Archive for category: Media
Despite being spied on and having their privacy invaded by the UC Global firm that targeted Assange, reporters from major US news outlets have said nothing in protest. Meanwhile, new evidence of that firm’s CIA links has emerged. A Spanish security firm apparently contracted by US intelligence to carry out a campaign of black operations […]
The post Mainstream US reporters silent about being spied on by apparent CIA contractor that targeted Assange appeared first on The Grayzone.
One thing readers can count on every election season is false balance in the press (FAIR.org, 12/9/16, 10/3/12; Extra!, 11–12/08; FAIR.org, 9/30/04), and despite the current threats to democracy (FAIR.org, 9/15/20) that one might hope would lead journalists to up their game, this year is no different.
Case in point: USA Today‘s front-page piece on Monday (9/14/20) with the remarkable headline, “With 50 Days Till Election Day, Voters ‘Anxious,’ Wary of Trump, Biden Alike.” On the web, the headline ran: “‘Anxious, Fearful, Angry.’ At 50 days Out to Election Day, Many Voters Are Wary of Both Trump and Biden.”
“It’s 50 days until voters cast their ballots for president, and Americans are on edge,” the article, by Ledyard King and Phillip M. Bailey, began:
It’s not just that they have been cooped up at home to avoid a deadly contagion. Or that some downtown areas have been wracked with unrest fueled by protests over police violence and racism. Or that Americans are facing financial hardships because of the pandemic. Many voters view the White House race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden as crucial to America’s future. But while the president’s supporters are more enthusiastic than Biden’s, many voters grappling with multiple crises are unimpressed and uninspired by the choice they will face on November 3.
This framing clearly implies that there’s no clear answer at the voting booth for “many” people; the headline directly suggests that “voters” are equally wary of both candidates.
No one disputes that there is an enthusiasm gap between Trump and Biden supporters. But the idea that the choice seems like a toss-up to most people, and that the general sentiment in the country is one of equal wariness toward both candidates, is much harder to defend. Biden’s favorability ratings have consistently been much higher than Trump’s, and Biden has led national polling averages by a minimum of 4 percentage points (currently he’s averaging almost 6 points ahead) for the last several months. And while anxiety does dominate this election year, Biden supporters are much more anxious than Trump supporters—which is hardly surprising, given Trump’s clear efforts to subvert the election (FAIR.org, 9/15/20).
It’s misleading to describe voters as being equally wary of these two candidates (Real Clear Politics, 9/17/20).
You get a hint at the problem with the article in the line about protest: Are Americans on edge because there has been unrest in some downtowns—or because of the conditions of police violence and racism that have spurred that unrest? USA Today seems to be talking about a particular kind of reaction, had by a particular subset of people.
And in fact, despite referring to “Americans”—and the slightly narrower “voters”—multiple times in the headline and first few paragraphs, the article soon reveals that it’s actually talking about neither of the above. The anxiety referred to in the headline, it turns out, comes from a characterization of voters in swing states who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016—not exactly a representative group.
The paper then offers quotes from several “undecided voters” from swing states that they interviewed, including such statements as, “I can’t with good conscience say that I have an educated enough decision to vote either way. You constantly have to filter through the fighting to hear what they’re actually trying to say.” The reporters return to that voters’ words to conclude the piece: “Hopefully, we’ll hear more about what they actually plan on doing [in the debates]” she said. “And less about how much they hate each other.”
Interviewing undecided voters is one of journalists’ favorite election season pastimes. It’s not an irrelevant angle, though corporate reporters tend to overemphasize the white, conservative-leaning and rural swing voter to the exclusion of other crucial groups that might decide the election (FAIR.org, 5/20/14). But you have to wonder if people would remain so undecided if news media used more front-page real estate to cover candidates’ plans than to publish uninformed opinions about those candidates.
And it’s important that the obsession with swing state voters—while, again, justified to some extent, because of the way our Electoral College makes many voters’ opinions largely inconsequential—doesn’t so cloud reporters’ judgment that they use those voters to stand in for “Americans” as a whole. By doing so, outlets like USA Today overstate Trump’s support and create the impression of a balance that doesn’t exist.
ACTION ALERT: Messages to USA Today can be sent here or via Twitter (@USAToday). Remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread.
Featured image: USA Today depiction (7/13/20) of Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
In 2016, the former corporate leader and TV show host Donald Trump became US president. In the night that his victory was announced, previous Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader David Duke described the event as one of the most exciting nights of my life. A year later, the FBI revealed that hate crimes increased for a second consecutive year, with attacks targeting Muslim and Jewish people as well as the LGBTQ community.
Corporate leaders and right-wing leaders are legitimized through German sociologist Max Weber’s l’idée fixe of the so-called charismatic leader. The grant certifier of the Kaiser’s Wilhelminian Empire, Max Weber, not only legitimized corporate leaders but also domination. Soon, Weber’s charismatic leaders mutate into Managerialism’s favorite hobby-horse, the transformational leader, even though Weber also thought there are visionary, authentic, spiritual, and wise leaders.
