Category Archives: terrorism

The Birmingham Church Bombing and the Never Ending Scourge of Race Hatred in the United States

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

On September 16th 1963 a young Southern White lawyer in Birmingham Alabama spoke these words after a black church was bombed and the police attacked peaceful protesters:

“from anger and despair, from frustration and empathy. And from years of hopes, hopes that were shattered and crumbled with the steps of that Negro Baptist Church.”

Most Americans will not recognize the names and I would dare say that many do not even know about what happened in Birmingham Alabama 52 years ago today. At 10:22 in the morning on September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded during the worship service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was one of the most brazen attacks against a church in the modern era, and men who claimed to be “Christians” committed it.

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Four young girls, three 14 year olds and one 13 year old were killed. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley lost their lives that day. Twenty-two other church members were wounded in an attack, which was carried out by members of the KKK and tacitly approved of by many political leaders including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Why were they killed and why were the others wounded? For the crime of being black and the crime of their church serving as a focal point of the Civil Rights movement.

Likewise, most people, including many blacks do not know that before that beginning in 1955 there had been 19 other bombings of black churches and the homes of black leaders in Birmingham before this one. But even before that outbreak of violence, Birmingham had become known as “Bombingham”because over 50 bombing attacks against blacks, black churches and black institutions in the years after the First World War.

The church had served as a focal point of the Freedom Summer where Civil Rights activists and students from around the country had met, trained and organized to register blacks to vote. This made it a prominent target for violence.

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Early in the morning of September 15th four members of the United Klans of America Frank Bobby Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Cash and Robert Chambliss placed a box of 10 sticks of dynamite under the church steps near the basement. A time delay detonator was set o ensure that the church was filled when the bomb went off. The blast occurred as children were entering the to listen to a sermon, ironically entitled “The Love that Forgives.”

The attack was a heinous crime and an act of cold-blooded premeditated murder that maybe a number of years before might not have made the news in much of the country. But this was 1963 and over the preceding months of the Freedom Summer opened the eyes of people across the nation to what was happening in the South. The brutal attacks on many blacks, civil rights workers and student volunteers during that time raised the profile of the Civil Rights Movement and shown the ugly hatred towards blacks held by many Southerners hidden underneath the veneer of polite Southern hospitality.

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Blacks protested and were met with a massive police response coordinated by Governor Wallace that brought about more violence, and more dead blacks. A day later a young white lawyer, Charles Morgan Jr.; a true Southerner by right and heritage spoke to the White Businessman’s club of Birmingham. His words were forceful and to the point. Instead of simply asking why, the young man began his speech with this poignant remark:

“Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?” The answer should be, “We all did it.” Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.”

He continued, A short time later, white policemen kill a Negro and wound another. A few hours later, two young men on a motorbike shoot and kill a Negro child. Fires break out, and, in Montgomery, white youths assault Negroes. And all across Alabama, an angry, guilty people cry out their mocking shouts of indignity and say they wonder, “Why?” “Who?” Everyone then “deplores” the “dastardly” act. But you know the “who” of “Who did it” is really rather simple.”

Not only was the attack heinous, but, the response of many in law enforcement at the local level and even at the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was criminal. Hoover refused to investigate, and although a witness identified Chambliss, he was not charged with the bombing; instead he was charged for having a case of dynamite without a permit. He was fined $100 and given a six-month jail sentence.

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Thought FBI agents had investigated the crime and discovered evidence against all four men, Hoover ordered the evidence not be provided to local or Federal prosecutors. So for eight years the crime was covered up.

However in 1971 Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama. Baxley re-opened the case and requested the FBI files, which had been suppressed by Hoover, who had died in 1972. In 1977 Chambliss was indicted and convicted of first degree murder, he died in prison. Blanton was tried in 2001, convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash died in 1994 with ever having been charged with a crime and Cherry was convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison and died in 2004.

The attack and the deaths of the four girls served as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. However it did not end the fight for equality, and others would die in its aftermath, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who died at the hands of an assassin’s bullet less than 4 years later.

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Rights Act of 1965 many blacks have been elected to local, state and federal offices or served in some of the highest ranks of the military, judiciary, and at the Cabinet level. Two, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have served as Secretary of State, two, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, as Attorney General of the United States; one, Clarence Thomas, as a Justice of the Supreme Court; and one, Barak Obama elected as President of the United States. Black sports stars, actors and singers are celebrated as heroes among much of society.

