Category Archives: History

White Nationalists Push Back Against Efforts to Honor Black Confederates

The 2015 Charleston church massacre and 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville prompted a reckoning with the monuments that still dot the former Confederate States of America, with dozens of municipalities pulling down statues and relocating plaques and flags to museums.

Now two Republican lawmakers want to erect a new monument at the South Carolina statehouse—to African-Americans who fought for the Confederacy. It’s not surprising that they’re running into opposition from historians, who say almost no blacks chose to take up arms for the South. But the project is also at odds with the efforts of white nationalists who, for different reasons, want to ensure the Confederacy is remembered as a white supremacist project.

State Reps. Bill Chumley and Mike Burns told TPM their inspiration came from a group of descendants of African-American Confederate soldiers who reached out to them last October, wanting to construct a monument honoring their ancestors. The lawmakers say their only aim is educating South Carolinians about a forgotten part of their state’s history.

Civil war historians counter that the vast majority of blacks who served in the Confederacy were slaves working as cooks, servants, laborers. A very small number, some historians say, did serve as armed soldiers, but only because they were forced into doing so. They argue the myth of blacks volunteering as soldiers is designed to obfuscate the reality that slavery was the root cause of the conflict.

Meanwhile,  a younger generation of white nationalists proudly acknowledges that the South fought the Civil War to protect and propagate the enslavement of African-Americans. And they have pushed back against efforts to memorialize black Confederates.

“One of the things that this black Confederate narrative is trying to do is paint the Confederacy as a multicultural, progressive experiment in civil rights,” Kevin Levin, author of the forthcoming book “Searching for Black Confederate Soldiers,” told TPM.

“Hardcore white supremacists want to step back and say, ‘Look, the Confederacy was racist, their goal was the preservation of white supremacy and slavery. And they’re actually the ones who are on solid historical ground; they’re the ones that are cutting through the myth.”

In a 2017 blog post, white nationalist Brad Griffin decried so-called “Rainbow Confederates” who engage in “deceptive historical revisionism.” Another leading white nationalist, Matthew Heimbach, has written that the focus on non-white soldiers obscures the fact that the Confederate army believed in maintaining “the superiority of the White race in all affairs.”

Commenters on a recent article posted about the South Carolina monument on white nationalist site American Renaissance mock the effort to honor black soldiers as “tripe” and “cuckservatism at its most absurd.”

The lawmakers behind the proposal, which they pre-filed in December, both voted in 2015 against removing the Confederate battle flag from statehouse grounds. And they admit that they’re trying to advance the largely discredited idea that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights and economic issues, not primarily over slavery.

“It is in part about slavery,” Rep. Burns told TPM of the conflict, “but in fact it’s largely about the 35 percent tariff that was imposed on all goods and services coming in and out of the south in that period. The truth of the matter is that there were thousands of black Confederates serving on the side of the south.”

Burns and Chumley claim it was Walter Curry, a board member of South Carolina’s African-American Chamber of Commerce and great-great-great grandson of the state’s only known female African-American Confederate veteran, who first reached out to them about constructing the monument. Curry did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment. Chumley and Burns said they would release the names of the other black South Carolinian individuals and groups who pitched the monument idea to them next week.

“Whatever the circumstances were, they fought,” Chumley told TPM. “They picked up the cause. That’s what was admirable about it.”

But historians, despite some ongoing disagreement on the number and significance of the role blacks played in the Confederacy, say these sorts of depictions are historically inaccurate, not educational.

John Stauffer, a Harvard University historian who has clashed with Levin over his advocacy for the “symbolic” importance of black Confederates, told TPM that the “statistically insignificant” number who took up arms did so “essentially with a gun to their heads.”

There were a small number of free blacks in cities like New Orleans who outwardly supported the Confederacy to protect the few rights they had, and tens of thousands more enslaved laborers who worked on ironworks, railroads, and as body servants to Confederate officers on the battlefield. But a Confederate law prohibiting blacks from enlisting as soldiers, enacted out of fear that arming African-Americans would foment an uprising, wasn’t repealed until weeks before the conflict ended in 1865.

Stauffer cautioned that public monuments like the one proposed in South Carolina fail to provide this necessary context and are just another way of “purging slavery from the war.”

Scores of websites maintained by modern-day Confederate sympathizers aim to do just that, pushing dubiously-sourced news accounts and images of black men in uniform as proof that African-Americans were valued servicemen. Paul Gramling, Lt. Commander-in-Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told TPM the existence of black Confederates proves that the “reason for that war was money and taxes.” Kirk Lyons, head of the stridently pro-Confederate Southern Legal Resource Center, maintains a Facebook page devoted to those people, and said statues like the one in South Carolina would be a credit to the “contributions” of these “undercounted” supporters of the Confederate government.

The monument proposal has been assigned to the legislature’s judiciary committee, and Chumley and Burns hope to get a hearing to debate it once the body reconvenes next Tuesday.

Advancing the project will be an uphill battle.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Rep. Samuel Rivers, the only black Republican in the Palmetto State’s legislature and a member of the judiciary committee, said a “dicey” new Confederate statue was the wrong way to teach residents about their state’s history.

