Thursday, June 30, 2005


Dr. Death

Feral Scholar has a post up on the assassination of the Knight-Ridder reporter who broke the story Monday of US-backed death squads murdering Sunni civilians as a sign of organized state terror becoming a standard practice of the US-controlled Iraqi police. While speculation that the sniper who eliminated the news organization's employee was a US soldier is unconfirmed, the fact that the rapid increase in execution style corpses showing up in the Baghdad morgue coincides with Negroponte's tenure there should raise some red flags.

See what you think:


Social Investment

Welcome an old hand to blogdom. His June 17 post Investing in Ideas is especially worth your time.


Pursuit of Happiness

With the ominous spectacle of our biggest national holiday lurking in the shadows of our miserably failed state, I found myself asking this morning, "How can one say anything that hasn't been said about our Independence Day?
What new view can possibly be concocted that isn't trite or contrived?"

But maybe that isn't the task at hand today. Maybe we don't require something new. Maybe that's the lost point of this commemoration of courage and sacrifice for an at least ostensibly noble purpose. Maybe that's why all peoples tell the stories of their ancestors who struggled to learn the lessons that would guide them in things like the pursuit of happiness.

So it is that I came to settle on that little, oft-repeated phrase that follows life and liberty, in order to focus our thinking about what we might want to become independent from, as we simultaneously celebrate the emancipation of our forebearers. And as I reflect on what happiness I have known in my life, it has been the company of good friends, or the discovery of new places and ideas, or the sharing of good fortune and joy.

But more than any of these, it is the happiness of being part of a community--however defined--working together for its common good. For it is only this deeper sense of reciprocity and cooperation as part of living our communal values that can make us happy, even as we endure otherwise bewildering, depressing circumstances.

And so, with all due respect to the once-principled experiment of our republic, I would assert it is once again time to declare our independence from tyranny--albeit, of a different sort--and redefine the conditions under which we in the present can again pursue the kind of happiness we would bestow on our heirs.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Ten Percenters

Driftglass (see Links in sidebar) has a post up addressed specifically to Young Republicans, but don't let that dissuade you from reading it. And, as only he can say it, this message gets down to the nitty gritty of "enduring freedom" as it were. More importantly, it's a message for all those otherwise good kids who've been seduced by the dark side (aka GOP) into supporting crimes against humanity they'll never have to witness. Unless, that is, they take his advice and enlist today. For, as he states so emphatically, if this is a war between good and evil as they like to claim, then they ought to be willing to fight it. Otherwise, they are at best cowards, and at worst frauds.

So now, next time you encounter one of these true believers in our glorious war in Iraq, you don't have to argue about the motives or intentions or accountability of our leaders; all you need do is ask, "Why haven't you volunteered to serve?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Rockets' Red Glare

That feisty gal over at the Meanwhile Ranch offers up an unusual eulogy for one of the evil empire Walton Gang that I'd recommend taking a look at. After reading it, you might want to mosey down to your locally-owned bookstore and grab a copy of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Perfect ammo for those Fourth of July sidewinders.

Monday, June 27, 2005


Over and Over

I noticed today that some of my anti-war colleagues are helping promote the next nationally-coordinated public protest of the US crimes against humanity in Iraq, scheduled to take place, coincidentally, on my birthday--September 24. To my count, this will be the third sort of annual mobilization against the Bush Administration's war crimes (not counting the one at the 2004 RNC convention), and I'm a little curious just what kind of turnout they'll get.

With the international War Tribunal on Iraq scheduled to conclude its proceedings in Istanbul tomorrow, the facts surrounding America's most recent military impunity will have been thoroughly rehashed, and all that will remain is the reaction--if any--by the world to this fourteen year nightmare for the Iraqi people.

Which reminds me of the bewildered young Iraqi university coed who came to speak extemporaneously to a pre-war conference I attended as a presenter in November 2002. By my calculations, she would have been born around the start of the Iran-Iraq war that lasted roughly the first eight years of her life. Then, three years later, at age eleven, she would have begun to endure the twelve years of hardship, famine, and disease run rampant in her country as a result of the post-Gulf War sanctions.

So by the time I listened to her pleading that day with an American audience to stop America's rulers from doing any more harm to her homeland, she was understandably distraught, and likely wondering just what kind of people inhabit this land of plenty. Having chose to study here, I find it doubtful that she would describe us as heartless, but in the back of her mind she must have had a fairly clear notion of our self-absorption and lack of commitment to the principles we espouse.

I suppose by now, she has either completed her studies or returned home to be with her loved ones in their baffling struggle for self-determination, and I am again struck by the complacence of our citizenry as we send our children to kill their children over and over and over again. And I honestly wonder if there is anything too horrific for us to ignore.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Whole Hog

Seeing how I don't panhandle for donations or allow any advertising to annoy my readers, here's your big chance to support what I do and get something tangible in return. Just click on the following link for almost one stop shopping, or check out my books individually by clicking on the titles under Bookstore in the sidebar. Buy all four and get an autographed photo of my dog!

So what are you waiting for?

Saturday, June 25, 2005



It has been my privilege to serve as lead instructor and faculty advisor to Jay Taber in the MA Humanities and Leadership program at New College of California, San Francisco. In our seminars as well as private discussions, Jay consistently exhibited the ability and aptitude required for teaching at college level, contributing valuable insights from his extensive research in history, political science and public affairs.

His recently published master’s thesis
War of Ideas is testimony to his powers of reflection and analysis. Jay’s considered perspective--developed over decades of sociopolitical engagement--stimulated vibrant discussions regarding essential skills for maintaining an open society. His excellent communicative skills, compassion, and sense of humor will make him an admired colleague and enjoyable instructor.

--Jyotsna Sanzgiri, Ph.D.
New College of California, San Francisco
December 2002

Friday, June 24, 2005


Winning Hearts and Minds


Illusions of Benevolence

If author Emmanuel Todd in After the Empire, and Crimes of War (1971) editors Richard A. Falk, Robert Jay Lifton, and Gabriel Kolko were right, the theatrical militarism we are witnessing is the inevitable conclusion--or "final glory"--of US dominance. An unavoidable consequence of collective psychic trauma and delusion fostered by prior atrocities, violently defended illusions of benevolence, and an inability to come to terms with either defeat or loss of status.

Other nation-states have endured such reversals and broken this lethal cycle of vengeance. Perhaps we will, too.


Good Intentions

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Truth be Told


Telling Protest

Two seemingly disparate yet inextricably related news and opinion items caught my eye in the press yesterday morning: one a communique at the Independent Media Center from the Zapatistas command announcing their civil leadership's imminent going to ground; the other an op-ed in the Irish Times that begins with the statement, "The triumph of modern capitalism is to persuade people who are excluded from decision-making that they are the decision makers..."

This bizarre syncronicity between the radical American and mainstream European media reminded me of two essential points often lost in the American ether: 1. There is a global post-colonial indigenous peoples movement of self-determination taking place that--although the basis of most armed conflicts in the world--is still invisible to the ignorant and arrogant; and 2. This right to perpetuate aboriginal culture, language, economics, and governance--sometimes referred to as a way of life--is no more negotiable than the right to exist, for they are, in the end, one and the same thing.

Having recently read a paper on the potlatch economic system of Pacific Northwest Salish peoples in the Washington/British Columbia region, I was cognizant of the striking differences between how wealth was acquired and distributed amongst the First Nations and the Euro-American newcomers. Putting it succinctly, hoarding was (and is) a sociopathic behavior in the former, an exalted virtue in the latter. Granted, philanthropy is valued in the dominant society, but this often demeaning and phony practice is hardly the same thing as rituals and ceremonies where the life-sustaining blessings of the planet are redistributed as part of a system of well-understood and recognized obligations and responsibilities toward each other as human beings.

Pondering these various readings, I recalled an obtrusive remark made by some idiotic US Congressman at the time of the November 1999 Battle in Seattle to the effect that perhaps there are aspects of the Free Market that are at times less than salubrious, but this does not mean that the capitalist economic system itself is flawed. And I remembered thinking at the time, "He doth protest too much."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005



While I've grown accustomed to vapid commentary from the Fourth Estate, I find myself dismayed lately by the often insipid counterpoint of blog world. Not to be ungrateful for the wonderful people I've met through this new medium, nor to be dismissive of the potential impact this communicative venue might have on the consciousness of those who manage to break free of the commercial blitzkrieg on our psyches, but I nevertheless find it disappointing that the few discussions that actually take place within this realm are almost entirely limited to the province of bickering amongst participants of the dominant society.

