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“The Good Ol’ Boys Roundup”: It’s Not Just The Cops—Racism Is A Problem For The Secret Service, Too

The track record of the U.S. Secret Service in protecting President Barack Obama has come under intense scrutiny in recent months due to several major security lapses, the most recent of which prompted the resignation in October of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson.

A recently released Department of Homeland Security report about that incident determined that a number of “performance, organizational, technical and other” factors contributed to the security breach.

What is not mentioned in that DHS report is another long-running issue within the Secret Service—one which, according to several experts, creates the conditions for a breakdown in agency morale that could ultimately compromise the security of President Obama. That threat is embodied in a long-running lawsuit filed by a group of African-American Secret Service agents who allege the agency’s culture is replete with racism.

In September, a man with a knife scaled a fence and ran into the White House, making it as far as the East Room—it was this incident that prompted the report by DHS, which oversees the Secret Service. That same month, however, in Atlanta, the media reported that an armed security contractor with an arrest record was somehow allowed to ride in the same elevator as President Obama.

Those incidents echo an even more serious security breach that played out in 2011, when a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle managed to fire some seven bullets into the White House while one of the president’s daughters was home and the other expected to return that same evening—yet it allegedly took the Secret Service four days to determine the shots had been unleashed on the president’s home.

“If the black Secret Service agents’ legal claims related to racism in the agency are true, then there is a threat to the president’s security because he is a black man,” says Matthew Fogg, a retired chief deputy U.S. Marshal who in 1998 won a multimillion-dollar jury verdict in a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against his agency. “If they are treating black people differently, then how can that not affect the president?”

Fogg also is party to one of two pending class-action discrimination cases filed by black federal agents against the U.S. Marshals Service. The mere fact that the most qualified agents are not getting promoted within an agency due to racial factors—as is alleged in both the the Secret Service and U.S. Marshals litigation—indicates, Fogg says, that race is an issue in the quality of protection being provided to individuals, including the president.

Attorney Ronald Tonkin, a former federal prosecutor who now represents federal agents in whistleblower and employment-discrimination cases, says regardless of which side prevails in the Secret Service litigation, both the accused and accusers “are affected” by the resulting tension and polarization.

“These agents are all professionals, but the question is whether their professionalism is dissipated by a perception that they are being treated badly,” said Tonkin, who also serves as associate counsel for the National Association of Federal Agents. “It does, in my experience, have an effect on agency morale, and that affects performance at some level.”

The black Secret Service agents’ litigation, certified as a class-action lawsuit last year, has been pending in federal court since 2000 due to numerous procedural delays. It alleges that black agents, as a group, have been systematically discriminated against in hiring, assignments, transfer, awards, promotions and discipline.

“The Secret Service has failed to protect its African-American special agents from racial discrimination in virtually every aspect of their employment,” the black agents’ pleadings in the case allege. “Discrimination against African-American agents in the Secret Service has become part of the fabric of the agency and has spanned several decades.”

A complaint filed by the 10 black agents who are named plaintiffs in the class-action suit points to an event held in southeastern Tennessee called the “Good Ol’ Boys Roundup,” which was made public in the mid-1990s via media reports but had been staged annually since 1980.

“The racist conduct that occurred at the Roundup included the posting of racist signs like ‘Nigger checkpoint,’ a simulated lynching of a black man from a tree, and a host of racist skits and songs,” the complaint alleges. “Officials at the Secret Service knew about this event, and at least 30 Secret Service agents were documented attending the event.  … Many of the white special agents who attended the Roundup were promoted to high-ranking positions in the Secret Service, including three agents who became SAICs [special agents in charge] of field offices … and two agents who were promoted to the Senior Executive Service level.”

Reginald Moore, special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Atlanta field office, and a party to the black agents’ class-action lawsuit, declined to comment on the case or any potential threat to the president due to the alleged racism within the agency. Likewise, Angela Burns-Ramirez, a former Secret Service special agent who has an individual racial-discrimination complaint pending in federal court against the agency, declined to comment on the advice of her attorney. A primary allegation in her lawsuit, which mirrors claims raised in the Secret Service class-action litigation, is that she “has been treated differently and subjected to different terms and conditions of her employment due to her race (African American).

“Despite being established in 1865, the first African-American female was not promoted to a GS-14 [supervisory] position until 2001,” Burns-Ramirez’ court pleadings state. “Only five African-American females hold a rank higher than GS-14 within the Secret Service.”

Brian Leary, a spokesman for the Secret Service, declined to discuss the black agents’ class-action lawsuit or the impact their allegations might be having on the agency. “We aren’t commenting due to the ongoing nature of the lawsuit,” he said.

