Inside Groundswell: Read the Memos of the New Right-Wing Strategy Group Planning a “30 Front War”

Ginni Thomas, Allen West, and a crew of conservative journalists and activists have formed a hush-hush coalition to battle progressives—and Karl Rove.

By David Corn | Thu Jul. 25, 2013 9:53 AM PDT

Been hearing the phrase “politics over public safety” deployed against Obama lately by prominent conservatives? Meet Groundswell.

Believing they are losing the messaging war with progressives, a group of prominent conservatives in Washington—including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and journalists from Breitbart News and the Washington Examiner—has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for “a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation,” according to documents obtained by Mother Jones.

MoJo’s full coverage of Groundswell.

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and “clueless” GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks. (For more on Groundswell’s “two front war” against Rove—a major clash on the right—click here [6].)

One of the influential conservatives guiding the group is Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a columnist for the Daily Caller and a tea party consultant and lobbyist. Other Groundswell members include John Bolton, the former UN ambassador; Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy; Ken Blackwell and Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council; Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch; Gayle Trotter, a fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum; Catherine Engelbrecht and Anita MonCrief of True the Vote; Allen West, the former GOP House member; Sue Myrick, also a former House GOPer; Diana Banister of the influential Shirley and Banister PR firm [7]; and Max Pappas, a top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Among the conveners listed in an invitation to a May 8 meeting of Groundswell were Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News Network; Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who resoundingly lost a Maryland Senate race last year (and is now running for a House seat); Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society; Sandy Rios, a Fox News contributor; Lori Roman, a former executive director of the American Legislative Exchange Council; and Austin Ruse, the head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Conservative journalists and commentators participating in Groundswell have included Breitbart News reporters Matthew Boyle and Mike Flynn, Washington Examiner executive editor Mark Tapscott, and National Review contributor Michael James Barton.

Groundswell has collaborated with conservative GOPers on Capitol Hill, including Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Cruz and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a leading tea partier. At its weekly meetings, the group aims to strengthen the right’s messaging by crafting Twitter hashtags; plotting strategy on in-the-headlines issues such as voter ID, immigration reform, and the sequester; promoting politically useful scandals; and developing “action items.”

A certain amount of secrecy cloaks Groundswell’s efforts. Though members have been encouraged to zap out [8]tweets with a #GSW hashtag [9], a message circulated to members of its Google group noted that the role of certain advocates should be kept “off of the Google group for OPSEC [operational security] reasons.” This “will avoid any potential for bad press for someone if a communication item is leaked,” the message explained. (The Groundswell documents were provided to Mother Jones by a source who had access to its Google group page and who has asked not to be identified.)

“We want to protect the strategic collaboration occurring at Groundswell and build on it. Please be careful about bringing guests and clear them ahead of time.”

Washington is full of coalitions that meet to coordinate messaging and strategy. For two decades, conservative strategist Grover Norquist [10], who heads Americans for Tax Reform, has held his now-famous Wednesday morning meetings for a broad spectrum of Republicans, including conservatives opposed to gay rights and abortion rights and those who favor them, as well as GOPers on different sides of the immigration reform debate. Groundswell, which meets at the same time as Norquist’s group, appears to be a more ideologically pure version of the Norquist confab, and its emergence—given the prominent role of Ginni Thomas and the participation of journalists—prompts several intriguing questions. 

Critics have contended [11] that Thomas’ work as a lobbyist opposing Obamacare posed a conflict of interest for her husband, who would rule on the constitutionality of the health care reform initiative. (Clarence Thomas joined the Supreme Court minority that favored striking down the law.) And Common Cause has maintained [12] that Justice Thomas had a conflict of interest when he participated in the Citizens United case because his wife at the time was running a conservative nonprofit fighting the “tyranny” of President Barack Obama that would benefit from removing limits on such groups’ spending and fundraising. With her involvement in Groundswell—which zeroes in on contentious issues that come before the high court, including voting rights, abortion, and gay marriage—Ginni Thomas continues to be intricately associated with matters on which her husband may have to render a decision. Ginni Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.

The participation of journalists in coordinating messaging with ideological advocates and political partisans raises another set of issues. Conservatives expressed outrage when news broke in 2009 about Journolist, a private email list where several hundred progressive-minded reporters, commentators, and academics exchanged ideas and sometimes bickered. (I was on Journolist, mainly as a lurker [13].) The late Andrew Breitbart once offered $100,000 [14] for the full Journolist archives and denounced it as “the epitome of progressive and liberal collusion that conservatives, Tea Partiers, moderates and many independents have long suspected and feared exists at the heart of contemporary American political journalism.” The Groundswell documents show conservative journalists, including several with Breitbart News, colluding on high-level messaging with leading partisans of the conservative movement.
How Groundswellers Win “Brownie Points”
Notes prepared after a Groundswell meeting held on March 27 detailed the group’s mission and origins [9]:

Groundswell evolved out of conversations among conservative leaders after the November elections. This is the eighth meeting. Now others are asking to be included. Growth needs to be strategic; it should be made up of senior level people willing to collaborate. It is important to keep a balance of social conservatives, national security conservatives, and constitutional conservatives. Outreach has occurred to incorporate groups with extensive reach: Heritage, Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, AFP [Americans for Prosperity], FRC [Family Research Council] and the NRA, among others…Our country is in peril. This is a critical moment needing critical leadership. We want to protect the strategic collaboration occurring at Groundswell and build on it. Please be careful about bringing guests and clear them ahead of time.

The memo declared that the goal was not to merely ponder, but to be proactive:

What Groundswell is not is a room of note takers. The goal of Groundswell is to sync messages and develop action from reports and information exchanged. Going forward there should be an action item accompanying each report.

At the March 27 meeting [9], Groundswell participants discussed one multipurpose theme they had been deploying for weeks to bash the president on a variety of fronts, including immigration reform and the sequester: Obama places “politics over public safety.” In a display of Groundswell’s message-syncing, members of the group repeatedly flogged this phrase in public. Frank Gaffney penned a Washington Times op-ed [15] titled “Putting Politics Over Public Safety.” Tom Fitton headlined a Judicial Watch weekly update [16] “Politics over Public Safety: More Illegal Alien Criminals Released by Obama Administration.” Peter List, editor of LaborUnionReport.com, authored a RedState.com post [17] called “Obama’s Machiavellian Sequestration Pain Game: Putting Politics Over Public Safety.” Matthew Boyle used the phrase [18] in an immigration-related article for Breitbart. And Dan Bongino promoted Boyle’s story on Twitter by tweeting [19], “Politics over public safety?” In a message to Groundswellers, Ginni Thomas awarded “brownie points” to Fitton, Gaffney, and other members for promoting the “politics over public safety” riff.

“If we lose on immigration, we lose on every other issue. They key to defeating this bill is Sen. Rubio.”

There was much more on the agenda for the March 27 meeting [9] than a single talking point. The group routinely addresses an ambitious to-do list for its campaign against the left. At that session, Groundswellers discussed several immigration-related “action items.” These included attempting to link the pending reform bill to Obamacare and collecting health care reform horror stories to provide to Cruz, a leading opponent of the Senate immigration reform bill. (Cruz has repeatedly compared [20] the legislation to the health care reform law.)

Groundswell members saw immigration as a life-or-death issue. “If we lose on immigration,” the post-meeting memo noted, “we lose on every other issue. The key to defeating this bill is Sen. Rubio. He can gracefully remove himself from the ‘gang of 8′ and still save face…The messaging on this issue has to be ‘we can’t trust Obama’ to enforce immigration laws after the amnesty.” 

The group also reviewed how best to oppose the confirmation of Tom Perez [21], Obama’s nominee for labor secretary. Groundswellers claimed that Perez, then a senior Justice Department official, supported “Muslim Brotherhood organizations and Shariah.” (One Groundswell memo maintained that Perez “is extremely antagonistic toward whites.”) A third agenda item that Wednesday morning was beating back the effort to end the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay Scouts. And there was yet another issue for the Groundswell members to stoke: “John Kerry has family ties to Iran that opens the doors to blackmail and other national security risks. Kerry’s son in law is an Iranian American with extensive family still in Iran.” The post-meeting memo suggested Twitter hashtags to push: #CantTrustObama, #PoliticsOverPublicSafety, #SequesterLies.

“We’re Failing the Propaganda Battle”
The Groundswellers feel that they too often lose the political narrative to their progressive rivals. One memo that circulated among members declared, “We must reclaim the language and put ‘a face’ on our messages; tell stories. Write articles on 4th grade level!” 

A Groundswell memo noted, “Terms like, ‘GOP,’ ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Conservative’ communicate ‘racism.’” They proposed an alternative: “Fredrick Douglas Republican.”

Notes from a February 28 Groundswell gathering [22] reflected both their collective sense of pessimism and desire for aggressive tactics:We are failing the propaganda battle with minorities. Terms like, ‘GOP,’ ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Conservative’ communicate ‘racism.’” The Groundswellers proposed an alternative: “Fredrick Douglas Republican,” a phrase, the memo noted, that “changes minds.” (His name is actually spelled “Frederick Douglass.”) The meeting notes also stated that an “active radical left is dedicated to destroy [sic] those who oppose them” with “vicious and unprecedented tactics. We are in a real war; most conservatives are not prepared to fight.” 

The notes from the March 20 meeting [23] summed up Groundswell griping: “Conservatives are so busy dealing with issues like immigration, gay marriage and boy scouts there is little time left to focus on other issues. These are the very issues the Left wants to avoid but we need to magnify. R’s cannot beat Obama at his own game but need to go on the offense and define the issues.” The group’s proposed offensive would include hyping the Fast and Furious [24] gun-trafficking controversy, slamming Obama’s record, and touting Benghazi as a full-fledged scandal. “The problem,” the memo noted, “is Speaker Boehner and [Rep.] Mike Rogers (Intelligence Community) are refusing to deal” with the Benghazi issue. It added, “Leaders can and should be shamed into doing the right thing.”

Another problem for right-wingers, this memo pointed out, was that though “a group of freshmen and sophomore representatives in Congress…are willing and ready to stand up” for conservative causes, “no one is willing to step up and become that leader.” Reflecting the dim view held by Groundswell members of House GOPers, the memo maintained that too many Republican lawmakers were co-opted by power and reluctant to challenge House Republican leaders: “The Speaker holds the control in the House. He controls committees, chairmanships, meeting rooms, etc. Conservatives sell out rationalizing their compromises will position them to advance their agenda through committee work. In reality they are being bought.” Boehner, according to his memo, was too frightened to confront Obama head-on regarding budget issues because he “believes that Newt lost his speakership due to the government shutdown.”

