Time once again to visit stories that broke after I posted this week’s Friday Five or represent a new development in a story I’ve linked to and/or that I’ve ranted or otherwise expressed opinions upon before. This week supplemented with some graphics I collected for possible inclusion in blog posts which are just going to sit on the hard disk unless I upload a whole bunch of them at once. Let’s just jump in, shall we?
Roger Stone is an ass. He is a criminal. He is almost certainly a traitor. But he did all of that to help the alleged president, so of course just before he is to serve an extremely light sentence for the crimes he was convicted of, the narcissistic fascist occupying the oval office has commuted his sentence. And of course he had to spew a bunch of lies while doing it: Debunking 12 lies and falsehoods from the White House statement on Roger Stone’s commutation.
I mean, this really is beyond the pale. Even Trump’s toady, so-called attorney general William Barr had said that Stone’s case was a “righteous conviction.” If any single Republican in Congress had a fraction of a thread of a fibre of morality they would be condemning this. And that’s not just me saying that: What Could Be More Impeachable Than Clemency for Roger Stone? – Trump’s latest abuse of power is so flagrant that Republicans should want to punish him for their own self-preservation. But they won’t.
Edited to add: Well, I’ll be! Romney: Stone Commutation Is “Historic Corruption”.
And: GOP senator Pat Toomey says Trump commuting Stone was a ‘mistake’.
Speaking of lies from the alleged president, there was supposed to be another rally, this time in New Hampshire. The rally was suddenly canceled, supposedly because of weather, but no one who isn’t a Fox News cultist believes it: Concern over turnout was factor in postponing Trump rally, GOP advisers say – Fears that the coronavirus and the weather would dampen the attendance helped postpone the New Hampshire re-election event. The Tulsa Rally was a big embarrassment, with a very empty stadium, no overflow crowd, and now even Republican officials in Oklahoma are admitting the only thing the rally accomplished was to cause a new spike in Covid-19 cases. So the campaign doesn’t want a repeat of that. Not every Republican is toeing the line on the excuse, though: Trump campaign postpones New Hampshire rally after Tulsa embarrassment – Ex-RNC head Michael Steele calls out Trump lazy excuse.
The vast majority of Americans are trying to be smart. We are trying to practice social distancing. We are wearing masks when we go out. The problem is a minority of stupid, evil, mother-fuckers. And I know that if too many of them get sick that puts health care workers at risk… but me thinking that politicians like this are only getting what the deserve is NOT what’s putting those workers at risk: Commissioner who Voted Against Masks in Critical Condition with COVID-19. If he dies, he had it coming. And I will not apologize for pointing out that fact. Speaking of people who had it coming: 26 lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Mississippi state legislature outbreak. And while I mostly point out the failings of my fellow Americans, it is important to remember that we don’t have a monopoly on either stupidity or ignorant conservatism. Wear a mask, and stop being a drama queen! Surgical teams wear masks far more restrictive than the simple cloth masks we’re asking for–and they complete hours long complicated surgeries with no one passing out, et cetera. Wearing a mask is different than not wearing one, but it isn’t onerous, it isn’t damaging to your health, and it isn’t something you can’t get used to. And it does save the lives of other people. Stop being ignorant, selfish pricks, and wear a mask!
That’s all the bad news I can deal with this morning. Let’s look at something less serious, shall we?
Lin-Manuel Miranda And Stephen Cobert Perform “Button!”:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
This isn’t what I thought I’d be writing about today, but here we are! I missed this piece of local news over the weekend: Confederate memorial toppled at Seattle’s Lake View Cemetery in Capitol Hill. The first time I wrote about Confederate monuments and why I thought most of them should be torn down was in 2017 (a post which I republished recently with a little bit of additional commentary). In that post I talked about one of those monuments here in my local community:
Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the [civil] war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery. There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one. And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers, a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.
I have since learned that some of facts in the above paragraph are an over simplification. Some of the land in the cemetery was donated to the Grand Army of the Republic, and at least 11 Union veterans are buried there. But the cemetery holds a bunch of other people (included actor Bruce Lee). But one fact that is still not in dispute: there are no Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.
The Confederate Monument was erected near the graves of the 11 Union soldiers, though. It makes as much sense to have a Confederate monument in that cemetery as it would to erect a monument to the army of Nazi Germany in a military cemetery full of U.S. World War II veterans.