“I have no desire to continue to go backwards in some continuous battle that has already been won,” Rivers said. “I’m for educating us on what happened, but erecting monuments of over 100 years ago? Let’s move forward.”


Posted by The NON-Conformist


Hail to the Warmongers

Delayed Enlistment Program members stretch a giant American flag over the field during an NFL pregame ceremony in Tampa Bay. (U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia)

I think [the emperor] knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them, and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate. It’s the sand of the Colosseum. He’ll bring them death … and they will love him for it.
—Senator Gracchus, “Gladiator”

They all want to be “war presidents.” Most American chief executives learned long ago that the express lane to high approval ratings—at least initially—lay in military excursions and martial bombast. Just ask the Bush presidents, father and son.

Domestic consensus is hard. Republican health care policy: unpopular. The new tax reform bill: very unpopular.

But bombings, raids, even the death of an American commando or two are always good for a rally-round-the-flag publicity boost. And make no mistake: President Trump, the former reality TV star—and still my commander in chief—always can sniff out good ratings.

When a Navy SEAL died (along with several children) on a botched raid in an undeclared war in Yemen, the president had only to parade the petty officer’s widow before Congress to commence a record round of applause. CNN panelist Van Jones, not a supporter of the president, had seen enough: “[Trump] became president of the United States in that moment, period.”

Sometime later, when Trump expanded America’s undeclared war in Syria, launching 59 cruise missiles at Assad’s forces, CNN host Fareed Zakaria could not contain himself: “Donald Trump became president last night.” Odd, isn’t it, that acts of war—more than any other deed—transmit leadership bona fides?

Perpetual war, of course, is now as American as apple pie. In the span of my own military career, we’ve even been through several names for the campaign. First, we called the actions the “war on terror,” then “Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom,” then the “long war,” and now who-knows-what. But despite changing tactics and several rebrandings, we seem no closer to victory. What remains is the culture of conflict, the reality of death and certainty of protracted war.

And, of course, the war culture demands its own discourse. Here, the president and a bevy of politicians stand ready to spew martial rhetoric on demand. A bipartisan array of mainstream Beltway figures agree that warmaking is oh so “presidential.” To unleash the war machine is to appear utterly “serious” as a commander in chief. Can’t blame them. All politicians respond to positive reinforcement, especially Trump. The populace empowers militarism through questions not asked and platitudes unchallenged.

As for me, I’m no longer moved by uniformed pageantry, truculent swagger or bellicose action. While not an outright pacifist, my heart now lies forever with dead children on Baghdad’s streets and all the other helpless, innocent refuse of the chaos America unleashed in a troubled region. Rhetoric is lost on a veteran who knows empathy, both for his foes and innocent victims. As Walt Whitman reminds us, that is the “real war,” and it “will never make it in the books.” Perhaps it must be so; eternal conflict requires our forgetting.

What we—veterans, activists, human beings, take your pick—cannot countenance is bluster from a generation of leaders who have never seen the horror of combat. Not that all soldiers are right, or superior or more ethical. Far from it. But shouldn’t the line be drawn somewhere? I set that line at irresponsible, toxic gusto from policymakers spared by college deferments, bone spurs or the demise of conscription. They never have had to grapple with the honest, visceral stench of warfare.

Trump, let us remember, claimed to “know more about ISIS than the generals,” promised to “bomb the shit out of ’em” and to not need the advice of “non-hero” John McCain (who should have known better than to “get captured”). Trump, a “veteran” of a New York “military” high school, never relents in his oratorical bombast. Many Americans may scoff and write him off, but this rhetoric is dangerous. This president, remember, is the one who threatened North Korea with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen.” Does that mean nuclear war? If so, what is the potential trigger? No one seems to know or say. This is terrifying.

Trump’s proclamations, while farcical and coarse, aren’t all that unique. During the 2016 election campaign, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz gleefully vowed to “carpet-bomb” Islamic State and “see if sand can glow in the dark.” As I listened to Cruz, I felt like crying out: “Those are human beings under those bombs.” The irresponsibility of his harangue, from a sitting senator, is staggering.

Unfortunately, most Americans inhabiting the warfare state are numb to such talk. Think for a moment what Cruz called for: carpet-bombing by the Air Force that would kill many thousands of civilians. This is ethically abhorrent and tactically obtuse—as each of those innocent deaths are known to motivate future adversaries and feed the Islamic State recruiting machine.

It also demonstrates a trait Cruz has in common with the vast majority of America’s political “chicken hawks”—they don’t know a thing about combat. After all, noted hawks such as Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and others haven’t served a day in uniform. If they had, or if they knew a thing about operational matters, they’d surely know Islamic State lives, fights and travels among the civilian populace and within populated cities. Carpet-bombing is highly inappropriate and ill-advised, playing right into the hands of Islamic State’s propaganda playbook.

