Monday, May 30, 2005


Deja Vu


“It is not a crime to deceive the American public, as high officials in the Reagan Administration did for two years while conducting the Iran and Contra operations. But it is a crime to mislead, deceive and lie to Congress when in fulfilling its legitimate oversight role the Congress seeks to learn whether Administration officials are conducting the nation’s business in accordance with the law.”

---Third Interim Report to Congress by Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters. June 25, 1992

Ever since the bombing of Tehran in February, Ahmed had begun to notice more Americans hanging around the Beirut waterfront café where he’d worked as a waiter for the last thirty years. There’d always been Americans here, he thought to himself, at least since his earliest memories as a young teenager during the Six Day War when the Israeli Defense Forces took out Jordan, Syria, and Egypt’s air defenses in less time than he could collect two paychecks at Ali Baba’s. Now, at the age of fifty-three, Ahmed, who had seen three generations of professors, tourists, students, spooks and businessmen—the latter two distinguishable only by the volume of their arrogance—had grown accustomed to serving these masters of the universe, as they liked to view themselves, but his instincts told him to keep an eye out for characters obviously up to no good.

“Strange,” he thought, “how American intelligence people all seemed to resemble Ollie North, the mastermind of the Reagan White House who arranged to have the Israeli military ship high-tech armaments to Ayatollah Khomeini’s thugs in Tehran to get some American hostages released and raise money for Reagan’s illegal war in Nicaragua.” That was twenty some years ago, when Ahmed still hoped Beirut might return to some semblance of normalcy. Back then, before the Christian Phalange militia massacred 1,700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in September 1982, and before the Iranian-backed Hezbollah blew up the U.S. and French compounds killing 241 American Marines in October 1983, his parents still spoke of Beirut as the Paris of the Mediterranean that would return to its former glamour and grandeur and cosmopolitan tolerance once Palestinians had a secure homeland. Now they quietly accepted Lebanon’s fate of historical and geographical accident as the immediate but impotent neighbor of Armageddon. Ahmed’s son Abdullah never knew such things as hope or joy, except maybe when he and his pals managed to smuggle some booze or cigarettes or hashish from or to the Beqaa Valley from their Jewish contacts in Haifa.

Now that the Israelis had completed their “Apartheid Wall” and the Palestinians were all locked down in concentration camps, even Ahmed had resigned himself to a sort of functioning chronic depression. True, the Syrians had lightened up on urban warfare here, but with Bush’s reelection and tactical nuclear strikes on Tehran five months ago, the rumors of intrigue, arms dealing and double-dealing had escalated significantly. Gossip picked up on the street by Abdullah and his friends mostly amounted to occasional sightings of mid-level US military and intelligence attaches by their cousins and girlfriends who worked in the swank, air-conditioned hotels. Spook-spotting, however, was a local pastime largely ignored by people of Ahmed’s generation; after a lifetime of turmoil and deprivation, they were content to have a connection for black market pharmaceuticals to relieve their arthritis and other pains from inadequate diet and medical care and the recurring traumas of invasion, civil war and pervasive corruption.

Ahmed, though, was not a typical waiter; he made as much on tips to his brother Faruk as he did on his tips from tourists and nogudniks. One of these tips, back in 1985, made him a hundred bucks in US currency and a case of Johnnie Walker. That was the time he came across a lead for Faruk that his paper Al Sirrah broke and was later picked up by the Wall Street Journal about the Portuguese ship loading American-made HAWK missiles transported by El Al to Lisbon from Tel Aviv for delivery to Iran. Ahmed, at the time, wondered if maybe some of the dockworkers on the Lisbon waterfront of the River Tagus--loading this illegal arms transfer for Iran to use during the peak of its war against Iraq—might be distant relatives by way of the ancient Phoenician voyagers. Much as the Americans waiting for their cokes and cappuccinos liked to think the world and planets revolved around the “Stars and Stripes,” Ahmed knew from experience that the Mediterranean was the true center of things; it wasn’t named “middle of the world” for nothing.


Faruk hadn’t broken a major story since, and after the moronic American voters reelected Reagan and then elected a former CIA Director (Bush’s father)--who on his final days in the White House pardoned the traitors involved in the Iran/Contra arms smuggling while he was Vice President--he figured no one outside an unbelievably gullible America would be shocked to learn that several of these convicted felons had been brought back on board by Bush’s son during his first term. Not just people like former assistant secretary of state Elliot Abrams, but genuine scum like John D. Negroponte, former ambassador to Honduras, referred to in press accounts as “the boss” of Contra operations, a euphemism for the Congressionally-banned mercenary death squads he ran there. Bush Junior shamelessly appointed Negroponte as his UN ambassador, a message that was not lost on the General Assembly. It was Ws way of saying “Fuck you” to the world immediately after bribing and threatening his way into the White House. Of course, none of this could have happened had the Democratically-controlled Congress under Senator Inouye and Representative Hamilton exercised its duty to impeach Reagan and Bush for proven high crimes, but bipartisan cover-up was the rule—Watergate was the exception.

The European correspondents and Arab businessmen who stopped off for evening drinks at Ali Baba’s always laughed at the naiveté of American liberals who professed it “more important to heal confidence in government” than to punish wrongdoers and opportunists making enemies for the US and destabilizing a world on the brink of nuclear and microbial holocaust. Faruk always said, “TV and Disneyland didn’t make Americans stupid; living in denial about stealing their country from Indians, and never having their women and children slaughtered by invaders did. It’s their delusions that make them so crazy, and dangerous.”

Ahmed didn’t disagree with Faruk’s assessment of things—he just didn’t care anymore. Helplessness creates hopelessness, and Lebanon hadn’t been entirely in control of its own affairs for centuries. The Turks, the Arabs, the French, the British, the Jews, the Americans, the Syrians, the Iranians, and the Palestinians: Christ, they ought to move UN headquarters there and save everybody the plane fare. At least then the casinos and restaurants and night clubs would be back in business. Brothels too, but then they never left—they just downsized for a more overtly brutal clientele.

“Faruk,” he asked, after the last of the foreigners departed for the night, “can you get Abdullah work at the paper? He knows his way around, and he’s pretty handy with his digital camera. The girls he takes shots of all think he’ll make them famous models someday. I’m worried that with all the Persian refugees and Iraqi guerillas sneaking in and out of here that somebody might mistake his cases of contraband for arms or explosives. He’s not as clever as he thinks he is.”

“Pretty girls in swimsuits we got,” Faruk replied. “Bring me a photo of Rumsfeld loading M-16s into Arafat’s trunk and I’ll buy him a house in Beverly Hills.”


With the post-invasion collapse of Iraqi and Iranian civil society, the Israelis had clamped down hard on border and port security. Now in the fourth year of US military occupation, lack of public health infrastructure and other basic needs had resulted in epidemics of virulent typhoid, tuberculosis and cholera all over. Tens of thousands of civilians, and a couple hundred US troops had succumbed to disease. Saudis, Syrians and Jordanians bordered on hysteria. The sabotage of ARAMCO oilfields in Saudi Arabia and the sinking of two American warships in Bahrain had the whole region on edge. The Israelis—even for Israelis—had gone nuts.

Consequently, Abdullah and his friends found themselves with fewer opportunities to make a living, and a lot more time on their hands. At first, they just spent more time at the beach showing off for the girls, but eventually even that got boring. While some of his pals indulged in petty crime hustling refugees, Abdullah started to take an interest in Lebanese history and culture, walking around photographing the city, his grandparents, and yes, pretty waitresses and schoolgirls he encountered.

Short of cash for developing quality prints, he saved his photos electronically and e-mailed some of them to girls willing to part with their e-mail addresses. He even traded cheesecake photos to the owner of the internet café in return for time at one of the online terminals. Abdullah wasn’t making any money, but he also wasn’t doing anything dangerous and this was fine with Ahmed. Faruk even managed to convince a calendar publisher to take a look at Abdullah’s Waitresses of Beirut portfolio. While not exactly erotic, it was novel, and the publisher offered a non-exclusive hundred bucks for it.

With no overhead, Abdullah took his first fee and went out on the town with his camera to brag on his new profession over Cokes with some of his starlets, asking tourists and waiters to take his now-famous photo at their soon-to-be famous establishments. Within a week, he was once again broke, but had made many new friends and acquaintances looking forward to receiving their calendars. Abdullah spent his last few bucks on some cigars for his Uncle Faruk, and decided to walk over to the Al Sirrah offices to catch him on his way home.


Traffic was light due to the gasoline rationing imposed as a result of the sabotage-induced oil shortages in the region, and Abdullah arrived at the entry to Al Sirrah earlier than he expected, so he decided to surprise his uncle upstairs in his office next to the photographers’ darkroom. The receptionist recognized him from the other day when he dropped by to meet Faruk’s calendar pal, and told him to go on up.

When he stepped out of the elevator, Faruk was in the hall talking to a staff photojournalist recognizable by his multi-pocketed vest and shoulder bag stuffed with cameras, film and batteries. Faruk waved at Abdullah and motioned for him to come down toward his office overlooking the street. When he came in and sat down across from his nephew, he noticed the small box of cigars on his desk and the thank you card and offered Abdullah a Coke from the machine in the hall.

After rubbing the cold wet can across his face and neck, he asked, “What are you up to now that you’re a famous photographer?”

“Nothing much,” his nephew replied. “Just taking some shots of me with the girls selected for the Club Med calendar.”

“Yah? Let me see.”

Abdullah popped the disc out of his camera and handed it to his uncle who slid it into the a-drive of his computer. “Not bad,” he said. “I really like this one of the redhead at D’jour’s.”

“Yah, me too. She’s real funny and speaks French and English. Comes in handy with all the diplomats from the embassies nearby. I think she wants to be an interpreter.”

“No kidding? Cute and smart. What’s she see in you?”

Abdullah laughed, just as the photojournalist, Mohammed, walked in and said,” I’m going home unless you need something else.”

“No, that’s it for today,” Faruk replied. “Hey, come and take a look at my nephew’s photos—he’s pretty good, with girls anyway.”

Mohammed walked around Faruk’s desk and leaned up against the bookcase while Faruk clicked his way through Abdullah’s slideshow of local beauties.

“Wait a minute. Go back one. I think I saw someone I recognize. There, that’s the one. The guy behind the redhead at the table, the one smoking a cigarette. I’ve seen him before somewhere.”

“Let me guess—mobster, pimp, one of your pals?”

“No, somebody important. Involved in something a long time ago. Something serious—I just can’t place it.”

“Well, if you think of it, let me know. Maybe we can find him in our archives.”

“Yah, OK, well, see you tomorrow. Nice work Abdullah. You might want to think about doing it for a living. That rules out newspapers, by the way.”


Faruk got home late, stopping on the way to share a cigar with his brother who was just closing up the café. After watching the sun set over the sparkling waves lazily rolling in from Cyprus, he stopped at the grocer to get some orange juice for his breakfast, and by the time he plopped down in his reading chair everything inside and out was dark, except for the flashing red light on his answering machine and the blue neon glow reflected on the apartment wall across his courtyard from the pharmacy in the alley.

Faruk was beat, and in no hurry to get up to see who’d called, at least not until after he washed up and got out of his shirt and trousers and poured a beer. Once he relaxed and had a piece of cold chicken with some olives and half a pita, Faruk leaned back in his chair and pressed the play button on his machine.

“Hi Faruk, it’s me Mohammed. I remembered who that guy is in your nephew’s photo. At least I remember what he is, I think. I can’t quite recall his name, but he’s American, and I’m pretty sure he’s CIA, or DEA or maybe Naval Intelligence. It’s been awhile. Anyway, I can check our photo files tomorrow when I get in and see if we got anything. Just thought I’d let you know. Good night.”

Faruk put his bottle full of olive pits and chicken bones in the garbage and went into the bedroom and was fast asleep in less than a minute.


When Faruk arrived at the office the next morning, Mohammed was in the photo library—really an oversized closet sandwiched between the darkroom and Faruk’s office—and had several photos laid out on the magnification projector that was warming up.

“How’s it going,” Faruk asked? “Find your man?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll have to see it enlarged, but I think it might be this guy in the CIA file.”

Faruk unlocked his door and set his bag on the chair and came back to see the photographs. “Yah,” said Mohammed, “it’s him all right. See how he smiles only on one side. His hair has receded some, but his ears and nose are a perfect match. Let me cross reference the photo file number on the computer to get his name.”

While Mohammed punched in the data and waited for a response, Faruk pulled up the current photo he’d uploaded from Abdullah’s disc and made a black and white printout. When he came back Mohammed had a name on the screen:

Clarridge, Duane R. (“Dewey”)
Central Intelligence Agency
Operations Directorate
Chief, Latin American Division/European Division 1981-1988
Top CIA official responsible for covert war in Nicaragua. November 1985, assisted Oliver North in HAWK missile shipment to Iran. Indicted November 1991 on seven counts of perjury and false statements. Trial aborted by Presidential pardon December 24, 1992.

