Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Legislating God's Word: A Brief Look at Focus on the Family and their Quest to Build a Christian America

As I write this article, I am sitting five minutes from the Focus on the Family headquarters. I find myself so close to the belly of the American Evangelical Christian beast, by virtue of a brief portion of my self-imposed "sabbatical" in Colorado Springs-- and I must say that the location for Jim Dobson's Christian empire is fitting. In this state, Colorado Springs plays the part of the state's conservative bastion, a doppelganger to the liberal-minded university town of Boulder, just an hour and a half north. For all the commotion Focus on the Family causes on the national scene, their complex is really rather quaint and unassuming. I've strolled through their gift store, and browsed their collection of coffee mugs and doormats adorned with Bible quotes. Much like it's name, the institution appears rather benign at first glance. One would assume that it's a simple church organization and that it would be best to just leave them to focus on their families in whatever religious context they see fit. And this would be a reasonable stance, if this did in fact constitute the full scope of their activities. But Focus on the Family does not act as most traditional religious organizations do, minding their own flock and tending to internal affairs. On the contrary, they are a religiously motivated political action entity. And they are very, very busy.

With the exception of the US Air Force Academy, Focus on the Family may be the only institution that regularly garners national headlines, in the otherwise unremarkable Colorado Springs. Focus on the Family is the creation of the Dr. James Dobson, who I wrote about here when he interviewed Sarah Palin during the election race. Palin, who supported the Iraq War as a "task from God", was heavily endorsed by Dobson's organization.

Dobson uses the resources of Focus to "inform, inspire and rally those who care deeply about the family to greater involvement in the moral, cultural and political issues that threaten our nation". Upon reading this statement of purpose, I was immediately struck by two things. The first was the tinge of victimization. From the outset, the Focus on the Family Christian is being told that their values are threatened. This is a familiar tactic for anyone who tries to rally a group of people to a cause. Conflict journalist Chris Hedges was speaking of war when he noted this phenomenon, but the comparison is apt.
"The goal of such... rhetoric is to invoke pity for one's own. The goal is to show the community that what they hold sacred is under threat. The enemy, we are told, seeks to destroy religious and cultural life, the very identity of the group... The cultivation of victimhood is essential fodder for any conflict"

I was witness to this culture of victimhood when I saw Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, speak at Air University. As his speech progressed, and he explained that under the Constitution, Christianity could enjoy no preference in the military, one officer after another broke into hysterics. While they voiced their discontent in varying ways, the central message was remarkably consistent: "you are attacking Christians". For this portion of the audience, Weinstein may have been reasoning with a tire iron as he tried to explain that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation represents more military Christians more than any other group.

I could expand on the irony of a group that constitutes 76% of the American population feeling victimized, but I will return to this later.

The other quality that struck me about this rallying cry is the remarkable sterility. Despite all that is known about Focus on the Family, the words "God" or "Jesus" are never mentioned, but passing reference is made to "moral issues". However, it only takes a little digging into Focus' political positions to see what ideological tenets are behind their curiously vague mission statement. On a range of issues from gay rights, to stem cell research, to gambling, Focus on the Family rallies their supporters to legislate what they perceive as "Christian values".

Recently, through the National Day of Prayer Task Force (headed by Dobson's wife), Focus on the Family endorsed an appearance by evangelist Franklin Graham at the Pentagon. The appearance was promptly cancelled by the Pentagon when Mikey Weinstein came out swinging, noting that Muslim military personnel complained that Graham had made a practice of vilifying Islam as "evil" and "wicked". The Pentagon's cancellation of this righteous hate-monger elicited impressive, if not frightful tantrums from Christian extremists.

It seems rather clear that Focus on the Family could simply avoid controversy by putting their weight behind humble and inclusive practitioners of Jesus' message. Instead they are always postured forward, endorsing divisive figures who demonize other faiths, or politicians intent on taking the nation to war. Such persistent habits lead one to wonder if American critic H.L. Mencken wasn't on to something in his caustic assessment, "Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Chistianity of Christ was founded upon love."

As part of its agenda to legislate Evangelical Christianity in the U.S., Focus on the Family has a been very heavily involved in the fight against gay rights-- or as they put it "act[ing] to defend marriage from attempts to redefine it as other than one-man and one-woman, or to abolish it as an institution". In support of their position they assert "The existence of two distinct genders reveals God's design for sexuality, relationships and family." It goes without saying then, that Focus has taken it upon themselves to determine what God's design should be for all American families, not just theirs. The theocratic implications of such views are frightening-- but Dobson's organization has a long history of pushing its views onto others.

According to Military Religious Freedom Foundation Senior Research Director, Chris Rodda (who recently appeared on Keith Olbermann), the foundation has received complaints from soldiers in the field concerning Focus on the Family's relatively recent endeavor, The Truth Project. The Truth Project is a program targeted specifically towards Christians. The problem that The Truth Project seeks to rectify is that "only 9 percent of professing Christians have a biblical worldview", and that "today's believers live very similarly to non-believers". The 12 lesson course is designed to bring Christians who have 'gone astray' back to Focus' more fundamentalist worldview. Prospective students of The Truth Project can look forward to a comprehensive biblical indoctrination program that includes lessons on the following:

- Flaws in the theory of evolution, and the "godless philosophy" of Darwinism
- God's established social order, as "family, church, community, state, labor, and the union between God and man"
- The government's "place under the sovereignty of God"
- The American experiment as "an opportunity to set up a system of government designed to keep the state within its divinely ordained boundaries."

[Click here to see the full lesson overview]
According to soldiers in Afghanistan, posters and pamphlets for The Truth Project have shown up in dining halls and other common areas, constituting an unwelcome evangelism in their daily lives. This is an unfortunate, but persistent trend in today's armed forces-- MRFF's most common complaints come from Christian soldiers who have been targeted for evangelizing because they are "not Christian enough". It's still unclear whether Focus on the Family was deliberately using the Chaplain Corps to expose soldiers to these advertisements, but it would certainly fall in line with their standard practice of entangling themselves within military organizations-- it was only a few years ago when it was discovered that Focus on the Family members (civilians) had been given permission to come on the Air Force Academy base to use the firing range (this unambiguous violation of regulations ceased immediately when Weinstein's MRFF raised the issue). It was during a routine conversation with a friend that I would discover that Focus on the Family's penchant for infiltration may go much further.

My friend Erika has been politically active in Colorado Springs for more than five years. During a casual exchange Erika told me about her experiences advocating for Referendum I, a proposed measure in 2006 that would have given Colorado domestic partnerships many of the same legal benefits as married couples. This meager offering of 'almost equality' to Colorado's gay community was opposed, predictably, by Focus on the Family, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to have the measure defeated by 53% at the ballot box.

Erika explained, "I was working with an activist group, and our intention was to raise awareness for Referendum I, and try to convince people that they should vote for it. Since this is a conservative area, we had agreed to be very careful in clarifying to people that this referendum would not legalize gay marriage, only that it would extend some of the legal benefits of marriage to couples in domestic partnerships"

Having been aware of Focus on the Family's political orientation for some time now, I asked Erika if they had been involved in the fight over Referendum I.
"Oh yeah, they really screwed us up. They had several people infiltrate our organization, and when it came time to walk around the streets with our clipboards, talking to people, they just told everyone they talked to vote against the referendum."

I was so stunned it took me several moments to process what she had just told me. Even for Focus on the Family, I thought, such subterfuge seemed too low.

"Yeah," she continued, "they pretended to be pro-gay rights, earned our trust, and then at the critical moment, when it came time to talk to people on the street, they pulled a 180. They told everyone they talked to that Referendum I would legalize gay marriage in Colorado, and that they should vote against it. It really undermined our work."

"How are you sure these people were with Focus on the Family?" I asked.

"Well we didn't understand it at first," she explained, "we just thought we had a few troublemakers, but the problem kept coming up again and again. Later on, the lead activists relayed to us that all these 'problem people' had actually been members of Focus on the Family. There was an article about the infiltration in my college's newspaper."

She added, "But I think it's important to say that this undermined our efforts. It really screwed our group up, and we don't know how widespread this tactic was, but the referendum only failed by a slim margin."

The activists in Erika's group were never able to determine if the usurpers were acting in any official capacity with Focus on the Family, or if they had organized independently. Opinions differed, with some believing that Focus on the Family had explicitly assigned them to disrupt gay rights groups from within, while others believed the organization's leadership simply looked the other way while their followers acted on their own.

Such deceptive political action targeted at activists seems to be more standard fare for an intelligence agency than a Christian coalition. Lying to a group of peaceful activists to infiltrate their network, and disrupt their good-faith efforts, strikes me as incredibly dishonorable, if not downright un-Christian. I'm no biblical scholar, but I don't think Jesus would have thought too highly of a person who takes advantage of another's trust, with lies and deceptions, all for the grand purpose of denying a vulnerable group of people the right to live as they please. I couldn't let this charge go unanswered, so I contacted Focus on the Family to get their side of the story.

A representative for Focus on the Family issued an immediate and outright denial, calling the charges “bogus” and “confused”, claiming that he “at no time engaged in or assigned staff to engage in [the group’s undermining].” Focus on the Family asserts that whoever the Christian infiltrators were, "they were not associated with Focus on the Family, nor staff of our organization".

For the record, Referendum I was on the ballot the same year as Amendment 43, the amendment to Colorado's constitution that explicitly defined marriage as between a man and a woman. This amendment, backed intensely by Focus on the Family, passed in the state by 56%. Given the prospect of such a ban on gay marriage in 2006, Referendum I seemed to have been a way for the gay community to hedge its bets. At least if gay marriage was banned, the logic went, they could secure some of the benefits of marriage to gay domestic partnerships. Even this watered down proposal was apparently too tolerant for the Christian right, who insist that gay Coloradans (and gay Americans in general) be made to feel like second-class citizens. The irony of a group of people who call themselves "conservative", advocating for government intrusion into the lives of its citizens, is simply overwhelming.

At present, the reality for the gay community in Colorado and many other states, is one of inequality. Under state law they do not enjoy the same privileges as their heterosexual counterparts. Thanks to the strident effort, massive financial backing, and deceptive tactics of Focus on the Family, gay Coloradans will have to make due with being second-class citizens.