But despite these advances, racism is still quite prevalent and getting worse as its proponents, unleashed and unhindered with a supportive President in the White House. One of my former co-workers from Georgia, a white Southern Baptist minister and retired military chaplain noted that many whites may not be explicitly racists in interpersonal relationships with blacks, but have an attitude that blacks still need “to stay in their place.” He noted that he thinks that quite a few believe that many whites believe that this is a large part of the reason that President Obama is opposed and even hated by so many whites. It is not just politics or ideology. While politics may play a role the root of the hatred is racism because I cannot for the life of me imagining any white Democrat, including Hilary Clinton getting this kind of treatment.

But the sad truth is there still is an undercurrent of unrepentant racism in the country and not just the South. In fact many places in the South have seen greater advances in racial relations than other parts of the country. That is not to say that there are those who would attempt to disenfranchise blacks, some of the voting laws recently passed are designed to ensure that significant parts of the black population, specifically the elderly and students living away from home have greater difficulty voting. It is actually a more insidious method than past Jim Crow laws because the drafters of these laws hope to keep just enough black and other poor or minority voters from voting to ensure that they maintain power. Some of those who drafted or supported these state laws designed to disenfranchise voters have openly admitted that fact.

Not only is racial prejudice experienced by blacks, it is experienced by many Americans of Hispanic origins, some of Asian descent but also by those of Middle Eastern, Iranian, Pakistani or Indian descent. And yes, people of all races, including racial, ethnic and religious minorities can be as racist and violent as the men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church 52 years ago. Racism is an ugly part of our human condition and no matter whom it is targeted against, and who does the targeting, it is wrong and needs to be fought.

The Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org lists 784 active hate groups of all types operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. (See the Hate Map herehttps://www.splcenter.org/hate-map) The number is down from recent because a number of more the virulent White Supremacist and militia groups have gone underground, shut down websites and social media pages.

Too many people have died in this struggle to stop now. If today you read this before or after going to church, remember those four little girls who died at the hands of four murdering, racist Klansmen. Likewise remember that there are others out there full of hate who would not hesitate to do the same again and others who would actively support those efforts. Sometimes even in the name of God.

As for me I will fight it no matter whom it is against.

Charles Morgan Jr. closed the speech which brought about death threats against him and his family and forced him to leave Birmingham with these words.

“And who is really guilty? Each of us. Each citizen who has not consciously attempted to bring about peaceful compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, every citizen who has ever said “they ought to kill that nigger,” every citizen who votes for the candidate with the bloody flag, every citizen and every school board member and schoolteacher and principal and businessman and judge and lawyer who has corrupted the minds of our youth; every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred, is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb.”

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Charles Morgan Jr.

Charles Morgan died in 2009, but after he left Birmingham he went on to lead a remarkable life, especially in his commitment to Civil Rights and Justice. The New York Times obituary noted:

“Among his many cases as a civil rights lawyer, Mr. Morgan sued to desegregate his alma mater, the University of Alabama; forced a new election in Greene County, Ala., that led to the election of six black candidates for local offices in 1969; and successfully challenged racially segregated juries and prisons. After the civil rights movement began to subside, Mr. Morgan, as a leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought three celebrated court cases involving protests against the Vietnam War.

He represented Muhammad Ali in his successful court fight to avoid being drafted. He represented the civil rights activist Julian Bond in the early stages of an ultimately successful lawsuit after Mr. Bond had been denied a seat in the Georgia legislature because of his antiwar views. And he defended an officer when he was court-martialed for refusing to help instruct Green Berets headed for Vietnam.”

We cannot ever let ourselves forget that it was supposedly Christian men who bombed a church and killed those four little girls, and that as long as all of us fail to live up to our responsibilities such things will happen again. If we do not, we are as guilty as those who throw the bombs, shoot the bullets, and those preachers, pundits and politicians who deny the fact that these things are still commonplace. This is especially true in the Trump era.

