Friday, May 23, 2014

Utah Man Facing Hate Crime Charges Says Threatening Black Child Was ‘Just My Opinion’

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

A Utah man is now facing federal hate crime charges for threatening to kill a black child of a neighboring Caucasian couple. Robert Keller, a 70-year-old resident of Hurricane, wrote to the family to say he would kill the boy if the child remained in his neighborhood.

Keller told KUTV that he didn’t mean anything by it, “All I wanted to do was open their eyes.” “To me, it’s not a threat, it’s my opinion, which I should be allowed to,” he said, trailing off, before concluding with, “Of course, I wrote it down, which was a mistake.”

What Keller wrote down, in a letter to the family last December, was a direct threat. His hate-filled letter – which concluded with “Get this nigger out!” – explicitly warned the parents that he would kill either the boy or the parents if they did not remove him from the neighborhood.

By Keller’s own description the letter read, “If it was my daughter – I think I wrote that I’d slice his throat or something like that.”

Keller told KUTV that he was inspired to write the letter out of fear that the boy might try to date white girls. “I just said, ‘What’s gonna happen later on down the road, when this black kid starts chasing these girls? Which I’ve seen,” he said. “That’s what set me off. I saw him walking down the street with a white gal.”

The property manager at the neighborhood where both Keller and the family live was shocked when she read the letter. Tenille Ewing told reporters that the letter “made threats against life,” adding: “It hit home, because it’s my ethnic background.” “It was very shocking to me that people still have that much hate, nowadays,” she said.

Keller was originally charged with interfering with a right to fair housing, a federal offense, in December. But the Department of Justice recently expanded the case to include federal hate crime charges: The first count alleges that  Keller’s threats interfered with the housing rights of the Caucasian residents to associate in their home with their African-American family member, and the second count alleges that Keller’s threats interfered with the African-American resident’s right to occupy the home.

According to the DOJ, Keller faces “a statutory maximum penalty of one year in prison on each count” if convicted.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gun Owners of America: USDA Buying Guns, Armor to Prepare for ‘Confrontation with American Citizens,’ Dictatorship

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

There have been a number of conspiracy theories in recent years about ammunition shortages. More often than not, these theories lay the blame for the low ammo supplies at the feet of, you guessed it, President Obama.

Now a spokesman for Gun Owners of America (GOA), a far-right gun lobby organization, has a new twist on these theories: The government, notably the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is buying up ammunition in preparation for a “confrontation with American citizens,” the next step in establishing an Obama dictatorship.

“We suspect that the federal government is anticipating and preparing for confrontation with American citizens,” Mike Hammond, GOA’s legislative counsel, told the American Family Association website OneNewsNow. Hammond then wondered aloud “if President Obama is preparing for a dictatorship.”

“What are the characteristics of a dictatorship?” Hammond said. “An individual who is bound not by the law, but by his own desires and his own goals. And that may be where we are now.”

According to OneNewsNow, Hammond wondered “if the USDA closely watched the Cliven Bundy confrontation in Nevada” and questioned ammo purchases by the U.S. Postal Service and the Social Security Administration (both of which employ investigators and special agents who work with law enforcement agencies to fight theft and fraud).

Hammond also falsely claimed that “the Obama administration is making it increasingly difficult for American citizens to obtain ammunition,” a claim that was recently discussed at length by conspiracist website Newsmax – in an article featuring GOA.

“There is no doubt that the president’s anti-gun agenda has driven the sale of guns and ammunition through the roof,” Erich Pratt, spokesman for Gun Owners of America, told Newsmax. “President Barack Obama can truly be known as the gun salesman of the decade.”

Indeed, increased sales of both guns and ammunition have been closely associated with Obama’s election in 2008 – though not, from the evidence, due to any action on the part of the president, who generally avoided discussion of gun violence issues prior to the horrific massacre of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in December 2012.

Instead, the National Rifle Association and other gun-lobby groups, abetted by right-wing pundits such as Glenn Beck, began claiming even before Obama became president that he intended to take their guns away. That immediately resulted in a huge spike in sales of both weapons and ammunition.