Focus on the Family's adherants are indoctrinated with one story after another of attacks on Christianity in modern America. This "cultivation of victimhood" puts them on the defensive, and serves to rally them for a fight they believe to be cosmic in scale. In this hypersensitive state, they perceive harmless acts, like homosexuality, to be attacks on them, and their faith. They react by working tirelessly to manipulate the machinery of the state for the purpose of subjecting all Americans to their Christian worldview. One wonders if any of them will ever be able to see who is doing the attacking, and who the victims truly are.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An Open Letter to Fareed Zakaria

[This open letter to Mr. Fareed Zakaria is in reference to an interview he did with a radical Muslim on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS". The videos of that interview are included at the bottom of the post]

Mr. Zakaria,
I would like to thank you for your interview with Anjem Choudary. It was an enlightening exchange, and a valuable window into the psyche of an Islamic extremist. Your show has a record of illuminating complex issues, and is, in my humble opinion, an absolute service to American democracy.

Overall I enjoyed your dialogue with Mr. Choudary and the points you raised really helped to put the warped logic behind his “Sharia Law” views on display. I also appreciated the point you made when you reminded this “jihadist” that his willingness to see innocent people killed runs in direct contradiction to the religion he purports to follow, saying that if he knows his actions will kill civilians then he is morally responsible for those deaths.

My overall satisfaction withstanding, I felt compelled to make some points on your commentary. In your conversation with Mr. Choudary, you asked him to comment on the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Understanding that many people are reasonably aggrieved by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you asked him what motivation Muslim terrorists had for the crime of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks (before the US wars in the Middle East). In your debate with him you advocated the view that there was no reason for Muslims to be aggrieved with the US before this date. Surely, a man with your credentials must know this to be demonstrably false. The September 11 attacks were largely a result of what the CIA calls “blowback”. That is, actions of the American government around the world, mostly unbeknownst to the American people, have generated retaliations from militant factions. In the case of 9/11, the grievances came from the American government’s long-standing involvement in the Middle East, spanning from the overthrow of the Iranian government in the ‘50’s, to US support for Saddam Hussein in the 80’s, consistent and unconditional military support for Israel, and the US government’s sanctions on Iraq in the 1990’s, which are estimated to have starved 500,000 people to death, most of them children. Surely, you are aware of these controversial actions, which have generated support for a vicious form of “jihadism”, which views killing American civilians as a justifiable strategy.

At this crucial point in time we cannot afford to have any more Americans buying into the mythology that we were attacked “for our freedoms”. Without an understanding of what brought these criminal attacks on in the first place, we cannot hope to reduce the threat of terror to the American people. The views of Anjem Choudary are twisted and irrational, as you thoroughly demonstrated. I only ask that you deal with issues like this in the context of an accurate historical record. I understand you would not want to be seen as “America-bashing”, a charge that’s leveled at anyone who chooses to speak publicly of American crimes, but it is critical that Americans understand the sources of terrorism, and understand that violent religious extremism is only one of those sources. Americans need to know that we have the power to reduce the threat of terrorism against ourselves. Disillusioned fundamentalist maniacs like Choudary, wouldn’t have nearly the same power to recruit followers if the US were to engage in a more moral foreign policy. While it would be naïve to assume that adopting a moral foreign policy would eliminate all violent threats against Americans, it is also similarly naïve to think that unjust policies will not result in any sort of retaliation. Extending that thought, it’s incredibly naïve to think we can solve the dangerous problem of terrorism without honestly examining the motivations of the terrorists themselves.

Once this is done, Americans can work to rectify any grievances that are justifiable, while still seeking out and prosecuting those responsible for the crimes. This rational and cost-effective approach to terrorism can only work if the American people understand the nature of the threats against them. The process of critically examining the harmful policies of our government may be uncomfortable, but it is vitally important if we as Americans hope to live in safety and peace.

I noted earlier that I view your program as a service, and I hope that I haven’t come across as ungrateful. I would just like to see my favorite mainstream commentator keep his standards of excellence in examining the issues of our day in a dispassionate and objective manner.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Little Bit of Oil Soaked Americana

A few weeks ago I took a spur-of-the-moment trip with my friend Dan down to Panama City Beach. While the only items on our agenda consisted of relaxation and light boozing, the timing was a matter of necessity—we were determined to enjoy the beach one last time before the oil washed ashore. At this time Panama City Beach was one of the only beaches left in Florida that hadn’t been tarnished by the great oil gush of 2010. Some men with nice suits, yachts, and Ivy League educations had decided to be reckless with their oil rigs, and left a hole in the ocean spewing out 2,500,000 gallons of oil a day (and showing no sign of stopping thus far). All of this in the name of inflating the profit margin just a little. I’ve seen a number of different reactions by ordinary Americans, frustrated by an ongoing disaster they are powerless to stop. One that brought a little twinkle to my eye was seeing a Facebook group titled “We need a death penalty for corporations!” with the BP logo as the symbol. With corporations having won the right to be granted legal personhood, this would seem to be a pretty sensible approach. Incidents like this make me a little nostalgic for a time from deep in America’s past, when people used to really know how to riot. One thing that stands out in a reading of American colonial history was the colonists’ penchant for a good dust-up. It didn’t take a whole lot for mobs of Bostonians to take to the streets when they felt aggrieved. Now the average American is a little more domesticated, a little more tame, and only prone to rioting after a Lakers victory—but I’ll be damned if it wouldn’t warm my heart if I were to drive by a BP headquarters and see an angry mob smashing the place up.

My response, however, was not to grab a bat and head to the nearest BP station— I just figured we better enjoy some innocent American fun down by the beach before dead animals started washing ashore.

I would expect a range of emotions to be displayed at a time like this, but the response I can’t understand is defense for the oil industry, or defense of the status quo-- and yet I still hear such arguments, from the familiar haunts. Rush Limbaugh, corporate shill that he is, tried to downplay the crisis by insisting that oil is natural and that nature would take care of itself. Glenn Beck, in the midst of one of his tantrums railing against imaginary Leninists and Maoists, argued that it’s unnecessary to stop drilling because there is a 99% success rate for deepwater drilling (I could easily provide the rejoinder, but my friend Dan said it perfectly, a little further down in this post.) These men, the Beck’s and the Limbaugh’s of the media world, are the modern day Neros, fiddling from their studios while America slowly burns to the ground.

Of course, if the opinion is aired on right-wing talk radio or Fox News, you can count on hearing it repeated by some regular folks in Alabama. Even as their beaches are being ruined I’ve heard many Southerners issue the opinion that deep water drilling should continue, without demanding any change in practice or regulatory oversight. I’m not quite sure how they managed such a victory over men’s minds, but corporate propaganda has convinced many common Americans to come to the defense of the very practices that are ruining their lives.

Far away from corporate board rooms and Washington offices, the people whose lives are touched by this disaster are debating how we should proceed. The turmoil over how to handle this crisis is crystallized perfectly in the following email exchange from my rugby team.

[The first email is one of those cut and paste forwarded emails that tends to find its way to the rugby email list. It was terribly long, so I’ve put up excerpts from it]

Forwarded email:
The reason for this letter is to ask you to write your congressman Charlie
Melancon and Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter. Or whoever it might be
wherever you are. I know some of my contacts are out of state. We all know
what's going on in the gulf. But all our lives are about to change...
drastically! Here's how.

There is a Moratorium set in place for 6 months or until further notice. And
this doesn't just affect the oilfield, its going to change your life too.
Let me explain. With this "Moratorium" or ban of drilling in the Gulf, that
means that 33 rigs are going to be put out of work. For every rig there are
about 200-300 people per rig. That's somewhere in the ball park of around
9000 people. There are an estimated 3 people for every person who works on a
rig that indirectly work for each person on a rig (Crew Boats, Supply Boats,
Chopper Pilots, etc.) So that brings us up to around 27000 people out of
work in the next two weeks. That doesn't include individual company layoffs.

Obama is pissing off these companies and they're threatening to go overseas.
Just like the Jones Act protects us in that non U.S. flagship vessels have
to employ U.S. citizens in this country, they have the same rules wherever
these boats end up. On boats, that means "ONE" American captain and"ONE"
American engineer if they push the issue. The rest of the crew is foreign on
"OUR" boats.

The oilfield has supported the economy throughout the entire country for a
very long time much less South LA. They said that if all the southern
Parishes in LA formed a single State, that we would be among the tenth
largest economy in the world. That's how much money is coming through here
from the oilfield. What do you think has kept our economy going?

They said that if a hurricane come through it will suck up the oil and it
will rain oil. There goes the sugarcane. Pour some oil on your lawn and see
what happens. What about seafood? Well we already know that's shot, but even
if it weren't, go take a ride down the bayou. How many rich fisherman do you
know? Ask any fisherman and they will tell you that throughout their life
they have supplemented their income in the oilfield. That's right. Most of
them work in the oilfield in the off season.

I'm the first one to say that we need alternative fuels but we can't just
cut off oil overnight. That fact is oil companies have been very safe over
the last 50 years. They have among the fewest casualties, per amount of
people who work there, in any industry. I realize the impact the this is
having on our environment just as well as anyone. I'm right here in the
middle of it. I see the birds covered in oil and I hate it as much as you.
But we have to get our priorities straight. The birds affected are going to
be affected whether we stop production or not.
With a moratorium, not only are the birds going to be dying on our beaches,
but now our kids will be starving in our homes.

The fact is BP messed up. Not us. We are having to pay for the mistakes of
one man (or two men or ten men whatever the case may be) that made a tragic
decision that's impacting the lives of so many. If you think we were in a
depression before, you don't know what's about to hit us. How much of oil
revenue money has affected your life when you put it in perspective? People
this is not an"oilfield" problem. This is a national issue.

Geno this is not an industry that needs apologists now! They've got enough $1,000 an hour attorneys doing their dirty work for them!

Little bit of history, google " IXTOC 1 June 1979"

This is a load of crap! It doesn't matter if they have high paid attorneys. The fact is gulf coast seafood makes up less the 5 % of the economy in LA the Oil industry 16%. Do the math! It is going to do no good to stop the oil industry in the gulf even if only for six months! We all will suffer from this. In my opinion it is only making the situation worse!