Yes, my friends, we will be at least as guilty as the brazen killers who continue to try to kill the dreams of those who are not like them. As for me, I hope that I will be as committed to stand for the rights of the oppressed and for justice as did Charles Morgan.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“I imagined leave would be different from this” September 11th 2001 at Seventeen Years

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

September 11th is a day that always makes me more introspective. It brings back so many memories, some that I wish I could forget; but I cannot get the images of that day out of my mind. The burning towers, the people jumping to their deaths to escape the flames, and the scenes of devastation. I knew one of the victims in the attack on the Pentagon, an Army Lieutenant Colonel, Karen Wagner who commanded a Medical training company at Fort Sam Houston where I was serving as the Brigade Adjutant in 1987 and 1988. She was a very nice person, very gracious and decent, admired by everyone who knew her; I was shocked to see her name on the casualty list after the attack.

The emotions that I feel on the anniversary of these terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of so many innocent people, and which devastated so many families, still haunts me, and my subsequent service, especially in Iraq has changed me. Years after he returned from his time in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence; the immortal Lawrence of Arabia wrote to a friend, “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” I often feel that way.

Seventeen years ago I was getting ready to go to the French Creek Gym at Camp Le Jeune North Carolina where I was serving as the Chaplain of Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division. I had returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea just two months before and was preparing to transfer to the USS Hue City, a guided missile cruiser stationed in Mayport, Florida.

At the time of the attack I had already been in the military for over 20 years and I had actually taken a reduction in rank to transfer from the Army, where I was a Major in the reserves, to the Navy to serve on active duty. In those previous 20 years I had served overseas during the Cold War along the Fulda Gap. I had been mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996, and I had just missed being mobilized for Operation Desert Storm as my unit was awaiting its mobilization orders when the war ended. I had done other missions as well as the deployment to the Far East that returned from in July 2001; but nothing prepared me for that day. Like other career military officers I expected that we would be at war again and thought it might be back in the Middle East, and probably a result of some fool’s miscalculations; but like the American officers who were serving at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, I never expected what happened that morning.

Tuesday, September 11th 2001 had started like so many days in my career. Routine office work, a couple of counseling cases and what I thought would be a good PT session. I was about to close out my computer browser when I saw a little headline on Yahoo News that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I paid little attention and figured that a private plane, something like a Cessna piloted by an incompetent had inadvertently flown into the building.

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That delusion lasted about two minutes. I got in my car and the radio, tuned to an AM talk station had a host calling the play by play. He started screaming “oh my God another airliner flew into the other tower.” Seeking to see what was happening I went to the gym where there were many televisions. I got there and saw the towers burning, with stunned Marines and Sailors watching silently, some in tears. I went back out, drove to my office and got into uniform. After checking in with my colonel a made a quick trip to my house for my sea bags and some extra underwear, and personal hygiene items. When I got back the headquarters we went into a meeting, and the base went on lock down mode. The gates were closed and additional checkpoints, and roadblocks established on base. Marines in full battle-rattle patrolled the perimeter and along the waterfront. I did not leave the base until the night of the 15th when things began to settle down and we all went into contingency planning mode for any military response to the attacks.

My wife, who as waiting for a doctor’s appointment with a friend saw the attacks on live television and knew when the first plane struck she told her friend that it was terrorism. Her friend responded “that damned Saddam Hussein.” Like so many of us who initially thought this, my wife’s friend was wrong.

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Those were tumultuous days, so much fear; so much paranoia; and so much bad information as to who committed the attacks and what was going to happen next.

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A few months later I deployed aboard Hue City to the Middle East where we supported the air operations in Afghanistan, anti-terrorist operations off the Horn of Africa and in Operation Southern Watch and the U.N. Oil Embargo against Iraq. I then did three years with Marine Security Forces, traveling around the world to support Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team companies. For three years I was on the road one to three weeks a month traveling to the Middle East, Europe, the Pacific and many parts of the United States. Then I was promoted and transferred to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group Two, from which I was deployed with my assistant to Iraq, where we served as members of the Iraq Assistance Group in all Al Anbar Province supporting small teams of Marine Corps, Army and Joint Force adviser teams to the Iraqi Army, Border troops, Port of Entry police, police and highway patrol.

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When I returned from Iraq I was a changed man and while I am proud of my service I am haunted by my experiences. One cannot go to war, see its devastation, see the wounded and dead, as well as the innocents traumatized by it. One cannot get shot at, or be in enclosed rooms, meeting with people that might be friends, or might be enemies, and while everyone else is armed, you are not.