Each time that organizations like the Daughters of the Confederacy have gone on these binges of raising money for monuments and then bullying local governments into letting them be erected, has been a time where racist groups have felt a need to terrorize black people. The purpose of those monuments is not to teach history. They are meant as both propaganda and a threat.
A local news blog I read all the time posted a story today which only partially answers the question it poses in its headline: Wait, Why the Hell Does Seattle Have a Confederate Monument?
Yes, the Daughters of the Confederacy got the monument placed in the cemetery, in part by not just paying for the monument’s construction, but by making a donation to the non-profit that owns and manages the cemetery. A non-profit which has, by the way, ofter struggled with raising enough funds to adequately maintain the grounds. I think it is very interesting to note that no one at the non-profit wants to talk publicly about the monument.
In response to the news of this toppled monument, I’ve seen a couple people on social media try to put forward a “what-about-ism” argument because there is another monument in the cemetery which honors people who aren’t buried there. This is the Nisei War Memorial Monument, which was originally raised to honor 47 local Japanese Americans who served and died in World War II. In many cases the bodies were never returned to the U.S. I haven’t found a list of how many of those soldiers whose bodies were returned wound up in this cemetery, but apparently more than one did. Additionally, local Japanese American soldiers who served in the U.S. military and were killed in action in subsequent wars have had their names added to the monument
There is a very big difference between a memorial that lists actual names of local people who died in a war (at least a couple of whom are buried in the same cemetery), and one that lists no local names (and for that matter, no names at all!).
The local Japanese American community has been an important part of the history of Seattle and the surrounding area for about 140 years. The Confederacy—which barely existed for five years!—has absolutely no connection to Seattle. There is no good reason for a Confederate monument to be here, only a lot of bad reasons.
I meant to do a Weekend Update on the morning of Independence Day before logging in to play a roleplaying game with friends, but Saturday was one of the “there’s not enough caffeine in the world” mornings. I kept falling back to sleep, and then had trouble making coffee because I couldn’t think straight, et cetera. On the other hand, I only had one news story I found after posting the Friday Five. Whereas today, well, I ran across a few stories of people behaving badly on the Fourth, so, maybe not getting to it until today was for the best.
First, though, that one link: 36 Years Later, Conservatives Finally Read The Lyrics To ‘Born In The USA’. This one both cracked me up and made me very sad at the same time…
The chorus of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” gets included in the musical accompaniment of civic fireworks all the time. And people put the song in playlists for parties around Independence Day. And it’s a good song! I have it in several of my playlists for this time of year, myself.
The problem that has occurred for the person who is being mocked in the above story, is that he finally listened to the whole song, and realized the story of the song is told from the point of view of a Vietnam Veteran who served his country, came home to a recession, had difficulty finding work, didn’t find the Veteran’s Administration terribly helpful, and so on. Which he thinks means it isn’t a patriotic song.
I really, really get tired of conservatives defining “patriotic” as blind obedience and unearned praise and denial of history. Because I love the ideals of the country and try to hold my elected representatives to those ideals, they view me as disloyal. Not understanding the loving someone in spite of their flaws, and hoping to help them become a better person is a more authentic love.
The Vietnam War was something that happened. Our less than stellar treatment of veterans, particularly of that war, is something that has and continues to happen. Despite my personal belief that the Vietnam War was a mistake (and generally wars are bad ideas), I also believe that as a citizen, I owe a debt to the people who served in the U.S. military and especially those who were wounded or otherwise harmed in war under the auspices of the U.S. Which means acknowledging that we failed many of them. We can’t fix what’s wrong with the Veterans Administration and so forth without admitting that those wrong things exist.
Springsteen’s song has all that, and it absolutely belongs in any patriotic playlist.
Let’s move on!
Mississippi Election Official Concerned Blacks Are Registering To Vote, ‘People Should Too’. “The blacks are having lots (of) events for voter registration. People in Mississippi have to get involved, too,” Welch posted on Facebook. If you read the article, notice that the only thing she is apologizing for is accidentally posting her comment publicly. She is refusing to admit that her statement means that she doesn’t think of Black people as actual people. Even her clarifying comments still categorize Black people living in Mississippi as a completely separate category as “citizens of Mississippi.” I mean, we all knew that’s how folks like her think already, she’s just said it out loud. At least twice.
