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Apr 10, 2010 8:06 pm


The Great Thing About Writing News Is That You Just Have to Change the Names on the Old Stories



Deeply worried by growing public disorder and political rage, a team of government investigators attended a meeting of an extremist group."What they heard, saw and reported back to Washington stood some people's hair on end." Agitators openly called on followers to break windows and direct their rage at political leaders -- and some even talked openly about waging war against government. The FBI issued chilling reports on the threat, warning that extremist media were stirring people to violence. Undercover federal agents attended meetings of groups that were arming and training themselves for direct confrontation with the established political order.

Finally, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times called an extremist and put the question to him directly:"Does your group propose that American Negroes resort to guerilla warfare in urban areas?" The answer was a strong and unhesitant yes, and the lesson was clear: 1967 would be the year America stared into the abyss. (But there were also some voices urging calm, since they were pretty sure that only ten percent of African-Americans wanted to start a guerilla war -- a safe and manageable number of terrifying extremists.)

From the Sedition Act to the Palmer Raids, and on into the 21st Century, gangs of unspeakably ignorant politicians and journalists have babbled loads of pathetic nonsense about the imminent destruction of legitimate government by unwashed hordes of wild-eyed extremists. They spew this brutally stupid filth because it serves their purposes, creating audiences for one and power for the other. And because they're brutally, breathtakingly, unspeakably stupid human beings who are inclined to pointless and ignorant panic.

And so this week we have the panicked dimwitted fools at Newsweek, warning America about a Surge of Hate. Straight back into the age of COINTELPRO and HUAC: people disagree with the government -- can we survive? Clearly, we have to investigate these people. Can we trust them? Are they loyal?

If you're at a university, you can bring up ProQuest quickly and easily. Compare this ignorant spew from Panicweek to, for example,"How to Avoid Guerilla Warfare: Americans Ponder Black Power," by Carl T. Rowan, in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 6, 1967. It's the story I used for the opening paragraphs of this post.

Or create your own -- there are fun examples to be had from the 1920s (Commies are everywhere!), the 1950s (Commies are everywhere!), the 1960s (black power armies are about to slaughter white America in its beds!), and etc. It was all just as smart and accurate as this week's"Surge of Hate."

Stop this, you pathetic dimwitted goddamn fools.

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David Silbey - 4/15/2010

"I appreciate your persistence and your patience, and I'm glad we've discussed this."

Not a problem.


Chris Bray - 4/15/2010

And that's probably where this discussion will leave us -- to come up with the answer to the question that divides is, we'd have to look into the future. We'll see how it all turns out.

I appreciate your persistence and your patience, and I'm glad we've discussed this.


David Silbey - 4/15/2010

No, the entire discussion has predicated on the idea that yes, the national media tends to overreact to populist movements like this, but that you're being remarkably unnuanced in this discussion by assuming 1) that the Oath Keepers are entirely harmless and 2) that populist movements have never ever ever never been either violent or harmful, 3) allowing the military and police to make individual laws that they can enforce will never lead to any problems.

To which I repeat (or add to) my earlier points: "We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty and declares the national government to be in violation of the compact by which that state entered the Union" is exactly the kind of attitude that gave us the Nullification Crisis and then the Civil War (and yes, Robert E. Lee remains a good example; choosing, as he did, not to enforce the laws of the United States on his home state of Virginia); the Ku Klux Klan was a impressively populist movement; I'm not comforted by the idea that military officers deciding to depose the President will be stopped by open warfare from the rest of the military. Offering a semi-Civil War as your *optimistic* scenario is not convincing.

That the national media is overreacting to something (in addition to being a remarkably uncontroversial statement) is not the same thing as the movement being mostly harmless.


Chris Bray - 4/14/2010

A balanced and careful piece of analysis from Jesse Walker:

http://amconmag.com/article/2010/may/01/00035/


Chris Bray - 4/14/2010

What's striking to me about this whole discussion is how much it has evaded the original point, which was that popular movements have always produced pants-wetting hysteria. You know that the Oath Keepers are potentially dangerous because their pledge to exercise restraint could turn into a scenario in which they might become violent; millions of white Americans knew that the Civil Rights Movement was really a pretext for the emergence of a civil war; Alexander Hamilton knew that John Fries was a bloodthirsty terrorist.