Noted exceptions aside, our brave new blogville seems more and more like just another place for disgruntled Euro-Americans to vent their frustrations over their sense of powerlessness and despair. Meanwhile, the first nations of our planet are steadily moving forward an agenda of hope and self-determination through a myriad of conferences and workshops as well as formal educational development that puts our relatively prosperous society to shame.

Without going into my personal disatisfactions with liberal education in American institutions, suffice to say I would be delighted to connect with at least a handful of people in blogistan who are seriously interested in developing and offering something better than what's presently available in higher education. Maybe I'm dreaming, but young scholars deserve more, and our society requires it now more than ever. And while you're chewing that over, take a glance at what our autochthonous relations are doing:

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Back the Attack


Change of Heart

In his book Winterkill, Craig Lesley's Umatilla/Nez Perce protagonist makes reference to the hairstyle of what he calls "the dreamers" who lived in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon where I went camping in the pine forests as a kid--the dream world where the now renowned Chief Joseph and his people raised appaloosas and watched blueback salmon come home to Wallowa Lake, having surmounted the now defunct Celilo Falls in the Columbia River Gorge and made their way up the Snake and Grande Ronde tributaries.

Studying humanities and leadership in graduate school, I remember remarking on this hairstyle when viewing a photo of Joseph taken after, I believe, his now famous retreat during the military campaign executed to prevent the Nez Perce from escaping to sanctuary in Canada. A fascinating story in itself, my thoughts as I read the passage from Winterkill were not only the memory of the darling appaloosa mare who was part of our family for fifteen years, but also the deferential tone implied in the term dreamer that in American culture is treated in a derogatory fashion.

Hearing this, I recalled being called myself a dreamer by my elderly Irish friend Patrick when I was just twenty-one and not feeling it was a derisive comment, and at fifty-two I wonder why it is that Americans are averse to dream and afraid of those who do--especially when all the root nations from whence we come treated dreaming with reverence and respect. But I suppose that is a question to be left unanswered until a change of heart transpires between us and the landscape we inhabit and the new stories we then tell about the dreams that were buried in the mountains and have since washed down the many rivers of this land.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Courteous Good Will

I finally got around to reading Blood Ties: A Woman's History--a memoir of dislocation--by my former professor Ani Mander, who passed away two years ago at the age of 67. Ani, as we affectionately called her, had been a wartime refugee from Sarajevo, and had only mentioned this once, briefly, within the context of the 9/11 disaster that occurred the week prior to our first class with her. Something, as I recall, about people who hadn't lived through the experience of war have difficulty grasping what it is like.

Like me, her father was a lawyer, and she grew up comfortably with many relatives nearby, in a neighborhood where she was safe to roam around exploring and immersing in the cosmopolitan, multicultural religious and ethnic bazaar that surrounded her home. The grandaughter of an Ashkenazim rabbi as well as Sephardim shopkeepers, Ani swam in a sea of exotic languages at home and in the street until at age six when her family abruptly evacuated to the Dalmatian island of Korcula within the Italian fascist zone, and later made their way to Palermo and Rome, where they lived for the four remaining years of the war.

Aside from the wonderful way she has of relating her displacement from Yugoslavia with the perspective of a child, it is the adventure itself--for that is how she experienced it--with all its tragic and anxious moments, that I find engrossing. But then she delights us with the complementary telling of this family epic by her maternal grandmother whom she interviewed for this 1976 publication. Alternating chapters between her voice and that of Baki, Anica (pronounced Anitsa) allows readers to experience such things as aerial bombardments, betrayals, confidences, capture, and escape on a Mediterranean journey by boat, mule, and train through both marveled and horrified eyes of two people united by blood but separated by six decades of life where Ottomans, Austro-Hungarians, Serbs, and Croatians flowed through a mountainous landscape like the snow waters that empty into the Adriatic.

Ani's tale of adaptation and coming of age amidst turmoil and disruption is pleasingly contrasted by her discovery of common humanity amongst the peasants and soldiers and bourgeoisie who became, for a time, an intimate part of her daily life between 1941 and 1949, when she began a wholly new adventure as an immigrant to the United States--one that would eventually, as I later learned, involve her in both the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for gender equality. And what I find especially heartwarming in her words from thirty years ago is the pervailing tone of both kindness and quiet moral courage that came to characterize this woman I once envisioned as a mentor with whom I might share many years together as colleagues in academe.

Alas, it is sometimes the too short but intense personal associations that we cherish most in our attempts at attaining a grace and decency that makes all the ugliness of this world endurable. And for that I am grateful.

Friday, June 17, 2005


New Book

[Ed. note: We're trying out a new publisher for Shadow War (see bookstore in sidebar), a substantially-edited republication of Blind Spots which first appeared in July 2003. Your feedback is, as always, welcome]

"Powerful and worth reading. Written with such casualness one could flow on without much notice, except one doesn’t. A passing reference to nightmare knowledge brands the book unexpectedly, and keeps drawing me back because it has the feel of history. One thing to read textbook and opinion, another to read a super-view voice that moves back and forth between the plain and the objective bluff looking over it, relating history as it transpires, for the record, a person with a rare scope on the situation.

Jay Taber writes a lot on effective models of community education on tear-em-up issues, the kind that shred a place and people in a way mainstream America tends to be protected from perhaps more by ignorance than any other buffer."

--Juli Kearns, Idyll Opus Press

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Recommended Reading

[Ed. note: Observant readers have brought to my attention that although I offer both a curricula and reviews in the sidebar, it would be helpful to have a list of readings by topic. Creating a reading list was relatively easy; paring it down to what I deem the most suitable introductory publications, and noting the topics found in each put more strain on my cortex than expected. Nevertheless, in the interest of collegiality--with the caveat that this would all make more sense when combined with a face-to-face orientation--here goes.]

READINGS BY TOPIC (with key subjects discussed)

Analysis of Popular Education:
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (respecting organic structures)
People Power Change by Luther Gerlach
Selections from the Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci
Society of the Spectacle by Guy de Bord

Community Organizing:
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (social support, self-defense, alliances)
Ready for Revolution by Stokely Carmichael (research, education, action)
The Camel of Destruction by Michael Pearce (novel about bureaucratic corruption)

Indispensable Enemies by Walter Karp
Peddlers of Crisis by Jerry Sanders
The Globalisation of Poverty by Michel Chossudovsky

Grassroots Communication:
Solidarity's Secret by Shana Penn
The Free Speech Movement & the Negro Revolution by Savio, Walker and Dunayevskaya
Poland: The Making and Unmaking of the News by Besser
Lessons from Latvia by Cakars
Electronic Intifada online

Mental Health in the Public Arena:
The Emotional Life of Nations by Lloyd de Mause
The Balkan Express by Slavenka Drakulic

Political Negotiation:
A Farther Shore by Gerry Adams

Protector Societies:
Zuni and the American Imagination by Eliza McFeely

Psychological Warfare:
Psychological Warfare by Paul Linebarger
The Science of Coercion by Christopher Simpson
Social Communication in Advertising by William Leiss

Public Health Model:
Betrayal of Trust by Laurie Garrett

Republican Government:
Buried Alive by Walter Karp
So Reason Can Rule by Scott Buchanan (moral conduct, open society)

Resistance Development:
Norwegian Resistance 1940-1945 by Tore Gjelsvik (operations and infrastructure)
A Quiet Revolution by Mary Elizabeth King (strategic opposition, education)

Sacred Dimensions:
The Distorted Past by Josep Fontana
The Primal Mind by Jamake Highwater

Social Movement Development:
Anti-Indian Movement on the Tribal Frontier by Rudolph C. Ryser (opposition research, networks)
The Formation of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples by Sanders
To the Right by Jerome Himmelstein
The Making of Black Revolutionaries by James Forman
Analyzing Social Settings by John Lofland

Society in Conflict:
The Troubles by Tim Pat Coogan
Civil Wars by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (selflessness and self-destruction)
The Iran-Contra Scandal by Peter Kornbluh (accountability, elitism)
Networks and Netwars edited by Arquilla and Ronfeldt
The Breakdown of States by Dr. Richard Griggs (first nations v. corporate states)
The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny (communications and narrative dominance)

Tensions and Human Frailties:
The Lying Days by Nadine Gordimer
July's People by Nadine Gordimer
Crimes of Conscience by Nadine Gordimer

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Mainstream Malice

My significant other was listening to Democracy Now's Amy Goodman interview a former undercover FBI agent on our community radio two days ago, who made the assertion that field agents (like he was before resigning over disagreements with mid-level management) are generally conscientious folks, but that bureaucratic turf battles and political interference from higher ups often prevent the lawful and orderly application of justice. Not a particularly shocking piece of information these days, unless one considers that his expertise and experience was the infiltration of violent white supremacist groups.