This trend only intensified after Obama won and continued through his 2012 re-election campaign and beyond.

Theories that the ongoing shortage of ammunition are a product of a nefarious Obama plot continue to persist, with one gun website recently theorizing that “the long term ammo shortage crisis is due to a well-executed ‘secret’ plan by the Obama administration to control the ammo markets through federal agency purchases and other covert measures.”

The NRA itself recently knocked down these theories, explaining in the pages of American Rifleman that everyday gun owners themselves are the main driver behind increases in prices and limited supplies. The NRA reported that ammo sales excise taxes received by the federal government roughly tripled in size between 2000 and 2012, while the dollar value of ammo sales increased nearly 100 percent between 2007 and 2012.

What that meant, the NRA explained, was that ammo sales “started to climb fast as gun sales began surging” as early as 2008, when fears about a possible Obama presidency began circulating.

As the Spokane Spokesman-Review recently explained, “Increased sales triggered even more demand as shooters stockpiled as much ammunition as they could get their hands on.” It also noted that the ammo sales frenzy is linked to record levels of firearms sales in recent years.

In other words, fears over a fictitious, Obama-led gun confiscation sparked a run on guns and ammo. The subsequent shortages led to further buying frenzies each time new supplies became available, leading once again to shortages that fueled more fears and more demand. It’s a vicious cycle that has served the interests of far-right gun groups while lining the pockets of gun manufacturers.

You can rest assured that GOA, in particular, won’t let the facts get in the way of this conspiracy

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Anti-Semitism Illustrated: David Duke Working on New ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

White supremacist David Duke has a new book coming out, of sorts – a repackaged and “illustrated” version of the notorious anti-Semitic hoax, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” But unlike previous editions of the text – all of which attempted to claim that the book was a genuine transcript of a gathering of wealthy Jews who conspired to bring about the enslavement of Western civilization – Duke is taking a different tack.

“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Duke now claims, is in fact a work of fiction – which means, he says, that the hoax issue is moot. Instead, as he explains in his promotional video for the book, the text is like all “great literature” – a work of art whose value lies in the greater truths it supposedly reveals about the world.
Duke argues on his website that “it is actually irrelevant if the original Protocols were written by Czarist agents or not”:

In fact, as I point out, they are in reality a highly predictive work of ‘fiction’—much like George Orwell’s ‘1984’, or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. Although the characters and storyline in both those works are ‘fiction’, the idea which underlay both those books was most certainly fact. Thus, they were works of ‘fiction’—just like the Protocols of Zion.

To illustrate his point, Duke includes film footage from the 1968 film version of “Romeo and Juliet” – because Shakespeare, he claims, may have lifted the story from somewhere else – as well as “The Wizard of Oz” (complete with President Obama’s face taking the place of the wizard) and “1984”, to which Duke repeatedly compares “Protocols.”

“It is a historical literary creation of political and social importance. It is a brilliant work of dystopian literature – as important as Orwell’s ‘1984’,” Duke says in the video. “So, call it a forgery, a fabrication, a fantasy, if you like. I won’t argue with you, as long as you dare to read it – along with my historical and contemporary evidence that illustrates its major assertions.”

Duke says that “Protocols” only prove thats “truth is stranger than fiction!” He then proceeds to run through a list of anti-Semitic, conspiracist claims that undergird his worldview.

There is nothing in “Protocols” that would particularly distinguish it as “literature,” at least by any academic standards: There is no great writing, no great storytelling, no poetic phrasing, no great philosophical insight. It simply recounts – in tedious fashion – a fictitious meeting in a graveyard among a cabal of wealthy Jews who lay out the principles of their plan to enslave mankind and control the world.

The text is a well-known hoax that purports to be a glorified transcript from a real meeting. Early editions claimed that the document was read aloud in Basel, Switzerland, at the First Zionist Congress in 1897. All previous attempts at marketing the book have pretended that it is the record of a real meeting.

Its origins were as a piece of political propaganda aimed at smearing Jews on behalf of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II shortly after the turn of the century. It then found its way to America, where it was avidly promoted by industrialist Henry Ford in the 1920s under the title The International Jew. It was even more notoriously adopted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany as an uber-text that eventually fueled the Holocaust.