Venting about weak and squishy GOP leaders was a regular feature of Groundswell gatherings. One action item put it bluntly [25]:

GAP of REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP: how do we tell them they are failing their base; will lose in 2014 unless they fight for principles (as opposed to show disdain for them and accommodate Obama; O is dividing Rs and they seem clueless: IDEAS NEEDED!

A week later, Newt Gingrich was scheduled to address the group [26] on the “lack of Republican Leadership right now, and Rove.” For 10 minutes.

At the March 27 meeting, Groundswellers once more voiced their anger with the GOP establishment and Rove—ideological sellouts, they believed, who undercut conservative candidates in order to back Republicans deemed more electable. They discussed the efforts among conservatives to respond to the Republican Party’s recently released autopsy [27] (PDF) of the 2012 elections, which called on the party to be more inclusive of minorities and less severe on social issues.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, the post-meeting memo huffed, “is sending messages to the party…If we were all gay illegal aliens, the party likes us. He is preparing the way for a change on social issues by giving a warning, ‘don’t go Old Testament’ and advising the party to consider what Rove said about the next nominees could speak favorably of homosexual marriage in the campaign.” The memo summed up Groundswell’s preferred solution to GOP woes: “embrace the libertarian and conservative wing of the party.”
“I’m Going to Need Help Pushing Back”
Shortly after its creation, Groundswell started bolstering interactions between right-wing advocates and conservative members of the Senate and the House. On March 5, Gaston Mooney, a staffer for the Senate Republican Steering Committee, posted a message [28] to Groundswell’s Google group asking for questions that could be posed to Gina McCarthy, Obama’s nominee to lead the EPA, during confirmation hearings or in meetings between her and individual senators. (She was confirmed as EPA chief this month.)

“If we were all gay illegal aliens, the party likes us. [RNC chair Reince Priebus] is preparing the way for a change on social issues by giving a warning, ‘don’t go Old Testament.’

At an April 3 meeting [29], Groundswell members were encouraged to send Paul Teller, executive director of the Republican Study Committee, the caucus of House conservatives, “feasible asks in exchange for raised debt ceiling.” The post-meeting memo noted, “House conservatives want clear consensus on what the conservative grassroots want to see negotiated.” Here was a chance for Groundswellers to shape the next debt ceiling showdown.

In Groundswell’s first months, one of the most active members in its Google group was Danielle Cutrona, chief counsel to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. She frequently placed information—speeches, articles, press releases—on Groundswell’s Google group. In February, she posted opposition research material [30] regarding a judicial appointment and asked members to distribute it: “Any help is much appreciated.” In another message to Groundswell, she requested assistance in opposing the pro-immigration reform GOP establishment. “I’m going to need help pushing back,” [31] she wrote.

On one occasion [32], Cutrona promoted a column [33] from the conservative site RedState.com. Headlined “Who is Going to Put an End to the McCain/Graham Circus?” this RedState.com post excoriated Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham as “Benedict Arnolds” for retreating on their opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary and for “their treachery on the issue of illegal immigration.” Cutrona, who occasionally used her official Senate email to communicate with Groundswell members, was encouraging this band of conservatives to spread the word that two party colleagues of her boss were ideological traitors. A spokesman for Sessions says that this blog post did not reflect Cutrona’s views and “was simply one of scores of diverse news and opinion pieces she emailed on immigration.”

“Even If the Idea Isn’t Perfect, I Can Help Massage It”
Several conservative journalists have enthusiastically participated in Groundswell’s deliberations. In March, Mark Tapscott, the executive editor of the conservative Washington Examiner, sent his most recent column [34] to group members [35]. It focused on a theme that Groundswellers had resolved to hype: President Obama is a divider. And after a meeting that month, Tapscott wrote to the group [36], “Enjoyed hearing from all of you who spoke earlier today. It’s amazing how much we are accomplishing on so many fronts.” But Tapscott tells Mother Jones that after attending one or two meetings at the invitation of Ginni Thomas, he decided to stop participating: “The implication of attending is that you’re participating in their planning, and, as a journalist, I don’t think that’s appropriate. Other journalists may think differently.”

At another Groundswell gathering, according to the minutes [9], the members decided to ask Breitbart‘s Stephen Bannon to arrange for his media organization “to get senators on the record regarding their support [or non-support]” of the filibuster that GOP Sens. Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz were threatening to mount against the gun control bill. This suggested that the Groundswellers thought they could task Breitbart News to pursue a story that would be strategically useful for the group. (Breitbart News was already covering the possible filibuster.)

“It’s amazing how much we are accomplishing on so many fronts,” the Washington Examiner‘s Mark Tapscott wrote to fellow Groundswell members.

Groundswell has forged a particularly close relationship with Breitbart. Matthew Boyle, one of Breitbart‘s more prominent reporters, has attended Groundswell meetings, used the group as a source for tips and a mechanism to promote his stories, and joined in its efforts to whip up coordinated bullet points to be deployed by conservative advocacy shops. In February, he tried to enlist the group [37] to push a story [38] he had written the year before at the Daily Caller, in which he maintained the Justice Department was in cahoots with the liberal group Media Matters to smear conservative whistleblowers and journalists. In a long note addressed to all Groundswellers—written at a time when reporter Bob Woodward was making (what turned out to be inflated) claims about the Obama White House intimidating foes—Boyle said, “Figured this might be a good time to bring this story back up and see if there’s a way to drive it.”

Boyle said he was hoping to prompt congressional Republicans to launch an investigation. He contended he had only revealed the “tip of the iceberg” and shared his suspicion that many government agencies (State, the CIA, the Pentagon, the EPA, and more) were conspiring with “far left wing groups” to undermine conservatives in the media: “I think we can get at the heart of the Obama admin’s weaknesses here.” He explained: “Any evidence obtained would be more proof of collusion between the administration and the media and far left groups, while at the same time serving as evidence of whatever ridiculously moronic big government policies they’re pushing are.” 

The following month, Boyle sent a message to Groundswell members [39] seeking tips and offering to help shape stories Groundswellers wanted to disseminate: “I’m saying we can get pieces out fast on Breitbart. Whenever you have an idea, email or call me with a pitch and I’ll do my best to get the story out there. Keep us on offense, them on defense. Even if the idea isn’t perfect, I can help massage it to get there.”

A high-priority cause for Groundswellers is voter identification efforts—what progressives would call voter suppression—and when Groundswellers developed a thread on their Google group page exploring the best way to pitch the right’s voter identification endeavors as a major voting rights case was pending in the Supreme Court, the coalition’s friendly journalists joined right in. Dan Bongino, the ex-Secret Service agent and 2012 Senate candidate, kicked off the discussion [40]: “We need to reframe this. This narrative of the Left has already taken hold in MD. The words ‘Voter ID’ are already lost & equated with racism. Maybe a ‘free and fair elections initiative’ with a heavy emphasis on avoiding ANY voter disenfranchisement combined with an identification requirement which includes a broader range of documents.”

Sheryl Kaufman, communications director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine, chimed in: “‘OBAMAGRATION’—I love it!! Communicates the similarity with Obamacare.”

In response, Tapscott suggested, “How about ‘Election Integrity’?” And Gaffney weighed in: “I like it.” Fitton noted that Judicial Watch had an “Election Integrity Project.” Boyle proposed, “Fair and equal elections,” explaining, “Terms ‘fair’ and ‘equal’ connect with most people. It’s why the left uses them.” Then came True the Vote’s Anita MonCrief: “We do a lot under the Election Integrity Banner. Does not resonate with the people. Voter Rights may be better. We really have been trying to get the messaging right.”

Minutes later, Breitbart‘s Mike Flynn tried to change the conversation [41], noting that Boyle earlier in the week had reported that Obama’s daughters had been vacationing in the Bahamas while the White House had suspended tours due to the sequester. “The Obama White House has never been so exposed to public criticism as they are right now, because of their decision to cancel WH tours,” Flynn wrote. “Everything should be focused on that front.” He declared, “We have to be willing to march to the sound of the guns.” (Earlier in the week, Boyle had posted his story on the Obama daughters on Groundswell’s Google group page, noting, “I think this fits in nicely with that politics over public safety theme…Enjoy.”) Ignoring Flynn’s missive, Engelbrecht, the president of True the Vote, wrote, “We bill ourselves as an Election Integrity Initiative and have found it strikes the right tone.”

In a response to a request for comment regarding his participation in Groundswell’s message-making, Flynn emailed, “We have reporters covering lots of meetings in DC, as I’m sure you do as well. As you know, it provides critical background to know what’s happening on the Hill.” In a subsequent email, Flynn insisted, “[N]either Boyle nor I have spent 1 minute on any messaging. We haven’t spent any time creating talking points.” Flynn added, “[W]e are journalists with a point of view. We are open about that. We attend meetings of conservatives. Where we are allowed, we attend meetings of leftist activists.” Boyle did not respond to requests for comment.
“We All Lament the Difficulty We Have Persuading Americans”
In between the weekly meetings, Groundswellers keep on scheming, frequently using their Google group to share ideas and need-to-know information. The material is often routine: a John Bolton op-ed [42], a press release opposing [43] the nomination of the EPA administrator, a call to rally support [44] for a Rand Paul filibuster. Often the material reveals the group’s ideological excesses, such as a PowerPoint supposedly proving that John Brennan, the Obama national security adviser who has become CIA chief, is soft on radical Islam. In one post, Ginni Thomas encouraged Groundswell members to watch Agenda: Grinding America Down, a documentary [45] that claims that progressives (including Obama) seek “a brave new world” based on the “failed policies and ideologies of communism” and that an evil left is purposefully “destroying the greatest country in all of world history.” MonCrief posted an email noting that the bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon were “similar to Bill Ayers’ Weather Underground nail bomb.”

But Groundswellers constantly brainstorm via their Google group in search of a magic talking point, or a silver bullet of messaging. On April 24, Keli Carender, the national grassroots coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, posted a message to the Google group, writing, “We should have a unified name for the immigration bill so that as the other side is calling it ‘reform,’ we present a unified front against that notion. If we’re all calling it different things, their ‘reform’ message will win. We only combat the idea that it is reform if we hammer back with one different phrase/name.” She tossed out a few ideas: “Schumer-Rubio bill,” “anti-security bill,” and “amnesty bill.” Sheryl Kaufman, the communications director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine, chimed in that she was fond of a phrase derived by MonCreif: “‘OBAMAGRATION’—I love it!! Communicates the similarity with Obamacare.”

When Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive group, sent out an email regarding the sequester headlined “Don’t let Republicans destroy the economy,” Carender sent a message to Groundswell members via the Google group: “What about a ‘stick with sequester’ (or similar) mantra from our side?” Responding to Carender’s note, Peter List of LaborUnionReport.com wrote, “Most Americans don’t understand sequesters. We need to be more clever than the Left on this…Something amusing and easy for LIVs [low-information voters] to understand. Maybe a tie in to Humpty Dumpty (the economy) and all King Obama’s men (‘tax increases’) not being able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. (I’m open to anything…and just made that up.)”

At another point, List emailed Ginni Thomas an idea for an anti-Obama ad [46] that he thought could go viral:

A 15 sec internet [YouTube ad] featuring ethnically diverse children on a merry-go-round [soft music]…
Nuclear explosion.
Two bullet points on the facts.
Call to action:
Tell President Obama & Congress not to cut our nation’s defense.

Thomas posted the note for all in Groundswell to see. “Brilliant idea,” she commented. “…Taker?”

Several months after Groundswell kicked off, Steven Sutton, vice president of development for the conservative Leadership Institute and a former chief of staff to several House GOPers, proposed a “strategic message development project” for the outfit. “What is needed,” he wrote [47], “is an umbrella thematic message under which each specific issue can be magnified and maximized. For those familiar with it, this is an extension and development of the Leesburg Grid [48] (which the Left has co-opted and now uses extensively, and the Right has ignored and allowed to fall into disuse.)” 

Sutton suggested using four main themes: Obama and liberal policies fail; Obama and liberal policies make things worse; there is a lack of leadership in the White House; and Obama “puts politics ahead of people/our country/America.” These themes, he contended, “are best used sequentially, rather than randomly/haphazardly/isolated…The most important thing is to think thematically and drive these messages.” Sutton went on:

Issues matter. Details matter. Substance matters. But theme matters more. Substance matters only as it helps to reinforce the themes.

We all lament the difficulty we have persuading Americans. After all, we have the facts, figures, and data to prove our points. Why can’t we persuade? There are many tactics we can use to help persuade (telling stories, finding victims, tempering tone). But these tactics pale in comparison to the importance of providing a context…a theme…to help people organize their thoughts and opinions.

Groundswell has set itself up as the theme lab for the true-red activists of the conservative movement. Fearing that some hydra of the left has long been running wild, vanquishing the right, and bringing the nation closer to utter ruin, the members of Groundswell have birthed a hydra of their own.

Additional reporting by Kate Sheppard [49].


Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-rightwing-group-ginni-thomas

Links:
[1] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-rightwing-group-ginni-thomas
[2] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-ginni-thomas-war-karl-rove
[3] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/ginni-thomas-groundswell-conflict-interest
[4] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/07/groundswell-right-wing-strategy-group-members-photos
[5] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/07/groundswell-secret-tape-boehner-issa-benghazi
[6] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-declares-war-karl-rove
[7] http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/meet-craig-shirley-and-diana-banister-the-rights-pitch-perfect-conservatives/2013/07/21/63cea20e-dffe-11e2-b94a-452948b95ca8_story.html
[8] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739843-redacted-gs-mtg-notes-3-27-2013-google-groups
[9] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739869-redacted-groundswell-mtg-notes-3-27-2013-google
[10] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2004/01/grover-norquist-soul-new-machine
[11] http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2012/07/02/new-financial-forms-show-clarence-thomass-wife-continued-to-lobby-against-healthcare-in-2011
[12] http://www.commoncause.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4773617&ct=9039331
[13] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2010/07/journolist-daily-caller-sarah-palin
[14] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2010/06/29/Reward—100-000-for-Full-JournoList-Archive–Source-Fully-Protected
[15] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/mar/5/putting-politics-over-public-safety/
[16] http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/weekly-updates/politics-over-public-safety/
[17] http://www.redstate.com/tag/putting-politics-over-public-safety/
[18] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/06/26/Immigration-agents-ask-public-lawmakers-to-oppose-bill-on-eve-of-expected-vote
[19] https://twitter.com/dbongino/status/350043418094870528
[20] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2013/06/24/sen_ted_cruz_compares_senate_immigration_bill_to_obamacare.html
[21] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/03/tom-perez-justice-department-trayvon-martin
[22] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739816-redacted-gs-notes-and-action-items-from-meeting
[23] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739865-redacted-groundswell-mtg-notes-3-20-2012-google
[24] http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2012/09/20/the-fast-and-furious-gun-walking-scandal/
[25] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739889-redacted-groundswell-notes-and-action-items-from
[26] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739852-redacted-fwd-country-club-republicans-link-with
[27] http://growthopp.gop.com/rnc_growth_opportunity_book_2013.pdf
[28] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739855-redacted-epa-nominee-questions-google-groups
[29] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739871-redacted-groundswell-mtg-note-april-3-2013-new
[30] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739790-information-action-item-google-groups-2-27
[31] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739525-information-google-groups-2-14
[32] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739831-redacted-who-is-going-to-put-an-end-to-the
[33] http://www.redstate.com/2013/02/27/who-is-going-to-put-an-end-to-the-mccaingraham-circus/
[34] http://washingtonexaminer.com/mark-tapscott-one-dinner-does-not-a-great-divider-unmake/article/2523601
[35] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739833-redacted-links-fr-mark-tapscott-obamacare-hhs-co
[36] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739821-redacted-links-fr-mark-tapscott-obamacare-hhs-co
[37] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739828-redacted-information-opportunity-obama
[38] http://dailycaller.com/2012/09/18/emails-reveal-justice-dept-regularly-enlists-media-matters-to-spin-press/
[39] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739827-redacted-we-can-get-information-out-fast-at
[40] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739867-redacted-13-re-groundswellgroup-fwd-obama-takes
[41] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739798-redacted-11-re-groundswellgroup-fwd-obama-takes
[42] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739774-redacted-ambassador-boltons-op-ed-on-president
[43] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739758-information-cei-press-release-mccarthy-redacted
[44] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739830-redacted-action-rand-paul-filibuster-now-google
[45] http://[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SH8LkIqu1c8
[46] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739609-re-groundswellgroup-fwd-idea-on-sequestration
[47] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739611-sutton-redraft-for-041013
[48] http://www.yourpatriot.com/Leesburg_Diagram.aspx
[49] http://www.motherjones.com/authors/kate-sheppard

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-rightwing-group

American Intellectuals’ Widespread Failure to Stand Up to Billionaires and Authoritarian Power

By Robert Jensen, AlterNet, July 5, 2013

This article is an excerpt from Robert Jensen’s new book, We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out  available in print and on Kindle.

Excerpt

…Why is the majority of intellectual work in the United States not challenging but instead helping to prop up the unjust distribution of wealth and power, and the unsustainable extractive/industrial system? Both intellectuals and the people who provide the resources that allow intellectuals to work should ponder this crucial question. I am not suggesting that to be a responsible intellectual one must agree with me on all these issues, that anyone who does not agree with my approach to these issues is a soulless sell-out. My argument is that if we take seriously the basic moral principles at the core of modern philosophical and theological systems we claim to believe in, in light of the data on social injustice and the serious threats to ecological sustainability, these questions should be central in the work of intellectuals…a sharp critique of intellectuals as a social formation is warranted…This analysis focuses on those doing intellectual work with the most privilege and the most autonomy. Ideally, we pay intellectuals to help us deepen our understanding of how the world works, toward the goal of shaping a world more consistent with our moral and political principles, and our collective self-interest. What are the forces that keep people, especially relatively privileged people, mute in the face of such a clear need for critical intellectual work?I suspect that a desire to be accepted by peers is at least as powerful a motivation for intellectuals to accept the status quo. Humans are social animals who generally seek a safe and secure place in a social group, and there’s no reason intellectuals would be different…. When one’s professional cohort works within the worldview that the wealthy and powerful construct, the boundaries of that world seem appropriate. Curiosity about what lies beyond those boundaries tends to atrophy. Those forces have been in play for a long time, but another potentially crucial factor is the way in which confronting the reality of injustice and unsustainability can be morally and psychologically overwhelming for anyoneIntellectuals are in the business of assessing problems and offering solutionsWe are told that it is “realistic” to capitulate to the absurd idea that the systems in which we live are the only systems possible because some people like them and wish them to continue. But what if our current level of First-World consumption is exhausting the ecological basis for life? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that take that lifestyle as non-negotiable. What if real democracy is not possible in a nation-state with 300 million people? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that take this way of organizing a polity as immutable. What if the hierarchies on which our lives are based are producing extreme material deprivation for subordinated people and a kind of dull misery among the privileged? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that accept hierarchy as inevitable. The ultimate test of our intellectual abilities is whether we can face the possibility that there may be no way out of these traps and yet continue to work for a more just and sustainable world…to be a responsible intellectual is to be willing to get apocalyptic, and the first step in that process is to give up on the myth of neutrality. Intellectuals shouldn’t claim to be neutral, and the public shouldn’t take such claims seriously.

Full text

Given the considerable resources in the United States spent to subsidize intellectual work, why are so many intellectuals—journalists, academics, writers—not critiquing the many hierarchical institutions and not highlighting the disastrous consequences of these systems? Why are so many intellectuals instead providing support for the institutions and systems? Why is the majority of intellectual work in the United States not challenging but instead helping to prop up the unjust distribution of wealth and power, and the unsustainable extractive/industrial system?

Both intellectuals and the people who provide the resources that allow intellectuals to work should ponder this crucial question.

I am not suggesting that to be a responsible intellectual one must agree with me on all these issues, that anyone who does not agree with my approach to these issues is a soulless sell-out. My argument is that if we take seriously the basic moral principles at the core of modern philosophical and theological systems we claim to believe in, in light of the data on social injustice and the serious threats to ecological sustainability, these questions should be central in the work of intellectuals. Based on my experience as a journalist, professor, and political activist—a life in which I have always worked in intellectual professions and interacted with many other intellectuals in various settings—I have learned that the story is complicated but that a sharp critique of intellectuals as a social formation is warranted.

First, let’s recognize that intellectual work generally comes with considerable privilege. That does not mean that intellectuals don’t work hard, make sacrifices, or feel stress. But in general, intellectuals are compensated well for work that is not physically hazardous and can be rewarding on many levels. There are many intellectuals-in-training (graduate students) and underemployed intellectuals (adjunct faculty) who face overwhelming workloads and few perks, and so we should be cautious about generalizing too much about the category of “intellectual.” This analysis focuses on those doing intellectual work with the most privilege and the most autonomy.