Minister goes to Gettysburg on the Fourth of July to visit the grave of an ancestor, and then: Right-Wing Militias Found No Antifa Event at Gettysburg—So Harassed a Man in Cemetery Instead. Why, exactly, did police escort the victim out of the cemetery and leave the people who attacked him there to keep roving looking for the imaginary antifa?
Again, instead of arresting the seven men, the police escorted the victims of the hate crime away from the beach. I can’t be the only one who thinks that’s not right, am I? Edited to Add: turns out the men were arrested (The version of the story I read Saturday night didn’t mention that, and then I missed the update) ‘Highly intoxicated’ white men arrested after harassing Black family with Nazi salutes.
And one more: Cashier loses job after allegedly being battered, subjected to gay slurs at work. Again, why did he get fired?!
Let’s go full circle and end it on a musical note:
Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Of course they did. Because that’s what they do. They inflict violence on people they perceive have no power, and that they believe will lose any we said/cop said scenario. They almost always escalate. It’s a version of the old “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Police academy training primes them to assume that everyone not wearing a badge is just someone waiting for an excuse to attack them, and they only tools they believe they can rely on are violence and the complicity of their fellow officers.
If they were serious at reform they would look at those federal cases, we see that in the eyes of the law, cops are just crime accountants, not crime fighters. Their only obligations are to observe and record the aftermath of crimes, not prevent crimes, and not even to arrest criminals if they don’t want to.
So what we need is a Law Enforcement Act. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed various kinds of discrimination under an argument that while the Constitution guarantees basic civil rights, it doesn’t always spell out what those rights are. Though the Tenth Amendment does say that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government in the Constitution belong to the States and to the People. And the Fourteenth Amendment says that no person can be deprived of the equal protection of the law and that citizens can’t have their rights abridged has often been interpreted as affirming that people are entitled to rights not spelled out elsewhere. That was most of the legal justification of the Civil Rights Act: at attempt by Congress to define what some of those unspecified rights are, and to provide a framework for the enforcement of both enumerated and unspecified rights.
The Law Enforcement Act could extend that framework, though the points I suggest such an Act must have can be read right out of one ennumerated right from the First Amendment, and one part of the Fourteenth.
Lots of people claim all sorts of things are protected by the First Amendment, and I don’t want to get into that debate. For this purpose, I’m going to stick to the text. One of the rights specifically mentioned in the First Amendment that most people forget about is the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” My proposed Law Enforcement Act would define the following things as part of that right to petition the Government:
- The right to sue individual police, police departments, and local and state governments which fund those police departments for failure to protect ordinary residents, or for police misconduct that harms a person or deprives them of property, or for wrongful death. In other words, repeal limited immunity.
- The right to require public hearings for police misconduct allegations, and a right for ordinary residents who make such allegations to appeal any findings of the misconduct hearings to a civil authority outside the police department.
- The right to demand judicial review of clauses of police union contracts which in any way impede those aforementioned rights
- the right to have any property seized through asset forfeiture returned (and in the case of cash, with interest) unless there is a conviction by a jury of a crime related to said assets. (I would prefer that asset forfeiture be outlawed completely, but I know that’s not going to happen.)
Next, turning to the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the rights that it forbids States from infringing is “the equal protection of the laws.” And so the act should spell out the equal protection includes:
- An obligation of the police to protect all persons within their jurisdiction.
- Any State the fails to enact laws that protect the rights listed in the Act shall be denied all federal monies for any current or future program to support law enforcement.
There are a lot of others things that Act ought to have, but if we can just get the right to sue the police and government over misconduct and failure to protect citizens, the stick of all those lawsuits is going to force police reform.
Let’s change topicsSince the surprisingly pro-LGBTQ pro-trans Supreme Court ruling about employment discrimination, I have heard and read a lot of queer folks incorrectly saying that the Court found employment discrimination about queer folks unconstitutional. No. The ruling was not about constitutionality. It was a statutory interpretation ruling. It was a logical recognition that discrimination against LGBTQ people is a form of sex discrimination. The ruling could probably be undone by the simple passage of a law of Congress that “clarifies” the meaning of sex discrimination in the earlier law.
Now, as long as the Democrats control at least one house of Congress, that isn’t likely to happen. And, heck, if you noticed how few Republican Senators put out a spirited criticism of the ruling, reflects the reality that a large majority of voters support the ruling, so support for such a bill is likely soft on the Republican side.