Chaney, are economic indicators, employment, GDP, and economic production metrics the only things that matter to our society/government???? If so, what will you say when, in our lifetime, China's Gross National Product exceeds our own?
Does that mean that we should switch to their method of top down social control, restriction of right to assembly, limited freedom of press, and greatly limited individual freedoms and property rights because their form of governance produces higher economic output?
My point is this, there are other things in this world that have value besides the all mighty dollar. If you didn't see JW's post earlier this already happened once in 1979. How many environmental disasters do we have to suffer through before we wonder if this is worth it? The fact is these guys don't know what they are doing or how to fix their screw ups when they make them. They don't listen to their own engineers and they repeatedly choose the quick, easy, and cheap ways to do things which puts all of us in jeopardy. I don't care how many damn wells they have operated safely in the Gulf if when one screws up it ruins the Gulf for an entire generation.
If I can't make the emotional environmental responsibility argument then what about if, as computer models predict, this thing spreads out of the Gulf moving around the state of Florida and up the entire Eastern Seaboard? Crushing the fisheries and tourist economies of Florida the Carolinas and beyond. How will the loss of Oil drilling in Louisiana compare to the economic losses there?
This can and likely will happen again!

AMEN Chaney. Since we don't know the answer or have the facts lets shut everybody down. Keeping it simple...."2 wrongs don't make a right".

Pauley, so if we don't have all the facts and know the answers shouldn't we try and get them and make sure we understand them before we open ourselves up to repeating this tragedy??? I mean the facts as I see them are; the status quo led to this disaster, federal regulators don't seem to be doing their jobs, we don't know how to shut off deep water rigs when their wells blow and none of these companies have viable comprehensive clean up and containment plans when the shit really hits the fan.
So I agree with you we don't have the facts or the answers and I suggest we get them before we give these guys a chance to repeat this tragedy.

The piece of legislation referred to in the original forwarded email was the moratorium on oil drilling— what "moratorium" would have amounted to would be a temporary pause, to reconsider how (or if) we should be drilling for oil deep in the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government’s request for a six month deep water drilling moratorium. The federal government will pursue other avenues to put a moratorium on deep water drilling— a decision which clearly shows that they aren’t confident in the effectiveness of the regulatory agency, the Minerals Management Service. And rightfully so; the MMS was inadequately funded for many years and its members were literally in bed with the oil industry.

The corruption of the MMS by the very industry it was supposed to be regulating is no isolated incident. Instead it falls neatly into the longer trend of federal deregulation in many areas of the American economy at the behest of big business. The weakening, and in some cases, crippling of government oversight has allowed American corporations to run away with record profits, tending only to shareholders, while ignoring detrimental effects on stakeholders. This deregulation has been going on since Reagan took office, and has been lauded by Republicans as a triumph of the “free market”. Federal oversight, contend free market cultists, is an unnatural intrusion of the government into the free market— which, if only allowed to run unfettered, would naturally create the best possible society. It’s easy to hide behind such rhetoric, but it falls apart almost immediately upon serious examination.

For one thing, you won’t hear a peep out of these same legislators when it comes time to pass the most extreme and overt manifestation of government intervention in the US economy— the US military budget. The 2011 Pentagon budget comes in at over $720 billion. In fiscal year 2009, $376 billion of the defense budget was given directly to defense contractors. Have you heard any complaints from the business community, or politicians, or Fox News pundits, that this is inappropriate government interference in the free market?

Here’s another easy way to examine the claim that less government oversight will lead to prosperity. Simply examine other countries to see if the claim holds up. Take a look at the UN’s human development index to see where the US falls. Most of the top countries in the index have economic systems that modern Republicans would smear as “socialist”. And let’s not forget that one of the world’s fastest growing and most powerful economies, China has anything but a free market.

The fact of the matter is, that the health of the economy effects the livelihoods of all Americans, and as such the US government, representing the American people, has every reason to regulate powerful corporations who are legally obligated to seek profit above all else.

The examples I’ve cited above could be easy for the average American to ignore. After all, doing research and crunching numbers isn’t exactly fun, and most people don’t think seriously about any issue until it touches them personally. But now these problems are literally at our doorstep, affecting Americans in a very real way. The recession of 2008, triggered by risky and exotic financial practices following the deregulation by Clinton and Bush II, is still affecting Americans. While most of the business entities that the American taxpayer bailed out have recovered nicely, the story is different for average Americans, as we face an unemployment rate of 9.5%. It would seem clear, that what is good for Wall Street, is not necessarily good for the rest of us.

For those who are still skeptical of the need for government oversight over certain enterprises, the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico should serve to drive the point home, and for many it actually has. The basic facts are uncontroversial: lax enforcement by the government’s MMS allowed risky drilling practices that resulted in a major ecological disaster— probably the greatest ecological disaster the US has ever experienced. Ecosystems are far too complex for even the best scientists to foresee all the consequences this oil spill will have on the gulf, and we will likely be dealing with the secondary and tertiary effects for years to come. Those who would attempt to downplay the consequences of this spill as merely “dead birds” are being criminally dishonest.

And still, with this disaster affecting them personally, I witness average blue collar Americans making apologies for the oil industry— arguing with all their passion against a moratorium, and coming out strongly in favor of continuing the exact same practices that destroyed their coastline! I can understand apathy, but I am simply baffled to see so many people organize against their own self interest. It would seem that many modern Americans have been carefully trained to react against anything that can be labeled as “liberal", and to react especially harshly to any measure which can be attached to the “evil Obama”. If you listen to right wing talk radio you can hear the message over and over again: do not cooperate with the liberals, do not listen to the liberal, they will just trick you with fancy words, and they will destroy our traditional society. Instead, the conservative is taught to resist any and all things liberal, and to organize to help Republicans regain control of the government.

Thomas Frank observes this phenomenon in his book “What’s the Matter with Kansas”, where he examines a state comprised almost entirely of middle and working class Americans, who were at one point in history, radically organized in their own economic self-interest. Now the state is carried almost completely by a Republican party who continually acts to give tax breaks and government subsidies to the rich while cutting benefits for their income level.

The contention of Frank is that lower income Americans have been hoodwinked into the Republican party on the platform of peripheral “cultural” issues. Issues like flag burning, prayer in public schools, evolution, Christmas wars, gay marriage, and abortion have served as decades-long rallying points for lower income “conservative” Americans, who vote in lockstep for Republicans, or in some cases Blue Dog Democrats. And yet none of the progress that these people were wishing for has been made on these “cultural” issues. Instead, once these politicians have ridden these “culture war” waves into office, they pursue legislation aimed at lining the pockets of their contributors in industry.

The effects of such practices over time are evident. Since the Reagan administration, through to the present, the gap between the rich and everyone else has been steadily widening. While a small percentage of wealthy Americans have amassed fantastic fortunes in the past decades, income levels for middle class Americans has been stagnating or declining. Now many families must have two bread winners living off of borrowed money to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Contrary to the popular sentiment that Americans are lazy, the American people are actually some of the most overworked in the developed world. American workers are subject to longer work hours, lower wages, less vacation time, less benefits, and more restrictions on unionization than their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan. And yet, thanks to intense and sustained propaganda, you can walk into a blue collar bar and witness the staggering irony of watching an American working class man complain that unions, the minimum wage, and unemployment benefits are responsible for his misery.

The success of this large scale propaganda campaign to turn Americans against their interests has manifested itself in the debate over the unstoppable oil gush. As demonstrated in the email exchange I posted above, there has been a surprising backlash by too many ordinary citizens against any sort of moratorium on drilling—they would rather deepwater drilling continued unabated, with no plan in place to avoid disasters like the one they just experienced. Like drug addicts looking for their next fix, segments of the American populace are advocating for policies that may provide a sense of comfort and stability right now, but are clearly unsustainable and dangerous in the long run.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

This Independence Day, Thank an Activist

Just a few days ago I took a long drive from Alabama to Colorado. Sometimes, on long drives like this, I’ll quit listening to my CD’s and begin cycling through the local radio stations. When I do listen to the radio, I have this habit, some might call it unhealthy, of listening to right wing talk radio. These programs, by the way, are broadcast nationally, and I could manage to pick them up even in the most rural of areas, where the rest of the radio spectrum was just static. I was listening to one of the speakers go on about challenging Obama’s radical socialist agenda, when he moved on to the upcoming Fourth of July. He reminded all of his listeners to thank a “military member or veteran for our freedoms” this Independence Day. This is all fine in theory. We should be grateful for our military members—if our freedoms are ever truly threatened they will be ready to put their lives on the line. But I always feel a slight twinge when I hear this sort of rhetoric—and I hear it constantly. I like my country, but this is a consistent element of American culture I’ve always been uncomfortable with: the blind adulation of all things military. Have all our national holidays just become occasions to revel in our militarism? Is there no other piece of our society we should be proud of? If all I cared about was worshipping the armed forces I could live in North Korea. I’d like to think America has a little more to offer. As I listened to this talk radio pundit I was immediately reminded of an old quote I recited many times as an Air Force Academy Cadet while I was braced at attention.

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

-(Upon doing a little research it turns out there is actually a bit of controversy as to who this quote is from, so I’m not going to bother attaching a name to it)

What a nice little bit of philistinism this is. I always especially hated screaming this quote out while I was in the front leaning rest. I don’t mind the appreciation of a soldier’s willingness to fight, but why is it necessary to adopt a superiority complex towards every other element of our society? This quote strikes me as the kind of thing drill instructors jerk off to at night. I never joined the military with the intention of looking upon the rest of American society with disdain and condescension, and I know many other soldiers who feel the same way. I rather liked the idea of defending a free society, full of artists, journalists, protestors, and environmentalists. I wouldn’t have signed on the dotted line for anything else.

So this Independence Day let’s think of all the other Americans who have given us the freedoms we have today. Regular men took up arms and fought a guerilla war against professional British soldiers to free the American colonies from illegitimate British rule. Groups of active citizens formed the women’s suffrage movement in the 1800’s, and after a long struggle finally won the right for women to vote in 1920. Civil rights activists fought a long campaign beside leaders like Martin Luther King to guarantee black Americans the full legal rights of citizenship. Antiwar protestors, also following the lead of Martin Luther King, eventually managed to end the US assault on Vietnam, a war that claimed the lives of many Americans and many many Vietnamese. As a result of this activism, no American has since had to suffer the injustice of an involuntary draft into the armed forces. Now, thanks to more committed activism we are on the precipice of gay Americans being granted the rights of full citizens, and the legalization of marijuana, a drug far less dangerous than alcohol.
Looking ahead, activists right now are working to end wasteful wars abroad, so that these resources can be used to enrich an ailing American populace.