This precise formulation -- let's not talk about what they say they mean to do, let's talk about what I think they really mean to do! -- is old, old, old.

"2. We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people."

OMFG, violent extremists!

As a historian: have political elites, law enforcement officials, and the news media tended to exaggerate the danger and radicalism of popular movements?

This is the point. The lens through which we see.


David Silbey - 4/13/2010

"We've talked about the ways that such a promise could go off the rails"

Here--I think--is our main point of disagreement. I don't see many of the things I've mentioned as 'going off the rails' so much as a perfectly possible scenarios. The idea that folks such as this will only disobey in ways you find congenial strikes me as dangerously complacent.


Chris Bray - 4/13/2010

I don't have that faith, but in this instance I'm willing to have that hope. I don't see the Oath Keepers as asserting a freedom from following orders; rather, I see them asserting a duty to refrain from following orders to aggress against the population in politicized ways. We've talked about the ways that such a promise could go off the rails, and I see your point, but for me the bottom line is what they're pledging to not do.

I'm probably repeating myself, but I think the obedience of the police and military has been far more problematic in domestic conflict throughout American history than disobedience. Troops and cops have been used to kill striking miners and union organizers, to contain and prevent political protest, and to punish dissent in notably brutal ways.

Narrow, limited, restrained disobedience of improper orders, for clearly articulated reasons, is defensible behavior. If the Oath Keepers do precisely what they say they're pledged to do, I find their pledge admirable. If they spin beyond the narrow band of promised restraint in any of the ways you've suggested, I'd object and oppose them.

I hope we never find out what they're willing to do.

Really a pleasure to have this discussion, by the way.


David Silbey - 4/12/2010

Political power is far too concentrated -- a little diffusion would be fine with me. (Not in the service of slavery, but that question is resolved.)


This is my main problem with your assertions about the police and military. You seem to me hold to a faith that the only way the police/military will use this new freedom is in ways that you find congenial, and not in ways that you don't. Or if the latter, someone else will step in and stop them. That strikes me--given American history--as naive.


Chris Bray - 4/12/2010

"You--Chris--seem to be advocating exactly that further up the thread."

You presented a scenario in which military officers attempted to overthrow the president. I was saying that I would be willing to use violence to prevent a military coup, not to join the thing. I hope that was clear.

To prevent nullification or secession? I would almost certainly not use violence in that case -- I don't object to either, or to interposition. Political power is far too concentrated -- a little diffusion would be fine with me. (Not in the service of slavery, but that question is resolved.)

I see the point you're making about where the Oath Keepers' path might take them, but I think it requires a leap that we can't make without further evidence. I'm sure the Oath Keepers would answer your question, if someone asked them.


David Silbey - 4/12/2010

No, they seem to want to refuse to enforce the law of the land if a particular state has a problem with it. The historical parallel that that suggests is, as I first noted, the Nullification Crisis (or, in England, the Curragh Mutiny). The Robert E. Lee reference invokes the question: what do the Oath Keepers do when their police/military brethren decide to enforce the law as written? Fight them? Shoot them? You--Chris--seem to be advocating exactly that further up the thread.

Perhaps a more exact historical comparison would be Little Rock 1957: the 82nd Airborne refusing to integrate the schools because they didn't wish to overrule the state's decision, despite Eisenhower's orders.


Chris Bray - 4/12/2010

Robert E. Lee seems like entirely the wrong comparison, here -- they haven't sworn to aggress against the center in the name of a political withdrawal, but rather to refuse to act against people who might try to withdraw. You might reasonably compare them to people who refused to participate in the Civil War, but I don't think it'll work to compare the Oath Keepers to Confederates.

They don't want to fire on Fort Sumter -- they want to walk away from the contest if someone fires on Fort Sumter.