Ideally, we pay intellectuals to help us deepen our understanding of how the world works, toward the goal of shaping a world more consistent with our moral and political principles, and our collective self-interest. What are the forces that keep people, especially relatively privileged people, mute in the face of such a clear need for critical intellectual work? The first, and easiest, answer is individual self-interest—the status and economic rewards that come to intellectuals who serve power. Upton Sinclair put it most succinctly: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

No doubt some intellectuals make calculations about how to use their abilities to enrich themselves, but in my experience such crass greed is relatively rare. I suspect that a desire to be accepted by peers is at least as powerful a motivation for intellectuals to accept the status quo. Humans are social animals who generally seek a safe and secure place in a social group, and there’s no reason intellectuals would be different. Even when concentrated wealth and power do not threaten people with serious punishments, the desire to be a well-regarded member of an intellectual community is a powerful conformity-inducer. When one’s professional cohort works within the worldview that the wealthy and powerful construct, the boundaries of that world seem appropriate. Curiosity about what lies beyond those boundaries tends to atrophy.

Those forces have been in play for a long time, but another potentially crucial factor is the way in which confronting the reality of injustice and unsustainability can be morally and psychologically overwhelming for anyone. As the documentation of human suffering and the threats to ecological sustainability accumulate, in an era when multiple communication channels make it easy to be aware of more and more of this information, that awareness can seem to be too much to face. The desire to rationalize the suffering and imagine an easy escape is easy to understand.

Rationalization #1: Justifying Hierarchy

When humans suffer in extreme situations, such as war or natural disasters, most people in most situations find it easy to care and respond. When the suffering is ongoing and apparently endemic to the systems of the world, staying connected to that suffering is more difficult. In such situations, it can be attractive to find ways to justify hierarchy and the resulting suffering, rather than to challenge power.

There is wide consensus on the values that are central to constructing a decent human society: justice, equality, compassion, honesty, opportunity, sharing. It is difficult to imagine such a society without these basic elements: (1) the belief in the inherent dignity of all human beings; (2) a sense of solidarity with at least those in one’s community, if not beyond; and (3) a commitment to achieving a rough equality so that everyone has access to the material requirements for a decent life. That list does not assume that people are morally perfect or perfectible, but instead articulates common aspirations for ourselves, others, and society.

How do we explain the fact that most people’s stated philosophical and theological systems are rooted in concepts of equality, solidarity, and the inherent dignity of all people, yet we allow violence, exploitation, and oppression to flourish? Only a small percentage of people in any given society are truly sociopaths, those who engage in cruel and oppressive behavior openly and without a capacity for empathy. In my experience, the most common way in which people make their peace with that contradiction is to accept the claim that hierarchy and injustice are inevitable, and that the best we can do is try to smooth off the rough edges of such systems. The process can be summed up like this:

–The systems and structures in which we live are hierarchical.

–Hierarchical systems and structures deliver to those in the dominant class certain privileges, pleasures, and material benefits.

–People are typically hesitant to give up such privileges, pleasures, and benefits.

–But, those benefits clearly come at the expense of those in the subordinated class.

–Given the widespread acceptance of basic notions of dignity, solidarity, and equality, the existence of hierarchy has to be justified in some way other than crass self-interest.

–One of the most persuasive arguments for systems of domination and subordination is that they are “natural.”

So, oppressive systems work hard to make it appear that the hierarchy — and the disparity in power and resources that flow from hierarchy — is natural and, therefore, beyond modification. If white people are naturally smarter and more virtuous than people of color, then white supremacy is inevitable and justifiable. If men are naturally stronger and more capable of leadership than women, then patriarchy is inevitable and justifiable. If rich people are naturally clearer-thinking and harder-working than poor people, then economic inequality is inevitable and justifiable. If the strong are, well, stronger than the weak, then the strong will rule.

As John Stuart Mill noted in his argument for women’s rights, “[W]as there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it?” For unjust hierarchies, and the illegitimate authority that is exercised in them, maintaining their naturalness is essential. Not surprisingly, people in the dominant class exercising the power gravitate easily to such a view. And because of their power to control key intellectual institutions (especially education and mass communication), those in the dominant class can fashion a story about the world that leads some portion of the people in the subordinated class to internalize the ideology. A social order that violates almost everyone’s basic principles is transformed into a natural order that cannot be changed.

Rationalization #2: Celebrating Technology

Facing the ecological realities is even more overwhelming. People once spoke of “environmental problems” that seemed limited and manageable, but now the questions are about whether a large-scale human presence on the planet will be viable within the foreseeable future. An honest assessment of the state of the ecosphere is frightening, and it is easier to believe that the world’s systems can magically continue rather than thinking about how radical changes in those systems are necessary — and how even with such radical changes there is no guarantee that we can avoid catastrophe.

That frightening possibility is why the culture in general, and intellectuals in particular, are quick to embrace technological fundamentalism, a form of magical thinking that promises a way out of the problems that the extractive/industrial economy has created. Technological fundamentalists believe that the increasing use of evermore sophisticated high-energy advanced technology is always a good thing and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology eventually can be remedied by more technology. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is “geo-engineering,” the belief that we can intervene at the planetary level in the climate system to deal effectively with global warming. Given massive human failure at much lower levels of intervention, this approach—which “offers the tantalizing promise of a climate change fix that would allow us to continue our resource-exhausting way of life, indefinitely”—is, quite literally, insane.

Those who question such “solutions” are often said to be anti-technology, which is a meaningless insult. All human beings use technology of some kind, whether stone tools or computers. An anti-fundamentalist position does not assert that all technology is bad, but that the introduction of new technology should be evaluated carefully on the basis of its effects — predictable and unpredictable — on human communities and the non-human world, with an understanding of the limits of our knowledge. We have moved too far and too fast, outstripping our capacity to manage the world we have created. The answer is not some naïve return to a romanticized past, but a recognition of what we have created and a systematic evaluation to determine how to recover from our most dangerous missteps.

But the technological fundamentalists see no reason to consider such things. They have faith in human cleverness. The title of a recent book by an environmentalist—The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans—sums it up: Technological fundamentalists believe humans can play God and control an infinitely complex universe with enough competence to save not only ourselves but the planet. There’s nothing new about that arrogance. In 1968, Stewart Brand began the Whole Earth Catalog with that famous line, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” Four decades later, with the evidence of human failure piling up, Brand remained the loyal technological fundamentalist, arguing that his suggestion had become an imperative: “We are as gods and HAVE to get good at it.”

Our experience with the unintended consequences of modern technology is fairly extensive. For example, there’s the case of automobiles and the burning of petroleum in internal-combustion engines, which give us the ability to travel considerable distances with a fair amount of individual autonomy. This technology also has given us traffic jams and road rage, strip malls and smog, while contributing to rapid climate change that threatens sustainable life on the planet. We haven’t quite figured out how to cope with these problems, and in retrospect it might have been wise to go slower in the development of a system geared toward private, individual transportation based on the car and spend more time considering potential consequences.

Or how about CFCs and the ozone hole? Chlorofluorocarbons have a variety of industrial, commercial and household applications, including in air-conditioning. They were thought to be a miracle chemical when introduced in the 1930s—non-toxic, non-flammable and non-reactive with other chemical compounds. But in the 1980s, researchers began to understand that while CFCs are stable in the troposphere, when they move to the stratosphere and are broken down by strong ultraviolet light they release chlorine atoms that deplete the ozone layer. This unintended effect deflated the exuberance a bit. Depletion of the ozone layer means that more UV radiation reaches the Earth’s surface, and overexposure to UV radiation is a cause of skin cancer, cataracts and immune suppression.

But wait, the technological fundamentalists might argue, our experience with CFCs refutes your argument—humans got a handle on that one and banned CFCs, and now the ozone hole is closing. These gases, which were once commonly used in air-conditioning, were regulated in 1987 through the Montreal Protocol, which has reduced damage to the ozone layer. The oldest and most damaging CFC coolants have been largely eliminated from use, and the newer hydrochlorofluorocarbons that are now widely used have little or no effect on the ozone layer. That’s all true, but unfortunately we now know that the HCFC gases contribute to global warming. Scientists estimate that up to a quarter of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050, so that “the therapy to cure one global environmental disaster is now seeding another.”

So the reasonable question is: If the dangerous HCFCs that replaced the dangerous CFCs are replaced by a new chemical that appears harmless, how long will it take before the dangerous effects of that replacement become visible? There’s no way to predict, but it seems reasonable to ask the question. Society didn’t react to the news about CFCs or HCFCs by thinking about ways to step back from a developed world that has become dependent on air-conditioning, but instead continues to search for replacements to keep the air conditioning running.

Intellectuals are in the business of assessing problems and offering solutions. Technological fundamentalism allows intellectuals to offer solutions that don’t threaten existing institutions and don’t make demands on society in general, which allows intellectuals to retain their status and level of comfort, at least in the short term. The obvious problem is that if we look only for “solutions” that don’t disturb existing systems, and those existing systems are unsustainable, then our solutions are at best irrelevant and at worst will exacerbate the fundamental problems and make it harder for people to imagine new systems.

This is not an argument to abandon all attempts to improve technology, stop exploring ways technology can contribute to a healthier planet, or halt research on renewable energy. A sensible approach to our cascading ecological crises is to pursue multiple strategies that mitigate the worst of what exists today while planning for a radically different tomorrow. Technological fundamentalism is dangerous because it encourages us to focus on the former and ignore the latter.

The problem, succinctly stated: When intellectuals limit themselves to inquiry that stays safely within existing systems, they are being unrealistic. That claim turns the tables on establishment intellectuals, who routinely criticize more radical colleagues for not being realistic. But imagine that you are riding comfortably on a train. You look out the window and see that not too far ahead the tracks end abruptly and that the train will derail if it continues moving ahead. You suggest that the train should stop immediately and that the passengers go forward on foot. This will require a major shift in everyone’s way of traveling, of course, but it appears to you to be the only realistic option; to continue barreling forward is to guarantee catastrophic consequences. But when you propose this course of action, others who have grown comfortable riding on the train say, “Everybody likes riding the train, and so telling us to get off is not realistic.”

