Friday, October 02, 2015

How the Candidates, the Haters, and the Media Have Cooked Up a Perfect Storm of Islamophobia

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Donald Trump loves to portray himself as a man of the people, and so throwing the mic open to his supporters at a recent town-hall gathering in New Hampshire seemed like a natural gesture. The first questioner at the Sept. 17 Rochester Republican presidential primary event – a man who identified himself as someone “from White Plains” – gave him the kind of blunt talk that Trump himself reveres.

“We have a problem in this country,” the man said. “It's called Muslims. You know our current president is one.”

“Right,” Trump answered, an unsurprising reply given that 66 percent of his supporters believe that Obama is secretly a Muslim.

“You know he's not even an American," the man continued.

Trump gestured to the audience: "We need this question. This is the first question."

"Anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us," the man said. "That's my question: When can we get rid of them?"

"We're going to be looking at a lot of different things," Trump replied. "You know, a lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening. We're going to be looking at that and many other things." And then he moved on.

In the days that followed, Trump was questioned about his response to the man. Why hadn’t he corrected the man’s claim that Obama is Muslim? Or his claims about training camps?

Trump answered the first question – he didn’t feel “morally obligated” to defend President Obama – but ignored the remaining issues about his performance. In particular, Muslim-rights groups wanted to know why he seemed to condone the man’s rabid hatred of Muslims and his plans to “look at” rounding them up.

Then another Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson, added fuel to the fire. Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about Trump’s response, Carson told host Chuck Todd that he didn’t believe Islam is consistent with the U.S. Constitution: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” he said.

That, too, provoked an outcry, with Muslim civil-rights groups calling for Carson to "withdraw from the presidential race because he is unfit to lead, because his views are inconsistent with the United States Constitution." Indeed, Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution specifically prohibits any religious test for persons to hold office.

Moreover, many Muslim Americans saw the candidates’ rhetoric as a sign that a fresh wave of the visceral, irrational ethnic loathing of all things Muslim was about to descend upon them. And while such sentiments have been part of the American landscape since at least Sept. 11, 2001, for reasons that are not altogether discernible, it has reached a fever pitch in the past several weeks – the culmination of a perfect storm of electoral politics, conspiracy theorizing and nativist fearmongering.

Those concerns are well grounded. One incident that caught national attention involved a Muslim teenager named Ahmed Mohamad who was arrested by police in Irving, Texas, after he brought an electronic clock of his own making to school to show his teacher, who mistook it for a bomb. It soon emerged that Irving’s mayor was well-known nationally for her role as a right-wing activist against the supposed threat (in reality, nonexistent) of “Sharia law,” and the mayor indeed continued to defend her police force’s actions in arresting the teen.

Though the teen’s trauma was ameliorated somewhat by becoming a national celebrity toasted by President Obama and various tech companies for his bravery, the incident also clearly demonstrated the dangers of succumbing to ethnic fearmongering. Eventually, the conspiracists got around to Mohamad, too, claiming he had carefully planned the whole fiasco from the start and was secretly a tool of Islamist radicals.

Islamophobia has infected small-town America, too, in places ranging from Duncan, S.C., to Twin Falls, Idaho – places where longtime operations that have carefully placed refugees from around the world in jobs and new lives in America are suddenly under siege from their own neighbors. These citizens, whipped up by anti-Muslim activists and right-wing media, are deeply fearful about Muslims – notably, those from Syria – destroying their communities.

The role played by local media in fueling these flames is especially noteworthy. In Twin Falls, local talk-radio hosts turned to topics and fears of refugees “changing our culture” and “bringing a threat to the community”. One caller was especially upset about the criticism of Ben Carson:
This makes me mad, and also scared to death. We’ve got a Muslim, a Muzzie leader in this country, telling a presidential candidate that he should resign because of what he said? I mean – it is against the Constitution! They have Sharia law, we do not!
Other callers waded into the waters of bizarre conspiracy theories that had nothing to do with reality:
I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the fact that bringing all these foreigners in, especially that bunch that [Secretary of State John] Kerry is proposing to bring in, they’re going to come here, and they will eventually overpopulate. And we’re going to be conquered by the sheer numbers of those overpopulated people.
The hosts, of course, did nothing to discourage this kind of talk, but instead blandly folded it in with their own discussions.

This sort of conspiracist discourse reached its apotheosis on a national scale the day after Donald Trump’s town hall, when popular “Infowars” radio host Alex Jones hosted Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch, a onetime respected Beltway insider who in recent years has gone off the rails in claiming that President Obama is secretly a Muslim conspiring to destroy America. And indeed, that very theory was the primary subject of his interview with Jones.