What caught my partner's ear, though, was when he mentioned working in among other places our old neck of the woods in northwest Washington state, where my colleagues and I in the mid-1990s were the target of eight individuals later--with the testimony of then Agent German--convicted of manufacturing explosives to use against human rights activists and judges opposed to their racist agenda. Again, old news to me, but nice to finally hear it on the radio.

Without getting into the details of my memoir, which you can read excerpts of by clicking my post Reign of Terror in the sidebar, what I found especially ironic about the news story associated with Mr. German's revelations, was that if the Department of Justice today was to pick just one organization to investigate for racially-based criminal misconduct, it would have to be hands down the U.S. Congress.

Which led me to think about the Washington State Militia gatherings I secretly observed and their emotional obsession with such rituals as the pledge of allegiance--a tool also frequently used by their local GOP sympathizers to, in their minds, delineate the divide between themselves and godless liberals. And what came to my mind was the phrase "one nation," and the racialist implications of that phrase that--unlike in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics--flippantly ignores the supreme law of the land in the United States, otherwise known as the Constitution, treaties, and conventions agreed to between the aboriginal inhabitants of our country and the Euro-American settlers.

All this is in no way an attempt to elevate the crimes against humanity by the US in relation to the former Soviet Union. Rather, it is merely to point out that those in power in the Kremlin were at least capable of recognizing that they were a country of many nations, as are we, but for some reason is still wilfully denied here even as we celebrate the Voyage of Discovery that--similar to what happened in Palestine in 1948--opened up indigenous lands to European immigrants. As our federal government now prepares to undermine the protection of endangered species we promised the Indian nations to protect in perpetuity in exchange for occupation of their lands, perhaps it is time we begin to openly discuss this whole "one nation" nonsense.

ps FBI Special Agent Mike German has a new job.
[Read what some are doing about it today. ]

Thursday, June 09, 2005


From Banja Luka to Fallujah

The still unfolding accounts of the massacre in Fallujah by unembedded reporters like Christian Parenti and Dahr Jamail evoke images from the wanton destruction by troops gone berserk in Bosnia a decade ago. Brutal rape/murders of girls combined with blockades of construction and medical supplies by US and Peshmerga forces, even as typhus and cholera outbreaks erupt due to a nearly total absence of potable water or electricity--let alone food and shelter--begs for UN intervention.

But the blue berets aren't around this time to prevent or arrest some of the worst of the war criminals as they belatedly did in Yugoslavia, and it remains now to the International Criminal Court to try in abstentia those responsible for this tragedy, if only to bring the force of world opinion to bear on the continuing misconduct of the United States. Reading online accounts by community and religious leaders of the systematic destruction of Banja Luka in 1993-4 is eerily similar to what are now hearing from independent journalists and residents of Fallujah.

Perhaps the Milosevic regime analogy is more appropriate for understanding the Bush administration than the Hitler parallel promulgated by so many in the humanitarian blogosphere. Maybe that's splitting hairs.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005



Fed up with mealy-mouthed liberals and their whiny-ass blogs? Then why not mosey on over to Driftglass for some straight talk for a change. Where else other than Whiskey Bar and Arvin Hill are you gonna find fabulous phrases like "Banshee GOP" or "Wahabi Christians" or "Shining Path Republicans" or "chitterling inbreeders" to describe the followers of "Preznit Fredo"?

I mean, who needs smarmy smugness when you can have your own RPG?


A Palpable Presence

Summer fog and quiet misty mornings like this are what keep the coastal redwoods alive here in the mountainous Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate. They also remind me of ferry boat rides between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend, Washington where we occasionally went as walk-ons to browse through the native art stores and dine in hippie cafes and photograph the island bluffs with a volcanic backdrop or watch red-billed oystercatchers picking through the kelp-piles on shore.

Watching the droplets accumulate on the trumpet vine leaves in front of my desk window, I sometimes think of the movie Snow Falling on Cedar that so elegantly captures the tenor of the islands where I wandered and explored on salmon boats long ago. Silence interrupted only by the sound of the ocean breeze and patrolling ravens recalls Sol Duc River silver salmon jumps and Samish lookouts from Mt. Erie and Rosario Beach.

On days like this I savor bacon and eggs and strong black tea and don my pearl-snapped flannel shirt, all of which recall an earlier life in rubber boots and the smell of slow, damp decay or fungus frying in butter and oil. And I daydream of radiant heat from crackling fir in a stone fireplace built by masons undoubtedly distracted by the forest fragrance and the palpable presence of spirits who carved the totems now detritus in the wild rose banks sheltering the hewn-log structure from chilly drafts that seek pathways ashore.

Sun-bleached driftwood, Harlequin ducks, pale pink rhodendron trees and undulating otters pass through my mind's eye of Whidbey Fidalgo where the snowmelt waters of the "Magic Skagit" meander through sloughs and meld with the briny currents of Deception Pass where we joyfully scrambled over barnacled rocks in search of oysters, mussels and clams on misty mornings such as this, and afterward ate sandwiches and hot coffee from a thermos while droplets formed on the steamy windshield.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005



I grew up with two wonderful but very different grandmothers, one Danish-American and the other Irish-American. My great grandmother from Denmark somehow ended up in Montana, while my grandmother's grandfather's grandfather from Ireland found his way to Mississippi. These two states, respectively, were the birthplaces of the two matriarchs I later came to know and love.

Grandma Edith (Christiansen-Hamilton) lived across town: first in the house I can still picture among giant shade trees with a black labrador sleeping by the huge old oil heater in the living room, and a parakeet singing in the kitchen where I watched her do kitchen chores when we lived with her up until I must have been two or three; and later in an apartment near the junior high I attended. Grandma Pearl (O'Neal) lived fifteen hundred miles south and always sent us dates and also postcards from Australia and Hawaii and Europe where she occasionally traveled as a Olympics-caliber swimming coach.

I remember Grandma Edith always had a home-baked cake waiting for us when we stopped by, and often came for Saturday night dinner but insisted we take her home in time for Gunsmoke. It wasn't until I was older that I discovered the reason she left so early was she smoked cigarettes and didn't want to do it in front of her grandchildren. When Grandma Pearl visited, she made us all go to the pool with her for swimming lessons.

During the summer, Grandma Edith took care of my two cousins while their parents worked at the post office and the hospital, and I always liked her ham sandwiches with Miracle Whip and barbecue potato chips. I still laugh at the thought of her locking the front door just before my cousin made it inside after pelting some other kids with a handful of hard, spiny sycamore pods. Not having us around as much, Grandma Pearl sang us songs with moral messages when not attending to our athletic development. Between the abstract melodies and the down-to-earth tactics of the two, we managed to come out OK.

Outside her family, Grandma Edith--who'd worked at the train station cafe when raising her kids--loved three things most: baseball, TV Westerns, and trout-fishing. But she also went regularly to the Eagles Auxiliary to participate in their ladies' drill team, which when me and my two cousins watched, sent us into hysterics that nearly got us thrown out of the building. Grandma Pearl--who liked to play uplifting religious songs on our piano--had supported her four children during the Depression giving swimming and piano lessons and raising vegetables, rabbits, and a milk cow on Lake Washington near Seattle.

Both these grand motherly influences on my early years are gone now, but I find the combination of Irish enthusiasm and Danish steadiness maintains a sort of inner balance and outward harmony in me that I might not otherwise have acquired. And I suppose that's a pretty decent tribute to their care.

Monday, June 06, 2005


Total Silence

I think it was a couple of years ago that I first noticed my father's loss of faith in the notion of progress. Up until that point, I always remember him as being resolutely defensive of the great science projects of his generation that overwhelmed us with such things as abundant electricity, nuclear deterrence, and mosquito-free summer evenings. But somewhere along the way since Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring hit the shelves, I suspect that subconsciously his defenses were eroding, and that news of the imminent demise of the iconic Puget Sound Orcas was what somehow coalesced all the other challenges to his disbelief into a coherent whole.