Professor Richard Delgado, the John J. Sparkman Chair of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law, warns that it would be a mistake to discount the effect that racism can have on an institution and its ability to function effectively. Delgado is a leading scholar in the field of Critical Race Theory, which focuses on the ways in which racism is embedded historically in the nation’s laws and legal system.

When racist activity is claimed, “it creates a terrible environment for both sides of the color line,” Delgado explained.

“For the minority agents who feel discriminated against, they feel unappreciated and develop a defensive attitude at best,” Delgado added. “Many of their white colleagues see the minority agents as troublemakers scheming to get ahead, talking to lawyers.

“Both sides are certain they are right, and it’s a recipe for morale problems or worse. It can lead to inattention on the job or even small acts of sabotage designed to make someone look bad.”

Delgado said he would not want to be “a federal official with an agency in that state charged with looking after my back.”

The solution in such a case, he said, isn’t simply to ask people to set aside their animosities, because “that doesn’t work.”

“The best course is to arrange a lot of contact early in life, so that blacks, whites and Latinos get to know each other and see we’re all humans with a range of behaviors and character, some good and some bad,” Delgado stressed.

“And these agencies should be screening people early, before they are hired, to determine if they, regardless of color, have the right attitudes and ability to work well in diverse groups.”

 

By: Bill Conroy, The Daily Beast, December 6, 2014

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Presidential Security, Racism, Secret Service | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Fire Next Time”: Why Threats Against Obama Speak Volumes On Race In America

Reading details of the Secret Service’s failure to protect the president, I was jolted by a sudden premonition. Our country is once again risking “the fire next time.” James Baldwin’s dreadful prophecy—a phrase he borrowed from an old Negro spiritual—was published in 1963 when the civil rights movement was approaching its climactic triumph. Yet the novelist’s resonant warning came true a few years later. Cities across America were in flames. This is not a prediction of what is coming, but my fear. We should talk candidly about this risk before it is too late.

Let me be explicit about what I imagine might occur. If something bad should happen to hurt President Obama or his family, the “fire” could be ignited again by people’s rage and sorrow. Some will object that my warning is inflammatory, but I see silence as a greater danger.

The basic fact is this: there are demented Americans who do want to harm the president and have repeatedly threatened his life. Nobody knows how many or how dangerous they might be. Threats are a standard circumstance for the presidency, but the alarming difference is that threats against Barack Obama have been three times higher than for his predecessors, according to The Washington Post, which first revealed the Secret Service lapses. The explanation is obvious. This president is black, so is his family.

“Michelle Obama has spoken publicly about fearing for her family’s safety since her husband became the nation’s first black president,” Post reporter Carol Leonnig wrote. “Her concerns are well-founded. President Obama has faced three times as many threats as his predecessors, according to people briefed on the Secret Service’s threat assessment.”

After the Post reported this elevated risk assessment, The New York Times was told by a Secret Service spokesman that the threats against Obama have subsequently subsided to more typical levels. Given recent episodes in which the agency withheld embarrassing facts, even from the president, it is hard to judge which estimate to trust.

My larger point is this: the country is again becoming a racial tinderbox. We have witnessed many warning signs in places like Ferguson, Missouri, where another white cop shot an unarmed black teenager. Politicians mostly look the other way, perhaps fearful of provoking stronger emotions. But some politicians have actively encouraged racist resentments. The political system is implicated in stoking social discontents, white and black, because it has been unwilling (or unable) to do anything about the economic distress. It feels as though the society is stymied too, people waiting sullenly for some triggering event that might express their pain and anger.

Specifically, I accuse the Republican Party of adroitly exploiting racial tensions in the age of Obama in order to mobilize its electoral base and gain political advantage. Black Americans know what I mean. They have endured such political tactics for many generations. Indeed, as black leaders told Peter Baker of The New York Times, many African-American citizens are suspicious of the Secret Service failures that exposed the black president to danger.

When Barack Obama was elected six years ago, I wrote a short editorial for The Nation, “This Proud Moment,” that celebrated his historic achievement and the country’s. “Racism will not disappear entirely,” it said, “but the Republican “Southern Strategy’ that marketed racism has been smashed.” That seemed true at the time, but now sounds foolishly premature.

The Republican Party has not given up on racism. It has developed new ways to play the “race card” without ever mentioning race. With Obama in the White House, the GOP does not need to run TV ads featuring “black hands” taking jobs from “white hands” or the one that shows Willie Horton, the black rapist. Obama’s own face on television is sufficient. It reminds hard-core supporters why they hate the man.