The twist in this discussion was Klayman’s belief that some generals might take out the president in a coup to prevent him from turning America into a subject nation of the Caliphate, noting that most of the current chiefs of staff are “yes men” too cowardly to take such heroic action:
Maybe Obama is pushing them to the point that maybe someday will wage a coup in this country. I’m not advocating that but I know that some of these retired generals and admirals have talked about it. I know that, it’s been in the public domain, because Obama, and I’ll say it straight up because no one else is, you will, Obama is a Muslim through-and-through. Obama sympathizes with a Muslim Caliphate, Obama sympathizes with the mullahs in Tehran, he sympathizes with the radicals in the Far East.
The bulk of the interview, however, was devoted to the depths of Obama’s supposed depravity, as limned by Klayman:
Yes, he wants to bring the United States down to its knees. He admired his father, his father was Muslim. His father was thrown out of this country because he overstayed his student visa, much like many Muslims are doing these days, and others. And Obama, in his heart, has disdain. But he’s very smart, because he pulled a number over all of us. He defrauded us. I don’t believe he’s a natural-born citizen to be a president of the United States. He’s told everybody he’s a Christian, he’s not. And actions speak louder than words. And yes, I do believe in his heart, he would like to see the world run by Muslims.
Though Klayman has wandered far afield from his salad days in the 1990s when Judicial Watch was filing numerous lawsuits against the Clintons and he was a well-regarded conservative insider, he still rates the occasional puff piece for his work in the right-wing press praising his crusades. And last year, he even scored a legal victory by getting a judge to agree with his lawsuit against the National Security Administration’s data-collection program, though that suit was later dismissed.

The spread of Islamophobia into the conservative mainstream, as evidenced by the rhetoric of Republican candidates, extends well beyond Trump and Carson. As Mondoweiss recently explored, most of the GOP’s candidates have indulged in Muslim bashing of some kind or another in recent months:
  • Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor turned TV show host, has called Muslims departing mosques “uncorked animals,” and said that Islam is “a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet.”
  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has refused to back down from his groundless claim that certain areas of Europe are “no go zones” dominated by Muslims using Sharia law.
  • Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hired as his political adviser Jordan Sekulow, who has a long background of anti-Muslim activism, and is noted for calling supporters of the so-called Ground Zero mosque “terrorists.”
  • Texas Sen. Ted Cruz hired as his Tennessee campaign chair a man noted for his history of anti-Muslim activism, Kevin Kookogey.
  • Rick Santorum has himself a long history of anti-Muslim comments, including a speech at the 2014 Values Voters Summit in which he claimed that “the West” was in an existential fight with the forces of “radical Islam,” noting that “you don’t have Baptist ministers going on jihad.” Santorum has also endorsed profiling Muslims in security and law enforcement work.
But Trump in particular, due to his current front runner status in the race, has been a catalyst for some of the most overheated Muslim-bashing. This week, he demonstrated how the fires of bigotry can just keep escalating.

Though he had told Bill O’Reilly on Fox News only a few weeks before that, in his view, there ought to be even more room for refugees from the Syrian crisis, on Wednesday, he abruptly changed his mind.
I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria, as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they’re going back – they’re going back! I’m telling you – they’re going back!
This was met with wide applause from audience. And then Trump explained his rationale, which appeared to come straight out of an Alex Jones radio show:
Because military tactics, you know, are very interesting. This could be one of the great tactical ploys of all time – a 200,000-man army, maybe! Or if you sent 50,000, or 80,000, or 100,000 – we got problems! And that could be possible! I don’t know that it is. But it could be possible. So they’re going back. They’re going back. I’m telling you. So if they come, that’s great. And if I lose, I guess they stay. But if I win, they’re going back. A lot of people will say, oh, that’s not nice. We can’t afford to be nice! We’re taking care of the whole world, we’re losing our shirts on everything we do! Everything we do!
And the flames just keep rising higher.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Idaho Town Divided By Fears Over Refugees, 'Sharia Law'

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Zeze Rwasama, the director of College of Southern (CSI) Idaho’s refugee relocation center, has to shake his head at the firestorm that has erupted over his program in the farming town of Twin Falls, Idaho.

“These people, they are working from false information,” he says ruefully. “All we can do is tell people the facts and hope they listen.”

For more than 30 years, CSI has hosted a refugee relocation center tucked away on its Twin Falls campus, lending a hand to people from around the world uprooted by political violence and other upheavals. And for most of those years, it has gone about its work quietly, placing the refugees in jobs and living arrangements and helping them get educations and, often, become American citizens, with little controversy.

So it came as something of a shock to the people running the center this summer when a group of far-right local citizens – fueled by paranoid fears of the looming imposition of “Sharia law” and the spread of ISIS-affiliated terrorism – began organizing against its operations, demanding that the college divest itself of the program and petitioning the governor of Idaho to cease all refugee-relocation programs in the state.

The group, organized as the Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center, began showing up at CSI board meetings in June to demand the center be closed, spurred by the announcement in April that refugees from Syria would soon be among those being processed by the center.

Rick Martin
"Bringing in Syrians, who are predominantly of Muslim background, may be opening the door to terrorists pretending to be refugees," said Rick Martin, a conservative political activist from the nearby town of Buhl, who heads up the committee.

"We're not against legitimate refugees. They need to be treated with dignity and respect. But it would be easy for someone to lie about their background," he added.

The group tried in August to put a measure on the Twin Falls County spring ballot to have the center banned from the CSI campus, but the county attorney declined to allow it, saying it was blatantly unconstitutional. The group last week filed a second petition, claiming its new language resolved the problems, but the county attorney again indicated that it would have problems clearing the legal hurdles.