War changed me, and my homecoming was more difficult than I could have imagined. I never felt so cut off from my country, my society, my church, or even other chaplains. My experience is not uncommon among those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter those who have served in almost any modern war. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic All Quite on the Western Front wrote:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

That being said I would not trade my experience for anything. The experience of PTSD and other war related afflictions has been a blessing as well as a curse. They have changed my world view and made me much more emphatic to the suffering and afflictions of others, as well when they are abused, mistreated, terrorized and discriminated against. These experiences along with my training as a historian, theologian, and hospital chaplain clinician before and after my tour have given me a lot bigger perspective than I had before.

But I have to live with all of the memories. Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

As hard as this has been these are good things, and as I go on I wonder what will happen next. I do not think that the wars and conflicts which have followed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks will be over for years, maybe even decades. I pray for peace, but too many people, some even in this country seem to live for the bloodlust of war. One can only hope and as my Iraqi friends say, Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

I wonder too, if the words of T.E. Lawrence reflecting on his service in the Arab Revolt are not as applicable to me and others who came back from Iraq, “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” I have lost too many friends in these wars, including men who could not readjust to home, many like me. I have seen the men and women, broken in body, mind and spirit and I wonder if any of it was worth it, and if in some of our response, especially the invasion of Iraq has not made a bad situation even worse, and turned the war into a generational conflict.

As for me, I am now an old guy by military standards. I recently celebrated 37 years of service and will, God willing, retire next year. Sadly, I know all too well that those who I have worked with, and those who are yet to enlist will be continuing to fight a war which seems to be without end long after I retire.

Yesterday and today there were and will be many ceremonies and services to remember the victims of the attacks. I think that is fitting. As I mentioned last night I did not take place in this year’s commemoration of the event at my base because I had been asked by name to do a funeral for a retired Navy Chief at a local veterans cemetery followed by more planning and preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Florence.

So please, have a good day and whatever you do do not forget those whose lives were forever changed by those dastardly attacks and all that has transpired in the years since. Honestly I did not think that we would still be at war today. It is hard for me to believe that we still are at war and that there is no end in sight.

As Erich Maria Remarque wrote “I imagined that it would be different…”

At the same time I do hope that things will get better and that some semblance of peace will return to the world.

Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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They are Not Just Names: September 11th 2001 at Seventeen Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In Star Trek Deep Space Nine there is a scene where the deputy commander of the Space Station, Major Kira Nerys gives a casualty report to Captain Benjamin Sisko. It resonates with me every time that I see it and especially on the anniversary of September 11th.

KIRA: Sir, the latest casualty reports have just been posted.
SISKO: How many this time?
KIRA: Including the troops lost at AR five five eight, seventeen hundred and thirty.
SISKO: Seventeen hundred thirty.
KIRA: That’s a lot of names.
SISKO: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.

Today marks the seventeenth year since the attacks of September 11th 2001 and we do have to remember those who lost their lives that day, all those Americans and our coalition partners who died, and all the innocents lost, even to those of American military action. None of them are just names, they are real men and women, as well as children cut down by terrorism and unending war.

When we were attacked on September 11th 2001 I had already passed twenty years of service, though about half of them were service in the reserves and National Guard. Now I am over 37 years of service and by this time next year I should be on the retired list unless something very unexpected happens.

My base will be marking it with the dedication of a nature trail that now has plaques commemorating over 80 eighty men and women from our base who have died in action, on deployment, or training to go to combat since that occasion. While this ceremony is taking place I will be driving out to a Veteran’s Cemetery an hour or so away to perform the internment of a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer whose family requested me by name.

Thus I will be turning over the big high profile ceremony to my deputy chaplain. It will give him a chance to be on the big stage and get recognized for his own talents and abilities while I do something less visible but very meaningful to that Navy Chief’s family and to me as the son of a Navy Chief. In addition to conducting the service I will have the honor of presenting the colors of the nation to his daughter.

For me it is a chance to pay back the goodness shown to my dad and family when he passed away in 2010. The base ceremony and the internment were pretty close together time wise. My Commanding Officer and I talked about it decided and decided that since I am now in pretty much constant pain with knee and hip injuries since I fell down my stairs last month that I shouldn’t be doing back to back ceremonies with a long drive in between.