Over the last four decades, business schools and an ever compliant business press have done everything in their ideological and broadcasting powers to cement the l’idée fixe that business organizations need leaders, corporate apparatchiks, and of course, the heroic CEO. Since leadership does not come naturally, it had to be socially constructed. In the case of corporate leaders, the ideology of leadership is largely managerially constructed in business schools. Despite rafts of business professorships, management leadership journals, leadership conferences, MBA degrees, thousands of articles in the business press, and in semi-scholarly outlets like the Harvard Business Review, the fact remains that there is no core universal truth of leadership to be discovered.
Still, the ideology of corporate leaders remains a very good business even when it mostly sells taken for granted ideas – often presented as leadership theories. In the real world of corporate leaders, they are more often than not defined through two key elements. Firstly, almost universally, they are men, and secondly, corporate leaders tend to be white. Rarely is this made part of the business school curriculum apart from an elective run as a Friday night class. This is done so that business schools can claim, “oh, we cover this”. Almost all business school professors just don’t write on white supremacy because writing about supremacy is painful, and might even point the finger at themselves. Business school professors are – more often than not – white, middle-aged men, more or less mirroring the world of management.
Ever since management writer Henri Fayol’s rather militaristic “chain-of-command”, Frederick Taylor’s authoritarian management ideas, and Alfred Chandler’s “field units”, the idea that militaristic leaders mirror corporate leaders have taken hold and has been re-told ever since in management, business school, and its ideological pamphlets called academic journals. In standard business school writing, is not at all surprising to find highly ideological passages like these,
The English would undoubtedly have lost the battle of Agincourt if they had underestimated the importance of the leadership factor. Any astute observer of organizations will notice that CEOs have a considerable impact on their companies.
This is the love-song of a white man for the militaristic, corporate, and above all-male, leader. This is designed to legitimize the white supremacy and masculinity of corporate CEOs of which, in 2018, just 27 of the Fortune 500 were women (barely 5.4%), and just three were black men (0.6%) – not women. From Bezos to Musk to Zuckerberg to Gates, and on it goes, corporate power means the power of the white man. To legitimize their domination, business school professor and the corporate business press sells the need for corporate leaders as common sense, as normal, and even as natural. Ex-CEO Donald Trump just represents a slightly more extreme version of macho-management.
Like Donald Trump, Bezos, Musk, Zuckerberg, Gates, Branson & Co have all but transmuted into celebrity CEOs reinforcing the domination assuring ideology of patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialism – now sold as globalization. To legitimize this even further, token-females like Sheryl Sandberg have been wheeled out, occasionally that is. It is conservative feminism recast in terms of Hayek’s neoliberalism. This is individual advancement – not social progress. Almost self-evidently, the false promises of feminine corporate leadership had to remain unfulfilled.
In the conflict of feminism against Marx and the ever-alluring question: will women feminize and thereby humanize the workplace or will the power of capitalism, companies, and corporations force women to become just like male CEOs, Marx won hands down. In other words, female CEOs operate like just men taking on the ruthless traits of the corporation and corporate capitalism. Just as Maggie Thatcher caused the death of men in an isolated, if not desolated, place called the Falklands Island to get re-elected. It worked – they died, and she got re-elected.
Like business schools, corporations like to present themselves as an inclusive place with lovely pictures on their websites showing a diversity of people and, of course, plenty of smiling women. Often, it is not much more than visual branding. In reality, it deliberately over-represents the diversity found in corporate management and the average business school. Still, the image of a colorful happy face aids the false picture of inclusion and even progressiveness. More often than not, corporate apparatchiks interpret diversity through the logic of capital, focusing on how companies and corporations can use people of color to further their corporate agenda.
The very same corporate agenda is secured when the media reports of – yet another – business scandal. In cementing the “bad apply” ideology, these reports tend to focus on an individual CEO while never questioning the system of corporate apparatchiks, CEOs, and corporate capitalism. Instead, a glorification of heroic leadership takes place. During corporate scandals, the media sacrifice one in order to save the many. Beyond that, scandals are used to show that the system is working and business ethics – a contradiction in terms – is here to do two things: it identifies the bad apples, and it assures the continuation of the “nothing wrong with the system” ideology. This is the raison d’être of business ethics as much as of corporate social responsibility.
Undeterred from business scandals, leadership fantasies continue to be perpetrated by corporations, the media, and business schools. Everyone is it, and everyone is a winner. Corporations and good corporate leadership are shown to be needed and good. Business schools run business ethics classes to show that corporations are good. They receive full-fee paying MBA students and employ business professors. The business press receives advertising from corporations and even from business schools that often function look-a-likes of corporations. Finally, business school professors and deans can fly business class and meet important clients in the business lounge and for business lunches. It is an ingenious set up that severs all those who are part of it – not the precariat and not the women toiling away in outsourced sweatshops in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, business schools sell all this as ethical leadership or even more fashionable: as ethical stewardship.
