NEWS News 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Militias Mostly No-Shows at Michigan Capitol Rally On Sunday

SUNDAY, JANUARY 17, 2021, LANSING, MICHIGAN — Six hundred miles from the nation’s capital, where 25,000 National Guard troops are on high alert, guarding against violence at Joseph Biden’s inauguration, the highway from Detroit to Lansing slices through a light, wet snow. Billboards looming over Interstate 96 display an FBI hotline — “Seeking Information: U.S. CAPITOL VIOLENCE.” 

The snow forms a gray slush on the streets of Lansing in front of the state’s landmark Capitol building, made of sandstone and steel. A demonstration planned for noon begins to gather. The building has been ringed with a six-foot, wire-mesh fence. Businesses are boarded up. Bomb-sniffing dogs work a perimeter while National Guard Humvees move to block off all entrance routes. Approximately four dozen state police officers march in pairs, encircling the building. A state police helicopter hovers overhead. 

A few days before, my colleague Seth Herald, a Detroit-based freelance photographer, received a text from a member of the Michigan faction of the Boogaloo Bois: “It’s gunna be bad man. We are going out but if I was press I would stay away.”

But on the ground, there’s an unsettling quiet to the thinly attended rally. An estimated 100 protesters are outnumbered roughly three to one by police and National Guard, as well as members of the national and international media. For those paying attention to the rise of violent extremism in Michigan, what is most notable this Sunday is not who is there, but who is not

Where are the Proud Boys? Where are the storied local militias? Where are the known faces of leaders of both of those groups, who marshaled hundreds of Trump loyalists back in April to come to Lansing and occupy the Capitol building, dozens of them leering down on lawmakers from the gallery while shouldering long guns? Where are the unmasked and unhinged foot soldiers of this movement, shouting into the faces of police, venting their rage at what they perceived as excessive lockdown orders? 

Back then, Trump had urged them all on with a rallying cry on Twitter: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” They took it seriously, and soon after the April occupation a local militia known as the Wolverine Watchmen allegedly plotted to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Now, 13 men face federal and state charges in Michigan for the thwarted plot. 

Since the attack on the Capitol on January 6, and the ensuing arrests and unprecedented crackdown on the extremist social media sphere, the forces behind organizing these demonstrations have been thrown off course. Experts on far-right extremism say that the broad movement, emboldened and energized by Trump and fueled by conspiracy theories that ricochet around the internet, is going underground.

“There is a deep paranoia coursing through online communities containing extremists,” says Jared Holt, a research fellow studying disinformation and extremism for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “They are kind of in a holding pattern right now, trying to figure out how to recover from such a disastrous move and figure out their next steps forward.” 

On Sunday, the ragged camps that make up the broad-ranging anti-government movement trudge quietly through the slush around the state Capitol building. The only defined group is the Boogaloo Bois. They have come together with an eclectic mix of Trump supporters and deniers of the legitimacy of the election. But the stance of the Boogaloo Bois is notably more nihilistic: “We do believe that this election was fraudulent. But we believe the last election was fraudulent and the one before that, too,” said Timothy Teagan, a 22-year-old with long stringy hair and an AR-15 slung over his shoulder. 

An FBI memo released late in December claimed that a member of the Boogaloo Bois, an outfit with a penchant for Aloha floral garb and accelerationist fantasies of ushering in a civil war, had planned on “using a gasoline-based device with a tripwire in Lansing, Michigan, to cause a distraction while other individuals ‘take’ the capitol”—carrying on the momentum of the riot that erupted in Washington, D.C., less than two weeks prior. 

In Lansing, security forces were prepped to thwart an anticipated replay of insurrection. On Sunday, the Boogaloo Bois came with all of their intimidating street theater and open-carry weapons (in a state that allows them to do so). Some shouldered vintage World War II bolt action rifles, others carried modern assault-style weapons and wore tactical vests crammed with extra magazines. But the only shots came from a Nerf gun, fired by a counter-protestor, Wayne Koper, a northern Michigan resident in a Harley Davidson jacket and a clownish attitude, who said he was there to mock the posturing militias in his state. 

Reporter Will Herald conducts an interview
What the well-dressed reporter wears in 2021.