Recent reports—though the Pentagon disputes them—note that many thousands of Iraqi and Syrian civilians have been killed in America’s somewhat more measured bombing campaign. It doesn’t matter, though. Few Americans call out the chicken hawks or force them to pay a political price. The U.S. is deep into more than 16 years of war, and the populace is immune and apathetic.

Militarism and tough talk are, of course, bipartisan in the hallowed halls of the American garrison state. After 9/11, then-Sen. Clinton admitted being “pretty pugnacious” and said that vaguely defined “terrorists” would “feel America’s wrath.” While she supported Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, she remained hawkish on the Islamic Republic, threatening “massive” (read: nuclear) “retaliation” should Iran ever attack Israel.

The bottom line is this: Today’s mainstream Democrats are no doves—they just couch the hardline rhetoric in cagier language. If anything, Democrats appear to so fear the Republicans labeling them as “soft” on terror that they overcompensate and try harder to prove their warlike spirit.

Being tough with talk and loose with the bombs is the easy part. Crafting a strategy to bring decades of war to a satisfying conclusion while minimizing human suffering demands a bit more. More, one fears, than Washington is capable of offering the American people. The current president vowed to “defeat terrorism” on several occasions. Sounds reassuring. Nonetheless, short of nuclear strikes (which Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee seems worried about) or full national wartime mobilization, it is unclear what would end terrorism—which is a tactic, not a tangible adversary, by the way.

Make no mistake, I recognize the need for a strong, credible, national defense deterrent. But irresponsible rhetorical language is poisoning American culture. The citizenry has been taught to thoughtlessly worship all that is martial and violent. It’s all linked: war abroad and militarized police at home; Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Roy Moore and the whole “me too” moment about sexual assault; mass shootings and tens of thousands of other firearms deaths a year. This is America. This is what makes us exceptional on the global stage.

Do not be fooled. Nationalism, patriotism and the whole lot are at their core militaristic and chauvinistic emotions. We Americans are a violent lot and revere savagery in its sundry forms. Many men cling to the combative language of “national defense” because they—and guess who they vote for—sense a crisis of manhood, one that ties directly to the Weinstein scandal, et al. For these countless, terrified men—civilians and veterans alike—war and militarism are the last bastions where vulgar masculinity, in word and deed, remain acceptable.

The hawkish semantics also relate to the uniquely American gun culture. This week, I stopped by the Walmart in my (ostensibly liberal) Kansas college town, and there were a dozen gun and ammo magazines, but not a single thoughtful foreign policy publication. No Foreign Affairs, no Harper’s, no Economist, no anything. That’s how most Americans want it, and it reflects the prevailing culture. Should we really be surprised? Americans’ historical heroes have long been the Wild West gunfighters, themselves often extralegal vigilantes.

We are a violent, weaponized people. When was the last time you saw a person who didn’t carry a gun to work honored before a football game? Where are social workers and elementary school librarians venerated on the 50-yard line? This, of course, is where the specious NFL kneeling controversy connects to our pervasive, aggressive discourse. Even Americans’ cherished “Star-Spangled Banner” is, at root, a war anthem. It’s a national psychosis mixing power, violence and barely stifled guilt.

The culture is inundated with militaristic displays, uniformed honor guards, jets flying overhead, and on and on. This occurs every week in the NFL, and it’s neither necessary nor healthy. Even I’m old enough to remember when we saved most of that pomp for just two times of year: Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Two is enough.

If only America’s officers and policymakers thought before they spoke, provided mature, nuanced analysis and ditched the flashy bluster.

It would also be great if American military professionals had the self-awareness and confidence to be less self-righteous and make do without the martial pageantry and constant adulation.

This veteran, at least, votes for fewer flags and more speculative prose, softer anthems and stronger debate. If only that were still possible.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

By Maj. Danny Sjursen/truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Bonkers Right-Wing Obama Birther Conspiracy Theory Arises Conspiracy theory reaches local talk radio and fake news websites.

Some local talk radio shows and fake news websites are pushing a new conspiracy theory from Infowars that the CIA hacked into a Hawaii state government database to forge former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. One of the radio hosts pushing the conspiracy theory has previously been cited as an analyst on a local ABC affiliate.

On December 12, Jerome Corsi of the conspiracy theory outlet Infowars claimed that investigators for former Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, headed by his chief investigator Michael Zullo, had found “evidence that the CIA and or other government entities illegally hacked into Hawaii Department of Health records searching for” Obama’s records. (President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio in August after he was charged with criminal contempt because of his treatment of undocumented immigrants.) Corsi, who has been a chief figure of the birther movement, added that the “evidence” “strongly suggests the CIA played a role in the forgery” of Obama’s birth certificate.

Some local talk radio stations have hyped Infowars’ report. New Orleans talk radio host Jeff Crouere — a Townhall writer who has been featured as a “political analyst” on ABC’s New Orleans affiliate WGNO — calledCorsi’s report a “bombshell” on his radio program (which is carried by a station affiliated with Louisiana Public Broadcasting) and said, “I’ve said from the beginning that birth certificate [Obama] released was a fraud.”

