberals to create the breathing room necessary for us to do our work. Liberals, in turn, are given direction and held to some minimal standard of honesty by the Left.

As a progressive feminist, I want to live in a country that understands that some people cannot manage and that is willing to take responsibility for them. I want a government I can believe in; one that is willing to defy the often malicious intent of local power structures and defend the rights of all its citizens with determination. And I am convinced that only the federal government can deliver that protection. That often means that liberal social programs, administered by the federal government, are the only workable answer to social needs. This doesn’t mean I will get the government I want, but it does mean I cannot afford to throw away the idea of government as an important arbiter of justice.

The Right’s current promotion of states’ rights, which argues that power should be decentralized because only state governments provide for the real needs of local folks, ignores the history of states’ rights as a defense of brutal racial segregation and reactionary social policies. Transferring programs like public housing to the states is a sly method of defunding them. Progressives must be careful, when raising pointed criticisms and mounting protests regarding government programs, that we do not let our anti-government rhetoric feed the anti-government campaign of the Right.

I admit that when looking at liberal programs, I have a tendency to accept liberalism’s most appealing face as reality. I am drawn, for instance, by the 1960s social plan called The War on Poverty. I find a certain poetry, idealism, solidarity, and respect in the words themselves. Even when they turn out to be just words (that stand in ironic contrast to the Vietnam War, which was waged simultaneously) they nevertheless represent a glimpse of ideas and programs propelled by humanity and mutual concern. Perhaps two stories from my own experience will help to explain both my attraction to liberalism as we know it and my ambivalence about it.

In Chicago’s 1982 mayoral race, Harold Washington, a progressive African-American Congressman from the South Side, ran against the machine candidate, Jane Byrne, in the Democratic primary. Washington won. The white machine was stunned, and scrambled to find a candidate to run against Washington in the general election. Since Washington would be the Democratic Party candidate, they would have to find a Republican, but they were hard-pressed to locate one, since Chicago is a one-party town. They did find a rather pathetic man named Bernie Epton, who visibly struggled with emotional instability and barely made it through Election Day. Despite the stark difference in the two candidates’ qualifications, most white voters in Chicago voted for Epton. They preferred the unstable white man with no political experience to the charismatic, experienced, progressive, anti-machine African American. Again, however, Washington won.

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

There were several reasons for his victory. First, Chicago at that time had a minority population of 45%—a voting block large enough to create a plurality of votes. Second, Washington put together a rare coalition that drew over 90 percent of the African-American vote and most of the Latino vote. And finally, “lakefront liberals”—primarily white, often professional, definitely higher-income residents who lived close to the Lake Michigan waterfront—delivered the balance needed to put him narrowly over the top. Among white voters, only the lakefront liberals defied their race allegiance and voted for the Black man.

For me, the Washington election captured a clear irony about life in Chicago. I was proud that Chicago was no ordinary racist northern industrial city. Chicago is organized. It is perhaps the most organized city in the country—the birthplace of the community organizing style of Saul Alinsky. All of Chicago’s neighborhoods—especially the White neighborhoods—are organized with the goal of empowering working people, and much of this organizing has been done by liberals.

Yet when those organized citizens were called on to vote for a more progressive future, they were not able to make the connections. The community organizing so conscientiously mounted by liberals did not touch the racism of Chicago’s White voters. Unable to address the basic social problems, especially racism, liberalism came up short in an actual test of its effectiveness in creating change.

But liberalism was not a complete failure in Chicago. The lakefront liberals did the right thing. Faint-hearted, arrogant, complicit, and often self-serving, they nevertheless served as the swinging door against which social change could push. Without them, there was no space, no breathing room, no recourse.

Perhaps the lakefront liberals stood to gain under a Washington Administration that would create more space for their business interests than the locked-down machine offered. Perhaps the communities of color that voted so overwhelmingly for Washington were mostly voting against Chicago’s White political machine. But the reality remains. It was the vote of White liberals that put the progressive Mayor Washington over the top.

Another story comes to mind. In the early 1980s the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition of Leftist political groupings in El Salvador, mounted a credible attempt to overthrow the Salvadoran political establishment. The context for this effort was El Salvador’s history of economic exploitation by an oligarchy of landowners supported by a military trained and armed by the U.S., and a complicit Catholic church hierarchy. El Salvador’s social and economic system was injustice and oppression itself.

The FMLN was explicitly revolutionary. However, it had an arm that operated above ground, in the electoral arena. Always at risk from death squads, some brave people were willing to put themselves at risk by being affiliated publicly with this above-ground group, the Democratic Revolutionary Front, or FDR. The president of the FDR, the late Guillermo Ungo, was well-known in the United States.

In the early 1980s, I was part of a delegation of U.S. foundation staff and donors, led by the director of The Philadelphia Foundation, that went to Central America to meet with humanitarian aid organizations, human rights organizations, and others centrally involved in the conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. J. Roderick MacArthur, the son of the billionaire donor of the MacArthur Foundation, John D. MacArthur, was part of the delegation. Roderick MacArthur had his own foundation, known as “little MacArthur,” that had been involved in funding organizations opposing government abuses and repression against progressives. Rod MacArthur’s politics were liberal, unusually so for a businessman.

MacArthur met Ungo on that trip and they bonded as prominent businessmen with political concerns. MacArthur was both compelled by Ungo’s story and convinced that there were opportunities for U.S. business in a post-revolutionary El Salvador. When he returned to the U.S., MacArthur arranged to have Ungo come north to tour several cities, meeting with U.S. businessmen. When Ungo reached the Chicago stop on the tour, MacArthur held a reception for him in his Chicago suburban home. It was an opportunity for Ungo to speak to prominent Chicago businessmen. As a courtesy, he invited everyone who had been on the Central America trip to attend.

The meeting was predictably awkward. Ungo was not a charismatic man. The businessmen weren’t sure what the point was, and MacArthur didn’t seem able to sway them to his view. Out of courtesy to MacArthur, the businessmen were politely attentive, but they were not at all open to the revolutionary message of the FMLN, and certainly not able to sign onto MacArthur’s vision of a reformed El Salvador exporting its fabulous beer in profitable quantity to the U.S. The meeting fell rather flat.

Well, I thought, this just illustrates that you can’t promote revolution as a business opportunity. Even to want to do so is so exquisitely liberal! The incident provided more support for my sense of liberalism as complicit and ineffective. Nevertheless, as a result of that meeting, those businessmen were undoubtedly less likely to support a U.S. invasion of El Salvador. They were certainly better informed about the reality of life there, and the unbelievable maldistribution of wealth and the extent of repression. They would no longer give knee-jerk support to U.S. policy toward Central America. Rod MacArthur had made a contribution. He had influenced a sector that is completely inaccessible to progressives. He had begun to create a swinging door against which solidarity work could push.

That Compelling, Illusive Coalition

In June 1982, there was an enormous march in New York City to protest the triumph of the Right Wing of the Republican Party with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s administration had succeeded in making major changes in the tax structure, lowering the tax rate of the wealthy as one of its first acts in office. The march was so vast that miles of central Manhattan’s streets were filled with people. There were huge puppets, many more than 15 feet high, that eloquently mocked the Republicans and made tongue-in-cheek pleas for decency. A gigantic inflatable whale, emblazoned with the slogan “Save the Humans,” swayed down the packed streets.

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

There is no accurate count of how many people participated. As usual, the estimate by city officials was absurdly low. Perhaps more important, we don’t have an official record of which sectors of the liberal coalition were represented. But emotionally, I know exactly who was there. Everybody.

Or more accurately, all the White middle class reform movements that dominated and controlled the liberal coalition. The feminists, the gay and lesbian rights movement, the environmentalists, the disability rights movement, the reproductive rights defenders, the liberal unions. The civil rights movement was represented, but in small numbers, reflecting its position within the coalition as just another partner. That march seemed to me the last public display of the united front known as the liberal coalition.

That coalition was the lion that roared. It was a voting block that could propel a liberal to the Supreme Court, stop a war, prevent an invasion, impose curbs on corporate rapacity, force integration, forbid the death penalty, ensure voting rights.

Today it is a fractured remnant of its days of power. The larger, mainstream organizations are bloated, bureaucratic, and riddles with compromise. In order to maintain their programs, they have bowed to donors and corporate sponsors and cleansed themselves of radical voices, excusing their own moderation by pointing to the need to keep themselves alive in a hostile political climate. This applies even to some civil rights organizations. The vigor is gone, the vision is muddled, and the membership is down.

The less-compromised, small organizations are fighting over funds, plagued by professional jealousies and rivalries, and jockeying for position in a context of political defeat and defunding. The leadership is tired and aging and is not being replaced with another generation of dedicated activists.

Perhaps the coalition was doomed from the start. After all, it was frankly reformist, which means that it could take change only so far before it ran into its own contradictions. Nowhere was this more true than on the issue of race. The White-dominated liberal coalition was not about to give up its dearly-held issues because they were not well-suited to the needs of African Americans. Reproductive rights are a perfect example. The demand of African American women for the reproductive rights movement to broaden its agenda to include the concerns of women of color (e.g. that women be assured of the right to have children, as well as not have children) were heard by only a handful of reproductive rights organizations.

But this is just one of the man reasons for the decline of the coalition. Larger events conspired to weaken it and diminish its vision. I don’t pretend to know the exact profile of these forces. Certainly the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations and individuals under late capitalism has both elevated the individualism so basic to capitalism and defeated the notion of the common good. The attack by the organized and well-funded Right has been successful in undermining the popularity of the liberal vision. And, in any case, it is harder to hold a coalition together when it is undergoing defeat after defeat. By contrast, the Right’s coalition is enjoying victory after victory, and thus finds that continued cooperation and collaboration is visibly rewarded.

With so few victories and so little satisfaction to be had, each member of the liberal coalition now hangs onto whatever pale reformist policies or benefits can be saved. The sectors of the coalition that cannot survive on these remnants, especially working class wage-earners, have been left to make the best of it. The gutting of The Labor Relations Board, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and The U.S. Civil Rights Commission are just three examples of liberal programs now unable to deliver anything resembling social justice. Is it any wonder that so many working people are seduced by the Right’s vilification of liberalism when liberalism has proved unable to defend them and hasn’t appeared to try very hard?

So, the liberal coalition is fractured, aging, compromised, and lacking in vigor or new ideas. It remains White-dominated and predominantly middle-class. Why, then, do I mourn its passing from the center stage of power? Didn’t it deserve to fade?

Something makes me say: “Yes, but…” A part of me clings to a vision of the liberal coalition as it could have been. Also, frankly, I miss the power. Progressives are used to working at the margins, pushing liberals to redress the heinous injustices created by capitalism, and, when liberals create reformist programs, pushing the envelope to open an opportunity for real change. But without a powerful and effective liberal coalition to pressure, there are very few places for progressive policies to exert influence.

It is true that liberalism plays its own role as an aid to reactionary politics, acting as a buffer for capitalism by protecting it from the wrath of the people it exploits. By providing a veneer of caring and accommodation to human needs as well as profits, liberal programs cloud people’s political consciousness. No doubt about that.