I spoke to a Boogaloo Boi, who said his name was Duncan Lemp, when one of those styrofoam rubber-tipped bullets bounced off his knee and landed at his feet. Lemp is a fake name. The real Duncan Lemp, a martyr of the boogaloo movement, was shot and killed in March 2020 by a Montgomery County, Maryland, police SWAT team carrying out a no-knock raid seeking illegal firearms. 

This ‘’Duncan Lemp’’ rested one hand on his AR-15, drawing on a cigarette through his American-flag neck gaiter with the other. He seemed eager to talk, and his narrative sounded well-rehearsed.

“This is about unity, it’s about coming together, left or right, and defending our constitutional rights as written,” he said quickly, when asked about their purpose at the demonstration.

But beneath the veneer of far-right jargon was the reality of one of the most sprawling federal manhunts in American history. So-called Lemp said he was taking out the trash at his job in northern Michigan, where he is a cook, when he was approached by two FBI agents in plainclothes. He said they asked him if he planned on being violent at Sunday’s protest.

“Do we look violent to you?” he asked me, still gripping his military-grade assault rifle. 

He adds, matter-of-factly, that he is being unjustly targeted by the federal crackdown on far-right extremism that began after the storming of the Capitol Building, where five people died. The FBI is reportedly searching for some 200 suspects in that armed insurrection. In Michigan, six people have already been arrested for taking part.

Even at this small demonstration, four people said they had entered the Capitol Building on January 6. 

One of those was Brian Cash. He became the symbol of Michigan’s anti-government crusaders when in April he was photographed screaming — and unmasked — into the faces of two police officers guarding the Michigan House of Representatives.

Cash represents those who started out with state-level agitation last year and carried that movement to the nation’s capital on January 6. He said he has considered traveling to D.C. to protest Biden’s inauguration and what he still believes was a fraudulently certified election. His hope is that members of Congress will be “arrested for treason.” 

But for now, he said, he doesn’t have a plan, and is keeping an eye on the massive buildup of National Guard troops and reports of checkpoints and roadblocks into Washington, D.C.

“It’s all locked down, there’s no way in,” he said. “It would be a suicide mission.”  ❖

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The Avengers: Journalists of the Right Rejoice

A happy new year to you, and now let’s lend an ear to some of our more prominent national commentators who have in the last few weeks or days proposed:

• The mining of Iranian harbors;
• The threatened mining of Cuban ports;
• The theorem that opposition to General Haig’s appoint­ment is tantamount to appeasement of the Soviet Union;
• The resurrection of the House and Senate Internal Security committees;
• The appointment of Henry Kissinger as secretary of state;
• The notion that Ronald Reagan has confirmed the view of 19th century German philosophers that “if we could but pierce the veil of appearances we would see that History is intelligible, logical and progressive.”
• The … but let us pause for a moment, doff our hats, and listen to the words of James Reston, vintage ’45:

“The principle that governs the press, or should govern it, is that the selling of news is a public trust. When the reporter writes a story that affects the interests of the people and the newspaper sells it, they in effect say to the reader: here is the truth to the best of our knowledge; these are the true facts; you can base your judgement on them, in the full knowledge that in this country the judgements of the people de­termine our actions as a na­tion.

“The same kind of rela­tionship exists between a doc­tor and his patients. The doc­tor affects the physical well-being of his patients; the reporter affects the men­tal well-being of his readers; unlike the doctor, the reporter is neither asked nor permitted to prescribe what his readers need to make them ‘well.’ But, like the doctor, he has the opportunity to poison them, and the main difference, it seems to me, is merely that the reporter can poison more of them quicker than the doctor.

“The reporter is thus performing a social and public service of the highest possible value …”

It’s a little unclear, actually, whether Reston was talking about the provision of truth or poison when he invoked “service of the highest possible value.” That was back in 1945. Today, certainly, it’s just a matter of citing poison of choice.

Every age gets the journalism it de­mands and the journalism it deserves. Right now, ankle-deep in the Reagan era, the situation looks pretty grim.

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A Straight Line
The proposals quoted at the start of this article stem from William Safire, Nor­man Podhoretz, Patrick Buchanan, James Reston, and (the one about History) George Will. These propagandists and their colleagues on publications from The Wall Street Journal to The New Republic — a shorter distance than you might sup­pose — are the paramount cantsmen of our time, our ranking opinion molders, hegemonic, as poor old Gramsci used to say.