The committee has remained undaunted, opening an online petition pleading with the CSI board to shut down the program. The petition claims that elsewhere, “refugee resettlement has resulted in a pattern of horrific sex crimes,” and that in Boise, it “has resulted in an increase in terrorist activity,” while “every dollar spent assimilating a single extended family of refugees is a dollar that could be spent making their home country more livable for all their countrymen.”

Another petition, directed at Gov. Butch Otter, garnered over 200 signatures at, urging that all refugee programs in the state be shut down: “If this reverse colonization of our country continues, there won't be a future for American Families,” it stated.

Petition signers made clear their thinking: “To hell with the humanitarian effort. We are at war with these people,” said one. “These refugees are a threat to my family, my way of life, and my country,” wrote another.

The issue has received considerable play on local right-wing radio talk shows, where the notion of Sharia law being imposed in America was described as a concrete reality, rather than the misinformation-driven fantasy that it is.

Martin and his committee also put together a website, Magic Valley Refugee Watch, that provides links to a number of articles and videos denouncing refugee resettlement, particularly for people fleeing the war in Syria.

The top link on the page directs readers to a video featuring anti-Muslim zealot Ann Corcoran, who explains that these refugees include would-be terrorists and “Islamic supremacists.” Corcoran, a Maryland activist has solidified her relationships with some of the major anti-Muslim groups in the country over the past year as they have increased their anti-refugee activism. She has been courted by Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy  “think tank” and Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT! for America, the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in the country. Corcoran’s Refugee Resettlement Watch blog has highlighted Rick Martin’s anti-refugee efforts in Idaho as part of her push to mobilize what she calls “pockets of resistance” against refugee resettlement nationwide.

Another link directs readers to an extended screed against the CSI program, claiming that “ISIS terrorists have indicated they will use the refugee program to bring in their Jihadists” and that their medical screening is inadequate: “Many diseases including drug resistant tuberculosis, leprosy and other diseases have been brought in with legal immigration & illegal aliens,” it says.

At CSI trustee meetings, the activists have been similarly outspoken. One claimed that Muslims have stated a goal of ruling the world and killing those who don’t subscribe to Islam.

“Like oil and water, U.S. culture and the Mohammedan mindset do not mix. The machetes, pressure-cooker bombs, ‘honor’ killings and 747s that have killed so many Americans should remind us of this unfortunate fact,” opined a letter writer to the local Times-News. “Let’s not fund our own demise by importing even one person who means to destroy us.”

Right-wing commentary in Idaho has been even more openly extreme. At The Voice of Idaho, one writer opined: “By this point, anybody who doesn’t recognize that our country is being invaded in a mass migration facilitated by Communist United Nations operatives – and that includes the Obamanation is either willfully ignorant or invincibly stupid.  Either way, it’s time to get serious and recognize it for what it is because they are endangering our families, our way of life, and our country.”

A white nationalist organization, the American Freedom Party – which recently began increasing its visibility and presence in the Pacific Northwest – inserted itself into the discussion by phoning out a prerecorded message to Idahoans urging them to voice their outrage over the “thousands of Muslim refugees headed to Idaho.” The message went on to inform that the “non-white invasion of their state and all white areas constitutes white genocide.”

AFP chairman William Johnson was unrepentant about the blanket nature of the robocall, which left many of its recipients irate. “Some people don’t like it, well that’s too bad,” Johnson told the Idaho Statesman. "We don’t like the direction this country’s taken. They can sit through a 45-second harangue by our party telling them why the white race is dying out.”

Along with the ugly rhetoric, there has been some ugly behavior directed at Muslims in the program since the group began organizing. Leo Morales, director of the Idaho chapter of the ACLU, told Hatewatch that in at least one case, a woman wearing a headscarf was harassed at the store where she worked as a clerk by people demanding to know if she was Muslim.

“They started in with the ugly stuff: ‘You don’t belong in my country, you need to leave my country.’ And then also finished with, ‘I am gonna come back next week, and if you’re still here, things are gonna be … different,’” Morales said. “So the young girl was scared, really scared. And she eventually shared this with her teacher.”

Other young people have been harassed as well. A teacher at a local school where some of the refugees attend class told activist Deborah Silver that one day, a pickup truck with a large Confederate flag hanging off the back showed up one day as school was letting out, “and there was some concern there. So they did remove the kids from the road and notify the police that someone was hanging around there. I’ve also heard reports from a couple of teachers at CSI that a couple of the Muslim girls, wearing headscarves, were approached on their way to school.”

Even more unsettling, a group of Boise-area militiamen who call themselves the “Idaho III Percent” have begun showing up at some of the CSI board meetings to register their displeasure with the program. The group, headed by Boise resident Brandon Curtiss, has posted attacks on the refugee program on its Facebook page, while Curtiss is also listed as a member of Martin’s committee.

As Morales noted, “that sort of environment is one that’s very traumatizing for the refugee community.”

Contributing to the turmoil has been the arrival of a noted anti-Muslim activist, Shahram Hadian, currently the pastor of a Christian church in northern Idaho, and known for labeling all of Islam “demonic.” Hadian made headlines last year by playing a key role in a fight in the Idaho Legislature over funding for child-support enforcement services.  In the Magic Valley, he jumped into the debate over the refugee center by demanding that it be closed.