But anyway. Since September 11th 2001 I have lost count of the number of friends and comrades who died during the attack and the subsequent wars. This includes those that died by their own hand during or after their service due to the effects of combat trauma, PTSD, or Traumatic Brain Injury,  or the never ending pain of physical wounds and injuries. I often see their faces when I think about the past 17 years, their names are forever etched in my memory, but they are not just names and we cannot forget them. I cannot and I will not.

It seems like every week or so we lose another soldier, sailor, marine, or airman in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Africa. I loom at their names, where they are from, and the number of deployments that they have made. Some entered service well after me but because of their specialities and assignments made far more deployments that I can imagine. One soldier who was killed in action serving in Iraq had made 13 deployments, 9 of which were combat deployments in a 16 year career, and for the most part they are forgotten by all but their family, friends, and comrades, most barely get a mention elsewhere.

Sadly at this point in my career I believe that for many Americans, especially the faux patriots of the Fox News set, the political preachers of the Christian Right, and the President himself, that the troops are merely a prop to place in the background to promote their political causes and slam other Americans for not being patriotic enough.

Today I will continue to serve and I will mourn in my own way the friends, comrades, and shipmates that I have lost over these past 17 years. For me they are not just numbers or names, they are real people and no amount of flag waving will bring them back. No amount of corporate sponsored “patriotism” will make up for the lost lives, and the destruction of these wars. We can remember and honor the lost, and those who still suffer, including the wounded in body, mind, and spirit, and of the widows and children of the men and women who never came home or were never the same. I came home, but I am not the same.

They are not just names.

So as you go about your activities today take time to remember the victims of war, terrorism, and as I do the men and women who I knew who never came home, couldn’t make the transition back from war, or who still suffer in mind, body or spirit.

Never forget, they are not just names.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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History, Trump, and the Unthinkable


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that is terrifying to be a historian who has specialized in the study of tyrannical regimes. This is the case with me. Even since my undergraduate study working under Dr. Helmut Heussler at California State University Northridge I have studied the transition of society from democracy to dictatorship. While my studies then and ever since focused on the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the fact is that what happened in Germany was not unique, it is a part of the human condition and the people of any country can find themselves under the foot of a dictatorship if the conditions are right. I believe that conditions in the United States have never been more ripe for dictatorship than they are today.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

This is especially frightening since the Republican majority Congress turns a blind eye to his malfeasance and ignores their duty under the Constitution, and his cult like supporters, especially supposedly conservative Christians have become fanatical in their support. The President’s constant encouragement violence and vengeance against any critic by his supports is being being answered by them. The incidents are far too numerous to mention here, and I have been one of them in my own chapel congregation try to get me tried by court martial by lying about what I said in a sermon.

In all truth I believe that the President’s base inclination is that of an authoritarian even if he lacks any underlying ideology, except perhaps the racism that is emblematic of his words and his administrations policies and actions. The demonization of darker skinned people, be they Mexicans and Central Americans, Africans, Arabs and South Asians, and American Blacks. Calling Mexicans “rapists,” equating all Mexicans or Central Americans with a violent gang called MS-13, and referring to refugees as an “infestation.” These are just some of the racist tropes that he like so many tyrants before him and today use to dehumanize their victims and make it that much easier for his supporters, law enforcement officials, and maybe someday military personnel to commit crimes against humanity or war crimes.

As chaos continues to engulf the House of Trump, as investigations regarding Trump’s relations with Russia gain steam, and as his poll numbers crash, I become more concerned that the unthinkable will happen.

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I believe that during the past few days we have been witnessing the beginning of the unthinkable. The escalation of the President’s attacks on the First Amendment in his attacks on the Press, and the attacks on career intelligence and law enforcement officials beginning with former CIA Director John Brennan with a host of others in his sight. His actions are unprecedented, they make those of Richard Nixon pale in comparison. The man is already off the reservation and there is no telling what he will do next. Thankfully, many former senior intelligence and military officials are speaking out. I expect many more to add their voices but given the President’s use of lies and propaganda to muddy the waters while both inciting his followers and demoralizing his opponents to inaction I am not sure that their voice will be enough.