However, religious freedom is explicitly protected in the Constitution, so we shouldn’t be surprised if, before the Court adjourns for the summer, one of those so-called Religious Freedom cases doesn’t walk much of that ruling back (Like Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru which was just argued last month). And whether it does or not, we can expect a lot more attempts to invalidate our lives in the name of religion.
I had several ideas for today’s post, but the craziness of fitting a week’s worth of work into four days so I could take Friday off got in the way.
So I decided maybe I should just repost this, originally posted on 21 June, 2018.
Pride means love and survival—confessions of a joyful fairy
I’ve been to a lot of Pride parades and festivals since attending my first in 1990. One year I participated in the San Francisco Pride Parade one weekend, flew back home to Seattle where I marched in our parade the following week, and then in August I found myself in Vancouver, British Columbia where I hadn’t realized it was going to be their Pride Parade. San Francisco’s was like so gigantically larger and brasher than any other I had ever seen, while Vancouver’s was small but very enthusiastic.
The reason for the parade, ultimately, is to declare our existence–our survival in a society that is less than welcoming. We’re here. We’re your daughters, your neighbors, your sons, your co-workers, your friends, your siblings, or your parents. We’re not mysterious creatures lurking in seedy clubs–we’re the guy sitting across from you on the bus reading a book, or the two gals sitting in that next pew at church, or the pair of guys in the grocery store discussing how many hot dogs to buy for the cookout, or the grey-haired guy trying to read a label on a bottle of cold tablets in the pharmacy, or that kid on the skateboard going past your bus stop, or that guy sipping a coffee at Starbucks, or that gal a couple table over at the same coffee shop laughing at something on her computer.
We’re real, we’re everywhere, and we have hopes and dreams and worries just like you. We’re not asking for special rights, we’re asking for the same rights you take for granted. We’re asking to live our lives as openly as you live yours.
I enjoy watching the parade to acknowledge that survival. I cheer while watching the parade to express my admiration, support, and love for all of these survivors.
I cheer for people who are being brave and marching in their first parade; we see you and welcome you to the tribe.
I cheer and applaud so that those whose families rejected them and told them never to come back will know they have another family, and we’re clapping for them right now.
I cheer so that group of teen-agers (half of them straight and there to support their bi, gay, lesbian, and trans friends) will get the recognition they deserve.
I cheer the older couples walking together holding hands; we see your love and we celebrate how long you and your love had endured.
I cheer the younger couples walking hand in hand; I wish I had felt free to do that at their age, but I hope they have a bright future.
I applaud and cheer so that the trans* gals and trans* men know they are seen for who they are and we think they’re beautiful, wonderful, and I am proud to call them brothers and sisters.
I cry when I see those who are carrying a photo or wearing the name of a deceased loved one; we see your loved one and share your grief.
I cheer for PFLAG so that straight parents who have spent countless hours explaining to friends and relatives that their queer kids have nothing to be ashamed of, and yes they are very happy, and no those things you’ve heard or read about their health and lifespan are all myths will know their efforts are appreciated by the whole community.
I clap and cheer and laugh and cry as the parade goes on and on showing how big and wonderful and diverse and amazing our community is.
The very first Liberation Day Parade in New York City, was a protest march on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (the first Pride was a riot). People were afraid of what would happen at the first march. Only a couple dozen people showed up at the starting point, with their protest signs. But they marched. And all along the announced route of the march, the sidewalks were lined with people. Street queens, and trans people, and gay men and lesbians and queers of many other stripes.
And then completely unplanned thing happened. As the small group of marchers went by, queer people and supporters started stepping off the curb and joining. By the time the marchers reached the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, the crowd numbered in the thousands.
It has been a tradition of Pride Parades ever since, that spectators step off the curb and join the march.
So when I march, there comes a point where I do that. I have cheered and applauded and made sure that others were seen. I have witnessed their love and courage and unique style. Until it is my turn to join the march. To be visible. To declare by my presence in that throng that I am queer. I’m here. And I will never go back into the closet.
“Libertarians” (in brackets) are resisting mask wearing on grounds that it constrains their freedom. Yet the entire concept of liberty lies in the Non-Aggression Principle, the equivalent of the Silver Rule: do not harm others; they in turn should not harm you. Even more insulting is the demand by pseudolibertarians that Costco should banned from forcing customers to wear mask — but libertarianism allows you to set the rules on your own property. Costco should be able to force visitors to wear pink shirts and purple glasses if they wished.