"The refugee program needs to be halted. So what I said was immigration, lawful immigration needs to be limited, particularly from Muslim countries," Hadian said.

Rwasama observed that nearly all of the fearmongering has been based on false information and distorted perceptions. It’s very difficult to even achieve refugee status, and the people who arrive in Twin Falls have all been carefully screened, he said.

“The refugees who are being resettled are less than 1 percent of all the refugees that are out there on the planet,” Rwasama told Hatewatch. “So if you only going to be helping less than 1 percent, then you are definitely going to be selective – very, very selective – about who gets in.”

There has been pushback against the fearmongering. Silver, a longtime Twin Falls resident and local accountant, formed her own organization, Magic Valley Refugee Advocates, in response to the agitation. “I just knew from experience what the center did and how they went about it, and I knew that what these people were saying was wrong,” she said.

“The thing is, most of the people who know about the refugee center support what it does,” Silver said. “The businesses do; our unemployment rate is under 4 percent, so our philosophy is, you put them right to work right away with a job here. And so the businesses are very supportive.”

One of the more interesting expressions of support has come from a local evangelical Christian named Jennifer Thornquest, who has taken to standing out on the Perrine Bridge – the huge span across the Snake River Canyon that welcomes visitors to Twin Falls – with a sign showing her support for the refugees.

“I wanted something tangible to do to help the people in Syria,” Thornquest said, adding that it gets “very lonely” out there. On her blog, she has described some of the ugliness that is directed her way from passing drivers, while at other times the shows of support she receives can be uplifting.

“The vast majority of people in the Magic Valley area are very supportive of what we are doing,” Rwasama said. “What’s happening is that with technology now, one person can multiply one voice into hundreds. They are very committed to spending more time to broadcast their opinions, but they are just a minority.

“We’ve actually seen an increase in the number of people who are coming to volunteer here, and people making donations as well. This has raised awareness in the community, and now people are coming out and supporting us.”

Still, as Silver noted, the volume of noise from the Islamophobic contingent has been overwhelming: “They’re calling all these elected officials – the mayor, the trustees, the city council – and they’re getting a ton of these calls,” she said.

“They’re getting traction, and that’s what’s scaring me,” Silver said, on the eve of a community forum on the subject sponsored by the Times-News. “I’m working on community involvement, and we are reaching out to faith leaders in the area. And we’re getting a very good response with that. But there’s so much chatter going on, it’s making the atmosphere very crazy.”

Silver observed that the noise being made by the extremists is distorting the shape of the discourse. “These kinds of characters are going to scare away normal people, and so only their crowd is going to show up, and pretty soon that’s who we’re electing, because nobody else wants to talk to them,” she said.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Conspiracists Accuse Alex Jones of Being a ‘Zionist Shill’ After Infowars Takes Down David Duke Debate Video

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Alex Jones appears to regret having brought David Duke onto his program late last month for an extended interview.

An uproar among white nationalists immediately followed the interview, with one extremist after another proclaiming it proof that Jones, the popular conspiracist radio host who operates InfoWars, was working secretly on behalf of Jewish interests. The chorus of disapproval from Jones’ sector of the right-wing paranoid universe became so loud that Jones eventually took down the two-hour video from his own website (though others promptly put up copies of it), and deleted most references to it on his site, including comments from his fans.

In the meantime, the argument on the far right about Jones’ ostensible Jewish ties has continued apace.

It all began in mid-August when Jones issued a challenge to Duke, the longtime Klan and neo-Nazi leader, to appear on the air with him and debate him, in part because he and his staff had found instances in which Duke was found criticizing Jones, notably over Jones’ fondness for conspiracy theories about FEMA concentration camps.

“And then he goes into: ‘Alex Jones wants to scare you from being politically involved, and tell you you can be put in prison if you fight back.’ No, I said you’ll be put in prison, or enslaved or impoverished if you don’t fight back,” Jones complained.

“I’m gonna give Duke a chance to even play clips on this show, to show me where I said this and that, but don’t sit there and say something if you don’t have the meat and potatoes,” Jones said.

So three days later, Duke appeared on Jones’ radio show and remained for a full-two-hour interview.

For most of the first half of the affair, Jones and Duke appeared to be largely in agreement in their paranoid view of a New World Order-dominated America. But things started to drift apart when Duke became increasingly insistent on blaming the entire conspiracy on “Jewish supremacists” who he claims are engaging in a race war against whites, and who he said control the nation’s banks, its political officials, and its media.

“All right,” Jones said, “I’ve never had anybody Jewish try to stop me from covering the things I do, going over the things I do.”

Then he brought on his producer, Rob Jacobson, a Jewish man who was sitting in the studio. Jacboson began peppering Duke with questions about the logic and veracity of a number of his claims, pointing out that only one of the participants in the notorious Jekyll Island meeting of 1910 (a centerpiece of many New World Order conspiracy theories) was Jewish.