The reason I subscribe to this cumulative undermining of the cult of human ingenuity is that in facing down the nightmarish idea of scientific folly, he still managed to offer up a hopeful suggestion that maybe the Orcas could still be saved by a last minute, superhuman effort in hatchery-produced salmon to replace the depleted wild stocks on which the whales previously fed. I vividly remember the somber atmosphere in the car with my parents and sister and nieces when I informed them that the Orcas were not in decline due to starvation, but rather due to the accumulation of toxins ingested through the consumption of bottom fish that absorbed the PCBs and mercury and myriad pollutants that literally coat the sea floor between Vancouver Island and Seattle. Even my father's wishful thinking was unable to surmount such a daunting report. It was as though I'd told a toddler there was no Easter Bunny--total silence.

This spring, my father turned eighty, and having watched his friends pass away over the last couple of decades, he has enough grief to deal with, but I would guess that normal losses like these are easier for him to accept than the escalating rate of extinction of species from human blunder and scientific arrogance, and I wonder if he now contemplates the possibility of a world once again uninhabited by homo sapiens, and whether that distinct possibility might have been avoided had Americans--fresh with enthusiasm and confidence from defeating fascism and the depression--simply paused to think about what they were doing.

I can only imagine what must go through his mind as he stands on the bluff of the Columbia River where he was born, looking out over the Hanford Nuclear Reservation--the most contaminated pre-Chernobyl site on earth--and gazing down at the carcinogenic waters flowing by on their way to the Pacific Ocean past the hydro-electric dams that once served as monuments to his hopes for a healthy and prosperous future. I can't help thinking that this must be the cruelest of hoaxes on a generation that endured so much, to be burdened with questioning a way of life they mistakenly came to rely on, and to reluctantly realize the horrendous legacy instore for their offspring.

And in empathy with his inevitable sadness and perhaps anger, I am yet grateful for his knowledge that my environmental work and personal sacrifices were expressions of an equally profound faith in the goodness of creation and the importance of human humility in awe of the mysteries of life. And in some strange unspoken way we have become closer and more respectful of each others' hardships in meeting the challenges of mere mortals, and I sense that gives him comfort as well as hope. Oddly, it does me.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


Panavision Parables

I usually see The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance--starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart--at least once a year, but it's been awhile since I saw The Magnificent Seven with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and James Coburn.

So last night, I was both surprised and delighted to find these hired guns' dialogue laced with moral lessons about different types of courage, standing up for what's right, as well as candid remarks about how the good guys who do risk their necks in the pursuit of justice are usually betrayed by those they fight to protect, and--in the end--"always lose."

A similar theme of common cowardice is evoked by the script in Liberty Valance, although its focus is on foolish bravery rescued by unconventional justice, rather than on the unjust desserts of Magnificent Seven's outcast warriors. Yet, both these Western fables from the post-Civil War era when misfit former soldiers still roamed the Great Plains as cowboys and gunslingers offer us a fitting allegory for the times we live in, when bullies and bandits regularly rob and terrorize ordinary folks too scared or disorganized to fight back.

Six-guns, saddles and Stetsons aside, these lessons are as apropos today--perhaps more so--than when these classic films first hit the big screen. Funny how the sorriest scoundrels are still from Texas.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


Ungrateful Dead

In order to penetrate the landscape of Washington state from the Pacific Ocean, one has two entrances to choose from: 1. Juan de Fuca Strait--which leads between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula to Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, and 2. the Columbia River--which traverses the interior plateau and basin from Canada to Oregon and descends through the gorge on its way to the mouth at Ilwaco.

Having spent many a vacation camping on the Makah Indian Reservation at Juan de Fuca's Cape Flattery, as well as at Ilwaco's Cape Disappointment, I often wondered how these rocky, fog-bound promontories got their names. Not enough to look it up, but enough to ponder what prompted some early Euro-American explorer or government cartographer to come up with such dramatic designations. And after fifty-some years of living and traveling throughout the lava-strewn and moss-laden lands of the two climatic zones created by the Cascade Range, I'm still puzzled at what could be either disappointing or flattering in this marvelous territory between the 46th and 49th parallels--at least, that is, at the time they were so named.

Yet, a lot has changed since the British and Spanish and Russian and American traders and explorers first encountered the Chinook at Ilwaco and the S'klallam, Nootka, and Makah on Juan de Fuca Strait. And maybe now--two or three centuries hence--flattery and disappointment have come to be appropriate terms to describe the majority of people who now inhabit the topography of the region.

Perhaps they have become symbolic concepts of the insatiable, superfluous culture that spawned such disdainful settlers on a coastal paradise that is anything but a flattering disappointment. Then again, maybe there's a belated message in these nautical expressions: something about the whole notion of failure to fulfill our expansive desires; about the frustrations associated with foiled expectations; the silly sentiment of feeling let down by a bountiful world Americans simply failed to appreciate.

Friday, June 03, 2005


Suppressing the Sacred

I was reading in Indian Country Today about the protest of U.S. border policies at the perimeter of the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona, and was reminded of a dispute between Pacific Northwest tribes and US Customs on the Canadian border twenty years ago.

Back then, Lummi and Semiahmoo and other tribes--who'd gathered to fish or pow wow or participate in special ceremonies for around five thousand years--were upset over having their sacred items (masks, drums, carvings, and attire) ransacked by border guards. Listening to their testimony before a Congressional fact-finding panel, I could see and hear the pain and indignity in the elders' voices describing this degrading experience on their way to what was to have been a joyful reunion with their "Canadian" cousins.

Now days, of course, militarism trumps all in the US, and the last thing a Department of Homeland Security/INS/Border Patrol agent is concerned with is maintaining humane, respectful relations with American Indians--especially with those whose territory and relatives span the Mexican border. And so while I was not surprised to read accounts of Tohono O'odham being handcuffed and roughed up by federal agents when visiting between villages within Arizona--let alone across the border--I was nevertheless disturbed by how the constant harrassment, this psychological warfare embedded in the militarization of the border, has affected the Tohono O'odham.

In her own words, a Tohono grandmother said, ''The deaths and the violence on O'odham lands are rooted in dishonor. Confusion and apathy are significant in the destruction and lack of respect for the O'odham way of life and the right to exist as O'odham...O'odham cannot step out of their homes to conduct social and ceremonial activities without armed U.S. Border Patrol agents tailgating their vehicles, interrogating their travel agendas, watching their activates by satellite imaging and entering private homes and properties without permission.''

Recently introduced U.S. immigration legislation would require O'odham to carry U.S. passports to travel within their own territory. But, as the Tohono grandmother noted, ''Many O'odham are born at home and do not have birth records to prove any citizenship. O'odham are born in their territory, which is in both U.S. and Mexico.'' And part of their sacred ceremonies associated with their ancestral lands is to walk the ancient trails that--similar, I imagine, to the Canadian border tribes and nations--manifest the stories and songs of their unique, bedrock heritage in the continent that has only been called America for a mere five to ten percent of the time their people have been here.

In a time when markets and sweatshop goods and labor and armaments travel so freely, what does it say about Americans when we condone the demeaning practice of preventing the celebration of life and the mysteries of the universe?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Research as Organizing Tool

The following report is the result of a series of phone interviews conducted in the summer of 2001 by Jay Taber. The survey itself comprised the senior project of the author, and was incorporated in part in his 2005 book War of Ideas


From 1990-1998, I served as a public interest advocate and community organizer in Bellingham, Washington. In the course of my work, which included a stint as executive director of the Whatcom Environmental Council, and a subsequent association with the Public Good Project, I became embroiled in conflict with the radical right, including Wise Use agent provocateurs, fundamentalist Christian activists, and Christian Identity Patriots engaged in militia organizing.

The convergence of these movements throughout Puget Sound had created a political climate severely hostile to participatory democracy, seriously disturbing electoral, legislative, administrative, and judicial processes. Since 1995, I have struggled to understand what took place, and where it came from, in order to develop preventive strategies and tactics, that would help make communities less vulnerable to obstruction or subversion of self-governance.

Through a series of interviews of leading researchers who investigate the Far Right in the US, I explored community-based research, hoping to learn how it is carried out, and if it could be further developed as a progressive organizing tool. The following comments and reflections constitute my attempt to summarize the most salient points of these interviews.

The respondents:

Paul de Armond, Research Director
Public Good Project
Bellingham WA

Chip Berlet
Political Research Associates
Somerville MA

Devin Burghart, Director, Building Democracy Initiative
Center for New Community
Chicago IL

Tarso Luis Ramos, Director
RACE and Environment Programs
Western States Center
Portland OR

Survey questions:

1.What types of groups ask you for assistance?