If the concept of “America” is anything, it is the concept of lofty ideals that were met with inadequate action. Our founding fathers gave us a nation that guaranteed equality under the law, and the right to pursue happiness. But American society at the time was nowhere near realizing those ideals. Since then popular struggles have helped to bring those ideals closer to reality, and to build the relatively humane and civilized society we live in today. There’s no reason to stop now. We should be grateful for what we have while we continue to push for a more just America. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing some activists, and I can assure you they sacrifice a lot in the name of a better American society and a better world—and they don’t get any medals pinned to their chests, and they don’t have grandmas thanking them for their service.

So this Independence Day, be grateful to be an American, living in a country that is in many ways more free than many others in the world. Thank a veteran. Thank Smedley Butler, a Marine Corps General turned antiwar activist who foiled a coup against President Roosevelt. Thank an artist for enriching your life. Thank a teacher for helping you learn about your world. Thank a journalist for keeping you informed. Thank Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who exposed a shocking truth when the US Army tried to lie to the American people about the killing of two Reuters journalists. Thank a poet. Thank a video game designer. Thank a pot dealer. Thank Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt for expanding the domains of freedom of speech. Thank a farmer. Thank a musician. Thank an ACLU lawyer. Thank a construction worker. Thank Col Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Colin Powell who has spoken out repeatedly against the Iraq War and current detention practices. Thank a political activist. These are the kinds of people who have built an America worth sacrificing for.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"The Franklin Scandal": An Interview with Nick Bryant

American Commentary readers, be prepared to take another trip into the rabbit hole. If you haven’t heard of the Franklin Scandal, the story is so bizarre it will seem impossible to be true. But if you do a little looking into the background of this case, it immediately becomes clear that at the very least, something fishy has transpired. Wikipedia actually has a pretty good summary of the original scandal. On Nick Bryant’s website is a documentary that was made for the Discovery Channel, which also has a lot of good information. I spoke with Nick Bryant over the phone to learn more about this case.

American Commentary: Nick Bryant, I’m glad to be talking to you. You wrote a book called “The Franklin Scandal: A Story of Powerbrokers, Child Abuse, and Betrayal”. Can you give me a basic overview of “The Franklin Scandal?”

Nick Bryant: The Franklin Scandal is a book that I spent seven years investigating, and I travelled 40,000 miles. It’s about an interstate pedophile network that pandered children to the rich and powerful, and was ultimately covered up by a corrupt subgenus of federal law enforcement, and state law enforcement. The epicenter of the network was Omaha Nebraska, and the network had two primary camps, one was Lawrence E. King of Omaha, Nebraska, and the other was Craig Spence of Washington DC. They were both Republican powerbrokers . What ultimately happened, and how the book got its name, “The Franklin Scandal”, is Lawrence King was the manager of a credit union, the Franklin Credit Union. The credit union provided lower socio-economic loans, to people who aren’t as well off. Well the Feds raided the Franklin Credit Union [in 1988]—it hadn’t been audited in over four years, even though the audits were supposed to be annual. So ultimately, what happened is the Franklin Credit Union came up 40 million dollars short. Then a state subcommittee formed to investigate the 40 million dollar embezzlement. Now when the state subcommittee formed to investigate the embezzlement, they had no idea about the child abuse allegations, and the interstate pedophile network that was essentially being run by Lawrence King. Also what happened is social services had gotten wind of the network much earlier, and they notified both federal and state law enforcement that Lawrence E. King was running an interstate pedophile network, but they were simply ignored by both federal and state law enforcement. So when the state subcommittee formed , these social services personnel went to the senate, and said there’s much more going on than just embezzlement at the Franklin Credit Union.

AC: So early on, social services knew that much about a pedophile network?

NB: Yes, the social services had various reports that Lawrence E. King was running a nationwide pedophile network, and they initially contacted state law enforcement, and state law enforcement didn’t respond so then they contacted federal law enforcement, and they didn’t respond either.
So these senators, they started to investigate Lawrence E. King and this reported pedophile network, and they suddenly found themselves under a tremendous amount of heat, and pressure, because the FBI and various state law enforcement entities within the state of Nebraska were saying that there was no pedophile network. But yet, a couple of kids had come forward at this point, saying that they had been pandered, or that Lawrence E. King was instrumental in pandering children-- they had various sources. Ultimately they hired a crack investigator named Gary Caradori. Caradori started to investigate it, and he found other victims, so ultimately six victims came forward, but the victims were pressured—I mean Caradori knew of many more victims, but he felt that the FBI was getting to them before he could, because he realized his phones had been tapped. And a number of the senators had realized that their phones had been tapped too.

AC: So these investigations were being led by senators? Were they state or federal?

NB: State senators. There was about 7 or 8 of them, and they originally formed to just investigate the looting of the Franklin Credit Union, but then all these allegations eventually drifted to the sentators and they decided that they had to investigate because law enforcement hadn’t properly investigated the child abuse allegations.

AC: Ok. There was a grand jury trial, is that right?

NB: What ultimately happened was Gary Caradori started finding additional victims. Then he video taped them. Law enforcement had said that the child abuse allegations didn’t add up, but then all of the sudden you’ve got six victims that come forward, on video tape. They then gave the videotapes to law enforcement, and also to people within the state judiciary and law enforcement who they trusted , and these law enforcement officials, and judiciary officials, said that they felt the victims were credible. So if the cover-up was going to continue, both state and federal law enforcement were forced to call grand juries to cover up the child abuse—and that’s what happened. There was both a federal and state grand jury that were formed in Nebraska to cover up the child abuse allegations.

AC: I saw the end result of one of those grand juries, and they ruled that the whole thing was a “carefully crafted hoax”.

NB: The state grand jury said this. I had the good fortune of scoring the entire testimony and exhibits from this grand jury trial. In my book I show how perfidious and corrupt that grand jury was. It’s very easy to sway a grand jury- a lot of Americans don’t know this about the grand jury system. Grand jurors are just regular citizens who are called to jury duty, and they are essentially pooled into a grand jury. And it’s essentially up to the prosecutor of the grand jury to really seek the indictments and he’s the one that chooses witnesses that will be found, and he’s the one that chooses exhibits that will be shown to the grand jurors. So it’s very easy for a special prosecutor to sway a grand jury. It’s very easy. There was a New York appellate judge who once remarked that a special prosecutor could get grand jurors to indict a ham sandwich.

AC: Ok, I didn’t know this. So grand juries aren’t necessarily respected for ferreting out the truth?

NB: No, grand juries are infamous for cover ups.

AC: So where do you see the source of this resistance, or coverup as you say?

NB: In the Washington DC section of the book I show—through the grand jury documentation I acquired about 200 of Lawrence King’s flight receipts. And the vast majority of them go to Washington DC. And in DC there was a pedophilic pimp named Craig Spence, and he was also a CIA asset. And he said he was a CIA asset, and then I found other sources to corroborate that. And a lot of these pedophile parties went down in Craig Spence’s home. And his home was wired for audiovisual blackmail. Spence was a blackmail specialist.

AC: So he was doing this to blackmail powerful people?

NB: Spence’s guest lists were a veritable who’s who of people in congress, people in the upper echelon of the Reagan administration, the upper echelon of what would become the Bush administration, the upper echelon of the judiciary. So there were a number of people compromised by Craig Spence—not only with children but he spent 20,000 dollars a month at an escort service. So if you wanted a young man in his 20’s, that’s what you could get. Same if you wanted a young woman, and so on. Whatever you wanted you would be provided, and then you would subsequently be blackmailed. And this is why it had to be covered up in Nebraska, because if this unfolded in Nebraska, it would have been a domino effect all the way to Washington DC, and it would have shown Americans just how corrupt their political system is. And that people within the government are actually willing to use children to compromise politicians, and other powerbrokers.

AC: I’m still wondering, you say people were met with fierce resistance by law enforcement, have you come up with any really damning evidence of this cover up specifically?

NB: Well the cover up occurred in two places, it occurred in Washington DC, and you had the Department of Justice basically pulling the strings, and you had the Secret Service doing all the dirty work. In Nebraska you had the Department of Justice pulling all the strings and the FBI doing all the dirty work. Now the FBI threatened to kill a perpetrator who wanted to come forward and seek immunity. And the FBI also threatened victims with perjury if they kept on with their abuse story.

AC: I saw that some of the original victims to come forward were actually convicted of perjury, is that so?

NB: There were two kids who refused to recant their abuse and they were both indicted on multiple counts of perjury. And one was subjected to a kangaroo court, her name was Alisha Owen, and she was given between 9 and 15 years for perjury—because she wouldn’t recant her abuse. And she spent nearly two years in solitary confinement. All the victims were told that if they went on with this story they would go down for perjury, so it was essential that an example be made of Alisha Owen. And the federal grand jury that also covered up Franklin indicted her on 8 counts of perjury too. And Alisha’s 17 year old brother died under very mysterious circumstances. And another victim who testified with her, his brother also died under mysterious circumstances. The state investigator and his son also died under mysterious circumstances. And there were other people in Nebraska affiliated with the ring who supposedly committed suicide too. And then Craig Spence also committed suicide. So in the Franklin Scandal, there are about 2 or 3 mysterious deaths that turn up every chapter. It’s basically an acropolis.

AC: Yeah, I saw the Gary Caradori’s plane had crashed.

NB: Yeah, if you read the book, he was in Chicago, and I’ve got 5 corroborations that he had acquired compromised pictures of Kings pedophile network, and he was flying back to Nebraska, and these pictures would have busted the whole thing wide open. And that’s when he had this mysterious plane crash.

AC: Well that certainly does sound suspicious. It seems like there’s a lot of breadth and depth to your book. How long is it now?

NB: The narrative is about 500 pages, but some of the documents I have are just so mind-boggling and shocking. Pertaining to the FBI, and also a pedophile network that was squashed by the CIA, that we decided that we had to throw the documents in their entirety into the book. They’re just so mind-boggling and unbelievable that we felt that we had to have actual proof of these documents.

AC: Yeah, I would think so. This story is outrageous, so it would really need the kind of treatment that you seem to have given it. By which I mean incredibly thorough investigation.