Note that by infecting another person you are not infecting just another person. You are infecting many many more and causing systemic risk.
The NRA Has Spent Decades Warning About Police Crackdowns. Now It’s Utterly Silent. …because their definition of tyranny only applies to white people. Because they aren’t just cowards, they are also racists.
Because I almost always compose my Friday Five on Thursday evening, I debated whether to just find a story related to today’s fourth anniversary of that massacre to include, or do a separate post. I decided that I would have time to finish a post during my lunch break, and that there might be one or two stories posted this morning that would be worth linking to.
Well, that worked out a bit differently than I expected.
Before I jump into the cruelty, let’s start with a reminder of what the Pulse massacre was: Democrats Mark Fourth Anniversary Of Pulse Massacre:
“Four years ago today, 49 people were murdered in the single deadliest attack on the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities in U.S. history. What should have been a night of celebration was overtaken by hatred and bigotry.”
Four years ago today, a guy armed with assault rifles shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, taking people hostage and taunting authorities online and over the phone, engaged in a barricaded stand-off (with hostages), until he was finally killed by the police. There were so many bodies on the floor, that EMTs and cops had to ask people who were still alive to raise their hands. Four years later there is still some debate about the motives of the shooter, I’ll get to that later. Whatever the motives, victims were at a queer nightclub celebrating Latinx Night during Pride when the shooting started. As noted in the article above, the single deadliest attack on the queer and Latinx communities in U.S. history.
So what is the current occupant of the White House doing to mark this solemn occasion on this, the second Friday of Pride Month. Well:
As a large number of people have already noted, the cruelty is the point. The alleged president of the United States was elected on the most homophobic election platform ever adopted by any political party in U.S. history, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. But just because we expect this sort of hateful cruelty doesn’t make it any less painful or infuriating.
The sooner we get these evil goons out of office, the better.
The last few years when I have mentioned or linked or reblogged news stories on the anniversary, some randos have felt the need to slide into my mentions or try to post a comment explaining that this wasn’t actually a hate crime against queer people. And I want to talk about that.
While in the immediate aftermath of the shooting there was a lot of reporting that pointed to all kinds of motives, there was also an immediate push from Fox news and Republicans to insist that it wasn’t a hate crime. It took more than a few months for the FBI to interview witnesses and to investigate the mountain of tips that came in. Most of the evidence pointed to in those first days trying to tie the shooter to Islamic terrorist groups and so forth were debunked by the following fall. Just as all but one of the people who claimed to have proof that he was a closeted gay man were also proven to be cases of mistaken identity. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, because the pictures of the shooter that were circulated to the public were of a frankly very generic dark-skinned man.
More than a year after the shooting, federal agents arrested the shooter’s widow and charged her with conspiracy, claiming she had been part of the planning of the crime. In statements made to obtain the warrant, and during the bail hearing, the feds argued that it was definitely an Islamic anti-American plot and had nothing to do with queer people. However, during her trial, the prosecution slowly was forced to admit that all of those things they had asserted were false.
It’s hardly surprising that the jury acquitted her.
The case was so ludicrously weak that lots of news people were asking why the administration pursued it at all. My personal (admittedly cynical) theory is that then Attorney General Sessions, and Vice President Pence, and other vehemently anti-gay members of the administration needed to get that story out there to overshadow the fact that a gay club was the target of the attack.
Since that case collapsed, there are two pieces of evidence left to support the claim that homophobia had little if anything to do with the choice of the target. One is that based on his internet searches and the tracking of his cell phone that night, it appears that three different nightclubs (including Pulse) were under consideration for attack, and the other two weren’t specifically gay clubs. The other piece is that the statements he made on social media and to police were all generic anti-American statements and references to places America has bombed.
Let’s look at a different hate crime altogether to get a little perspective. In the mid-90s federal agents sent in an undercover agent to one of the White Supremacist compounds in Idaho because they had evidence indicating some people there had purchased illegal weapons. The undercover agent discovered that the White Supremacists were plotting to bomb some targets in Seattle. He got himself put onto the team. Groups left the compounds and traveled by different routes, each carrying only some of the ingredients necessary to make three bombs. The checked into a motel, and while some members of the group went out to investigate their chosen targets, others assembled the bombs.