Some stations have invited Corsi and Zullo as guests on different radio shows and allowed them to push the extremely dubious allegation. Corsi hyped his report on Weekend Wake Up with Chuck and Julie on Denver, CO, radio station KNUS, where Corsi said that the “CIA played a major role in, I believe, creating” Obama’s long-form birth certificate that was released in 2011. Corsi also promoted the conspiracy theory on The Peter Boyles Show, which also airs on KNUS. In response to Corsi’s “report,” Boyles said that Obama’s “social security number is fraudulent” (Boyles has previously allowed guests to push birtherism on his program). Zullo spoke about the article on the show Your Turn on Northwest Florida radio station WEBY, where the host called the report a “bombshell” that’s “shaking the Earth” and lauded Infowars.

Additionally, multiple fake news websites have lauded the report, with some of them also calling it a “bombshell” and claiming that it showed the CIA“possibly with the help of other government agencies, forged Obama’s documentation.” Some of these fake news websites also used their verified Facebook pages to push the conspiracy theory. The Infowars report was also hyped on the pro-Trump subreddit “/r/The_Donald,” a conduit for conspiracy theories.

This is not the first time this year that an Infowars conspiracy theory citing Arpaio has reverberated in the right-wing echo chamber with the help of fake news websites. In March, the outlet, trying to back Trump’s false claimthat Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower, asserted that Arpaio had documents showing that Trump and his family had been surveilled by the National Security Agency (NSA) for years. That report subsequently spreadto other far-right outlets and fake news websites, along with The Drudge Report.

By Alex Kaplan / Media Matters

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Confederacy Endures

There was a right side and a wrong side in the late war, that no sentiment ought to cause us to forget … the South has suffered to be sure, but she has been the author of her own suffering.”

—Frederick Douglass, remarks at Madison Square, New York City (1878)

I’ve always loved to stir the pot. For instance, when I taught American history at West Point (from 2014 to 2016), I amused myself and challenged overwhelmingly conservative students with provocative discussion questions. Here was a favorite: “Who was responsible for more American deaths—Osama bin Laden or Robert E. Lee?” The answer is as obvious as it is (for some) inflammatory. Lee, the West Point graduate and treasonous general, wins the perverse contest by at least a factor of 10. Heck, about as many soldiers from Maine died in the gruesome Civil War as did New Yorkers on 9/11.

Still, strange as it sounds, as recently as 2016, I began my mornings at West Point with a run along Lee Road, through the scenic Lee Housing Area, before grabbing a pre-class haircut in Lee Barracks. These bizarre, if not outright absurd, symbols raise so many questions. Are these commemoratives acceptable, offensive or inappropriate? Are they normal? After all, it is hard to imagine other national militaries offering ubiquitous tributes to the losing side of their civil wars and revolutions. You’ll find no Fort Himmler in Germany or Oliver Cromwell (or, for that matter, King James II) Barracks in the United Kingdom. Oh, how the United States insists on being “exceptional.”

Nevertheless, until the 2015 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and the deadly rallies in Charlottesville, Va., in August, such American military dedications seemed curiously normal. I can’t remember a single mention in my four years (from 2001 to 2005) as a young cadet at the military academy.

Truthfully, no one ought to be shocked. The inconvenient truth is that the military, especially the Army, has long reflected a growing political and cultural divide in the United States. There are 10 Army bases named for Confederate generals: Camp Beauregard and Forts Rucker, Benning, Lee, Polk, Bragg, Gordon, Pickett and Hood, as well as my personal “favorite,” Fort A.P. Hill, named after one of Lee’s corps commanders, a man whose troops executed surrendering black Union troops.

Whence They Came

Studies demonstrate that young people are more likely to enlist if they live in close proximity to military bases and communities, which makes perfect sense. Thus, it’s highly significant that there are so many more Army bases per capita in former Confederate states. With the exception of California, the active-duty Army has at most three major bases in what constituted Union states during the Civil War. There are 18 such sites in the former Confederate states. Even in the relatively young (formed in 1947) Air Force, basing is skewed toward the South. Again, discounting California, there are only nine active-duty installations in the Union states, versus at least 29 in the old Confederacy.

At a national level, contemporary culture wars demonstrate the enduring legacy of the North-South divide in politics and culture. Presidential election maps have, in this sense, been remarkably consistent since the Civil War. Secessionist candidates John Breckenridge and John Bell won every future Confederate state in 1860. For nearly a century, the Confederacy was solidly Democratic—a party then traditionally affiliated with segregation and white supremacy. After President Lyndon Johnson had the Civil and Voting Rights Acts passed, Republicans soon dominated in Southern states.

Here’s the rub: Statistically, more soldiers and officers hail from the South, and they’re also more likely to be politically conservative. Since 1968, Republicans have owned the Deep South. Richard Nixon won every former Confederate state in 1972, Ronald Reagan carried all but one in 1980 and the whole South in 1984. So did George H.W. Bush in 1988. Even in defeat, he carried seven of 12 Confederate states in 1992, as did Bob Dole in 1996. More recently, George W. Bush “won” the whole Confederacy in 2000 and 2004. Even in victory, Democrat Barack Obama won just five Southern states between his two elections. Which brings us to 2016, when Donald Trump rode to victory carrying all but one secessionist state.

