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“Denying Extremists Another Recruiting Opportunity”: Kid Gloves For Homegrown Extremists Are Part Of A Strategy

Soon after a bunch of white guys with guns holed up at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in protest against the federal government, wags took to social media to deride them.

“Y’all Qaeda,” “YeeHawdists” and “Vanilla ISIS” are some of the clever put-downs circulating on Twitter.

Critics also decried what they perceive as a double standard in the seeming lack of response from law enforcement. If the gun-toting men were black or Muslim, went the typical argument, they would have incurred the full, militarized wrath of law enforcement.

So it might appear, but if you think law enforcement agencies are being deferential out of fear, you couldn’t be more wrong. Be very grateful that federal officials know exactly whom they are dealing with: troublemakers just itching for an excuse to claim that the federal government provoked them first.

As of this writing, things are still calm at the wildlife refuge, nearly 30 miles from the nearest town. But this bunch has itchy trigger fingers and enough conspiracy-addled emotion to take their standoff to the next level of danger.

In this desolate location, these guys are more likely a danger to each other than to the local population — although they have irked nearby residents and the Burns Paiute Tribe, who deem the siege a desecration of sacred land.

Ammon Bundy — the son of the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who had his own standoff with federal agents in 2014 over $1 million in unpaid grazing fees — and the other men occupying the wildlife refuge splintered off from a protest of several hundred people, a gathering that drew Oregonians concerned about longstanding issues with rules for land overseen by U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Bundy is from Arizona. How’d he wind up in Oregon? He smelled an opportunity for the limelight.

Bundy calls his Oregon crew Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, and it includes his brother and an Arizona man, Jon Ritzheimer, who has gained renown of late for staging armed anti-Muslim protests.

The presence of Ritzheimer and other idiosyncratic “patriots” led the Daily Beast to dub the occupation Wingnut Woodstock. These anti-government activists have come out of the woodwork at a time when some Americans have become hyper-focused on Islamic terrorists, Syrian refugees and other perceived threats to the nation.

Indeed, America faces multiple threats, including homegrown extremists. This month, Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization reviled by extremists, issued a report noting that the number of militia groups in the U.S. leapt to 276 from 202 in 2014.

In October, the Justice Department announced a new office to focus entirely on homegrown extremists. In doing so, the department acknowledged that it had taken its eye off the ball domestically, consumed as it has been with threats of overseas terrorists since 9/11.

Law enforcement authorities closer to the street haven’t been as easily distracted. A June survey by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University found that police were highly aware of the homegrown threat. Surveying nearly 400 departments, it found that 74 percent were more concerned about anti-government extremists than the possibility of an attack inspired by or actually the work of al-Qaida or the Islamic State.

A colleague of mine, Kansas City Star reporter Judy L. Thomas, has spent decades chronicling such movements. She has written extensively on Posse Comitatus, Christian identity groups, white nationalists, militias and now the growth of the sovereign citizen movement, loose networks that see the government as dangerously corrupt and out of control.

Part of the problem, Thomas said, is that we don’t have a consistent definition of domestic terrorism. And the term is sometimes abused for political gain. It can be difficult to determine who is a mere conspiracy theorist with an arsenal and who is likely actually to act out his revolutionary fantasies violently.

The homegrown extremist groups often see themselves as soldier-saviors of America, armed and ready to do battle with the evil federal government that is taking away constitutional rights. Thomas’ sources, including past federal agents, say that much was learned after Waco, where more than 75 people died, as well as in other encounters with militia members. Authorities prefer methods to defuse rather than spark confrontation. That will surely save lives, in Oregon and elsewhere. And it will, one hopes, deny extremists another recruiting opportunity.

Ritzheimer said this in a widely viewed video he posted online from Oregon: “I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down to fight against tyranny in this country.” Authorities are taking him at his word — and not giving him his chance for martyrdom.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, January 8, 2015

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Anti-Government, Domestic Terrorism, Homegrown Extremists | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Freelance Insurrectionists”: Is The Oregon Standoff The Inevitable Result Of Anti-Government Rhetoric?

Out in Oregon, the Bundy clan has begun another heavily-armed standoff with the government, seizing control of a building at a wildlife refuge and talking about laying down their life for liberty, presumably in some kind of gruesome battle in which plenty of law enforcement officials are killed along with the martyrs to the anti-government cause. Most of the Republican presidential candidates have so far avoided saying anything about this event, but liberals are raising the question of how much responsibility the Republican Party and its leaders bear for this kind of radical right extremism.

It’s a complicated question, but the answer is: not as much as their most fervent opponents might claim, but not so little as they’d like.

This latest standoff is led by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy and leader of what seems to be a band of freelance insurrectionists. If you’re having a conflict with the federal government, they’ll load up their weapons, come to your location, and set up a confrontation with law enforcement, whether you want them to or not.

