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The Orangeburg Massacre: Dying for the Right to Bowl

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today we are seeing more protests I think than anytime since the the height of Civil Rights Era of the 1960s, and the protests against the Vietnam War. Most of these have been peaceful, but some agitators have committed vandalism and violence at some venues which hurts the cause of the protests.

But that being said, protests, even peaceful ones are not appreciated by many people, people who sometimes forget that gathering in protest to make political statements is as American as apple pie. My God, this tradition goes back to the Boston Massacre when British soldiers fired on unarmed Colonists who were protesting unpopular laws made by Parliament. Now let me state that these men who we now consider Patriots weren’t exactly being peaceful. The were being verbally abusive to a small group of British soldiers, they were throwing rocks, snowballs, and assaulting them with sticks and clubs, so the outnumbered British soldiers opened fire in self defense with their single shot smooth-bore muskets, killing three and mortally wounding two others.

So protest goes back a long way and has been used for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, worker’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and hundreds of other causes from all sides of the political spectrum. The right of the freedom of association and political protest is protected under the First Amendment, but that doesn’t mean that protesters have enjoyed the protection of government in many instances. I have been writing about the Civil Rights Movement for some time, and lately have been posting articles from various texts that I am writing about what African Americans suffered during  era of slavery, but today I am taking a different tack, and writing about something more recent, the brutal and violent suppression of a protest in Orangeburg, South Carolina in February 1968. It’s not that well known, but it should be.

Of course, today, even many whites remember  the burning of the Freedom Riders bus in Anniston, Alabama, the baring of James Meredith from the University of Mississippi, the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in which four little girls going to Sunday School were murdered, the brutal attacks on protesters in that same city that sent Dr Martin Luther King to jail, the murder of Medgar Evers, the murder of the Mississippi Civil Rights Workers, Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know about those brutal, and often deadly assaults on people exercising their Constitutional rights of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association, and for many, the Freedom of Religion that motivated them to protest. . They all occurred early in my lifetime and certainly if we should. But for many, those days of segregation, discrimination, and persecution were the “good ole days” when people, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, Gays, and others “knew their place.”

But such an attitude denies history. It is inexcusable for any man or woman, of any race holding public office to hold such ahistoric, and un-American views, and then attempts to use the police power of the government to enforce what often are their racial prejudice, or religious prejudice.

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But for each of the incidents we remember there were many more, some very bloody which have been forgotten. I was reminded of one of those last year  when a speaker talked about an incident that occurred at his alma mater, South Carolina State University in Orangeburg South Carolina, the Orangeburg Massacre. I think I had read about it once, but I had forgotten about it.

The massacre occurred on February 8th 1968 when students at the college began to protest for equal access to local businesses, especially at the only bowling alley in town; the All Star Lanes. The owner refused to allow Blacks to patronize his establishment. In the days leading up to the massacre students were beaten by police as they engaged in peaceful protests.

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Protests continued on campus, hundreds of police and state troopers were dispatched as well as armored vehicles from the National Guard. On campus about 200 students milled around a dying bonfire.

During a protest the local and state police opened fire on a crowed of students at a bonfire. Contrary to the claims of the police no student was armed, three students were killed, and twenty seven wounded. Many were shot in the back. The dead included a college Army ROTC Cadet named Henry Smith, another, a member of the college football team, Samuel Hammond who died reciting the 23rd Psalm with his mother at his side, and lastly the young Delano Middleton, a local high school student who had joined the protest.

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J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to make false statements to Justice Department officials to cover for the State Troopers involved. When nine of the police officers went to trial for excessive use of force all were acquitted. But how could they be? Evidence was suppressed, false statements made and testimony of the victims discounted. It was as if the lives of peaceful protesters didn’t matter, because they were Black.

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For years the subject was covered up, and disinformation spread by elected and police officials, including the governor who blamed the protest on outside “Black Power agitators” and who claimed that the protest took place off campus. Activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of “inciting a riot” and spent seven months in jail. Twenty five years later he was pardoned. It was not until 2001 that a Governor, then Jim Hodges attended the school’s annual memorial and it was not until 2005 when then Governor Mark Sanford made a formal apology for the massacre.