Duke touts the appearance of a Ford essay on behalf of “Protocols” in his new edition of the book, but neglects to mention that Ford eventually repudiated those views, at least publicly.

Duke apparently needs some help publishing the book. At the end of the video, he encourages supporters to give him $100 (or more) today, and in return, they’ll get a nice signed and numbered copy when they’re finally printed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

South Carolina Klansman Plans a National Rally, but the Invitation List Is Short

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

The leader of a South Carolina Ku Klux Klan organization has announced plans for what he’s billing as a “national” gathering of fellow Klansmen, dubbed “KKK Jam,” at his group’s headquarters in Abbeville this July. However, the invitation list is decidedly short.

Chuck Murray, whose home near Abbeville serves as the national headquarters of his group – the New Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – explained to a reporter for WHNS-TV in Greenville that only members of the New Empire Knights would be permitted at “KKK Jam,” scheduled for July 25-27:

This event is only open for members, family members and Klansmen being Knighted. I run a very secretive Klan. The media, like you, enjoys exposing people. I have school teachers, doctors and law enforcement as members. While America by law, grants people personal freedoms, I have seen people in the past harassed by Zionist groups such as the ADL and SPLC. I’ve seen people fired for expressing their freedoms of speech and religion. I do everything I can to grant my members their safety.

Murray explained: “This event is our first official National Meeting. We Knight new members who have reached Knighthood and promote Knights to higher ranks who have worked hard for us.”

And Murray was careful to distinguish his “Knights” from other Klan groups, noting that the Imperial Klans of America and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan each have their own annual gatherings in other locales. He even requested that the reporter only use photos of his particular sect so as not to risk being associated with some lesser Klan group:

I only ask that if you show pictures from the Klan, use pictures that I send you. There are currently between 30-45 Klan groups in the United States today. I do not want a story done which shows some random Klan group. That group could be a false Klan made up of criminals, drug addicts and drunks. I will gladly send you another email along with pictures of our previous Klan events.
Murray wrote that his New Empire Knights outfit was rather new, having formed only in February of 2013: “There have been numerous Klan groups since 1948. I had ‘retired’ from the Klan in late 2010 or so. I had a meeting with some fellow Klan friends in late 2012. They voted me in as Imperial Wizard (National Leader) and the New Empire Knights was born.”

Their motives: “Like me, others were sick of these fake Klan groups made up of skinheads, jobless slobs and criminals,” Murray wrote. “We wanted a real Klan group made up of white Christians.”

He explained his background in more detail to a reporter from the Greenwood Index-Journal:

I had been in a few smaller Klans during the 1980’s. In around 1993, I do believe, I joined the Konfederation of Klans (KOK). The group disbanded after about two years and I followed Ron Edwards into the Imperial Klans of America, where I served as Grand Dragon (state leader of South Carolina). A few states split from Ron and formed the Brotherhood of Klans (BOK), which became the largest Klan group in 2008. Dale Fox, the Imperial Wizard passed away suddenly of a heart attack and the BOK was never the same. I took a couple of years off from the Klan. A friend called me and asked me to attend a few meetings in Georgia in early 2013. I did. Next thing I know, I was voted in as the Imperial Wizard of the New Empire Knights.

Murray told WHNS-TV that he had been motivated to join the Klan by his experience in the Army, where he says he served two years:

I saw minorities, mainly blacks at the time, being promoted through the ranks with lower test scores than whites. Of course even today, this still happens. I noticed the downfall in our school system, once safe white neighborhoods turning into dangerous nonwhite gang warzones and the rights of Christians (white Christians) were being taken away.
Like most people, I saw that something in this nation was not right. It seemed the Klan was one of the very few groups out there speaking up for White Americans.

He scoffed at neighbors’ concerns in Abbeville about a national Klan gathering: “What are people concerned about? The event is held on private property and my members have done nothing to harass or scare these people.”