“Interesting. Think he’s here on pleasure or business?”

“Hard saying, unless we can make the guy across the table from him in your nephew’s shot. It’s a side view, but a pretty decent profile. Let me see that printout.”

“Hmm, this guy’s not American, maybe Persian—definitely overweight. The sunglasses aren’t really a problem, since we can id better from skull, nose and ears anyway. What do you say we look up old Dewey’s pals in the National Security Archive document reader on the Iran-Contra scandal?”

“Yah,” said Faruk, “I’ll go get it off my shelf.”

“OK, we got Rafsanjani’s nephew Bahramani; Ghorbanifar; Hakim; Khashoggi; and the rest are all too political.”

“Cool, they’re all in the Iran files from 1985, so that shouldn’t be too hard. Here they are. Huh, what do you think? I don’t see anyone with that nose, even if they are twenty years younger.”

“You’re right. It’s none of the Iranian arms dealers from the Reagan era. So maybe it has nothing to do with arms.”

“Yah, probably a good thing since Washington nuked Tehran last winter. Wouldn’t want them shooting up American occupation forces with US weapons.”

“Ha, ha. You’re a sick person Mohammed.”

“Not as sick as American foreign policy under Junior. That fucker’s nuts.”

“Uh huh, somebody ought to do the world a favor and bring back Lee Harvey Oswald, except that would leave the atomic bomb in the hands of Dick Cheney; I think I’d prefer Tony Soprano. Well, I got to get some work done. Let me know if you come up with anything on Mr. X.”

“OK. Hey, maybe the redhead might remember something.”

“I’ll see if Abdullah can ask her, but I don’t want him to know what we’re on to. He’ll want to brag to his buddies, and might screw up a potential story.”


Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Free Iraqi Forces, was assassinated this morning in Baghdad by a car bomb. No one has yet to claim responsibility, but US commander General Tommy Franks noted that Shiia guerrillas had recently stepped up sniping and fragging of his occupation forces in the Iraqi capitol. A twenty-four hour curfew has been imposed.

As Faruk listened to the BBC broadcast over his morning coffee, he recalled that when Chalabi was installed as leader by Cheney and Rumsfeld in spring 2003, several high level State Department and CIA officials registered strong, public protests. Chalabi--in exile since 1958--had managed to siphon millions in US aid for his Iraqi National Congress in London, but when Franks was ordered to fly Chalabi and his troops in for the photo-op “liberation of Baghdad” (that amounted to about two blocks of downtown), Chalabi could only muster seven hundred followers, and most of them were bribed Iranian-backed Shiites. “Jeez,” he thought to himself, “it was probably his own guys who did it. He was such a crook.”

Chalabi (a former CIA operative), in addition to being the darling of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, was also a convicted felon, cited for multiple counts of embezzling from banks in Jordan. Figuring out who didn’t want him dead would probably be easier than figuring out who did.

When Abdullah walked into his uncle’s office, Mohammed called out from the next room, “Hey, lover boy, who’s your model today?”

Faruk looked up from the Chalabi file on his desk and greeted his nephew. “What are you up to today? Want to do some work for me?”

“Some photography?” he asked.

“Well, it’s about photography. One of those photos you took, the one of the redhead at D’ jour’s—I think you might have caught a French movie star at the table behind her. Would you mind taking the photo by and asking her if she remembers him and his companion?”

“Sure, anything else?”

“Yah, if she sees them again, maybe she could find out where they’re staying, ask them how they’re enjoying Beirut.”

“OK, I’ll go over there right now before she gets too busy.”

On the way to D’jour’s, Abdullah stopped by the internet café to check his e-mail and brag up his calendar deal to the patron. By the time he arrived at D’jour’s, the redhead was hustling espressos and croissants to edgy businessmen and trophy wives in tortoise shell Italian sunglasses. Abdullah didn’t want to disturb her, so he went to the stand-up counter where secretaries and students could get a juice or coffee without paying the sit-down surcharge and tip for service. He nodded his head at her when she walked by, and waited for the end of the mid-morning rush.

After sipping his orangeade for half an hour, the redhead stopped next to him and asked, “Are you on assignment today, or do you just like our juice?”

“Oh,” he replied, “I was wondering if you could look at the photo of you for the calendar again. You might have served a French movie star.”

“Really?” she asked. “Let me see.”

Abdullah laid the photo on the counter and pointed to the two men in sunglasses saying, “This one with the big ears, and his friend with the prizefighter’s nose.”

“Oh yah, I remember them,” she said. “They left a nice size tip. Big Ears came here two or three times this week, but not this morning. And they weren’t French—Big Ears was American, and Broken Nose was Israeli I think.”

“Huh, I guess I was mistaken.”

“So when’s the calendar coming out? You going to bring me one for my grandmother, too?”

“Yah, sure, I’ll bring you a dozen. You want to go to the beach sometime?”

“Maybe, but right now I got to get back to work.”

“OK, I’ll see you later. Ciao.”

After Abdullah rounded the corner onto the boulevard, Big Ears sat down at one of the sidewalk tables in the redhead’s section. She went over and said, “Good morning, what would you like?”

“Espresso, and baklava, and a fresh ash tray please.”

“Very good, it’ll just be a moment. By the way, my photographer friend thought you were a French movie star. I told him you were American, but you might think about going to France, huh?”

“Your friend, he was taking pictures here?”

“Yes, but only for a calendar of Beirut waitresses. You and your friend just happened to be in it behind me.”

“Do you have it with you?”

“No, he’s going to bring me a calendar when they’re printed, though. I’ll probably hang it up by the counter, so you can stop by and see it. I’ll give you one as a souvenir.”

“That’s OK, I can stop by your friend’s shop. Can you tell me where it’s located?”

“Sorry, all I know is his name’s Abdullah, and he goes to the internet café on the boulevard for his e-mail. Maybe they can help you.”

“Great,” he replied. “Thanks a lot.”


Ahmed was looking at the headlines of the front page of the Beirut Times when his son came around the corner of the whitewashed cement building that housed Ali Baba’s and the passport photo, candy and cigarette shop. “How’s the photography business today?” he inquired.

“Slow, I think I’ll go to the beach and see what’s going on there. Do you need me to pick up anything on the way home?”

“No, I don’t think so. Those were good cigars, though. Faruk and I really enjoyed them. I noticed there wasn’t an import tax stamp on the box. Special deal, huh?”

“Yah, customs must have screwed up. You know how bureaucrats are.”

They both laughed, and Ahmed patted his son on the back as he took off for the beach. He remembered when he was Abdullah’s age—all his pals were either going to be freedom fighters or big shot entrepreneurs or go to America and become exotic stars in Hollywood. Things hadn’t changed that much, he surmised. The dreams just got smaller. Now, thirty years later, the only famous Lebanese American was still Ralph Nader. “Too bad he wasn’t elected President;” he thought, “him and that American Indian woman Winona LaDuke. Maybe if they had, the Fertile Crescent wouldn’t be the nuclear free-fire zone it is today, with diseases and heavily-armed delinquents run amok from Tehran to Basra to Damascus. Allah must be on vacation.”

When Faruk returned to his office after lunch, Mohammed was busy packing his gear and said, “I’m off to Baghdad. Al Jazeera just reported Bremer and de Mello have been kidnapped and are being held hostage somewhere. I have to fly in with the Reuters crew in half an hour. Want me to bring you some dates?”

“No, just be careful. God, what a mess the Americans have made. It’s worse than 1979. Then it was just a handful of CIA spooks held hostage and some crazy clerics on a crusade. Now every religious fanatic, heroin smuggler and thug from Kosovo to Kandahar is terrorizing the locals and liquidating copper and aluminum. There isn’t a phone wire, isotope, or door handle that hasn’t been sold for scrap in Pakistan or Kuwait.”

“Yah, well it looks like we’ve come full circle since Carter’s yellow ribbons. Maybe Junior will fly in from Qatar and pull off a Rambo rescue all by himself.”

“In his dreams, he probably thinks he could. Maybe Showtime will make him another hero docudrama like they did in 2003. God, what a moron.”

“I’ll call you when I’ve arrived. Ciao.”


According to the Beirut Times, L. Paul Bremer, former civilian administrator for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and current special envoy to the Iranian Provisional Authority, had been abducted by masked gunmen who managed to kill several guards at his Tehran embassy residence in the middle of the night. Sergio Vieira de Mello, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s representative for the reconstruction of Iraq had also been kidnapped last night in Baghdad without a shot fired. A communiqué from Kandahar said only that Bremer and de Mello would be held hostage until all US forces departed from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. For some reason, the message left out Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait. Ahmed went in the candy shop to listen to the excited CNN correspondent reporting from Kabul. The clerk and he just shook their heads, watching in silence.


Before Sabrina could tell Abdullah about talking with Big Ears that morning, the two of them were whisked off the beach promenade bench and into a large black Mercedes sedan that stopped just long enough for three men in suits to get out, stick pistol barrels in their guts, and lead them by their upper arms to the car.

When Abdullah failed to show up for dinner, Ahmed called his brother Faruk at home to ask if he’d seen him. “Not since this morning. He was going over to D’jour’s to see a redhead waitress and then to the beach.”

“Well,” replied Ahmed, “he’s probably still with her. I guess I shouldn’t worry about it. I’ll talk with you tomorrow.”

In the morning, Abdullah was still gone when Ahmed left for work. He called Faruk at the office to let him know. Faruk said he’d go ask around on the boulevard at places Abdullah hung out.

He left quickly without leaving a note on his door, and headed straight for D’jour’s. Faruk strode up to the head waiter and explained, “I’m looking for my nephew. I think he might have been out with a redhead waitress who works here. Is she around?”

“No,” the waiter answered, “Sabrina didn’t show up for her shift this morning. First time she’s ever done that. She didn’t answer her phone, so I didn’t know what to think.”

“Thank you, I’ll make sure she calls if I find them.”

Faruk was starting to worry as he rode up the elevator to his office. What would he tell his brother? That the CIA might have kidnapped his nephew while running an errand for him? He phoned the internet café, but they hadn’t seen him either. He could hardly call the police to report two young lovers missing over night—they’d just laugh. The only thing he could think of was to ask his street informants to look around. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills and stuck some of the wad into several envelopes and headed back out to the street and over to the black market bazaar behind the exotic dancers nightclub. After passing out envelopes with cash and Abdullah and Sabrina’s photos, he hustled back to see if there’d been any news at the office.

Back at the candy shop next to Ali Baba’s, Ahmed was watching CNN’s coverage of the chaos in Baghdad, now under the exclusive control of the US military, that is, if you could call anywhere in the Persian Gulf under control anymore. General Tommy Franks, escorted by several visibly scared grunts with machine guns, was making a statement about “searching every damn house in the territory if we have to,” while security mercenaries, FBI and presumably CIA agents crawled all over the press conference room.

Faruk was watching the same broadcast in his office, but what he saw made him shiver: plain as day, Big Ears, Dewey Clarridge, was standing off to the side in a doorway behind Franks. Two days ago he was in Beirut. Now, right after Chalabi’s murder, he turns up in Baghdad. Then the reporter from Tehran mentioned someone named Downing, the interim CPA administrator in Bremer’s absence, who announced his people were expecting to make contact with the kidnappers soon.

“Downing, Downing, where have I heard that name?” Faruk said to himself. Then Bush was on from Washington announcing the reassignment of “General Wayne Downing from the Department of Homeland Security to the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq, I mean, the Iranian Provisional Authority--in Iran.” That was it, he was Tom Ridge’s deputy, one of the formulators of the Bush policy on the War on Terrorism. He and Clarridge were old pals from the Reagan White House. Life in the Middle East was worse than a broken record—it was a recurring nightmare where the British and Americans just kept fucking things up, as though they couldn’t do that on their own. Former CIA chief James Woolsey’s wetdream of “World War Four” seemed to be coming to pass. Faruk felt nauseous. Then the phone rang.

“Faruk, this is Ice. Abdullah and Sabrina got in a Mercedes with some businessmen at the beach yesterday afternoon. You want anything else?”

“No. Wait, tell your cousin you need his contact in the militia that knew someone in Mossad I need his help. I think it was a CIA abduction. I’ll give them whatever they want to let him and the girl go.”

“OK, but this is way out of our league. How much money you got?”

“I’ll get what it takes. Just find them.”

“All right, bye.”


No sooner had Mohammed and the Reuters news team taken off from Beirut International Airport, than Baghdad Airport was closed to all commercial flights by General Franks, forcing them to reroute to Kuwait where convoys to British-controlled Basra were still allowing reporters and NGOs struggling with the cholera epidemic access. Cut off now from both Tehran and Baghdad by air, whoever was in was in, and whoever was out was out. The Reuters team decided to go for their fallback assignment, which was to get an interview with Ayatollah Bakr al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who returned two years earlier after twenty-three years in exile in Iran. Mohammed decided to tag along.