You can read elsewhere about what led up to this standoff, but it has to be understood in context of the last one, when rancher Cliven Bundy got into a conflict with the United States government over grazing fees. The problem was that Bundy wanted to use public land to graze his cattle, but didn’t want to pay the fees that every other rancher does, since as he said at the time, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” Anti-government activists flocked to the standoff, pointing guns at government officials and talking of insurrection. Two of those present at the event would soon after go on a shooting rampage in Las Vegas, murdering two police officers and a bystander.

At the time, some Republican politicians, including Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, said that whatever Bundy’s gripe with the government, he ought to follow the law. But others were far more indulgent. Ben Carson supported the protest. Ted Cruz blamed it on President Obama, calling the standoff “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on.” And Rand Paul not only supported their cause but later had a friendly sit-down with Cliven Bundy. Donald Trump took a middle position, saying that laws should be followed, but that when it came to Bundy, “I like him, I like his spirit, his spunk and the people that are so loyal…I respect him.” (For more details on these reactions, go here).

But most critically, during the standoff Cliven Bundy and his supporters became heroes of conservative media. Sean Hannity practically made Bundy his Fox News co-host for a couple of weeks. Their bizarre claims about the government and the means they were using to lodge their complaints — an armed standoff — were validated and promoted again and again by the media outlets conservatives rely on for their news. It was only when Cliven Bundy turned out to be an unreconstructed racist, of the kind who begins sentences with “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” that Fox and the Republicans who supported him finally distanced themselves from him.

Even if they hadn’t been so aggressively supported and promoted by elite conservative figures and institutions, the Bundys’ actions can be viewed as an outgrowth of conservative rhetoric over the years of Barack Obama’s presidency. From the moment he was elected, conservatives said that Obama was not legitimately the president (many of them charged that he wasn’t born in the United States). Virtually everything he did was given a given a dark and sinister spin, with the constant refrain that Obama was a tyrant who had not only usurped power but would shortly turn the United States into a terrifying nightmare of statist oppression. The line between mainstream rhetoric and that of the radical fringe disappeared, with popular television hosts and backbench Republican House members spouting conspiracy theories about FEMA concentration camps and the Department of Homeland Security stockpiling ammunition in preparation for some horrific campaign of repression. Nearly every policy with which conservatives disagreed was decried as the death of freedom itself.

Anyone who took all that literally and believed that the people saying it were actually sincere could well have concluded that armed insurrection was indeed an appropriate response to what was plainly a coup from the enemies of freedom within the government, led by a despot who was literally trying to destroy America. Now combine that with the way so many Republicans talk about guns — not just as a tool of self-protection, but as something whose essential purpose is to intimidate government officials. Second Amendment purists, some of whom are running for president, regularly justify their enthusiasm for loosening gun laws as a way to keep tyranny in check, by showing that gun owners are willing to fight against their government, should it become necessary. As Ted Cruz has said, “The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a Constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.”

So on one hand, Republicans regularly say that we need so many guns in civilian hands in case it becomes necessary to wage war on the government, while on the other hand they say that Barack Obama’s government has become tyrannical and oppressive, and freedom is all but destroyed. So why is anybody surprised when people like the Bundys put those two ideas together?

It doesn’t stop there. Republicans were similarly divided on Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who decided that because she doesn’t support same-sex marriage, she could defy the Supreme Court and refuse to grant marriage licenses to anyone in her county. Davis got full support from five of the Republican presidential candidates, while six opposed her move and the rest came down somewhere in the middle. But the point is that a meaningful contingent of elite Republicans said that when you don’t like the law, you can pretend the law doesn’t apply to you, even if you’re sworn to carry it out.

These days, every lunatic corner of the right can find respect and validation from at least some of the most prominent and respected figures in Republican politics and conservative media, at the same time as people are encouraged to strap on their AK-47 when they go down to the supermarket.

Today, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both condemned the actions taken by the insurrectionists in Oregon. There are surely plenty of other Republicans who are disgusted by the Bundy clan and actions like this standoff, so it wouldn’t be fair to blame the whole party for the rise of this kind of armed right-wing radicalism. But you also can’t say anti-government rhetoric had nothing to do with it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 4, 2016

January 5, 2016 Posted by | Ammon Bundy, Conservative Rhetoric, Oregon Militiamen | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Reality Of Implicit Race Bias Is Well-Documented”: Overcoming Implicit Prejudice And The Heightened Perception Of Threat It Brings

I once read a question that went as follows:

Two groups of young men are walking on opposite sides of the street. One group is black, the other, white. Both are loud and swaggering, both have baseball caps turned to the back, both are brandishing bats.

Which one is the baseball team and which one, the street gang?