In his interview with the Index-Journal, Murray touted his organization’s ostensible charity work, including a scheduled June 21 food drive in Kinsport, Tenn., at which all races will supposedly be welcome:

We have done several events like the one you mentioned. My Georgia guys have done the most. They did one a few months back in Newnan. A few blacks showed up. At first they were being very vocal of their dislike toward us. After talking to them and offering them free food, many of them were surprised at our kindness. We showed them pictures of the Klan during the 1920s and even during the 1950s doing charity and helping blacks, something you never see on TV or in books. We educated them about their ignorance of the Klan.

He explained further:

During Christmas time, I personally donated several boxes of clothes to the needy. My guys in Georgia have done several food drives. My guys in Indiana just recently sent $100 to a black family whose children were killed in a house fire started by white thugs. You never see the ADL or SPLC print those stories, do you?

Murray, at his own website, seemed to find the attention over his “KKK Jam” plans a little disconcerting:

Apparently the media in South Carolina has very little to do. They are making a big deal about a Klan event held on private property. I am not even sure why this is making headlines. When did people’s personal freedoms become major news stories? I have been amazed at the media coverage of our event.

And he explained why he chose to be so selective in his invitations: “People seem to think we believe we are better than others or too good for others. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he wrote.

It’s not snobbery, Murray says, but security: “Keeping a secretive membership is what keeps us safe. I also don’t want to be guilty by association. This happens a lot in the white nationalist movement. Keeping to yourself is the smartest thing any pro-white organization can do.”

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Why Progressives Have Botched the Fight Over Common Core

[Above: An anti-Common Core video from those friends of progressives, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.]

I've been forced to conclude that the people leading the progressive side of the fight against the new Common Core educational standards are dishonest and disingenuous -- either that, or they are incredibly naive politically, and are incapable of coming to terms with the reality of their situation.

Because what they have been doing is, frankly, standing back and letting far-right extremists and corporate-education supporters hijack their issue, naively believing that sharing the goal of derailing CCSS was good enough, and failing to realize that they were aligning themselves with the very people dedicated to the destruction of progressive politics across a broad swath of issues, including education.

Instead of denouncing these elements and their falsehoods, their conspiracy theories, their fearmongering and their hatemongering – all of which are elements of the far right’s campaign against CCSS – these supposed progressives have soft-pedaled their presence, referring to them as the “Tea Party” element (when in fact these folks are much more radical than that) and suggesting that, well at least the right-wing folks have demonstrated that CCSS can be stopped.

Well, yeah, it can be stopped, if you’re willing to lie, and fearmonger, and hatemonger, and cast the entire proceedings as a product of a nefarious New World Order conspiracy. If that’s your template for success, please count me out.

I mean, come on, folks. You really need to stop and assess what you’re doing when the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity – one of the leading proponents of corporate education – avidly joins your side and attacks your opponents. But instead of giving progressives pause, all we hear are excuses.

I was forced to finally reach this conclusion by education reformer Diane Ravitch’s recent post attacking the Southern Poverty Law Center for its devastating study exposing the far right’s involvement in the CCSS debate.

Ravitch, rather than explaining that progressives wish to have nothing to do with John Birch Society paranoia, instead wishy-washes the situation: “I think there are plenty of well meaning people on different sides of the Common Core issue,” she writes. “It serves no useful purpose to divide people into good guys and bad guys.”

The naivete this reveals is astonishing. Really, Ms. Ravitch? You think that people who proclaim that "Common Core will turn every one of your children gay" are well-meaning? You think they are contributing usefully to this dialogue? Do you think we ought to be paying attention and thoughtfully heeding such arguments as part of our democratic process? Or should we, perhaps, be alarmed that such hatefulness and fearmongering is polluting what should be a rational debate? -- That being the point, of course, of the SPLC's study.

Then Ravitch goes on to proclaim high-mindedly that “our national discussion should deal with consequential issues, such as the quality of the standards, whether they are appropriate for students of different age groups, and how they are likely to narrow or increase these gaps among different student groups.”

Gee, that would be great. Now if only the people on the far right’s side of the debate would actually heed that advice, because the entirety of their campaign against CCSS has focused on all the non-issues that Ravitch thinks are a distraction.