David Silbey - 4/12/2010

"#5 sounds like a order to act forcibly against American citizens to me. (Unless you're arguing that they'd no longer be American citizens because the state will have seceded. But they'd still be citizens from Washington's point of view.)"

Robert E. Lee, pick up the blue phone, you have a courtesy call.


Chris Bray - 4/12/2010

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2010/04/11/court-reporting/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter


Jesse Walker - 4/12/2010

#5 sounds like a order to act forcibly against American citizens to me. (Unless you're arguing that they'd no longer be American citizens because the state will have seceded. But they'd still be citizens from Washington's point of view.)


Chris Bray - 4/12/2010

"So, not going to buy them a beer, then?"

If I were to shoot them, I would totally help myself to their share of the beer.


David Silbey - 4/12/2010

"If military leaders made that decision and overthrew the president, I would hope (and assume) that other military officers would shoot them."

So, not going to buy them a beer, then?

"The orders that the Oath Keepers have forsworn all have one thing in common: They all involve acting forcibly against American citizens."

Really? A quick glance gives me "#5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty and declares the national government to be in violation of the compact by which that state entered the Union."

Because the first Nullification Crisis worked out so well...


Chris Bray - 4/12/2010

Adding that the third Oath Keeper pledge is this:

"3. We will NOT obey any order to detain American citizens as 'unlawful enemy combatants' or to subject them to trial by military tribunal."

That's disobedience I can embrace with enthusiasm.


Chris Bray - 4/12/2010

If military leaders made that decision and overthrew the president, I would hope (and assume) that other military officers would shoot them. I'd be happy to shoot them myself, in the highly unlikely event that I happened to be there. My answer would be some version of the same thing in the other scenario, however that played out.

More importantly, I'm currently much more afraid of obedient soldiers and police than I am of disobedient ones. Obedient soldiers and law enforcement officers held the U.S. citizen Jose Padilla for years, under torture and without legal representation or criminal charges. That frightens me. It should frighten all of us.

Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times by loyal and obedient servants of the state. Now the government says this. Obedient officials at work.


Jesse Walker - 4/12/2010

The more important question is whether such jumps ordinarily take place when there's a hard-fought legislative battle with a lot of passion on the losing side. How does the health care bill stack up against, say, NAFTA?

I was trying to get that very information out of the US Capitol Police a couple weeks ago, but they don't like to make that sort of data public. I've been playing phone tag with the Senate sergeant-at-arms' office; hopefully it'll have some useful info.


Jesse Walker - 4/12/2010

The orders that the Oath Keepers have forsworn all have one thing in common: They all involve acting forcibly against American citizens. How is that comparable to "ordering" a cop to "allow" gay marriage? What would disobeying such a command even entail? Running around ripping up people's marriage licenses?


David Silbey - 4/12/2010

"i embrace the Tea Party and the Oath Keepers to the extent that they resist and oppose laws that I resist and oppose."

We are talking specifically about police officers who are making their own decisions about what laws to enforce and what not; and I'm asking you how you would feel about police officers who decided that gay marriage was unconstitutional and refused to allow it.

Or how about if the JCS decided that Obama was not born in the US and thus not constitutionally eligible for the Presidency? All the other Democratic leaders were clearly in on the plot, so they couldn't succeed; the Chair of the JCS would assume the Presidency until the constitutionally-mandated election came around.

You weren't just talking about protesters willing (like MLK) to spend time in jail for their beliefs (or not), you were talking about the police and the military--those entrusted with the monopoly of violence by the state--deciding what laws they will and won't enforce. I asked how you'd feel if they started not enforcing laws you like. "Rejecting" their positions is unlikely to be helpful when they have SWAT teams, and you don't.


Chris Bray - 4/12/2010

Adding that an April 10 story in the Sacramento Bee concludes that it's "difficult to say" if threats against members of Congress have really increased:

http://www.sacbee.com/2010/04/10/2668479/threats-against-congress-get-airtime.html


Chris Bray - 4/11/2010

A McCain presidency would not have been better. But we don't have a McCain presidency, and we can still want this one to make choices that aren't horrifying. I'll be interested to watch the discussion on the left if Obama appoints the ghastly Elena Kagan or Cass Sunstein to the Supreme Court -- that may be an interesting test case to discuss.