Most of the embedded network news lackeys who had accompanied the American invasion forces in 2002 were now reluctant to enter the southern zone--where not only cholera and drive-by grenade launchings were randomly taking out locals and occupiers alike--so there were usually open seats on the supply train of trucks moving bottled water, medicine and foodstuffs into Iraq from the Kuwait supply depots. Mohammed rode up front in between two chain-smoking British Marines bemoaning the day they joined Tony Blair’s disaster in Iraq. Actually, what they called it was, “Cracked in Iraq.” “If you weren’t cracked before you got here,” as one put it, “you sure as bloody hell would be when you left.”

“One hundred thirty degrees Fahrenheit, sand in everything, piles of burning corpses along the roadside, and kids with Kalashnikovs spraying lead at military police when they stopped for Cokes at neighborhood cafes was enough to make everyone edgy,” thought Mohammed. “If you were wearing a flak vest and steel helmet and twenty pounds of gear,” he figured, “you might be like a walking cluster bomb ready to go off in several directions at any minute.”

“So what are you going to do when we get to Basra?” the one driving asked him.

“We’re supposed to cover a press conference by the Army of Mohammed. Maybe get an interview with Ayatollah al-Hakim. How about you guys?”

“Oh, we thought we’d check in at the Sheraton, take a swim in the pool, have some dinner and drinks, and maybe take in a movie. Ha-ha.”

“Yah,” said the other grunt, “there’s some real babes in burqas in Basra. Ha-ha.”

Mohammed smiled but didn’t reply.

Back in 2003, he recalled, al-Hakim was still an accommodationist, waiting to see how the political power battles shook out. Now, after three years under the occupation, the nuking of Tehran, and the repeated violations of women, children, elders and holy places under operation Desert Scorpion, jihad was tacitly if not overtly supported by all the mullahs in the region. Moderates were those willing to let the Europeans and Americans leave the lands of Islam without shooting them in the back as they left.


Abdullah had been missing for two days now, and Ahmed had gone to the police with a photo of his son. They said they’d keep an eye out, but with no leads, couldn’t really do much. Faruk hadn’t gotten anywhere either. They both sat quietly together outside Ali Baba’s sipping tea and smoking while listening to BBC World Service: The Army of Mohammed announced today that the US and UN hostages taken yesterday in Baghdad and Tehran are just the beginning. Additional hostages will be taken in the weeks ahead if there is no movement toward the departure of foreign troops. As proof of there intentions, the alleged finger of Paul Bremer was delivered today by Taleban emissaries to Northern Alliance figures in Kabul. The Army of Mohammed press release in Karachi, Pakistan announced one finger a day would be sent to various American-backed warlords and political puppets throughout the region until all occupying troops are gone.

Ahmed sighed and looked at Faruk as he said, “So this is the War on Terrorism? How long will America hold on to this fantasy?”

“Until power plants and refineries and maybe shopping malls start blowing up in Kansas City and Cleveland, I suppose. As long as they have electricity and DVDs and can drive around aimlessly and buy plastic junk at Wal Mart, they don’t give a shit about the rest of the world living in hell. Or maybe, just maybe, as the fingers of captured military governors and diplomats start to add up—like the days on the TV screen when CBS covered the Iran hostage crisis under President Carter—Americans won’t be able to stand the gruesomeness intruding into their Martha Stewart/Homer Simpson/Arnold Schwarznegger dream world. Then again, maybe Junior’ll flip out completely at a breakfast prayer meeting and launch nuclear holocaust on all of us.”

“I just wish I knew where to look for Abdullah. He’s all I have.”

“I’m sure he’ll turn up,” Faruk offered consolingly.

“Soon, I hope. I haven’t been able to sleep a wink.”


When the interview with al-Hakim failed to materialize after the uneventful press conference calling on all Muslims to follow the will of Allah by low-level messengers of the now-banished clerics, Mohammed went for Cokes with Salim, the Al Jazeera photographer he’d met in spring 2003 after an American tank intentionally blew away the Palestine Hotel where a couple hundred journalists were holed up covering the entry of US forces into Baghdad. Reporters weren’t being targeted for assassination anymore, but it was still good to write PRESS with magic marker on your vest and cap, given how trigger-happy the Yanks had gotten.

As Mohammed and Salim wandered down the alleyway toward a neighborhood soda shop, two men walked out of a doorway, paused, and left in opposite directions. One of them was soon accompanied by three gunmen all of whom jumped into a car and drove past Salim and Mohammed slowly as they exited the alley onto an arterial. The man in the center of the back seat was Duane Clarridge. Mohammed stopped Salim, and said, “I need a photo of the guy walking down the alley ahead of us, but he can’t see me take it. Run up to him and get him to stop and turn. I only need a second.”

After setting his vest and camera in a doorway, Salim ran down the alley calling, “Abdul, Abdul, wait. Where have you been?” When he pulled up alongside the man and said, “Abdul, what’s your hurry?” the man stopped and turned just long enough to say, “I think you have me confused with someone else,” and proceeded to walk briskly away.
But it was long enough for Mohammed to get two or three shots from the doorway. When the man was gone, he grabbed Salim’s gear and the two of them went on to the café.

“So what was that all about?” asked Salim.

“The guy in the car that came out of the building with the guy you stopped is ex-CIA. He was in Beirut yesterday. I don’t know who Abdul is, but I’ll bet it might be worth finding out. I’m going to wire the photo back to Beirut and see if they can identify him. I’ll let you know what I find out. Meet you at the hotel for dinner.”

When the wire came in at Al Sirrah, Faruk went directly into the photo file room and pulled the Basra Occupation file and spread photos across the table under the hanging lamp in the middle of the room. Nothing there. “OK,” he thought, “not an occupation figure, maybe he’s intelligence.” He returned the occupation folder and pulled the Basra Intelligence folder and sorted through the hundred or so photos there. Still no match. “Hmm,” he pondered, “Could he be resistance? A secret parley with Baathists or Shiites by American spooks? Not unimaginable,” he thought.

He yanked the Basra Resistance folder without replacing the intelligence file and spread them out, shoving the spook photos aside. There in the middle of the mess was his man, only this photo was of a guy in uniform, not a business suit. On the back of the photo, the label read General Ali Hassan al-Majeed, Commander of Iraqi Forces in Southern Iraq—cousin of Saddam Hussein. “Oh my god,” he thought, “I can’t run this story with Mohammed in Basra. He’d be dead inside a half hour.” Faruk wired Mohammed to return to Beirut as soon as possible, just as the phone rang.

“Hello,” he answered.

“Faruk, Ice, Abdullah and the girl are alive and well, but whoever has them doesn’t want money—they want the disc, and, they want to never see the photo of Clarridge in Beirut published or referenced, or you and Abdullah and the girl will all be killed. If you agree, they’ll release him in a week.”

“Of course I agree, but why a week?”

“That’s all they said. I’ll let them know.”

Faruk held the receiver listening to the dial tone for a moment before putting it down. How would his brother hold up for another seven days? This was awful, and he felt responsible. At least by then Mohammed would be back and they could figure out what to do about the story they couldn’t run. Life was getting complicated, even for him. The news business was harried enough without family getting involved. Now, their lives were all in danger. If Al Jazeera or some paper picked up on what Mohammed and he had stumbled on, the hostage holders would assume they’d broken the deal—what a nightmare.


While Faruk waited for word that Mohammed had safely reached Kuwait, Ahmed aimlessly walked the boulevard, their neighborhood and the beach, taking his first “vacation” since Abdullah’s mother had died ten years earlier. The Army of Mohammed, however, was not on vacation, and the threatened diplomatic digits continued to arrive in Kabul right on schedule—one a day. US senators and congressmen went ballistic on CNN, Tom Delay threatening to, “obliterate every mosque between Israel and India if necessary.” President Bush was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I’ll fly the damn plane myself.”

According to the Beirut Times, Russian President Putin, French President Chirac, and Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu offered Bush their assistance. Britain’s acting Prime Minister, Right Honorable Geoffrey Hoon—who stepped in at Number Ten Downing after Tony Blair’s intelligence fabrication scandal and subsequent cover-up resulted in his removal by vote of no confidence in March—said British forces were, “already cooperating fully with the Americans.”

The next afternoon, when Mohammed phoned from Kuwait Airport, CNNs Christiane Amanpour was on Faruk’s office TV reporting of, “The capture of Baathist General and Saddam Hussein cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed by American forces in Damascus.” Mohammed said, “I’m watching it here on TV in the terminal. You sure you don’t want me to go to Damascus?”

“No,” Faruk replied, “and don’t talk with anyone before you see me. Abdullah’s life depends on it.”


While Mohammed was in the air heading for Beirut, Salim in Baghdad wired his boss in Qatar that Majeed had been seen the day before in Basra meeting with an unnamed ex-CIA agent. Al Jazeera ran the story that night. Having missed his dinner appointment, Mohammed had been unable to fill Salim in on Clarridge, or, the need to sit tight on it for a few days. Faruk, meanwhile, went out to one, find Ice to tell him to tell his contacts they had nothing to do with the Al Jazeera story, and two, to ask another underworld contact of his about making a quiet boat trip to Cyprus on short notice. All this was taking a toll on Faruk’s nerves, and his cash supply. He didn’t know what he would say to Ahmed or their parents if he and Mohammed had to go into hiding. He couldn’t bear to think of Abdullah being killed. Ahmed was already a wreck from sleep deprivation and worry; he’d never recover from losing his son.

At the candy shop, CNN carried the response to the capture of Majeed: White House spokesman Eugene Scalia announced today the capture of General Majeed was the result of the close cooperation between American and Israeli intelligence in Operation Roundup, the new joint defense, intelligence and diplomatic venture between Israel and the United States launched in May. Vice President Cheney will present the administration’s five hundred billion dollar supplemental request for the venture to Congress tomorrow. According to Tommy Franks, General Majeed is being held in an undisclosed location outside Iraq where he is being questioned.

Ahmed put out his cigarette in the tray on the counter next to the passport photo machine and walked out of the candy shop to go help get Ali Baba’s tables ready for the after work crowd. He’d given up walking around the neighborhood looking for Abdullah, and he couldn’t stand sitting at home, so he’d returned to work where he went through the motions of thirty years’ habits without thinking.

Abdullah and Sabrina sat quietly in the back of the Mercedes between the musclemen as they passed the hippodrome and other Roman ruins of Tyre, twenty miles north of the Israeli border. As they approached the crossing at Rosh Hanikra, their guards pressed the barrels of their pistols into their ribs as a reminder to stay quiet. When they stopped in line at the border, they could see the throngs of Israeli tourists on the other side queued up at the cable car station that transported gawkers down to the sea caves and the old Beirut-to-Haifa train tunnel carved through the chalk cliffs and put out of commission during the 1948 war when Jewish guerrillas blew up the trestles. Oddly, Abdullah felt excited and wished he could stop and explore the grottoes with Sabrina, momentarily forgetting they were not on vacation. Sabrina squeezed his hand and smiled without parting her lips.

The Lebanese customs officer asked the driver for identification and passports from his window in the booth next to the car. The driver handed four passports to the official explaining, “My nephew and niece had theirs stolen at the beach when we were visiting Tripoli. I told them to leave them at the hotel desk, but you know how young people are.”

The official laughed and replied, “Yes, always with their minds in the clouds. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to ask them to step out of the car and answer a few questions and sign some forms. It will only take a moment—you can pull off to the side by the main building over there.”

“Oh,” the driver said, “I forgot to show you this,” and handed a small bundle of currency folded inside his insurance wallet he kept clipped to the visor. The official looked at the cash and paused a second or two and pressed a button under his window that buzzed the military guards between the Lebanese and Israeli checkpoints and said, “Please pull over to the curb and get out of the vehicle,” as he handed back the wallet, and two soldiers with machine guns walked toward them.

When they got out, the official escorted Abdullah and Sabrina inside the building and down the hall into separate rooms where secretaries waited to take their statements. Outside, the two guards watched over the three other passengers who casually smoked and joked while leaning on the Mercedes, offering cigarettes to the soldiers who politely declined. As the official returned to his booth, Abdullah and Sabrina stunned the secretaries, announcing, “We were kidnapped. The three men outside have guns.”

When four more soldiers left the checkpoint headed toward the car, the three men pulled their guns and started shooting, wounding the two guards severely, but were quickly killed by the other soldiers before they could get in the Mercedes. The area around the car was immediately cleared by soldiers and customs and police while a bomb squad rapidly tore apart the car looking for explosives. When the smoke cleared, three men lay dead on the pavement, and the customs official held three Israeli passports and two Lebanese young adults in custody. After verifying that they had no criminal records, and confirming with the Beirut police that the two had been reported missing, they were allowed to wait in the lounge for the customs minivan that would drive them back to Beirut. In the meantime, Abdullah phoned his uncle Faruk.

“We’re at Rosh Hanikra crossing. We were kidnapped, but we’re all right. I don’t know what’s going on, but Customs is giving us a ride home in a few minutes. I couldn’t reach dad. Could you tell him we’ll be back for dinner?”