Once in a while newspapers and news magazines take an interest in facts and encourage reporters to go out and discover them. Probably the last time this occurred was in the “investigative era” of Water­gate. Facts everywhere you looked back in 1974, and the readers couldn’t get enough of them. Investigative journalism was the dominant idiom. But it all dragged to a halt in the late ’70s and our friends the cantsmen took over as the dominant force.

By way of illustration, consider the coverage given of Richard Allen. All through the campaign of 1980 Allen was Reagan’s chief foreign-policy adviser. The Voice, in early summer, raised the possi­bility of a million-dollar bribe request from Allen when he was in the Nixon White House. No commotion ensued, which was not particularly surprising. On the eve of the Republican convention Mother Jones displayed the slimier aspects of Allen’s record in considerable detail. In the brave old days of full-tilt investigative journalism Allen would have been denying on the first day, unavailable the next, and over the side of the Good Ship Reagan by cock-crow on the third. Not in 1980. Then, on the eve of the election, Jonathan Kwitny of The Wall Street Journal gave Allen’s record a heavy dose of carpet-bombing. This time Allen did take himself out of the Reagan com­paign. Not for long. Here he is, back again as national-security adviser to President-­elect Reagan and not much the worse for his experience.

It isn’t that investigative journalists did not do their best, it’s more that nobody particularly cared. Same thing with Haig. When news of his impending appointment as secretary of state began to circulate, The Washington Post dutifully stamped on his fingers, reciting infamies of the (bad old days of) Watergate. Anthony Lewis uproared in The New York Times. Reagan smiled, went to the barbershop (“Get me the president!” “He’s under the drier.”) and the nomination of Haig proceeded apace. The Washington Post stamped on his fingers a little harder, displaying at length his record as an accomplice in crimes and misdemeanors, and all reliable sources agreed that his confirmation is virtually assured.

Time was when the announcement that the prospective secretary of labor was in the construction business in northern New Jersey would have sent the investigative teams surging forth high in heart and appetite. In fact someone did surge forth, and duly reported that there was this little matter of a payment to a political slush fund and so forth, and next thing you knew everyone was talking about the Times Sunday magazine story on the de la Rentas. (“In the rarefied atmosphere of New York society, Francoise and Oscar de la Renta have created a latter-day salon for le nouveau grand monde — the very rich, very powerful and very gifted.” Hard to know where that leaves the magazine’s editor, Ed Klein, but that’s another story.)

So far has the pendulum swung that when Ronald Reagan came out from under the drier to suggest that it was really enormously big-hearted of these big busi­nessmen to momentarily abandon their huge salaries and sink their teeth into big government — a step down, I think he said­ — no one got too exercised at this particular way of commending a cabinet to the coun­try.

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Opinion in Disguise
Outrage has become a sort of hiccup: Reagan appoints his personal attorney; Reagan appoints noted phone-tapper; Reagan appoints pre-eminent environ­mental rape & pillage man to run Interior; Reagan … Oh well. Then he calls the Iranians “barbarians” and vanishes under the drier again.

What has happened is investigative journalism — conducted from the liberal end of the journalistic end of the spectrum — was the appropriate mode to deal with Watergate. In its period of baroque decline which followed, it became the weapon with which William Safire harried the Carter administration. Bad luck for Bert Lance, but it didn’t do much, long-term, for investigative journalism.

Amid the ebb of investigative journal­ism, opinion mongering became the pre­ferred mode, in reconsolidating consensus post-Vietnam and in battering flat the fringe of progressive or liberal ideas that accompanied Jimmy Carter into office in 1976. The opinion-mongers sometimes came in semi-disguise.

Consider the post of what we may call the national security correspondent of The New York Times. Once upon a time this slot was filled by Leslie Gelb. In this particular firmament, pre-Carter, he could be described as a liberal in matters of defense, arms sales, and so forth. He later joined Cyrus Vance’s State Depart­ment. Gelb’s place was taken by Richard Burt, formerly of the Institute of Strategic Studies in London, who vastly impressed A. M. Rosenthal as the person best suited to bring some hawkish snap back into the Times‘s defense-cum-national security coverage in the Carter era.

For four years Burt banged the Brzezinski/Brown drum in The New York Times. Now paralleling the elevation of Gelb, he is accompanying Haig into the State Department. This job at the Times is becoming so politicized that Rosenthal should properly hold confirmation hear­ings for his successor.