The key to all this is that the faith is in the heroic leader. Of course, this also includes The White Man’s Burden, as presented by Rudyard Kipling, author of the Jungle Book. This is the image of the white savior bringing civilization to non-whites. Much of this reaches deep into popular culture with Harrison Ford (the white leader) freeing enslaved and non-white children in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett carry the same ideology forward. Two old white men are saving non-white African children from the misery the white man has brought to Africa with highlights like the slave trade, also known as the Triangle of Death. Like Harrison Ford, corporate leaders like Gates and Buffett, as well as Donald Trump, are well aware of the power of impression management. This is not really all that new. Historically, Robber Barons, like John D. Rockefeller, turned to philanthropy to save their reputation – it worked rather well. The Rockefeller Foundation is well known – Rockefeller’s Ludlow Massacre is mostly forgotten. Propaganda works. In the world of corporate propaganda – now called public relations, the center for sustainable leadership is by no means the height of all this.
Corporate PR ideologically underpins the masculine ideal of corporate leadership, cementing a Euro-American dominated culture designed to present domination not only as eternal but also as inherently good. One of the most common ideologies found in business schools, for example, is the l’idée fixe that the world had always had leaders. In her insightful book, Redeeming Leadership, Helena Liu, for example, argues that,
the typical business school degree reinforces imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal ideologies equipping graduates with the hegemonic values they then identify and reproduce in their everyday lives at work and beyond.
The quote shows how Managerialism works. Trained in business schools, corporate apparatchiks and managerial leaders run corporations with the dehumanizing gaze of a dominator. Their entire system enforces the hierarchical “Class Ceiling” legitimized through the worker-leader ideal. It conjures up fantasies of a society in which everyone can rise to the top – just look at Zuckerberg – and the fata morgana of a fair workplace based on meritocracy where ability prevails and where the old boys club no longer runs the show.
In reality, these workplaces are still run by corporate apparatchiks glorifying the ideal of the business conquest in which the male CEO is in control of “his” business organization. On the other side of the coin are those structurally disadvantaged and defined as non-dominant groups, the subordinates, underlings, or simply a human resource – a resource just like cattle, an apparatus, or implement. When non-white underlings highlight white power in management and the self-assign privileges of the corporate apparatchiks, they will be accused of “play the race card”.
What works in management works in management studies just as well where so-called “leadership studies” have mutated into a preferred playground for white, middle-aged business school professors. Being part of the boys club and being friends with the gatekeepers of academic journals – known as editors – they, again, get preferential treatment in so-called ‘prestigious journals‘.
These journals tell anyone to think outside the box but exist inside a tidily controlled box. In many cases, these are nothing but the outlets of the ever same. They publish the same meaningless trivialities in various versions over ten years. This is called “having an established track record”. It adds very little to scientific advancement, which is no longer the point anyway. The point is individual advancement – the next job or the next promotion. Candidates for university promotion often face managerialist committees staffed all those who have never had an original thought in their entire academic existence. Failing scholarly and worse, failing intellectually, they become corporate apparatchiks hooked on Impact Fetishism (output rather than sense) like being addicted to crack cocaine.
Here, another white, middle-aged gatekeeper assesses a candidate’s academic work. It is, most likely, a person put into place because of admin credentials. The appointment to a selection committee comes via other corporate apparatchiks – this time, they are university apparatchiks. In business schools, both are highly similar. The dress code, the managerialist language, the superior behavior, etc. mirror those found in the average business class lounge and almost any corporate office. These are the engineers of structural violence. They smile in your face and tell you how much they support empowerment.
“Despite the celebratory and celebrated language around female empowerment, emerging ideals of female leadership bear a similar imperialist heritage to masculine leadership models”, writes Helena Liu. The irony is that much of this is often implicit or structural violence. It has become naturalized. In business schools, it is assumed to be natural. The same goes for management in universities.
Leadership, structural violence, and domination are normalized and unquestioned just as the denial of the fact that managerial leadership not only means followers, subordinates, and underlings, but it also means the exclusion of democracy. Still, every manager of corporate affairs and even those inside universities and business schools will tell you that we live in a democracy. This marks yet another Spectacular Achievement of Propaganda.
Set against that are four options for resistance against the structural violence that governs university and corporate leadership. It all starts with decolonizing one’s mind or what might also be called “A Short Course in Intellectual Self-Defense – Find your inner Chomsky“. Secondly, find non-abusive and non-violent ways of relating to other people while trying to escape the pathological nightmare of Managerialism that governs our workplaces. Thirdly, re-imaging social meaning beyond the myths of leadership; and fourthly, read Helena Liu’s exquisite book “Redeeming Leadership” published by Bristol University Press.
The Washington Post piece (8/27/20) was illustrated with a photo of an activist being attacked by a violent divide.
“US Political Divide Becomes Increasingly Violent, Rattling Activists and Police,” a Washington Post headline (8/27/20) declared last week. My high school English teacher would have taken a red pen to that title, pointing out that divides cannot be violent, only people can. People on both sides of a divide are becoming violent, is what the Post meant. And that is the real problem with this headline and the 2,800 words that follow.