“Of course,” Faruk replied, “We can all meet at Ali Baba’s. I’ll explain what I know about this then. I’m so glad you’re OK. I’ll phone D’jour’s as well.”


In a small village near Tabriz, in the mountains of northwestern Iran, one hundred miles from the Azerbaijan border, Paul Bremer and Sergio de Mello sat handcuffed and tied to two uncomfortable wooden chairs in a cold, dark room with no light or window. Bremer’s handcuffs, covered with dried blood from the rudimentary surgeries of the preceding week, had rubbed deep welts into his wrists when he struggled and thrashed before fainting from the pain of non-anesthetized amputation. De Mello’s face looked almost as haggard—unshaved, unwashed, uncombed, dark eye rings and deep furrows in his brow.

This was homeland security—Middle East style. Not so different from the American style now that POWs held in Guantanamo had been held, tortured, executed and driven to suicide since the Afghanistan invasion in 2002. Both the Americans and their enemies throughout the ten occupied countries of the Middle East had long dispensed with the Geneva conventions; murder, assassination—indeed terrorism—were now the norm in this two thousand miles square free-fire zone, an open battlefield round-the-clock where depleted uranium radiation-poisoned infantry fought heavily-armed bandits and smugglers and religious zealots seeking martyrdom and revenge. Back in the states, where the draft had been reinstated to bolster the million man force policing the region, riots and shootouts--involving draft resisters, urban gangs, Homeland Security paramilitaries, FBI and local SWAT teams—had erupted in all major cities and were claiming a thousand lives a month. Ever since Bush rode into a second term on the coattails of the public outcry for revenge of the August 2004 truck-bomb slaughter of five hundred forty Marines in Kuwait, the shit had definitely hit the fan.

Ahmed and Abdullah held each other closely in silence for several minutes before sitting down to hear what Faruk had to tell them. Sabrina was still in a daze and barely touched her baklava and espresso. Hesitatingly, solemnly, Faruk said, “I’m so sorry. I had no idea it would come to this. Abdullah’s photos at D’jour’s caught an ex-CIA spook meeting with an Israeli counterpart. When he asked Sabrina about them, somehow they must have found out. They threatened the paper and all of us if this came out. Al Jazeera has already reported the unnamed US spook spotted with General Majeed in Basra had been seen in Beirut the day before. Mohammed and all of us could be in danger. I’ve arranged for a boat to take us to Cyprus to lay low until we can sort this out. Now that your abductors are dead, there’s no telling what might happen.”

Ahmed and Abdullah were speechless; Sabrina began to sip her coffee, and then spoke softly, “I saw the American again, after Abdullah asked me about him. I told him Abdullah thought he was a French movie star, but that I told him he was American—not French. I didn’t think anything of it until now. I can’t go back to work now; I can’t even go home. What will I do?”

“You must stay with us,” said Abdullah. “We’ll be all right.”

“I’m going to call the paper and tell them I’m taking a few days off. Then we have to meet Mohammed at the airport and go directly from there to the boat that’ll take us to Cyprus. There’s no time to wait, and no one we can tell. I’ll meet you outside by the taxi stand in two minutes.”

When Faruk walked into the airport lounge closest to the gate where Mohammed’s flight would arrive, he glanced up at the TV screen tuned to Al Jazeera, whose anchorwoman announced, Israeli special forces today rescued the US and UN hostages taken in Baghdad and Tehran last week. The dramatic raid involving commandoes from the same brigade that rescued Israeli civilians held hostage in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976, was carried out with only minor injuries to the soldiers. All the captors are reported dead.

Faruk saw Mohammed coming up the ramp and walked over to help him with his bags and lead him out to the waiting cab. “What is going on?” he asked. “Why the sudden change of plans? This is the biggest story I’ve been on.”

“They found out we have the photo from D’jour’s, and threatened to kill us all if it’s published. Now Al Jazeera is on their trail, and they probably think we provided the lead. We’re going to Cyprus by boat right now. I’ll fill you in after we’re under way.”

They all sat in silence, except for normal pleasantries, which were anything but normal under the circumstances. The driver might have thought it was some sort of family reunion by their behavior. Still, they had him drop them all at a beach hotel, where they all stood outside the lobby fiddling with luggage until he drove away--just in case. Then they all walked in two groups headed in different directions that later converged at the visitor float by the trailer ramp mid way along the promenade, where a three-seat wooden runabout with a twelve cylinder gas engine sat with two fellows in sporty, striped long-sleeve jerseys, yachting caps and khakis. The five of them wasted no time getting aboard and only began to relax a little once they were up on a plane doing thirty knots toward Cyprus. None of them had any idea what the next day might bring. They all silently hoped their lives could return to the way they were a week ago; they all suspected they never would.


The palm-lined promenade in front of their Larnaka waterfront hotel reminded them of home. Even the strong coffee and sweet nut rolls served in the open air cafes could have been Lebanese. Greek, however, bore little resemblance to Arabic, so they conversed in French when out in public. Not that it mattered much; with all the tourists flocking into Larnaka International Airport, a few more foreigners hardly stood out in this southeastern Cypriot port. They had enough money for a week, and then who knew what. They dare not use credit cards or make phone calls or send e-mail, so they walked and sat and talked and disentangled their story they could never tell and might not survive.

As they sat on the steps near the bathing area, Mohammed--the least burdened with guilt or trauma—suggested, “Perhaps the story of a CIA and Mossad meeting in Beirut days before a joint US/Israeli rescue of hostages in Iran means nothing anymore. Maybe the thugs who threatened us would even be pleased.”

“Maybe,” said Faruk, “but the question is was the American spook there to prevent a kidnapping or to plan one? Or was he just arranging a dramatic capture? Or trading information for sanctuary? Or all of the above?”

“What does it matter?” Sabrina asked. “You have no photo of Majeed with Big Ears—only with some Jew. So Al Jazeera mistook somebody for Majeed in Basra, or Majeed went to Damascus to escape into Lebanon and the Americans caught him.”

“And Big Ears wasn’t seen in Basra unless Mohammed says so,” Abdullah piped in. “Al Jazeera has no photo of him, and any old photos they might have are probably decades old,” he added. “We might not be in any trouble at all.”

It was left to Ahmed to dampen their soaring spirits, pointing out, “the key is to find out who the Israeli in Beirut was. That might be the reason they threatened you, not the American.”

Faruk looked at his brother acknowledging that this was the missing piece they had to uncover—whether they ever told the story or not.

As they walked back to the hotel for a shower before dinner, Faruk stopped into a newsstand for a Times and cigarettes. When he stopped to glance at the headlines after lighting a smoke, he saw a minor heading below the fold, US Congress approves massive new funding for military aid to Israel to combat Palestinian and Syrian terrorism. Mid East Peace Plan on hold—Plan Promised Land to wed US and Israeli forces in governing Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Iran. Bush praises Netanyahu’s cooperation in recent rescues. “That’s what this was about,” he thought. “The whole mess was choreographed—or at least taken advantage of—to get the Peace Plan killed and double Bush’s warmongering budget.”

“You’re probably right,” remarked Mohammed, when he told him his theory, “but we could never prove it, even if we could write it and live to tell about it. All we could dredge up is that unaccountable US spooks are doing more of what they’ve been doing since Truman was in office. Nobody cares—especially not Congress or the American people. All they want is the oil; a few thousand or million more dead Arabs is fine with them.”

“I know,” said Faruk, “fantasy and reality hardly seem to matter. It’s like under Reagan—only worse, a lot worse.”


“Unless different standards for the release of information to the courts are adopted by the intelligence agencies, we face the likelihood that former high officials cannot be tried for crimes related to their conduct in public office…There is a very serious danger that a ritualistic application of classification procedures will insulate most if not all officers responsible for national security from prosecution…”
--Letter to President Bush from Lawrence Walsh, Office of the Independent Counsel. October 19, 1989

“President Bush’s pardon of …Iran-contra defendants undermines the principle that no man is above the law…The Iran-contra cover-up…has now been completed…”
--Statement of Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh. December 24, 1992

[see Return Engagement for the abbreviated screenplay version: ]

--Jay Taber

Saturday, May 28, 2005



If you're tired of talk radio--right-wing, PC, and otherwise--you might give American Indian Radio On Satellite a try. is, if nothing else, unique. It's also as beautiful as the land we live on. Yahey!

Friday, May 27, 2005


Communication for Change

[ This synopsis is extracted from War of Ideas by Jay Taber. ]


Contrary to claims that political non-participation by most Americans is an indicator of widespread apathy and cynicism alone, I would argue that the choice to refrain from activism and the duties of citizenship is largely a symptom of the terror deeply embedded within the collective psyche of a society held captive by the fear of punishment administered by the Free-Market system. What is significant, in my opinion, is the degree to which some highly-motivated Americans, as citizens of a state of unparalleled privilege, have nevertheless demonstrated a willingness to risk economic punishment or social exclusion compelled exclusively by conscience.

When we examine selected social justice movements in American history, the recurrent basis for engagement is concern or survival; for commitment, a conviction based on values, rooted in morals, and expressed in our religious, ethical, and legal codes. The crucial question raised by such acts of altruism is: “What structures and methods have successfully inspired the requisite confidence and courage within these individuals to both articulate and act on their convictions?”

Global liberation and self-determination movements--of the last two decades in particular--demonstrate that the primary obstacles to engagement are ideological, and that the primary task in overcoming these obstacles is a communicative one. Organizations, nations, groups, and networks that have managed to facilitate open, uncensored, unmediated dialogue and discussion, through which group wisdom and collective values are expressed, have consistently generated the empathy, understanding, and insight needed to dream of a better world—and more importantly—to attempt to bring these dreams alive.

The challenge for those devoted to training and nurturing agents for social change, is in providing programs that focus on the specific tools these agents will need as teachers, organizers, and inspirational leaders engaged in strengthening civil and indigenous societies. It is my hope that the program outlined in this proposal will be a useful contribution toward that goal.


Communicating Social Transformation comprises six seminars that examine key factors influencing public participation in the democratic process. The purpose of these six complementary courses--that, combined, might constitute the core of a certificate or degree program--is to spark discussion of and experimentation with strategies and tactics that foster continuous societal debate, dialogue, and discussion regarding the development and implementation of public policy; active resistance to oppression; internal truth and reconciliation; and the restoration of honorable relations between nations. In short, the program focus is on the art of facilitating citizenship.

The program includes analysis of both theory and case studies of the civil society process of communication essential to breaking the cycles of misinformation and spectacle generated by state and market sectors, fundamentalist religions, synthetic ngos, and criminal networks. This knowledge of communication provides a bridge that enables a social base to find expression of their values and beliefs in a way that leads to organizing groups and networks, which in turn facilitate democratic community action. By examining historic examples of communicative projects that moved groups from apathy or cynicism to concern and commitment, activists and potential activists enrolled in such a program would become acquainted with the means by which discontent can be channeled into productive avenues for changing society.

Each course contains readings that relate theory with methodologies used by various groups in communicating their claims to economic, civil, and human rights in a manner that generated discovery, revelation, excitement, engagement, and commitment. The program, adaptive to both formal academic and informal popular-education settings, builds on social and political awareness gained through academic as well as experiential learning, and is designed for enriching feedback and interaction between these two spheres.

Graduates of such a program will have gained an appreciation of alternative approaches, models, and venues in seeking accountability from power-wielders; mastered the tools needed for accurately assessing the political sophistication and assets of constituencies; as well as learned to do, discuss, and respect the results of research and analysis critical to functioning better and surviving longer in such hostile settings.


The Public Health Model of Community Organizing

Case studies, combined with interviews of political researchers and organizers engaged in monitoring and exposing anti-democratic groups and movements in the US, serves as the foundation of this course. Candid reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of community-based research in protecting democratic electoral, administrative, judicial, and legislative processes from subversion provide sober analysis of obstacles to self-governance. Successful methods are explored in detail, with an emphasis on comparison of commonly-used models of engagement.

Social Movement Development

This course focuses on the dynamics of movement growth and interaction that positions groups and networks advocating social or political change for opportunities to seize power or influence. Using such examples as the world indigenous movement and the transformation of American conservatism, studies look at structural and historic issues that serve to further or hinder a group’s goals.

Society in Conflict

This course provides a framework about societal evolution and the emerging types of organizations societies are building, with a focus on the movements that launch processes by contesting established orders, rules, and cultures. Particular attention is given to the generation of uncertainty, complexity, and turbulence in society as resource management regimes require greater organization. Dynamics embedded in this framework and some future implications are discussed. Fresh insights into the influence of organized crime on governments, financial institutions, and above world enterprise are also reviewed.

Grassroots Communication

In this course, techniques used to communicate with each other as well as the outside world are examined through the experiences of such groups as the World Indigenous Movement, Latvian Independence, Polish Solidarity, the American Negro Revolution, Italian Social Centers, Palestine Liberation, and Argentine Neighborhood Assemblies. Emphasis is on integrating formal academic disciplines and perspectives with the informal, often tense setting of poverty and malign neglect. Comparisons of communication in violent, non-violent, and hybrid insurgencies and movements are particularly instructive when viewed in light of the lessons examined under Society in Conflict.