NB: Well, I really felt that the bar had to be very high as far as corroboration. Because with this story I’m basically accusing the federal government, or a corrupt subgenus of the federal government, of aiding and abetting child trafficking. And no one has ever done that before. So I felt that if I was to be taken seriously I had to have and overkill of corroboration. That’s why I spent seven years on it, and travelled 40000 miles.

AC: That’s good, because this is the kind of story that normally would trigger disbelief. And in order to overcome that you have to come forth with a whole ton of evidence. Was this scandal at one time relatively well-known?

NB: Well not really. The New York Times covered it, and and CBS covered it, but they did a hatchet job on Gary Caradori and on the senate subcommittee. So either through omission or commission the media played a really integral role in covering it up. And it’s difficult to know whether they just took law enforcement’s version hook line and sinker, or if there was actually some people compromised within the media. Because the names of some major media folks who were compromised in that Washington DC house had come up. So, it’s really difficult to know, whether the story was just too bizarre, that a lot of the media organizations just wanted to take a “wait and see”, or if there were some people in the media who were compromised, and played a role in helping to cover this up.

AC: Ok, so from your angle, what you’ve been able to tell is at the very least they didn’t give it a fair treatment.

NB: Well, there wasn’t any investigation whatsoever. The New York Times jumped on this story almost immediately when the subcommittee formed and the social services personnel alluded to them the existence of this pedophile network and then they backed away from it for a year and a half, and then they just went with the grand jury version of things. Which was a very bizarre grand jury report – it said the child abuse allegations were a carefully crafted hoax. But the grand jury never named who would have concocted this hoax.

AC: So they were saying these allegations were part of a conspiracy, but they weren’t able to show who or what would have been behind such a conspiracy.

NB: Yes, the grand jury report is unbelievably bizarre, but the fact that they called it a carefully crafted hoax, but then refused to name the hoaxsters is even more bizarre.

AC: I know there were different victims willing to come forward at different times, how many have there been altogether?

NB: In the original investigation there were six victims who came forward, but the city investigator, Gary Caradori, he identified like 60 victims, and I’ve taken the victims he identified and I’ve spent a number of years looking for them. And I was able to get another couple of victims to come forward. They’re very hard to find because these kids came from very dysfunctional backgrounds, they were turned onto drugs at a young age, and they were repeatedly molested. And then as they got into later adolescence they were expunged. So basically you have a person who’s been repeatedly molested and a drug addict. So the kids went on to perpetrate various crimes and the vast majority of them lived very marginalized lives, where they very seldom used their social security numbers. So it was very difficult for me to find a lot of the victims. But I did end up finding a number of them.

AC: Ok, so you talked a little about the Washington DC connection here and I’ve heard that the scandal stretches all the way to the White House, is that right?

NB: Well, Craig Spence was very plugged in with the Reagan administration, as was Lawrence King—and the Bush administration too. And Craig Spence was taking male hookers, one we know was a minor, on midnight tours of the White House. And it’s very bizarre that you’ve got this powerbroker, pedophile, drug addict, taking male prostitutes on midnight tours of the White House, under George HW Bush’s administration. And the names that have come up as far as senators and congressman that have been compromised, is mind boggling. I heard from a very solid source in my book that someone very high in the department of justice was being pandered adolescent boys, and he certainly would have had the resources to initiate the cover up.

AC: Mind boggling is the right term. There was a documentary about this that was supposed to come on the Discovery Channel awhile back wasn’t there?

NB: Yes there was a documentary, and if you go to, I’ve got the most pristine copy of that documentary, also with scenes that had never been seen before.

AC: Ok good, because that never made it on the air.

NB: No, it was going to be shown in the UK by the Discover y Channel, but they pulled the plug on it before it was finished. But someone in the production of this documentary felt it was so important that they leaked a copy of this documentary.

AC: I also wanted to ask you about the reception you’ve gotten thus far. Have you gotten a lot of disbelief, have you had to do a lot of work in order to keep this story from being labeled a “conspiracy theory”?

NB: Well I’ve worked very very hard to corroborate this thing so it was beyond a conspiracy theory. But the mainstream media has just been very unwilling to interview me or give this story any kind of ink. I wrote an article about it, no major magazine would touch it. I wrote a pretty attractive book proposal on it, I had an agent try to sell it, everyone rejected it, and then this book came out which has been vetted by fact-checkers and lawyers and the media is still reluctant to give me a shot. Oprah’s producers have the book, Nancy Grace’s producers have it, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann’s producers have it, a lot of people have the book, but they just refuse to address it.

AC: Wow, you must find that frustrating, because this is the culmination of many years of hard research. And it could possibly be the hugest story since Watergate. And while I’m very grateful and humbled to have you hear to speak with, you should be far too busy to do interviews for my little blog right now.

NB: Well the story is gaining momentum, and without a lot of PR we’re going to a second printing and I’m reading good reviews in minor publications on the internet. And it’s a slow burn, unfortunately.

AC: Well hopefully the level of scholarship that’s gone into the book, with the level of verification you said you’ve gotten, will give this thing so much momentum it will be impossible to ignore.

NB: Well that’s what I’m hoping. The modus operandi of the media seems to be to ignore the Franklin Scandal, but if enough people read it, enough people will be completely outraged, and hopefully it will attain a critical mass where it can no longer be ignored. Because the thing about the Franklin Scandal, is any time you have a corrupt subgenus of the government involved in child trafficking, you have a disease. And any time you have politicians being blackmailed, you have a disease. So I’m diagnosing the disease. And on the former point, depending on which organization you are talking to, there’s 100,000 to 300,000 American children being trafficked every year domestically. So obviously these very large networks are still in existence, but nobody ever gets busted for running a large pedophile ring. It’s always some guy in a trailer park smoking crack with a 14 year old. So society doesn’t really know that these organized and protected pedophile networks are out there, pandering children to the rich and powerful. But you can’t cure a disease until it’s been diagnosed.

AC: You are also donating some of the proceeds from this book?

NB: 50% of the books proceeds are going to charities that assist abused children.

AC: It seems you’ve run into the same problem a lot of investigators run into when they uncover a true scandal, which is that the media turns the other way. Like Iran-Contra. Some of the crucial aspects of that case never got much treatment in the media.

NB: Well it’s very frustrating Iran Contra was basically subverted by George HW Bush, who pardoned everybody. What he did was unprecedented; he pardoned people even before their trials. But the Franklin Scandal most likely would’ve been the end of that administration, and it also would’ve shown the American public that their political system is very corrupt, and a number of their politicians are blackmailed and compromised. And that was why this had to be covered up, they couldn’t let this cat out of the bag. It almost got out when they started investigating in the subcommittee, but they managed to keep a lid on it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Digging Deep: An Interview With Hank Albarelli on "A Terrible Mistake"

American Commentary readers, get ready to go down the rabbit hole. Today I interviewed Hank Albarelli on his new book, “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments”. It covers a broad range of shocking CIA activities, from drug testing, to assassination. This book is a work of serious scholarship, that came out of 10 years of tireless research. Mr. Albarelli worked in the Carter White House and is now an investigative journalist living in Tampa, Florida. His writing has appeared in World Net Daily, Pravda, and Counterpunch, among other websites. His full biography can be found here. He’s currently in negotiations to make a movie on the events of “A Terrible Mistake”.

AMERICAN COMMENTARY: You’ve recently released a book titled “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments”. It’s an expansive work of investigative journalism and story-telling, over 900 pages long. Could you give us a brief overview?

HANK ALBARELLI: Well, it’s hard to be brief, the story basically concerns Frank Olson’s [an Army biochemist’s] murder. Olson died in November of 1953, and at the time it was alleged to be a suicide. There were several small notices in the Frederick, MA, newspaper, and one in a Washington DC newspaper, and of course the family was notified so he could be buried, but beyond that it wasn’t really news to anyone. But in 1975 it became international news when it was revealed as having connections to a larger program concerning the Central Intelligence Agency. That connection was revealed through the investigation by a commission that had been appointed by President Gerald Ford and chaired by Nelson Rockefeller, the Vice President of the United States at the time, and that commission was charged with looking into illegal activities of the CIA within the US prior to 1975. One of the activities that was revealed was the experimental drug program that was conducted by the CIA and the Army in the 1950’s through the early 1970’s.

AC: All of this started coming out in 1975. What was it that caused this unveiling of CIA activities?

HA: It was a series of things, the straw that broke the camel’s back was there had been rumors for several years that the CIA had been conducting illegal programs within the US. There were few if any rumors at the time about drug programs being conducted, but when Ford appointed his commission they naturally went through everything and William Colby who was head of the CIA at the time issued a directive to all CIA employees calling on them to submit everything they had concerning illegal activities and on a few of the 800 or 900 documents that came from within the CIA there were 4 or 5 concerning the drug programs and one of those submissions to DCI Colby concerned Frank Olson’s death. There were only 2 or 3 lines on it, and Olson wasn’t even named in that document. When the Rockefeller Commission released their report they didn’t name Olson either.

AC: That’s pretty incredible, for most people who are uninitiated on all this, the government’s past history of LSD testing sound like a conspiracy theory but it’s actually pretty well documented.

HA: Oh, if anything it’s overly documented. If you look in the internet you’ll see that it’s overly-documented, and by that I don’t mean that there’s too much, I mean that some of it has taken on a life of its own, and connected with everything from the JFK assassination to UFO’s. In large part, prior to my book very little had come out about these experiments, and I tried to cover them as best as possible in the book, and I think did so within 900 pages. The book could have easily been double that size and still not have touched on all the experiments. That’s how extensive they were.

AC: When we talk about the CIA doing LSD testing on people we aren’t just talking about voluntary experiments, we’re talking about people who had no idea they were being drugged.

HA: For the most part, this is a conservative guess, about 85% to 90% of the experiments were done on unwitting people, people who had no idea what was going on. That included service members, people in medical institutions and hospitals, they had no idea they were being given whatever drug they were being given. It was far more than LSD too, it was a whole gamut of hallucinogenics, and other drugs. Hallucinogenics mixed with morphine and heroin, just all sorts of drugs.

AC: That’s shocking. What also shocked me, is the government’s official story from 1975, if you start going through the documents, it seems bad enough. Their story was that Frank Olson had committed suicide after being unknowingly dosed with LSD by the CIA. That already doesn’t reflect well on them. What caused you to dig deeper?