The three targets were: a Jewish synagogue, a gay nightclub, and a Korean Baptist Church. The plan was to plant all three bombs, each with a timer set to go off at times when each of the three places were expected to be very crowded (Friday evening shabbat service, Saturday night at the night club, and Sunday morning church service). Federal agents arrested them all a couple of days before the bombs were to be planted.
Two of the three targets the White Supremacists chose for that (thankfully) foiled operation were not a gay nightclub. Does that mean that homophobia had nothing to do with their choices of targets? Of course not!
There’s more. At the trials of the White Supremacists, one of the pieces of evidence introduced was a statement that they had intended to release to the press after the last bomb went off, taking responsibility for the crime. The statement was filled with anti-American sentiments and referenced a couple of infamous shoot-outs between federal agents and anti-government groups. The statement didn’t have specific anti-Semitic, racist, nor homophobic language—just generic slurs against undesirables. Does that mean that racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism had nothing do do with their choices of targets? Again, of course not!
Maybe the shooter really was so stupid that he didn’t realize it was a gay club. Even with all the rainbow flags and other things on display inside and outside the club. Maybe it is an insanely improbable coincidence that he had been ranting about the evils of gay people to his father, other family members, and acquaintances in the days before the shooting. It’s possible.
But more likely: he was a man filled with a lot of hate for a lot of things he saw as wrong with America. And one of those things was clearly the existence of queer people and the fact that we were allowed at least some rights. Just because he happened to also hate a bunch of other groups and ideas that didn’t happen to be clearly connected to that gay nightclub that night doesn’t mean that it wasn’t still a hate crime directed at queer and latinx people.
Studying history means actually studying it—not looking at statues that were put up for non-historical reasons with misleading if not outright false plaques on their bases. When we remove symbols of racism, colonialism, and genocide, we aren’t erasing history, we are removing propaganda. As I tried to explain when I posted the following on August 22, 2017:
I wasn’t born in the South, but because of economic factors too complicated to go into at this juncture, the small town in Colorado where I was born was inhabited almost completely by recently transplanted southerners. All of my grandparents had been born in former Confederate states, as had most of the teachers at the public school, and the parents and/or grandparents of 95+ percent of my classmates. And even though my father’s job had us moving around to other parts of the central Rockies through most of grade school, because our family attended Southern Baptists churches, I continued to be exposed to certain myths about the Civil War that descendants of Confederate families tell themselves. I was taught that slavery wasn’t the primary issue of the war, for one. I was taught that most soldiers on the Confederate side had been involved for economic reasons, and certainly not because they believed that whites were superior to blacks, for another. And I was taught that just because the Southern Baptist church and many other institutions still advocated for the segregation of that races, that it wasn’t because they still believed that one race was superior to the other.
Each of those statements was a lie.
I was a teen-ager in the 70s when the Southern Baptist Convention finally endorsed desegregation of its churches. And it was as a teen that I learned most of what I’d been taught about the history of our denomination and the Civil War was untrue.
Historically, every state that seceded to form the Confederacy (not just Mississippi a portion of whose declaration is pictured above), explicitly listed either slavery or the superiority of the white race (and some mentioned both), as their reasons for seceding. The infamous cornerstone speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens explained that the foundation of the new Confederate government was “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
It can’t be any clearer than that: the primary mission of the Confederacy was the perpetuation of slavery of black people and the entrenchment (nay, glorification) of white supremacy. And Confederate soldiers did not volunteer, fight, and die by the thousands because of some need to preserve the mythical idyllic pastoral culture of the Southern plantation—most of them were too poor to own plantations, for one thing! No, the typical Confederate grunt believed that if slaves were freed, working class whites would surely lose their livelihoods. The collective self-esteem of the white working class was shored up by the explicit statement that at least they weren’t slaves, so while they might have worked hard in exchange for less than their fair share of societal prosperity, at least they were better off than those black folks! The abolition of slavery was then perceived as an existential threat to the white working class. Of course they were willing to take up arms to protect slavery!
In the immediate aftermath of the war, symbols of the Confederacy weren’t displayed publicly. There were memorials erected in a few places to those who died in one battle or another, and certainly individual tombstones were occasionally emblazoned with Confederate symbols, but there wasn’t a stampede to erect statues to the leaders of the Confederacy afterward. For one thing, there wasn’t a lot of pride in having been on the losing side.