False equivalences are among the biggest distortions that plague corporate journalism, as FAIR has documented over and over (e.g., Extra!, 11–12/04; FAIR.org, 9/30/04, 10/13/19, 11/22/19). Especially in an era when lying has been adopted as a key political strategy by the president and many others on the political right, coverage of “both sides” of an issue without plainly separating facts from fiction actively undermines democratic discourse, and the informed citizenry on which it depends.
People at the Washington Post are aware of the crucial role the media play in making democracy possible. So aware, in fact, that they introduced the paper’s first slogan in its history—“Democracy Dies in Darkness”—a month after President Donald Trump took office. It’s hard not to assume the timing was an indication of the Post’s expectation that a vigilant press would be especially necessary in a Trump presidency.
In the extensive genre of corporate media obfuscation about right-wing paramilitary violence, this WaPo piece stands out even amidst some tough competition.
The Washington Post caption (8/27/20) is careful to avoid ascribing responsibility for violence, saying “a fight broke out…when two opposing groups clashed.”
The first four paragraphs of the piece describe an armed right-wing attack on a voter registration rally sponsored by a Democratic congressional candidate in Tyler, Texas (an attack the Post and most other national outlets didn’t bother to cover when it happened several weeks earlier—FAIR.org, 8/11/20). Hundreds of armed people descended on the peaceful crowd, yelling obscenities and physically assaulting them. But this is where the accurate reporting ends.
The next sentence refers to this scene as “scuffling.” It’s not how I would choose to describe a violent attack by heavily armed people. The term both downplays the level of violence and intimidation involved in the attack and vaguely intimates that both sides contributed to it. This trend continues throughout the article, referring to “a spate of exchanges” and a “series of disturbances” to describe a pattern of right-wing political violence directed at protests against police brutality. Later in the article, the Tyler assault is summed up as an incident where “brawls erupted.”
The article claims, without citation or qualification, that “people on both sides…have been filmed exchanging punches, beating one another with sticks and flagpoles, or standing face-to-face with weapons.” Upon finishing the article, the reader finds there were two specific incidents of left-wing menace mentioned: one where a group of protesters harassed restaurant goers for not raising their fists in solidarity with Black Lives Matter (an incident the Post admits was nonviolent); and the case of a driver who was beaten by protesters after crashing his truck.
In contrast to this single assault, the article documents eight recent right-wing assaults on protestors, in addition to the one in Tyler—six of them involving gunshots aimed at protesters, resulting in multiple injuries and four fatalities.
In other words, the article’s factual content itself belies its framing.
The picture it paints is not one of escalating clashes between left-wing and right-wing protesters. Rather, it describes an alarming increase in armed right-wing attacks on peaceful left-wing protesters, usually racial justice protesters. It is a pattern of intimidation and violence, one that is instantly recognizable to any student of 20th century history. Across the globe, privatized violence aimed at popular democratic demands is a hallmark of right-wing authoritarianism. The failure to name—and, worse, to try to obscure through misleading comparisons—what is plainly a threat to US democracy is a dereliction of journalistic duty.
This article’s sins don’t end there, alas. It manages to talk about these various armed attacks on people protesting police violence throughout the country without ever using the words “racism,” “racist” or “white supremacy.” Instead, we have “politically tinged” violence, “political and cultural debates” and, my favorite, “this year’s bitter political divisions”—as though 500 years of colonialism and white supremacy have nothing to do with 2020’s lethal toll on Black lives. And how the Post can fail to see the terrifying echoes of the post–Civil War century of privatized violence against Black people in this renewed wave of paramilitary violence is beyond me. A truck full of white people shooting at Black people demanding their civil and human rights is as American as apple pie.
Speaking of similarities of the racist past and the racist present, the police come away unscathed in this article. Police are “on the defensive,” and “face accusations” that they are failing to protect protesters against right-wing assaults and are “cozying up to” the paramilitaries. This is shameful bothsidesism. Police failure to protect protesters and their chumminess with the right wingers is documented fact—including in the article itself!—not some unproven “accusations.” Moreover, while the Post claims that “the images of looting and violence in American cities after [George] Floyd’s death” have become the right’s “rallying cry,” it fails to mention that said violence is overwhelmingly police violence against peaceful protesters, which is extensively documented.
Kenosha police in armored vehicles to a teenager armed with a military-grade rifle: “We appreciate you guys, we really do” (Rundown Live, 8/28/20).
In Kenosha, the same police who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back let Kyle Rittenhouse walk away two days later after killing two people and wounding a third. Kenosha police had earlier thanked the paramilitary group Rittenhouse was there with—“We appreciate you guys, we really do”—but a day later arrested eight Seattle volunteers with the group Riot Kitchen, who had come to Kenosha to feed racial justice protesters. Rittenhouse became an instant hero on the right, while Blake lay shackled to his hospital bed. Meanwhile, both local police forces and federal paramilitary units from the Department of Homeland Security continue to suppress anti-violence protests with chemical weapons and other violent tactics.
Trump, who has refused to condemn right-wing violence, defending Rittenhouse’s deadly attack while falsely accusing the left of violence, has also said he plans to send armed sheriffs to polling places for the November election. That’s not in his legal authority to do, but that fact is completely besides the point. The point is that he is adding to the threats of voter intimidation at the polls, all while claiming widespread voter fraud and refusing to say he’ll accept the election results.