2.What is the nature of the assistance requested?

3.Do you provide research training as well as education?

4.If not, do you think it would be useful?

5.If so, do you teach opposition research, propaganda analysis, or investigative techniques?

6.How has this training (or education) affected community organizing? Opposition behavior? Media coverage?

7.How could grassroots groups use research (or education) more effectively in recruitment, advocacy, and conflict?

8.What do grassroots groups need to become more capable of conducting independent research, analysis, and investigations?

The Interviews:

Paul de Armond, Research Director of the Public Good Project, a national research, analysis, and investigative network, says most of the people who contact him for assistance are individuals, not representatives of organizations, who locate him through his website. Outside the occasional human rights group, law enforcement agency, media reporter, or good government organizations like League of Women Voters (usually interested in one of his briefing papers to help put the far right into perspective), most of his "clients" are people having trouble from anti-democratic groups. As Paul puts it, "for somebody being harassed, going it alone is not only very tough, it's also real risky."

Paul is quick to point out that anti-democratic activities are not solely the domain of the Far Right. He also assists neighborhoods, affinity groups, and individuals having difficulty with government institutions that behave as though they're above the law, including official corruption or abuse of public process.

One particularly challenging aspect of Mr. de Armond's work is getting agencies like the Federal Trade Commission or FBI to do their jobs. According to Paul, white collar crime, mostly financial fraud, is what finances the political activities of Far Right groups. Yet it is never really addressed because "The Feds hate prosecuting fraud, and they'll do anything they can to pretend it doesn't exist. Which of course makes it all the more easy for there to be a lot of fraud out there."

Paul also observes that 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. According to de Armond, "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."

As for protecting the public from domestic terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, such as used in Oklahoma City, Paul notes that the conclusion of him and his colleagues is that the high level of concern by Federal agencies is essentially a budget scam.
According to de Armond, "Law enforcement has always reacted and will do absolutely nothing until there's a crime to prosecute. I mean crime prevention is frankly a joke when it comes to political violence. There's absolutely no effort at prevention whatsoever...Then, of course, if it's a totally fictitious and non-existent threat from The Left, then there will be enormous effort in preventing something that's not going on at all...[resulting in] cops engaging in political activity under the guise of enforcing the law."

Using amicus groups, such as anti-WTO, engaged in political advocacy, as an example, de Armond notes that around the world "They're responding to needs that are intentionally left unaddressed as part of an unstated political agenda...quite frankly from malign neglect." Consequently, in trying to see people apprehended for wrongdoing, or to prevent trouble, Paul works primarily through a network of individuals, "basically local concerned citizens--who are taking on an activist and advocacy role because of a failure on the part of government to assure people basic human rights like--being safe from attack."

The assistance requested most frequently of Mr. de Armond is for information: requests for prior research or analysis; and sometimes for advocacy or organizing, which he doesn't do. He does, however, consult people as to what others have done that led to good results, such as working with churches. It's also rare for him to get into an investigative role. Initial contacts are usually trying to figure out what resources they have available and what they can mobilize. Later it may shift into research and maybe an investigation, which is considerably more detailed and involves fieldwork. The next step from there is intervention.

Paul notes that typical advocacy groups are afraid to get involved in interventions. They may, after getting burned by anti-democratic groups, such as the Building Industry Association in Washington State, stick to their position on an issue, but only conduct monitoring to a very limited extent, the reason being the model they bring to these situations are models that don't work.
"There’s a tremendous amount of essentially re-education or even de-education [that needs to be done]. If people didn't have ...counterproductive models in their heads...Usually they don't actually do any research at all. They have what amounts to an ideological response to the problem in a complete vacuum of information. It's very rare for people to actually go and collect information. They’re almost always reacting to what's almost a fantasy initially."
"As such," notes de Armond, "liberal groups quite frequently try to get into a negotiating situation with people who have no interest in negotiating with them...essentially diplomacy or political negotiation, and [it] is quite frequently inappropriate. What's to negotiate with a Holocaust denier or a gay basher?"

Referring to extremist demagogues, de Armond says they're so into show business, it's real easy to get a lot of people to be involved in a community response, but it'll usually be ineffective because they don't know what they're up against. "Opposition research,” he says, “doesn't even occur to liberal organizations. They know nothing but their own ideological stance and these fantasy pictures that they bill to the opposition. They start reacting to that fantasy and the opposition just runs right over them."

Part of the problem, according to Paul, is mainstream media. Reporters interview somebody who doesn't have a clue, basically saying things they read in some newspaper article quoting some other clueless person who didn't know what they were talking about. "But because it showed up in the newspaper, it ends up very circular and it's extremely hard to break."

Having attended many meetings of right-wing groups, Mr. de Armond observes that most of the people who showed up were perfectly all right. "They're in the process of getting bamboozled...they're running with some bad company, but they aren't any more misinformed than the rest of the country."

Referring to some of this bad company, he says that if people were only able to find out the facts--basically dig up the dirt on them--they'd be totally scuttled. Instead, most people engage in wishful thinking, deluding themselves into believing that by ignoring bullies, they'll eventually moderate their own behavior. In reality, just the opposite takes place.

Requests for background on political opponents or community disrupters, he notes, are extremely rare. "If people have figured out that's what's necessary, it's not all that hard to dig up. The thing is that they don't figure out that's necessary."

"As for people who are actual targets of violence or threats," he says,
"They never know how to respond because they see this stuff on TV...that there will be this benevolent law enforcement that is courageous...the whole mythology is spelled out in Mississippi Burning...I mean, it doesn't work that way. When law enforcement tells people to ignore the threats or to buy a gun, that gets people really upset. They become completely adrift. They get really scared." It's often at this point when Paul first encounters them.

In 1996, Paul developed a research training course for a university class, that involved going through letters to the editor to try to establish numbers and identify the locus of anti-social/anti-democratic activity. The students categorized letters that advocate depriving people of their civil liberties or civil rights, or stripping them of the protection of the law, or making them 2nd class citizens. The letters were all very consistent that these people did not deserve the full protection of the law--that there should be allowable transgressions--and that those transgressions should be criminally prosecuted if they occurred against someone else. The letter writers who advocated criminal violence against people because of how they were perceived were the same people over and over again. The students, using their three textbooks: The Investigative Reporter and Editor's Handbook, Manual on Opposition Research, and Get the Facts on Anybody, then did full background checks on the hate-letter writers.

As Paul points out, though, most advocacy groups are strictly oriented to public policy, not the process. They do not do opposition research on anti-democratic groups opposing their policy through intimidation, harassment, and violence, because they do not engage in opposition activity. They are engaged in the political diplomatic model. So in terms of the training he does, it's been personal, not institutional. "Individual reporters, individual members of non-profits, once converted from the ideological projection model," he says,"where you imagine what the opposition is and respond to your imagination, actually get into research, analysis, and intervention"--what Paul calls the public health model.

According to Paul, the spread of this model has been very slow, happening with individuals, not with organizations. The four basic models typically used to combat anti-democratic groups are law enforcement, political diplomacy, military intervention, and pressure group. None of them work for this type of conflict. In his mind, pressure groups tend to make things worse. However, when people start acting from the public health model--which is to look at the causative mechanism, how the behavior is transmitted, and what sort of interventions can either prevent or modify it, they see how effective it is. Ideologically driven intervention, the political diplomatic model, tries to alter people's beliefs in hope they'll modify their behavior. But, as he says, the behavior's the problem-- the pathology of violence and intimidation must be stopped, and it may require violence to do it.

Paul says we're nowhere near the threshold of sufficient numbers of people, to be pursuing a public health model, for intervention in anti-democratic activities and political violence, to have an institutional change. Institutions, he notes, are made up almost entirely of people who believe in the four ineffective models. Consequently, he observes,"There's no movement for a public health model. I mean, it is so far away from being any sort of a collective phenomenon...Because both the problems and the analyses of those problems have been around for such a long time." These unrealistic models, he claims, are "self-perpetuating, self-sustaining, self re-enforcing...particularly the pressure group model where the institution is committed to advocacy of a particular position whether or not it's related to reality--but it's saleable...if it changes its model of interacting with the world-- [it] also loses its funding." Mr. de Armond recalls a lot of prominent groups used the militias as a fund raising vehicle without ever really addressing the issue.

