Mojo - April 2010

Oath Keepers a COINTELPRO target?

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 4:44 PM EDT

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the "patriot" group Oath Keepers, apparently thinks the United States government, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rachel Maddow, Mother Jones, AlterNet, and the rest of the liberal media are complicit in a COINTELPRO-style conspiracy to discredit his group.

AlterNet reporter Adele Stan attended a press conference this past weekend for the Second Amendment March, at which Rhodes groused about mistreatment by Maddow and Justine Sharrock, who wrote our cover story on the group—although he didn't complain, apparently, about being dismissed by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.

Rhodes feels as though his group has been mischaracterized by the liberal (and mainstream) media. He's particularly rankled by people lumping his organization in with racists and militia groups—never mind that Rhodes has been a vocal supporter both of the militia movement and of individuals who advocate using force to fight government oppression. His group is walking a thin line, however, and its rhetoric clearly resonates with the locked-and-loaded crowd, among others.

Last week, in fact, when Oath Keepers backed out of an alternative (armed) Second Amendment rally, it wasn't because Rhodes didn't sympathize with its organizers. Here's what Rhodes said at the press conference, according to Stan:

"I'm not going to be speaking there, because I'm not going to make it easy for them to paint me as militia," he said. "I'm not going to stand next to a militia leader or a former militia leader and give a speech, because that would be used as something to...incorrectly paint Oath Keepers as something it's not."

Fair enough, but Rhodes also showcased some of the anti-government paranoia that Oath Keepers routinely disseminates by declaring, for instance, that the government will almost inevitably, at some point in the future, herd citizens into detention camps—or take away their guns:

"And the latest thing that they're going to do, I hear from an informant within federal law enforcement," [Rhodes] said, "is a CoInTelPro-style operation to make us look like militia—like the Hutaree, is what we're told—and that should really come as no surprise: That's exactly what the Southern Poverty Law Center's been trying to do, and people like Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews, and on down the line. This has been a relentless program."

Perhaps the best part of Stan's report was the quasi-interview that took place when she approached Rhodes after the press conference. Although it was hard to say who was interviewing whom:

He put me off until his cameraman was free. He records everything now, he said, especially since the Mother Jones piece. "I call it the Justine Sharrock rule," he said.

Rhodes did finally get to his point, though, before cutting the interview short and implying that Stan was a shoddy journalist—or something like that.

"The Republicans want to go after Islamic terrorists because they're so afraid of them that they're willing to throw the Bill of Rights in the trash. And they did. And then the Democrats got in. The Democrats are so afraid of the next Timothy McVeigh that they're also willing to throw the Bill of Rights in the trash. They want me Gitmoed, and all this kind of stuff. Or they're like, I don't want the racist." He mimicked a frightened cry.

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Former Militiaman: Gov't Should "Back Off Before Someone Gets Hurt"

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 4:25 PM EDT

For all the media hype about Monday's open-carry gun rally outside DC, and promises from organizers that "hundreds” of armed protesters would come out to saber-rattle, the event was poorly attended. Barely two-dozen guys (and a few gals) with guns showed up at Fort Hunt Park early Monday to "restore the Constitution" and demand more gun rights in a state that already allows the carrying of concealed weapons. But there was one highlight: the appearance of Mike Vanderboegh, the Alabama blogger and former militia leader who called for "patriots" to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices after the health care reform bill passed last month.

The Two-Guantanamo Solution

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 2:21 PM EDT

It all began in Afghanistan (the War on Terror, of course). It was there as well that, in late 2001, the Bush administration first "took the gloves off," a phrase its top officials then loved to use. So the first torture and abuse of prisoners, including the use of dogs to intimidate, took place there and only then migrated to Guantanamo in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. By 2004, the US was already operating approximately two dozen off-the-grid prisons in Afghanistan and a report in the British Guardian could speak of the US prison system there as "the hub of a global network of detention centers." It included a notorious CIA-run secret Afghan prison nicknamed "the Salt Pit." The first killing of prisoners by Americans occurred at our prison at Bagram Air Base, the huge former Soviet base that became a focus of American military activities. One of the nastier spots on the planet for many years, Bagram was, as Karen Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place, Guantanamo's First 100 Days, has termed it, "the missing prison" (at a time when all attention was focused on Guantanamo). It remains George W. Bush's unmentioned living legacy to Barack Obama.