These very states provide a disproportionate number of new recruits, and the military has (at least since the end of the draft in 1973) been increasingly unreflective of the national demographics. Soldiers, to generalize, are considerably more Southern and rural than the population at large. For example, today, seven of 12 Confederate states rank among the top 20 in per capita military recruits, versus just two of 23 Union states. Most of the others hail from the rural mountain West and such overseas territories as Samoa. That’s a staggering imbalance in a supposedly representative, national institution and one all but certain to influence the culture and attitudes within the martial profession.

A Tragic (Not-So-Hypothetical) Path

So, back to the military, and the human consequences for a not-so-atypical American soldier. Today, in the United States—the world’s “indispensable nation”—a young African-American woman from Montgomery, Ala., might graduate from Jefferson Davis High School (92 percent black and named for the president of the Confederacy), and, awash with patriotic fervor, choose to enlist in the Army. Basic training might then commence at Fort Benning, Ga., whose namesake—Confederate Gen. Henry Benning—said of the war: “The north shall have attained power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?” How lovely.

Being interested in a future career in communications, our brave young woman would then attend advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Ga. Home of the Army Signal Corps, the fort is named for Gen. John Gordon, who, before the outbreak of war, declared that “slavery is the hand-maiden of civil liberty.” He also led the Georgia branch of the Ku Klux Klan. What a proud commemoration for an installation, especially in an Army officially dedicated to values of “respect, honor, and integrity.”

After several months of training, our new young private might then earn an assignment to one of North America’s largest military bases—Fort Hood, Texas. Gen. John Bell Hood lost a leg and the use of an arm in the service of a secessionist slaveholding republic. Hood so cherished the Confederate battle flag that he enthusiastically exclaimed, “I can assure you, that the gallant hearts that throb beneath its sacred folds will only be content when this glorious banner is planted first and foremost in the coming struggle for our independence.” Isn’t that nice?

Now, some will inevitably argue that the South fought for some vague notion of “state’s rights,” not slavery. There’s so much evidence to refute this claim that a serious scholar is tempted to ignore the contention. But, unable to help myself, I’d ask such readers to consider just one example—Texas’ secession declaration—which unambiguously declared:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race. …

Others might argue that our young military recruit should quit being such a snowflake and not take offense. But isn’t that a lot to ask of a black youth seeking only to serve her country without being surrounded by, and constantly reminded of, the slave society that sought to defeat America’s Army and enslave her ancestors?

So, how to make it right? Here’s a good, if symbolic, start: Ditch the traitorous, Confederate regalia nonsense. Move these historic symbols where they belong—into museums. Ironically, perhaps the best spokesman for such a policy is Gen. Robert E. Lee himself. After the war, Lee consistently opposed Confederate statues and commemoration, and didn’t want the Confederate battle flag to fly over Washington College—of which he was then president. The military, as one of the few—ostensibly—national institutions, ought to bridge the cultural divide and once again reflect the whole nation, unite disparate individuals and mirror America’s purported values.

E pluribus unum—out of many, one. At least in theory.

By Maj. Danny Sjursen/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Trump’s Jerusalem Pronouncement Is a Classic American Imperial Blunder From Bears Ears to Jerusalem, Trump’s policy is all about disenfranchising people of color.

After drastically shrinking the size of Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah on Monday, President Trump on Wednesday announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump said, speaking at Utah’s State Capitol beneath a painting of Mormon pioneers. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”

“This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” Trump said on Wednesday of his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. “It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”

The two actions take effect 7,000 miles apart, but they share a common denominator: Trump is tearing up formal agreements accepted by the United States government and unilaterally imposing a new understanding on the other parties involved, namely the 7 million Palestinians who live in greater Israel/Palestine, and the Native American people who live in or around Bears Ears.

Compromise Jettisoned

On one level, Trump’s action on Jerusalem is commonsensical. The ancient city of Jerusalem is the political and cultural center of the land known as Israel/Palestine. Jews have lived in the city for thousands of years. But so have Palestinian Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, who are now relegated to second-class citizenship and dispossession by Israel’s occupation and its apartheid wall. That’s why the U.S. government for the past 50 years has refused to recognize Israel’s unilateral claim to the city until the equally valid claims of Palestinians are honored too. That is no longer the U.S. government’s position.

The shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah by 85 percent is no less one-sided. On Dec. 28, 2016, President Obama expanded the size of the park over the objections of elected officials in Utah.

Since 2009, Bears Ears has been managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service in consultation with five of the local tribes (Navajo Nation, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni), all of which have ancestral ties to the region. Obama’s December 2016 proclamation declared that federal agencies shall “carefully and fully consider integrating the traditional and historical knowledge” of the tribes into management decisions. The language, noted the High Country News, “gives tribes an unprecedented amount of say over their ancestral lands that lie in the public domain yet outside the boundaries of their reservations.”