In the contemporary United States, we are trapped in a similar delusion. We are told that it is “realistic” to capitulate to the absurd idea that the systems in which we live are the only systems possible because some people like them and wish them to continue. But what if our current level of First-World consumption is exhausting the ecological basis for life? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that take that lifestyle as non-negotiable. What if real democracy is not possible in a nation-state with 300 million people? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that take this way of organizing a polity as immutable. What if the hierarchies on which our lives are based are producing extreme material deprivation for subordinated people and a kind of dull misery among the privileged? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that accept hierarchy as inevitable.

The ultimate test of our intellectual abilities is whether we can face the possibility that there may be no way out of these traps and yet continue to work for a more just and sustainable world (more on that later). That is not easy, but to be a responsible intellectual is to be willing to get apocalyptic, and the first step in that process is to give up on the myth of neutrality. Intellectuals shouldn’t claim to be neutral, and the public shouldn’t take such claims seriously.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/books/widespread-failure-intellectuals-stand-authoritarian-power-america

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-jensen-1
[3] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/148195847X/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER
[4] http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BAWQO84
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/apocalypse
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/jensen
[7] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

The Zimmerman Acquittal: America’s Racist God

by Anthea Butler, ReligionDispatches.com, July 14, 2013

Excerpt

…The lamentation of the African-American community at yet another injustice, the surprise and disgust of others who understand, stand against this pseudo-god of capitalism and incarceration that threaten to take over our nation. While many continue to proclaim that the religious right is over, they’re wrong. The religious right is flourishing, and unlike the right of the 1970s, religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are “pro-life.” They are anything but…As a historian of American and African-American religion, I know that the Trayvon Martin moment is just one moment in a history of racism in America that, in large part, has its underpinnings in Christianity and its history. Those of us who teach American Religion have a responsibility to tell all of the story, not just the nice touchy-feely parts. When the good Christians of America are some of its biggest racists, one has to consider our moral responsibility to call out those who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is. Where are you on that scale? I know where I am.

Full text

The not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case has me thinking a lot about a book I first encountered in seminary, Is God a White Racist?, by the Rev. Dr. Bill Jones. As a budding seminary student, it took me by surprise. Now, as a wiser, older professor looking at the needless death of Trayvon Martin, I have to say: I get it.

God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men.

When George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that it was God’s will that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was diving right into what most good conservative Christians in America think right now. Whatever makes them protected, safe, and secure, is worth it at the expense of the black and brown people they fear.

Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act “properly” and respect, as the president said, “a nation of laws”; laws that they made to crush those they consider inferior.

When the laws were never made for people who were considered, constitutionally, to be three-fifths of a person, I have to ask: Is this just? Is it right? Is God the old white male racist looking down from white heaven, ready to bless me if I just believe the white men like Rick Perry who say the Zimmerman case has nothing to do with race?

You already know the answer: No.

The lamentation of the African-American community at yet another injustice, the surprise and disgust of others who understand, stand against this pseudo-god of capitalism and incarceration that threaten to take over our nation.

While many continue to proclaim that the religious right is over, they’re wrong. The religious right is flourishing, and unlike the right of the 1970s, religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are “pro-life.” They are anything but. They are the ones who thought that what George Zimmerman did was right, and I am sure my inbox will be full of well-meaning evangelical sermons about how we should all just get along, and God doesn’t see race.

Please send them elsewhere.

As a historian of American and African-American religion, I know that the Trayvon Martin moment is just one moment in a history of racism in America that, in large part, has its underpinnings in Christianity and its history.

Those of us who teach American Religion have a responsibility to tell all of the story, not just the nice touchy-feely parts. When the good Christians of America are some of its biggest racists, one has to consider our moral responsibility to call out those who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is. Where are you on that scale? I know where I am.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/antheabutler/7195/the_zimmerman_acquittal__america_s_racist_god

Racial justice

The U.S. v. Trayvon Martin: How the System Worked by Robin D.G. Kelley, huffingtonpost.com, July 15, 2012 …In our allegedly postracial moment, where simply talking about racism openly is considered an impolitic, if not racist, thing to do, we constantly learn and re-learn racial codes.…The successful transformation of [George] Zimmerman into the victim of black predatory violence was evident not only in the verdict but in the stunning Orwellian language defense lawyers Mark O’Mara and Don West employed in the post-verdict interview…And yet, it would be a mistake to place the verdict at the feet of the defense for its unscrupulous use of race, or to blame the prosecution for avoiding race, or the jury for insensitivity, or even the gun lobby for creating the conditions that have made the killing of young black men justifiable homicide. The verdict did not surprise me, or most people I know, because we’ve been here before…The point is that justice was always going to elude Trayvon Martin, not because the system failed, but because it worked. Martin died and Zimmerman walked because our entire political and legal foundations were built on an ideology of settler colonialism — an ideology in which the protection of white property rights was always sacrosanct; predators and threats to those privileges were almost always black, brown, and red; and where the very purpose of police power was to discipline, monitor, and contain populations rendered a threat to white property and privilege…If we do not come to terms with this history, we will continue to believe that the system just needs to be tweaked, or that the fault lies with a fanatical gun culture or a wacky right-wing fringe…Unless we challenge the entire criminal justice system and mass incarceration, there will be many more Trayvon Martins and a constant dread that one of our children might be next. As long as we continue to uphold and defend a system designed to protect white privilege, property and personhood, and render black and brown people predators, criminals, illegals, and terrorists, we will continue to attend funerals and rallies; watch in stunned silence as another police officer or vigilante is acquitted after taking another young life; allow our government to kill civilians in our name; and inherit a society in which our prisons and jails become the largest, most diverse institutions in the country. full text

The Truth About Trayvon By Ekow N. Yankah, New York Times, July 15, 2013 -THE Trayvon Martin verdict …what this case reveals in its overall shape is precisely what the law is unable to see in its narrow focus on the details. The anger felt by so many African-Americans speaks to the simplest of truths: that race and law cannot be cleanly separated...This is about more than one case. Our reasons for presuming, profiling and acting are always deeply racialized, and the Zimmerman trial, in ignoring that, left those reasons unexplored and unrefuted… every time a case like this offers a chance for the country to tackle the evil of racial discrimination in our criminal law, courts have deliberately silenced our ability to expose it. The Supreme Court has held that even if your race is what makes your actions suspicious to the police, their suspicions are reasonable so long as an officer can later construct a race-neutral narrativeThere is no quick answer for the historical use of our criminal law to reinforce and then punish social stereotypes. But pretending that reasonable doubt is a value-free clinical term, as so many people did so readily in the Zimmerman case, only insulates injustice in plain sight. Without an honest jurisprudence that is brave enough to tackle the way race infuses our criminal law, Trayvon Martin’s voice will be silenced again…I can imagine a jurisprudence that at least begins to use racial disparities as a tool to question the constitutionality of criminal punishment. And above all, I can imagine a jurisprudence that does not pretend, as lawyers for both sides (but no one else) did in the Zimmerman case, that doubts have no color.  full text

The Zimmerman Verdict Is a Wakeup Call to Address the Deep and Structural Injustices in America By Makani ThembaAlterNet, July 15, 2013   Makani Themba is executive director of The Praxis Project.- …It is wrong. It is an atrocity. There’s no way this verdict would have gone down if Trayvon was white. The legal argument that led to this verdict, which is centuries old, could not exist without de facto acceptance of racism as legitimate motive and Blackness itself as life threateningThe Zimmerman trial was essentially an opportunity to lay more legal groundwork to advance vigilantism. Let’s face it.   This is a standard ‘go to’ move in the white supremacy handbook because the vigilante state is particularly important when the “majority” becomes a “minority” as a way to hold power without the pretense of democracy…What is most important, however, is the structural analysis and strategy that undergirds their work. Much of our work – in stark contrast – is focused at the level of individual casework.  And it’s just not enough. We often labor under the mistaken assumption that law is created by case history and argued in courts.  As a result, the bulk of resources targeted for racial justice work are invested in groups engaged in legal defense strategies.  Yet, law is so much more than cases.  Law is a fluid amalgamation of principle – ideals like freedom, liberty, equality; public perception and meaning – how we come to understand what principles mean in our current context; code – the nitty gritty words and technicalities that make up how these principles are implemented to and for whom; andcoercion and intimidation – we follow laws that don’t work for us because we’d rather not deal with the consequences. The Right understands the importance of all these elements in the forging of law and social norms…Yes, we should support efforts to bring Zimmerman up on civil rights charges.….…. We must also be more adept at leveraging human rights tools at our disposal to take our efforts beyond the limited framework of the Constitution  and reimagine remedies at a macro-systemic level including, yes, even reparations. Ending this tragic history of murder and mayhem; ensuring that there are no more Trayvons or Oscars or Vincents or Addie Maes requires an upending of the deeply entrenched structures that led to their deaths in the first place.  Let’s hope that this latest wakeup call will inspire more of us to take on the deeper work of structural transformation to make tragedies like these a thing of the past.     full text      

The Zimmerman Acquittal: America’s Racist God by Anthea Butler, ReligionDispatches.com, July 14, 2013 – …The lamentation of the African-American community at yet another injustice, the surprise and disgust of others who understand, stand against this pseudo-god of capitalism and incarceration that threaten to take over our nation. While many continue to proclaim that the religious right is over, they’re wrong. The religious right is flourishing, and unlike the right of the 1970s, religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are “pro-life.” They are anything but…As a historian of American and African-American religion, I know that the Trayvon Martin moment is just one moment in a history of racism in America that, in large part, has its underpinnings in Christianity and its history. Those of us who teach American Religion have a responsibility to tell all of the story, not just the nice touchy-feely parts. When the good Christians of America are some of its biggest racists, one has to consider our moral responsibility to call out those who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is. Where are you on that scale? I know where I am. full text

The Truth About Trayvon

By Ekow N. Yankah, New York Times, July 15, 2013

Excerpt

THE Trayvon Martin verdict …what this case reveals in its overall shape is precisely what the law is unable to see in its narrow focus on the details. The anger felt by so many African-Americans speaks to the simplest of truths: that race and law cannot be cleanly separated...This is about more than one case. Our reasons for presuming, profiling and acting are always deeply racialized, and the Zimmerman trial, in ignoring that, left those reasons unexplored and unrefuted… every time a case like this offers a chance for the country to tackle the evil of racial discrimination in our criminal law, courts have deliberately silenced our ability to expose it. The Supreme Court has held that even if your race is what makes your actions suspicious to the police, their suspicions are reasonable so long as an officer can later construct a race-neutral narrativeThere is no quick answer for the historical use of our criminal law to reinforce and then punish social stereotypes. But pretending that reasonable doubt is a value-free clinical term, as so many people did so readily in the Zimmerman case, only insulates injustice in plain sight.Without an honest jurisprudence that is brave enough to tackle the way race infuses our criminal law, Trayvon Martin’s voice will be silenced again…I can imagine a jurisprudence that at least begins to use racial disparities as a tool to question the constitutionality of criminal punishment. And above all, I can imagine a jurisprudence that does not pretend, as lawyers for both sides (but no one else) did in the Zimmerman case, that doubts have no color.