Psychological Warfare

Psychological warfare--which includes the use of propaganda analysis and intelligence--focuses on the analysis of basic deceptive devices as used in World Wars one and two. As an approach to the study of current social issues, familiarization with the planning and operations of this type of conflict enables activists to be better shielded from this kind of assault.

Analysis of Popular Education

This course examines--through case studies--methods of assisting marginalized and oppressed peoples to participate in the development of the educational tools they need to organize themselves into socially-based activists. Attention is given to the analysis of social control by looking at the effect on society of the sacredness of illusion, in which simple images become effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.


Looking at societies, cultures, and individuals as evolving, conscious organisms that possess organic “natures” and acquired characteristics--that are both responsive to conscience and vulnerable to manipulation--encourages research, analysis, and discussion of how social change happens. Scrutiny of movements, actions, and fundamental conflicts in multiple eras, societies, and venues provides a context for engagement that enables both holistic thinking and critical examination of often unquestioned perspectives and personal positions.

Distinction of authentic grassroots activism from more socially acceptable elite-sponsored activities serves to both inspire and shield the kind-hearted who choose to engage in public affairs. The application of public health methodology to the realm of politics is useful both literally and figuratively: Our collective, globally-interdependent ideological and sentient well-being depends not just on autonomy and accountability—it depends on systematic prophylaxis exercised by civil society. Without it, our mutual destruction as a species—from either microbes or nuclear warheads—is, indeed, assured.


In writing this proposal, it was not my intent to downplay the need for institutionalized law enforcement, military preparedness, or political diplomacy. Nor was it my intent to disparage the important efforts of those engaged in social reform. Rather, it was my hope to examine these approaches vis a vis their ability to protect society from obstructive or subversive interference that threatens public participation in the regenerative process we call democracy.

Analyzed from a functional standpoint, it was my expectation that they might be better understood as models of engagement. Critiqued for their weaknesses, I hoped to provoke reflection on the need for examining these models within a political context that has an historical background. Doctrine and dogma is, in my experience, just as debilitating to reform as it is to reaction.

Contrary to popular views, I contend that what is needed is more thought and less action. The regular undirected or ill-considered expenditure of energy through ineffective models produces frustration, that, when repeated, can lead to cynicism. To overcome forces of reaction requires careful preparation and education based on a clear understanding of the spectrum of opposition to democracy, its agendas, and its methods of operation.

It is my opinion that to be prepared for fundamental conflict with an opposition that is determined to dominate not only our society but the entire world by any means necessary, organizers need to consider and develop research and analysis capacity in a manner similar to intelligence and security capabilities conducted during military warfare. Mastery of ideological warfare is what has enabled a minority of aggressive elites to rule—it is the field of battle where political outcomes are determined.

To wage ideological war against those who are terrorizing the entire planet requires serious disciplined investigation and study--not sloganeering, hyperactive zealotry, or fear-mongering. Those are the methods of militarists and colonialists bent on preventing open inquiry and freedom of expression. My faith in humanity to resolve conflict when the “white blood cells” are functioning depends in part on my ability to persuade readers that the public health model is appropriate for circumscribing political violence.
That it must incorporate tactics from the other models as well as acknowledge its location in a world where the operations of these other models are taken into account is assumed.

That we live in a world of perpetual trauma where the temptation to shut down emotionally is great, and impatience and argumentation has intensified to the point where many no longer want to stop and listen to the grievances of the deprived, must be approached in a way that gives people comfort and peace of mind, that restores their psychic well-being. Peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peace building—the public health model of social change—is a philosopher’s task. The task is to honor our collective wisdom.

Leadership is not the ability to get people to follow you; it is the ability to inspire confidence in others to act on their convictions by helping them articulate the beliefs and values they hold dear. It implies trust and care, generated by honest and open dialogue, through which the group wisdom expressed by a leader is composed. This in turn becomes the basis of the power to endure and create. By exercising this power, we gain empathy and understanding—the insight needed to dream of a better world. The dynamics and relationships explored and communicated through open societal discussion bring these dreams alive.

[ Read what some are doing about it today. ]

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Reign of Terror

The following expose is a composite of excerpts from Blind Spots: A Citizen's Memoir by Jay Taber, published in July 2003 by iUniverse press and pulled from their catalogue in August 2003 after they received a threatening phone call from one of the people written about in the book.

A 2005 edition of Blind Spots is available in the sidebar under Bookstore. A much shorter version of this expose is located here . You can also read what some are doing about this problem today .

In his introduction to An Essay on Liberation, Herbert Marcuse observes that, “...what is denounced as utopian is no longer that which has no place and cannot have any place in the historical universe, but rather that which is blocked from coming about by the power of the established societies.”

“Freedom,” he says, “would become the environment of an organism which is no longer capable of adapting to the competitive performances required under domination, no longer capable of tolerating the aggressiveness, brutality, and ugliness of the established way of life.”

On September 20, 1992, CBS 60 Minutes aired a segment on the violence of the industry-backed Wise Use Movement, focusing on the threats, intimidation, and assaults against parents and community groups in the US who raised concerns about water and air pollution. Caught on film were movement provocateurs Chuck Cushman and Skip Richards, as well as movement propagandist Ron Arnold--all based in Washington State--and interestingly, David Macintosh, White House staff representing President Bush at a national Wise Use gathering. On behalf of President Bush, Macintosh congratulated them for the role they were playing in shaping US policy. As Mr. Macintosh put it, “This is an important movement—one that reflects the American people’s desire to have sensible government.” Part of the footage of Clean Water, Clean Air was shot in Whatcom County, Washington where I lived at the time.

In our Pacific Northwest neck of the woods, the threats in the early 1990s were coming from folks stirred up by the real estate development industry against environmental protection and Indian treaties. Several of those targeted for harassment were my friends and colleagues. Some of us were focused on protecting wells and associated aquifers; some were trying to prevent extinction of native salmon runs in the Nooksack River; some were concerned about landslides and floods exacerbated by clear-cut logging or mining above their homes; some were upset with conventional transportation improvements that ruined their communities; others were involved with guarding specific stretches of Whatcom County coastline from infrastructure destructive to near-shore fish nurseries and beach accretion. Most importantly, all of these people were committed to planning their future, to taking some control over their lives, to fostering dialogue and participation in the making and implementation of public policy.

The greatest irony of Puget Sound politics in fall 1993, was trade and industry subversion of growth management through property-rights front groups, that with the willing assistance of local media, portrayed the conflict as local versus state control--with the hooligans standing up for home rule.

As it turned out, the growth management vanguard I came to represent was one of the first in the state to mount a wholesale challenge to the real estate interests attempting to steal our state. At the time, our objectives were limited to defensive actions.

Shortly after a meeting with these other community activists, I got a call from Martin Keeley, an organizer who had spent many years protecting a Great Blue Heron colony at Point Roberts, a remote outpost of Whatcom County located on a peninsula that jutted into the Straits of Georgia near Vancouver, British Columbia. Martin was rounding up support in advance of a county hearing to take public comments on a proposed golf course resort next to the colony.

The colony itself was located on 300 foot high bluffs that were once reserved by Salish Indians as a burial site for distinguished members of the many tribes who gathered there for the past eight thousand years to fish the sockeye salmon that followed Point Roberts Reef on their way to the Fraser River in Canada.
Legend has it that select Indians could read the face of the bluffs to tell when the salmon were coming. Another claims the fish found their way to the reef by following the trail of fresh water that trickled out of the bluffs between sedimentary layers to be carried on the tides and currents. Perhaps both are true. Modern scientists confirm that salmon imprint on the rivers, lakes and streams of their birth and somehow return to them after feeding for years at sea. I like to think that after several thousand years, the Salish were so in tune with their environment, so observant of life that surrounded them, that nuances of nature we overlook were scrutinized with care. Elders of the Lummi Nation--some of whom I had fished with at this reef twenty years earlier-- accompanied their tribal attorney to the hearing.

On the morning I arrived, it was a typically overcast, clammy, windy northwest Washington winter day that made the hot coffee in front of Martin’s fireplace tough to leave. The hike through the foggy, dripping woods to the bluff, however, was worth the discomfort. As we cautiously stepped closer to the edge of these bluffs--that occasionally sloughed several ton chunks onto the beach below--we paused in awe of the spectacle before us: the 180 degree view encompassed the snow-capped Cascade and Olympic Mountains and Vancouver Island on the horizon; Boundary Bay, the San Juan and Gulf Islands nearby; and crystal clear saltwater below in which we could see loons and diving ducks pursuing juvenile fish in the shallows. I saw why this was such a special place to the Indians, who traditionally camped below the bluff near a fresh water stream and clam beds traversed by multitudes of Dungeness crabs.

By the end of April 1994, our growth management coalition incorporated as the Whatcom Environmental Council. In May, our first appearance before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board was held in the Bellingham Federal Courthouse, attended as well by CLUE president Steve Brisbane, a big-mouthed, born-again land developer who’d married enough money to think he could get away with violating permits and lying to authorities. Mr. Brisbane proceeded to ingratiate himself with the Growth Board by resting his large cowboy boots on the oak railing separating the courtroom gallery from the area reserved for attorneys and judges, and periodically making loud desultory remarks while the hearing was in progress.

More than once, the Board informed him that his attorney from the Pacific Legal Foundation (part of a network of corporate-sponsored non-profits organized to undermine civil rights, occupational health and safety, and environmental regulations), was adequately representing him, and that he would be removed if he persisted. Pacific States, Mountain States, and other Wise Use legal foundations, contributed such notable characters as James Watt, Ed Meese, and Gail Norton to the Reagan/Bush cabinets. When it suited their national agenda to undermine state resource protection laws, they occasionally represented petty criminals like Brisbane.

Once--when Brisbane came under ridicule for repeatedly bulldozing roads through other people’s property to access his, illegally logging stream banks, and ignoring court orders to make restitution for destroying trails on public lands adjacent to his developments—the Bellingham Herald did a puff piece on him with his smiling face in front of his white picket fence at home. The accompanying article lavished praise on him as a successful businessman active in his church.

As I continued my education on the Wise Use Movement (a nationwide industry-backed attempt to prevent discussion of and action on environmental issues), my friend Paul de Armond began making connections with regional political researchers and community organizers in other counties. As a result of our combined efforts, Whatcom Environmental Council hosted an informational panel discussion for our bewildered supporters that included Tarso Luis Ramos of the Western States Center in Portland, Oregon, Don Hopps of the Washington Association of Churches in Seattle, and Paul, whose articles on the topic were being published in Bellevue’s Eastside Week. The more we looked, the more it became clear that what had happened in our community was not unique. Industry-backed terrorism was happening all over. It just wasn’t in the news.

After a much needed camping vacation to the mountains of Okanagan County in north central Washington, I returned to Whatcom County with a new set of priorities that would take me into realms of the socio-political dimension that most people never dreamed existed.

While on our vacation, Marianne and I stopped for lunch in the picturesque logging/mining town of Republic, in the mountains of Ferry County 100 miles northwest of Spokane. By the scenery, we could as easily have been in Appalachia—except the deeply-tanned, barefoot, raggedy-clothed children wandering in and out of neat little one story storefronts with flower boxes out front, jumping on and off the one block of boardwalk, as well as up and down the steps of their elaborately-painted resurrected school bus, were the progeny of hippies—not hillbillies. More precisely, hipnecks, as author David Helvarg defines this second generation of backwoods offspring of flower children--hybrids of crossing hippies with rednecks. Probably grow up to be loggers who smoke pot.

I liked the town and its easy going atmosphere; people standing around gabbin’ in front of the post office; reading the paper on a bench in front of the hardware store; planting flowers in the front yard. As soon as we opened the screen door of the co-op café and bakery, I felt right at home. Jimi Hendrix’ Crosstown Traffic rolling out of the kitchen on waves of homemade soup and fresh-baked bread. I was back in 1971, Fairhaven district, South Bellingham. Time stood still. I could have stayed there all day; Marianne, in her Hawaiian print shirt and Carmen Miranda beach hat, wanted to get take-out, and walk our poodle Ebony around town. I sat on the bench outside and laughed to myself as they promenaded up and down the street like they’d lived there all their lives. They stood out like, well, Miami tourists in Appalachia.

As we often do when visiting new locales, we picked up the local newspaper to get the flavor of the area. The eight-page Republic Miner contained the typical small town articles about weddings, civic group functions, and the Sheriff’s report, along with the usual hardware, grocery, and real estate ads. What caught my eye, though, was a full-page color ad by The Umbrella Group--an unusual name for this arid side of the state--that consisted mostly of text denouncing Growth Management, environmentalists, and anyone else who allegedly was putting timber workers and miners out of work. The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

When we tuned into the local radio station, we learned that the mill that employed most of the town was scaling back and making layoffs. The call-in show we caught in mid stride was full of scapegoating and fear-mongering by people who were obviously worried about their livelihoods. We then picked up some groceries, threw the paper in the bag, and headed out to an old Civilian Conservation Corps campground for some peace and quiet.