HA: That was the story that was released, and they stuck to the suicide aspect. The new twist that came out in ‘75 was that he had been given LSD at a secret meeting 9 days before his death. That part immediately triggered some suspicion on my part because 9 days before just doesn’t provoke that kind of depression, or if you accept the small amount, 70 micrograms of LSD, that’s just not enough. According to most experts that’s not enough to have an LSD trip or experience. That didn’t make any sense. Then when you looked at the details and features of a suicide it made no sense at all. He was in a small hotel room at the time of his death, there was someone else in the room; the room was small. He allegedly ran across the room in the dark at 2:30 am and dove through a closed window that also had a canvas shading and curtains, and fell 13 floors to his death. That alone had to have been a remarkable feat to conduct in the dark, so the more I read about it, nothing was adding up. It reeked of foul play.

AC: As you looked deeper you came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a suicide at all, it was murder.

HA: Yes, the evidence-- as far as I’m concerned the evidence is overwhelming that he was murdered. And the book goes into a fair amount of detail as to who murdered him and why he was murdered.

AC: It sounds like there’s a real dark web here, and a lot of connections to names here that are familiar to us now. I got a real kick out of reading one of the memos posted on your website, it’s between Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney back in 1975.

HA: Yeah, Well both of those characters worked in the Ford White House. Rumsfeld was the Chief of Staff, and Rumsfeld’s Chief of Staff in turn was Cheney, but they did a pretty good job of covering up the fact that Olson had been murdered, and also did a good job of diverting the media attention away from Olson’s murder, and the programs he worked on for the US Army. They did not want that information coming out at all. In a nutshell, a lot of those programs are almost mirror images of the programs going on today in terms of the War on Terror-- with interrogation, and torture, and murder.

AC: Yeah, it’s interesting to see some of the same people who are involved in some of the same shadowy and underhanded activities of the Bush administration were also involved in the exact same sort of cover ups back in 1975.

HA: Yeah, to me that’s incredible, now that Cheney is actually out of office, and probably will never be back in public office he’s become very bold and outspoken about his feelings on these programs. He’s very supportive of torture, and seems to have no respect whatsoever for human rights.

AC: Yes, it’s an odd thing to see a government official do this. I never thought I’d see the day that a government official would come out openly and cheerlead about torture, and also get applause from certain sectors for doing so.

HA: I agree, here’s a guy who used to be Vice President, and it’s incredible and you’ve got possibly 50%, I hope not more, of the country that supports him in these declarations.

AC: Absolutely, it’s sad to see some of those things that used to be taboo, not only become accepted, but publicly boasted about by government officials. We now have debates about whether or not people should even be read their Miranda rights, or should US citizens be assassinated without any sort of trial.

HA: I know, it’s almost like the Constitution has become some sort of antiquated document just to be gazed at, but not to be adhered to or respected in any fashion.

AC: It’s more than a little disheartening.

HA: Really, for somebody like me, I’m in my early 60’s and I presume you’re much younger. For somebody who’s just going into the service, it would make me wonder what am I really fighting for here, am I going to war or giving years of my life away to the country in return for what the US should stand for? Or is this all about Mobile oil, or BP, or GE?

AC: I know what you mean about such thoughts. These were things that deeply concerned me while I was in the Air Force.

HA: Yeah, in my view there’s no way around it. There’s an obvious need for a military, there’s no doubt about that-- a country without a military is a country that’s going to be in trouble, and there’s a need for the intelligence services too, but as far as I’m concerned, both the military and the intelligence community is completely out of control today. Especially the military, the military has just become sort of a cesspool of greed and capitalism, and you’ve got generals who maybe devote 15 or 30 years of their life to their country, but then they feel as if they deserve some sort of cash out. And they go to work for corporations, or they pop up the week after they resign as a spokesperson on a major media network. I just think that’s wrong.

AC: Ah, yes, and sometimes it’s the worst of the worst-- Oliver North now does work on Fox News. I would think that most people, whatever side of the political spectrum you are on, would be ashamed to be associated with a character like that.

HA: Yeah, there is no shame today, there’s no shame at all, but the bigger problem is no outrage. It’s one thing to have no shame, but people tolerate this, it’s incredible.

AC: Hopefully some of the things you’ve uncovered in this meticulously well-researched book can generate some of that much needed outrage. What do you think shocked you the most going through all this?

HA: Wow let me think… by the time I was done I was so numb to it all that honestly I don’t think anything could shock me now, but some of the experiments bothered me initially. There were a number of experiments conducted on service people alone. At Edgewood Arsenal 6000 servicemen were given LSD without their knowledge. And I remember thinking, somehow maybe 60 or 600 would seem less egregious, but 6000?! Give me a break! And the follow up figures show that there was all kinds of psychological damage, and an inordinate number of suicides, in later years. And another shocking thing was some of the experiments that were conducted and funded by the CIA, and were done on children at various hospitals and medical institutions-- I mean, this is no exaggeration, these were children ranging in age from 3 years old up to about 10. They were given electroshock therapy and LSD, repeatedly. That just adds an entire new dimension to the issue of unwitting testing, because how could you even begin to explain to a child that age what is being done to them. And the electroshock therapy was administered without any deadening of pain whatsoever. One of the experiments specifically that I’m speaking of was conducted in New York and then the Midwest, involved over a hundred children who had been labeled autistic and schizophrenic, and the amazing part is there are actually a few adults now who survived those experiments after being treated like that and declared autistic and schizophrenic—one of these guys is actually an attorney in San Francisco who went on as an orphan, was adopted and raised by a family. He’s a very successful attorney and he’s now a strong advocate against human experimentation. It makes you wonder, these children were declared autistic and schizophrenic, how many of them actually were?

AC: Yeah, this stuff reads like something out of a horror movie.

HA: Oh yeah, it’s like sitting around and imagining the worst things possible, and then looking to make it happen.

AC: Early on, the Rockefeller Report said that this sort of testing ended in 1967, do you think this is true?

HA: No I don’t, that was according to the CIA. What the CIA was actually saying was that the testing that had been done under the codename MKULTRA ended in 1967. But what actually happened is they changed the code name and it was given a whole new life under a different code name. So yeah, MKULTRA went out of existence, but then there was just another codenamed program to pick it up. And even today, from very recent reports, article in the New York Times and elsewhere, we are now learning that (and this is not news to people like myself), but we are learning that a lot of these torture sessions that the Bush administration administered to enemy combatants were actually experiments. They were veiled as torture, giving them the opportunity to try some new things. I honestly think that’s why they filmed some of those sessions, and then they destroyed the films. I think the reason they destroyed the films is that it would have been obvious from viewing them that they were actually experiments that were being conducted, with physicians advising.

AC: That’s an interesting perspective to take, but it would make sense. I remember being very frustrated when those tapes were destroyed. And if I’m correct weren’t those tapes requested by Congress?

HA: Yeah, they were.

AC: And then the CIA ignored that request and just destroyed the tapes. It was a purely criminal act.

HA: Oh yes, extremely criminal. The thing that I thought was sort of a dead giveaway was that you weren’t just talking about 40 minutes of tape. Don’t hold me to this, but I think it was more like 40 or 50 hours. And when you tape sessions like that, it’s not just so that you have a record. There’s probably another motive, and it’s probably a part of an experiment where the tapes could be used as a teaching tool down the road. Which they did in the 50’s and 60’s. They filmed all the stuff they did in the 50’s and 60’s and destroyed all of that too, at least they claim to have destroyed it. I doubt that it has, but getting to it would be impossible. The tapes that Congress requested recently, I’ve got to think that some of those are still in existence somewhere. They just don’t want to hand them over.

AC: I would be surprised if those things weren’t still out there in some form or fashion, but the way things are compartmentalized in the intelligence community now, it would be near impossible to ever find it.

HA: The government makes multiple copies of everything. And the way things are filmed these days it’s simply the push of a button to make a copy and then pass it around on a computer. So I think there are probably copies of these things somewhere.

AC: The problem here too, is that even when we know the CIA has destroyed torture tapes, it was very out in the open, or when the Obama administration refuses to release pictures of torture, which everyone knew about, these things still have a way of going down Orwell’s memory hole. People will talk about it for about a week, but then it’s gone, and we’re on to the next thing in the news cycle, like who is Kim Kardashian dating.

HA: Exactly, people have very short memories, and unless it’s kept right out in front of them, they just forget. And I think in a lot of ways they really don’t want to know some of this stuff. It’s not fun to think about at all for anyone. Unless maybe you’re Dick Cheney

AC: Haha, yeah I would guess Cheney gets a kick out of this stuff. Now as we’re talking about the crimes of government, I think we should establish that you are familiar with the inner workings of government, you worked in the Carter White House.

HA: Yes, yes I did.

AC: Given your experience in the White House, and your years of research into these matters, I’m interested in your take on a certain question: within circles where people are familiar with the crimes of government, and some of the less appetizing activities of the CIA, there are competing theories on the relationship between the CIA and the President. Do you see the CIA as a rogue agency, completely out of control? Or do you see them as essentially obedient to the President, but kept at arms length so American presidents can have plausible deniability?

HA: I see it as actually both. And that’s looking at it historically, from the beginning. I think most presidents take the position where they don’t want to know everything. Unless they have a specific interest, then they ask, and I think then they expect the truth. And sometimes they are briefed on certain things. Like the Kennedy’s certainly knew that the CIA was attempting to assassinate Castro. The CIA tried to kill Castro I think 8 or 9 times, both Robert and John F. Kennedy were well aware of that. I do think then and now that the agency is rogue in the sense that it’s too big for anyone to know, much less the person in charge, whether it be Panetta or anybody else. It’s just too big, there’s too much money, and there are too many fiefdoms. Like the whole drug issue. It’s almost getting to the point, and I think we will get there in the next 4 or 5 years, that it’s almost common knowledge and accepted by everyone that the CIA sells drugs. That they have a heavy hand into the heroin trafficking out of Afghanistan. Otherwise heroin production wouldn’t have gone up 85% since we’ve been there. And they take those drugs, sell them, and finance their operations, probably black operations, and nobody bats an eyelash. You see fictional accounts of it every month and every day on TV and the big screen, and you know… it’s no big deal. Nobody stops to think that we’ve got heroin in probably every school around the country now. And there’s a reason for that.