At that point, Duke became shrill and defensive, and even more loudly insistent in describing the nefarious results of various Jewish conspiracies. He and Jones swapped complaints about how much time he was being allowed to speak, which became a secondary focus of their debate. Duke complained that Jacobson – who kept interjecting with counterfactual material – was cutting him off. And after two hours, the interview ended on a sour and inconclusive note as Jones offered to bring Duke back yet again.

However, that does not appear likely now. Jones’ video of the interview was swamped with comments from Duke fans attacking Jones and Jacobson for having had the temerity to challenge Duke’s assertions about Jews, claiming that the two radio hosts had now proven that they were in the pocket of Jewish interests. Shortly afterward, Jones removed it from his YouTube page.

But the controversy only appeared to step up at that point, at least among the denizens of the conspiracist universe. On YouTube,  in addition to copies of the original debate, videos headlined “Alex Jones Exposed as Zionist Shill by David Duke” and  “Zionist Alex Jones Attempts to Bully Anti-Zionist David Duke” began appearing.

At the Conspiracy Outpost – a message board where people trade a variety of far-right theories – there was much discussion of Jones’ Jewish ex-wife. One commenter argued that “it is easy to observe that he was controlled by outside forces and possibly did this to Duke as a last ditch effort to save his life. He lost. BIG TIME.”

There was even criticism at the InfoWars community, where one diarist posted that Jones had “disappointed many of his loyal fans”: “Alex Jones must know that although he has done so much good for us in the fight for our liberty, he is failing on the most important topic of our times: Global Zionism.”

But the harshest criticism came from the neo-Nazi right. At The Daily Stormer, editor Andrew Anglin slammed Jones for taking down the video, noting that the comments on Jones’ own websites were running strongly in favor of Duke, even on threads not devoted to the debate: “The comments are all over his YouTube page, all over People are spamming his Twitter and that of [contributor] Paul Joseph Watson.”

Another Daily Stormer contributor, Lee Rogers, then composed an essay titled “Alex ‘Jew Wife’ Jones: The Looming Death of a Corrupt Dick Juice Driven Disinformation Empire,” which concluded: “Either way, unless his operations are further subsidized by Jewish financing, I do not see how he can sustain them for much longer in light of what has happened.  I believe we are truly seeing the looming death of Alex Jones and his empire of disinformation.”

At the white nationalist Traditional Youth Network website, the headline read: "David Duke defeats Alex Jones: We Are Destined to Win." The piece credits The Daily Stormer with provoking the debate, adding: "Had it not been for Daily Stormer’s activism, Jones’ listeners would have carried on assuming that Duke is a hateful and ignorant fool who wants to genocide black babies, but truth prevailed."

Duke himself reveled in the fresh shot of attention. At his site, he posted a couple of videos ruminating on the “victory” in the debate, and issued a statement: “I don’t want to go on the warpath with Alex Jones,” Duke said. “But, I am shocked that this great debate that he promoted on his show, has suddenly disappeared from his website and channel. …. He should not [be] trying to send it down the memory hole and hide from his listeners."

Duke, in the meantime, managed to keep up his penchant for making headlines: In Baton Rouge, he was ejected from a meeting of the United Daughters of the Confederacy at a hotel on the campus of Louisiana State University. According to news accounts, he was asked to leave the gathering after getting into an argument with someone about the Black Lives Matter movement. He claimed he had been invited to speak, but meeting organizers denied that.

And back at Jones’ site, the only trace of the great Duke-Jones debate that remains is the video of Jones’ challenge to Duke beforehand.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Oath Keepers Head to Kentucky to Repeat Bundy Ranch Tactics in Kim Davis Dispute

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Threatening to turn the media circus surrounding Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis’ ongoing fight with federal courts over her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples into something akin to the Bundy Ranch scene, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes on Wednesday announced that he would be sending his troops to the scene in Grayson, Ky., to protect Davis from being arrested again by federal marshals.

“We have had boots on the ground there since last week and will continue to have a presence,” an announcement at the Oath Keepers website said. It noted that Rhodes had “reached out personally to Davis’s legal counsel to offer protection to Kim, to ensure that she will not be illegally detained again. We would like to stress in the strongest terms possible that we are doing this not because of her views on gay marriage, but because she is an elected public servant who has been illegally arrested and held without due process.”

Davis was arrested last week for refusing to obey a federal court order and detained on contempt-of-court charges. Judge David Bunning, who had ordered the arrest, released her early this week, but required her to drop her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses in doing so.

However, Davis – who is scheduled to return to work on Monday – has subsequently insisted she will not issue such licenses. So a second arrest may well be imminent.

The Oath Keepers are hardly the only far-right extremists who have shown up to participate in the circus that has developed outside the Rowan County Courthouse in the past week. Renowned white supremacist Michael Peroutka showed up over the weekend and offered a speech in support of Davis at a rally outside the jail where she was being held. So did Matt Heimbach, leader of the white-nationalist Traditionalist Youth Network.

Rhodes on Wednesday broadcast a conversation he had with his “boots on the ground” in Kentucky – notably, a “constitutionalist” sheriff named Denny Peyman from Jackson County, KY.

Peyman told Rhodes: “I think that it’s important that our presence be known there, because it’s not an issue of marriage, it’s not an issue of a lot of things they are trying to make the issue. The issue is still that a judge took an elected official, a citizen of the United States, and detained them without cause, without paperwork, and without due process. That is the situation.”