And then she attacks the SPLC for pointing all of this out, calling their study “one sided”. She writes:
Unfortunately, SPLC chose to paint opposition to the CC as Tea Party and/or rightwing extremists who want to destroy public education. This is odd indeed because the critics and supporters of CC are strange bedfellows.

Either Ravitch cannot read, or she is dishonest. Because the study in fact goes to considerable pains to make clear that the opposition to CCSS is broad based. Here’s exactly what it says:
To be sure, education experts of all political stripes have raised important questions about the Common Core. Are the standards too rigorous? Are they rigorous enough? Should children and teachers be evaluated on standardized testing? Has there been ample time for implementation and teacher training? These and other issues should be the focus of robust debate—one rooted in the facts.
Unfortunately, the issues are being obscured by a cloud of overheated hyperbole, misinformation and far-right propaganda.

Legitimate issues obscured
To be sure, criticism of the Common Core—which is backed by the Obama administration and funded, in part, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—is coming from all points on the political spectrum and from some leading education experts. Critics have raised important issues that should be thoroughly debated, such as: whether the standards were adequately tested; whether we can have great education that isn’t simply “teaching to the test”; whether there has been ample time for implementation and teacher training; and, significantly, whether it’s wise to evaluate teachers on the results of Common Core-aligned tests.

But these and other issues are being obscured by a cloud of fear-mongering propaganda and extremist hyperbole. The attacks from the far right stand apart from the legitimate criticism because of their incendiary language, their apocalyptic warnings, and their reliance on distortions, outright falsehoods and antigovernment conspiracy theories.

Current debates
Many of the legitimate debates surrounding the Common Core focus on concerns that have been central to education reform discussions since the 1980s. It is unclear whether the fringe elements of the radical right are ignorant of this history or whether they are deliberately distorting the facts. What is clear is that the unfounded and paranoid rhetoric surrounding the standards distracts from the important debates that are happening among highly informed scholars, state officeholders, policymakers, educators, and families across America. The following are a sampling of some of the valid Common Core-related concerns under debate:

• Education historian and researcher Diane Ravitch has asserted that the Common Core was not developed according to the principles established by the American National Standards Institute. Ravitch says her reason for opposing the standards is not the content but rather concerns about the transparency of the development process and the exclusion of informed, concerned interests such as early childhood educators and special education experts.

• Some critics see the Gates Foundation’s support as overwhelmingly disproportionate. The fact that the foundation not only funded—directly and indirectly—such a large percentage of the development of the standards but also the validation and some implementation measures has raised concerns about the ethics and desirability of a single private entity being able to influence a public initiative of the Common Core’s scope.

• Some educators oppose the Common Core out of concerns that the standards depart from best practices for teaching and supporting culturally diverse youth. One such critique refers to the reduced emphasis on student reflection and experience in the writing standards. Others point to the lack of diversity in exemplar texts.

• Many teachers and administrators find the implementation timeline of the Common Core unrealistic, noting that the rigor of the standards has bumped the bar so high that it will take years to actually reach it. Meanwhile, pressure on schools to show immediate and measurable improvement makes it difficult for them to chart a slower and more deliberate path to implementation.

• While Race to the Top funding is not directly tied to Common Core adoption, it is tied to the adoption of college and career readiness standards, and more points were awarded to states that adopted the Common Core. Some critics saw the Race to the Top stipulations as federal strong-arming that allowed the Obama administration to paint state adoption as entirely voluntary when, in fact, there were potential financial consequences for opting out.

• Many progressives criticize the role that the Common Core plays in magnifying the the toxic testing culture that NCLB and its high-stakes testing made a feature of life in public schools. They note that corporate interests are served whenever testing companies have a mandated market, and that the quick implementation period is, in fact, feeding these interests by creating an urgent need for implementation materials.

I still believe these are significant issues that need to be addressed. But guess what? Once the far right has hijacked the opposition to CCSS and dominates the opposition, and comes to represent that opposition, those issues will never be heard or debated.

Instead, we will find ourselves explaining over and over to people that no, this is not a U.N./New World Order conspiracy to brainwash your children and turn them gay.

And then progressives will wonder why no one takes them seriously.