Marianne’s Uncle Tom had helped build some of the CCC log and granite shelters at Deception Pass State Park during the Depression, and my old skipper Thorstein Sandbeck used to tell stories about the wild crew of young men he worked with on Orcas Island when they were constructing similar structures at Moran State Park. We always enjoyed checking out campgrounds where the CCC or WPA had worked. The foremen of these desperate crews were real craftsmen, and the work showed it. The full-fledged rustic CCC camp, preserved in tact and still used by scouts and schools, contained bunkhouses, a cook shed, a dining hall, outdoor showers, a mechanic/machine shop, and a woodworking building where they made knotty-pine products to sell. A wooden plaque hangs inside commemorating these hard-working fellows for their help to local ranchers in rounding up cattle and putting out brush fires. Too bad there isn’t a similar program today. These guys got a heck of an education.

As it turned out, TUG was another industry-funded lobbying group that was evading disclosure by failing to report campaign expenditures, which in turn enabled them to come in under the radar of media and good government groups that monitored election department forms to see who was funding support or opposition to candidates, initiatives, or referendums. Evidently, Initiative-164 supporters weren’t content with the ample backing of the Building Industry Association and Washington Association of Realtors, and were hedging their bets with unreported donations.

The following week, I saw a notice in the Herald for a CLUE-hosted meeting of the Committee for Environmental Justice, at Meridian High School north of the town of Laurel, a not-so-wide spot in the road, where a farm implement dealer and small café seem to be the only going concerns. As I walked through the parking lot to the front doors, I noticed several of the trucks had gun racks in the rear windows that weren’t sporting fishing rods. I was a little uneasy, but hunting rifles in October in Whatcom County were not unusual—I had hunted off and on myself. Besides, I figured, since Whatcom County Council member/CLUE Board member Kathy Sutter was there, and they announced the meeting in the paper, it would probably be fine.

When I entered the hall, I spotted Gene Goldsmith, the Wise Use State Legislator from Ferndale. I figured the meeting would probably be a little boring, full of nonsense and hyperbole--as was usually the case at property-rights meetings--but perhaps informative in terms of better comprehending their idiocy. I decided to settle in and just observe the doings.

As I looked around, I noticed several characters I hadn’t spotted before at Wise Use rallies or public hearings. Some of them were wearing camouflage clothing; one who was operating a video camera, on a tri-pod between me and Representative Goldsmith, had a ball cap on with an insignia of a revolutionary war Minuteman. The average age of the attendees was about fifty--mostly men--and definitely working class.

CLUE spokesman and Building Industry Association agent Skip Richards opened the meeting by introducing the master of ceremonies from Snohomish County, who launched into a mild-mannered, monotonous diatribe on Millenialism, Armageddon, and the looming “End Times.” His face and demeanor reminded me of the aristocratic head of chambers in the Rumpole TV series. Calm, nicely dressed in slacks, sweater and blazer, dreamy-eyed--he really believes this stuff. Several “expert” speakers continued in a similar but more excited vein over the next two hours--including a tall, pompous, white-haired candidate for the Washington Supreme Court--interrupted only by spontaneous testimonials from audience members who popped up here and there, regaling their encounters with agents from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). Guys with dark rings around their eyes, like the cast in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, like maybe they’d been losing a lot of sleep worrying about the UN invasion or maybe been over self-medicating.

Somebody later told me the militia/Christian Identity milieu is notorious for manufacturing and indulging in methamphetamines. High profit margin to finance their activities, and good at giving them an intense edge that caffeine can’t quite provide. Oftentimes, it’s when one of their labs blows up sending a ball of toxic fire a couple hundred feet high that law enforcement first gets wind of them being up to no good.

As I witnessed the escalating fervor of the many wild-eyed participants, including a visibly agitated Representative Goldsmith, whose one leg kept bouncing up and down—accelerating with the passion of the testifiers--I began to wonder how many of these marginally-sane malcontents were packing firearms under their jackets. I was considerably relieved when they announced the coffee and cookie break, and headed in to grab some refreshment and look around.

The kitchen was worse—it was full of maniacal Larouchites leaning over the tables frenziedly pitching their knowledge of the House of Windsor and Rothschild connections to internment camps run by UN troops at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for locking up people like themselves who knew the secrets about the New World Order. There were other sociopaths nearly foaming at the mouth while frantically hawking guns, books, and armaments orders to already pumped-up militia recruits who were loading up on caffeine and sugar. Soft sell was not in their repertoire. I decided it was time to head out before someone pointed me out to this collection of misfits.

When I got home I phoned Paul for a debriefing. Marianne said I was white as a sheet and asked me if I was feeling well. Surprisingly, it took me a couple of days to unwind from the experience. Paul and I agreed not to attend these types of functions alone from then on--a decision I wouldn’t regret.

October 26, 1994, four days after the Laurel Grange militia revival, the Wise Use Whatcom County Council announced it was withholding support from a human rights group formed in the wake of a cross-burning and shotgun attack at a migrant workers’ camp near Lynden. A city of five thousand with a history of anti-abortion, anti-gay, religious activism--due in part to the concentration of Christians involved with organizations like Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family, and Christian Coalition--Lynden’s prosperous berry farmers relied on seasonal workers from Mexico. To some of the Wise Use bigots--particularly their associates in the militia recruiting organization Citizens for Liberty-- these non-white laborers were viewed on a par with Indians and Blacks--not only unequal in the eyes of God, but undeserving of equal protection under the law. The County Council’s major objection to the human rights group, however, was its support of equal rights for homosexuals.

Unfortunately, in their determination to get this obscene body of public officials to pass a resolution in support of human rights, the crusaders that later became the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force agreed to Council demands to drop protection of homosexuals from their resolution. Meanwhile, down in Snohomish County, just north of Seattle, growth management activist Ellen Gray was threatened by property-rights zealots brandishing a hangman’s noose. Ellen was later asked to testify before a Congressional committee investigating domestic terrorism.

In January 1995, Whatcom County Council member Marlene Dawson--a real estate speculator on the Lummi Indian Reservation--urged U.S. Senator Slade Gorton to “drastically cut Lummi funding” on behalf of her and other white fee land owners. The Fee Land Owners Association (FLOA), in which Marlene was active, had been at odds with the tribe over the sovereignty of Lummi Nation to manage water resources within its own jurisdiction. To the white developers, this interfered with their ability to make easy money at the expense of the tribe.
This situation played out on numerous Indian reservations throughout the state, especially those with waterfront. Puget Sound was notorious for battles between tribes and developers. United Property Owners of Washington (UPOW) is the umbrella lobbying and litigation organization for the whites. Former U.S. Representative Jack Metcalf from Langley on Whidbey Island (whose father was a Silver Shirt Nazi-sympathizer during World War II) served on UPOW’s board.

Official history of the Lummi Nation reveals that the three largely white settlements on the 12,000 acre reservation--Sandy Point, Sandy Point Heights, and Gooseberry Point--are the consequence of a combination of illegal squatting, devious land deals by a U.S. Indian Agent, outright theft by the U.S. Department of the Interior, as well as extortion by a U.S. Indian Health Service doctor who threatened to withhold medical treatment entitled to the Lummis by law. Senator Gorton made a name for himself in the 1970s as the Washington State Attorney General who led the fight to deprive Washington Indian tribes of their fishing rights guaranteed under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot. I remember in 1974 my Lummi and Samish friends being rammed and shot at while fishing salmon. As a U.S. Senator in 1995, Gorton took the action of threatening to deprive the Lummis of funds used to support such needs as health services for their elders and the Head Start program for their children.

After an armed stand-off on the reservation between Lummi Police and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputies at the site of a Lummi Nation well, anti-Indian organizers stepped up their activities. Several Indian youth were harassed and assaulted in the nearby Ferndale School District, and placard-carrying contingents from FLOA, stirred up by Skip Richards’ propaganda equating property-rights with civil rights, became regulars at County Council meetings.

My attention in early 1995 was divided between Growth Management, environmental protection, public health and safety on one hand--treaty rights and human dignity on the other. My commitment to safeguarding the democratic process brought them together.

On March 16, 1995, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board sent a letter to Governor Lowry recommending monetary sanctions against Whatcom County for making absolutely no attempt to comply with its order of the previous November. Sanctions available to the Governor under the Growth Management Act included withholding of transportation funds, liquor and sales tax revenues. At the time, sanctions had yet to be applied in any of Washington’s 39 counties but Chelan, where Wise Use/militia county officials and the Chelan County Sheriff were completely out of control.

A short while later, at a human rights workshop I had the good fortune to meet Eric Ward from Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment in Seattle. Eric, and his partner Bill Wassmuth, were focused on constraining racist based political violence. Eric, a young, dreadlocked, black man with blue eyes had been initiated into human rights work combating neo-Nazi skinheads in Eugene, Oregon. Bill, an older, white, former Catholic priest from Idaho, had received his initiation fighting Aryan Nations, which is suspected of blowing off the back of his home with dynamite.

By April 1995, my commitment to public affairs had taken a large toll on my ability to make a living, and as creditors finally forced the issue, I opted to file bankruptcy. On April 19, when I made the early morning trip south to the bankruptcy court in Snohomish County--located in the city of Everett--I decided to stop in afterward and introduce myself to Ellen Gray. When we met for lunch, I related to her some of the stuff Paul was uncovering, and suggested, “We might be able to help you do something about the militia thugs down here. You know your Sheriff’s mixed up with ‘em.” She stopped me in mid sentence, staring with a puzzled look. “You seem so calm. Do you know what happened this morning?”
I said, “No, what?”
“Someone blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.”
“They leveled a three-story building with a truck bomb.”
“Holy shit--this is the anniversary of Waco.”

Later in May 1995, CLUE's Ben Hinckle, who’d opened for Chuck Cushman at a Wise Use Rome Grange revival, hosted an open-to-the-public Citizens for Liberty meeting at Squalicum Harbor Center. Citizens for Liberty--an amalgam of adherents of the John Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, and other racist /anti-Semitic organizations--was waxing as a militia recruiting group, drawing interest from less stable members of Fee Land Owners Association and other property-rights fanatics. The new political climate boastfully created by CLUE and its sponsor the Building Industry Association, had clearly signaled it was time for these dormant Minutemen to prepare for action. The targets of their delusional fear and hatred had been provided—now it was time for revenge. Whatcom County Sheriff Dale Brandland attended to warn them not to “take the law into their own hands.” At a later public meeting of Citizens for Liberty, Hinckle threatened Paul with a knife.

Needless to say, I was incredulous when the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force nearly agreed to participate in a public forum with Hinckle at the Bellingham Library. It wasn’t the first nor the last time they had to be dissuaded from following their inane chairman into providing a platform for bigots. As Paul astutely observed,

There’s an extraordinarily high incidence of people in the extreme Right who have suffered organic brain damage from head injuries—traumatic injury that turned them into dangerous kooks. This makes it all the more frustrating when liberals, presumably confounding free speech with unopposed speech, go out of their way to protect hate mongers. You know, they want to protect people who aren’t being attacked, and they want to ignore people who are. That way they can feel virtuous without incurring any risk whatsoever.
In July 1995, I persuaded the board of Whatcom Environmental Council that our primary obligation to the community had shifted. While we were to continue our public interest litigation together for another year, we would do so with public education and exposure of Wise Use in mind. We would be in the news on a regular basis, and this gave us a platform for beginning the process of repairing community safeguards rusty from disuse.
Toward this end, we secured a table at the weekly farmer’s market in downtown Bellingham, at which we displayed player’s programs of the political Right in Whatcom County, complete with photos and copies of important documents. We sold videos of their gatherings for five bucks. We provided Q & A sheets and chronological flyers that explained the Growth Management Act and the ensuing conflict. We also mailed copies of Wise Use hate literature to radio stations, locally-owned newspapers, and mainstream religious leaders. Even if we were to lose the battles for public resource protection, we were determined to settle the hash of the criminals masquerading as responsible businessmen.
In August 1995, Whatcom Environmental Council published Paul de Armond’s seminal report Wise Use in Northern Puget Sound , a comprehensive sourced documentation of the property-rights rebellion choreographed and coordinated by the Building Industry Association. In this lengthy report, in which names are named, crimes exposed, and dereliction of duty denoted, a clear picture of the methods of obstruction and subversion of self-governance was conveyed. Paul’s report also illustrated how the Republicans used an independent expenditure campaign to outfox the Whatcom Democrats, totally blowing them out of the water in the 1993 elections. When Democratic Party Chair Terry Bornemann saw the report, he called Paul and said, “I’m going to ruin you!”
This report signaled the beginning of the end of the property rights/militia uprising of the 1990s in Washington State. It would take six more years--largely due to the local news monopoly of the Bellingham Herald and its vindictive, bigoted publisher, J.C. Hickman--for Whatcom County to return to a semblance of normalcy. In the summer of 1995, though, the stealth aspect of Wise Use was up.