Rhodes noted that the Oath Keepers originally headed to Kentucky to participate in a protest outside the home of Judge Bunning, but now were reconfiguring their plans to head to Grayson and provide a security detail for Davis.

Peyman sounded a threatening note in Bunning’s direction: “I think the judge still needs to know that he’s not out of the woods just because they let her out. He’s still going to be held accountable.”

Rhodes instructed Peyman and company to offer Davis’ team the Oath Keepers’ protection. “Offer her – if she wants  a close protection team, we will provide it,” he said. “But regardless, people should consider her under our protection. We’ll make sure that our people are keeping a close eye on the situation and we’re gonna have boots on the ground and mount a watch, regardless. We need this judge to understand that he’s not gonna be able to just go grab this lady whenever he feels like it.”

The Oath Keepers – a “Patriot” organization fueled by conspiracy theories about an imminent federal dictatorship – played a central role in turning the Bundy Ranch standoff with federal authorities into a near-shootout in April 2015, and have subsequently ordered their members into various “calls to arms” in Oregon and Montana, where they brought guns to the scene of what were essentially paper disputes over mining rights.

The Oath Keepers also have had a presence in Ferguson, Mo., during the upheaval of recent rioting and protests over police handling of black suspects. And they have also offered their “protection” to the nation’s military-recruitment centers with vigilante armed patrols outside them.

UPDATE: Kim Davis's legal team declined the Oath Keepers' offer to protect her against arrest, according to a post dated September 11 on the Oath Keepers website.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dispatch From Lincoln: ‘Patriots’ Lost in the Haze at Contested Montana Mine Site

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

The dense haze that hung over Lincoln, Mont., last week was a perfect physical metaphor for the status of the antigovernment extremists who recently descended upon the town.

But in yet another pseudo-showdown with federal lands officials orchestrated by the “Oath Keepers” and their militia-minded associates, the militiamen were basically nowhere to be seen – hunkered back at the mine site, 12 miles east of town on winding and largely inaccessible dirt roads, or hanging out at the local motels and little else.

Out  of sight, out of mind, and out of everyone’s hair.

The haze itself was part of the reason that the ongoing presence of a corps of well-armed far-right militiamen quickly receded from memory. It is fire season in Montana, and this season in particular has turned into a nightmarish one, with so many fires here and elsewhere in the Northwest that the entire region has been blanketed in a smoke haze so dense that it obscures the normally scenic hillsides and mountains entirely, and leaves everyone coughing and smelling of campfires.

Just a mile south of Lincoln, the U.S. Forest Service has set up its “Fire Camp” filled with personnel numbering in the low hundreds to handle several large fires that have erupted in the dense forests around Lincoln, a tiny logging town just a little south of the immense Bob Marshall Wilderness in western Montana. This week, what’s on everyone’s mind is the very real job of keeping the whole place from going up in flames. Though there are still “Oath Keepers” and “III Percenters” in town, it seems they are yesterday’s joke to people in Lincoln.

“I haven’t seen them around much this week,” a waitress told me. “Guess they’re keeping their heads down now.”

It was not that way at the start, when the armed militiamen arrived in Lincoln in mid-August and began parading their weapons about town, sometimes walking down the town’s main strip – Montana Highway 200, a connector road for Missoula and Great Falls – with the AR-15s strapped to their backs in the style of “open carry” advocates.

That upset a lot of locals in this arch-conservative corner of a fairly red state – nearly all of whom own some kind of gun or another, but consider brandishing a gun for its own sake a kind of foolishness.

“Unless it’s hunting season, when everyone has them out, nobody around here walks around with a rifle on display,” a local construction worker told me. “It’s almost rude or something. Like: ‘What do you need that for?’ It’s not necessary, so why do it?”

It also upset a number of people working on a local job site – namely, the large reclamation project under way at Mike Horse Dam, on property directly adjacent to the White Hope Mine where the militiamen are encamped east of town, on a mine site owned by George Kornec and Phil Nappo.  The project, which is overseen by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), uses the same road as that being used by the Oath Keepers to traipse up to the mine site, but with large earth-moving vehicles that can’t always brake suddenly. Fears about an accident on the narrow dirt roads were well grounded.

A town meeting was held at one point, giving locals a chance to understand why these “Patriots” considered it necessary to be brandishing their guns in protest of people most people in Lincoln considered their neighbors (the USFS is a major employer in the little town) and whether they were going to be careering around the local dirt backroads at the same time as big gravel trucks.

“We are not here to wreak havoc for this city or this county or this state, but we are here to ensure that (miners) Phil and George get their time in court,” said Joseph Santoro, the Army retiree whose video posted at the Oath Keepers website was the first national “call to arms” for Patriots to come to Montana.

“We are not thugs. We are not criminals. We ensure that the people we bring here into your community have been thoroughly vetted. If they are any type of a lunatic fringe, I swear to you they aren’t coming here,” Santoro said.

The mine owners and their supporters eventually worked out a schedule with the DEQ project’s officials to only use the roads during times when the trucks would not be on them, leaving the antigvoernment crew mostly stuck in place at the encampment once working hours began and only relenting when the day was done.