Chris Bray - 4/11/2010

But segregation was the law for a century, and I would answer your first point by referencing Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail." MLK broke the law, and insisted that it was immoral not to. "It's the law" isn't dispositive.

John Yoo would tell you that Abu Zubaydah was lawfully waterboarded, or that Khalid El-Masri was rendered for overseas interrogation in accordance with lawful procedures. Germans threw Jews out of the public jobs by law. The Fugitive Slave Act was the law. And so on.

I don't care about "the law" -- I don't think declaring something "the law" ends the discussion. The majority of the most horrible brutality we study was done lawfully.

i embrace the Tea Party and the Oath Keepers to the extent that they resist and oppose laws that I resist and oppose. In the all the hypotheticals you offer, I would reject them and refuse to support their position. Not because of "the law," but because of my own values. Civil society polices the state; the weight of our objections can turn into law.

I hope that tens of millions of Americans find ways to refuse to participate in the individual mandate, refusing to provide the corporate gift that the ignorant thieves and prostitutes in Congress decided to give to the insurance industry. I hope the law fails, because the law is theft.

As an aside, I regard any gay couple as married when they say that they're married. I don't worry about the paperwork on file with the county.


Chris Bray - 4/11/2010

Good to know -- thanks for this.


Jesse Walker - 4/11/2010

Actually, while the Oath Keepers didn't exist until 2009, Stewart Rhodes was writing in opposition to Bush's encroachments of the Bill of Rights years before Obama was elected. See here, for example.

-Jesse Walker


Jonathan Dresner - 4/11/2010

That Greenwald comment is sophistic nonsense, conflating Constitutional and treaty issues, cherrypicking whose objections 'count' as Democrats, ignoring substantive changes because they don't constitute revolutionary reversals. A lot of the people attacking Bush on wiretap/detention/assassination grounds may have been Democrats but were working from NGOs, most of which are still vocally opposing the same policies, but who lack the amplification of a political campaign, or shiny new incidents to hold "news people's" attention.

Quick gut check: how would a McCain presidency be doing on these issues by now? Better? Much better? Same, but with more flags?


David Silbey - 4/11/2010

"If they decide that health care reform violates the Constitution, perhaps some of them will be in a position to refuse to enforce it, and perhaps their refusal to enforce it will void a massive corporate giveaway that penalizes individuals for choosing not to buy a private corporate product. Perhaps this sort of refusal will begin to undermine a clientelist and kleptocratic regime that can't convince itself to stop giving money away to private corporations. "

And if they decide that laws against racial segregation are not constitutional, will you also buy them a beer? How about laws legalizing abortion? Birth control? Same sex marriage?


Chris Bray - 4/11/2010

Adding that this phenomenon -- resistance and opposition to unrestrained government that didn't arise during the rule of a Republican president whose policies created unrestrained government -- strikes me as the very thing that we're seeing now. The Obama administration is largely indistinguishable from the Bush administration on domestic spying and telecom immunity, the continuation of almost a decade of war, and the abnegation of due process in the context of national security. And the whole mass of Huffington Post liberals still worships the asshole as a god.

Glenn Greenwald on Obama's order authorizing the assassination of an American citizen:

"What's most striking to me about all of this is that -- as I noted yesterday (and as Olbermann stressed) -- George Bush's decision merely to eavesdrop on American citizens without oversight, or to detain without due process Americans such as Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, provoked years of vehement, vocal and intense complaints from Democrats and progressives. All of that was disparaged as Bush claiming the powers of a King, a vicious attack on the Constitution, a violation of Our Values, the trampling on the Rule of Law. Yet here you have Barack Obama not merely eavesdropping on or detaining Americans without oversight, but ordering them killed with no oversight and no due process of any kind. And the reaction among leading Democrats and progressives is largely non-existent, which is why Olbermann's extensive coverage of it is important. Just imagine what the reaction would have been among progressive editorial pages, liberal opinion-makers and Democratic politicians if this story had been about George Bush and Dick Cheney targeting American citizens for due-process-free and oversight-less CIA assassinations."