There is, then, the Richard Burt type of opinion-mongering, dressed up in the cloak and whiskers of “high sources,” “high of­ficials,” and “intelligence analysts.” In­sidious and highly effective. People stopped talking about Pentagon boondog­gles and cost overruns (old days of in­vestigative-journalism) and began to worry about the encryption menace to SALT II.

With that treaty now trodden safely underfoot, maybe the trend will swing back to boondoggles. Grumman made the enormous mistake of allowing the civilian sector (New York City) to examine one of its products at close quarters. Perhaps someone will ask why we should believe that a corporation which cannot get a bus to the next corner can get a plane to the next war.

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Role Call
But nowadays, Burt aside, most opin­ion comes dressed nakedly, as opinion. The day of the conservative columnist, editorialist, even “news analyst” has come round again: The tasks are simple enough: restoration of confidence in conservative ideas, business ideals, and imperial verve. The executives are familiar, in the shape of Safire, George Will, Buckley, the Com­mentary gang, the editorials of The Wall Street Journal, Peretz’s slice of The New Republic, the Georgetown mob, the Kissinger claque (overlapping), and the ideo­logical imperatives more or less summed up in the thoughts of Norman Podhoretz and the Mobil commentaries.

The executive-level columnists operate in differing tempi of malignity. There are the traditional courtiers: a Hugh Sidey in Time, a Reston in The New York Times, for whom the essential project is to crook the pregnant hinges of the knee and gobble cock. Whether Nixon’s, Rockefeller’s, Ford’s, Carter’s, or now Reagan’s is almost irrelevant. Form here dominates content.

Such courtiers aside, you can take your pick in almost any paper from here to Los Angeles: the manly parafascism of a Bu­chanan or a Buckley, whose recent trip to Latin America produced a rich trove for his fans, as in this magnanimous report on the Pinochet regime: “But no American can say, with any sense of historical au­thority, what liberty he would now be enjoying if he had had a bout with Salvador Allende. Certainly those Ameri­cans who wrote the laws governing licit political activity in Germany after Hitler understand what some people consider to be the imperatives of political re-educa­tion.”

For those who find these two a little raw, there is the high-toned approach of George Will, who preferred Baker to Bush and Bush to Reagan until, the victor clear­ly in view, he discovered that the Califor­nian had realized the views of the German philosophers quoted here. Since he quotes dead people a lot, Will is commonly re­garded as a man of culture and refine­ment. And as befits such a gentleman, you sometimes have to read him twice to dis­cover what he is actually saying. For ex­ample: “In the 1970s the nation deferred investment in productive capacity, de­ferred investment in defense, even de­ferred having babies. I do not think it is fanciful to see a connection between the conservative tide from the polling booths and the bustle of activity in maternity wards. The decade of deferment is over. The nation now says what the philosopher says (Waylon Jennings, philosophizing in song about Luckenbach, Texas): ‘It’s time we got back to the basics of life.’ ”

The notion here seems to be that the Democratic way of life is sterile, that “the basics” amount to having babies and then wars to get rid of the results. This is like the recent endorsement of the American insurance companies for fat— that Ameri­cans should be fatter, and thus more able to tolerate chemotherapy in old age. Given Reagan’s plans for the environment (cancer), this may not be such a bad plan.

For those who find Will a shade pom­pous there is Emmett Tyrrell Jr., pasticheur in sub-Menckenese, for Meg Greenfield, high priestess of The Washing­ton Post ed and op ed, representative of neo-conservatism with a human face. The prose is cute but not the sentiments, at least au fond as we say in the restaurant business.

I could ramble on down the broad high­ways of mainline journalistic con­servatism: and sometimes it is almost comical to spend a morning’s newspaper reading trudging through the familiar ter­rain, from Kraft to Evans & Novak to the incoherent hysteria of the New York Post‘s editorial columns.

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Safire’s Passive Bombs
Liberals often confess to a frisson of pleasure in reading an artful dodger like Safire. And his views are indeed sometimes diverting, as in, “The idea [Safire’s, or Nixon’s, not always clear whose] is to threaten to mine Cuba’s four main ports. Mines are a passive weapon; no ships are sunk unless they choose to detonate the mines …” In the same way, we must assume that bombs are passive, in the sense that no one is killed unless he stands underneath one.