Full text

THE Trayvon Martin verdict is frustrating, fracturing, angering and predictable. More than anything, for many of us, it is exhausting. Exhausting because nothing could bring back our lost child, exhausting because the verdict, which should have felt shocking, arrived with the inevitability that black Americans know too well when criminal law announces that they are worth less than other Americans.

Lawyers on both sides argued repeatedly that this case was never about race, but only whether prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman was not simply defending himself when he shot Mr. Martin. And, indeed, race was only whispered in the incomplete invocation that Mr. Zimmerman had “profiled” Mr. Martin. But what this case reveals in its overall shape is precisely what the law is unable to see in its narrow focus on the details.

The anger felt by so many African-Americans speaks to the simplest of truths: that race and law cannot be cleanly separated. We are tired of hearing that race is a conversation for another day. We are tired of pretending that “reasonable doubt” is not, in every sense of the word, colored.

Every step Mr. Martin took toward the end of his too-short life was defined by his race. I do not have to believe that Mr. Zimmerman is a hate-filled racist to recognize that he would probably not even have noticed Mr. Martin if he had been a casually dressed white teenager.

But because Mr. Martin was one of those “punks” who “always get away,” as Mr. Zimmerman characterized him in a call to the police, Mr. Zimmerman felt he was justified in following him. After all, a young black man matched the criminal descriptions, not just in local police reports, but in those most firmly lodged in Mr. Zimmerman’s imagination.

Whether the law judges Trayvon Martin’s behavior to be reasonable is also deeply colored by race. Imagine that a militant black man, with a history of race-based suspicion and a loaded gun, followed an unarmed white teenager around his neighborhood. The young man is scared, and runs through the streets trying to get away. Unable to elude his black stalker and, perhaps, feeling cornered, he finally holds his ground — only to be shot at point-blank range after a confrontation.

Would we throw up our hands, unable to conclude what really happened? Would we struggle to find a reasonable doubt about whether the shooter acted in self-defense? A young, white Trayvon Martin would unquestionably be said to have behaved reasonably, while it is unimaginable that a militant, black George Zimmerman would not be viewed as the legal aggressor, and thus guilty of at least manslaughter.

This is about more than one case. Our reasons for presuming, profiling and acting are always deeply racialized, and the Zimmerman trial, in ignoring that, left those reasons unexplored and unrefuted.

What is reasonable to do, especially in the dark of night, is defined by preconceived social roles that paint young black men as potential criminals and predators. Black men, the narrative dictates, are dangerous, to be watched and put down at the first false move. This pain is one all black men know; putting away the tie you wear to the office means peeling off the assumption that you are owed equal respect. Mr. Martin’s hoodie struck the deepest chord because we know that daring to wear jeans and a hooded sweatshirt too often means that the police or other citizens are judged to be reasonable in fearing you.

We know this, yet every time a case like this offers a chance for the country to tackle the evil of racial discrimination in our criminal law, courts have deliberately silenced our ability to expose it. The Supreme Court has held that even if your race is what makes your actions suspicious to the police, their suspicions are reasonable so long as an officer can later construct a race-neutral narrative.

Likewise, our death penalty cases have long presaged the Zimmerman verdict, exposing how racial disparities, which make a white life more valuable, do not undermine the constitutionality of the death sentence. And even the most casual observer recognizes the painful racial disparities in our prison population — the new Jim Crow, in the account of the legal scholar Michelle Alexander. Our prisons are full of young, black men for whom guilty beyond a reasonable doubt was easy enough to reach.

There is no quick answer for the historical use of our criminal law to reinforce and then punish social stereotypes. But pretending that reasonable doubt is a value-free clinical term, as so many people did so readily in the Zimmerman case, only insulates injustice in plain sight.

Without an honest jurisprudence that is brave enough to tackle the way race infuses our criminal law, Trayvon Martin’s voice will be silenced again.

What would such a jurisprudence look like? The Supreme Court could hold, for example, that the unjustified use of race by the police in determining “reasonable suspicion” constituted an unreasonable stop, tainting captured evidence. Likewise, in the same way we have started to attack racial disparities in other areas of criminal law, we could consider it a violation of someone’s constitutional rights if, controlling for all else, his race was what determined whether the state executed him.

I can imagine a jurisprudence that at least begins to use racial disparities as a tool to question the constitutionality of criminal punishment. And above all, I can imagine a jurisprudence that does not pretend, as lawyers for both sides (but no one else) did in the Zimmerman case, that doubts have no color.

Ekow N. Yankah is a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/16/opinion/the-truth-about-trayvon.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130716

The U.S. v. Trayvon Martin: How the System Worked

by Robin D.G. Kelley, huffingtonpost.com, July 15, 2012

Excerpt

...In our allegedly postracial moment, where simply talking about racism openly is considered an impolitic, if not racist, thing to do, we constantly learn and re-learn racial codes….The successful transformation of [George] Zimmerman into the victim of black predatory violence was evident not only in the verdict but in the stunning Orwellian language defense lawyers Mark O’Mara and Don West employed in the post-verdict interview…And yet, it would be a mistake to place the verdict at the feet of the defense for its unscrupulous use of race, or to blame the prosecution for avoiding race, or the jury for insensitivity, or even the gun lobby for creating the conditions that have made the killing of young black men justifiable homicide. The verdict did not surprise me, or most people I know, because we’ve been here before…The point is that justice was always going to elude Trayvon Martin, not because the system failed, but because it worked. Martin died and Zimmerman walked because our entire political and legal foundations were built on an ideology of settler colonialism — an ideology in which the protection of white property rights was always sacrosanct; predators and threats to those privileges were almost always black, brown, and red; and where the very purpose of police power was to discipline, monitor, and contain populations rendered a threat to white property and privilege...If we do not come to terms with this history, we will continue to believe that the system just needs to be tweaked, or that the fault lies with a fanatical gun culture or a wacky right-wing fringe…Unless we challenge the entire criminal justice system and mass incarceration, there will be many more Trayvon Martins and a constant dread that one of our children might be next. As long as we continue to uphold and defend a system designed to protect white privilege, property and personhood, and render black and brown people predators, criminals, illegals, and terrorists, we will continue to attend funerals and rallies; watch in stunned silence as another police officer or vigilante is acquitted after taking another young life; allow our government to kill civilians in our name; and inherit a society in which our prisons and jails become the largest, most diverse institutions in the country.

Full text

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Senator Rand Paul, Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley (also sponsor of his state’s Stand Your Ground law), along with a host of other Republicans, argued that had the teachers and administrators been armed, those twenty little kids whose lives Adam Lanza stole would be alive today. Of course, they were parroting the National Rifle Association’s talking points. The NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative lobbying group responsible for drafting and pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, insist that an armed citizenry is the only effective defense against imminent threats, assailants, and predators.

But when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, teenage pedestrian returning home one rainy February evening from a neighborhood convenience store, the NRA went mute. Neither NRA officials nor the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party argued that had Trayvon Martin been armed, he would be alive today. The basic facts are indisputable: Martin was on his way home when Zimmerman began to follow him — first in his SUV, and then on foot. Zimmerman told the police he had been following this “suspicious-looking” young man. Martin knew he was being followed and told his friend, Rachel Jeantel, that the man might be some kind of sexual predator. At some point, Martin and Zimmerman confronted each other, a fight ensued, and in the struggle Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.

Zimmerman pursued Martin. This is a fact. Martin could have run, I suppose, but every black man knows that unless you’re on a field, a track, or a basketball court, running is suspicious and could get you a bullet in the back. The other option was to ask this stranger what he was doing, but confrontations can also be dangerous — especially without witnesses and without a weapon besides a cel phone and his fists. Florida law did not require Martin to retreat, though it is not clear if he had tried to retreat. He did know he was in imminent danger.

Where was the NRA on Trayvon Martin’s right to stand his ground? What happened to their principled position? Let’s be clear: the Trayvon Martin’s of the world never had that right because the “ground” was never considered theirs to stand on. Unless black people could magically produce some official documentation proving that they are not burglars, rapists, drug dealers, pimps or prostitutes, intruders, they are assumed to be “up to no good.” (In the antebellum period, such documentation was called “freedom papers.”) As Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s executive vice president, succinctly explained their
position, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Trayvon Martin was a bad guy or at least looked and acted like one. In our allegedly postracial moment, where simply talking about racism openly is considered an impolitic, if not racist, thing to do, we constantly learn and re-learn racial codes. The world knows black men are criminal, that they populate our jails and prisons, that they kill each other over trinkets, that even the celebrities among us are up to no good. Zimmerman’s racial profiling was therefore justified, and the defense consistently employed racial stereotypes and played on racial knowledge to turn the victim into the predator and the predator into the victim. In short, it was Trayvon Martin, not George Zimmerman, who was put on trial. He was tried for the crimes he may have committed and the ones he would have committed had he lived past 17. He was tried for using lethal force against Zimmerman in the form of a sidewalk and his natural athleticism.

The successful transformation of Zimmerman into the victim of black predatory violence was evident not only in the verdict but in the stunning Orwellian language defense lawyers Mark O’Mara and Don West employed in the post-verdict interview. West was incensed that anyone would have the audacity to even bring the case to trial — suggesting that no one needs to be held accountable for the killing of an unarmed teenager. When O’Mara was asked if he thought the verdict might have been different if his client had been black, he replied: “Things would have been different for George Zimmerman if he was black for this reason: he would never have been charged with a crime.” In other words, black men can go around killing indiscriminately with no fear of prosecution because there are no Civil Rights organizations pressing to hold them accountable.