But liberalism also serves as a buffer against fascism. In the 1970s we had the luxury of holding liberalism in disdain because it was a sop that prevented revolutionary social change. In the 1990s, liberalism looks more like a line of defense against the final triumph of the Right.

Come Back, Jimmy

By the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s, Carter was an easy man to scorn. The populist liberalism of his Presidential campaign had been thoroughly compromised as he “got it” about the Soviet threat. His wobbling political leadership became increasingly neoconservative. It was hard for progressives to find much to like about Carter.

Yet throughout the Reagan administration my mantra was: “Come back, Jimmy. All is forgiven.” What I missed wasn’t a hard-headed political analysis, a shrewd ability to work the system in behalf of social justice goals, an uncompromising commitment to the poor. These we had never had from Carter. What I missed, and had taken for granted, was that the man supported the Bill of Rights.

Carter was a typical liberal in that respect. He understood the role of the Bill of Rights in assuring that in addition to stable democratic institutions, people in the U.S. also have certain concrete rights. Take Article I of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. It reads in part: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble…” It is meant to protect the individual’s right to protest government actions. In the United States, freedom of speech is a civil liberty.

This guarantee has always been applied selectively. The free speech of racists has always been better protected than the free speech of campus war protesters. In the recent past, it was often necessary for the courts to intervene to protect Leftists from the violations of their First Amendment rights by law enforcement officers, the FBI, or exceptionally hostile Justice Departments, such as those of the Nixon and Reagan administrations.

Free speech is particularly important to progressives because in my attempt to change the status quo there must be room to unmask and debunk it. Censorship imposed by legal means, or self-censorship in the context of repression, means that the Left’s effectiveness is dramatically limited.

Progressives, therefore, are dependent on liberals’ commitment to the First Amendment. Liberals serve as a buffer protecting us from the Right and its history of attacking First Amendment freedoms. For instance, it is liberal legislators who stand in the way of laws banning the burning of the flag. It is liberals who defend “sacrilegious” art. It is liberal lawyers and judges who defend the rights of “communist sympathizers” and anti-war demonstrators, and keep the airwaves open for the likes of Angela Davis and Allen Ginsberg. Without that liberal commitment to the Bill of Rights, the voice of the Left could and would be silenced.

That is not to say that liberals won’t cut and run. If the accused is too politically unpopular or the cause too radical, liberals will hide behind the justification that these defendants or causes threaten national security, and they’ll allow the Bill of Rights to go. Sometimes they’ll cave in under threats by the Right to tar them with the brush of radicalism. In these cases, only progressives will stand up and fight for our guaranteed rights.

Nevertheless, right now we need liberal lawyers, judges, journalists, curators, abortion providers, legislators, teachers, unionists, affirmative action officers, and day care advocates. We need the breathing room and protection they provide for progressives. So each time one of them is won over by the Right’s prejudice, myth, irrational belief, inaccurate information, pseudo-science, and outright lies, or each time a liberal resigns from office or retires from the bench (to be replaced by a credentialed Rightist, of course), I worry a bit more. It doesn’t matter whether I particularly like, respect, or admire liberals. I care about them because they are endangered, and I care about what that means for me and for our society.

But is it a Relationship?

Liberalism will raise your hopes and ultimately break your heart. Does that mean that it commands no loyalty? Should it be trashed because it is spineless and flawed? My answer is an unequivocal “maybe.”

It won’t do to say that liberalism could be a useful framework for a late capitalist society if only it wouldn’t act so much like liberalism. It is what it is. Nevertheless, it can be more or less effective according to the principles to which it holds.

The principle of “maximum feasible participation” is an example of the boundaries of liberalism’s potential as an open, humane, and egalitarian ideology. Maximum feasible participation calls for the people who are the recipients of liberal programs to also design, control, and implement the programs. It moves “good works” a step further toward actual power sharing.

Maximum feasible participation was an idea that was barely tried, then abandoned by liberals as unworkable. It is at exactly this juncture that liberalism reveals its intrinsic limitations. There is a crucially important distinction between addressing grievances and inequities with humanitarian aid on one hand, and in solving them through redistributing power on the other. All those who are dispossessed, whatever race, class, or gender, will be given only relief by liberal programs. They will not obtain true justice.

But when true justice is not available—in this country, for lack of the ability of progressives to compete effectively in the struggle for power—humanitarian aid makes a difference. It is this difference that the Right is killing off, program by program. The Right knows that without liberalism’s programs, there is less chance for even the myth of social change, not to mention its reality, to thrive. If they can eliminate the swinging door, then it will be even easier to redistribute power upward. This is one of the reasons that right-wing strategists spend so much time demonizing liberals, especially feminists, environmentalists, gay and lesbian rights activists, and supporters of multiculturalism.

Liberalism has not proved able to stand up to the reactionary onslaught by the Right. Is that surprising? Should progressive people put time and energy into defending liberalism and its programs? Yes – we must. As a strategic response to the current assault by the Right on every democratic principle, it is an important place to put time and energy.

At the same time, it is crucial that progressives continue to work for a more radical vision of social justice and redistribution of power and wealth. Liberalism is in retreat in part because it is not receiving the sort of pressure from progressives that forced it to pursue reform aggressively in the 1970s. Progressives often set the agenda for liberals, by taking direct confrontational action against unjust laws and policies. It is progressives whose public education truly unmasks the structural and individual racism, repression, and other forms of injustice within the U.S. system.

At the moment, the progressive vision lacks the clarity and certainty of the 1930s or the 1960s. But there is an important distinction between our current muddled state, when clarity and unity are diminished, and the death of the vision altogether. We must not confuse the two. To say that the Left is struggling to find its way in a dramatically restructured political environment is accurate. But the fundamental principles around which the Left organizes its radical critique—liberty, equality and fraternity in the service of justice for those whose voices are not heard—are as alive and needed as ever.

Progressives must analyze how the Left became such a weak force. This promises to be a difficult process of self-criticism. Further, more and more people will have to come to the table to help to refine the progressive vision and correct its flaws and omissions. Meanwhile, liberal reforms have to be defended and pressure has to be applied to the few liberals still standing to keep them from waffling or quitting. This is not best done by disdaining or ignoring them.

Like it or not, progressives now must work with liberals, as well as with any other left-leaning sectors such as the Greens, to form a united front against the agenda of the Right. Pat Buchanan’s demonstrated ability to draw 30 percent of the vote in state after state in the recent presidential primaries is just one indicator of how important such a front is.

So, progressives, if you are angry and bitter over the loss of another liberal program killed off without even so much as a debate, don’t apologize. Don’t assume you have become soft on liberalism. This is a natural reaction – a product of this moment in history. And try not to dwell on those years past when there was more certainty, more idealism, and more hope; when working for real change was like moving downstream riding a current of historical inevitability. Now we are swimming against a tide that is thick with peril. The voice in the bubble of this cartoon is no longer saying “Follow that dream!” Now it is saying, “Time is running out. Focus. Get it together. Unite!”

Thanks to Rosario Morales, Dick Levins, Clarissa Atkinson, Denise Bergman, Pat Rathbone, Ruth Hubbard, and Francine Almash for their comments.

 

Ebola: The Right’s New Code Word for Islamophobia, Homophobia, & Xenophobia

The recent Ebola cases in the U.S. have sparked popular news outlets and Religious Right leaders into an undeniable state of panic. The mention of Ebola is accompanied by an urging to close “the border,” as the U.S. Right re-employs its all-too-familiar tactic of using popular discourse as a platform for Islamophobic, racist, anti-immigrant, and homophobic rhetorical shots.

A protester stands outside the White House. image via JACQUELYN MARTIN / AP

A protester stands outside the White House. image via JACQUELYN MARTIN / AP

The physical impact of the Ebola virus is well documented. According to the Center for Disease Control, there have been 1,018 deaths due to Ebola in Guinea, 2,413 deaths in Liberia, and 1,510 in Sierra Leone. In the United States, there have been only four confirmed cases, one resulting in death. As several recent articles point out, the medical effects of Ebola in the U.S. are miniscule compared to those of other common and well-known viruses, such as the flu—which results in between 3,349 – 48,614 deaths annually in the U.S.

The near ubiquitous discussion on Ebola is rarely solely comprised of statistics or its biological effects. Ebola—not the virus, but the newsworthy discussion topic—has become a cultural phenomenon acquiring meaning and consequence beyond its medical character. In approaching Ebola from a cultural lens, we expose how it has become a tool for the Right, inserted amid public discourses on race, religion, immigration, sexuality, and terrorism.

Conservative journalist Paul Sperry wrote an article in Investor’s Business Daily titled, “Islamic Burial Rituals Blamed for Spread of Ebola,” in which he states, “Islam isn’t just at the heart of the terror threat posed by the Islamic State. The religion is also contributing to the other major crisis plaguing the globe: the spread of Ebola” (emphasis added). Sperry names the religion of Islam itself as the culprit for the spread of Ebola and for the terror threat created by the self-described Islamic State, a militant Sunni Islamic group that has seized large territories in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, and whose casualties are mainly made up of fellow Sunni Muslims as well as Shiite Muslims. In naming Islam itself as blameworthy for these threats, Sperry adopts several of the pillars of Islamophobic rhetoric as identified by the Runnymede Trust Report including the following beliefs: Islam is monolithic and static, Islam is completely separate from other cultures and religions, Islam is inferior to the West, Islam is a political ideology used for military advantage, and Islam is violent and in support of terrorism.

Alan Keys, a conservative political activist, former diplomat, and radio talk show host, shares a similar sentiment when he warns that Obama’s “plan to import Ebola-infected persons into the United States” will have the majority of Americans “look(ing) upon a country no longer their own.” This begs the question, whose country is it? On October 14, 2014, conservative public interest lawyer, Larry Klayman, sued the Obama administration for using the Ebola virus to further Muslim bioterrorism on “Christian and Jewish Caucasian Americans.” Klayman alleges that President Obama’s actions exposing Americans to Ebola is a “direct result of discrimination against Plaintiff [Klayman] on the basis of his Caucasian race and Jewish-Christian religion and in favor of people of the African-Black race and the Islamic religion.”

Klayman has not written a single article about the devastating number of deaths the Ebola virus has caused in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. As journalist Hannah Giorgis aptly writes in the Guardian, the “death [of Black people] is remarkable only to the extent that its perpetrator could also affect citizens more deserving of sympathy, of news coverage and of life.” Judging by the upsurge in media coverage since the documented U.S. case, Ebola was not considered a threat to most in the United States until the lives of White Americans came into question. Klayman’s answer to the presence of Ebola in the U.S. is to blame “suicide terrorists from ISIS, [and] perhaps American Muslim traitors” and to sue Obama for refusing to issue a travel ban on persons flying to the U.S. from West Africa and from “all Muslim nations where terrorists have a beachhead.” In the face of public health experts’ nearly unanimous position that a ban could increase the threat of the virus spreading, President Obama continues to undergo pressure from Capitol Hill and others to prohibit travel into the U.S. from West Africa.