The first big rush of Confederate monuments was years after the war ended as Reconstruction officially ended and Federal troops were withdrawn in 1877. Across the former Confederacy, state legislatures started enacting Jim Crow laws, designed to make it difficult or nearly impossible for black people to exercise their right to vote and to enforce segregation of the races. And statues and monuments went up all over the South. The plaques usually talked about the bravery of the person depicted, but there were also language about the nobility of the cause for which they fought. Blacks living in those states, most of whom were former slaves, knew exactly what that cause had been, and the message the statues and monuments was clearly: “white people are in charge again, and don’t you forget it!”
Most of the Confederate monuments were put up in the 1910s and 1920s, coinciding with an increase in activity of the KKK and similar organizations terrorizing blacks. And the next big surge was in the 50s and 60s when civil rights organizations began having successes against some of the Jim Crow laws. The purpose of those monuments was not to honor the culture of the South; the message was still “stay in your place, black people, or else!” A great example of this resides not many miles from my home. Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery.
There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one.
And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers—a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.
Now that some communities are rethinking these monuments—many of them extremely cheap bronze statues erected during times of civil rights tensions—other people are claiming taking them down is erasing history. No, taking down these post-dated monuments in public parks and so forth isn’t erasing history, it’s erasing anti-historical propaganda. The other argument that is put forward in defense of the monuments is that “both sides deserve to be heard.” That’s BS in this case, because there aren’t two sides to racism. There aren’t two sides to bigotry. There aren’t two sides to genocide. White supremacy is not a legitimate side to any argument.
When we defeated Hitler’s armies, we didn’t turn around and erect monuments to the government that murdered millions of people in concentration camps. We destroyed their symbols. When we liberated Iraq, we tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, we didn’t enshrine his image in an attempt to give both sides equal time. Those few Confederate monuments that list off names of people who died are fine (even if a lot of them have cringeworthy language about the cause they were fighting for). Cemeteries where actual Confederate veterans are buried of course can have symbols of the Confederacy on the tombstones and the like. But the other monuments, the ones erected years later? They don’t belong in the public square.
They belong in the dustbin of history.
Let’s talk about the hateful Uncle Sam sign near Interstate 5 in Washington state, in a community called Napavine (which is just south of the larger town of Chehalis). The sign went up near the interstate a few years before my family moved to southwest Washington in the mid seventies. For just a bit over 10 years I lived about 40 miles from this sign. Additionally, for just short of 35 years, I have had to drive past this racist, sexist, sectarian, homophobic billboard whenever I travel across the state.It began when the Washington state legislature amended the existing Highway Advertising Control Act in the late 1960s, which placed several restrictions on what sorts of signs/billboard/et cetera could be placed within the line of sight of people traveling on roads funded at least in part by state tax payer money. That prompted Alfred Hamilton, the owner of a turkey farm, to put up his first political billboard. The billboard proclaimed that there are no billboards in Russia. When Hamilton was interviewed about his billboard, he ranted about both state and federal law limiting billboards and how unAmerican he thought the laws were. For various reasons, it wasn’t until 1971 that the state Attorney General’s office started enforcing the amended act, notifying owners of billboards that their signs were in violation of law, and outlining options for resolving it.
You’ll notice on that archive image the phrase “A R Hamilton 7 Turkeys.” At any given time, Hamilton owned a lot more than 7 turkeys, of course. The number 7 was something he used in the branding for his business for years. I don’t know if anyone knows what it’s supposed to mean.Anyway, he began posting various anti-communist slogans on the billboard, adding the creepy Uncle Sam, while he and the attorney general’s office fought it out in court. He reached a settlement with the state, agreeing to take down the sign, with the state compensating him for the cost of deconstruction. And then, shortly afterward, he put the billboard back up, on a different part of his property. The state law allowed signs of a certain size on the premises of a business so long as the sign advertised the business. He’s tried to qualify for that exemption before, but the court had ruled that while he owned the plot of land where he had initially put the sign up, it wasn’t a spot the public could drive to and make a purchase. So he moved the sign closer to the building where he had the office. The state came back, arguing that the sign wasn’t advertising his business, in part because he didn’t always mention the farm. So he added the name of the business in white letters on the bottom frame of the sign. And for a few years the top to the sign mentioned which road to take of the exit to get to the business office. Eventually the court decided that while the political slogans were much larger and so prominent that many people driving by would never notice the advertising part of the sign, that it did technically qualify for the exemption.