AC: Well, I think people at least sort of get the sense that they are being lied to. They know shady things are happening, they know secrets are being kept from them, and I think that broken trust is where a lot of the crazier conspiracy theories spring from. People don’t know what to believe. I wanted to ask you about the drug connection with the CIA, because that’s one of those things that I thought early on ‘oh, that’s just another conspiracy theory’.

HA: Yeah, and I thought that too, but in researching this book, and prominently displayed in the book, there’s a very close relationship between the CIA and what was called then, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the precursor to the DEA. In a lot of ways those two agencies were one. It was a revolving door. It was almost a given that anyone working for the narcotics bureau was also working for the CIA. And occasionally documents would come out, always heavily redacted, that really hinted strongly at the fact that drugs that were being confiscated by the narcotics bureau were actually not being destroyed. In a couple cases I saw, huge shipments of heroin and marijuana were sent to Army bases in New Jersey. What happened to them there I don’t know, but the documents don’t indicate any reason for that, and the Narcotics Bureau like the DEA today, told people that all these drugs were being destroyed. But they were being sent to Army bases, and this is prior to Vietnam. But CIA involvement with drugs in Vietnam and Afghanistan, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.

AC: No, you don’t hear that said a lot, but the facts are readily available. In Afghanistan poppy production and exporting has gone up tremendously since we’ve taken over, but the narrative we’re always seeing is that it’s the Taliban who are funding themselves through poppy production, but none of that actually washes when you take a closer look at the information.

HA: You’re right, it doesn’t and common sense dictates that if they were getting one tenth the profit from the sale of those drugs, they could have a nuclear bomb by now. You know, they wouldn’t have the crude weaponry they have, they would at least be much better armed. But if they are heavy into drug sales, then what the hell are they doing with all that money? Certainly not spending it on war, but that’s where they would be spending it if they were getting it.

AC: I think, from what I’ve been able to see, one of the most obvious documented cases of CIA complicity with the drug trade came out in Iran-Contra, if I’m correct.

HA: Yes you are, very much so, and in the writings of Gary Webb. It was all right there. And a lot of people just never read it because it was just so elaborate in its connections, which makes it hard to follow, and also hard to fathom. There’s so much money, billions and billions of dollars, and yet the CIA wants us to think that some flunky who never graduated from high school, maybe a rap singer, is the person who’s behind it all, at the top of the food chain. You know that’s just ludicrous.

AC: Even if-- for the average person, if you were to find some of this to be unbelievable, regardless of the fact that it’s out there and documented, you would have to ask yourself, would they really spend that much effort and money on the drug war, over decades, if it was such a failure? Drug use in America hasn’t gone down at all…

HA: Oh, it’s gone up. It’s gone up unbelievably; the drug war has been a miserable failure.

AC: Yes, at least in its official goals. To switch gears, I wanted to ask something else. Your book, the story that you’ve laid out, has all the makings of a huge news story, possibly even a movie. It’s written like a mystery, it’s intriguing, it’s got ‘James Bond’ action. What’s the highest level media outlet that’s come to you so far?

HA: Well actually, I’m talking to a studio, right now, for about the last three weeks, who are very interested in doing a movie on the book. Nothing is finalized yet, but they’re interested.

AC: Well good, I’d be baffled if something like that didn’t happen, this is perfect for a movie.

HA: Yeah, it’s important that it’s done right, and that it not be cranked out like a crappy Hollywood film-- it’s an opportunity to both entertain and to educate at once. Just by dealing with the facts, you don’t need to monkey with the facts at all.

AC: Oh, certainly not, the story is so incredible it simply couldn’t be made up. Now have you gotten any sort of resistance in putting this book together?

HA: Well, researching the book there was always resistance from the CIA, in terms of turning over documents through the Freedom of Information Act, but that’s just an ongoing task. And there’s a lot of stuff I filed for that I still haven’t gotten, but that’s not atypical. The most major resistance, or lack of cooperation I’ve gotten, actually came from a surprising place. And that was among the community-- I don’t know how to properly describe them-- but it’s the community that still wants to see LSD used as a drug for psychological treatment. These are physicians, psychiatrists, research psychologists, who almost view LSD as a sacrament, and they don’t like it when anything adverse is said about the drug. I tried to talk to a lot of those people, and I’d actually say they were the most uncooperative; they just didn’t want to talk at all. And they were very upset when they knew what I was writing, and were equally upset after the book came out. That really surprised me. I never said it was a bad or evil drug--- maybe it does have its uses. But I looked at that drug long and hard and if it has practical uses, I’d sure like to know about them.

AC: Well I imagine that in any case, getting a drug that you know you’re getting, is an entirely different thing than being slipped a drug without your knowledge.

HA: Right, and for recreational purposes, yeah, I’m not stupid, I have kids, I know people use it recreationally, at raves, parties, etc. That’s not to say it isn’t harmful but you know, but if that’s what you want to do then that’s your choice, it's a free country-- though I personally think there are better ways to enjoy life.

AC: Certainly. Well I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me here, and give a little insight into your book. I think the American people really owe you a debt of gratitude for the work you’ve done. You’ve researched tirelessly for ten years, trying to pull some very uncomfortable government activities out of the shadows, and that takes a lot of determination and courage. I think for some folks who are new to this sort of discussion, this smacks of “anti-Americanism”, which is a term I’ve never really understood. But once you get past that you realize that what you’ve done here is a great service to our democracy. This is our government, and we are responsible for its actions. We all pay our taxes, and keep this structure in power, and if any agency is using our money and support to carry out drug tests on children, or assassinations and cover-ups, or anything of that nature, we need to know about it so we can stop it and bring about the necessary changes. That’s the point of a democracy.

HA: I absolutely agree.

AC: Again, thank you for your hard work Mr. Albarelli.

HA: Thank you.

Hank Albarelli’s new book, “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments” is available for purchase at Amazon. For those of you who might still be skeptical (skepticism is healthy), Hank has posted many pages of corroborating internal documents on his website.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

“Under the Guise of Academic Freedom”— the Aftermath of Mikey Weinstein’s ACSC Appearance

“Do not go back on base again!”

I was just on my way to the gym to get my afternoon workout in when I had received a frantic phone call from Phil, a friend of mine who works in Maxwell Air Force Base’s Air University.

“Do you have any reason to go back to the base?”

“No”, I responded, “I’ve already done all my outprocessing”

“Good, so like I said before, don’t go back to the base.”

Phil’s trepidation was beginning to prove contagious.

“Ok wait,” I said, “just what’s going on here?”

“Phil”, of course, is not his real name. The first thing he demanded when he called me to deliver this urgent warning was that I not reveal his name. I’ve always found it wise to honor promises to people who stick their necks out on my behalf, therefore he will remain “Phil” on this blog.

Tripping over his words, Phil continued, “Here’s the deal. Your blog on Mikey’s appearance at ACSC [the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College] has sparked a firestorm over here. They are mad, and they want blood. They are in the process of trying to figure out who wrote that blog, and they are going to find a way to go after that person. If I were you I wouldn’t even answer phone calls from the base.”

I broke in, “Ok, Phil, thanks for the warning, but how are they planning on going after me? All I did was write a blog. I don’t even have that many readers”

“I know”, he said, “but they are looking for a reason, and they think they can come after you under the guise of ‘academic freedom’. They have been running around with a printed off copy of your blog, highlighting parts of it they think might violate Air University’s rules of academic freedom. They highlighted the parts where you referred to the nationalities of the two foreign exchange officers, because you might be able to identify them individually.”

“Well just a second” I said, “saying what country they’re from isn’t identifying them individually. And since when does ‘academic freedom’ mean punishing someone for voicing their opinion?”

“Chris, I know what you’re saying but you have to hear me out. As long as you fall under the Air Force’s chain of command they can come after you, and they will. They also highlighted the part where you called the military ‘authoritative and conformist’.”

That one puzzled me a bit, as I wasn’t even attempting to be insulting when I had written that, merely stating a truism of uniformed forces around the world.

“They don’t know who you are yet, but they do know from your writing they are dealing with an Academy graduate named Chris. They have already called one ACSC student who fits this description in for questioning.”

I reeled, “Called in for questioning? This is ridiculous!”

The situation was so perfectly absurd that I was simultaneously laughing and fearful at the same time. I have a pretty spotless Air Force record, but my record as a cadet is quite another story. I had been on the wrong side of a military discipline system and my immediate instinct was to do whatever I could to avoid being squashed. I spun my car around in the gym parking lot and began speeding home.

“They are trying to figure out who you are and when they do they will throw the book at you. This is their version of academic freedom.”

“Well I don’t need this shit,” I blurted out, “I’m on my way home right now, I’m just going to take the thing down until I’m officially out of the Air Force. When I have my full rights back as a citizen I’ll put it up then.”

Phil sounded relieved, “That’s probably the best idea Chris. I don’t think you have any idea the hornet’s nest you’ve stirred up here. Look I gotta go, and remember, don’t tell anyone it was me who called you, I don’t want them coming after me too.”

Now sufficiently panicked, I stepped on the accelerator. I remember feeling this very same sense of dread as a cadet at the Air Force Academy—it’s the feeling that one is a tiny bug, scrambling to avoid being crushed by a massive boot. Such is the overwhelming power of a government institution over the individual.

When I arrived at my house I immediately logged into American Commentary and took the blog down. There! I was safe!

I sat at my desk for a few minutes, mulling over the situation. As I did I began to sense another feeling welling up from within. It was slight, but it was unmistakable. I felt shame. I had just surrendered my right to free speech. The moment I had ruffled some powerful feathers I had slunk away into the shadows. I was letting them use fear to stifle dissent.

After staring at the wall for a few more minutes I picked up the phone and called Mikey Weinstein to let him know what was going on. He was confused.

“Academic freedom?! Don’t they know I can say whatever I want about any of this? I never signed onto any sort of stricture over my speech, and I never would have. Chris, you haven’t done anything wrong here, and I don’t think you need to worry—moreover I understand that you might want to take the blog down now, but I don’t think you should. It’s your choice but I wouldn’t shrink away from this…”

That was all it took. A few words of encouragement from Mikey Weinstein gave me the courage I needed. I put the blog back up as we were talking. He was right—I had been shrinking away out of fear. American Commentary came down for 20 minutes on May 18th, and I still shudder to think how quickly I chose to silence myself when threatened.