The United States is teetering on the brink of full-scale, white supremacist–fueled authoritarianism. In this context, it’s unfathomable that one of the nation’s leading papers could write a piece about right-wing paramilitary violence and reduce it to “scuffling” without any larger meaning or effect.
Instead of raising the alarm, the Washington Post all but shrugs its conclusion in this article:
With so many people showing up armed, including growing numbers of left-wing social-justice activists, police are warning people that they need to understand the risks associated with modern-day protests and political activity.
And just like that, the possibility of democratic protest—the engine of social and economic equality throughout history—is treated like some luxury extreme sport, where you need to consider carefully whether or not to participate. And if you get hurt, it’s your own fault.
Democracy is indeed dying in the dark. And it’s the Washington Post that turned off the lights.
In Kenosha, Wisconsin a 17-year-old dressed up in the regalia of the modern warriors he saw online—AR-15 style rifle, backward hat, jeans—to patrol a protest. Kyle Rittenhouse wound up shooting two people fatally and injured one more. Republican media has already spun this idea. He saw a lawless world in the uprisings of people demanding respect, they say. He was pressed into duty as a wannabe cop because the regular cops have been hamstrung, they say.
“Those in charge, from the governor on down, refused to enforce the law.” Tucker Carlson told viewers last Wednesday. “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”
This idea, of a vigilante maintaining order when he sees Black people rising up, reminded me of the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.
Like the Klan, today’s right-wing military groups are discreetly organized and wrapped in myth. They’re small organizations that gain power when they make national headlines, eager to throw open their doors to anyone looking for a home for his or her sense of grievance. And like the Klan, groups tend to spring up when politicians say lawlessness is rampant and someone has to do something.
To understand how racism is connected to a long history of right-wing paramilitary groups and vigilantism in the United States, I contacted Elaine Frantz Parsons. Her book, Ku-Klux The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction, traces the groups’ roots from bored, college-educated ex-Confederate soldiers’ purposefully silly club to invisible empire. “It is patently obvious that the purpose of the physical Ku Klux Klan was to promote white political, economic, and social interests,” she writes. “What is less obvious is that the same is true of the idea of the Ku Klux.” White racists—Northern, Southern, passive, active—realized the “Ku Klux label could serve their interests” in creating a national brand for rampant white-on-Black violence.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s been going on in Wisconsin—with paramilitary groups and right-wing, extremist militias attacking people—reminded me of some of what you discussed in your book about the Ku Klux Klan in post-Civil War America. Do you see those connections, too?
I suppose so, because you have these two elements.
On the one hand, you have a broad sense of attention and resentment on the part of a group that sees itself as oppressed—perceives itself as oppressed. Yet, also, they actually have a lot of access to violent power.
I think another connection is that people perceive themselves as now being part of this national movement. Where before they might have had a private resentment—they might have been angry at a Black man who got a job or went to college that they hadn’t; they might have felt people were taking what was theirs—those things become solidarity with other people nationally who feel the same thing. You’re being told that what they’re doing is forming these militias. So you’re drawn to that same form.
In what ways did politicians then—like Trump now—foster a sense that people should be part of these organizations by saying we’re in a lawless country?
One way you could read what’s going on is vigilantism, right? If you have a perception that institutions are not acting in your interest, are not available to you, then one thing you can do is use private violence—particularly if you think that the public institutions have some sympathy for you. They can’t protect you. But they aren’t going to bring you down, either.
The person who wants to be a cop is acting like law enforcement as a vigilante fake cop.
Yeah. And so part of what happened then in the Reconstruction era was that the Southern whites were saying: “Okay, the North is temporarily on the side of free people and their allies. But we know that it’s natural for white people to be on the same side with each other. And so we think that if we keep on resisting this then, naturally, Northerners will end up not suppressing our violence—and sort of coming around to our side.”
You know, I’m saying this trying to describe what’s going on in the Reconstruction era. But I think it works very well for today as well.
In a similar way, local law enforcement officials are now seeming to forgive these actions, too. Did that happen during Reconstruction?
It was complicated in the Reconstruction era because, for a period, the federal government controlled the local government. But as soon as you had Democrats take over the local governments, they were often in alliance with the Klan.
What are the major differences right now, then?
The difference is that now we have the internet, so they can be communicating with each other a lot better. The Klan, back in the Reconstruction era, it really was just local groups. But they were all doing the same thing; they were bound together by the press coverage.
The other big difference between what’s happening now and what was happening with the Klan is, depressingly, that the Klan is easy to suppress if the state wants to suppress it. Because it works by being widespread and shallow. Right? And so that’s really easy to infiltrate. Whenever the government has had any desire to infiltrate and stop it, it can really do it immediately. All you have to do is just go out and say, “Where’s the Klan?,” join it, and then bring it down.
Infiltrate and overturn, right?
Yeah, it’s super simple. Our country got really, really good at bringing down the Klan. So if there was a federal interest in bringing down the Klan, it could be brought down.