The truth is, many of us — maybe most of us — would decide based on race, giving benefit of the doubt to the white group, leaping to the harshest conclusion with the black one. Some will resist that notion, but the reality of implicit bias has been exhaustively documented.

Dr. Angela Bahns, an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College who describes herself as a “prejudice researcher,” wanted to push the question further. Earlier this year she published a study testing what she says is the prevailing theory: Prejudice arises from threat, i.e., you perceive those other people over there as dangerous and that’s what makes you biased against them.

“My research,” she said in a recent interview, “tests whether the opposite is true, whether prejudice can precede and cause threat perception.” In other words, is it actually pre-existing bias that causes us to feel threatened? It’s a question with profound implications in a nation grappling with what has come to seem an endless cycle of police brutality against unarmed African-American men, women and children.

Reliably as the tides, people tell us race played no role in the choking of the man, the arrest of the woman, the shooting of the boy. But Bahns’ research tells a different story. She conditioned test subjects to feel negatively toward countries about which they’d previously had neutral feelings, including Guyana, Mauritania, Surinam and Eritrea. “And I found,” she said, “that when groups were associated with negative emotion, they came to be perceived as more threatening in the absence of any information about what the people are like objectively.”

This column, by the way, is for a woman named Tracy from Austin who wrote earlier this year to ask “What can I do?” to fight police brutality against African-American people. I promised her I would seek answers. Well, Bahns’ research suggests that one answer might be to encourage police departments to incorporate bias training in their regimens.

According to Bahns, this training can help people overcome implicit prejudice and the heightened perception of threat it brings, but there is an important caveat: They have to be motivated and willing and have to leave their defensiveness at the door. “Before any change can happen, the first step … is that the perceivers — in this case, the white perceivers, or police officers — have to be open to admitting that they might be influenced by bias. I think we’re not getting anywhere when there’s this defensive reaction. … We’re all prejudiced and until we admit that, we’re not going to get anywhere in terms of reducing its effects.”

Not that people’s defensiveness is difficult to understand. “Everyone’s motivated to see themselves in a positive light,” said Bahns. “..People that genuinely hold egalitarian values and desperately do not want to be prejudiced are very motivated not to see bias in themselves.”

The thing is, we cannot wait passively for their conundrum to resolve itself. Some of us are dying because of this inability to tell the ball club from the street gang. And frankly, if people really do hold egalitarian values and desperately don’t want to be prejudiced, those deaths should push them past defensiveness and on to reflection.

As Bahns put it, the idea “that threat causes prejudice assumes that something about them — the out group — makes them threatening rather than assuming there’s something about us that makes us see them that way.”

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 4, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Brutality, Prejudice, Racial Profiling | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Relying On Anecdotes From Police Officials”: No Data Exists To Support Police Claims Of Victimization

Shortly after FBI Director James Comey delivered ill-considered remarks linking increased scrutiny of police to rising crime, a cellphone video of a Columbia, South Carolina, school cop violently manhandling a teenage girl went viral. Comey’s comments were quickly overtaken by that news — which, coincidently, showed how imprudent they were.

On two occasions in late October, the FBI’s top official had the opportunity to reinforce for police officials the sacred trust at the center of their oaths, which require them to protect and serve. That sacred trust was violated — cleaved and quartered, in fact — by Ben Fields, the Spring Valley High “school resource officer” whose actions resulted in his firing and sparked a Justice Department investigation.

Instead, Comey chose to play to police officers’ paranoia and sense of isolation and victimization. In speeches at the University of Chicago Law School and to the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, he suggested that homicides are on the rise in several cities because police officers are too intimidated to do their jobs properly.

Speaking to the police chiefs, Comey asked: “In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?”

At the law school, he’d said that “viral videos” may be contributing to a police reluctance to confront criminals.

Let’s be clear: There is absolutely no data — as Comey admitted — that links rising homicides to a new passivity on the part of police. (Violent crime continues to decline, as it has since its peak in 1991, but homicides are now rising in a handful of cities. Criminologists don’t know why, as they still don’t know why crime has declined over the last few decades.)

In fact, there is no data showing that police are less aggressive than they used to be. The FBI director, who ought to know better, is relying on anecdotes from police officials, who are in the habit of complaining when they are under scrutiny.

But that scrutiny is long overdue. The Black Lives Matter movement, a loosely organized network of activists, was sparked by police violence that has resulted in the deaths of unarmed black civilians. You know the names of many of the victims, who include Eric Garner, put in a deadly chokehold by New York City police for the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes; 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot dead by police in Cleveland for waving a toy gun in a park; and John Crawford III, shot dead by Beavercreek, Ohio, police after he picked up a BB gun from a Wal-Mart store shelf.

If protests over such official savagery keep police from doing their jobs, they are not committed to keeping the peace, to serving or protecting. If they were, they’d welcome attention that helps to weed out the bullies, the poorly trained and the bigots in their ranks. After all, police officers need the respect and cooperation of the communities they serve in order to catch the real criminals.