I think that first there will be an event that triggers a national emergency whether contrived or coincidental that will result in a Reichstag Fire moment. This will allow the President to use already existing provisions in the Patriot Act or any number of Cold War era Executive Orders to suspend Constitutional rights, and maybe even suspend Congress or cancel elections to claim dictatorial powers. It may be major terrorist attack or a war but it will be enough to either sway some of his opponents into supporting him during the emergency or paralyze the opposition against him based on the fear of what happened.

I believe that if or when one or the other happen that the Trump regime will use it to suspend civil rights and liberties and maybe even suspend Congress and the courts in the name of security. Sadly, I think that in such a case that very few people would resist. Of course the 35-40% of people that would support him as he said, even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue would be at the forefront, but many other people would follow all because they are afraid and desire security more than freedom.

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Once that happens there will be a Night of the Long Knives event where troublesome opponents, or even supporters with a different agenda are arrested and killed in an extrajudicial manner.

Now this is not all Trump’s doing. For the last three decades many of those that now support him, especially the leaders of the Religious Right, Fox News, and radio and internet demagogues have prepared the ground for his rise. He merely stepped into a movement that was ready made for his demagoguery.

This is why all Americans, no matter if they are conservative or liberal need to be alert and awake to the times. Even the President’s supporters are not safe should they differ with him or grow a conscience when friends or family are targeted by the President and his administration.

Snyder, warned us in his book On Tyranny. He wrote:

“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of political parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. DO NOT FALL FOR IT.”

Human beings are the one constant in history, and human nature is very consistent when it comes to how we respond when under attack. One only has to think of the fear that followed the 9-11 attacks and the willingness of people to give the government vast new powers, including an authorization for the use of military for against Al Qaida which has not been updated or supplemented since 2001, despite the fact that many of the places our military are operating in today have nothing to do with Al Qaida.

I believe that the chances of such a think happening have gone up exponentially since the President and the Executive branch have not filled many critical ambassadorships, as well as thousands of key billets in the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security.  Likewise, with its callous treatment of our allies and lack of concern about Russian interference in American elections, and in Europe the administration has weakened us at home and abroad making the country vulnerable to cyber attacks on our cities, infrastructure, and election systems, foreign or domestic terrorists, or even direct military action against American military installations or ships overseas, or against our allies.

This is a very dangerous time and every day I wake up wondering if this will be the day that our Republic as we knew it dies. I do not know if this will be the result of a war with North Korea or Iran, or possibly a major terror attack, but as things spiral out of control I cannot shake the feeling that we are going to have our Reichstag Fire moment, and that we will not rise to the challenge. Instead I think that most Americans will give up freedom in the name of security simply because that is human nature and has been demonstrated throughout history on every continent. James Madison noted:

“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

Now is a time that we must all be awake and aware of what is going on in our country and the world. The storm clouds are building and we most be cognizant of the times or be engulfed and overwhelmed when the unthinkable arrives. That may not be pleasant to contemplate, but it is necessary.

I would like to believe that I will be proven wrong, and honestly I want to be proven wrong because I do not want our nation to have to endure war, terrorism, and  tyrannical despotism.

So, until tomorrow I wish you a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“The Coexistence of Normality and Bottomless Cruelty” Timothy McVeigh and the Terrorist Next Door

murrah bombing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short note to close out the work week. Amid all the political drama surrounding President Trump, James Comey, and the release of the Comey memos this week, one thing that was overlooked by most people was the anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in 1995.

I don’t think that I could ever forget the day. I was working as a hospital ER department chaplain where I worked a 3:00-11:00 shift and usually didn’t get to bed until one or two in the morning. I was also a Chaplain in the Army National Guard. Not long after I got up I turned on the news and was drinking my coffee when the news about the bombing flashed across the screen. I was stunned, especially when I found out that the bombers were Americans, and both former soldiers. I could not imagine American soldiers turning their hatred agains the government into an act of terrorism.

They killed 168 people, including babies and young children in the day care center were killed, hundreds of others wounded. McVeigh and Nichols were part of the anti-government so-called “militia” movement that still exists in parts of this country, of which the Bundy family, which occupied a Federal Wildlife Sanctuary in 2016 in order to bring about a revolt against the government is part.