They didn’t have to do much! In fact, they didn’t do much; they basically didn’t use the kind of force that some people think that they should have used to suppress the Klan. And yet the Klan was suppressed. But we don’t seem to be interested in doing that.
Those kinds of organizations can be extremely dangerous, though, when you don’t have an organized government which is willing to bring them down.
I’m curious if you could just walk me through what led to the emergence of the Klan, the flipside—and the basic steps of how media coverage sort of exacerbated what was a local chapter in Tennessee into a national problem.
So what happened in Tennessee is, you had a small group of men—it may really have just been one guy who was the editor and his friends—who were hanging out and made up this organization. He made it up creatively; he made it seem bizarre and interesting. (And he did it in a way that actually drew upon Northern tropes, drawing on stereotypes that were common in New York City on the stage at minstrel shows.)
Then people started to say, “Oh, like this is a Southern, mysterious organization? Maybe it is going to attack or it is attacking and intimidating Black people.” We don’t know the order in which this happened. The people who did develop it were incredibly racist—very resentful of Black people and their success. But it’s unclear whether they were told by the media that they might be an anti-Black violence group first or whether they first became an anti-Black violence group. But either way, people started saying, “Oh, what’s going on?”
Then the group started to get picked up (at the beginning of 1868) by the Northern press—particularly the New York City press, the New York Times and the New York Tribune (which was bigger than the Times). In all these kind of teaser articles: “What could it be?!”
People in the North started getting into it: dressing up like Klansmen, forming fraternities that were Klan themed, forming baseball teams that were Klan themed, putting them in advertisements. The Klan became trendy and cool. There was even a Yale supper club that was Klan themed. They were the Ku Klux and woe to the freshmen—they were going to put the freshmen through a really tough orientation as initiation. They were dressed as Klansmen and called themselves Ku Klux. And these guys—for what it’s worth—were actually Republicans. They were on the side against the Ku Klux. But it became this trend. People were bored. People didn’t understand the South. For the newspapers, it was sensationalism. It was interesting and mysterious.
Also, because white people nationally were extremely racist, they wanted to believe that what was happening to Black people was their own fault. The Klan give them a way to do that. The idea of the Klan was that it was just scary but not actually dangerous.
The main form of entertainment in 19th century, everywhere, is the minstrel show. The minstrel show is all about Black people being afraid of dangers that don’t exist. Basically, what happens is the Klan says, “Oh, we’re these fictitious dangers that Black people are always afraid of.”
So when Black people claimed that they were injured by the Klan, it was just that they were overexcited and easily afraid. The trope of the Klan worked really well because it tapped into Northern people’s racism as well as Southern people’s—all white people’s racism.
As a historic set of wildfires sweeps across California, sparked by lightning and stoked by record heat and drought resulting from climate change (Mercury News, 8/19/20; Scientific American, 4/3/20), many news outlets have drawn readers’ attention to an additional problem the state faces in fighting the fires: shortages of the prison labor that it normally relies on for firefighting crews.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection — known as Cal Fire — “has roughly half as many inmate fire crews than it originally had to work during the most dangerous part of wildfire season,” thanks to prison quarantines and Covid-related early-release programs, reported CNBC (8/21/20), and “rotating out firefighters isn’t an easy option because there’s already a significant shortage of workers available.” Insider (8/20/20) wrote that “the coronavirus pandemic is creating a shortage of inmate fire crews to battle the wildfires,” noting that California has “relied on incarcerated firefighters as its primary ‘hand crews’ since the 1940s.” The New York Times (8/22/20) declared that losing inmate labor “has been the difference between having the manpower to save homes from wildfires — or not,” and that “hiring firefighters to replace them, especially given the difficult work involved, would challenge a state already strapped for cash.”
It’s a gripping story, certainly, of a state unable to respond sufficiently to one disaster because of steps taken to ward off another. But the coverage all danced around a key problem with framing this as a labor shortage: There are plenty of workers available in a state with 2.5 million people currently unemployed — no doubt including many of the fire-trained inmate workers who were released early by Gov. Gavin Newsom in order to free them from the threat of getting sick in California’s Covid-ravaged prisons. The main difference: Unlike prison laborers, regular citizens have to be paid more than pittance wages.
In California, inmates at state prisons are allowed to apply to work at “conservation camps” for a base rate of $5.12 per day, plus an additional $1 an hour when out fighting fires. As the Sacramento Bee (7/4/20) reports, most are assigned to hand crews that typically perform “the critically important and dangerous job of using chainsaws and hand tools to cut firelines around properties and neighborhoods during wildfires.”
Inmate fire crews have been the norm in California since the 1940s (LA Times, 8/19/20), part of a long history of local governments using prison labor to perform vital public services. Pacific Standard (8/22/18) recounted the practice’s origins:
When Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1865, ending slavery, it left open a loophole: Involuntary servitude could continue as “punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” This effectively legalized slavery among imprisoned populations, allowing former slaveholders in the South to implement a convict lease system, contracting prisoners out to private firms. Even abolitionists were willing to sign on, due to their reliance on prison labor. African-American inmates were “leased—literally, contracted out—to businessmen, planters, and corporations in one of the harshest and most exploitative labor systems known in American history,” writes Matthew Mancini in his book One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South.