Most Republicans only oppose unrestrained and abusive government when Democrats are in power; most Democrats only oppose unrestrained and abusive government when Republicans are in power. I'll take whatever opposition and resistance I can get, whenever it arises and whoever it comes from.


Chris Bray - 4/11/2010

If they decide that health care reform violates the Constitution, perhaps some of them will be in a position to refuse to enforce it, and perhaps their refusal to enforce it will void a massive corporate giveaway that penalizes individuals for choosing not to buy a private corporate product. Perhaps this sort of refusal will begin to undermine a clientelist and kleptocratic regime that can't convince itself to stop giving money away to private corporations.

Note to readers: If you're a government official and you refuse to enforce the individual mandate, please do stop by my house so I can buy you a beer or ten.

I strongly agree with this guy. Whatever happened to him?


David Silbey - 4/11/2010

"They promise never to disarm citizens or put them in camps, so they might cause violence?"

They promise not to obey orders that they don't like. Now they specify that in a particular context, but given the general misinformation floating around ("death panels" anyone?), I find it quite reasonable to be a little nervous about police officers making such a promise.

"Their oath is to uphold the Constitution and defend the American people from dictatorship"

And if they decide that health care reform violates the Constitution?


Chris Bray - 4/11/2010

I don't disagree with this, and it's sad to concede it. I admire their opposition to a government that warrants opposition. But I very bitterly notice what they haven't bothered to oppose.

In many ways, I think our Tea Party is a fainter reflection of the first one -- who were brilliant and passionate advocates for their own freedom, along with being slaveholders.


Chris Bray - 4/11/2010

It could be, or it could be a number driven by hysteria -- a congressional staffer gets yelled at and reports it as a threat, whatever. I'd like to see the definition of a threat, and the evidence for each one. In court.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/11/2010

It's context: the Oath Keeper movement didn't arise in the wake of a Supreme Court intervention into the electoral process, or in the wake of the USA PATRIOT Act, or in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, or in the wake of the Guantanamo detentions, or ... no, they arose when a Democrat got elected and began lowering taxes and improving health insurance, when Fox News began fulminating about FEMA relocation camps.

Don't pretend it's a neutral statement that could have come up anytime in the last sixty years, and just happened to come up now.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/11/2010

All the way to...42

The meaning of the number depends on context, and you know that. If the number of threats dealt with by the Sargeant-at-Arms (as opposed to those handled by all the other law enforcement and security organizations) has been steadily in the teens per quarter for an extended period of time, then 42 is a notable anomaly.


Tim Rohde - 4/11/2010

If someone approached me about a pledge to not round up my fellow citizens and put them in camps I would sign it without a thought. Who wouldn't? If I were in law enforcement and a group asked for that pledge I would be even more inclined to sign it.

The media has reacted to the Oath Keepers with the universal portrayal of them as lunatics steeped in hate. All they are doing is reiterating a pretty basic understanding that the law enforcement and military are exercising limited powers delegated by the US citizenry and that they won't engage in an act that obvious oversteps those limits. I'd LOVE to have a chat with military and law enforcement people who were asked to sign on to the Oath Keepers and didn't.


Chris Bray - 4/10/2010

The more I look at this, the more I don't get it. A group of police and military officials are vowing not to round people up -- it's chilling! Things have become so ugly and violent in America that armed government officials are...promising not to do anything to anyone. They refuse to aggress against the population. The best case that can be made about the extremism of the Oath Keepers is an argument about what they've promised not to do to me?


Chris Bray - 4/10/2010

Adding that I used the ellipsis to try to cut down the quote to readable length and cut extraneous material. I just don't see how that part changes anything.

The ellipsis also removed this: "Their oath is to uphold the Constitution and defend the American people from dictatorship."