He acknowledges that some of the regional human rights research and education organizations have done very good educational work, but that their training has been in community organizing along the lines of pressure group tactics, as opposed to intervention. The beneficiary organizations often end up functioning as quasi-governmental agencies, or bureaucratic grant machines. Observing what happens when hate mongers arrived, these groups would showboat, engaging in public moral theatrics, but the instant the provocateurs leave, "The real hell will break loose and all those people will melt away like snow in a heavy rain...They see themselves as some sort of--I don't know, un-involved do-gooders or something."

Recognizing their contribution toward legitimizing human rights as a local concern, as well as training and education devoted to tolerance, Paul laments that these groups view their work in building contacts with law enforcement as educational, when, in fact, they are often being used as an intelligence source--for political intelligence.

Devin Burghart, previously with the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity in Seattle, presently works in community organizing, education, and research training at the Center for New Community, which has two essential projects: faith-based community organizing, and the broad-based Building Democracy Initiative (BDI), which brings together religious and civic groups to build effective moral barriers against hate. Operating in 16 states in the Midwest, and three foreign countries, Mr. Burghart, as Director of the BDI, focuses on research and monitoring of white nationalist activity.

Encompassing everything from neo-nazis to Christian patriots to the Ku Klux Klan, white nationalism, says Burghart, requires a broadly anti-racist and anti-fascist local response that includes young adults, religious organizations, media, government civil and human rights commissions, and law enforcement. He says, "It's been a tactical flaw that traditional progressive organizations have had for quite awhile in not reaching out to broader constituencies, particularly those which are targeted for recruitment by the right."

Noting that it's always a challenge for conventional activists and moral authorities to get beyond stereotypes, Devin says, "The rewards clearly outweigh any kind of work that it might take to do that. We found people very responsive to coming together, particularly dealing with these issues, to work towards common goals."

With a 20 year history of organizing farmers and the religious community to deal with the collapse of family farms and the decline in rural America, the Center for New Community, says Mr. Burghart, tries to create moral barriers, to keep out [violent, hate-mongering] groups like the Posse Comitatus. "Often, it's finding leaders who are initially willing to speak out, and then having those leaders speak in a rhetoric which resonates with the particular constituency...have them develop the rhetorical strategies."

In response to requests for assistance from groups seeking to understand what's going on in their communities, Mr. Burghart says his organization believes the way to most effectively deal with it is through exposure, education and organizing. "To expose white nationalist activity for what it is, particularly here in the Midwest, where you've got to lift the veil of denial which exists out here, where everyone thinks this activity only goes on in northern Idaho or down in the deep South."

Devin reports that BDI presently tracks over 360 different white nationalist groups, in order to educate folks about what it means, how it can impact local communities, and what they can do about it. This, he says, includes not only the short-term response, such as when the Klan comes to town, or when a militia group is having a march, but also for the long-term, to deal with the larger structural questions of racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry. He says that in addition to requests for information, technical support, and training, usually around either organizing or on how to conduct research, BDI gets calls all the time from individuals looking for guidance or advice. "They want to speak to someone who has experienced some of the same problems that they're going through in their local community, and can possibly talk them through some of the different things they're dealing with."

The training conducted by BDI, says Burghart, involves a mixture of opposition research, propaganda analysis, and investigative techniques, depending on the needs and the interests of the people involved and what they're facing in their community, as well as putting it into a framework of how to look at the situation, and what good research can do for them. The training, he says, has helped BDI establish a regional network of organizations that keep an ear to the ground doing local research, while continuing to develop themselves organizationally. This base of people, trained in research, he notes, allows BDI to look around and strategically target new problem areas, using locally generated incident reports.
Burghart emphasizes that, " We do organizing in a way that respects the importance of research, which means you have a different dynamic going on in these groups. By working in a respect for the importance of research and analysis within groups, it helps reach a balance...between the individuals and the thinking of the group as a proactive organization, which promotes unity and diversity in a community, as well as part of the group, which wants to spend more time doing the reactive anti-fascist work, responding to white nationalist activities...I think the two are complementary, and as long as you build in that respect and the importance of research from the early going, you can maintain that balance."

Working with primarily churches in rural areas, and more broad-based coalitions in bigger cities, as well as small community groups, Devin observes that, while it's difficult to sustain a high level of activity (such as seen in the 125 task forces organized by the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity), BDI tries to make sure groups in the Midwest are as self-sufficient as possible. One continuing education program they're involved with looks at white power music, used by white supremacists to recruit young people. "The thing about the younger generation too", says Devin, "is they don't know where to focus their alienation or their anger. ...We try to help channel that a little bit. Since December '99, we've done workshops and presentations for about 22,000 young people...We've got a youth organizing project we've started here in Chicago, and we're hoping to model that in St. Louis and Kansas City in the next year."

Commenting on the interaction of mainstream and fundamentalist churches on the issues BDI addresses, particularly Christian Identity, Burghart says that leadership coming entirely from the religious community, such as in Quincy, Illinois, has been able to turn away folks like Pete Peters, to completely keep them out of town. "Using the issue and research we provided them, they've been able to successfully talk about this issue to a broad swath of the religious community, even bringing in some of the fundamentalist churches where there hadn't been any kind of dialogue...for well over a decade. They at least could come together on this issue and say no to organized violence coming into town."
In addition to building inter-faith bridges, Burghart notes, this research based organizing has also helped bridge gaps between primarily white and black congregations. Where there is intentionality about making sure white religious leaders stand up in the face of such things as cross burnings and other hate crimes, he says, black congregations have seen this as a sign that has led to them developing and strengthening their relationship.

Acknowledging the difficulty of getting religious leaders from different spots on the spectrum to set aside ideology to focus on civic behavior, Burghart observes that "In the case of Christian Identity, it was particularly useful to show fundamentalist churches how they were also singled out by identity doctrine, to certainly drive as much of a wedge between fundamentalist teachings and identity as possible."

Mr. Burghart also notes that having a network in place, and having the research to support claims, has been an essential component of building trust and credibility as a media source. "It's allowed people in local communities to establish a relationship with the media and to help frame the story in a way in which they see as more appropriate than the other side." Observing that religious authorities are treated differently by media than, say, professional activists, Burghart says he also tries to make sure that spokespeople represent a wide array of background and opinions an represent large portions of the community.

In Iowa, for instance, where he's dealing with a lot of anti-immigrant activity, BDI tries to make sure there are spokespeople from the religious community, from organized labor, from the environmentalists and others. In these circumstances, Devin considers the solidarity by organizations of faith essential--"There needs to be a common voice out there, where it's not just people relying on the traditional targets of these kind of attacks to speak out, but people who can speak with a kind of moral authority."

Mr. Burghart claims research is essential for several reasons. "By knowing your opposition, you not only know whom it's going to be impossible to work with, but also which constituencies those groups are out there trying to recruit. By figuring out those two things, you can employ a isolate the source of the hatred...inoculate those constituencies which are potentially vulnerable...and help them understand the issue before the other side does."

"Consequently," says Burghart, "you can do the education and organizing work you need to do for the long term to move beyond that problem." "Additionally," he notes, "It also can show you where you're weak and allow you to do better advocacy. Because you'll know in advance the arguments that the other side is making, you can refute them effectively. It can also help you plot a better course in dealing with conflict when you know what the opposition is up to."

In reaching out to communities dealing with organized hate, Burghart and BDI employ a well-worn strategy of giving examples of other communities where it's happened, showing how in particular instances, specific constituencies are vulnerable, and listing the negative things that have happened as a result. "The important thing", says Devin, "is to first identify those constituencies. Unless you have a fairly broad-based group, initially, that has feelers into those different communities, then you won't know quite often."

Recognizing the value of this learning technique, BDI makes sure, at every one of their conferences that there are workshops given by those people who have dealt with these problems. They film people's stories, take people on the road, and write about them in their monthly action report.

Discussing ways grass roots groups can become more capable of conducting independent research, analysis, and investigations, Mr. Burghart emphasizes they first need to develop an organizational respect for the role of research.
"People often think that research is something that gets handed to them in the
intelligence report, or something that they can find on the Internet for free, which is simply not the case. You have to have an organizational understanding that it's important to conduct research and to respect its findings. It's not something someone hands you or you pick up in the local newspaper--it takes a lot more than that to do it effectively."