Convict leasing was formally outlawed in 1941, but the principle of using inmate labor to save money continues to this day. The estimated cost savings to the state of California from inmate firefighting alone is as much as $100 million a year (Democracy Now!, 11/19/18).
And using workers who are paid only dollars a day drives down wages for the non-incarcerated as well. Factory owners have complained they can’t compete for government contracts against UNICOR (Vox, 9/7/15), the government-owned company that employs inmates for “everything from manufacturing extension cords to operating dairy farms to recycling electronics” (Wired, 5/19/20).
The only quote the New York Times (8/22/20) uses from a critic of the inmate firefighting program is a union leader who suggests that prisoners are too scary to be used to fight fires.
While California wildfire coverage gave a nod toward the “debate” around such practices, it generally limited any discussion to a side note before getting on to the main question of Won’t anyone think of the fires? The New York Times (8/22/20), for instance, reported that the inmate labor shortage has “highlighted the state’s dependence on prisoners in its firefighting force,” which “to critics,” it said, is “a cheap and exploitative salve.”
But most of the Times story focused on the experiences of inmate firefighters (“We took special pride in being able to actually save people’s homes”) and the value they provide, quoting a former corrections office at a fire camp as saying, “How do you justify releasing all these inmates in prime fire season with all these fires going on?” A spokesperson for Cal Fire followed, declaring inmate fire crews to be “absolutely imperative to our ability to create hand line and do arduous work on our fires.” No prison labor advocates were cited, with the only “critic” a single firefighter union leader who complained that the state has been illegally expanding the inmate work program.
Rasheed Lockheart (featured on the Snap Judgment podcast—7/22/20)
One expert critic they might have consulted is Rasheed Lockheart, a formerly incarcerated California resident who for the last two years before his release from San Quentin Prison worked for the San Quentin Fire Department as a lead engineer on a fire engine, and as the lead on an ambulance crew. Lockheart, who is a member of Re:Store Justice, an incarceration reform group founded at San Quentin, says using inmates to fight fires isn’t the problem — it’s not paying them a decent wage to do so.
“I don’t want to abolish the fire camps,” says Lockheart. But, he says, if prisoners are putting their lives on the line alongside fellow firefighters, “we should get equal pay, we shouldn’t be making a dollar an hour — I mean, there’s jobs inside the prison that get paid more than they get paid to be out there risking their lives.”
And when push came to shove, California was willing to pay to hire firefighters. A Cal Fire spokesperson tells FAIR that the department has recently hired more than 800 seasonal workers, nearly making up for the roughly 1,000 inmates who are missing from the normal complement. But while this might seem to present an easy solution — just hire back the recently released inmates who are already trained in firefighting — Lockheart explains that there’s another obstacle that makes this unlikely.
“I’m a city firefighter — my experience is mostly with municipal firefighting,” says Lockheart:
The problem with that is, in order to do that, you must have EMT certifications. But with a felony on our records, we can’t get EMT certifications. And with the wildland firefighting crews, with certain felonies, a lot of departments won’t take guys on. There are ways to get in, but it’s hard and it’s a long road.
Trained firefighters being good enough to work for nearly nothing, but ineligible to get real jobs, would seem to represent an even bigger irony — and a more important story — than California having to spend a few million dollars extra to fight two crises at once. But covering the wildfire story that way would require seeing it through the eyes of inmates, not of a government whose main concern is the inconvenience of having to pay people when you’re used to getting their work almost for free. That’s an argument we’ve heard before, of course — but one would have hoped it wouldn’t still be guiding news coverage nearly 200 years later.
On Wednesday a number of anarchist Facebook accounts, some of which were associated with the antifascist movement, were removed without warning. These included It’s Going Down — a widely followed news and media platform publishing original content and reprinted analyses about “anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements” — and the longstanding anarchist group CrimethInc, which describes itself as “a decentralized network pledged to anonymous collective action.” The removal of these anarchist accounts was part of a general purge, which also included many far right accounts, including those associated with paramilitaries and conspiracy theories that have inspired violence.
In a vaguely worded statement, Facebook said it was removing “accounts tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organizations and QAnon.” The purge is part of a new policy change that targets what Facebook describes as “growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior.” Facebook states the action will include those “that have demonstrated significant risks to public safety but do not meet the rigorous criteria to be designated as a dangerous organization.”
Facebook said it removed almost 800 groups and 100 pages connected to QAnon, a popular far right conspiracy theory that has been linked to many acts of violence, including murder, arson and kidnapping. Additionally, “For militia organizations and those encouraging riots, including some who may identify as Antifa,” almost 1,000 groups and over 500 pages were removed. A larger number of accounts and hashtags in all three categories also had restrictions placed on them.