As Paul’s report circulated around the state and nation, attracting interest from civic groups, academia, law enforcement, and news reporters in the US, Canada, and Europe, the anti-Indian element of the property-rights fundamentalists began to escalate the conflict. In September 1995, Bellingham’s KGMI radio talk-show host, Jeff Kent, led Fee Land Owners Association representatives Jeff McKay and Linnea Smith in an hour-long diatribe against the Lummis. When U.S. Senator Gorton stepped up his attack against Native sovereignty, Washington Environmental Council and the Washington Association of Churches joined the Lummis in condemning this unconscionable act of revenge for losing the fish wars in federal court as a younger man.
Tribes across the nation held demonstrations of solidarity, with large gatherings in Seattle and Washington D.C. In Whatcom County, the Lummi people assembled in front of the County Courthouse, closing off the large intersection next to the civic plaza, to dance in a large circle around a giant drum where a two-beat rhythm was pounded out by a group of half a dozen tribal singers. My friend Cha-das-ska-dum Which-ta-lum, the noted Lummi spiritual leader and proponent of Indian sovereignty throughout the Americas, added his booming voice in a prayer for the spiritual growth of the misguided white politicians. Bureaucrats and officials from all four sides of the plaza stood at their windows, the hair raising on their necks at the sound of these First Nations people singing and dancing away their collective foreboding.
For a brief period that fall, humanists and renegade Democrats worked along side attorney Joe Bowen, a Skagit Indian fielded to challenge Gorton for U.S. Senate. Perhaps in the twisted minds that comprised Citizens for Liberty, this confirmed their delusions of conspiracy against their version of white supremacy guaranteed by the “organic” U.S. Constitution, the one without amendments beyond the original ten—the one they carried in their shirt pockets when attending militia meetings.
But it was not what they thought that mattered most—it was what they did that counted, and their decision in November 1995 to sponsor a talk by Ron Arnold, the hate-mongering Wise Use propagandist from the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue, was one they’d come to regret. Arnold, “Merchant of Fear” Alan Gottlieb’s partner, is a not so subtle master of violent rhetoric, who covers himself by claiming his calls to “kill the bastards” (environmentalists) are metaphorical.
Movement entrepreneurs Arnold and Cushman--national players who mobilize ruffians to carry the banner for industry--generate violence toward Indians and environmentalists from coast to coast. According to Western States Center researcher Jonn Lunsford crimes including “animal mutilation, property damage, death threats, arson, assault and battery, bombings, and attempted murder” follow in their wake. In May 1988, says Rudolph C. Ryser in Anti-Indian Movement on the Tribal Frontier Cushman was the featured speaker at Protect America’s Rights and Resource’s national convention in Wisconsin, held to oppose honoring Indian treaties. Shortly after, Indian fishermen there were assaulted and shot at by sports fishermen. We had done our research, our education, and our organizing; now it was time for community action before someone ended up dead.
The week before, on November 11, 1995 (Veterans Day), another event took place that had Paul and me in an excited state of mind. Paul’s sister Claire had received a call early that Saturday morning from a friend who’d passed the Rome Grange on the way to town, and seen a large sign out front announcing “Washington State Militia.” Paul called me before breakfast to arrange a rendezvous at the Grange. He and Claire would sit on one side of the room, visibly taking notes and tape-recording if it seemed safe, and I would sit on the other side of the room blending in. Paul had become known by his presence at several recruiting events in Snohomish and Whatcom Counties, and had been fingered as a hostile reporter at one near Everett. I was still perhaps unknown by, as we referred to them, the dangerous fringe of the Far Right.
I arrived a little early and stood on the front porch to get a sense of the crowd. Security people with walkie-talkies and long dark rain coats were hanging around showing people where to park and steering them to the basement for coffee before the meeting started upstairs. I chatted one of them up with small talk, and moseyed downstairs to get coffee.
Shortly after the pledge of allegiance and welcome, Paul and Claire entered and sat across the room toward the front. I noticed a few heads turn as his presence was whispered back and forth. After a couple of warm up speakers who lamented the “browning of America” by immigrants, and warned of the police state that would take their children, wives, and other property, an out-of-uniform Sheriff Brandland came in eating a bag of popcorn and sat opposite me on the bench under the window. When the presentations started to get repetitive, Paul and Claire walked out. The Sheriff left after a bit as well.
When the refreshments break came, I held back and pretended to be interested in some of the recruitment flyers they’d passed out. I noticed the keynote speaker, Keith Anderson (recently convicted of securities fraud) was speaking sotto voce to his assistant near the window. I pretended to not be interested and only strayed as close as necessary to pick up their conversation. It was almost surreal, looking at large, old-fashioned, framed portraits of George Washington and other founding fathers--hung between handmade quilts commemorating Grange events—and listening to conspirators who advocated armed insurrection. If you can imagine John Brown at the Walton’s, you’ve got some idea of the incongruity.
It had been worth the wait; what I heard them say was, “Trochman’s coming to speak at the Lakeway Inn. Things are gonna start happening. He doesn’t fuck around.” John Trochman was the leader of the Militia of Montana, a heavily armed outfit that wasn’t above robbing banks, storming county jails to bust out their buddies, and engaging in shoot-outs with state police when pulled over for traffic infractions.
To avoid suspicion, I wandered downstairs and availed myself of the voluminous tabled handouts free-for-the-taking and returned upstairs with the boys. When Anderson’s speech on how to evade taxes and launder money concluded, I decided it was time to find Paul. He quickly made some calls to Eric in Seattle and Task Force leaders in Bellingham to develop a response. When they spoke with the management of the Bellingham Lakeway Inn, the Trochman reservation was cancelled, forcing the militia recruiters to relocate their event to Mt. Vernon, thirty miles south. With this advance warning, human rights activists in Skagit County merged with those from Whatcom in protest on the day of the big event.
Eric was terrified with, “the idea of militias being able to utilize the electoral force of Wise Use groups” to legitimize racist based policies regionally and nationally. In Whatcom, Snohomish, and Chelan Counties, this epidemic was in full swing. We’d made significant progress constraining political violence in our region in 1995, but we had a ways to go before everyone could feel safe again to participate in public affairs. 1996 would be a turning point.

As I began my third year as executive director of Whatcom Environmental Council, I realized it would also be my last. I was growing weary of the toll exacted on my home life, our social life, and our economic well-being. I think I was becoming depressed.
Traumatic stress doesn’t have to happen all at once, as with a natural disaster or man-made cataclysmic event. It can accumulate in the psyche, and manifest itself in increased use of drugs like alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. According to Ezra S. Susser, writing in August 2002 Scientific American, The World Health Organization finds, “…that depression is the fourth leading cause of disease and disability worldwide…WHO estimates that by 2020 depression will be the world’s second leading cause of premature death and disability.”
Demoralization that leads to depression can be headed off by a sense of community and social cohesion, a sense of common purpose. I no longer sensed this in Whatcom County. When I walked through downtown, passing favorite haunts like The Bagelry and the Newsstand, I felt like the protagonist in the movie Pleasantville, like I no longer knew the town I’d lived in for twenty-five years. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew big changes were in store. I told my comrades and associates that this would be it—I would see through the cases we had on the docket, which would carry us through early August, and would then step aside.
In the wake of Paul’s report on Wise Use, other counties began to make headway in reclaiming their governments from the Building Industry/property-rights thugs. Chelan, Snohomish, and Jefferson County voters dumped the rebels that had brought such derision to public affairs. In Whatcom County, with the help of the Bellingham Herald, Wise Use consolidated its control of the County Council.
Our focus on the integrity of public process, as opposed to issue advocacy, allowed our concerns to resonate beyond our borders. By helping Paul de Armond, Whatcom Environmental Council was instrumental in helping topple corrupt administrations and their violent supporters in Chelan and Snohomish Counties in particular, perhaps others.
In January 1996, a group of people associated with organized labor, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, and Evergreen State College, invited Paul and me to a Growth Management conference in Olympia. Attended by activists from around the state, the discussion, for me, illuminated a second political blind spot. The first blind spot, the one that made the 1993 coups d’etat possible, was the Washington Property Rights Network--the realtors, builders, and developers who covertly enlisted Wise Use operatives to stir up a pseudo grassroots rebellion in 14 counties, through the formation of local property-rights groups. The second blind spot was the liberal establishment, which consisted of politicians, bureaucrats, and union officials in bed with the trade and industry elite that had conspired to obstruct public process and usurp elections in the first place.
According to Paul, “The labor thugs [especially those that represented public employees] very forthrightly explained they had no option but to take over the Democratic Party in order to control and direct money-laundering after the Public Disclosure Act was amended by initiative. I think that’s when I lost hope for reform.”
What they were saying, in essence, was that elections, and consequently public policy, would no longer be determined by voters, but rather by what author Walter Karp calls, “the indispensable enemies” of organized labor and big business, through the respective political parties they controlled--to the detriment of everyone else. Without stating it in these terms, politics to them was a matter of turf battles between competing white-collar criminals--more sophisticated and less violent than those between Sicilian crime families--but structurally and dynamically the same. Deception, fraud, extortion, and coercion were simply tools of the trade.
While this pattern had its exceptions, it fit neatly with the state of affairs in Whatcom County, where Central Labor Council director Dave Warren and his labor goons threatened and assaulted progressive activists and Lummi Indians elected as Precinct Committee Officers to the Whatcom Democratic Party in the September 1996 primary. In January 1996, though, I found this reality very discomfiting.
July 1996 brought several surprises to Whatcom County, not the least of which was a press conference by the U.S. Department of Justice, announcing the bust of eight local individuals for involvement in bomb-making and illegal modification of firearms into fully-automatic weapons—machine guns. News of this development, given the growth in militia organizing activities of the past year and a half, made Paul de Armond and I very concerned. Paul installed motion detectors and lights around his home. I started closing the blinds at night--drawing the heavy brocaded curtains over the windows in the living room where I often sat up late reading. I never said anything about why I was doing this, hoping to spare Marianne some worry. I guess I was only sparing myself, though. I realized this when she asked me if I thought someone might try to poison our dogs. I wondered if I’d be shot in my recliner some evening.
Paul shared information with local and federal law enforcement agents, but the communication was strictly one-way. As a member of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Speaker’s Bureau, I’d been lecturing at adult education forums in local churches about the danger posed by community silence. Most of my time consisted of undoing the years of misinformation published in the Herald. We were apparently a long way from the start of a sustained community response to domestic terrorism. We would perhaps never get there.
The morning of the DOJ press conference, Paul was again stuck at work, so I picked up our video of the Washington State Militia gathering and drove down to the Bellingham Police Station where the press conference was to be held. When I arrived, there were three huge, mobile, satellite-hookup news vans from Seattle television stations in the parking lot, a temporary chain link fence surrounding the station, and plainclothes agents--sporting sunglasses and earphones--all over the place. A handful of our friends from Whatcom Human Rights Task Force were standing outside the fence taking it all in.
When I walked up to them, they informed me that the feds had told them that only officials, credentialed media, and cops were allowed inside. I noticed the reporters wandering around looking for someone to interview were all wearing media dog tags, so I decided to create the appearance I was one of them. Stepping up into the van of one of the major network affiliates, I interrupted a news team in the middle of organizing the sequence of their coverage and monitoring their satellite connection on the several live screens in the wall of electronics running the length of the walk-in van. They were pretty hyper, and seemed to overlook my presence, until I said, “I have a videotape of the militia meeting with me.” All conversation stopped. The reporter, a short good-looking blonde, all made up for her broadcast, moved toward me like an animal stalking its prey and asked me how much I wanted for it. Caught by surprise with her question, I responded that they could air it now and negotiate the price with Paul later. Her technician then ran the tape while I pointed out the ring leaders and the reporter selected the segments she wanted for her newscast.
When it was time to go inside the police station, I walked behind the news team, and when stopped by the armed agent at the entrance for lack of a dog tag, I produced a Public Good Project business card, which I referred to as an online media publication, and was escorted by another federal agent into the conference. Once inside, I joined the reporters, Mayor Asmundson, and State Representative Goldsmith in ogling the sawed-off shotguns, grenades, and machine guns, and then took a seat for the DOJ performance. After the brief statements to the press about their investigation, that culminated in several arrests and seizures of illegal weapons, and the follow up questions--all completed in less than half an hour--we filed out while reporters snagged interviews.
Outside, I spotted a late arrival from Northwest News, a regional independent 24-hour news station, and walked over to introduce myself to see if he wanted an interview. Grateful to be filled in on the background, and steered toward other potential interviewees, he ran several minutes live, and thanked me for the help. Later, when I debriefed with Paul, he decided to ask a standard $300 from the network affiliate for the tape, which we could readily use to defray our costs in running around the countryside. The network agreed it was a fair price, but in the end stiffed us for the entire amount.