Sadly, there are such people who would do the same today if given the chance. As this attack shows, most of them are not Islamic terrorists, but some are plain old Americans, people you might see in the grocery store or at the gas station. Some belong to the White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi Alt-Right, others to heavily armed self-appointed “militia” groups, and still others simply deluded followers of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. Members of all of these groups or movements have committed violent acts or have been stopped from doing so by the work of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

What is scary is that almost all of them repeat the same words, thoughts and ideology that McVeigh wrote about before and after the attack. In the end McVeigh rationalized his violence and defended his actions, never showing any hint of remorse for his victims, they were simply collateral damage, and the children he killed, a distraction from his message. Those that interviewed him said that he seemed completely normal and it was hard for them to reconcile his normalcy with what he did and his attitude toward his victims.

Reading his words and what others observed about him reminded me of what the Israeli court psychologist who interviewed Adolf Eichmann noted about Eichmann. Hannah Arendt recounted it:

“The Israeli court psychiatrist who examined Eichmann found him a “completely normal man, more normal, at any rate, than I am after examining him,” the implication being that the coexistence of normality and bottomless cruelty explodes our ordinary conceptions and present the true enigma of the trial.” 

I find it sad to see others like McVeigh doing their damnedest to impugn the character, honor and work of the men and women of the FBI. Unfortunately they have found a friend in President Trump who impugns the honor, decency, and loyalty of the FBI, members of the Justice Department, and Federal Judges; not to mention his political enemies and the free press.

So let’s never forget the events of that terrible morning and remember that to paraphrase Arendt using McVeigh instead of Eichmann:

The trouble with McVeigh was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted or sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. 

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Bomb Threats and Terror: Flashbacks to the Baader Meinhof Gang


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The last week was stressful for me. I am dealing with a contractor who is causing problems, and I had a number of other issues going on at work. Likewise, as you know from my last two articles, I was dealing with people in the neighborhood who were and still may be working to make sure that the kids in our neighborhood don’t have a safe place to play. Of themselves they would have been stressful and time consuming but not anything that would amp up my anxiety level. 

But this week, my base and another one nearby were the targets of a significant number of bomb threats, in fact on Wednesday we had five separate bomb threats on my base and I ended up spending over half of my day in our Emergency Operations Center. Now I know that for most Americans that bomb threats are of little concern, mainly because they have never really experienced actual terror threats in their neighborhoods that impacted their daily lives for months on end. Bigger events like the 9-11 attacks are a different matter. 

Most Americans live in a nice cocoon of comfortable safety were  terrorist bombs are something that blow up in other countries. But my life, and that of my wife have been different from most Americans. For almost three years we lived with the very real threat of being bombed, kidnapped, or killed by members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, or as it is sometimes known as the Red Army Faction when we were stationed in what was then West Germany during the Cold War. Not only them, but by Muammar Ghadafi’s regime was was sending out terrorists bombers who were bombing places where Americas congregated, clubs, and shopping areas.

Of course I also dealt with the possibility of being blown up by Improvised Explosive Devices during much of my tour in Iraq. So for me, and to some extent Judy, a bomb threat is a source of real anxiety because on two occasions we barely missed being blown up by Baader-Meinhof bombs in 1985, and two years after we returned from Germany the aircraft that we flew home in was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie Scotland by a bomb planted by Libyan terrorists. 

When we lived in Germany in the mid-1980s the threat was real and as I said on two occasions, once at the Frankfurt Post Exchange and once at Frankfurt International Airport, we almost ended up in the middle of bomb blasts that killed and wounded a good number of people. The threat was such that before you got in your car in the morning or started it, that you looked to make sure that there was nothing suspicious. When you entered a base, not only was your identification checked, but your car was inspected. Units on the base had to supply soldiers to patrol the perimeter of the base, and as a young officer I often had to be in charge of the overnight patrols. 

Likewise, because of the threat you remained observant to things around you even when out in town. One Saturday in 1986 while walking through the parking lot at an early version of something like a Wal-Mart in Wiesbaden, a place called Wertkauf we noticed something unusual. As we walked toward the store there was a van that had it back hatch open and a number of people sitting in it. For a moment our eyes locked that the people in the van watched us until we got out of site. Both of us noticed the obvious suspicion and hatred in their eyes. But we went in and did our shopping. When we left they were gone. We mentioned to each other how strange it was but we went home. The next day we went to dinner at a restaurant downtown and as we past the main Police station, we saw a wanted poster for Baader-Meinhof/Red Army Faction members, so we went in and made out report, which the Polizie took seriously and interrogated us for over two hours. Most of these people were arrested and tried for their crimes after they lost sanctuary in East Germany when the wall came down. 