And yet, it would be a mistake to place the verdict at the feet of the defense for its unscrupulous use of race, or to blame the prosecution for avoiding race, or the jury for insensitivity, or even the gun lobby forcreating the conditions that have made the killing of young black men justifiable homicide. The verdict did not surprise me, or most people I know, because we’ve been here before. We were here with Latasha Harlins and Rodney King, with Eleanor Bumpurs and Michael Stewart. We were here with Anthony Baez, Michael Wayne Clark, Julio Nunez, Maria Rivas, Mohammed Assassa. We were here with Amadou Diallo, the Central Park Five, Oscar Grant, Stanley “Rock” Scott, Donnell “Bo” Lucas, Tommy Yates. We were here with Angel Castro, Jr. Bilal Ashraf, Anthony Starks, Johnny Gammage, Malice Green, Darlene Tiller, Alvin Barroso, Marcillus Miller, Brenda Forester. We’ve been here before with Eliberto Saldana, Elzie Coleman, Tracy Mayberry, De Andre Harrison, Sonji Taylor, Baraka Hall, Sean Bell, Tyisha Miller, Devon Nelson, LaTanya Haggerty, Prince Jamel Galvin, Robin Taneisha Williams, Melvin Cox, Rudolph Bell, Sheron Jackson. And Jordan Davis, killed in Jacksonville, Florida, not long after Trayvon Martin. His killer, Michael Dunn, emptied his gun into the parked SUV where Davis and three friends sat because they refused to turn down their music. Dunn is invoking “stand your ground” in his defense.

The list is long and deep. In 2012 alone, police officers, security guards or vigilantes took the lives of 136 unarmed black men and women — at least twenty-five of whom were killed by vigilantes. In ten of the incidents, the killers were not charged with a crime, and most of those who were charged either escaped conviction or accepted reduced charges in exchange for a guilty plea. And I haven’t included the reign of terror that produced at least 5,000 legal lynchings in the United States, or the numerous assassinations — from political activists to four black girls attending Sunday school in Birmingham fifty years ago.

The point is that justice was always going to elude Trayvon Martin, not because the system failed, but because it worked. Martin died and Zimmerman walked because our entire political and legal foundations were built on an ideology of settler colonialism — an ideology in which the protection of white property rights was always sacrosanct; predators and threats to those privileges were almost always black, brown, and red; and where the very purpose of police power was to discipline, monitor, and contain populations rendered a threat to white property and privilege. This has been the legal standard for African Americans and other racialized groups in the U.S. long before ALEC or the NRA came into being. We were rendered property in slavery, and a threat to property in freedom. And during the brief moment in the 1860s and ’70s, when former slaves participated in democracy, held political offices, and insisted on the rights of citizenship, it was a well-armed (white) citizenry that overthrew democratically-elected governments in the South, assassinated black political leaders, stripped African-Americans of virtually all citizenship rights (the franchise, the right of habeas corpus, right of free speech and assembly, etc.), and turned an entire people into predators. (For evidence, read the crime pages of any urban newspaper during the early 20th century. Or just watch the hot new show, “Orange is the New Black.”)

If we do not come to terms with this history, we will continue to believe that the system just needs to be tweaked, or that the fault lies with a fanatical gun culture or a wacky right-wing fringe. We will miss the routine character of such killings: according data compiled by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a black person is killed by the state or by state-sanctioned violence every 28 hours. And we will miss how this history of routine violence has become a central component of the U.S. drone warfare and targeted killing. What are signature strikes if not routine, justified killings of young men who might be al-Qaeda members or may one day commit acts of terrorism? It is little more than a form of high-tech racial profiling.

In the end, we should be able to prevent another Sandy Hook school tragedy — and the $7.7 million dollars that poured into Newtown on behalf of the victims suggests a real will to do all we can to protect the innocent. But, sadly, the trial of Travyon Martin reminds us, once again, that our black and brown children must prove their innocence every day. We cannot change the situation by simply finding the right legal strategy. Unless we challenge the entire criminal justice system and mass incarceration, there will be many more Trayvon Martins and a constant dread that one of our children might be next. As long as we continue to uphold and defend a system designed to protect white privilege, property and personhood, and render black and brown people predators, criminals, illegals, and terrorists, we will continue to attend funerals and rallies; watch in stunned silence as another police officer or vigilante is acquitted after taking another young life; allow our government to kill civilians in our name; and inherit a society in which our prisons and jails become the largest, most diverse institutions in the country.

Robin D. G. Kelley, who teaches at UCLA, is the author of the remarkable biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009) and most recently Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (2012).

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-d-g-kelley/nra-stand-your-ground-trayvon-martin_b_3599843.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=1060507b=facebook

The Zimmerman Verdict Is a Wakeup Call to Address the Deep and Structural Injustices in America

By Makani ThembaAlterNet, July 15, 2013   Makani Themba is executive director of The Praxis Project.

Excerpt

…It is wrong. It is an atrocity. There’s no way this verdict would have gone down if Trayvon was white. The legal argument that led to this verdict, which is centuries old, could not exist without de facto acceptance of racism as legitimate motive and Blackness itself as life threatening…The Zimmerman trial was essentially an opportunity to lay more legal groundwork to advance vigilantism. Let’s face it.   This is a standard ‘go to’ move in the white supremacy handbook because the vigilante state is particularly important when the “majority” becomes a “minority” as a way to hold power without the pretense of democracy…What is most important, however, is the structural analysis and strategy that undergirds their work. Much of our work – in stark contrast – is focused at the level of individual casework.  And it’s just not enough. We often labor under the mistaken assumption that law is created by case history and argued in courts.  As a result, the bulk of resources targeted for racial justice work are invested in groups engaged in legal defense strategies.  Yet, law is so much more than cases.  Law is a fluid amalgamation of principle – ideals like freedom, liberty, equality; public perception and meaning – how we come to understand what principles mean in our current context; code – the nitty gritty words and technicalities that make up how these principles are implemented to and for whom; andcoercion and intimidation – we follow laws that don’t work for us because we’d rather not deal with the consequences. The Right understands the importance of all these elements in the forging of law and social norms...Yes, we should support efforts to bring Zimmerman up on civil rights charges……… We must also be more adept at leveraging human rights tools at our disposal to take our efforts beyond the limited framework of the Constitution  and reimagine remedies at a macro-systemic level including, yes, even reparations. Ending this tragic history of murder and mayhem; ensuring that there are no more Trayvons or Oscars or Vincents or Addie Maes requires an upending of the deeply entrenched structures that led to their deaths in the first place.  Let’s hope that this latest wakeup call will inspire more of us to take on the deeper work of structural transformation to make tragedies like these a thing of the past.

Full text

“They call it due process and some people are overdue… Somebody said ‘brother-man gonna break a window, gonna steal a hubcap, gonna smoke a joint, brother man gonna go to jail.’  The man who tried to steal America is not in jail… And America was ‘shocked.’  America leads the world in shocks.  Unfortunately, America does not lead the world in deciphering the cause of shock…” - We Beg Your Pardon (Pardon Our Analysis) by Gil Scott-Heron

No matter how many times I live through moments like these, it never gets any easier.  Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant [3], John T. Williams [4], Henry Glover [5], Juan Herera [6], Amadou Diallo [7], Iman Morales [8],Eleanor Bumpers [9], Vincent Chin [10], Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair [11], Emmett Till [12]… There are so many more names to recall.  There are so many names I don’t know.  And they number into the millions, over centuries as we are reminded over and over again that for people of color in this country, our lives are cheap.

I think my friend Dennis said it best when he observed that Trayvon was convicted of his own murder.

My heart goes out to Trayvon’s family and all of us who are feeling the trauma and pain in this moment. It is wrong. It is an atrocity. There’s no way this verdict would have gone down if Trayvon was white. The legal argument that led to this verdict, which is centuries old, could not exist without de facto acceptance of racism as legitimate motive and Blackness itself as life threatening.

With each of these cases, we find ourselves in a kind of shock.  As in how could the country that brought you slavery, the Alamo, small pox blankets and waterboarding do such a thing?  Again? Many of us believe there is a “real” America, which is noble and great and if only we could take her “back” and let her be as she was intended, everything would be alright. 

I’m betting that that’s going to work about as well as any other abusive relationship.  It’s time for a change.

The Zimmerman trial was essentially an opportunity to lay more legal groundwork to advance vigilantism. Let’s face it.   This is a standard ‘go to’ move in the white supremacy handbook because the vigilante state is particularly important when the “majority” becomes a “minority” as a way to hold power without the pretense of democracy. Unlike Malcolm X in his famous 1964 speech The Ballot or the Bullet [13], white supremacy works to hold down the ballot and the bullet. It is not an “either or” proposition.

What is most important, however, is the structural analysis and strategy that undergirds their work. Much of our work – in stark contrast – is focused at the level of individual casework.  And it’s just not enough.

We often labor under the mistaken assumption that law is created by case history and argued in courts.  As a result, the bulk of resources targeted for racial justice work are invested in groups engaged in legal defense strategies.  Yet, law is so much more than cases.  Law is a fluid amalgamation of principle – ideals like freedom, liberty, equality; public perception and meaning – how we come to understand what principles mean in our current context; code – the nitty gritty words and technicalities that make up how these principles are implemented to and for whom; andcoercion and intimidation – we follow laws that don’t work for us because we’d rather not deal with the consequences. 

The Right understands the importance of all these elements in the forging of law and social norms.  They push for cases that push us on all these fronts.  They work to control not only the public narrative but the institutions that shape meaning and teach us what to think about the world and each other.  And they defend vigilante and state violence that works to limit our freedom, our mobility and even our dreams of what’s possible for our children.   Trying to counter these efforts with law centered strategy is like expecting to beat a card shark at poker – using their marked deck.

Yes, we should support efforts to bring Zimmerman up on civil rights charges [14] and boycott the companies that fund groups like ALEC that are responsible for the law [15] that made his acquittal possible.  We also need a DOJ investigation and suit to address the blatantly racist patterns in the application of stand your ground type laws and extrajudicial killings [16] in general.  We must also be more adept at leveraging human rights tools at our disposal [17] to take our efforts beyond the limited framework of the Constitution [18] and reimagine remedies at a macro-systemic level including, yes, even reparations [19].

Ending this tragic history of murder and mayhem; ensuring that there are no more Trayvons or Oscars or Vincents or Addie Maes requires an upending of the deeply entrenched structures that led to their deaths in the first place.  Let’s hope that this latest wakeup call will inspire more of us to take on the deeper work of structural transformation to make tragedies like these a thing of the past.