Unfortunately, though, many rank-and-file officers and their superiors have assumed the mantle of victims, complaining that the Black Lives Matter movement disrespects, and even endangers, police. It keeps them from doing their jobs. It emboldens criminals, they say.

And that narrative is constantly fed by conservative media outlets, whose pundits insist that President Obama panders to criminals while blaming police for simple errors. That notion was further fueled at the most recent Republican debate by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who insisted that the president doesn’t “support police officers.”

“You know, the FBI director … has said this week that because of a lack of support from politicians like the president of the United States, that police officers are afraid to get out of their cars, that they’re afraid to enforce the law,” Christie claimed.

If you want to see fear, take another look at that disturbing video of Ben Fields flinging a teenage girl across the floor. The other students cower in their desks, some afraid to look up. That lesson is one from which they’ll likely never recover.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, October 31, 2015

November 1, 2015 Posted by | James Comey, Police Brutality, Police Officers | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“It’s Time To Hold America’s Gunmakers Accountable”: An Unaccountable Industry Involved In Selling Products That Kill People

It’s not just Congress that fails to respond after another massacre briefly focuses attention on the irrationality and permissiveness of our country’s firearms statutes. Those of us seeking change also regularly fall down on the job. We express outrage and move on, leaving the debate exactly where we found it.

Opponents of the big gun interests are often insufficiently innovative in what we propose. Let’s face it: We have been losing this fight.

The solutions we suggest are rarely big enough to deal with the problem comprehensively. This opens up advocates of change to predictable attacks. This suggested law, gun-industry apologists say, would not have prevented that shooting. More broadly: How will your little proposals ever get a handle on guns when there are already more than 300 million of them on the streets? (Part of the answer: Deal with ammunition.)

We put ourselves at a steep disadvantage from the outset. We often get angry at rank-and-file gun owners who, in turn, see us as elitist big-city folks who don’t respect the traditions of those who have had weapons in their families for generations. Pro-reform politicians often don hunting outfits and shoot deer or birds to curry favor with those who mistrust them. Mostly, the politicians look silly. Anybody can put on a costume.

The time has come to recast this battle as a fight to hold those who make billions of dollars from the sale of firearms accountable for what their products do to individuals and communities. We must call for corporate responsibility, and enforce it by law if it’s not forthcoming. And President Obama, whose outrage about guns many of us share, must be willing to go well beyond what he has done so far.

As is their way, the community organizers and activists at the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) are pushing the president to use the federal government’s purchasing power to promote safer guns. To do business with the government, companies would have to be willing to “remove the barriers to getting smart guns and gun safety technologies to market” and cooperate with law enforcement to “identify and isolate dealers that provide large numbers of guns used in crimes.”

Governments at all levels account for roughly 40 percent of gun-industry revenues. The federal government alone accounts for about 25 percent. Taxpayers have a right to demand responsibility from an industry that gets so much of our money.

The president won’t much like the slogan of a Metro IAF news conference scheduled for Thursday across from the White House in Lafayette Square — “Clergy and Citizens to President Obama: Stop Whining, Start Working to Curb Gun Deaths.” But the former community organizer might appreciate this: Since his administration has been reluctant to use the taxpayers’ power in the weapons marketplace to promote accountability from the big gunmakers, outside pressure might make it easier for him to do the right thing.

He also faces prodding from his fellow Democrats. Both Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley have put forward comprehensive gun proposals that are more adventurous than the ideas Obama has embraced. O’Malley deserves particular credit for going far beyond the highly constricted gun-policy conversation. His comprehensive plan includes a proposal that echoes the IAF in mandating that the federal government buy weapons only from manufacturers who adopt basic safety measures and the microstamping of weapons.

Arnie Graf, a longtime IAF organizer, explains that microstamping can allow law enforcement to trace guns and bullets used in crimes. “Smart guns” that could be used only by their owners would vastly reduce trafficking, prevent accidents and diminish suicides. And because a relatively small number of dealers are responsible for the sale of a large number of weapons used in crime, focusing on those dealers (and demanding that the gun companies stop selling to them) could further reduce gun violence.

So let’s talk less about the National Rifle Association and more about those whose interests the NRA serves, the big weapons sellers such as Sturm, Ruger & Co., Smith & Wesson, SIG Sauer, Beretta, Glock and Freedom Group. Let’s insist that Obama put his anger to work. And let’s use our proven capacity for technological innovation to reduce violence.

Responsible business people care about the well-being of their communities and live with all sorts of health and safety regulations. They above all should see how profoundly misguided it is that one of the least accountable industries in the United States involves enterprises selling products that kill people.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 7, 2015

October 14, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Manufacturers, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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