There are even enthusiasts for Norman Podhoretz, living illustration of the fact that structural paranoia is no impediment to success in public life.

But these pleasures should be dis­missed as nostalgia for a way of life that has gone, when Podhoretz was merely Making It, and Safire the distraught apologist for Nixon in his early pundit days. They are now both swimming securely in the mainstream, one giving ideas to Reagan, the other getting them from Nixon, both secure in public esteem. From Podhoretz to Moynihan to Kirkpatrick to Peretz to Jackson to Safire … Bipartisan consensus, ready to march to the ports of Cuba, the harbors of Iran, the domino of EI Salvador. Throw in a brisk bout of witch-hunting, as in the treatment of the Institute for Policy Studies, and you will see how far the clock has moved on — and back — from the high days of Watergate. The mainline press is, more firmly than ever, under the thumb and padlock of the powers that be.

It hasn’t taken long to get the political culture under control again after Vietnam and Watergate: the academics are quiet, the public-interest movement reeling, the poor subdued, and the broad acres of newsprint relatively undisturbed by dis­commoding ideas with only the occasional white tail of a liberal rabbit scuttling across the pastures. So far as ideological consensus is concerned, amid the hosan­nas and homilies of the cantspeople, the stage is set. ❖


Pardoning the National Security State

Pardoning the National Security State
January 12, 1993

As an ex-CIA officer who has twice battled the CIA all the way to the Supreme Court, I’ve learned some bitter lessons about how accountability does and doesn’t work in the national security community. But nothing I’ve learned quite prepared me for President Bush’s recent decision to par­don six Iran-contra figures. The action sends the worst possible signal to spy-bu­reaucrats, even as Congress and the courts work overtime to pamper them. It is not an auspicious coincidence.

Admittedly, none of Bush’s parolees es­capes unscathed; you don’t need a pardon if you’re guiltless. Still, the six former Rea­gan-Bush officials who benefited from his Christmas Eve proclamation clearing them of all Iran-contra charges are sure to claim exoneration, thus tempting others to believe they too can skirt the law and get away with it.

Bush seemed oblivious of this danger when he expressed hope in his statement that this would put Iran-contra behind us. Indeed, his very rationale for clemency invites further mischief. To judge from what he said, any hint of lawlessness can be redeemed if undertaken unselfishly for patriotic reasons. It’s an argument that would have warmed Nazi hearts at Nuremberg.

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Though accountability remains, of course, the essence of American law, the Iran-contra prosecutions were never about this, at least not in any pure form. Because Con­gress immunized so many witnesses during its 1987 investigations, independent coun­sel Lawrence Walsh was never able to find enough “clean” evidence to prosecute the principal crimes, including violations of export law and congressional restrictions on contra aid. Even the lying and cover-up charges he pursued instead were bowdler­ized in court, leading to convictions for lesser crimes like “withholding information from Congress.”

Not that the offenses obscured by such shorthand or forgiven by Bush’s pen stroke were ever marginal. Robert McFarlane, while Reagan’s national security adviser in 1985, helped draft letters to Congress whitewashing Oliver North’s contra activi­ties. CIA officials Clair George, Alan Fiers, and Dewey Clarridge diddled Congress about their own Iran-contra roles, and for­mer assistant secretary of state Elliott Abrams lied about what he knew and didn’t.

Worst of all, Bush’s most prominent pa­rolee, former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger, denied under oath the exis­tence of 1700 diary notes, including one that seemingly implicates Bush in crucial Iran-contra decision making. Bush and other Republican fans have sought to trivialize Weinberger’s wrongdoing by citing his many years of public service. Will they of­fer the same apologia for Clark Clifford, the Democratic elder statesman who has been charged in the BCCI affair? Don’t count on it.

One of the most pernicious aspects of the pardons, in fact, is their aura of selective justice. Pity Richard Secord and Albert Ha­kim, North’s cohorts in crime who received not an honorable mention from Bush. Simi­larly shortchanged were many lesser vic­tims of the cover-up he now forgives. Few of us, for instance, have heard of Arif Dur­rani, a convicted gunrunner who argued throughout his 1987 trial and five-year pris­on term that the White House had been moving arms to Iran at the very moment he was accused of doing so. The government denied his claims, and denied any evidence to support them, and thus cinched his con­viction. Had Weinberger, McFarlane, or any of Bush’s other favorites come clean during Durrani’s trial and appeals, he might have walked.