Instead of obvious race-baiting, the GOP plan was to demonize Barack Obama right from the start. He was portrayed as an alien being, a strange character and not truly an American. Maybe he was African like his absent Kenyan father. Where is the birth certificate? And he’s a socialist like those foreigners in Europe. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley revealed that Obama’s health care reform includes “death panels” that will decide when old people must die. The half-baked Donald Trump was invited to Republican forums to mock the black guy.

When the “birther” movement ran out of steam, the ideological accusations hardened in its place. Fox News and other TV talkers upped the ante. Obama wasn’t just a political issue. The black guy was a threat to America’s survival as a nation of free people. The “takers” were the lazy Americans (read: blacks on welfare) who lived off virtuous Republicans who are the “makers.”

Barack Obama was uniquely prepared to liberate politics from its racial taboos, and he had the courage to try. He had grown up biracial and at home in both cultures. He understood that he could not prevail if he became the “black candidate,” since that would inflame some voters and make the election about race. Obama adroitly avoided that pit—but perhaps did not anticipate that white Republicans would find ways to demonize anyway. He kept searching sincerely for compromise. They kept pinning inflammatory labels on him.

The clearest evidence that agitating racial malice was the Republican subtext for brutally disparaging Obama’s intelligence, character and loyalty was reflected in the behavior of their Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. On the eve of Obama’s first inauguration, McConnell informed fellow Republican senaors that there would be no working relationship with the Democratic president—none. The GOP would oppose everything and block every measure the White House proposed.

“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” said Senator George Voinivich of Ohio. “All he cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory.” Vice President Joe Biden, who presided in the Senate, was taken aback by McConnell’s hard line. It crippled the Obama presidency, but also did great damage to the country. Biden heard from seven Republican senators who told him the same thing. They said, “Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything. We can’t let you succeed.”

This take-no-prisoners strategy does not by itself prove that McConnell was purposely agitating racial resentments but the fact that his leadership style was so stubborn and single-minded suggests that Republicans had committed to a strategy that would exploit the racial memory of white Southerners and other conservatives. McConnell was not himself racist when I knew him slightly in the early 1970s, when he was then a young staffer on Capitol Hill and an upfront liberal Republican, especially on civil rights. I expect his views on race are not changed.

But as a white Southerner, he cannot claim to be ignorant of what he was doing. With his hard-nosed strategy, McConnell was shamefully agitating old racial stereotypes, hoping to make the black guy a one-term president. He failed at that, but he still poisoned the political atmosphere for the country. I am not accusing the Republican Party and its leaders of plotting to harm the president physically. I am accusing them of deliberately inflaming racist attitudes that might inspire others to commit malicious acts by others. They deserve shame, however the elections turn out.

Even more shameful in my book, the Supreme Court and its right-wing majority have collaborated in this partisan effort, aiding and abetting the Republican party’s racial politics. The Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas and Alito are, measure by measure, destroying rights that citizens won in years of hard struggle. In the process, they are also destroying the Court’s honorable reputation.

The party of Lincoln moved south forty years ago and embraced the die-hard remnants of white supremacy. The country will not restore two-party representative democracy until the southern segs are once again overcome.

 

By: William Greider, The Nation, October 6, 2014

 

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Presidential Security, Racism, Secret Service | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Dangers To Everyone”: A Gun-Carrying GOP Congressman Is Outraged A Man With A Concealed Gun Got Near Obama

Stipulating that none of the Secret Service lapses, revealed in the press over the past week, should’ve happened in the first place, the only one that strikes me as truly inexplicable is the revelation that USSS allowed an armed felon into an elevator with President Obama at the Centers for Disease Control, and that they didn’t know he was armed.

The two other big stories aren’t as terrifying, at least to me. Inexcusable, maybe, but explicable. In the case of the fence jumper, I get why people on a security detail might let their guard down when the people they’re charged with protecting are off site. And the inconvenient truth is that the Secret Service can’t stop every determined person with a sniper rifle from taking shots at the White House from a number of different locations in the city. Maybe they bungled the response, but the rifle shots themselves were probably not preventable.

The armed felon in the elevator represents a different level of failure. There appears to be widespread recognition of this fact in both the media and in Congress. That’s good, and important, but it’d be nicer still if elected gun enthusiasts thought through the logical implications of their completely warranted outrage.

Consider the following exchange from a Tuesday oversight hearing on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who heads a House subcommittee that oversees the Secret Service, first heard of the breakdown from a whistleblower. The Washington Post confirmed details of the event with other people familiar with the agency’s review.

“You have a convicted felon within arm’s reach of the president, and they never did a background check,” Chaffetz said. “Words aren’t strong enough for the outrage I feel for the safety of the president and his family. “

Chaffetz added: “His life was in danger. This country would be a different world today if he had pulled out his gun.”