But Obama engaged in extensive consultation with the local population and did not agree to all of the requests of the native people in the area. Obama’s proclamation omitted several areas from the final monument designation, a “significant” concession to those who opposed the designation.

On both issues, Trump reversed Obama’s positions with the insouciance of a colonial potentate. His Jerusalem decision says Israel will dictate to, not negotiate with the Palestinians. His Bears Ears decision says Washington and Utah will dictate to, not negotiate with the native tribes that also have a claim to the land. Compromise has been jettisoned in favor of privileging the interests of whites over non-whites.

Trump made no effort to consult with other stakeholders in his deliberations. They are simply not part of any “reality” that Trump recognizes. On Monday he barely acknowledged the native peoples who have lived in the area for thousands of years before the Mormon settlers. On Wednesday he made no mention of Palestinians who have regarded Jerusalem as their capital for thousands of years.

Wedge Created

And Trump created wedge issues to use against Democrats, at home and abroad.

In Utah, the native tribes and environmental groups have already filed suit to block Trump’s actions, while Republican elected officials and their constituents celebrate the opportunity to drill for oil and gas on previously protected lands.

On Israel, Trump has pandered to conservative Jews who yearn for a peace agreement on Zionist terms, which is Trump’s ostensible aim. He fractured liberal Democratic unity by getting Chuck Schumer to endorse his shortsighted move. And he delivered a victory for his base of Christians and alt-right anti-Semites alike.

The Christian right, which excuses Trump’s un-Christian lifestyle with a generosity they extend to few other sinners, welcomes the embrace of Israel and its domination of Muslims. The anti-Semitic alt-right, while oddly soft on right-wing Israeli Jews, is delighted by the snub of the liberal majority of American Jews who favor an equitable settlement with Palestinians, at least in theory.

When Slate’s Josh Keating says Trump’s actions in Jerusalem are “cynically pointless,” he underestimates the president’s cynicism and overlooks his unmistakable point: previous political agreements between the descendants of white settlers and non-white natives are null and void. Colonialism, American-style, has returned.

By Jefferson Morley / AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

A Progressive ‘Redneck Revolt’ Says Tackle Racism First Addressing our systems of white supremacy cannot be dismissed as “identity politics.”

“Moved by the need for control, for an unchallenged top tier, the power elite in American history has thrived by placating the vulnerable and creating for them a false sense of identification—denying real class differences where possible.”
—Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

There is no shortage of media commentary discrediting “identity politics,” particularly the focus on Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, and immigrant communities calling for justice and equity. Economics is our real problem, a counter argument goes, not race, sex, gender, citizenship. But as author Nancy Isenberg points out in White Trash, “identity has always been a part of politics.”

Laws have been written to oppress and exploit particular identities—Native Americans, Black Americans, Asians, homosexuals, transgender, and women—in a successful effort to maintain a system of White supremacy. Yet, members of these communities have worked for the rights and equality of everyone. In turn, White allies have joined in these anti-racism fights.

The Redneck Revolt is one such organization. The self-described anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist group challenges working-class White people to stand against White supremacy.

I recently talked to Brett, one of the members who heads up the network’s Southeast Michigan Chapter. (Because of hostilities toward the organization, Redneck Revolt members use only their first names publicly.) There are about 40 chapters nationwide. He explained why the group focuses on anti-racism rather than economics even though it seeks out white working-class and poor people in economically struggling rural areas.

The interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Zenobia Jeffries: What is the significance of the name Redneck Revolt? Why did the name change from the John Brown Gun Club?

Brett: They’re two sides of the same coin. We have some branches that are still the John Brown Gun Club. Our national network is Redneck Revolt.

Redneck Revolt chapters like ours in Michigan here primarily focus on outreach, and winning hearts and minds, counter recruitment, showing up, being present, being allies, being where we need to be to show our community support.

Whereas, John Brown Gun Club pretty much only deals with the firearm aspect of things. It deals with a lot of tactical training, a lot of information security-type stuff.

Jeffries: Can you give an example of what you mean by “changing hearts and minds.” What does that look like?

Brett: A really great example would be back in June. The ACT for America folks did an anti-sharia law march. Redneck Revolt was there. We were on one side of the barricades along with a slew of other leftist organizations. On the other side of the barricades were Proud Boys, Vanguard America, and a hodgepodge of other alt-right groups. But one of the most prominent was the Michigan Liberty Militia, which is famously racist and famously exclusionary.

Toward the end of the demonstration, this one older gentleman—he was an older White man up at the barricade with all the gear on, and armed—had his rifle. One of my members and [I] went up to this guy and were like, “I understand mixing state and religion is not good. Nobody here wants to mix state and religion, nobody is protesting that. [But] it’s clearly anti-Muslim. This protest is against Muslims.

“Furthermore, it’s against all people of color because this neighborhood [is] first-generation Somali, first-generation people from sub-Saharan Africa who are fleeing abject poverty and warfare, starvation, disease. So how can you be in this neighborhood and be like, ‘This is what America stands for’?

“Not only that, if you look to your left and right, those kids with the sun wheel on their shields, and the eagle on their shirts, those guys are self-described, literal Nazis. We fought a war about this. I thought we were all in unanimous agreement that Nazis are bad.”