And what of Jack Terrell, a self-styled mercenary who was hounded through the courts on neutrality violation charges for helping contras? The case against him was ultimately thrown out, but exoneration would have come faster if the evasions ex­cused by Bush had not been so effective. In his pardon statement Bush cast his beneficiaries as selfless souls who had sought no profit from their actions. But in fact, by staying mum to avoid justice, they profited quite nicely even as others paid dearly for the same misdeeds. There is scarcely any integrity in that.

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In his pardon statement Bush cast his beneficiaries as selfless souls who had sought no profit from their actions. But in fact, by staying mum to avoid justice, they profited quite nicely even as others paid dearly for the same misdeeds. There is scarcely any integrity in that.

What makes the pardons most troubling, though, is the larger pattern they sanctify. Iran-contra was never merely an attempt to duck inconvenient legal restrictions on arms exports and contra aid; conceptually it was an elbowing aside of the very princi­ples of shared power and accountability en­shrined in the Constitution and reinforced through Congress’s investigations of the CIA in the mid ’70s.

Oliver North’s spiritual godfather, the late CIA director William Casey, deplored those investigations and the strictures born of them, in particular the injunction to share secrets, and hence power, with Con­gress. So it was that he and other Reagan­ites farmed out their most sensitive dirty work to private operatives, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council, all of them beyond the scrutiny of Congress. The subsequent excesses of Iran-contra were merely the offspring of this imperial dodge. In granting clemency to the half-dozen surviving ringleaders, Bush cannot help but embolden like-minded loyalists everywhere in Washington.

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This is not to say that he or other Reaganites are solely responsible for the loosening of Congress’s grip on the intelligence establishment. Congress itself has con­spired in the process. When the first com­prehensive intelligence oversight bill was passed in 1980, legislators included a loophole allowing the president to withhold the most sensitive operations from the full oversight committees. The president also was permitted to postpone disclosure of lesser activities as long as he “found” in writing that they were vital. Reagan turned this exemption into a license for excess, even writing a post-facto “finding” to give a patina of legality to the CIA’s first arms delivery to Iran.

Once this and other transgressions were discovered, Congress did little to recoup. In drafting a new oversight bill over a year ago legislators ruled out post-facto “findings” like Reagan’s, but agreed to let the presi­dent go on avoiding timely consultation with watchdog committees. Even more as­tonishingly, they formally approved use of oversight-proof private operatives or for­eign allies in intelligence operations.

Later, at the nomination hearings of CIA director-designate Robert Gates, the intelli­gence panels passed up a second chance to home in on Iran-contra. They seem no more inclined to open that door now. A House Judiciary subcommittee is mum­bling about holding hearings on the par­dons, but the incoming chief of the Senate intelligence panel, Democrat Dennis De­Concini, has urged leaving well enough alone. Ditto House Speaker Tom Foley, who rumor has it helped hasten the pardons by promising not to oppose them publicly. If this is the dawn of a new era in congressional assertiveness, there’s not much light on the horizon.

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Even more distressing is the growing pas­sivity of the only other force for account­ability in national security disputes, the federal judiciary. Long ago Gerald Ford tried to bring the courts actively into intel­ligence oversight. In 1976 he canceled a 22-year “gentleman’s agreement” between the CIA and the Justice Department that had allowed the agency to decide whether a crime committed by a U.S. intelligence offi­cer would be prosecuted.

More recently the independent prosecu­tor act took such decisions out of the hands of often politicized attorneys general. But in practice the law often played out like a latter-day gentleman’s agreement. While al­lowing the independent counsel to pursue cases on his own, for instance, it left the attorney general and the spooks free to determine which official secrets could be released for trial.

The Reagan administration used this es­cape hatch to deny evidence needed in the trial of Oliver North. As a result, Walsh was forced to drop charges arising out of the diversion of Iran arms profits to the con­tras. Never again did his prosecutions re­turn to his key issue. One CIA operative, Joe Fernandez, even had the case against him dropped because of the agency’s refus­al to release intelligence to his lawyers. So much for the principle of equal justice un­der law.