So when these threats occur, especially when they appear to be well coordinated in order to maximize the disruption, I get amped up. My mind goes back to those days in Germany and Iraq. But not only does my mind go back to those places, but it imagines the reality of what could happen if whoever was calling in the threats was also intent on actually killing people. Sadly, it wouldn’t be that hard to kill a lot of military personnel in an attack around our area, there are far too many soft targets, and as a matter of course I pretty much avoid them, even when there are no broadcast terror or bomb threats. When I do go to them I am on high alert looking for things that might be out of place. Hypervigilance is a part of my life with PTSD, and bomb threats only make me more hyper vigilant. 

The threats we had this week were all false alarms. Thankfully no one set off any actual bombs, but at the same time I wonder if the strategy of the callers is to lull people into a sense of complacency, thinking that there is no basis to the threats. If so that would be a good strategy, because people might stop taking them seriously, opening a gateway for a real bomber. 

The Navy has put out a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever has been behind this weeks’ threats. Personally, if I ever found out who was doing this I would do my best to have them locked away forever. 

Thankfully my stress level has gone down over the past couple of days, with Wednesday being the worst day this week. I stil might have to deal with fallout from my contractor over the weekend but I am prepared for that. So until tomorrow. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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The Banality of Evil: Terrorism in Manchester


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another day and another heinous terrorist attack on people attending a concern in Manchester, England. Over twenty were killed and many more wounded in the attack which also left the terrorist dead. Among the victims were young children, innocent by any standard.

Terrorists of all kinds share a common hatred for human beings who are not like them, people for whom they blame their condition on. It has been so since people discovered that terror, committed in the name of a religion or ideology either by state or non-state actors works. Monday’s attack by a twenty-two year old Salman Abedi who according to neighbors dressed “in traditional Islamic dress.” The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but at present little is known about Abedi other that he was born and raised in Britain and might be of Lydian descent. His actual connections to ISIS are unknown. It appears that he deployed an Improvised Explosive Device that was loaded with explosives as well as nails, metal scraps, and screws which made it a perfect anti-personnel weapon which he set off at a time guaranteed to cause maximum casualties. His act, as are all terrorist attacks aimed at innocent non-combatants can only be described as evil. The fact that it appears to be done in the name of his Islamic God does make it any less so. It was an act of evil. But the problem is that his act will inspire other Islamists to conduct similar attacks and provide grist to those who want to blame all Muslims for the attack, provoking violence against innocent Muslims who detest and oppose the kind of attack made by Abedi. Th Islamic State claim of responsibility included the statement that the attack “was in revenge for Allah’s religion, in an endeavor to terrorize the [infidels], and in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims.” In the United States fundamentalist Christian extremist Theodore Shoebat said “he feels no sympathy for these people. The people who died, the people who were injured… I really don’t care. The types of people who go to these concerts are the same people responsible for the degeneracy that you see in society…” In other words the murder of children is just as fine to self-proclaimed Christian Shoebat as it is to ISIS. Both would have fit in well with the Nazi troops who killed Jews by the millions and killed innocent children up close and personal. They are all evil and they all think that they are the righteous. 

However, it doesn’t have to be this way as historian Laurence Rees notes, we do not need to succumb to the bloodlust of revenge and retaliation. We can seek justice without victimizing other innocent people. We do not have to give in to what Hannah Arendt referred to as the banality of evil.” We have the choice as individuals as how to behave towards our fellow human beings. Rees noted: “…human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” The fact is that we cannot allow the situation to determine what is right and wrong in how we respond to terror and in doing so condemn the innocent along with the guilty. 

Anyone knows me knows that all terrorism is evil regardless of its motivation. Over the years I have spoken out against all types of terrorism and that I have no sympathy or desire no mercy be shown to those who commit or sponsor it, but at the same time I do not believe that we should allow fear and hatred to cause us to seek retribution or revenge upon innocent people simply because they share a common racial, religious, or national origin of the guilty. To do so makes us no different than those who kill children at a concert simply because they live in a country opposed to ISIS, or because they or their ancestors belong to a country, religion, or race that we despise or believe are less than human. 

When will we ever learn?

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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