And this guy he kind of started tearing up, and he was like, “You know, I’ll tell you, my dad died in World War II in Europe fighting Nazis.” And he goes, “This really has given me [something to think about]. You know I may not agree with everything you say. But associating myself like this has really given me pause, and has really made me think about what I’m doing here.”

We don’t expect anybody to walk away from someplace where we’re counter-recruiting waving the red flag of revolution. But if we can at least pull them out of that mindset, that’s a win for us.

Jeffries: One of the things I find fascinating about Redneck Revolt is that your primary focus is organizing working-class Whites, yet you center race and anti-racism in the work that you do. So many are putting the focus on the economy, and calling anti-racism work “identity politics.” How did you all decide that you wanted to focus on White supremacy—that it is just as much of a problem for working-class Whites as for people of color?

Brett: Our stance is that our entire capitalist system is built on a bedrock of White supremacy, and as White folks we have access to spaces that people of color don’t. So we try to exploit the spaces and put ourselves in those positions to reach the White working class because it’s like the old IWW [Industrial Workers World] saying, “If we don’t get to them first, the Klan will.”

And we understand that if there’s going to be any kind of serious discourse about dismantling capitalism, about building the new world from the ashes of the old, as they say, that description can’t be had until the underlying issue of racism is addressed.

That’s why [we] don’t engage law enforcement. We believe law enforcement is an extension of the old slave catchers.

We don’t engage with anything that reinforces the current system that basically is built on White supremacy. We go to great lengths to dismantle that system and empower people to help us do that, but at the same time using the spaces that we have access to, to get other people to see that.

And I believe that a lot of people we speak to may generally not be racist in a conventional sense. But they’re certainly benefitting from the system of White supremacy that has been built. They’re not doing anything to actually help dismantle it.

So, that’s kind of the message that we try to bring across. Nobody is saying [to them], “You’re like burning crosses, you’re actively racist.” But you have to acknowledge that … as a White person in America, you are benefitting from White supremacy.

So, in order to address capitalism, in order to address economics, the issue of systemic racism first has to be addressed.

Jeffries: I would imagine that when you’re in those spaces, and saying what you’re saying, that people respond, “But Black people are racist, too.”

Brett: Yes, we get that a lot.

For an example, I was talking to a gentleman the other day. He was like, “Blacks have a whole month. They have Black History Month, where we do nothing but celebrate Black history. Blacks have their own channel. People would be up in arms if we had a White Entertainment Television.” And that’s the kind of thing we get most often.

What I say, first of all, is there is no such thing as White culture—that’s a myth.

Secondly, we do celebrate White holidays: Oktoberfest, St. Patrick’s Day, arguably Columbus Day. Not to mention our entire society is [tilted toward] celebrating Whiteness. What I try to tell people is, Look at your ancestors. Most White people can point to a single village. I’ll use myself as an example. I can point to a single village in Sweden. I know exactly where my people are from. That’s why I take a lot of pride in my Scandinavian heritage.

Whereas with Black folks—and other people of color, but especially Black folks—the reason they celebrate Black culture is because their culture, everything Blacks had, was ripped away from them when they were taken from Africa. So that’s why it’s celebrated; that’s why it’s important.

Because it’s the counter narrative to hundreds of years of systemic murder, oppression, just brutal slavery. That’s why we celebrate Black culture, because that’s all most folks have.

The conversation we have to have is how can we look at ourselves and say, “I’m benefitting from this culture that has been built to only make sure people that look like me get the advantage.”

And, obviously, the topic of privilege comes up, and most White folks will deny that they have White privilege. They’ll say things like, “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps” or “My grandfather started his own business.”

It’s hard to get people out of that mindset.

[We] start explaining to them that “I’m sure your grandfather was a hardworking man, I’d never doubt that he was. But the fact that he was able to do that, and given that opportunity, I can promise you that postwar United States, a Black man applying to that same position definitely would not have gotten it.”

Jeffries: Along the lines of the “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps” mindset, I’m sure you also get folks who say, “Why should we poor and working-class Whites care about what’s happening to Blacks and other people of color when we’re struggling, too?” Especially, when the issue of crime is brought up.

Brett: We get a lot of reactionary questions, and it keeps us on our toes. But it makes our practice better. What we try to explain is that Black communities have their own set of problems just as other communities have their set of problems.

The difference is White communities have the support of the state. For example, [when] a Black family moves into a primarily White neighborhood, then the housing values tend to go down. So what happens? The state intervenes and then makes the price of housing so high that then that Black family has to leave. That’s one example of how the state supports White supremacy. I’ve given that example a whole lot, and it tends to resonate with people.

I have the clarity to understand that I am a college-educated [man] … who’s had uncountable numbers of opportunities thrown my way because I’m White. And given the same circumstances with a young Black man, that most certainly would not have happened. That’s what I try to explain: that people of color in the United States categorically do not have the same opportunities as White folks. Even if you are poor, which a lot are.