A DEQ project manager told Hatewatch that three days after reaching that deal, a group of militiamen came through the construction site during midday hours in violation of the deal: “Fortunately, my guys were on their toes and nobody got hurt,” she said. The incident spurred further promises to stay off the roads during work hours, and so far, she said, those promises have been kept.

Townfolk say three or four different shifts of campers have come and gone at the mine, with a crew of “III Percenters” from Idaho being the most persistent presence. Initially, a crew of militiamen from Oregon who had been involved in the earlier attempted “showdown” over a silver mine on federal land near Grants Pass was heavily involved in organizing the Lincoln affair, but by late August they had mostly gone back home.

Several reporters have attempted to approach the operation and have been severely rebuffed. Marshall Swearingen, writing for the High Country News, was able to arrange an escort through the DEQ job site, but was rebuffed by the guardsmen he met at the gate to the mine site.

“The operatives forcefully tell me to not take photos,” he wrote. “They will not tell me their names. The man with the angry stare has a radio, and it crackles to life. He answers with a radio handle of ‘Warthog,’ or maybe War Hog — he won't say.

Similarly, Rebecca Schoenkopf, a reporter for Wonkette, was unable to make it past the motel room used by the militiamen as a gathering point. The “Patriot” code-named “Mouse” who greeted her and her husband turned hostile when they identified themselves as liberals and began stonewalling them harshly: “I’m not talking to you. I want your word you won’t write anything that happened in here.”

He concluded the interview: “This did not happen. If you write down anything I said in here, I will call you a liar.”

The dispute over the Montana mine dates back years, to a court hearing in which Kornec lost his original 1872-mining-law-based surface rights to the mine. Kornec is something of a celebrated hermit, though in Lincoln – which is still trying to recover its reputation from its most infamous resident, Ted Kacynski – that is not necessarily an admirable thing.

The presence of an armed threat in the dispute is as strangely detached from the realities of mining on federal land as was the case in Grants Pass, where the mine owners were claiming that the Bureau of Land Management was threatening to burn down their operation, while in fact the dispute was still very much in the paper phase and undergoing adjudication. The Oath Keepers and their cohorts there, in fact, rolled up their camp and declared victory simply upon receiving a judicial hearing for their appeal – a hearing that had long been scheduled before the “showdown.”

On Aug. 11, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the mine owners over the dispute, thereby guaranteeing that Kornec and Natto would get their day in court. And indeed, the Oath Keepers declared victory by having the lawsuit filed against their friends – but then also vowed to remain in Montana until the miners receive their first day in court, too.

"We will continue to remain vigilant and on site and make sure what we achieved yesterday is upheld," spokesman Chris McIntire, a leader of the Idaho contingent, told reporters.

So far, the encampment has remained calm and free of incident – unlike in Oregon, when a report of a mysterious helicopter sparked a short-lived panic in the Patriot encampment and had truckloads of men bristling with weaponry prowling the roads near the mine.

The nearby forest fires, the large Forest Service camp, and the thick haze all put a particular damper on the heated rhetoric that rolled into town along with the armed Patriots, much of it anger directed at the federal government. That kind of talk sounded hollow and ill-tempered at a time when people in western Montana were being reminded that the objects of this antigovernment animus were also their neighbors – in fact, were the very neighbors everyone was depending upon to keep their homes and their livelihoods intact, even as it seemed as if the whole state were afire.

A columnist for the nearby Helena newspaper noted that a commenter on its reportage of the Lincoln standoff caught the gist of the general sentiment there.

“Might as well inform you that my family is ranching and we are certainly NOT a militia, or training anyone in weapons handling. And when we are mad at the Forest Service or BLM, we go see them or ask them to come out and we can talk. That's how Montanans are known for solving things. ...

"Those public servants are our neighbors -- they buy groceries where we do and go to church with us. Our kids are in school together. They are Montanans.

"They are not my enemy."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

‘Patriots’ Heed ‘Call to Action’ to ‘Protect’ Montana Mine from a Baffled U.S. Forest Service

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

The Oath Keepers have shown up in the tiny western Montana town of Lincoln, answering a “call to action” issued earlier this month to protect the “constitutional rights” of a local mine owner in a dispute with the federal government.

The “call to action” was issued on Aug. 4 by a Montana Oath Keepers leader, Joseph Santoro, in a YouTube video and on the Oath Keepers national website.

“Pacific Patriot Network under the leadership of the Oath Keepers has set up a security mission to protect the White Hope Mine and related claims in Lewis & Clark County, MT,” the announcement read. “The immediate aim of this operation is to act as a buffer between the miners and any unlawful action by the United States Forest Service (USFS).”

That fight the Oath Keepers have promised has a familiar ring to it.

Just as the Oath Keepers and others claimed ahead of a protest and gathering of militiamen in nearby Medford, Ore., the Oath Keepers and III percenters claimed they were there to protect the “constitutional rights” of a local mine owner in a dispute with the Bureau of Land Management.

Strangely, even as the matter was being adjudicated in the normal process for such disputes, the mine owners claimed their rights were being violated. They claimed they were at risk of being burned out of their mine.