"Additionally," he says, "they need to do a better job of expanding their overall internal institutional memory, to keep the information they bring in through research and analysis, and disburse it throughout the organization, developing the organizational respect required to internalize it enough to keep the information flowing beyond any single person's involvement."

"Lastly," he says, "they need to develop some financial and organizational stability, so that groups aren't just popping up on an ad hoc basis when an incident arises." "By being engaged with regional and national organizations," Burghart says, "you can break down that barrier of isolation and share information across borders and expand your scope, and and also make sure you're not the only ones who have that information." "Because sometimes," he says, "you'll find in one particular community, one little bit of information may not be important to you, but it may mean a lot to someone else."

As he observes, "It also helps, conversely, to break down the kind of myopic experience of when people who tend to do research can sometimes think that their local community is representative of the entire world. It helps to maintain perspective."

Tarso Luis Ramos, Director of the RACE and environment program at the Western States Center in Portland, Oregon, conducted the Wise Use Public Exposure Project for Western States from 1992 to 1999. During this timeframe, he was considered by his colleagues as one of the leading researchers, educators, and organizers, particularly by environmental and organized labor groups, in developing strategies to deal with the Wise Use Movement in the United States. His current work focuses on racial justice issues from a capacity building, research, publications, and organizing perspective.

Western States Center is an independent non-profit research and education and training institute that works in the eight Northwest states, to help strengthen justice organizations and to help build a multi-issue, multi-constituency, multi-racial movement for progressive social change. The public exposure project, that Mr. Ramos was hired to do research for in the 1990s, was initially built on a formal collaboration between Western States and the Montana State AFL-CIO, in a partnership around opposition research and organizing strategies to defeat what they mutually understood as a political movement with strong resource, industry, and corporate support that was anti-labor and anti-worker, as well as anti-environmental.

In this capacity, Mr. Ramos and Western States assisted grass roots groups, environmental organizations, freelance activists, local unions, central labor councils, as well as news organizations and government agencies. As such, Western States was one of the key organizations people turned to for information and analysis on the Wise Use Movement. One of its most noteworthy accomplishments was in helping establish the Institute for Washington's Future, a coalition of labor, environmental, and church organizations brought together to deal with jobs versus environment kinds of conflicts, particularly in the timber country in Washington state.

In those days, most of the requests for help received by Mr. Ramos were out of the blue calls, typically from grass roots environmental organizations which were under the gun, figuratively, although occasionally literally. Their members were being targeted or harassed or simply out-organized by people, in many cases, on the corporate payroll. As he describes these people, looking for any help they could get, not knowing anything about the Wise Use Movement, what it was, what it represented, never mind how to succeed. Mr. Ramos reflects that " Often times, I think, somewhat unfortunately, [they were] looking for a silver bullet in the form of some kind of intelligence or information we could offer that would so discredit their opposition that it would shrivel up and wither away."

In addition to requests for background on Wise Use field agents, like Chuck Cushman, callers in distress wanted to know what other communities had done to blunt their effectiveness. In response, Western States did a fair amount of original research, as ll as convening organizations to talk about strategies that would meet the needs of both organized labor, representing timber sector workers, and environmental communities. The research Western States did to galvanize the relationship between labor and environmentalists was complemented by their organizational development and capacity-building work.

According to Mr. Ramos, Western States was frequently called on to provide public education, through speaking engagements and interviews with local reporters to do a level of expose through an expert perspective, occasionally to produce specific reports on local situations, as well as training on how to run successful organizing campaigns. Having learned from these earlier crises, Western States now provides, in addition to research training, training in such areas as fund raising, organizational development, leadership, and training on particular issues. Much of this is done at their annual conference, where, says Ramos, "The demand for research training shot up strongly....Western States Center was seen as a research training resource...and to some extent an informational resource, particularly on Wise Use, but also in relation to the Christian right and some white supremacist organizing as well."

In the 1990s, says Ramos, Western States didn't have a program that was focused on doing field training, i.e. going out and working with groups in the field, specifically around building their research capacity. "We did a lot of ad hoc helping particular organizations think those questions through on the phone, sometimes in person, but it was not as part of a coordinated training program." Many of the organizations he was working with were not engaged in community organizing. He notes, "For example, the environmental organizations we were working with I would really characterize as advocacy organizations that were not focused on building a membership base and leadership base that became the source of their strength and power. ...[organizations] that often times relied much more on legal and media

Reflecting on the difficulty these groups had contending with Wise Use and other right-wing forces, Ramos says, "[This is] one of the reasons ...we've sought to combine research and education assistance with organizing training assistance in an attempt to convey to these organizations that they in fact needed to re-examine their overall strategy for building power and succeeding on their issues, not simply to incorporate some new information into their media or legal strategies. I'd suggest that most organizations we worked with failed to do that; most were extremely reluctant to re-think and reconsider their fundamental strategic approach."

Commenting on the wishful thinking of these organizations, Tarso says, "A very mistaken notion of power, but a prevalent one, is that knowledge is power; that correct information is enough to discredit illegitimate arguments or organizing efforts. Our experience has been that's simply not true."

In a fair number of instances, Ramos observes, the organizations Western States works with became much more effective at doing their own opposition research, albeit at a relatively modest scale, involving things like subscribing to the newsletters, and attending the meetings of their opposition. More importantly, in his mind, these groups broadened their view on who potential allies could be, finding opportunities with human dignity organizations that weren't necessarily committed to issues of resource management or the natural environment but were "concerned about human rights implications of some of these Wise Use organizations."

Looking at the needs of grass roots groups, Ramos notes that very few of them have the resources to support a researcher position on their staff. Believing that it's critical for community-based organizations to develop some level of research capacity, he says they need access to research training and then follow up support for existing staff or leadership. "I think", says Tarso, "a large challenge is working with organizations to determine how much of their resources should be allocated to research, and arriving at a specific plan they stick to in relation to that. I think most organizations will see the value of research, if they don't already, in a relatively short period of time." He soberly acknowledges, though, that "Moving from there to an actual, workable program something that most organizations need help in figuring out. Left to their own devices, often times, the research aspect will be short-lived."
Related to his concern that too little attention is paid to recruitment and building a strong membership base, Ramos says research is an essential component. "Although the nature of the research is only sometimes related to opposition research, [it] can be useful in terms of identifying the other targets or adversaries of your own opponent who could potentially become members or interested in your cause or mission." Additionally, he states that "There are other kinds of research that I think organizations need support in developing in relation to region-based building, [such as] community mapping research...[and] high-technology GIS mapping [that] can be incredibly useful for our regional door-knocking activities. ...There are many different research tools that are easily replicable that can be used by community organizations for recruitment and outreach."

Discussing some of the limitations of research focused responses to anti-democratic movements, Mr. Ramos observes that many of the organizations doing this work have research as a large, primary function of their work, and do less well on making that research truly applied, that is, useful as tools for community based organizations to answer the questions they need to answer to move their agenda forward.

Noting that many research organizations have chronic problems in terms of getting their research out in a timely fashion, and making it available in an accessible form that supports and is related to organizing strategies, he says that they are often called upon to assist in that way. "There's a tendency", Tarso notes, "both among research organizations...and community organizations...under fire, to want to collect more and more information as opposed to thinking strategically about what information is sufficient for them to make decisions about moving forward with their work." As such, he says, "When we do research trainings, we do trainings around what we call 'action research'."

The other problem organizations encounter, says Ramos, is in making the research more strategic, by which he means linking it to strategy development, defining research needs in relation to that strategy.

In terms of the most practical development of community based research capacity, Mr. Ramos says that since organizations focused in some other arena, such as electoral and legislative research, may not see grass roots organizing as an area for monitoring, "People who are in some way organic researchers...the kinds of people who keep newspaper clippings, who maybe attend meetings, who try to dig up information on what's going on in their community that's bothering them...exist in many communities and are incredible resources....It's been important to me as a researcher to identify people like that."

In closing, Tarso proposes that in order to build collective power, it's necessary for individuals of this sort to become connected as leaders within organizations, even if the primary function of those individuals continues to be research, as opposed to trying to get them to do organizing. As he astutely observes, "Often times researchers and organizers have really different skills sets and you shouldn't try to do both things. But I think making those connections is vital."

Chip Berlet, arguably the premier researcher on the Far Right in the United States, works with Political Research Associates (PRA) in Somerville, Massachusetts. PRA, a non-profit think tank that studies the anti-democratic tendencies in various US right-wing groups, focuses primarily on systems of oppression, looking at structures and systems and institutions of power. PRA identifies the four major systems in the US as racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.