Armed Protesters Thank Obama For Allowing Guns in Parks

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 1:29 PM EDT

Two dozen gun enthusiasts, Oath Keepers, and vintage 1992 militia members brought their many weapons to two Virginia national parks on Monday to protest encroaching socialism, government tyranny and health care reform, among other things. (When I pulled into the parking lot, a man with a rifle strapped to his back asked me if I was carrying any "long arms," which did have to be unloaded in the park.) Speakers bashed any number of government officials as they talked about the need to embrace guns and religion and "restore the Constitution." But it wasn't entirely clear why they really needed to worry too much about the gun part. After all, gun control laws are disappearing faster than trees in the rainforest. And the greatest irony of all? This rally would not have been possible during the Bush administration. That's because it was Democrats who helped pass, and Obama who signed, a new law that went into effect in February allowing people to carry guns in national parks.

Those contradictions weren't totally lost on the rally organizers. Tom Fernandez, a Florida real estate agent and founder of Alarm and Muster, speaking from Ft. Hunt Park, Va., said, "It was President Obama who signed the law that lets us open carry in this park today and we had the gall to take him up on it. That's the only thing I'm going to thank our president for."

GOP Rep. Broun: Beware "Tyrannical" Gov't

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 1:23 PM EDT

At a Second Amendment rally in the shadow of the Washington Monument, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) fired up an already boisterous crowd of gun lovers, sign toters, and self-proclaimed Constitutional defenders by railing against his "socialist" colleagues on Capitol Hill and demanding a ballot-box revolution this fall. In doing so, Broun gave the event's organizers—like Skip Coryell, a anti-government gun rights advocate from Michigan—and attending groups like the Oath Keepers just what they wanted to hear.

Echoing a controversial remark made last fall aimed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Broun told the crowd, "We have a lot of domestic enemies in the United States, and they work down the Mall," referring to certain members of Congress. Soon after, Broun added that Second Amendment defenders like himself and those in the crowd—many of them sporting bright orange stickers saying "Guns Save Lives"—needed to protect themselves from "the tyrannical government of the United States" and fight back against the "socialists that are running Congress."

This is not unusual rhetoric for Broun. He has called President Barack Obama a "socialist" and suggested that the administration might use a natural disaster or pandemic to "develop an environment where they can take over." He has also refused to fill in the complete Census form this year, describing it as an invasion of his privacy.

In a brief interview after his speech, I asked Broun whether he, as a politician, agreed with the virulently anti-government rhetoric of the groups hosting the event. For instance, Larry Pratt of Gun Owners for America, one of the march's sponsors, was reported to have said earlier today  that "we are in a war." Referring to the government, he added, "They're coming for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They're coming for everything because they're a bunch of socialists!" Broun said that he believed "government certainly has a place," but that only "people who are going to fight for limited government, low taxes, low intrusion into people's lives" should be left in office. "It's all about freedom," he said. "The federal government should only be doing the 18 things that Article 1, Section 8 [of the Constitution] gives the authority to do. Just 18."

The MoJo vs. WikiLeaks Smackdown Continues

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 7:30 AM EDT

In addition to its video of an American helicopter gunning down two Reuters journalists in Iraq, WikiLeaks has made its name by taking on rich and powerful targets like Swiss banks and Scientology. And then there's its not-so-rich or powerful targets, like us. Two weeks ago, Mother Jones got on the whistleblower website's bad side by running David Kushner's profile of its elusive founder, Julian Assange. Since then, Assange has accused us of "gutter journalism," "craven sucking up to the Pentagon" and just yesterday, being an agent of "right-wing reality distortion."

The latest salvo was fired when I caught up with Assange in Berkeley, where he was speaking on a panel at an investigative journalism conference at Cal. Beforehand, I approached the lanky, spectrally pale hacker-turned-journalist and apologized for suggesting that he'd sneakily given his comment on our site a statistically impossible 50,000+ "likes." More importantly, I urged him to correct any factual errors he thought we'd made. And with that, Assange launched into an invective-packed browbeating that wrapped up with him snarling, "I don't have the time to rip that piece of shit to shreds. Do your own fucking research."

So, in the name of research, during Q&A time I asked Assange about WikiLeaks' evolving identity. As recently as 2008, WikiLeaks said it would act as a "completely neutral" conduit for leaked materials and would crowdsource the analysis. But it's taken its old wiki-style site offline indefinitely and published the Iraq video in an emphatic (if somewhat meager) package titled Collateral Murder. I asked Assange if WikiLeaks' future scoops would follow this new, more top-down approach. The suggestion that WikiLeaks has ever changed its approach, Assange replied, was misinformation from the "right-wing reality distortion field." I told the room that I worked for Mother Jones, which got a laugh. Assange shot back, "There's been a lot of changes there in recent years."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 19, 2010

Mon Apr. 19, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

US and Afghan Soldiers determine which route to take to the village of PyroKheyl in Kherwar district in Afghanistan's Logar province, on April 8, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Sgt. Russell Gilchrest.