This is the first time a coordinated removal of multiple U.S. anarchist and antifascist accounts has happened on Facebook. In addition to It’s Going Down (IGD) and the CrimethInc Ex-Workers Collective, banned accounts include the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front, which has organized some of the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Portland, Oregon; Enough is Enough, a German anarchist news platform; various chapters of the John Brown Gun Club, an armed left-wing community defense group; a number of members of the anarchist think tank Center for a Stateless Society; and accounts for the radical musicians Sole, Time, and Calm (the latter two belong to freelance writer Chris Steele, who has been published in Truthout). News about more may emerge later.
Condemnation swiftly followed.
Some have questioned whether the purged anarchist and antifascist accounts were sacrificial lambs thrown to conservatives in order to stymie claims that Facebook is discriminating against them. The Rhode Island John Brown Gun Club said, “Facebook has deleted our page as part of this ridiculous ‘both sides purge.’” (Far right accounts that were banned included armed groups like the Oath Keepers, New Mexico Civil Guard and 3% Security Force.) Others, however, analyzed the situation differently.
In a joint statement, CrimethInc and It’s Going Down claimed, “This has nothing to do with stopping violence and everything to do with cracking down on social movements and everyday people getting organized in their communities.”
They drew attention to how Facebook’s language mirrored recent statements from Donald Trump, saying the president has “demanded this crackdown in a series of social media posts explicitly blaming anarchists and anti-fascists for the countrywide wave of protests precipitated by persistent police violence in the United States.”
The joint statement from CrimethInc and It’s Going Down also accuses Attorney General William Barr of attempting to “muddy the issue” by “lumping anarchists and anti-fascists together with far-right militias who explicitly support the state and especially the current administration.” This enables the Justice Department “to demand resources with which to crack down on those who are on the front lines of defending communities” being attacked by those same militias and conspiracy theorists, the two groups argued.
Indeed, Facebook’s statement alternately refers to “Antifa” and “anarchist” groups; but while there is overlap between these movements, the two are not synonymous. Trump, however, has referred to them interchangeably in recent statements. (The situation was not helped when in late July, Democratic candidate Joe Biden also called for “anarchists to be prosecuted.” In the United States, you can not be prosecuted based on political ideology.)
Cooper Brinson, an attorney at the Civil Liberties Defense Center, told me that “Equivocating collectives like IGD and CrimethInc with violent fascists and white supremacists is ridiculous. The far right has killed hundreds of people in the last few decades and nearly 40 people just in 2019. Anarchists and antifascists, on the other hand, have not been linked to a single murder in at least the last 25 years.”
David Neiwert, a long-time far right monitor, wrote “This is outrageous. Equating antifa with QAnon betrays how Facebook fundamentally doesn’t grasp the issue. The far right thrives by spreading disinformation. One of the underrated aspects of Antifa is that [it] spreads accurate information about the bad actors on the far right.”
It’s Going Down pointed out that it is “a news platform — not a group — we cover, interview, and publish reports about contemporary autonomous social movements. Violence is coming from the State and the far-right — we don’t ‘aspire’ for more of it, we’d like to see it end.”
Writer Kit O’Connell tweeted, “Great to see Facebook is finally cracking down on the scourge of… *checks notes* rappers that are into permaculture.” (In a video, the rapper Sole says he is an anarchist who supports Black Lives Matter, but “I haven’t broken any laws, I haven’t called for any acts of violence.”)
NYC Antifa claimed, “Facebook doesn’t care about ‘violence’ or its role in spreading bigotry and literal genocide,” noting the platform recently refused to hand over documents to the United Nations about its role in facilitating the 2016 Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.
Elsewhere, Facebook has been condemned as a vector of misinformation about COVID-19 in addition to numerous other conspiracy theories.
Facebook is not a favored platform for antifascists in general, and there have been a number of calls over the years to move antifascist accounts off the platform to more secure ones, but many have nevertheless relied on it.
Brinson said, “it was bad form to organize on these platforms in the first place. While Facebook may be an effective medium for some types of organizing, it has also been one of the State’s biggest tools to identify, track, and target anarchists and leftists. If this is the moment liberation movements resign Facebook to the collective dustbin, we may all be better off for it.”
Whether this initial purge is the harbinger of larger things to come remains to be seen. But Mark Zuckerberg’s repeated pandering to Trump does not bode well — especially if the president ramps up his election rhetoric against antifa and anarchists. And if a second Trump term comes, it is likely to unleash not just more bans from platforms eager to curry favor with the administration but also increased attention from Justice Department and local prosecutors intent on repressing progressive social movements.
With backing from the US government’s regime-change arm, an Operation Mockingbird-style website called Coda Story is attacking American journalists who…
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The dump of the damning “Blue Leaks” files in late June provided the public with over 250 gigabytes of video, audio, and other data from a broad range of law enforcement agencies across the US. Yet, the organisation behind it insists it is not responsible for the hacking itself.
The US Department of Homeland Security is persecuting Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets), the group that was the first to publish the “BlueLeaks” trove of hacked police files in June, as a “criminal hacker group”, similar to WikiLeaks, as follows from a bulletin circulated to fusion centres around the country earlier this summer, The Verge reported.
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