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The massacre received almost no coverage in the national media and was forgotten. The energy of most Americans was focused on the Vietnam War, the Kent State Shootings and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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Justice Thomas may have historical amnesia, but history is history, even history that those in power desired to cover up.

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History and justice, even belated justice matter because there are those in our country, not all in the South, who would like to roll back the protections that exist in law to protect African Americans and other minorities from institutional discrimination in matters of voters rights and equality. There are business owners who openly boast of their refusal to serve minorities, and are hailed by some for doing so.

I encourage my readers to explore this subject, the book, The Orangeburg Massacre by Jack Bass and Jack Nelson published by Mercer University Press, a number of websites as well as a video that I have provided a link to here http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/3/1968_forty_years_later_a_look are good places to start.

So when you see protesters, even those that you happen not to agree with, remember: their right to protest is part of who we are as Americans. It is a right that no-matter what our political view, that we should never let be trampled.

Like Montgomery, Birmingham, Anniston, Memphis and Selma, Orangeburg though forgotten by most, still matters. Never forget and do not let it happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Orangeburg Massacre and the Uncertain Memory of Justice Clarence Thomas

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Last February, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas lamented the “race consciousness” and “sensitivity” as compared to growing up in Savannah Georgia in the 1960s.

If he were not in a position of nearly unlimited power and influence where he can through a legal opinion overturn established laws regarding voters rights, equal opportunity and discrimination it would be laughable. However, Justice Thomas seems to have missed so much of what was happening to African Americans and others during the Jim Crow Era, the campaigns for resistance in the “segregation forever” movement and the wanton violence used on African Americans who simply wanted the same rights that other Americans enjoyed.

How a man as educated and supposedly aware as Thomas supposedly is can make such an absurd statement is beyond me. In fact it is ludicrous and speaks volumes about how Thomas would willingly cover up the gross injustices that were perpetrated against African-Americans.

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The brutality of those in power against those who demonstrated and campaigned for civil rights was widespread. If Thomas did not hear about it in his childhood it was more likely that it was because Blacks had no voice in local or state government, no support in the local media and those who spoke out were brutalized, their homes, churches or businesses burned or or bombed, and for their trouble many went to jail. It took extraordinarily courageous men and women to stand up to the tyranny perpetrated by politicians, police, businessmen, and even church leaders at the local and State level, which were often directly connected to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in many parts of the South.

Thomas said that he was treated worse by the Northeastern Liberal Elites, than he was in his home town. That may be so, racial prejudice was not unique to the South, in fact some of the worst riots against desegregation occurred in Boston, not far from Thomas’ college Alma mater. In fact in some Northern cities racism and discrimination were as bad than in parts of the South.

Likewise there were incidents of violence in Watts California by the Los Angeles Police Department that helped trigger the Watts Riots. That being said, there can be no doubt that in terms of organized systemic discrimination, persecution, and violence, it was in the South where Blacks suffered the gravest injustice. The South was the unparalleled hotbed of resistance to change, and resistance to the simple desire of people to receive equal treatment under the law.

Today, even many whites remember some of those incidents; the burning of the Freedom Riders bus in Anniston Alabama, the baring of James Meredith from the University of Mississippi, the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in which four little girls going to Sunday School were murdered, the brutal attacks on protestors in that same city that sent Dr Martin Luther King to jail, the murder of Medgar Evers, the murder of the Mississippi Civil Rights Workers, Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know about those, well at least some of us do. They all occurred early in my lifetime and certainly if Thomas didn’t know about them as a child, he most certainly knows about them now.But the good Justice willingly chooses to ignore and treat them if they never happened, to Thomas, those were the “good ole days.”

But such an attitude denies history. It is inexcusable for any man or woman, of any race holding such an important position as Thomas to have, that of a Supreme Court Justice to hold such ahistoric and racist views. For man like Thomas, who in his office helps to make and interpret law that affects the civil rights of all Americans it is unconscionable. But then, I do not believe that Thomas has a conscience.

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But for each of those incidents there were many more, some very bloody which have been forgotten. I was reminded of one of those last year  when a speaker talked about an incident that occurred at his alma mater, South Carolina State University in Orangeburg South Carolina, the Orangeburg Massacre. I think I had read about it once, but I had forgotten about it.

The massacre occurred on February 8th 1968 when students at the college began to protest for equal access to local businesses, especially at the only bowling alley in town, the All Star Lanes. The owner refused to allow Blacks to patronize his establishment. In the days leading up to the massacre students were beaten by police as they engaged in peaceful protests.

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Protests continued on campus, hundreds of police and state troopers were dispatched as well as armored vehicles from the National Guard. On campus about 200 students milled around a dying bonfire.

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During a protest the local and state police opened fire on a crowed of students at a bonfire. Contrary to the claims of the police no student was armed, three students were killed, and twenty seven wounded. Many were shot in the back. The dead included a college Army ROTC Cadet named Henry Smith, another, a member of the college football team, Samuel Hammond who died reciting the 23rd Psalm with his mother at his side, and lastly the young Delano Middleton, a local high school student who had joined the protest.

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J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to make false statements to Justice Department officials to cover for the State Troopers involved. When nine of the police officers went to trial for excessive use of force all were acquitted. But how could they be? Evidence was suppressed, false statements made and testimony of the victims discounted.

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For years the subject was covered up, and disinformation spread by elected and police officials, including the governor who blamed the protest on outside “Black Power agitators” and who claimed that the protest took place off campus. Activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of “inciting a riot” and spent seven months in jail. Twenty five years later he was pardoned. It was not until 2001 that a Governor, then Jim Hodges attended the school’s annual memorial and it was not until 2005 when then Governor Mark Sanford made a formal apology for the massacre.

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The massacre received almost no coverage in the national media and was forgotten. The energy of most Americans was focused on the Vietnam War, the Kent State Shootings and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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Justice Thomas may have historical amnesia, but history is history, even history that those in power desired to cover up.

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History and justice, even belated justice matter because there are those in our country, not all in the South, who would like to roll back the protections that exist in law to protect African Americans and other minorities from institutional discrimination in matters of voters rights and equality. There are business owners who openly boast of their refusal to serve minorities, and are hailed by some for doing so.

I encourage my readers to explore this subject, the book, The Orangeburg Massacre by Jack Bass and Jack Nelson published by Mercer University Press, a number of websites as well as a video that I have provided a link to here http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/3/1968_forty_years_later_a_look are good places to start.

Like Montgomery, Birmingham, Anniston, Memphis and Selma, Orangeburg though forgotten by most, still matters. Never forget and do not let it happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Four Little Girls: The Birmingham Church Bombing 50 Years Later

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Most Americans will not recognize the names and I would dare say that many do not even know about what happened in Birmingham Alabama 50 years ago today. At 1022 in the morning on September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded during the worship service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. Most people also 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. Even before that 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.

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 and 22 other church members were wounded in an attack carried out by members of the KKK and tacitly approved of by many political leaders including Alabama Governor George Wallace.

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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.

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.”

It was a heinous crime and an act of cold blooded premeditated murder which 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 many people across the nation had an eye on the South. The brutal attacks on many blacks, civil rights workers and student volunteers had 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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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. Chambliss was identified by a witness and was not charged with the bombing, simply having a case of dynamite without a permit. He was fined $100 and given a six month jail sentence.

The FBI had investigated and discovered evidence against all four men but Hoover ordered the evidence not be provided to local or Federal prosecutors. However in 1971 Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama, he re-opened the case and requested the FBI files. 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 Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. However it did not end the fight. Dr Martin Luther King Jr would die at the hands of an assassin’s bullet less than 4 years later. Many advances occurred. Many blacks have been elected to office, serve in the highest ranks of the military, two Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice have served as Secretary of State, one, Eric Holder as Attorney General of the United States and one, Barak Obama elected as President. Black sports stars, actors and singers are celebrated as heroes among much of society.

One of my former co-workers from Georgia, a white 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 and while those may play a role the root of it is racism.

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 peel off just enough black and other poor or minority voters to ensure that they maintain power.

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, even people of racial minorities can be racist. Racism is an ugly part of our human condition and no matter who it is targeted against and who does the targeting it is wrong and needs to be fought.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org lists 1,007 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others.

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 who it is against.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Joy and Sorrow in Boston: The Boston Marathon Bombers are Killed or Captured

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“joy and sorrow are inseparable. . . together they come and when one sits alone with you . . remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” Kahlil Gibran 

I was listening to the radio tonight on my way home from dinner when news broke that Boston Police, the Massachusetts State Police and the FBI had cornered and eventually captured the second suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombing. The capture came after a city wide lock down in which the FBI, the Mayor and Governors shut down public transportation systems and asked people to “shelter in place” or remain in their homes.

That order came after the suspects had killed a MIT Police Officer and commandeered a SUV after the FBI had released photos of them and asked for assistance in identifying and finding them. Within minutes the phone lines and websites were flooded with tips and reports. They were found and the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a gunfight with police. The younger brother Dzhokhar escaped though wounded and found refuge in a boat parked in a driveway on Franklin Street in Watertown.  At about 5PM the owner of the boat, leaving his house when given the all clear saw blood leading to the boat and discovered the wounded suspect in the boat and immediately called police.

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After it was confirmed by NBC’s Pete Williams and other news services people poured onto the streets of Watertown and Boston. People were cheering and waving American flags some chanting USA, USA USA! There was a collective sigh of relief and shout of victory when law enforcement officials captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

It was amazing thing to see it, in fact I went back to my local watering hole to celebrate with whoever still might be around. It was a cathartic moment. I think the last time I saw this kind of reaction was when Osama Bin Laden was killed by SEAL Team Six.

However despite the joy it I saw the following tweet on Twitter from the Boston Police Department.

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It was a moment that struck me. For when I saw that tweet it became apparent to me that what I was witnessing was real joy, but it was joy because the two brothers had inflicted great pain and suffering on hundreds of people. They killed four, wounded nearly 180 more and terrorizing a city. My thought, which I posted on my Facebook page was “Remember…the reason we are cheering now is because so many wept…” I saw the paradox inherent in this expression of joy. It was a kind of deliverance from evil, people rejoiced for good reason but their rejoicing was the product of the suffering of the people that they knew who had been affected by the evil perpetrated by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

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I felt the same joy because though I did not know any of the men, women or children killed by them the victims were my fellow citizens and others who were guests in my country. I don’t know about you but when someone be they a citizen or non-citizen attacks my country and kills and injures my fellow citizens and those that are our guests it angers me. I felt that anger in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and in 2001 when Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I felt in on Monday when I heard about the Boston Marathon Bombing while waiting for my flight home at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. For the days between that afternoon and this evening I felt the collective anxiety of so many others as we all wondered who had conducted this attack and what might happen next.

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True joy is almost always the sister of unwanted pain and sorrow. This week so many Americans experienced both sorrow and joy. It was a surreal week. Now the story isn’t over. Dzhokhar is badly wounded and has to recover from those wounds before he stands trial in a Federal Court and before we find out more of the reasons for this attack and the relationship, if any of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Chechnyan or Islamic  terrorist groups.

That being said, today is a day to celebrate even as we recognize how so many others suffer. It is a paradox.

Until tomorrow

Peace,

 

Padre Steve+

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Madness, Evil, Disaster, Haste and Uncertainty: Poison, Bombs, Fire and Reckless Reporting Shape A Strange and Tragic Week

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“Truth is confirmed by inspection and delay; falsehood by haste and uncertainty.”  Tacitus

It was a strange and surreal day and week. It was a day where people sought answers but only found more questions. Questions about evil, madness and of accidental disaster. Questions ultimately about truth and responsibility.

Madness?

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Today the FBI announced the apprehension of an Elvis impersonator named Paul Kevin Curtis in relation to a number of letters containing the deadly poison Ricin to Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker, President Obama and a judge in Mississippi. According to his family Curtis had a long history of mental illness, specifically that he is diagnosed as Bi-Polar. Evidently he was quite a talented entertainer and had been a finalist in a number of Elvis impersonation contests in Las Vegas. Senator Wicker said that he has met Curtis and had once hired Curtis to perform at a party. Wicker noted that Curtis “was very entertaining.”

Disaster

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Meanwhile in the small town of West, Texas near Waco emergency crews and citizens were sifting through the rubble of a fertilizer storage facility, homes, apartment buildings and a nursing home. Yesterday evening a fire broke out at the facility triggering a massive explosion that registered 2.1 on the Richter Scale, was felt 70 miles away. Casualty figures are still unclear. The town’s mayor is reporting tonight that as many as 35 people, 10 being fire fighters and other first responders died in the blast and that about 160 were injured. The town is devastated, large areas are destroyed or heavily damaged. Governor Rick Perry has asked President Obama to declare the county a disaster area.

Evil

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In Boston, as the city mourned and people gathered at an ecumenical prayer service in memory of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing the FBI released pictures and video of the two suspects in the case. The FBI as well as city and state officials have asked citizens for their help in identifying the men who are believed responsible for the killing of three people and the wounding of more than 170 others.

Haste and Uncertainty

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Hasty and False Accusations

In all of these events there is an underlying element of uncertainty that unsettles people, and not only those directly affected but those who are exposed to them even from afar. In the midst of the unfolding tragedies people have a need for answers. After all such events, especially coming so closely on the heels of one another are unsettling and bring about in some the desire to find an answer immediately, to act with haste and recklessness to find an answer.

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Unfortunately haste and reckless attempts to find answers usually compound already tragic situations which could still be open ended. That may not be the case in the situation of Mr Curtis who has been taken into custody and linked directly to the poisoned letters. But let us suppose for a moment that even a mentally ill man could be falsely accused, or that he could have been working with others who are still on the loose. This does not appear to be the case, but there are many instances where people have been falsely accused.

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In the case of the explosion in Texas things appear to point to an accidental fire which spread and set off a massive explosion. Of course that is the presumption but even here officials have to rule out an act of malfeasance or criminality, even as they continue recovery efforts and the search for victims. The fact that the area was a storage area for the volatile Ammonium Nitrate, the same substance used by Timothy McVeigh to destroy the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

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Murrah Federal Building and Timothy McVeigh

In a bizarre twist of irony the worst industrial accident ever, the Texas City disaster of April 16th 1947.  On that day an explosion of Ammonium Nitrate being loaded onto a ship killed over 600 people and injured another 5000. Several ships were sunk, the port destroyed and hundreds of homes and businesses devastated.

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Texas City Disaster

The sad thing is that while the West disaster is probably not a criminal act, it was something that might have been preventable had any outside safety regulations or inspection regime been in place. The last Federal safety inspection of the plant took place 28 years ago. The plant was cited and fined in 2006 for not having a risk management plan in place, despite the presence of an elementary school a very short distance away. The management self reported that risk was minimal.

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Finally in the case of the Boston Marathon bombing many people and some media outlets rushed to judgement before the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that are part of the Joint Task Force investigating released its pictures and videos. The New York Post misidentified two young men, one a high school student as suspects on its front page. Numerous bloggers and others posted photos of people in many cases calling them suspects or even guilt parties based on their very limited powers of observation and more than limited knowledge of the event, area and circumstances of the attack. The Post and those others have caused great distress in the lives of innocent people by acting in haste and rushing to judgement. It should be noted that neither the Post or any blogger has apologized to the people that they have falsely accused who are not considered suspects by law enforcement.

I think as I watched the coverage of all of these events this week and looked back at other terrorist attacks and industrial disasters that have taken place in my lifetime I was struck by how surreal they all appeared, especially since they happened in such a short period of time. When one adds in other events such as the continued tensions in North Korea surrounding its nuclear program and ongoing threats to South Korea, Japan and the United States.

It is a strange time, but if we are to find the truth in all of these cases we have to be careful not to jump to conclusions. History shows time and time again how when people and nations rush to judgement that many times much greater tragedy unfolds.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Day After the Boston Marathon Attack: No Answers and Many Questions

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Two bombs. Three dead. 177 wounded. Many questions and no answers. That is what we know. The attack on the Boston Marathon yesterday was certainly an act of terrorism. The questions though are who did it and why?

We now know something about the devices used in the attack. Pressure cookers loaded with smokeless gunpowder, ball bearings and nails placed in back packs or gym bags. Crude yet powerful and deadly. Improvised explosive devices designed to kill and maim innocent, unsuspecting people. The FBI is taking the residue from the devices to reconstruct them.

Such devices have been used in terrorist attacks both overseas and in this country before. They are crude but effective. They could be the product of any terrorist group, foreign or domestic as well as a “lone wolf” attack of a person with no connection to an organized terrorist group.

Motive of course will be determined once someone or a group claims credit for the attack. Since no one has yet claimed credit we can only speculate who they are and why they did this. Obvious suspects include Al Qaeda or one of its affiliate groups, other terrorist groups affiliated with a foreign government opposed to US policies, a domestic terrorist group with any number of possible motives or a lone wolf terrorist with no direct connections to any group. As of right now we have no idea who might be the responsible group or individual. All is speculation at this point. Thus we must not jump to any conclusions and let a careful and thorough investigation examine all the forensic evidence and discover the leads needed to find the responsible parties and bring them to justice.

There have been some that have been quick to name certain groups at the perpetrators. Unfortunately without solid evidence or any claim of responsibility such charges only serve to stir emotions and create a situation where justice could be impressed and innocent people blamed.

Some of the most popular theories posited by some involve Al Qaeda or any number of other Islamic terrorist groups. There is good reason for this because of the history of such groups behavior. However the thing that makes me doubt that is that no Islamic group has claimed credit. Normally these groups are quick to claim credit for attacks on the “infidels” and justify the attacks using past American attacks or insults to them or Islam. Since no claims of credit from any Al Qaeda linked group have been forthcoming I believe that the chances become less likely every day that this is the case.

There are numerous other possibilities, foreign and domestic, affiliated with a known terrorist group, organization or hostile government or an individual acting on his own accord. Thus before jumping to a conclusion it is important to let the FBI and other law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies do a thorough investigation. That is the only way to solve the case and being those responsible to justice. The inane allegations of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, Eric Rush and Glenn Beck be damned. Will the investigation take time? Probably, especially if the attacker or attackers covered their tracks and do not want to be found in order that they can attack again.

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Such a scenario is a district possibility and could involve any group, Islamic, anti-government, anarchist, left-wing, right-wing or an individual bent on the death of innocents to satisfy their needs for retribution or vengeance. Unless they are found and caught the probability that they strike again is a real possibility. Thus it is unwise to promote speculation and conspiracy theories in the interregnum of the attack and the discovery of the actual person or persons responsible. Likewise to make allegations against the government or media simply to promote such conspiracy theories, or to counteract the possibility that their pet theory is wrong is not only unwise but dangerous.

I want the murderous terrorists responsible for this attack brought to justice, no matter who they are, foreign or domestic and irregardless of their religious, ideological or political affiliation. No matter who they are or what they believe they are murderers and terrorists. The killing of innocent civilians is criminal.

I pray that whoever did this is not an American regardless of their politics, religion or ideology. For me the thought that this could be the work of a countryman is frightening, much more so than a foreign terrorist group or government agent.

I do hope and pray that those responsible, regardless of who they are will be found and either arrested and prosecuted, or failing that killed. I have seen the results of what happens when neighbors and countrymen turn on each other both in Iraq and the Balkans and I for one do not want to see that happen here. We went through that 150 years ago during our Civil War and we still haven’t fully recovered.

That is enough for tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Hatred of “the Other”: White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Politics and the Oak Creek Massacre

A Sikh man Cries outside the Temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin

We don’t know much yet but when we do my guess is that we will not like what we see.

Today a yet unnamed gunman who according to the FBI had White Supremacist tattoos on his body walked into the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin. The man killed 6 people and wounded many more who had simply come to worship. When police responded he shot and wounded an officer who returned fire and killed him.

Because of the tattoos FBI and police believe that the man may be White Supremacist of some sort. The have made no concrete announcements about the motive or if the man was a member of a White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi group but it appears that the investigators are looking strongly in that direction. We will find out more about him in the coming days but if the initial reports are accurate it paints a chilling picture of a movement that is becoming more widespread and more violent.

Sikhs are one of the earliest non-European immigrant groups to the United States. From the Punjab area of India they have frequently been attacked because they look different. Observant Sikh men do not cut their hair, keep a beard and wear a turban. As such they are often believed to be Moslems and since the September 11th 2001 attacks have suffered much abuse as well as been the victims of violence including murder.

Sikhs along those that they are commonly mistaken, Moslems and Arab Americans in general, as well as Indians, Pakistanis, and other non-European ethnicity Americans are often looked upon with suspicion, mistrust and hatred. This is fed by frequent attacks in right wing media demonizing them as “the enemy within” and the ravings of certain McCarthyesque politicians and pundits.

Sikhs, though peaceful and law abiding citizens often get caught in the Xenophobic hatred of “the other,” they are not “real Americans.” The fact is Sikhs look different. They are a very visible expression of ‘the other” that politicians, pundits and preachers of the American right wing love to demonize. It doesn’t matter that they are not Moslems and had no part in 9-11, they just wear turbans and loose fitting clothes and are a bit darker than most of us.

But going beyond the now normal xenophobia which is more driven by hate mongers that stir up fear and loathing is the absolute hatred for non-white minorities exhibited by White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis and Skinheads.

There are over well over 1000 known hate groups spanning ranging from traditional groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis to the Nation of Islam. The numbers, especially in White Supremacist groups has risen dramatically since 9-11, roughly 69% since then. Violence has been a long established tactic of these groups. When one takes the already existing hate group ideology and marries it to the xenophobic rantings of the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who rail against anyone who is not like them it is not surprising that attacks like this occur. I am just surprised that they don’t happen more often. But then again maybe this is just the beginning.

Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists are also beginning to make a push to get elected to local political offices and to grow their political power from “the ground up” according to Don Black, the  founder of the Neo-Nazi group Stormfront. Brian Culpepper of the National Socialist Movement in Tennessee claims that his group is entering the political process by stealth: “We insert ourselves into the infrastructure of other established parties due to the bias against us and the difficulty of third parties getting ballot access….” and that “We have people working with the most recent incoming class of freshmen in the House,…And they don’t even know it.” Black of Stormfront notes that many White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis followers are involved with the Tea Party movement but don’t feel that Tea Party leadership “is skittish when it comes to talking about racial realities.” He believes that this will mean that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis may have to go it alone.

Today a lot of people, thankfully across the political spectrum are denouncing the brutal attack and murder of the members of the Oak Creek Sikh community. Hopefully it cause us to remember that words and ideology do have meaning and can bring people to do heinous crimes. We quite readily condemn the actions of Moslem extremists and terrorists. However we should condemn all that preach and practice the art of hate. The fact is that all hate groups and other terrorists regardless of their ideology are the same kind of animal. The sooner that we realize that the better.

Having been accosted and threatened by Neo-Nazis in the past I find this troubling. This is not an innocent movement. It grows by sowing fear and hatred. The Nazis in Germany singled out the Jews and linked them to every imaginable evil including Socialism and Communism. If you read the histories of the Nazi period, especially their political and propaganda campaigns in the 1920s and 1930s before they came to power one can see many similarities with the growing numbers of people taking part in or tacitly approving of the racist hate messages being spouted today.

Hopefully this will serve as a wake up call to those that have for whatever reason succumbed to the message of the hate mongers and help bring us back to a sense of shared American values of tolerance and community.

We will find out more in the coming days. Right now we know little about the man or his motivation for killing the Sikhs of Oak Creek.  But if the attacker was indeed a member of or sympathizer with a Neo-Nazi or White Supremacist as early reports suggest who is also linked to the mainstream political right it suggests a bigger problem than we want to think about.

There will be more on this to come I’m sure and I don’t think that we will like when we find out.

Peace

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