In Oregon, BLM officials were unsure how to respond to the accusations of usurping the Constitution. Likewise, Forest Service officials in the regional Montana offices are searching for what might have summoned the Oath Keepers.

“These are a couple of guys who have been working this claim for a couple of decades,” David Smith, regional spokesman for the Forest Service, told Hatewatch. “They had an operating plan that expired last year, and we’ve been working with them to get a new one approved. And they also had a couple of compliance issues that we were working with them to resolve. … They were agreeable to our suggestions.”

Smith said the “call to action” came out of the blue.

“We’ve been in a relationship with them for a long time, and we wanted to make clear we wanted to work with them to get them up and running so they can exercise their rights to mine that claim in accordance with the law,” he said.

The Missoulian explained that the dispute dates back to previous paper transactions regarding the claim, including a change of jurisdiction from 1872 mining laws to a newer federal law passed in 1955. The mine owners claim they fall under the previous jurisdiction, in spite of previous court rulings.

”We are grandfathered from the 1874 mining laws and that means we're under state law,” mine owner George Kornec told reporters. “And this is what it’s all about, that's why I’m standing up.”

At the center of the dispute is a new building erected on the site, and how to get their plan into compliance with federal laws with the building included.

“We have never said or planned to remove that structure that they built,” Smith told Hatewatch. “What we have said is, how do you justify having that structure within your operating plan? We have not ever said that we would come in and remove the structure itself.”

Another concern that officials have involves a Department of Environmental Quality mine-reclamation project next door to the White Hope Mine, and trucks and other traffic coming to and from that site are using the roadways heavily. “Our concern right now is we don’t want people coming in back and forth on that road and interfering with the contractors using it. Safety is a huge concern there. There are 40 people employed by that construction project,” Smith said.

The ruling on whether it was handled under 1872 or 1955 law came from the courts, Smith said. “We just have the obligation to enforce the law according to that ruling.”

Smith added that the case is not involved in litigation or adjudication at any level, so there’s no forthcoming “day in court” that might signal an end to the armed protest at the mine, as it did in Oregon.

“Obviously, we’re not in a confrontation,” he said. “It’s not the people who are there I’m worried about – it’s the ones from the fringe who want to join in. And I’m worried about the safety of the people up there. We don’t want to see things escalate, especially over an issue that we have been working all along in a very cooperative way to resolve.”

Monday, August 03, 2015

Antigovernment ‘Patriots’ Show Up At Military Recruiting Centers Nationwide to ‘Protect the Protecters’

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Responding to a nationwide call to arms issued by the leadership of the Oath Keepers, scores of antigovernment “Patriots” have begun showing up fully armed and prepared to guard military recruiting offices across the United States – and some continue to do so.

Mind you, they are doing so in defiance of the Marine Corps’ expressed request to stay away, and the Army’s declaration that they represented a security threat. Already, one of the wannabe guards got himself in trouble by accidentally firing a round into the public parking lot. The guards claimed they were inspired to participate in “Operation Protect the Protecters,” the latest Oath Keepers activity, following the July 16 attack on a recruiting office in Chattanooga, TN, that left four Marines dead.

The extremists who responded to the “national call to action” cited the attack – and reports explaining that these offices are not permitted by military regulation to arm themselves – as part of their reasoning for standing outside strip malls and other small office buildings.

Participants included not just Oath Keepers but other Patriot movement followers, including so-called “III Percenters” who showed up in Idaho, Oregon and Ohio. According to the Associated Press, there were watches in Spanaway, Wash., Hiram, Ga., Madison, Wis., McAllen, Texas; Auburn Hills, Mich.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and several locations in Tennessee.

Local media coverage found additional recruiting center watches in Lancaster and in Ontario, Ohio; in Boise, Idaho; in Bend, Ore.; in Greensville, S.C.; in Farmington, Mo.; and in Morristown, N.Y.
It was in Lancaster that one of the participants accidentally fired off a round from a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle he was toting as “protection” for the military recruiters. Police said no one was hurt, but they cited Christopher Reed, 28, for discharging his weapon within city limits.

According to the police report, Reed was trying to clear his weapon of the round he had chambered before having someone look at the gun when it discharged into the pavement nearby.

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes quickly waved off any responsibility, claiming that Reed wasn’t a member: “Thankfully, not one of ours,” he said in an article posted to the group's website. “Good intentions on the part of volunteers are not enough, because we all know where the road paved with them leads,” the article mused.

Military officials made clear they wished to have nothing to do with these “operations.” A statement issued by the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting station in San Diego said:
It has come to our attention that many patriotic citizens have been standing armed guard outside recruiting stations across the country. While we greatly appreciate the support of the American public during this tragedy, we ask that citizens do not stand guard at our recruiting offices. Our continued public trust lies among our trained first responders for the safety of the communities where we live and work.
According to Stars and Stripes, the Army advised its recruiters to treat these pop-up guardsmen as a security threat: “Soldiers should avoid anyone standing outside the recruiting centers attempting to offer protection and report them to local law enforcement and the command if they feel threatened, according to a U.S. Army Recruiting Command policy letter issued Monday.”