According to Mr. Berlet, most of the groups that study the right-wing tend to study some specific form of oppression. To his knowledge, PRA is about the only group that studies the full range from the right wing of the Republican Party to armed neo-Nazi terrorists. Part of PRAs mission, he says, is to get people to see that there are differences between those various groups, so that when they develop a strategy, they know what they’re really looking at. Most watch dog groups, in his experience, are not interested in looking at the systems of instituitions of power or privilege. What they do, he says, is personalize politics, looking at bad, if not evil people who do terrible things. “They have a very difficult time looking at institutions of power or privilege that are pretty mainstream.” Mr. Berlet notes, however, that in spite of resistance to change by the leadership of these groups, younger staff are beginning to say “this model doesn’t work.”

Journalists who call PRA, observes Berlet, usually after some news event, want to quickly understand a group or individual’s ideology, what motivates them, how they see the world, and where they fit into different parts of society. For more in depth research, PRA maintains a huge referral directory, including a lot of reference books. They also have a big list of people that they refer folks to, experts that range from academic researchers to grass roots activists who have experience coming up against a particular kind of group. PRA, says Berlet, sees its major goal in life as to put people in touch with each other. They stay on top of what folks are doing, and when they get an information request they note it, following up by contacting someone who can provide the caller with advice.
PRA also provides training sessions on strategic research and investigative reporting in conjunction with Z Media Institute’s annual workshops. Curiously, after twenty years in the field, PRA doesn’t have any other mechanism for this service. The dilemma, says Berlet, is there doesn’t seem to be a lot of venues available. While the workshops they conduct at various conferences train people on how to see the right wing as a complex movement, most of these workshops are just introductory interviews, a kind of preliminary to actual training on research and investigation. Oddly, he says, there has not been much interest in that.

That said, Mr. Berlet notes that people do get excited about the products of serious research posted on PRAs webpage, which includes information, resources, and links on studying the Right, as well as tools like propaganda analysis, which PRA also teaches in workshops. In addition to reviews of the different forms of propaganda, PRAs webpage also has a section which talks about the problems of conspiracy theories as pseudo research. Finally, there’s a section on research skills and how to get started.

Due to the nature of their work, PRA tends not to serve grass roots activists directly, but rather staff of organizations that are fielding activists, involved at a more strategic level of developing effective responses. Mr. Berlet has, however, done trainings with groups of parents in towns who want to take back their school boards from the Christian Right.

Given PRAs extensive history of assisting groups across the country, I found it amazing that in 1994, unable to get funding, they actually made the decision to shut down. Fortunately, a number of fairly high level activists went to their foundations and explained that one of the reasons they were effective is that they could rely on PRA for strategic research. Perhaps the fact that PRA does background research that helps staff, directors, and policy analysts get up to speed, they’re not as visible as the activists themselves.

Mr. Berlet pointed out that PRA also has three activist resource kits available: Defending Public Education, Defending Reproductive Rights, and Defending Democracy, which look at how the right wing constructs ideas; the kinds of rhetoric they use; the arguments they use; and who has been effective in countering them. In developing these kits, he says, PRA involved local activists at every stage of the project, bringing them in for conservations before starting the project, bringing them back for a study circle to review and criticize their drafts, and substantially rewriting everything based on their input. A lot of times, says Berlet, packets of information they put together are based on phone calls or e-mails they get on a particular topic.For instance, after the selection of President Bush, they added webpages called Resources for Studying Right Wing Funding and Policy Making. Another page developed in 2001 shows how mainstream foundations are funding right-wing think tanks, and how in turn these think tanks are making mainstream policy.

In response to my question about how grassroots groups could use research to be more effective, Chip observes the dilemma is that there is not really good coordination among the various levels—national, regional, and local—not enough interaction in either direction. For the most part, he says, a lot of grass roots activists don’t even know where to start to look for information that would be helpful to them. They don’t know how to frame the questions, or how to find groups that might be helpful. A good question for public interest foundations, notorious for not funding research, conferences, or media, is “How’s a movement supposed to grow?” As he notes, what the right wing did was fund conferences, media, and research, along with grass roots activity. Progressive foundations could take a lesson from their adversaries.

Mr. Berlet notes “It’s very hard to have conservations about strategy over the phone or over the internet. That can only happen face to face. Unfortunately, it’s not valued.”

In the mid 1990s, when the right wing was making dramatic headway, Mr. Berlet was involved in organizing a series of conferences with the Blue Mountain Group, leading human rights professionals from around the country, to get some interaction going between researchers from different perspectives. In his opinion, Chip says that a lot of needless effort was being wasted because of a lack of ability to talk to each other about strategy, tactics, and ideas—“where we were going and what we were doing wrong.” These conferences came out of some fairly awful experiences in fighting homophobic initiatives in Colarado and Oregon where there was tension between people of color organizers and gay and lesbian organizers. Mr. Berlet and his colleagues, felt it was imperative to pull together a national leadership on these questions in order to avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication that was damaging other groups’ ability to carry on their struggle.

The problem, according to Mr. Berlet, was that beltway spin meisters had developed a campaign that pitted urban against rural people. This trend, at the time pushed heavily by funded organizers out of New York, San Francisco, LA, and Chicago, he says, was pushed over the severe objections of the local grass roots groups that suffered the repercussions.

In circumscribing political violence, so that dialogue on public issues can take place, Mr. Berlet has worked with both mainstream and fundamentalist congregations and groups. In fact, at the time of this interview, he had just returned from speaking at a fundamentalist conference, where, he says, “They were very open to hearing that demonizing each other in disagreement on questions of abortion and gay rights was wrong.” The important lesson, says Berlet, is that these people aren’t out to destroy America. “That’s very different”, he notes, “from the kind of direct mail rhetoric that you see from a lot of liberal groups, where they portray the folks they’re organizing against as stupid, irrational, lunatic fringe, or extremist—basically pretending that issues of oppression are not woven throughout this society.”

Sounding a note of hope, Mr. Berlet observes, that in his travels around the country, he has found a lot of local people are good with research skills. “What we need to do”, he says, “is just get folks understanding that you need to pass on those skills.”
Two things that worry Mr. Berlet in terms of grass roots organizing are conspiracism and lack of logic. He says it’s easy to slip into irrational conspiracist points of view, as well as to fall for propaganda which isn’t logical. So many people in the Progressive Movement, he laments, see the world through conspiracist lenses that effective organizing is seriously compromised. As he observes, “It’s not like twelve white guys derinking bourbon on Wall Street enforce racism. Racism is an ideology that is woven throughout the fabric of society. If you individualize the problem, you’re not going to get to the root of it, which is much closer to the mainstream and its traditions than the more exotic militant groups out on the fringes.”

In his concluding remarks regarding foundation propensity to fund activism, not research, Chip recalls that “Action Over Thought” was at one time a slogan of Italian Fascism—food for thought.


The four respondents, interviewed in this survey, while filling different niches in the US pro-democracy movement, were remarkable, both for their insight, and the level of agreement on essential strategies, if not approaches. Their varied experience, in combating organized hate, has led them all to appreciate the value of organic, applied research--research tailored to strategic needs of local communities--as well as research on broader trends and movements, encompassing regional and national perspectives, in order to put the local issues in context.

In the course of their work, they have all come to recognize the structural limitations of advocacy organizations in dealing with hate groups, as well as the essential involvement of moral authorities. Whether to influence or modify behavior through appeals to conscience, or to fear of the consequences of misbehaving, churches, and religious leaders in particular, appear to be in a unique position to help guard the democratic process from attack.

The view expressed by the respondents, that hate and violence, based on ignorance and fear, must be treated as a social disease, requiring research, education, and organizing strategies of prevention, as well as intervention where outbreaks occur--using the public health model--reenforces their insistence on the need for functioning networks, that link local concerned and involved citizens with regional and national information and training resources.
The difficulties pointed out in working with and relying on government agencies, law enforcement, and media, to build tolerance and justice, or to constrain intolerant behavior, if not thought, place all the more burden on the groups and individuals who commit themselves to this very special purpose. The need to develop respect for research, in order to act and organize around information, rather than ideology; the need to train others in the methods; and the need to develop institutional memory within the groups organized for this purpose, is both daunting and exhilarating.

The only thing worse than facing a formidable challenge, I suggest, is living with despair over not knowing what to do.

[ Read what some are doing about it today.]

Research as Organizing Tool

See also The Public Health Model

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?