That's the sentence immediately before the "will this lead to violence" quote: 1.) they promise to uphold the Constitution, so 2.) will this lead to violence. Quote the whole paragraph, and Newsweek looks even dumber.


Chris Bray - 4/10/2010

They promise never to disarm citizens or put them in camps, so they might cause violence? How? The only way those statements lead to violence is if those two scenarios occur. Which isn't going to happen. I'd call the Oath Keepers overwrought and a little panicked themselves. I don't see where that turns into violence.


David Silbey - 4/10/2010

Chris--

Make the argument, but don't elide the parts that don't help. That elision in the Newsweek article makes it a bit less problematic:

"Rhodes says he has 6,000 dues-paying members, active and retired police and military, who promise never to take orders to disarm U.S. citizens or herd them into concentration camps."

That changes things a bit.


Chris Bray - 4/10/2010

Where do I even begin? How about the first paragraphs:

"Stewart Rhodes does not seem like an extremist. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former U.S. Army paratrooper and congressional staffer. He is not at all secretive...Rhodes told a NEWSWEEK reporter, 'We're not a militia.' Oath Keepers do not run around the woods on the weekend shooting weapons or threatening the violent overthrow of the government. Their oath is to uphold the Constitution and defend the American people from dictatorship....But by conjuring up the specter of revolution—or counterrevolution—is Rhodes adding to the threat of real violence?"

He's not violent, doesn't threaten violence, doesn't train for violence, doesn't advocate violence or the overthrow of the government...will this lead to VIOLENCE?

That doesn't hurt your brain like somebody's hitting it with a hammer? Jesus.

"Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance W. Gainer said last week that serious threats to members of Congress had nearly tripled, from 15 in the last three months of 2009 to 42 in the first quarter of 2010, with most of them coming in March during the height of the health-care debate."

Oh my god, an EXPLOSION of SERIOUS THREATS!!!! All the way to...42. In a nation of 300 million people.

"Economic distress and social change make for fear, and fear makes for anger, now and always. Night riders terrorized the defenseless after the Civil War."

People who are angry about metastisizing federal debt and the growing centralization of political power are like night riders who rode around the countryside murdering people. They disagree with the legislative agenda of the political party in power -- it's like the Colfax Massacre! Angry disagreement = murder.

After the jump:

"Fear of 'the other' has long fueled hate crimes, from the torture and lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan beginning in the late 1800s, to the violence of the 1950s and '60s, to the virulent anti-immigrant groups today."

The other? Opposition to growing federal debt and central power is a hate crime? Who is the "other" in this scenario? They want to murder the poor defenseless federal deficit in its sleep!

"The Internet has made it easy to express hatred, and may act as a kind of safety valve. But the Internet can also abet twisted minds with vitriol and practical tips, like how to make a bomb."

Oh my goodness, the Internet can tell you how to make a bomb! And, see, before the Internet, there was no way for anyone to convey that information. The Internet has armed extremists with dangerous and previously inaccessible knowledge.

"The rambling rants of the Hutaree might seem funny, in a sick sort of way, but they are far from harmless."

I challenge anyone spewing this ignorant bullshit to identify the harm done by the Hutaree. Name the victims, give the dates they were harmed, and identify the type of harm caused to them. Specifically.

"It is hard to know how much such grim fantasies are stirred by the steady stream of conspiracy theories pushed by talk-radio hosts."

What a brilliant formulation. Let's play along: It's hard to know how much child abuse is caused by the steady stream of ominous stories in Newsweek magazine. Want another one? It's hard to know how people have been murdered because of statements made by Dave Stone. I can do this all day. Just like Newsweek. If you can prove a link between someone saying X and someone doing Y, write the accusation and provide the evidence of cause and effect. But "we have no evidence that this causes that...which it may terrifyingly do!"

Want me to keep going?


Dave Stone - 4/10/2010

The Newsweek article goes out of its way to talk about historical analogues and parallels. What exactly in the article is panicked and dimwitted?

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