See more stories tagged with:

zimmerman [20],

trayvon [21]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/reimagining-remedies-21st-century-wake-zimmerman-verdict

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/makani-themba
[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/05/mehserle-sentencing-judge_n_779643.html
[4] http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/02/seattle_cop_resigns_after_native_american_carvers_killing_ruled_unjustified.html
[5] http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2010/06/nopd_officers_indicted_in_henr.html
[6] http://www.ocregister.com/news/herrera-62938-furtado-city.html
[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/26/nyregion/diallo-verdict-overview-4-officers-diallo-shooting-are-acquitted-all-charges.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/nyregion/25tased.html?_r=0
[9] http://www.nytimes.com/1985/04/13/nyregion/state-judge-dismisses-indictment-of-officer-in-the-bumpurs-killing.html
[10] http://blog.sfgate.com/eguillermo/2012/06/27/vincent-chins-murderer-still-sorry-but-30-years-of-freedom-hasnt-changed-his-view-of-the-crime/
[11] http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93402&page=1#.UeQgjay4UiU
[12] http://www.emmetttillmurder.com/
[13] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRNciryImqg
[14] https://donate.naacp.org/page/s/doj-civil-rights-petition?source=zimmermannotguiltyLB&utm_medium=lightbox&utm_source=NAACP&utm_campaign=zimmermannotguiltyLB
[15] http://www.republicreport.org/2012/trayvon-martin-alec-corporate-funder/
[16] http://mxgm.org/operation-ghetto-storm-2012-annual-report-on-the-extrajudicial-killing-of-313-black-people/
[17] http://thepraxisproject.org/using-international-convention-elimination-all-forms-racial-discrimination-icerd-advance-human
[18] http://thepraxisproject.org/scotus-decisions-poignant-reminder-time-finish-reconstruction
[19] http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/blj/vol20/feagin.pdf
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/zimmerman
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/trayvon
[22] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

The Spiritual and Political Warfare of the New Religious Right

by Bill Berkowitz for Buzzflash at Truthout, July 9, 2013

Excerpt

As many of the pre-Reagan era Religious Right leaders retire and/or die off, beware of the new breed. Lou Engle is one of the new breed…the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the charismatic evangelical political and religious movement that he has come to personify, has made such a splash that it threatens to drown out the more traditional voices of the Christian Right….Rachel Tabachnick wrote in a long essay titled “The Christian Right, Reborn: The New Apostolic Reformation Goes to War,” in the Spring 2013 issue of Political Research Associates’ The Public Eye… “Engle has staged more than 20 similar rallies, and each has attracted tens of thousands of participants to stadiums across the United States. He and his organization have also become deeply involved in U.S. politics, especially in anti choice and antigay organizing,” …What the movement is really after is “to unify evangelical and all Protestant Christianity into a postdenominational structure, bringing about a reformation in the way that churches relate to one other, and in individual churches’ internal governance.” Engle calls for massive “spiritual warfare” that will result in a complete worldwide “political and social transformation”: “The revolution begins, they believe, with the casting out of demons, Tabachnick states…Demonic activity has caused the downfall of society, both at home and abroad. “The sources of demonic activity can include homosexuality, abortion, non-Christian religions, and even sins from the past.” …To achieve its goals, the NAR aims to have its apostles seize control over every important aspect of society, including, the government, military, entertainment industry and education.” If the NAR falls short of world denomination, it intends, as a minimum, to “turn America back to God.”…

Full text

As many of the pre-Reagan era Religious Right leaders retire and/or die off, beware of the new breed. Lou Engle is one of the new breed. Although Engle has been kicking around for more than a decade, it is only in the past few years that he and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the charismatic evangelical political and religious movement that he has come to personify, has made such a splash that it threatens to drown out the more traditional voices of the Christian Right.

In 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that George W. Bush would be president, Lou Engle saw it as the answer to his prayers. A few months before the election, Engle had held an all-day prayer event in Washington, D.C., that drew approximately 400,000. Although Engle’s prayer rally wasn’t as magnetic or media buzz-worthy as when the Promise Keepers drew nearly one million to the nation’s capital three years earlier, it could be seen as Engle’s coming out party.

(The Promise Keepers is a still extant conservative Christian men’s organization whose membership and attendance at its stadium and arena events soared in the 1990s, and, due to internal squabbles, subsequently plummeted to earth in the first decade of this century.)

“The prayers of the faithful were answered when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Bush v. Gore decision, giving the election to George W. Bush,” Rachel Tabachnick wrote in a long essay titled “The Christian Right, Reborn: The New Apostolic Reformation Goes to War,” in the Spring 2013 issue of Political Research Associates’ The Public Eye. For the NAR, the DC rally was just the beginning of a more public political journey that has allowed it to become one of the most important and yet least understood religious/political movements in the country.

Since that first rally, “Engle has staged more than 20 similar rallies, and each has attracted tens of thousands of participants to stadiums across the United States. He and his organization have also become deeply involved in U.S. politics, especially in anti choice and antigay organizing,” Tabachnick, a PRA research fellow who has over the past several years become one of the nation’s leading experts on the New Apostolic Reformation, reported.

None other than the venerable Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, one of the Christian Right’s flagship entities, and a long-time culture warrior, credited Engle with bringing out the troops for a rally at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego one week before Election Day in 2008, and making a huge difference in helping pass Proposition 8, California’s anti-same-sex marriage initiative. According to Tabachnick, “Engle’s organization mounted a radio campaign and sent out email and phone blasts in support of Proposition 8, and he urged attendees to be martyrs for the cause.”

Journalist and Talk2Action co-founder, Bruce Wilson described Engle as “the unofficial prayer leader of the Republican Party.” He has been called a “radical theocrat,” and the Southern Poverty Law Center has said that he says he can occasionally “venture into bloodlust.”

Engle, a New Apostolic Reformation leader, has helped build a movement that has veered away from what we have come to know as the “traditional” Christian Right. It “is rooted in Charismatic Christianity, a cross-denominational belief in modern-day miracles and the supernatural.” It emerged from neo-Pentecostal movement of the 1980s and “spread to Roman Catholics and mainline and evangelical Protestant churches in the United States and worldwide.”

According to Tabachnick, the NAR embraces women and minorities, and is particularly focused on youth, “sponsoring youth events that look more like rock concerts than traditional church services.” Its “stylish leaders dress in casual clothes, encourage fasting and repetitive chanting as a means of inducing altered mental states, and use sophisticated media strategies and techniques to deliver their message.”

It’s not all style over substance as the NAR’s “most prominent leaders and prolific authors claim to be creating the ‘greatest change in church since the Protestant Reformation,’ and they describe themselves as modern-day prophets and apostles.”

What the movement is really after is “to unify evangelical and all Protestant Christianity into a postdenominational structure, bringing about a reformation in the way that churches relate to one other, and in individual churches’ internal governance.”

Engle calls for massive “spiritual warfare” that will result in a complete worldwide “political and social transformation”: “The revolution begins, they believe, with the casting out of demons, Tabachnick states. “NAR training materials claim that communities around the world are healed of their problems — experiencing a sudden and supernatural decline in poverty, crime, corruption, and even environmental degradation — once demonic influences are mapped and then purged from society through NAR’s particular brand of ‘spiritual warfare,’ which is sometimes referred to as ‘power evangelism.’”

Demonic activity has caused the downfall of society, both at home and abroad. “The sources of demonic activity can include homosexuality, abortion, non-Christian religions, and even sins from the past.” According to NAR leaders, “strategic prayer can literally alter circumstances in the temporal world: the spontaneous burning and destruction of religious icons and structures,” Tabachnick noted.

To achieve its goals, the NAR aims to have its apostles seize control over every important aspect of society, including, the government, military, entertainment industry and education.”

If the NAR falls short of world denomination, it intends, as a minimum, to “turn America back to God.”

Why pay any attention to what thus far appears to be a marginally effective political movement?

Tabachnick argues that, “The movement is bringing about profound changes in the character of conservative Christianity and the Christian Right, both in the United States and around the globe.” It is not only “building new institutions, but [it is] creating new networks and alliances among long-established institutions. The NAR’s leaders are methodically transforming the nature of the relationship between congregations and their leaders, creating a much more authoritarian leadership style than has traditionally been true of evangelical Christianity. That shift is central to the movement’s political potential.

“The NAR’s charismatic, authoritarian leaders are well-positioned to reinvent the Christian Right, infusing it with a new wave of energy, expanding its base of support, conducting sophisticated political campaigns, and doubling down on right-wing social and economic agendas — all while giving the Christian Right a new gloss of openness and diversity.”

The “leading theorist” and the NAR’s “most important organizing force” is C. Peter Wagner, a professor of “church growth” for three decades at Fuller Theological Seminary, a nondenominational evangelical seminary in Pasadena, CA. In the 1990′s, Wagner headed up the International Coalition of Apostles, a networking group that “presided over an association of apostles — many of which, in turn, claimed hundreds or thousands of ministries under their leadership.” He “also formed networks of faith-healing ministries, ‘deliverance ministries’ that claim to free people from demon possession, and an inner-circle of leading prophets, in addition to the Wagner Leadership Institute (WLI), a network of training programs in locations across the United States, Canada, and several Asian nations.”

Tabachnick pointed out that the New Apostolic Reformation’s influence does not end at America’s shores: “Engle was featured extensively in God Loves Uganda, a documentary about U.S. evangelical conservatives’ antigay influence in Uganda, where the infamous Anti-Homosexuality ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill was first introduced in 2009.”

The NAR might have reached its pinnacle in the summer of 2011 when 30,000 people attended a prayer rally in Houston, Texas. Promoted heavily of Texas Governor Rick Perry, then a leading contender for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, the rally featured several NAR leaders, “apostles and prophets who had for years remained under the radar were suddenly subjected to scrutiny from the media.”

“Exposed to this scrutiny, NAR’s leaders publicly distanced themselves from some of their more radical ideology. Webpages were removed and websites were amended to explain that the NAR’s apostles are either not Dominionists, or that the term simply means to gain influence in society.”

This increased scrutiny may have led to a retreat of sorts, but certainly not to surrender.

http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/18074-spiritual-political-warfare-new-religious-right

Has the 1 Percent Committed Treason?

By Robert Reich, RobertReich.org, July 15, 2013 http://robertreich.org/

Permit me an impertinent question (or three).

Suppose a small group of extremely wealthy people sought to systematically destroy the U.S. government by (1) finding and bankrolling new candidates pledged to shrinking and dismembering it; (2) intimidating or bribing many current senators and representatives to block all proposed legislation, prevent the appointment of presidential nominees, eliminate funds to implement and enforce laws, and threaten to default on the nation’s debt; (3) taking over state governments in order to redistrict, gerrymander, require voter IDs, purge voter rolls, and otherwise suppress the votes of the majority in federal elections; (4) running a vast PR campaign designed to convince the American public of certain big lies, such as climate change is a hoax, and (5) buying up the media so the public cannot know the truth.

Would you call this treason?

If not, what would you call it?

And what would you do about it?

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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/has-1-percent-committed-treason

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