In August 1996, after four and a half years of cover-up by the Bellingham Herald, the CLUE/militia connection was finally revealed in the Portland Oregonian. This was soon followed by an article in the Anacortes American, the first coverage by a paper inside the legislative district Skip Richards hoped to represent. Quoted as a background source in the Oregonian, I was becoming increasingly concerned for the safety of my family. After all, my face had just been broadcast on regional television as a militia-buster, and I figured if anything was going to happen, it might already be underway. Meanwhile, Bill Wassmuth and Eric Ward, down at the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity office in Seattle, were busy making sense of things for the metro news audience.
In October, trailing distantly in the polls, candidate Richards chose to play the race card in the general election, insinuating in his campaign literature that the Indians (presumably through guarding their treaty rights) were undermining all that the white people had struggled to build in Whatcom County. His scofflaw buddy Bill Geyer’s County Executive campaign also flopped, in spite of the Herald’s refusal to connect him as a founder of CLUE.
On January 15, 1997, the trial of eight Washington State Militia members began in federal court in Seattle. One of their secretly recorded conversations, introduced as evidence, included a discussion about a route through the heavily wooded Whatcom Falls Park to the rear of the home of Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Chair Damani Johnson. Some of the defendants were set free due to a juror’s inability to follow the judge’s instructions; others went to prison for four years. Bellingham Herald crime reporter, Cathy Logg--who courageously covered the arrests and had her home and computer broken into--eventually moved away from Whatcom County.
Malcolm Gladwell, in the Crime and Science article published in the February 24, 1997 issue of New Yorker magazine, wrote about why some people turn into violent criminals. “New evidence,” he says, “suggests that it may all be in the brain.”
In the opening paragraph of Damaged , Gladwell describes the racist, anti-semitic, mass murderer, Joseph Paul Franklin, sitting in front of the judge in Clayton, Missouri completely still except for his left leg, which bounced up and down in an unceasing nervous motion. Just like Gene Goldsmith’s did at the Laurel Grange revival meeting.
According to Gladwell, Dorothy Otnow Lewis--a psychiatrist at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, who over the past twenty years has examined roughly two hundred murderers—concluded that Franklin was “a psychotic whose thinking was delusional and confused” due to “brutal physical abuse he had suffered as a child.” The blows to the head inflicted by his mother, she said, accounted for his “bizarre statements and beliefs.” Although he didn’t seem insane, she didn’t feel that Franklin’s brain worked the way brains are supposed to work-that he had identifiable biological and psychiatric problems.
When I read this article, I couldn’t avoid thinking of the Wise Use zealots, Citizens for Liberty, the Committee for Environmental Justice, and some of the fanatic fundamentalists steering the Whatcom Republican Party. As Lewis noted, some sociopaths are not evil; “They are driven by forces beyond their control.” Driven described to a “T” the malcontents I’d observed first hand over the past five years. They were driven to harangue anyone who disagreed with them. They were driven to organize, petition, lobby, and demonstrate against sex education, against the teaching of Evolution, against homosexuals, against environmental sanity, and perhaps most tellingly—against talking circles in the elementary schools—used to assist teachers in detecting victims of child abuse. Local Wise Use Women in Timber activists viewed this and Outcome-based Education as intolerable intrusions into the inviolate domain of family life—the realm where the man was autocratic head of the household—where wife-battering, child-beating, and even incest were no business of social workers or society at large.
The touchstone of family autonomy was something I’d heard repeated by these women in many venues. It came as no surprise when Citizens for Liberty/Washington State Militia member Fred Fisher was revealed as having been convicted of forcing repeated sexual intercourse on his nine-year-old foster daughter.
More importantly, these relatively small groups of neurotics were driven in 1993 to take over the legislative branches of Bellingham and Whatcom County governments. Public policy in city hall and the courthouse wasn’t just corrupt—it was literally insane.
Gladwell observes that in 1963, when Dorothy Lewis graduated from Yale School of Medicine, neurology--the study of the brain and the rest of the nervous system--and psychiatry--the study of behavior and personality--were entirely separate fields. Criminals were just like us, went the established litany, only they had been given bad ideas about how to behave. The trouble was that when she began working with delinquents, writes Gladwell, they didn’t seem like that at all…they seemed to be damaged and impaired. Lewis says, “I discovered that many of these kids had had serious accidents, injuries, or illnesses that seemed to have affected the central nervous system…”
I called Paul and told him about the article. It seemed vital to understanding some of the madness around Whatcom politics—indeed national politics after the 1994 mid-term Congressional elections. Remember the Contract with America crap? U.S. Representative Helen Chenoweth? Reverend Moon? Anyone sane enough to manipulate the damaged ones for political power is very evil indeed—and dangerous.
Dorothy Lewis’ colleague, Jonathan Pincus--a neurologist at Georgetown University--became convinced that “Almost all the violent ones [criminals] were damaged.” Gladwell claims They [Lewis and Pincus] believe that the most vicious criminals are, overwhelmingly, people with some combination of abusive childhoods, brain injuries, and psychotic symptoms…somehow these factors together create such terrifying synergy as to impede these individuals’ ability to play by the rules of society.
Gladwell tells us the entire outside of the brain is covered in a thick carpet of gray matter—the cortex. It is the function of the cortex-and, in particular, those parts of the cortex beneath the forehead, known as the frontal lobes-to modify the impulses that surge up from within the brain, to provide judgment, to organize behavior and decision-making, to learn and adhere to rules of everyday life. It is the dominance of the cortex and the frontal lobes, in other words, that is responsible for making us human. Stuart Yudofsky, the chairman of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston told him, “Our cortex helps us figure out when we are and are not in danger. Our memory tells us what we should be frightened of and angry with and what we shouldn’t…if it’s impaired—one can understand how that would lead to confusion, to problems with disinhibition, to violence.”
Since there is no objective standard for judgment, Pincus, says Gladwell, tries to pick up evidence of an inability to cope with complexity, a lack of connection between experience and decision-making which is characteristic of cortical dysfunction—the inability to adapt to a new situation. Like, say, the modern day White Supremacists Paul and I observed at militia recruiting meetings in Whatcom and Snohomish Counties? The ones who claimed that filing legal affidavits with county clerks declaring themselves white, property-owning males exempted them from paying taxes? The ones who asserted the County Sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer in the country? Like the ones holding Sodom and Gomorra placards in front of a photo exhibit at Bellingham City Hall of gay and lesbian people in the workplace? Not every suspected fruitcake was as cut and dry as the Larouchites who occasionally set up a table in front of the Bellingham Central Post Office. I wondered where to draw the line between ignorance and mental deficiency.
As Gladwell observes, child abuse has devastating psychological consequences for children and the adults they become…prolonged child abuse is a key to understanding criminal behavior because abuse also appears to change the anatomy of the brain…brain scans of children who have been severely neglected [show] that their cortical and sub-cortical areas never developed properly…were roughly twenty or thirty percent smaller than normal. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine, told Gladwell, “There are parts of the brain that are involved in attachment behavior-the connectedness of one individual to another-and in order for that to be expressed we have to have a certain nature of experience and have that experience at the right time. If early in life you are not touched and held and given all the somatosensory stimuli that are associated with what we call love, that part of the brain is not organized in the same way.”
All the “tough love” doctrine espoused by the Far Right came flooding back as I read these words. I imagined some of the horrors that must be taking place daily in some of the homes of families where religious fanaticism and other delusions fostered a siege mentality. Clearly, not every bigot had been dropped on his or her head as a child, or fallen off a ladder as an adult, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many had. According to Perry, “Such a person is literally lacking some brain organization that would allow him to actually make strong connections to other human beings…after age two-they’ve missed that critical window.”
I think it was about this time that Paul mentioned to me that his father, Fred, had worked in public health administration where he produced educational films. He said Fred later went into making documentaries for a subsidiary of KING Broadcasting in Seattle. It was there, in the early 60s, while Paul and Claire were in elementary school, that Fred came under threat from Far Right anti-communist zealots known as the Minutemen. Fred had produced a documentary on these holdovers from the McCarthy era of the 1950s, and they had in turn threatened Fred and his young family. It made a strong impression on Paul and Claire, who’d been raised Unitarian and spent their summer vacations volunteering in migrant worker camps near Yakima. When the same violent, racist rhetoric and threatening behavior erupted in 1990s Whatcom County, it was all too familiar.

Gladwell notes that abuse also disrupts the brain’s stress-response system…by releasing several waves of hormones, the last of which is cortisol…[too much of which] begins to eat away at the organ of the brain known as the hippocampus, which serves as the brain’s archivist… J. Douglas Bremner, a psychiatrist at Yale, has measured the damage that cortisol does by taking MRI scans of adults who suffered severe sexual or physical abuse as children. If you look at Bremner’s scans, says Gladwell, memory loss [in survivors] begins to make sense: the archivist in their brain has been crippled.
Martin Teicher, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard and McLean Hospital, says Gladwell, recently gave EEGs to a hundred and fifteen children who had been admitted to a psychiatric facility, some of whom had a documented history of abuse. Not only did the rate of abnormal EEGs among the abused turn out to be twice that of the non-abused but all those abnormal brain scans turned out to be a result of problems on the left side of the brain. Something in the brain’s stress response, Teicher theorized, was interfering with the balanced development of the brain’s hemispheres…Taken together, these changes in brain hardware are more than simple handicaps. They are, in both subtle and fundamental ways, corrosive of self. Richard McNally, a professor of psychology at Harvard says, “The ability to solve problems in the here and now depends on one’s ability to access specific autobiographical memories in which one has encountered similar problems in the past. It depends on knowing what worked and what didn’t. With that ability impaired, abuse survivors cannot find coherence in their lives. Their sense of identity breaks down.”
“What you get is a kind of erratic-ness,” says Frank Putnam, who heads the Unit on Developmental Traumatology at the National Institute of Mental Health, in Maryland. “These kinds of people can be very different in one situation compared with another. There is the sense that they don’t have a larger moral compass.”
Reading Gladwell’s article, I began to sense that at least some of Richards’ and Hinkle’s followers were doing so because they couldn’t figure things out, because they couldn’t adapt, and, more frighteningly, because Richards and Hinkle told them they were OK. (Maybe by Richards’ and Hinkle’s standards they were.) If you’d been rejected in any way by society: hassled by teachers and social workers; repeatedly laid off for screwing up; warned or arrested by cops for threatening people; or just made fun of by arrogant liberals who called you stupid--and suddenly someone who seems to know the score tells you it’s not your fault—you just might be willing to focus your aggression on the targets your leader provides.
According to Gladwell, abuse, in and of itself, does not necessarily result in violence, any more than neurological impairment or psychosis does. However, Lewis and Pincus, he says, argue that if you mix these conditions together they become dangerous, that they have a kind of pathological synergy, that, like the ingredients of a bomb, they are troublesome individually but explosive in combination.
I thought of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. I tried to imagine the ticking brain bombs in some Vietnam and Gulf War vets, in incarcerated foster children, in young black males beat up by wild street cops, in those denied medical drugs and treatment because they lack insurance. Then I thought of people who believed their job or their one asset—their home, their land—might be taken by “eco-Nazis” or “lazy Indians,” and I began to appreciate the powder keg Skip Richards, Art Castle, and Bill Geyer had been toying with. What they’d done was not only criminal and immoral—it was cruel.
Fall of 1997, Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen dumped County Health Officer Dr. Frank James for telling the truth about widespread groundwater pollution from pesticides that had poisoned many private wells. Dr. James had also declared Lake Whatcom a “severe health hazard.” This revenge on an admittedly belated whistle blower was the third to take place over water contamination exposure under the Wise Use reign of terror: County Planning Director Dan Taylor had been canned for merely designating county aquifers in need of protection, and County Hearing Examiner Ed Good--the first to go--had been unceremoniously booted by the Council just months before vesting his retirement, in retaliation for his Lake Whatcom decision.
Four years of purging Whatcom County government of any responsible officials willing to protect public health and safety begged for State action. Indeed, the new Governor, Gary Locke--through letters from State agencies and Hearings Boards--had received documentation delineating lawless and intransigent behavior by county officials. He also received numerous requests from good government groups for an investigation of the corruption that had taken hold of elections and governance in Whatcom County. The requests fell on deaf ears.
1998 was the year Marianne and I departed to begin a new life in the Bay Area north of San Francisco. The bright spot in this time of change and imminent departure was the gathering of all the community activists we had helped around the county for a photo shoot and dessert social. As my final task before packing up our belongings in our VW van to head for San Francisco, I loaded up my file cabinet and delivered them to the local alternative press Every Other Weekly office. For a community to move forward, it needs to know where it’s been. My contribution to local history would be in good hands.
[Postscript: As of September 2005, former CLUE board member/convicted insurance fraud Bruce Ayers was Chairman of the Whatcom Republican Party. Racist ex-KGMI talkshow host Jeff Kent was busy serving as Republican National Committeeman.]

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