This is all true, but it could use a little further unpacking. Chaffetz isn’t a gun grabber. He’s spoken openly about the fact that he carries a concealed weapon when he’s in his Utah district. He cosponsors legislation that would erode state concealed carry restrictions by requiring those states to honor concealed carry permits from other states, including states with weaker permitting processes. (This would presumably apply to Washington, D.C., now, too.) And yet Chaffetz also joins the overwhelming consensus that Obama shouldn’t have been on an elevator with a person carrying a concealed weapon because he fully grasps that people carrying concealed weapons can be incredibly dangerous.

Chaffetz is appalled that USSS allowed a person to carry a concealed handgun around the president without conducting a background check, but supports legislation to make it significantly easier for people—many of whom come into lawful possession of firearms without undergoing background checks—to carry concealed weapons around you and me.

This isn’t to give USSS a pass. They should’ve been aware of every armed person on the premises in advance of the visit, and followed protocol to keep them or their guns away from the president. But the man on the elevator was a security contractor at CDC. His employer issued him that gun. His felony convictions only underscore the dangers—to everyone, not just the president—of combining easy access to firearms with lax carry laws. But that’s more or less the beau ideal for the gun lobby, gun enthusiasts, many Democrats, and the entire Republican party.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, October 1, 2014

October 3, 2014 Posted by | Background Checks, Concealed Weapons, Secret Service | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Frightening Crackpot Ideas”: How Not To Respond To The Secret Service’s Challenges

The recent revelations surrounding the Secret Service have been as stunning as they are frightening. As much as Americans like to think of the Secret Service as the elite professionals when it comes to protecting the nation’s leaders, a series of controversies have taken a toll on the agency’s reputation.

With that in mind, the Washington Post ran an opinion piece yesterday on recent developments from Dan Emmett, whose c.v. seems quite impressive: he’s served in the Secret Service Presidential Protective Division, the CIA National Clandestine Service, and the Marines.

But Emmett’s prescription for what ails the Secret Service was unexpected: “While Congress has not declared war on ISIS and al-Qaeda, U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq – as well as the threats of radical Islamist groups against Americans and our country – make it clear we are indeed at war. In wartime, we must call on our military forces to assist the Secret Service in protecting the president and White House against attack.” He added that “combat troops” could have prevented the recent fence-jumper from entering the White House itself.

But even more striking, Emmett wants to see Julia Pierson, the current Secret Service director, ousted and has someone specific in mind to replace her.

Pierson should be replaced and the next director should come from outside the Secret Service, with the deputy director remaining an agent. In this role, a true leader, not a bureaucrat, is needed. Someone like Florida congressman and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen West would be perfect for the role. West has successfully demonstrated that he possesses the leadership skills of a combat officer as well as managerial and diplomatic skills of a congressman, exactly the traits needed in the next director. Highly competent and beholden to no one in the Secret Service, he would be a superb director.

There was no indication that this was intended as humor. Indeed, a Fox News host quickly endorsed the idea this morning.

I’m not sure why the Washington Post published this, presumably on purpose, but it’s an unusually horrible idea.

To be sure, there’s literally no chance that White House officials would consider West for any official role in any part of the executive branch. Given his rhetoric, I’m not even sure he’d be welcome as a tourist.

That said, let’s not forget that Allen West, a former one-term congressman, can generously be described as one of the nation’s more frightening crackpots. It’d take a while to pull together a Greatest Hits collection of the Republican’s most unhinged moments, because there are just too many to choose from – including his instence last week that the U.S. military start disobeying wartime orders from the Commander in Chief, whom he considers an “Islamist” determined to help Islamic State terrorists create a Middle Eastern caliphate.

Anyone who looks at this guy and thinks of the phrases “diplomatic skills” and “highly competent,” might be confusing him with someone else with the name Allen West.

As for the notion that the military should be in charge of protecting the president and the White House, I imagine there are security experts who can speak to this with far more authority than I can, but from a layperson’s perspective, it seems like an awkward combination of skill sets. The military is exceptionally good at defeating an enemy on a battlefield, but soldiers are not trained to protect civilians on American soil.

Emmett’s piece added that during World War II, “Combat forces were brought in to protect the White House and other government buildings from German and Japanese attack. Troops armed with M1 Garand rifles and Thompson submachine guns were posted at the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and the White House. Anti-aircraft emplacements were set up around the White House as well.”

I can appreciate why ISIS militants might seem scary, but there’s no reason to draw a parallel between counter-terrorism missions and WWII.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 1, 2014

October 2, 2014 Posted by | Secret Service, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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