Moreover, despite lacking any backing from scientists or public health officials, several conservative politicians have expanded upon these nativist fears, insisting on the urgent threat of Ebola emanating from the “porous” U.S.-Mexico border. Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have all recently stated their beliefs that the U.S.-Mexico border is not secure enough to keep Ebola out of the United States. Representative Phil Gingrey (R – Georgia) agrees. In a letter to the director of the CDC, Gingrey writes, “Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus, and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.” To date, not a single case of Ebola has been reported in Mexico or in any Central or South American country.

While some blame the spread of Ebola on a “porous” national border, several evangelical religious leaders have recently jumped into the Ebola debate by linking the virus to LGBTQ people and to same-sex marriage, including  New York Pastor James David Manning of the ATLAH Worldwide Missionary, who cautioned the public that Starbucks coffee shops are “ground zero for Ebola,” because they attract “a large number of sodomites” interested in “clandestine sexual activities” and who “exchange a lot of body fluids.” North Carolina Pastor Ron Baity, recipient of The Family Research council’s top “pro-family” award, warns the End Times—in the form of Ebola—are now upon us in the wake of recent court actions overturning North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. Conservative Christian radio host of Trunews, Rick Wiles, is more optimistic about the effects of Ebola on the U.S., “Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography, and abortion.” Speaking on the causes of Ebola, Archbishop Lewis Zeigler of the Catholic Church of Liberia asserts “one of the major transgressions against God for which He may be punishing Liberia is the act of homosexuality.”

This rhetoric mirrors religious conservative statements about the LGBTQ community during the height of the AIDS crisis. Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University and co-founder of the Moral Majority, famously referred to the AIDS epidemic as “the wrath of a just God against homosexuals.” While Liberian and U.S. religious and political leaders publicly ponder the “threat” of the LGBTQ community on the wider public’s health, the material effects of anti-gay policies and violence against the LGBTQ community in West Africa have escalated.

Disguised as concern over public health and safety, the Right’s discourse surrounding Ebola has become a shielded arena for the propagation of xenophobic attitudes and fears. Christian Right leaders use this rhetoric to suggest that White Americans, especially Christians, are being threatened by Black West Africans, Muslim terrorists, undocumented Mexican immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. Meanwhile, thousands of Black West Africans, many of Islamic faith, including LGBTQ people, have actually died from the physical effects of the Ebola virus.

In the U.S., the word “Ebola” has become shorthand for a migrant, racialized threat to the body, whose very mobile nature challenges imperialistic notions of distinct, self-contained, isomorphic spaces. Ebola is personified as a terrorist body that needs to be quarantined, surveilled, and banned. Its origins are constructed as “over there” (outside of the West), and its threat is felt “here.” Because it isn’t capable of self-selecting a group to be aligned with, nor a group to invade, the virus is easily linguistically detached and reattached to different populations whose bodies are associated with threatening White, Western, heterosexual citizenry.

It may be tempting to dismiss the Right’s alarmist rants over the Ebola virus as bizarre and atypical. However, the ways contagions have historically been connected to public discourses on race, religion, sexuality, and the nation suggests that the current debates on Ebola are deeply rooted and easily mobilized. Several journalists have documented  (see here, here, and here) the relationship between the over-hyped Ebola threat to Americans, and the rhetoric of hate employed by the Right which poses a real material threat to bodies constructed as “other.”

In linking the abstract threat of “otherness” with a material entity that can invade the bloodstream and alter the biological cells of the body, right-wing Ebola discourse insists upon being felt. Infected by the force of tangible fear, how will affected persons be incited into action and whose lives will they threaten?

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Globalization and NAFTA Caused Migration from Mexico

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

When NAFTA was passed two decades ago, its boosters promised it would bring “First World” status for the Mexican people. Instead, it prompted a great migration north.

**This article appears in PRA’s Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**

Rufino Domínguez, the former coordinator of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations, who now heads the Oaxacan Institute for Attention to Migrants, estimates that there are about 500,000 indigenous people from Oaxaca living in the U.S., 300,000 in California alone.1

In Oaxaca, some towns have become depopulated, or are now made up of only communities of the very old and very young, where most working-age people have left to work in the north. Economic crises provoked by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other economic reforms are now uprooting and displacing these Mexicans in the country’s most remote areas, where people still speak languages (such as Mixteco, Zapoteco and Triqui) that were old when Columbus arrived from Spain.2 “There are no jobs, and NAFTA forced the price of corn so low that it’s not economically possible to plant a crop anymore,” Dominguez says. “We come to the U.S. to work because we can’t get a price for our product at home. There’s no alternative.”

Rosalba Maritero is a Triqui indignous immigrant from Oaxaca and lives in Madera, California.  She and her husband, both farm workers, were strikers at a large berry farm in Washington State last year and helped organize a new union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia/Families United for Justice. Photo by David Bacon.

Rosario Ventura is a Triqui indignous immigrant from Oaxaca and lives in Madera, California. She and her husband, both farm workers, were strikers at a large berry farm in Washington State last year and helped organize a new union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia/Families United for Justice. Photo by David Bacon.

According to Rick Mines, author of the 2010 Indigenous Farm Worker Study, “the total population of California’s indigenous Mexican farm workers is about 120,000 … a total of 165,000 indigenous farm workers and family members in California.”3 Counting the many indigenous people living and working in urban areas, the total is considerably higher. Indigenous people made up 7% of Mexican migrants in 1991-3, the years just before the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In 2006-8, they made up 29%—four times more.4

California has a farm labor force of about 700,000 workers, so the day is not far off when indigenous Oaxacan migrants may make up a majority. They are the workforce that has been produced by NAFTA and the changes in the global economy driven by free-market policies. Further, “the U.S. food system has long been dependent on the influx of an ever-changing, newly-arrived group of workers that sets the wages and working conditions at the entry level in the farm labor market,” Mines says. The rock-bottom wages paid to this most recent wave of migrants—Oaxaca’s indigenous people—set the wage floor for all the other workers in California farm labor, keeping the labor cost of California growers low, and their profits high.

Linking Trade and Immigration

U.S. trade and immigration policy are linked. They are part of a single system, not separate and independent policies. Since NAFTA’s passage in 1993, the U.S. Congress has debated and passed several new trade agreements—with Peru, Jordan, Chile, and the Central American Free Trade Agreement. At the same time, Congress has debated immigration policy as though those trade agreements bore no relationship to the waves of displaced people migrating to the U.S., looking for work. Meanwhile, heightened anti-immigrant hysteria has increasingly demonized those migrants, leading to measures to deny them jobs, rights, or any equality with people living in the communities around them.

To resolve any of these dilemmas, from adopting rational and humane immigration policies to reducing the fear and hostility towards migrants, the starting point must be an examination of the way U.S. policies have produced migration—and criminalized migrants.

Trade negotiations and immigration policy were formally joined together by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. Immigrants’ rights activists campaigned against the law because it contained employer sanctions, prohibiting employers for the first time on a federal level from hiring undocumented workers and effectively criminalizing work for the undocumented. IRCA’s liberal defenders argued its amnesty provision justified sanctions and militarizing the border,5 as well as new guest worker programs. The bill eventually did enable more than 4 million people living in the U.S. without immigration documents to gain permanent residence. Underscoring the broad bipartisan consensus supporting it, the bill was signed into law by Ronald Reagan.

We come to the U.S. to work because we can’t get a price for our product at home. There’s no alternative. — Rufino Dominguez, Director of the Oaxacan Institute for Attention to Migrants

Few noted one other provision of the law. IRCA set up a Commission for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development to study the causes of immigration to the United States. The commission held hearings after the U.S. and Canada signed a bilateral free trade agreement, and made a report to President George H.W. Bush and Congress in 1990. It found that the main motivation for coming to the U.S. was poverty. To slow or halt the flow of migrants, it recommended that “U.S. economic policy should promote a system of open trade … the development of a U.S.-Mexico free trade area and its incorporation with Canada.” But, it warned, “It takes many years—even generations—for sustained growth to achieve the desired effect.”

The negotiations that led to NAFTA started within months. As Congress debated the treaty, then-Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari toured the United States, telling audiences unhappy at high levels of immigration that passing NAFTA would reduce it by providing employment for Mexicans in Mexico. Back home, he made the same argument. NAFTA, he claimed, would set Mexico on a course to become a first-world nation.6   “We did become part of the first world,” says Juan Manuel Sandoval of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. “The back yard.”7

Increasing pressure

NAFTA, however, did not lead to rising incomes and employment in Mexico, and did not decrease the flow of migrants. Instead, it became a source of pressure on Mexicans to migrate. The treaty forced corn grown by Mexican farmers without subsidies to compete in Mexico’s own market with corn from huge U.S. producers, who had been subsidized by the U.S. Agricultural exports to Mexico more than doubled during the NAFTA years, from $4.6 to $9.8 billion annually. Corn imports rose from 2,014,000 to 10,330,000 tons from 1992 to 2008. Mexico imported 30,000 tons of pork in 1995, the year NAFTA took effect. By 2010, pork imports, almost all from the U.S., had grown over 25 times, to 811,000 tons. As a result, pork prices received by Mexican producers dropped 56%.8

According to Alejandro Ramírez, general director of the Confederation of Mexican Pork Producers, “We lost 4,000 pig farms. Each 100 animals produce 5 jobs, so we lost 20,000 farm jobs directly from imports. Counting the 5 indirect jobs dependent on each direct job, we lost over 120,000 jobs in total. This produces migration to the U.S. or to Mexican cities—a big problem for our country.”9 Once Mexican meat and corn producers were driven from the market by imports, the Mexican economy was left vulnerable to price changes dictated by U.S. agribusiness or U.S. policy. “When the U.S. modified its corn policy to encourage ethanol production,” he charges, “corn prices jumped 100% in one year.”10

NAFTA then prohibited price supports, without which hundreds of thousands of small farmers found it impossible to sell corn or other farm products for what it cost to produce them. Mexico couldn’t protect its own agriculture from the fluctuations of the world market. A global coffee glut in the 1990s plunged prices below the cost of production. A less entrapped government might have bought the crops of Veracruz farmers to keep them afloat, or provided subsidies for other crops.

But once free-market structures were in place prohibiting government intervention to help them, those farmers paid the price. Campesinos from Veracruz, as well as Oaxaca and other major corn-producing states, joined the stream of workers headed north.11 There, they became an important part of the workforce in U.S. slaughterhouses and other industries.

U.S. companies were allowed to own land and factories, eventually anywhere in Mexico. U.S.-based Union Pacific, in partnership with the Larrea family, one of Mexico’s wealthiest, became the owner of the country’s main north-south rail line and immediately discontinued virtually all passenger service.12 Mexican rail employment dropped from more than 90,000 to 36,000. Railroad workers mounted a wildcat strike to try to save their jobs, but they lost and their union became a shadow of its former self.

According to Garrett Brown, head of the Maquiladora Health and Safety Network, the average Mexican wage was 23% of the U.S. manufacturing wage in 1975. By 2002, it was less than an eighth. Brown says that after NAFTA, real Mexican wages dropped by 22%, while worker productivity increased 45%.13

Attracting Investors, Repelling Workers

Low wages are the magnet used to attract U.S. and other foreign investors. In mid-June, 2006, Ford Corporation, already one of Mexico’s largest employers, announced it would invest $9 billion more in building new factories.14 Meanwhile, Ford closed 14 U.S. plants, eliminating the jobs of tens of thousands of U.S. workers. Both moves were part of the company’s strategic plan to cut labor costs and move production. When General Motors was bailed out by the U.S. government in 2008, it closed a dozen U.S. plants, while its plans for building new plants in Mexico went forward without hindrance.15 These policies displaced people, who could no longer make a living as they’d done before. The rosy predictions of NAFTA’s boosters that it would raise income and slow migration proved false. The World Bank, in a 2005 study made for the Mexican government, found that the extreme rural poverty rate of around 37% in 1992-4, prior to NAFTA, jumped to about 52% in 1996-8, after NAFTA took effect. This could be explained, the report said, “mainly by the 1995 economic crisis, the sluggish performance of agriculture, stagnant rural wages, and falling real agricultural prices.”16

By 2010, 53 million Mexicans were living in poverty, according to the Monterrey Institute of Technology—half the country’s population.17 The growth of poverty, in turn, fueled migration. In 1990, 4.5 million Mexican-born people lived in the U.S. A decade later, that population more than doubled to 9.75 million, and in 2008 it peaked at 12.67 million. Approximately 9.4% of all Mexicans now live in the U.S., based on numbers from Pew Hispanic. About 5.7 million were able to get some kind of visa; but another 7 million couldn’t, and came nevertheless.18

From 1982 through the NAFTA era, successive economic reforms produced migrants. The displacement had already grown so large by 1986 that the commission established by IRCA was charged with recommending measures to halt or slow it. Its report urged that “migrant-sending countries should encourage technological modernization by strengthening and assuring intellectual property protection and by removing existing impediments to investment” and recommended that “the United States should condition bilateral aid to sending countries on their taking the necessary steps toward structural adjustment.” The IRCA commission report acknowledged the potential for harm, noting (in the mildest, most ineffectual language possible) that “efforts should be made to ease transitional costs in human suffering.”19

In 1994, however, the year the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, U.S. speculators began selling off Mexican government bonds. According to Jeff Faux, founding director the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, DC-based progressive think tank, “NAFTA had created a speculative bubble for Mexican assets that then collapsed when the speculators cashed in.”20 In NAFTA’s first year, 1994, one million Mexicans lost their jobs when the peso was devalued. To avert a flood of capital to the north, then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin engineered a $20 billion loan to Mexico, which was paid to bondholders, mostly U.S. banks. In return, U.S. and British banks gained control of the country’s financial system. Mexico had to pledge its oil revenue to pay off foreign debt, making the country’s primary source of income unavailable for the needs of its people.

As the Mexican economy, especially the border maquiladora industry, became increasingly tied to the U.S. market, tens of thousands of Mexican workers lost jobs when the market shrank during U.S. recessions in 2001 and 2008. “It is the financial crashes and the economic disasters that drive people to work for dollars in the U.S., to replace life savings, or just to earn enough to keep their family at home together,” says Harvard historian John Womack.21

Immigrants, Migrants, or Displaced People?

In the U.S. political debate, Veracruz’ uprooted coffee pickers or unemployed workers from Mexico City are called immigrants, because that debate doesn’t recognize their existence before they leave Mexico. It is more accurate to call them migrants, and the process migration, since that takes into account both people’s communities of origin and those where they travel to find work.

But displacement is an unmentionable word in the Washington discourse. Not one immigration proposal in Congress in the quarter century since IRCA was passed has tried to come to grips with the policies that uprooted miners, teachers, tree planters, and farmers. In fact, while debating bills to criminalize undocumented migrants and set up huge guest worker programs, four new trade agreements were introduced, each of which has caused more displacement and more migration.

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The Art of Activism

Spotlighting the efforts of artists and organizations who are engaged in the struggle for social justice and are helping build the movement through their work.

“En los Campos del Norte (In the Fields of the North)” is an exhibition of photographs of farm workers in the U.S., almost all migrants from Mexico, taken by David Bacon (shown here). The photgraphs are hung on the iron bars of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., in Playas de Tijuana on the Mexican side.

“En los Campos del Norte (In the Fields of the North)” is an exhibition of photographs of farm workers in the U.S., almost all migrants from Mexico, taken by David Bacon (shown here). The photgraphs are hung on the iron bars of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., in Playas de Tijuana on the Mexican side.

For more than 30 years, David Bacon has been writing about and photographing people who are displaced by poverty in Mexico and choose to cross into the United States in search of a better life. David writes:

“For me, photography is a cooperative project. For over a decade, I’ve worked with the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations, a Mexican migrant organization, and California Rural Legal Assistance to document this contradiction. The photographs shown on the border wall, ‘En los Campos del Norte (In the Fields of the North),’ are drawn from this long-term project. They show poverty, the lack of housing for many people, and the systematic exploitation of immigrant labor in the fields. But through the photographs and accompanying oral histories, migrants also analyze their situation. They demand respect for their culture, basic rights, and greater social equality. People in Tijuana are pretty familiar with working conditions in California, and most people I met looking at the show had actually been there, many as workers. The images, therefore, underline the need to change reality, and appreciate our mutual humanity and the importance of our labor.

For three decades, I’ve used a method that combines photographs with interviews and personal histories. Part of the purpose is the “reality check”—the documentation of social reality, including poverty, homelessness, migration, and displacement. But this documentation, carried out over a long period of time, also presents some of the political and economic alternatives proposed by people who are often shut out of public debate. It examines their efforts to win the power to put some of these alternatives into practice. I believe documentary photographers stand on the side of social justice—we should be involved in the world and unafraid to try to change it.”


1. Eric Hershberg and Fred Rosen, “Turning the Tide?” in Latin America After Neoliberalism: Turning the Tide in the 21st Century, eds. Eric Hershberg and Fred Rosen (New York: New Press, 2006), 23.
2. John P. Schmal, “Oaxaca: Land of Diversity,” ¡LatinoLA!, Jan. 28, 2007, http://www.latinola.com/story.php?story=3908.
3. Richard Mines, Sandra Nichols, and David Runsten, “California’s Indigenous Farmworkers: Final Report of the Indigenous Farmworker Study (IFS) To the California Endowment,” Jan. 2010, http://www.indigenousfarmworkers.org/IFS%20Full%20Report%20_Jan2010.pdf.
4. Mines, Nichols, and Runsten, “California Indigenous Farmworkers Final Report of the Indigenous Farmworker Study (IFS) To the California Endowment.”
5. Brad Plummer, “Congress Tried to Fix Immigration Back in 1986. Why Did It Fail?” Washington Post, Jan. 30, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/30/in-1986-congress-tried-to-solve-immigration-why-didnt-it-work.
6. David Clark Scott, “Salinas Plays It Cool After Big Win on NAFTA,” Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 19, 1993, http://www.csmonitor.com/1993/1119/19014.html.
7. Juan Manuel Sandoval, interview with David Bacon, 2006.
8. David Bacon, The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013).
9. Bacon, The Right to Stay Home.
10. Bacon, The Right to Stay Home.
11. David Bacon, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008), 63.
12. Bacon, Illegal People, 58.
13. Bacon, Illegal People, 59.
14. Elizabeth Malkin, “Detroit: Far South,” New York Times, Jul. 21, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/21/business/worldbusiness/21auto.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
15. Paul Roderick Gregory, “Outsourcer-In-Chief: Obama Of General Motors,” Forbes, Aug. 12, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2012/08/12/outsourcer-in-chief-obama-of-general-motors.
16. José María Caballero et al. for the World Bank, Mexico: Income Generation and Social Protection for the Poor, Volume IV: A Study of Rural Poverty in Mexico, Aug. 2005, (accessed via https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/8286), 9-11.
17. Richard Wells, “3 Ways To Compete Sustainably: Lessons from Mexico,” GreenBiz.com, Oct. 9, 2013, http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2013/10/09/3-ways-compete-sustainably-lessons-mexico.
18. Bacon, The Right to Stay Home.
19. Bacon, Illegal People, 60-61.
20. Bacon, Illegal People, 61.
21. Bacon, Illegal People, 64.

LIVE BLOG: Values Voters Summit 2014, Day 1

Welcome to PRA’s live-blog of the 2014 right-wing Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC. Refresh for updates. Follow us on twitter @PRAeyesright for even faster updates.

Looking for our live coverage of Day 2? It’s here

VVS logo

9:06 pm: That’s it for us today! Thanks for following along, we’ll be back first thing in the morning with live coverage of Day 2 of #VVS14.

8:40 pm – Dunham Brothers

Up now are the Dunham brothers, who were fired from HDTV after they used their positions are representatives of the company to promote religious beliefs.

It’s fascinating how when LGBTQ people boycott a business, the Right labels it as tyranny. But when a private company follows market trends and fires employees who are losing them money, who happen to be Christian, that’s also tyranny?

8:20pm Duck Dynasty’s Alan Robertson

Alan Robertson’s speech is just odd. He started off by comparing his family’s beards to Osama Bin Laden. He then compared each member to different dogs, including his Uncle who is “just like a meth lab.”

He’s also pitching Phil Robertson’s new book, and talking about his now infamous anti-LGBTQ statements. Oddly enough, he has yet to mention Phil’s statements supporting underage marriage.

By the end of his speech. Robertson had fully pitched (including slides) 1 TV show, and 4 separate books written by various members of the family.

It’s worth mentioning that the Duck Dynasty Robertson family are all multi-millionaires, who pretend to be poor on tv in order to sell more product.

8:00pm Mike Huckabee

Huckabee starts with a Benghazi reference, saying that the “red phone” at the White House “went to voicemail that night” when the call for help came in.

Huackabee is just the latest today to equate ISIS with all Muslims everywhere, failing to recognize that there is a huge difference.

Huckabee calls for repealing the 16th amendment and completely abolish the IRS.

Huckabee is rewriting the constitution on stage. Says the judges who have ruled same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional do not have the authority to do that unless the legislative and executive branches concur with them.

Huckabee seems to be in charge of the GOTV effort at VVS. Story after story about how only those who show up and vote make a difference.

7:40 The Duggars

The Duggar family came on stage with almost all of their 19 children. The group sang O’ Precious Blood, and now the parents are talking about how the most important thing in their life was when they were “saved.”

7:30: FRC promo video

FRC is paying tribute to the Washington Times, which provided much of the funding for the Values Voters Summit this year. (pic)

Washington Times FRC

Dinner Break until 7:30 pm tonight.

5:00 pm: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

Jindal says “It’s not ‘the economy, stupid.’ It’s ‘the culture, stupid.'”

Jindal also said that Liberals fail to “recognize the dignity” of “all God’s creation.”

Jindal co-opting Liberal talking points, talking about how the American Dream means that the circumstances of your birth shouldn’t determine the outcome of your life. Yet Jindal is in favor of the rising income inequality between entry level workers and CEOs. And he’s in favor of dismantling labor unions and low-wage worker organizing.

Jindal says that the “assault” on religious freedom is unprecedented.

4:38 pm: David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh makes the case for why Jesus was really the savior. Not sure who he’s preaching to. Audience extremely restless, talking to each other.

4:15 pm: Sarah Palin

It took less than 5 seconds for Palin to throw out her first “lamestream media” quote.

“It’s time to fight back against this imperialist gun-hating president.”

“It’s time to end the politics of division” and we need to kick out these “orwellian out-of-control elitists”

Palin on the workout photo: “I rarely wear a ring in Alaska. We’re too busy choppin’ wood or slaughterin’ a moose, or something..”

Palin says all charges of “racism” are just an attempt by Liberals to change the subject. “We here in this room are the most slandered group in America.”

“If ISIS isn’t Islamic, why do you think it has such an appeal to the Muslim world?”

3:41 pm: Anti-Marriage Equality Panel, hosted by FRC’s Peter Sprigg

On the panel:

  • Eric Teetsel, exec dir of the Manhattan Declaration
  • Rep Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)
  • Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa
  • Dr. Jerry Johnson, CEO of National Religious Broadcasters

Hartzler bemoans Catholic charities CHOOSING to stop receiving federal funding, rather than provide services to LGBTQ parents.

The audience gives an applause to the lone judge in Louisiana who ruled against marriage equality. All other judges post-Windsor have ruled for Marriage Equality.

Melissa Klein breaks down in tears.. very upset that she had to get paid to bake a cake for a happy couple getting married who happened to be LGBTQ.

Dr. Johnson blames the entire Marriage Equality movement on Obama’s inauguration speech, where he mentioned “gay and straight” people. Johnson says that speech signaled to the media that they should support and promote Marriage Equality.

Johnson also encouraged the audience and the media to stop using “LGBT” and to just go back to “gay.” He also says that for conservatives, “history is on our side” on marriage equality–because for “hundreds of years” it has been one-man-one-woman.

3:25 pm: Rep. John Fleming (R-LA)

Fleming says that legalization of marijuana is one of the key factors behind the “decline” of the American family.

Fleming claims that Marijuana is “highly-addictive” and is enslaving youth and teens. Not sure where Fleming gets his statistics, but he claims that rehab centers report that teen marijuana addiction is the most frequent diagnosis. He also claims that there are more pot dispenceries in California and Colorado than there are McDonalds and Starbucks combined.

Fleming also claims that the high-rates of incarceration for simple marijuana use “is an absolute myth.”

According to Fleming, 1 in 11 adult marijuana users become addicted, and 1 in 6 among teens.

“Have I convinced you, yet?” Fleming asks the audience. “Oh yes” they reply.

3:00 pm: American Values president Gary Bauer

Bauer is yet another speaker going the Islamophobia route. He conjured the specter of 9/11, talking about how he saw Muslims cheering afterwards.

He then talked about the Oklahoma employer who was well within his right to tell his Muslim employee to stop trying to convert his fellow employees at work. (But if Christians are told to stop trying to convert at work, that’s a violation of Religious Freedom.)

Bauer went on to categorize all Muslims from several nations, including Iran, as “bloody” and murderous.

Bauer says “We have a president more interested in defending the reputation of Muslims than in defending the lives of Christians.” *standing ovation*

2:35 pm: Rick Santorum

Santorum was introduced by National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown. Brown said that the reason Republicans have been losing elections is because they are trying to stifle social conservatives. He then introduced Santorum, who lost decisively by running as a social conservative.

Santorum is spending his speech talking about Islam. Says if you “truly understand Shia Islam, it’s easy to understand that the path they’re on” is to arm and use nuclear weapons against the U.S. He calls any leader (especially President Obama) who doesn’t recognize the need for action in the middle east is “at Disneyland.”

Santorum truly sounds like he’s calling for all-out war with the entire Islamic world. Says “the reason they’re winning is because they’re the ones willing to sacrifice.”

Santorum also took heavy swings at the so-called “establishment” Republican Party, encouraging attendees to never vote for a candidate who isn’t outspoken on social conservative issues.

2 pm: Kelly Shackleford, president of Liberty Institute

Liberty Institute has been one of the primary drivers behind the Right’s redefinition of religious freedom, transforming the Founder’s shield for individuals into a sword for institutions to impose religious mandates.

Shackleford says that religious employers and employees should be able to discriminate against employees and customers who don’t conform to their religious beliefs.

Shackleford is spending time talking about cases they’re fighting against the ACLU, over veteran war memorials that use Christian imagery and symbols. Liberty Institute calls it a defilement for non-Christian veterans to not want those symbols at the memorials.

“I’ve heard of a soldier who was commanded by his lesbian officer to agree with gay marriage, or be discharged.”

Lunch Break until 2pm

12:30 pm Lt Colonel Oliver North (ret)

North’s speech centered around the idea that American soldiers are star-spangled awesome, and far too good for the likes of Pres. Obama to be leading.

He also threw down on the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, saying “U.S. soldiers are being treated like lab rats in a radical social engineering experiment.”

Like a few speakers before him, North also reiterated that “America has nothing to apologize for.” As PRA fellow T.F. Charlton quipped on Twitter: “Except for slavery, Jim Crow, genocide, land theft, rampant inequality, prisons…”

11:50 am: Michele Bachmann

Interesting way to start a speech: “I’m a normal, real person.”

Bachmann is the latest to repeat the popular conservative line about how rights are given by god, and how “no man can take them away.” If that’s the case, we have to wonder why conservatives are claiming that the Left is “taking away” religious liberty rights.

Bachmann is also leaning heavily on Hillary Clinton. Says she fostered a “smaller, weaker America” and that “we want our 1984 foreign policy back!” (not sure whether or not she’s referencing Iran-Contra.)

Bachmann adding her name to the list of people blurring the line between Muslims and ISIS. Says “Mr. President, [ISIS] IS all about Islam. … We need to kill this evil!”

11:30am: Sen Rand Paul (R-KY)

Rand Paul is now the 4th speaker today to bring up the McCarthey-esque “our enemies are not without but within” theme. Paul also called the war against ISIS in Syria illegal, saying that “if I’d been president, I would have called a joint-session of Congress.

Paul also takes swipes at Obama’s use of executive orders, calling them tyrannical and illegal.

“Obamacare tries to separate our faith from our businesses. Thanks goodness for the [Hobby Lobby] Supreme court ruling.”

Paul also claimed the the “rise of radical Islam” is the result of the secular persecution of Christians around the world.

Paul says he wants to withhold “every dollar” of foreign aid to every country where any Christian is persecuted. He, of course, did not mention anything about the torture, rape, and murder of LGBTQ people and women all over the world—including here in the U.S.

11:00 am: Texas Lt. Gov David Dewhurst

Dewhurst touts the Texas legislature passing the infamous anti-abortion bill last year, despite protests by Wendy Davis and sexual and reproductive health and rights supporters. He claims all SRHR supporters in Texas were just bused in.

Dewhurst moves on to illegal immigration. Says “If we don’t stop these bad guys at the border, they’re going to be in your neighborhoods tomorrow.” He also calls for a much faster deportation process for the refuge immigrant children who are fleeing gang and drug violence in Central/South America.

He also says that finding prayer rugs near the border is “proof” that terrorists have infiltrated the U.S.

10:30: Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

(Last year, Cruz’s speech touting the GOP Government Shutdown was interrupted by several protesters calling for immigration reform)

Cruz started by claiming he’d “elevated the debate” over Obamacare when he shut down the government last year. And he joked about how the Secret Service should arrest that “intruder” Obama from getting into the White House.

Cruz went on to make some sweeping accusations, claiming that all Christians in Muslim nations are being persecuted.

But the nuts and bolts came with Hobby Lobby, which Cruz called a “phenomenal ruling.” The Senator lamented that the ruling was only 5-4, and repeated the incredibly medically inaccurate conservative claim that emergency contraception are “abortion-inducing pills.”

Cruz also made a big defense of Citizens United, calling efforts to overturn it “tyranny” and “evil extremism” design to repress free speech.

 

10:12 am: Rep Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind)

Stutzman is only hitting the greatest hits: “Families are great,” “Big Government Liberals are bad.” Although he did call for the abolishment of the NSA, EPA, and IRS.

9:30 am: Next up is a panel on terrorism. On the panel is:

  • Lt. General William Boykin – Executive Vice President, FRC; Former Commander, Delta Forces*
  • Gen. James Conway – Former Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps*
  • Major Gen. (Ret.) Robert Dees, Associate Vice President for Military Outreach, Liberty University*
  • Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.)*

Maj. Gen. (ret) Robert Dees gives frightening speech about American Exceptionalism. Warns that “We have been infiltrated! There are enemies within!” Claims there are “Muslim safehavens” all over the U.S. where terror cells form and are safe. He was given a standing ovation. Dees also says that U.S. soldiers have “lost all faith” in the Commander-in-Chief. Making a veiled reference to the repeal of DADT, he says “soldiers don’t have time to be P.C.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) says that Al Qaeda has terrorist cells in Columbia and other parts of South America, and that America’s “open southern borders” are “letting in terrorists to live among us.” Meadows went on to say we should not be relying on Iraq or Syrian soldiers. Makes the case for U.S. troops to permanently occupy middle east territory.

Boykin finishes. Says it’s terrible that we sent 3k troops to Africa to help deal with Ebola, says we should have sent them to fight ISIS instead.

9:17am: Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH)

Jordan laments that Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision was only 5-4. Says Obama Administration is purposefully targeting Religious Freedom and 2nd Amendment. Jordan then focuses heavily on the supposed IRS scandal, saying that the Left was purposefully targeting conservative PACS. He says Dems are using scary terms like “dark money” and “shadow groups.” “They’re coming after us!” he says.

9:10am: Tony Perkins

Perkins offered up a strong defense of Citizens United, claiming that the Left is “tarring and feathering” wealthy conservatives. During his 5 minute speech, he also hinted at the Left’s supposed “attack” on Religious Liberty. Expecting to hear from almost every speaker this weekend.

9:00am: House cleaning opening speech includes lots of coffee cup/salute jokes, and a near-standing ovation for the resignation of Eric Holder.

8:50am: @JoeMyGod will be thrilled, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family & Property are here. (pic below)

TFP

8:47 am: Waiting for the sessions to kick off for this year’s VVS. There’s a new group in the exhibit hall this year, the “ex-gay” PFOX.

Eugenics as U.S. Nationhood: Situating Population Control in a Settler State

This post is the third in my series examining the U.S. Right’s efforts to alter demographic trends by re-popularizing arguments and ideologies rooted in eugenics. (Read part one and part two.) Today, I continue to discuss the U.S. Right’s coercive attempts to limit the fertility of people of color, an egregious affront to reproductive justice. This segment addresses U.S. initiatives undertaken to limit Native American women’s reproductive autonomy.

In my last post, I discussed right-wing nativists’ efforts to establish a two-tiered citizenship structure, which would institutionalize discrimination against and disenfranchisement of people of color. While this redefinition of citizenship has not gained legal ground, comparable institutions proliferate in the U.S.

image via http://nativeamericansterilization.wordpress.com/

image via http://nativeamericansterilization.wordpress.com/

Indeed, it is important to acknowledge that the United States itselfnot only the structures it creates and upholdsis such a system. Superimposed as it was, and is, on land once shared by tens of millions, this country is a settler colonial state and a necessarily genocidal project: as Cavanagh and Veracini explain, “settlers want Indigenous people to vanish.” In the United States, this aim has been largely (though certainly not entirely) realized, and sterilization has been among the means of effecting it.

The genocidal practices undertaken during the formation of the U.S. are well documented and fairly well known, as are some of those implemented in the 19th and early 20th centuries. More contemporary iterations of the U.S. genocidal project are less widely known, due in part to the widespread misconception that Native Americans have long been virtually extinct.

Between 1973 and 1976, the Indian Health Servicea federal programsterilized more than 3,406 Native American people who could become pregnant. Dozens of those sterilized were under 21, contrary to a moratorium on sterilizing minors. From 1969 to 1974 (coinciding with President Nixon’s term), the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) subsidized a full 90 percent of the costs of these sterilizations (Ralstin-Lewis). Many were sterilized against their will; moreover, a substantial portion of the providers lacked documentation attesting to fully informed consent. As researchers Jane Lawrence and D. Marie Ralstin-Lewis show, the consent forms the patients signed were often incomplete, and many did not indicate that they had a right to refuse the procedure at no risk of losing benefits. Nor is it evident from any of the forms later evaluated by the U.S. General Accounting Office that providers had fully informed their patients of what sterilization entailed. They certainly did not make a compelling effort to overcome cultural barriers in explaining the procedure. Additionally, consent is difficult to ascertain in light of the circumstances in which Native patients found themselves; the dire poverty inflicted by the United States, constant infringements on sovereignty, and concerted efforts to uproot indigenous cultures shape a landscape in which white doctors could coerce their Native patients in highly subtle ways.

Both Lawrence and Ralstin-Lewis also stress the significance of Native Americans’ ability to have children in the face of continuing efforts to exterminate them. Ralstin-Lewis reports specifically on extensive investigations undertaken by Native Americans. Cheyenne tribal judge Marie Sanchez and Northern Cheyenne tribal member Mary Ann Bear Comes Out concluded that in just three years, a full third of the mere 165 women of childbearing age on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and Labre Mission grounds had been sterilized, “reducing births within this group by half or more over a five-year period” (82). This devastating statistic is representative of what many tribes experienced: a Lakota researcher named Lehman Brightman devoted many years to investigating the sterilizations of Native American women and found that approximately forty percent of all Native women had been sterilized (Ralstin-Lewis).

It would be reductive to attempt to identify the U.S. government’s discrete motivations for reducing the Native American population, which cannot be understood outside the context of settlement and genocide. However, it is worth noting that while many of the arguments put forward for limiting immigrants’ reproductive agency are manifestly inapplicable to Native American populations, some of the explicit justification is the same. Specifically, proponents and practitioners of sterilization frame it as an investment, contending (sometimes implicitly) that when certain people do not have children, the money saved in welfare expenditures will offset the cost of sterilization. The welfare state is a ubiquitous trope in right-wing rhetoric surrounding issues of poor women of color’s reproductive autonomy. Ralstin-Lewis comments, “The noncompliant female body has become the central point of contention for conservative fury about the welfare state” (89).

The conflation of certain bodies with welfare costs, which is inextricable from the degradation of welfare itself, is a means of normalizing and obscuring racism and sexism. The construction of these bodies as burdensome allows bigotry to be couched in ostensibly pragmatic arguments against unnecessary spending. Meanwhile, welfare is seen as objectionable and unnecessary because it is associated with marginalized people. Prejudice is thus woven invisibly through the fabric of public opinion.

This is consistent with Thomas W. Volscho’s thesis that “sterilization racism” is a function of the U.S. having been organized around white supremacy. Volscho uses Cazenave and Maddern’s definition of racism as “…a highly organized system of race-based group privilege that operates at every level of society and is held together by a sophisticated ideology of color/race/supremacy,” theorizing that the hierarchy this produces will give those at the top control over or influence within the institutions determining their reproductive abilities (such as health care providers), while those at the bottom will be subject to the whims of the same institutionsand those of others intended specifically to constrain them (19). (This too is part of the colonial project, which necessitates that those in power be able to manage the bodies of those they subjugate.) The next installment of this series will give an overview of ways in which constraining institutions, including the carceral system, have targeted Black women’s reproductive freedom.

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Of Bombs and Wombs: Nativist Myths of Weaponized Fertility

(More Right-Wing Prophecies of White Supremacy’s Decline)

This post is the second in a series examining the U.S. Right’s efforts to alter global demographic trends by re-popularizing arguments and ideologies rooted in eugenics. (Read part one here.) In this post and those to follow, I discuss the U.S. Right’s coercive attempts to limit the fertility of people of color, with a focus on the anti-immigration Right. 

In my last article, I discussed the Right’s fear-mongering narrative that contraceptive use and other exercises of reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy are catapulting civilization into decline. Curiously, there is also a swath of powerful right-wing voices making what appears to be a diametrically opposed argument. They are organized around the perceived threat of population growth, and—like their pro-population growth counterparts—they are deeply invested in regulating exactly which populations are permitted to procreate. In truth, though, these seemingly rival factions are two sides to the proverbial coin, and that coin is eugenics.

Courtesy of peoplesworld, Creative Commons

Courtesy of peoplesworld

Population alarmism, or the notion that high rates of population growth are to blame for poverty, climate change, and a host of other nightmarish global problems, is a well-disguised framework for undermining poor people of color’s reproductive autonomy. Its insidiousness comes from the effective coding of rhetoric surrounding hyperfertility and handout-seeking burdens to taxpayers as references to women of color, particularly poor Black women and immigrant Latina women. The fiction that excessively high birthrates are the source of human suffering becomes a way to mask racism, misogyny, and elitism while still clearly identifying poor women of color as the enemy, the undesirable Other.

It is important to note that not all people who can become pregnant are women; many trans men and nonbinary people can also become pregnant, and they are materially affected by attacks on reproductive health. Of course, such attacks are gendered in their ideology, and in this sense they are attacks on women, which necessarily impact trans women. Therefore, when referring to the logic of limiting reproductive choice, I will use “women”; when referring to actual initiatives to limit reproductive choice, I will use “people who can become pregnant.”

U.S. eugenics are at least as old as Mendel’s laws of heredity, but the pretext of unsustainable population growth for right-wing vilification of women of color’s fertility can be traced back to the emergence of a “new Malthusianism” that gained traction under President Nixon. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich sounded the alarm with his book The Population Bomb (coauthored without attribution by his wife), which argued that the earth was approaching its carrying capacity, and rising population growth would be catastrophic for humans and the environment. Coupled with Cold War anxieties that growing populations would cause resource scarcity, which would give rise to Communism, the Ehrlichs’ arguments helped generate bipartisan support for the suppression and stabilization of population growth. The conflation of the “population problem” and the implicitly racialized “urban crisis” of the mid-1960s further strengthened this support. Derek Hoff writes, “The purported connection between population growth and the urban crisis…injected a fresh dose of racial politics into a population discussion already tainted and racialized via the unfortunate legacy of eugenics” (31).

Right-wing enthusiasm for population control began to wane precipitously, however, when zero-growth efforts became associated with the pro-choice movement (giving way to right-wing resistance from groups like the Population Research Institute and the World Council of Families, which I discussed previously). Additionally, libertarian groups embraced population growth as integral to populist efforts, and the rise of neoliberalism thrust regulation to the political margins. Nonetheless, certain right-wing elements of the zero population growth movement remained.

One such element was the right-wing nativist contingent. 1979 saw the inception of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a virulently nativist organization that began by couching its racist agenda in unscientific environmentalist arguments for shrinking the immigrant population in the United States. According to Priscilla Huang of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), a number of FAIR’s highest positions are held by people with “ties to white supremacist groups,” and the organization has been the recipient of more than $1 million from the Pioneer Fund, whose other grantees include groups that perform “research in eugenics and ‘race science’” (394). FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, has openly embraced eugenics. (Tanton also played an integral role in founding NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, which both advance nativist efforts to restrict immigration.) The Southern Poverty Law Center has named FAIR a hate group.

FAIR is not alone in exploiting fears of climate change and resource scarcity to foster anti-immigrant sentiment and shape anti-immigrant legislation, but it is spearheading the charge. FAIR is the largest anti-immigrant organization in the U.S., and probably the most influential. With ample congressional influence and a reported 250,000 members, FAIR cannot be dismissed as merely a fringe group.

Nativist advocates of population control have attempted to square their agenda with the anti-choice philosophies of the Right by claiming, as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) did in 2007, “If we had those 40 million children that were killed over the last 30 years, we wouldn’t need illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today” (Huang, 403). The subtext of this ludicrous assertion is that abortion (that evil of evils) is killing the good children: the White ones.

DeLay’s line of reasoning also smooths over another major break between the anti-choice Right and the population control movement. To right-wing libertarians who seek to shrink government, DeLay (along with those who have made similar arguments) suggests that curtailing immigration and immigrant populations will preserve the integrity of a U.S. libertarian movement by restoring power to the right (read: White) people.

In a memo titled “Latin Onslaught,” John Tanton says that White people’s “power and control over their lives [is] declining” as “a group that is simply more fertile” procreates itself to majority status (Sánchez, 2). As Tanton would have it, big government and a growing Latino voting base are co-conspirators in the effort to rob “real” Americans of the autonomy and supremacy they are due. (“More fertile,” of course, implies more promiscuous, more sexual, more irresponsible—all stereotypes with which women of color are branded. In true eugenic fashion, it also implies innate bodily difference from white women.)

Historically, nativist efforts to quell the perceived threat of Latina women’s fertility have gone far beyond altering immigration patterns. An article by Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Taja Lindley at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health explains that coercive sterilizations of Latina/o people who could become pregnant were widespread in the 1960s and 1970s. This abuse, the authors say, was motivated by “[f]ears about over-population, welfare dependency, increased spending for public services, and illegitimate childbearing,” which “fueled stereotypes about both women of color and immigrant women, and led health professionals and State policymakers to intimidate ‘undesirable’ women into agreeing to surgical sterilization.”

In 1978, ten Chicana women who were coercively sterilized at a Los Angeles County hospital (whose obstetric residents had a quota for tubal ligations) over a four-year period went to court seeking justice. While Madrigal v. Quilligan ultimately led to the enactment of important regulations for obstetricians, the ruling favored the doctors who had performed the surgeries, affirming the stereotype that Mexican women tend to have excessive numbers of children and determining that “it was not objectionable for an obstetrician to think that a tubal ligation could improve a perceived overpopulation problem,” or to perform the procedure in compliance with this racialized and politicized theory. (Read Alexandra Minna Stern’s thorough analysis of the politics of Madrigal here.) Latina organizers, including those who bravely went before the court in Madrigal, worked tirelessly to abolish tubal ligations performed under coercion or without informed consent.

Yet Latina women’s fertility remains a target of right-wing attacks. FAIR and its allies continue to argue (falsely) that hyper-fecund Latina women come to the United States in droves to give birth so that their children—derisively referred to as “anchor-babies”—can reap the benefits of big government’s welfare policies. To mitigate this problem, they propose amending the U.S. Constitution to deny citizenship for children born in the United States to undocumented parents, which is currently guaranteed by the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Huang points out that this project, if realized, would create a subjugable second class of “U.S.-born ‘alien’ children…a classification that would apply only to the offspring of immigrant women, the majority of whom are women of color” (401).

The institutionalization of such a racialized classification system would be utterly deplorable. It would undoubtedly visit unspeakable harm on many of the most vulnerable families in the United States; it would erect enormous barriers to access and gut protections for people already deprived of their rights and of recourse. But it would not be unique.

In the next part of this series, I endeavor to problematize the very notion of immigrants to the U.S., which is manifestly premised on racism and exclusion. This installment will discuss U.S. culpability in promoting sterilization as part of the ongoing genocide of Native American people.

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Frazier Glenn Miller & The Ongoing Trend of Former-Military Neo-Nazi Murders

Military Veterans and the White Separatist Underground’s Cult of Violence

image via Mike Fox and NBC News

image via Mike Fox and NBC News

The recent murders at two Jewish institutions in Kansas City—apparently committed by former Nazi and Klansman Frazier Glenn Miller—unfortunately come as little surprise, as it was at least the third such incident in the United States in the last five years alone. In 2012, Nazi skinhead Michael Wade Page murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and in 2009 Holocaust denier James Von Brunn murdered a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

All three perpetrators fit a very specific pattern: military veterans; involved in White nationalist politics for years; felt (apparently) their lives were at an end; decided to go out and murder unsuspecting civilians at the very public institutions which their politics had always targeted.

Miller is 73 and has emphysema. Von Brunn was 88 and died soon after the shooting. Wade was only 40, but committed suicide rather than surrender at the murder scene.

Unfortunately, this trend looks like it will continue into the future. Each of these men were products of a political environment that praised violence and glorified death. And so it seems safe to assume that as long as the violence-driven White separatist and White supremacist political underground remains, at least some of their activists can be expected to end their lives in such a manner in the future.

Frazier Glenn Miller

The ideology of White supremacy that Miller embraced has historically been intertwined with the use of institutional violence, from the genocide of Native Americans and American slavery to the lynchings of African-Americans. The Ku Klux Klan, often aided by local police, resisted the Civil Rights Movement with intimidation and murder. But even after the battle to defend segregation was lost and most Southern police agencies distanced themselves from the Klan, White separatist and supremacist groups have continued the open use of violence—only now without institutional backing—against religious, racial, and sexual minorities.

In recent decades, White nationalists moved from being pro-government, patriotic Americans—in the 1940s, one could support Jim Crow segregation at home and still fight the Nazis abroad—to being anti-system, right-wing revolutionaries. Bolstered by the Nazi skinhead subculture that exploded in the 1980s, this change from pro- to anti-system helped foster an ongoing culture of extreme violence. For such a small political movement, its members commit a fantastic number of violent criminal acts, which have included political assassinations, murders in public and domestic settings, and bombings which seek to inflict mass casualties. All of this is a microcosm of the violence praised by the historic fascist movement and its philosophical valorization of the “act”—as well as its practice of “total war” and racial genocide.

Miller played a central role in this shift towards revolutionary Far Right militancy. Originally a member of the White nationalist National States Rights Party, he later joined the neo-Nazi National Socialist Party of America, with whom he took part in the Greensboro Massacre of five left-wing, anti-racist protestors. He then formed the Carolina Ku Klux Klan, which morphed into the White Patriot Party (WPP), described by Leonard Zeskind as a “hybrid organization [which] grafted uniformed paramilitarism and Naziesque ideology onto its roots as a white-robed Klan group.”* This was part of what is called the “Nazification of the Klan,” when Nazi and Klan groups overcame historical divisions and grew closer in ideology and collaboration.

Miller has described himself as “ultra Right plus a million miles.” His party’s platform was “Southern independence. The creation of an all-White nation within the one million square miles of mother Dixie. We have no hope for Jew York City or San Fran-cissy-co and other areas that are dominated by Jews, perverts, and communists and non-White-minorities and rectum-loving queens.” The group’s prerecorded phone messages included “the simulated voice of a black man being lynched.” This approach proved quite popular: by 1985, Miller claimed the WPP had 2,500 members, and they held public marches with hundreds of members dressed in camouflage uniforms and black berets. In 1984, Miller ran for North Carolina governor and received 5,000 votes.**

A member of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, Miller retired from the military in 1979, but used his military background to recruit soldiers and accumulate an arsenal that included anti-tank rockets. He received $200,000 from the underground White nationalist terror group The Order (Brüder Schweigen), and was involved in a plot to kill Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Meanwhile, former members of the WPP were arrested in a triple murder in a gay bookstore in 1987.)

That same year, Miller was arrested, fled underground, and issued a “Declaration of War” against the federal government. Caught shortly thereafter with a cache of weapons, he flipped, testifying against his fellow White nationalists in the Fort Smith sedition trial. Released after serving three years in prison, he kept a relatively low profile until recently, as he had been shunned by his former colleagues as a snitch. But apparently his political views had not changed. After his arrest in Kansas City, Miller yelled “Heil Hitler!” at a television crew from the back of a police car. Although we don’t know his motives yet, he seems to have surrendered peacefully and knows he’ll probably serve the rest of his life in prison.

James Von Brunn

A Navy veteran, Von Brunn had links to antisemitic groups going back to the 1970s, and was connected to various figures in the White nationalist movement. In 1981, he brought a shotgun into a Federal Reserve meeting, hoping to kidnap board members and read a televised speech; he served eight years in jail for the crime, though he blamed the “negro jury” and “Jew judge” for the sentence. Telling his ex-wife he was planning to go out “with his boots on,” in June of 2009 Von Brunn went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and murdered a guard. Wounded at the scene, Von Brunn died of natural causes six months later.

Michael Wade Page

Page served in the Army in the 1990s before being discharged for “patterns of misconduct” (alcoholism). He was somewhat unusual in that he apparently became involved in Nazi skinhead activities not as a teenager, but rather when he was almost 30. A “patched-in” member of the Hammerskins—an international racist skinhead organization whose reputation for violence is notable even among skinheads—he played in racist bands before life turned sour as the 40 year old as he lost his job, his girlfriend left him, and his house was foreclosed on.

In 2012, he opened fire at a Sikh temple and murdered six unarmed worshippers before he shot himself in the head after he was wounded by a police officer during a gun battle.

And there are many others who fit the profile a little less precisely. For example, former Marine J.T. Ready was an anti-immigrant activist who formed two armed vigilante border patrol groups in Arizona. A recent member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, in 2012 he murdered four people in what was apparently a domestic dispute and then killed himself.

The military background of each of these men is unsettling, as it provides weapons training and sometimes combat experience. Veterans are known to suffer from high rates of domestic violence, suicide, and mental health problems. But veterans come in all political stripes, and it’s the simmering violence in the White separatist and supremacist milieu that’s clearly the spark.

Action Over Thought – More To Come

The Nazi and Klan political environments cultivate a cult of the warrior, often draped in Viking imagery which praises soldiers who go to Valhalla. It promotes action over thought, and a deeply patriarchal mindset that attacks Jews and non-Europeans and accuses them of weakness, disease, and of diluting a strong White identity.

Having spent years immersed in these narratives, and facing the end of their lives, some longtime militant Far Right activists are choosing violent ends—even if their supposed warrior deaths turn out to be cowardly assassinations. They seek soft targets and murder unsuspecting—and usually unarmed—civilians.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of Millers, Von Brunns, and Pages. In recent years, the White separatist violence of past decades has simmered down. Klan groups are declining, as the less-explicitly-bigoted Patriot movement is in ascendance. The skinhead culture has lost its youthful cache, and most of the prominent Nazi skinhead groups have collapsed. But the ultra-violent culture these men thrived in during their prime still retains its mental hold on thousands of aging, troubled men. We should brace ourselves for more of them to take the same path out when they decide their lives are at an end.

However, one thing that could be done to lessen these scenarios would be to support the work of “transitioning out” programs, which help neo-Nazi and similar activists escape the political scene they often are trapped in. Those wishing to exit are often threatened by their colleagues, and need help removing White supremacist tattoos, finding jobs, moving themselves and their families to safe locations, and establishing new social networks. The lack of availability of these programs often leads disenchanted militant Far Rightists back into their established social and political networks, which—in the cases looked at here—can have tragic results for both themselves, their families, and their victims. Groups like One People’s Project (onepeoplesproject.com) and Life After Hate (lifeafterhate.org) are open to help those wishing to exit these politics and start new lives.

* Leonard Zeskind, Blood and Politics (New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009), 131.
** Cited in James Ridgeway, Blood in the Face, second edition (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995), 118–19.

Related:

SPLC has published several phone calls between the head of their Intelligence Project, Heidi Beirich, and Frazier Glenn Miller. You can see all of them here.

CPAC Counter Events Include Security Con, Ted Cruz, & Secretive White Nationalist Gathering

Senator Ted Cruz speaks at "Univited II"

Senator Ted Cruz and Frank Gaffney speak at “Univited II”

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was kicked off Thursday morning by Sen. Ted Cruz with a fiery speech covered on most of the major network and cable broadcasts.  But Cruz gave another, less publicized speech later in the day at a counter-event held a few blocks away from CPAC.  This was one of a several alternative events being held in conjunction in CPAC, hosted by and featuring those the American Conservative Union chose not to include in their annual gathering.

The Uninvited II 

The conference held yesterday (Thursday) was titled “The Uninvited II:  The National Security Action Summit,” hosted by Breitbart News Network and held a few blocks away at the Westin hotel.  Last year, Breitbart News hosted an impromptu panel on the last day of the CPAC to discuss security issues not included in the official schedule.  It was titled “The Uninvited,” and included former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Rosemary Jenks, Frank Gaffney, Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, and others.  This year, a full day counter-event was planned in advance, featuring some of those same speakers plus James O’Keefe, Rep. Peter King, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin, Phyllis Schafley, Sen. David Vitter, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, and others.  Live streamed by Breitbart News, the event was a gathering of immigration foes and security hawks, moderated by Frank Gaffney.  The URL for reserving a space at the conference was HomelandThreats.com, hosted by sponsor EMPact America.

Panels included:

  • The Muslim Brotherhood, the “Civilization Jihad” and Its Enablers
  • Amnesty and Open Borders: The End of America – and the End of the GOP
  • Benghazigate: The Ugly Truth and the Cover-Up
  • Protecting the Grid: Correct Its Vulnerabilities – or a “World Without America”

The full schedule of events can be viewed on their website.

Breitbart News Chairman Steve Brannon had a busy day shuttling back and forth between the official CPAC and the “Uninvited,” attending the official conference for the awarding of the first annual “Citizens United Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award” to Mark Levin.

In the video below, Brannon is interviewed about the reasons for hosting Uninvited II.  As Brannon notes, it is their hope that these issues will be included at future CPACs, eliminating the need for the “Uninvited” events.

But the highlight of the alternative conference was a midday speech by Sen. Ted Cruz, who presented himself to the audience as an alternative to the “extremes of the spectrum on security” represented by Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. John McCain. Cruz described himself as a third choice for “peace through strength” in the mold of Ronald Reagan. The well received speech has been posted on Sen. Cruz’s official youtube account. This year’s CPAC is the beginning of the 2016 GOP presidential marathon, with 26 candidates included in the Saturday straw poll sponsored by the Washington Times.

The background with the transmission tower graphic in photo above of Cruz and Gaffney is that of EMPact America, a sponsoring organization dedicated to warning about electromagnetic pulse, the topic of the last panel of the day. EMPact is encouraging United States military action against Iran, claiming the Middle Eastern nation could take out the electrical grid of the United States by way of electromagnetic.

Newt Gingrich had been scheduled for the “Uninvited II” but dropped out, reportedly due to the tone of the publicity of the event.  Gingrich was then approached by the American Conservative Union to help develop a last minute panel on Ukraine for CPAC.

White Nationalist “Unconference”

An “Unconference” is being held tonight (Friday) by Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, a white nationalist organization.  Spencer announced he would be “crashing” CPAC, but the NPI is sponsoring a separate evening event with speaker Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, followed by an open bar and “unconference.”  The location of the event was being kept secret until today, but advertised as within a few blocks of the CPAC convention.

White nationalists have previously tried to attend and influence the CPAC conference, including efforts by Jamie Kelso, a former aide to KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, to covert young attendees to his brand of overt white supremacism (see the video below).

Conservative Divisions 

CPAC has become a bellwether for monitoring the divisions between conservatives. In recent years, the American Conservative Union has invited and uninvited groups ranging from GOProud to the John Birch Society.  Most mainstream media is describing the conservative split as one between the GOP establishment and the Tea Partiers, but there are other paradigms for describing the current divides.  The security counter-conference highlights the split between neo-conservative security hawks and the growing paleo-libertarian and libertarian factions on the Right.  The revival of paleo-conservatism and paleo-libertarianism was a featured topic in my recent article “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right”, co-authored by Frank Cocozzelli.

Taking the Voting-Rights Battle to the States and the Streets

Protesting outside the NC General Assembly building. Photo courtesy of Grant Baldwin.

Protesting outside the NC General Assembly building. Photo courtesy of Grant Baldwin.

On June 25, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, which established a formula for determining whether states and jurisdictions need permission from the federal government to change their voting procedures. As a result, there is no mechanism to enforce Section 5 of the VRA, which allows the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to freeze and review changes in voting procedures in locales with a history of voter suppression.

The majority of the justices in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, reasoned that the pre-clearance formula was outdated, since Jim Crow-era voting restrictions like the poll tax and literacy test have been abolished. But voting restrictions are far from a relic of the past. Between January 2011 and October 2012, 25 restrictive voter ID laws and two executive actions passed in 19 states, according to a 2012 “Voting Laws Roundup” by the Brennan Center for Justice. Many were struck down by federal courts, including some by the DOJ under the provisions of Section 4(b). Within two days of Section 4(b) being overturned, six states that were at least partly covered under Section 5 moved forward with voter restrictions.

In light of what is at stake, it would be foolish to rely on the dysfunctional U.S. Congress to address this injustice. Nor is it sufficient to rely on legal challenges brought by organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Though absolutely crucial, they cannot serve all jurisdictions, and the seriousness of this challenge requires a broad-based, popular response.

It’s time to demonstrate our commitment to free and fair elections by building large-scale, broad-based coalitions at the state level—and taking them to the streets. This is precisely what the North Carolina Moral Monday movement, guided by the NC-NAACP, has been doing since April. All told, tens of thousands have flocked to the General Assembly building in Raleigh on Monday afternoons, protesting the extreme policies of the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Because of gerrymandering, nine of North Carolina’s 13 U.S. Representatives are Republicans, though the state’s voters are split almost evenly between the two parties.

The weekly protests top 3,000 participants. About 1,000 peaceful demonstrators have been arrested (as of late July). To make this possible, the NC-NAACP spearheaded a coalition of 150 progressive and/or non-partisan organizations that have come together to defend equal protection for all. In addition to traditional civil-rights organizations, the coalition includes groups with concerns as varied as reproductive justice, economic inequality, education, labor rights, immigration reform, criminal-justice reform, and faith-based social justice.

Protesters have made strong gains in reaching out to residents. The Republican-led legislative body no longer enjoys majority support, even within its own party, and the General Assembly’s approval rate has fallen to just 20 percent, according to a mid-July poll by Public Policy Polling.

The next goal is to provide avenues for citizens throughout the state to take part in the ongoing uprising. It will be nearly a decade before the next federally-mandated congressional redistricting (the process of redrawing legislative boundaries, which happens after every U.S. Census). In the meantime, the decline in popular support for Republican leadership means that the GOP has more incentive than ever to rig elections to favor Republican candidates. In late July, the North Carolina General Assembly began pursuing that goal by passing legislation that requires voters to show government-issued photo IDs at the polls and ends same-day voter registration. The legislation also weakens campaign donation disclosure laws.

North Carolinians face a long-term battle. The Supreme Court’s ruling means the DOJ will not come to the aid of jurisdictions previously covered under Section 4(b). With so much authority ceded to states, people who value free and fair elections must localize efforts, cast voting rights as foundational, and embrace broad inclusivity.

In North Carolina, this is creating intersectional solidarity rather than diluting the message. Weekly protesters include everyone from disaffected Republicans to members of the Occupy movement. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of the people. As the president of the NC-NAACP, Rev. Dr. William Barber, noted at the July 22 protests, “Our parents already won this fight with less than we have now.” And from here, the path is clear: “Forward together! Not one step back!”

This profile also appears in the Summer 2013 issue of the of PRA’s Public Eye magazine.


Dan Peltier, a Summer 2013 Research and Editorial Intern at PRA, recently interviewed Leigh Bordley about her participation in the “Moral Monday” protests. A lifelong resident of North Carolina, Bordley has been a member of the Durham, NC, school board since 2008. She served as executive director of Partners for Youth from 1998-2011. She has also been a consultant for Literacy South and the director of development for NC Equity. Bordley became active in the protests because she believes that legislation recently passed by the General Assembly doesn’t represent North Carolina’s true values. She attended five protests in Raleigh and was arrested during one of them. 

A lot of the media attention has focused on the protests as being heavily based in Christian prayer and teaching, including an article in which you say you “went as a Christian.”  What is your take on the Christian connection?

I went as a Christian because I am a liberal. Jesus taught that we should all help people living in poverty. Much of the legislation getting passed by Republicans is harming the poor and not helping to grow our state’s economy. It just made perfect sense to me to go to these protests and pray that the representatives hear our complaints and realize that they don’t speak for the majority of North Carolinians. I was arrested at one of the protests for speaking out against this legislature and was put in jail with the other arrestees. It was fun but not ideal. It was like a big party with no food. There were elderly people and teachers, and we all supported each other. We went to jail for what we believe in and for expressing our opinions.

Leigh Bordley

Leigh Bordley

Even though the General Assembly is now in summer recess, the protests don’t seem to be losing momentum.  Would you say that this is a sign of their success?

A: Success is hard to gauge.  We didn’t seem to get through to the Republicans. But I think we definitely made some voters second guess why they chose to elect some of the people who are behind some of the horrible legislation getting passed. That’s why myself and other Forward Together Movement members are continuing the protests and taking them on the road to all of the major cities across the state–so that voters are aware of how they are being represented, and to show that we have endurance and won’t back down.

Q: The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the NC-NAACP (which organized the protests), has said that “our parents already won this fight with less than we have now.” What are your thoughts on that? 

A: I grew up in the 1960s, watching the civil rights movement unfold, and a lot of it took place in nearby cities such as Greensboro. The African-American civil rights movement was driven by desperation and excitement, and people thought that real change was coming. While some things have changed, so many others have stayed the same.  Today, our fight is not as exciting. It can be very discouraging and even disheartening.  It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re any further along, and I’m not sure if we’ve made a net gain or that we ever “won” anything.

Q: This is the first time in more than a century that Republicans have controlled the General Assembly. Do you see North Carolina as a new battleground for the Right, and what do you see as potential future challenges?

A: This will not be an easy fight. Democrats have suffered from gerrymandering, and this is a backlash against progressives. I feel hopeful about our chances, but we really need to convince voters in these gerrymandered districts that the Republicans are not acting in their best interests. This is our biggest challenge. I have experience in working on the Obama campaign, and I know that this will not be easy–but that with enough help, we can try to make a difference. These protests have been and continue to be extremely well organized, so we have that on our side. I am a lifelong resident of North Carolina and have seen that, historically, the state has been fairly moderate. All of a sudden, it is so far right that I don’t even recognize my own state anymore. I had to get involved and do something, because what is going on inside the General Assembly Building is not the real North Carolina.

“Bipartisan” Evangelical Rev. Rodriguez Conservative Even on Immigration

RodriguezGreat value is placed on being bipartisan in Washington, D.C., today.  Or, at least, appearing bipartisan.  That may be part of the secret of the remarkable success of Christian Right leader Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), who manages to appear bipartisan without actually being bipartisan. Rodriguez claims he supports the “agenda of the Lamb” (a biblical metaphor for Jesus) rather than the Democratic donkey or the Republican elephant, a self-portrayal the media eats up, but his version always turns out to be conservative and Republican–as illustrated by the latest revelations about his role in immigration reform.

Early in the first Obama administration, Rodriguez was presented as one of a new breed of moderate evangelical leaders who, along with Rick Warren, would displace the Christian Right old guard. Neither managed to maintain the facade. Warren exited stage right after being repeatedly exposed, as Rob Boston put it, as “Jerry Falwell in a Hawaiian shirt,” including for his role attacking LGBTQ rights in Uganda, as exposed by PRA’s Globalizing the Culture Wars. Meanwhile, Rodriguez was abandoned by liberals and the Democratic Party in the wake of his strident anti-Muslim, anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, and overtly pro-Republican politics.

Yet Rodriguez has survived, largely in the media, as a figure who transcends racial, religious and political divides on immigration reform. But even on immigration, his signature issue across two presidential administrations, he has a controversial and decidedly conservative record. In 2009, he publicly deprioritized immigration reform (as I report in The Public Eye), declaring that if we got it right on abortion and marriage, God would take care of immigration. Now that immigration has moved to the center of public policy discussion, it is worth surfacing more of his record. Read More