But there are systems in place to make sure that I succeed. There are systems in place that make sure that my Black counterpart does not. And it’s designed that way.

Until we as White folks can recognize collectively that we are benefitting from a system of oppression, then economics is secondary, or tertiary at best. There is no point in talking about economics when the only people affected by these economics are White people.

Jeffries: I’ve read some articles stating that Redneck Revolution doesn’t have a political ideology. While you may not align yourselves with the status quo parties of Democrat or Republican, your actions and principles are very much political. How do you describe your politics?

Brett: We’re broadly on the left. We’re what’s called a “big tent” organization. We’re overwhelmingly anarchists, but we have some communists in our ranks, we have some capitalist Democrats, progressives, and Republicans, believe it or not. I mean, we have people from all political stripes.

That being said, we do understand there’s not going to be any grand revolution tomorrow. But the best thing that we can do short of a revolution is revolutionary change. We believe that revolutionary change comes in the form of dismantling the system of White supremacy that exists.

Jeffries: What is the end goal of Redneck Revolt?

Brett: Part of it is dismantling White supremacy. Another part of it is creating spaces inside of communities [where we can] help people not rely on the state. We help to create and encourage radical spaces that encourage things like mutual aid and direct action, as opposed to relying on the state for whatever means.

For example, we’re working very closely with the IWW, one of the oldest radical unions in the country. They have a soup kitchen in Detroit where they distribute food and clothes every second and fourth Sunday in Cass Park. They’ve been doing it since 1996, or something like that. We’re trying to build a sustainable model like that close to Ypsilanti [in Michigan], especially with the winter months coming up. There’s another organization called the Michigan People of Defense, who do a lot of street medic training. There are a lot of us, including myself, who have military experience. I’m a combat lifesaver, so I have skills I can teach people.

People get hung up on the firearms thing, but we also believe that it’s very important for the working class to be armed. We also understand that that puts people of color at a very high risk. So we try to put ourselves at the tip of the spear, so that way we can teach people the knowledge that we have. We can show them safe operation of firearms. How to use them, how to safely handle them.

In [one community], there are a bunch of Hammerskins [a White supremacist group]. They basically patrol the neighborhood, and we have people of color over there who are in fear for their lives, and they’ve been reaching out to Redneck Revolt to help show them to use firearms.

We’ve taken proactive steps, and if a community needs us, they know they can call on us, and in a heartbeat we’ll be there to help in any capacity that we’re able.

The big point is building mutual aid, radical spaces inside of existing communities to not have to rely on the state, and while doing that trying to dismantle the system of White supremacy.

We think that by doing that, one kind of complements the other.

Jeffries: Was the Trump campaign for the presidency the catalyst for Redneck Revolt?

Brett: We were already around, it’s just people didn’t know about us. And that’s probably one of the problems that we face, is that people don’t know we exist. And I want to say it’s our own fault, but we do things very intentionally.

We don’t have much of a social media presence, and we do that on purpose because we have no interest in getting bogged down in spam wars on the internet. If you have a legitimate critique of our practices, meet us in the streets, tell us what we’re doing wrong. And if your idea is better, then we’ll incorporate your idea. That’s the way we operate.

We feel like we’re an organization that is meant to be in the streets with the people doing things, making differences in people’s lives, not sitting behind a keyboard crying about capitalism.

You can be any [ideology] you want. If you agree with the fact that capitalism is a system of oppression, and that system of oppression is largely held up by White supremacy, and you’re willing to dismantle that system, then welcome aboard.

Jeffries: What would be your message to the middle and upper-middle classes, to so-called elite/progressive/liberal Whites who dismiss rural poor and working-class Whites simply as Trump supporters?

Brett: The major issue is getting them to come out of their bubble of comfort. They hear the word “redneck” and they don’t see it through the [same] lens that we do.

The word redneck has always been used pejoratively, but we don’t see it that way. We look at our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers and understand why they were called rednecks. You look back at the Harlan County wars, and those folks would wear bandanas to keep the sun off their necks, and that’s where the term redneck comes from. We embrace that term, and say, “Yeah, that’s who we are. We’re working-class people who are out in the streets.”

If you can take the blinders off, you’ll see that … your comfort is still built on a system of White supremacy. Your comfort and the things that you’re enjoying are a byproduct of 150 years of working-class struggle. If you like the weekends, thank a union man. You like your 40-hour work week, you like that there are no kids slaving in textile factories, thank a union worker.

It’s working-class people who brought those changes. It wasn’t [the] middle-class bourgeois who brought that change. It was working-class people out fighting in the streets. That’s who we are, that’s what we do.

By Zenobia Jeffries / Yes! Magazine

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Trump to shrink Utah monuments, riling tribes and environmentalists

U.S. President Donald Trump announced big cuts to Utah’s sprawling wilderness national monuments on Monday, angering tribes and environmental groups that want to keep the areas off limits to development.

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Unlike national parks that can only be created by an act of Congress, national monuments can be designated unilaterally by presidents under the century-old Antiquities Act, a law meant to protect sacred sites, artifacts and historical objects.

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