Because the sign often had racist and homophobic messages in addition to the knee-jerk anti-government screeds, from time to time over the years people living in nearby communities would petition to have the sign removed. There were a streak of years where the guy was really obsessed with gay people, so it seemed that half the time the sign had various homophobic proclamations.
I was trying to find a particular image, because one time, when he found out that the Evergreen State College was hosted a queer film festival, he put up what he thought of as a sarcastic criticism of the festival? But apparently people driving from Portland, Oregon to come of the festival saw the sign and thought it was advertising for the festival.In the mid-nineties Hamilton sold his farm to a large agro-business and prepared to retire to Alaska. The sign was deconstructed again, and people living nearby thought it was finally going away. But, nope, the billboard went back up nearby. Hamilton’s son still owned some adjacent land where he was running some sort of RV business, and he put the sign up, there. Still quite visible from the freeway. Apparently the messages stopped getting changed out weekly for a number of years. According to one of the articles I found while I was looking for representative pictures, Hamilton was still composing the messages up in Alaska and sending them to his son until his death in 2004. Now the son is carrying on the hateful tradition on his own.
The state has gotten involved a couple of times since, because for quite a while the sign no longer had any advertising on it at all. But eventually the names of the businesses the son was running got added back.
There was at least one point where a group of protestors show up to picket the business and cover the sign with a tarp that had a pro-gay message: 2014: TWACtion: Environmental and Gender Rights Groups Occupy I-5 Billboard.
I’m writing about this today because there’s a new petition calling for the sign to come down: 73,000 signature petition calls for takedown of landmark Uncle Sam billboard.
And I have a few quibbles with some of the people quoted in the various stories about the sign. The first thing is, no slogan that I’ve ever seen on the sign has made me think anything other than, “What an ignorant a-hole!” I mean, I realize if you are as ill-informed as Hamilton was and his son seems to be, I guess some of the signs would make you do something that resembles thinking.
Which isn’t to say that I think ignorant, hateful people don’t have the right to hold those opinions and even express them.
I hate seeing that billboard every time I drive down to visit family (and on the trip back). It usually puts me in a bad mood.
But do I want it banned?
Free speech is a topic a lot of people misunderstand. The Supreme Court has long held that certain categories of speech enjoy less protection (obscenity, fraud, defamation, incitement), but not necessarily no protection. For instance, if the billboard referred to me by name and asserted that I was a pedophile, that would be defamation and actionable. Because it is false and harmful to my reputation. But when/if the billboard said that all queers are pedophiles? While it is false, it’s a bit harder to argue that the statement harms any particular person’s reputation. At least that’s what the courts have said so far. Similarly, the courts have held that public figures have to meet more stringent criteria to sue for defamation than private citizens do.
Hamilton’s original billboard was trying to argue that any regulation of billboards by government was censorship. The government argued that because taxpayers fund highways, that the areas immediately adjacent to highways is public property, and therefore the government has a right to regulate signage to a degree. When they amended the law (after some court cases), they argued further that some regulation of signage in view from designated highways was also permitted. The amended law carved out exemptions, one of which I mentioned above about on premises signage for business purposes.
So, as odious as I think the Hamiltons are, it’s their property, and if they want to advertise their business with racist, homophobic, and similar slogans, they’re within their rights.
I do think that they have intentionally pushed the limits of the law, particularly during the times when there is no mention of the business on the billboard at all. And I think they have done so more out of spite than any noble desire to test constitutional limits. Because of that spiteful nature, I don’t think they will ever succumb to community pressure to quit posting their hate.
I also think that not only are most (if not all) of the things posted on the billboard reprehensible, bigoted, and ignorant—they are also false. Not all lies constitute legal fraud or defamation, but there is a difference between whether something is legal and whether it is moral.
One of my college professors, who was also my debate coach and a mentor, always looked forward to seeing what lunacy was on the sign whenever we were traveling to a tournament that required us to drive past it. And that’s what he called it, lunacy. It so happened that he had grown up in Chehalis, just up the road, and he said for him, the sign was a reminder of why he was glad he wasn’t raising his own kids in that area. “Ignorance is funny, as long as you keep it at arm’s length,” he once said.
Sometimes I wish I could laugh at the sign like he did. Because while I understand his sentiment, I think he’s wrong. As long as some people believe (and vote based on those beliefs) that sort of ignorance and hate, it’s impossible to keep it all at arm’s length.
For some more information, if you’re interested: