Tag Archives: terrorism
Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
The excuse of just following orders has been shown to be no excuse. Men and women who follow such orders under a thin veneer of technical legality will be condemned by history. The men of the Wehrmacht who gave logistic, communication, and security support to the Einsatzgruppen that were committing genocide in the Soviet Union were as guilty as the trigger pullers.
Genocide begins when those who know better turn their backs on crimes committed against a few. The last lines of the classic film Judgement at Nuremberg are illuminating when it comes to understanding men and women who do just that. In the film, Burt Lancaster playin the convicted Nazi judge Janning asks Judge Heywood played by Spencer Tracy to visit him. In that closing scene Janning implored Heywood to understand that he never believed that things would go so far.
Ernst Janning: “Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!”
Judge Dan Haywood: “Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
In his book Auschwitz: A New History, Laurence Rees noted something that is important about how human beings act in crisis. After interviewing many of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders who were at Auschwitz and other parts of the Nazi death machine he wrote this:
“…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.”
Yesterday morning, on the Shabbat, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was attacked by Rob Bowers, an open and unashamed White Supremacist determined to kill as many Jews as he could. Armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle and two or three semi-automatic pistols he entered the synagogue and opened fire screaming “All Jews must die!”
This is not an isolated incident, although it appears with eleven people killed, the worst single attack on American Jews in our history. While the United States is probably the least anti-Semitic country in the Jewish diaspora, there has always been an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the United States. Historically this has been mostly relegated to White Supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the America First movement of the 1930s, and other White Nationalist, or Neo-Nazi groups. The Right Wing, White Nationalist anti-Semitism almost always flows from the deep well of racism. In the various expressions of this ideology, Jews are not White, they are Middle Eastern, and thus foreign. Likewise, to the Right Wing the Jews are conflated with Communism and thus in league with America’s Cold War enemies.
Likewise, there are people on the fringes of the American Left who espouse anti-Semitic beliefs, often in reaction to the policies and actions of Israel. Regardless of where it comes from, anti-Semitic threats, actions, and violence are an expression of evil, just as much as are other forms of racism.
The historical background is important. Recognizing it enables us to put the dramatic rise in documented anti-Semitic attacks or incidents over the past three years https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/2017-audit-of-anti-semitic-incidents in their appropriate context.
The fact is that the rise is significant and coupled with the more open and in your face actions of leading White Supremacists, and their political connections within the Republican Party, and among highly placed officials and advisers to President Trump. GOP Congressman Steve King of Iowa frequently makes common cause with White Nationalists, and he is not alone. When in the President claimed that there “were fine people on both sides” in response to the violence precipitated by White Nationalist, KKK, and neo-Nazis which claimed the lives of a counter protester in Charlottesville, it was a tacit blessing of their movement, and despite the later attempts of the President to walk back the remarks, the damage was done.
Now the terrorist attack was committed by a man who embraced the apocalyptic fear mongering of the President regarding Central American immigrants, did not vote for or approve of the President. Bowers does not believe that the President is a Nationalist and believes that White Supremacists that support him are being foolish.
Bowers, who has posted that “the Jews are the children of Satan…” was particularly incensed by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The HIAS was founded in 1881 to help the Jewish victims of Russian pogroms find safety. They are the oldest such agency in the United States and now support refugees of every race, color, and creed. Bowers was most angered by its support for Central American refugees. In his rage at refugees Bowers is similar to many of the President’s supporters, except that the rage is directed at Jews who support refugees. He could have targeted any number of Christian or secular organizations that support refugees but he targeted Jews. Over the past few months he has made online threats to HIAS for its sponsorship of a National Refugee Shabbat in which participating congregations dedicated a worship service to the plight of refugees. Just before the attack Bowers posted:
“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,”
Bowers’s rational for killing Jews is very much like the German Nazis in regard to German and European Jews. They believed that they were the victims of the Jews, that the Jews were trying to destroy their race, and since they believed that the Jews were a sub-human infestation, had to be exterminated. Just three days ago Bowers posted:
“Daily Reminder: Diversity means chasing down the last white person.”
Bowers was a frequent poster on the Gab social media site which has become a haven for men like him, as an alternative to Twitter or Facebook, however, anti-Semitic posts on Twitter have risen at an alarming rate. About 40% of the anti-Semitic posts on Twitter include the #MAGA and #KAG hashtags of Trump supporters.
Bowers’s violent act was not an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of violent racism and racist political extremism. It took place at the end of a week of race and political based violence. First, a rabid Trump supporter, conspiracy theory follower, and anti-Semite was arrested for mailing 13 bombs to political figures, former government officials, and media figures. All of the people targeted had been openly attacked by the President on Twitter or in various speeches. One of his former employers noted that the man said that he wished “to go back to the Hitler days” and that if it was in his power he would “eradicate the Jews” along with lesbians, black people and Hispanic people.
Then there was the was the incident in Louisville, Kentucky where a White man attempted to attack a predominantly Black church, and failing that went to a Kroger supermarket and shot two Black customers in the back, killing them. When confronted by an armed civilian in the parking lot the man said “whites don’t kill whites.” There was no other motive for the killing except the man’s expressed White Supremacism and racism.
These domestic terrorists are all individually responsible for the crimes that they committed and the lives that they have snuffed our. That being said, how they got to the place in their minds where such actions are justified is not hard to explain. They are very similar to others throughout history who have embraced race hatred, including anti-Semitism as a way of life. But, without a belief that violent acts are permissible due to the existential threats promoted by the President, his GOP political allies, the hosts of Right Wing pundits who have poisoned the airwaves and internet for three decades, and the political preachers who justify race and religious based Nationalism, the perpetrators would likely never act.
Last week the President publicly described himself as a Nationalist for the first time. In 2016 Timothy Snyder wrote of President Trump and the contrast between a Nationalist and a Patriot:
“The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.
The President has stoked the flames or racism, nationalism, and even anti-Semitism sine the day he announced his candidacy. The GOP establishment, even those men and women who before Trump’s nomination opposed and condemned all that he stood for have embraced him, very much as the German conservatives did with Hitler between 1932 and 1936, only much faster.
It is not that Trump is Hitler, at best he is a sorry pretender, not that he isn’t dangerous in his own right. Rather, it is the fact that his former GOP opponents have sold their souls for some kind of political or economic gain to him despite their obvious contempt for him and all that he stood. It is that the reality that the de facto state run media of Fox News sets his agenda on a daily basis. It is the fact that the scions of Evangelicalism who would never have supported a man like him have not only embraced Trump, but have invented supposedly Biblical reasons to support him. It is the fact that millions of people now embrace conspiracy theories because Trump repeats and amplifies them. It is the fact that this maelstrom of madness has opened the floodgates to the violence we have seen over the past week and it was not unbelievable or unsurprising. It was all too predictable. I have been saying so for years.
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.”
We have to understand why or this not be the end. It will continue and it will get worse, regardless of what happens in the mid-term elections unless people stop being bystanders and confront the evil that is before us. The President will not, and neither will the compliant GOP majorities in Congress.
The fact that these men have been emboldened to use race based terrorism and murder, to openly espouse and act on anti-Semitism, and other forms of racism as was the case in Louisville and there is no push back in the Right Wing media while much of the mainstream media continues to give the enablers of such violent people equal time by inviting them to panel discussions where the truth is allowed to be obfuscated in the name of fairness and equal time.
So it will happen again and again. No amount of security can stop it. Unlike the terrorist who attacked on September 11th 2001, these terrorists are born and bred Americans. Two of the three would have attracted any attention, and the one who did was so over the top and open about his beliefs that he was considered to be a loon. They all had a choice as how to behave, and like the murderers of Auschwitz they allowed their situation to determine their choices.
Be assured, these acts will continue to happen. Anti-Semitism didn’t die in the Bunker with Hitler. It has found a comfortable home in the United States and what happened this week at the Tree of Life Synagogue shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, and ethics can collapse.
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.
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.
Yesterday a man named James T. Hodgkinson opened fire on members of the Congressional Republican baseball team as they practiced for their annual game against the Congressional Democrats which is a charitable event that helps a number of local agencies that help children. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was critically wounded and several police officers were wounded during the exchange of fire in which Hodgkinson was killed. I was shocked and infuriated by his actions. Political violence and the attempted assassination of any elected official in a democracy where we still have the ability to remove people or parties from office at the ballot box is never justified. I would call his act an act of terrorism just as I have other acts by so many others.
But unlike other times when a white shooter killed or wounded multiple people based on their race, religion, or politics I was joined by many GOP leaders. Sadly, some like Newt Gingrich, Repreantive Steve King and a host of Right Wing pundits blamed it on “typical left wing violence” while ignoring the constant attacks and threats from Right Wing extremists including members of the militia movement, the KKK, and various new-Nazi and Alt Right groups and individuals.
At least President Trump, for the first time in his presidency urged unity and extolled the best part of Americans working together. I was pleased to here his words which I think were genuine, and I hope that this will be a moment that defines his presidency in a positive way for all Americans. That being said I have reasons to doubt, not that I want to but because of his past actions which I will mention later in the article.
From was we know Hodgkinson was very active politically and quite angry at the GOP and President Trump but until today no one, even friends who knew him well would have expected him to cross the line to commit political violence. The congressman from his district from Illinois said that Hodgkinson was angry in his communications about issues but never crossed a line for the office to think that he was potentially dangerous. However, he had a history of domestic violence, destruction of property and a number of other issues. One of Hodgkinson’s Facebook posts from 2015 was a editorial cartoon criticizing Scalise. Hodkinson had been in the D.C. area a couple of weeks and had been spending time at the YMCA near the ball field where the shooting occurred. The former Mayor of Alexandria saw him a number of times and reported that he appeared to be living out of a gym bag and had offered to help Hodgkinson get a job.
I’m sure that there will be more information about Hodgkinson coming out so I will not go into any more detail or speculate why he committed this act, but I will discuss the very real dangers to civil liberty and legitimate peaceful political dissent that his act could lead.
Despite my initial optimism about how the President Trump responded today and many of his advisors have shown spoken in very authoritarian language about political dissent, demonizing their opponents, first during their GOP opponents in the primaries, then all who opposed them during the general election and afterwards. The president even blessed violent acts committed by his supporters during the campaign. Any time a protester physically responded to bullying or intimidation at Trump rallies they were set upon and then were blamed for the resulting violence even if they were the victims.
But what I am afraid is that acts such as Hodgkinson’s will result in draconian measures to limit dissent. People forget that it was the action of a single Dutch Communist acting on his own to burn down the Reichstag that gave Hitler the ability to pass the Enabling Act in March of 1933. That act gave his government unprecedented authority to arrest and detail opponents without due process rights, as well as to shut down opposition newspapers. It was followed up by other laws during the course of the Third Reich which further restricted political opposition. Often people arrested in the round ups would be acquitted of any crime but then upon release would be taken by the SA or SS to concentration camps.
Another incident was the assassination of a junior German diplomat at the German embassy in Paris in November 1938. When he died Hitler gave Josef Goebbels permission to launch a pogrom against the Jews now known as Kristallnacht. Hundreds of synagogues were burned, thousands of Jewish businesses looted, and hundreds of Jews killed, with thousands rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
The problem is that individual acts of violence against leaders who are predisposed to authoritarian responses give those leaders license to suspend laws and civil liberties on what are called exceptional circumstances. The attack by Hodgkinson could easily be construed as an act of political terrorism. As Timothy Snyder noted in his book On Tyranny:
“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 opposition 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.”
That is a warning to all who think that individual acts of political violence can be excused or tolerated, they end up threatening the liberties of all. While I do not think this particular attack is a Reichstag Fire moment, the next one might be and anyone who thinks that their act of violence will help the country is sadly mistaken. For that matter it is also possible that a group or individual sympathetic to Trump could create a false flag incident in order to prompt him to suppress legitimate dissent.
Like I said we will find out more as the days go by about the shooter, the attack, and the possible executive or legislative responses to it, not to mention possible violence against protestors or politicians committed by armed Trump supporters who have often threatened to respond violently to any attack against Trump or the GOP.
This is a very dangerous moment. I do pray that Representative Scalise will recover from his wounds and hope that I will not see progressives rejoice regarding the crime committed by Hodgkinson. Likewise as I mentioned earlier in the article I am heartened by President Trump’s response yesterday and I pray that it will be something that defines the rest of his presidency. I may oppose many, if not most of his policies and actions, as well as hoping that the investigation of his advisers interactions with the Russians goes forward; but I will never continue to hope and pray for the best for our country and yes even for him. That being said I am very wary based on his past words and actions and will never give up my right as an American to speak openly and honestly. I learned that lesson from many great American military men including General Smedley Butler and Colonel David Hackworth. Dissent is still an act of patriotism no matter what some people claim.