How funny that a term like “academic freedom” could be used as a pretense to censor a critic. Being familiar with military culture I wasn’t a bit surprised at this irony, but I was surprised at how sensitive Air University was to a few unkind words—I would have thought their initial reaction would have been to deal with the ACSC students who conducted themselves in such a rude and insolent manner, not to come after me.

Echoing Air University, one of the critics who charged that I had broken the rules on academic freedom was the illustrious, Constitutionally ignorant, “Christian Fighter Pilot” (who I presume has taken to spreading Jesus’ love with his field grade rank from the cockpit of his fighter jet). In his blog he lays out the rules regarding academic freedom, and notes that I may have violated them. A few other commenters on this blog have said the same thing. Earlier I noted that my description of the nationalities of the foreign officers may have allowed them to be identified individually, though I seriously doubt it. Still, as a courtesy to those officers, I deleted those descriptions, but as for Air University’s rules on academic freedom, I must confess I don’t take them seriously. To start with, all the talk of concern over “academic freedom” was clearly a thin pretext for a planned attack on a writer who gave a room full of unruly ACSC students a bit of much needed criticism. Motive aside, I view restrictions like this as illegitimate strictures on the natural right of freedom of speech. A natural right, as described by philosophers like John Locke and Thomas Paine, is an absolute right possessed by all human beings. Government institutions can put all the rules they want to on paper, but human beings will still possess their natural rights. Some of my critics on this site and others have noted that I didn’t ask permission from Air University to write my blog. They are correct—I’m not interested in their permission.
When he was recently barred by Israel from crossing the border into the West Bank to speak at a university, Noam Chomsky was asked if he would approach the Israeli government in the future to ask permission. He responded “It's not the government's business to decide who's going to give a talk at a university. I wouldn't implicitly grant them that right.” To ask permission to use one’s rights is to give them away by implication. I will not be “asking permission” from anyone to write what I see, as I see it.

To return to Air University’s response to my original blog post, it is very telling that their instant, most visceral reaction was to attempt to squash the dissident blog, rather than to address the endemic problems that must be in place that would cause so many Air Force officers to behave so disgracefully and disrespectfully. The entire ACSC incident can serve as a sort of microcosm example on how many military leaders are responding inadequately to the threat of fundamentalist Christianity in their ranks. Weinstein was invited to speak at the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College, a move that does deserve some kudos, because clearly some senior ranking officers recognize the value of having his view presented. When Weinstein spoke a sizeable segment of the officers present conducted themselves disgracefully, unprofessionally, and disrespectfully, and booed and jeered lustfully from the back of the room.

(A side note: the last time I saw behavior like this from military members was during my cadet days. Of course, there were some major differences between this episode of mob behavior and the ones I occasionally witnessed at mandatory assemblies at the Air Force Academy: any time a crowd of cadets would turn unruly and disrespectful towards a speaker it wasn’t nearly to the same degree, and we would always expect to get hammered. Someone would have intervened in the middle of any such debacle and would have dressed down the entire cadet wing. As cadets we never would have gotten away with such behavior, but I suppose rank has its privileges.)

Instead of disciplining the unruly officers, or offering a well deserved formal apology to Weinstein, the first action taken by the leadership was to seek out the one person who wrote publicly about the incident so he could be silenced. A letter was sent to all ACSC students reminding them of the strictures that “academic freedom” places on public speech. As for dealing with the behavior of students, Brigadier Gen Rock gave a briefing to the entire class on “professional behavior”, which should be recognized as a baby step in the right direction. According to one ACSC student there seems to be some internal debate on the issues Weinstein presented, though it is far too lopsided. While a few instructors told their classes they were “very disappointed in the lack of professionalism and childish behavior” from the students, these instructors appear to be “the exception”, as “most instructors had similarly disrespectful attitudes towards Mikey [Weinstein].” As this particular officer sees things, “it seems ACSC is more worried about non-disclosure than respectful behavior.” This attitude, unfortunately, is all too common in military culture: major problems are dealt with by covering them up and keeping them from the public view.

I’m pleased to have gotten a good bit of spirited feedback from ACSC students on the original blog post. I’ve received praise from some for “saying what needed to be said”, and was told that I “hit the nail on the head”. I’ve also received criticism from others who insist I presented a biased view of the day’s events, and say I was acting on some sort of “self-serving” agenda. I suppose that my agenda may be self-serving, in that I’m supporting a cause I’ve believed in for a long time— if that’s the case you can paint me with the “self-serving” brush all you want. As to the charge that I’m biased I won’t spend a lot of energy refuting it— I offer full disclosure in admitting that I’ve been a long-time supporter of Weinstein, and I’ve always felt that achieving perfect objectivity in one's writing is an impossible task. But I will stake my reputation on this statement: everything I described in my first blog post absolutely took place, and I’ve been told by many that I captured perfectly the atmosphere in the auditorium. To those who disagree I offer the same challenge I offered weeks ago: I know this presentation was taped by Air University and I will gladly post it, in its entirety, on American Commentary, so that everyone can see for themselves what took place.

Some of the other critics spend a lot of time complaining that Weinstein is impolite and brash, and uses “extreme language”. In the course of focusing on his intensity, they set aside and completely ignore his campaign, and all the good he has done for so many soldiers. Time and again, these military members refuse to acknowledge a systemic problem, refuse to have any sympathy for the plight of soldiers like Spc. Zachari Klawonn or any of MRFF’s other 18,000 clients, and through their disinterest lend their tacit support to a growing national security threat within the US military. These critics see no need for alarm that a hate-monger like Franklin Graham received an invitation to speak at the Pentagon—apparently having no concern for troops of theirs who might be Muslim. They are hell-bent on perceiving Weinstein’s fight as an attack Christianity, and no evidence to the contrary, no amount of support from other notable Christians like Elizabeth Sholes, or MRFF administrative board member Frank Schaeffer, seems able to change their minds. It all seems to me, a very deliberate misperception.

In dealing with Weinstein’s critics I have gotten a taste of the deceptive tactics they use. Many of the MRFF’s critics, like the “Christian Fighter Pilot” Jonathan Dowty, make a sport out of taking Weinstein’s words and twisting them. Dowty and others regularly portray Weinstein’s efforts as an attack on all military Christians. He even went so far as to completely misquote from my last blog post to paint this false picture.

In my post on the ACSC debacle I wrote:

He [Weinstein] explained that he views the attempts to intertwine religion into the military fabric of the most powerful nation in the world, vis-à-vis the National Day of Prayer Task Force, Officers Christian Fellowship, and groups like them, as a “national security threat from within.”

The Christian Fighter Pilot takes the words above and uses them to write:

The MRFF supporter quoted here freely admits that during this ACSC briefing Weinstein called military Christians “a national security threat from within”

This is one of the most willfully dishonest misquotes I’ve ever seen. Dowty takes a segment of one of my sentences, tacks on his own manufactured language to completely change the meaning, and attempts to sell it as my statement. Weinstein has never spoken this way about all military Christians, and in fact, spends the vast majority of his efforts advocating for his 96% Christian client base.

Two can play at this game, Mr. Christian Fighter Pilot:

According to his blog, Christian Fighter Pilot, Major Jonathan Dowty is “blinded by…zeal” and secretly frequents satanic bath houses in and around “Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama”.

Wow, it sure is fun to play fast and loose with other peoples words!

The rest of The Christian Fighter Pilot’s attacks on myself and the MRFF are transparent distortions of a similar nature, so I won’t waste space with them. You can view the blog here.

It should be noted that Dowty and his ilk seek to advance a view on religion in the military that is in direct contradiction to the Air Force’s Core Values, as specified in 1997. This document is worth reading in its entirety. It lays out a set of behaviors that comprise “Service Before Self”, with one of these key behaviors being “discipline and self-control”. One of the areas of self-control that is spelled out is religious toleration:

Religious toleration. Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a
matter of individual conscience. Professionals, and especially commanders, must not
take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates.

It is this simple concept that so many in the audience at Weinstein's ACSC appearance seemed unwilling to comprehend. Instead of accepting this command responsibility not to "influence the religious views of subordinates", too many ACSC students refused to acknowledge it, and instead chose to engage in the embarassing behavior I described in "The Best and The Brightest"-- the piece that some members of Air University leadership sought to punish me for writing.

This experience should serve as a potent warning to anyone who is considering giving their rights away to anyone else. This country has some of the best protections for freedom of speech in the world, and such a decision should be given very thoughtful and purposeful consideration. As a military member you can easily find yourself being punished for simply saying the wrong things. Army soldier Marc Hall learned this lesson when the army came after him for criticizing its controversial stop-loss policy. It took a popular movement to challenge this abuse of power and save Marc Hall from being thrown into jail. Make no mistake about it, superior military officers and noncommissioned officers all swear an oath to a Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech, but their respect for a vulnerable individual's rights is liable to fly right out the window if they feel offended, and they will use whatever legal advantage they have to stifle dissent. I think it is safe to assume that had I written a laudatory blog post praising ACSC for their handling of this event I never would have heard a thing about “academic freedom” and "non-disclosure". When an organization wields their power in this manner, and uses it to punish critics, and allows praise to be given freely, the end result is a kind of propaganda that flows from within. Here is a truism that applies in all places, in all times: if you give the powerful any sort of leverage over you, you can fully expect them to use it. The leverage that some officers on the AU faculty intended to use in this case was “academic freedom”.

In the end I was very likely saved from reprisal by a very senior flag officer who intervened with Air University to keep a leash on their attack dogs. I was refreshed to see that some key figures in the Air Force chain of command didn’t find it prudent to crush a Company Grade Officer for a dissenting blog post, but I have no illusions—I never would have gotten this protection from on high if it hadn’t been for the fierce advocacy of Mikey Weinstein, who started making phone calls as soon as I told him about Phil’s frantic warning. If I had been just another junior officer without a Nobel-nominated civil rights fighter in my corner, this could have been a very different story, and I quickly would have become a tiny bug squashed under Air University’s boot-- all for the contrived crime of reporting how a large group of USAF officers behaved like jackals and brigands when Mikey Weinstein bravely spoke at ACSC.

[The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has done so much to help so many military members who have faced religious harassment from their chain of command. Please see the website to learn more about building the wall of separation between church and state within the US military, and donate if possible]