The Climate Desk: A Journalistic Collaboration

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 3:00 AM EDT

This Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Back in 1970, some 20 million people are estimated to have participated in activities and protests of various kinds, some of them captured by a hour-long CBS News special report, "Earth Day: A Question of Survival," narrated by Walter Cronkite.

To watch that report on YouTube is to crack a time capsule—the hair, the teach-ins, a young Dan Rather—but also to absorb a message that is depressingly familiar, particularly the 2:40 minute concluding jeremiad from Cronkite about how Americans need to reform their ways. And we did reform in many ways. The air and rivers are cleaner, there’s less litter, bald eagles have rebounded, and so forth. But the environmental problems that seemed so dire then seem simple by comparison to the ones we confront now, principally climate change. And has journalism risen to the task of explaining these complexities, not only the scientific ones, which are daunting enough, but the competing proposals and interests among the politicians, policy makers, and technologists? Mostly the answer is, not really.

Why? Well, climate change is slow-moving, vast, and often overwhelming for news organizations to grapple with, especially in a time of dwindling resources. What coverage there is tends to be compartmentalized—science, technology, politics, and business and covered by different teams or “desks," despite the intrinsic connections. Coverage is also too often fixated on imperiled wildlife, political gamesmanship, or the “debate” over the existence of climate change, all at the expense of advancing the bigger story—how we’re going to address, mitigate, or adapt to it.

In sum, it’s a huge story, perhaps the biggest story of our lifetime, but the traditional structures of journalism aren’t configured to reporting it well. Thinking about this problem we wondered, what if someone were to pull together a range of news organizations—with their various skill sets and their audiences—to take on this story together? And so a group of editors met to discuss if such an unprecedented collaboration could work.

Four months later we’re so excited to introduce the Climate Desk, an ongoing project dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners in this endeavor are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS' new public affairs show Need To Know. Our pilot project, running over the next two weeks, will address how business is attempting to adapt to the changes—both meteorological and regulatory—that will accompany global warming. Stories will run on the sites of the partner organizations and on theclimatedesk.org. (You can also follow the collaboration on Facebook and on Twitter.) It's been a lot of hard work, a ton of fun, and we've only just begun. So check it out, tell us what you think and what we should tackle next.
 

Nooses and N-Words in East Texas

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 5:39 PM EDT

Via the Texas Observer, this may be the feel-bad story of the day. Late last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged a Paris, Texas, metal pipe factory with fostering a culture of Klan-era workplace intimidation (pdf), regularly harassing African-American workers with "unwelcome racial slurs, comments and intimidation, racial graffiti, nooses in the workplace and other symbols of discrimination." As one employee told the Dallas Morning News

"I've been called colored boy, coon, monkey," said Dontrail Mathis, 33, a painter's helper at the plant in Paris who began highlighting racist conditions in December 2006. "When Obama won, they went off. My superiors said 'If he ain't white, it ain't right.'

"I saw nooses, swastikas on the wall," said Mathis, a father of three. "It was horrible."

When black employeesand a few white onesapproached management with their complaints, they were fired or ignored.

Texas City Brings Paddling Back to Schools

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 5:37 PM EDT

Corporal punishment is unlawful in federal prisons, but it's still allowed at schools in some 20 states, including Texas where one town has brought back the paddle, the Washington Post reports. A blue-collar community of 60,000 people, Temple, Texas, banned paddling six years ago only to revive its use in the town's 14 schools last May after a unanimous board vote. Parents supported the measure, and in fact encouraged the school board to reconsider the paddling policy because many Temple parents who paddle their children at home wanted consistent discipline in the classroom.

"We're rural central Texas," Temple's assistant superintendent of administration for schools, John Hancock, told the Post's Michael Birnbaum. "We're very well educated, but still there are those core values. Churches are full on Sundays... this is a tool we'd like in the toolbox for responding to discipline issues." Temple school board president Steve Wright claims that behavior at the town's lone high school has improved dramatically since paddling made its return. Fear of the paddle is as much a disciplinary deterrent as the controlled beating itself, some Temple residents argue.