Had federal judges themselves been less taken with national security claims in re­cent years, such developments would be less troubling. But often, in intelligence matters, the judiciary has been more catho­lic than the pope. In 1980 I had the dubious distinction of provoking a U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped accelerate this trend.

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The case, brought by liberal Carterites, many of whom are now heading back to Washington, was designed to punish me for publishing a book without CIA clearance and censorship. But the larger issue was whether in the absence of express congres­sional authorization (a law) the president can wield broad powers (like censorship) that cut into constitutional rights. The Su­preme Court pronounced a resounding yes, thus buttressing an expansionist interpreta­tion of presidential power that some ex­perts believe led to Iran-contra.

At the same time, the court made clear in its ruling that the work of the intelligence community is too complex and important to be second-guessed. For any workaday federal judge, that’s a chastening thought, and sure enough, few federal magistrates have been willing in recent years to challenge the CIA on any intelligence issue. In simple Freedom of Information cases, the tide has run consistently against disclosure because judges refuse to question CIA ex­perts who warn against it. In the Noriega case (where I was an investigator for the defense), the judge chose repeatedly not to inconvenience the CIA with ticklish evidentiary demands.

Even when I went back to court four years ago to seek redress for a costly censorship abuse by the CIA, I got no sympathy. The trial judge declared portentously that the agency is too busy to be held to strict clearance deadlines, and the Supreme Court refused to intervene, thus proving again that there is little legal comfort for anyone trying to bring the intelligence community to heel.

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Some would say that this judgment is too harsh. But against the backdrop of the Bush pardons and Congress’s continued coddling of the spooks, any distortion of judicial impartiality in the same arena merits con­cern. If our lawmakers and law-enforcers won’t keep the scales balanced, who will?

How comforting it would be to conclude that the incoming Clinton team promises to remedy things. The president-elect himself did object to Bush’s apparent willingness to elevate certain individuals above the law. Still, Clinton’s candidate for defense secre­tary, Les Aspin, a man who earlier worried about presidential excesses, reportedly fa­vored the pardons. Is there something about being invited into Washington’s most privileged circle that makes even reason­able souls quiver with imperial zeal? If so, Iran-contra is not some piece of medieval history, but a metaphor for an inevitable way of doing business in Washington. ■


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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Security THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

The Spy Who Came Down on the Freeze

Rees, Reagan, and the Digest Smear: The Spy Who Came Down on the Freeze
August 16, 1983

“Certainly, while he was campaigning, and in the years before he was president, he had my material, and he made use of my material in his radio programs. And that goes back years. That goes back to the time he was governor of California.”

The man describing his intelligence gathering for the president is John Herbert Rees, right-hand man to John Birch Society chairman and Georgia con­gressman Larry McDonald. Rees has been dogged for years by charges that he is a con man, police informant, and agent pro­vocateur.

Rees may be boasting a bit. But ob­servers on both the left and the right have credited his articles as the primary source for the Reader’s Digest piece Reagan cited last fall as gospel “evidence” that the Soviets had “inspired” and were “ma­nipulating” the U.S. nuclear freeze move­ment. Digest author and senior editor John Barron assured reporters that the president “made very extensive inquiries, before he spoke, on the facts in that arti­cle.” FBI assistant, director Roger S. Young told The New York Times the same day that Reagan’s comments were “persistently consistent with what we have learned.” And in an Oval Office press conference, Reagan himself claimed he had verified the Digest piece.

Since then, FBI director William Webster has retreated from the allega­tions. But as surely as The White House stands by its charges, with the freeze reso­lutions now coming before the Senate, John Rees denies he was ever more or less than a journalist. However, documents released under the Freedom of Informa­tion Act, and recently produced in a Na­tional Lawyers Guild lawsuit charging unconstitutional government surveillance, prove that Rees made informing on politi­cal groups “a profession”; moreover, a 1968 FBI memo concludes, “Rees is an unscrupulous, unethical individual… Information from him cannot be con­sidered reliable.”

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Given current political realities, it’s no great surprise that the president echoed charges which first appeared in print under Rees’s byline. Rees, 57, plays a central if largely unseen role among the coterie of ultraconservative commentators and courtiers influential with Reagan, a group whose legitimacy Reagan’s presidency has boosted enormously. Reagan, after all, chaired the unsuccessful senatorial cam­paign of arch-conservative Birch sup­porter Loyd Wright in the 1962 California GOP primary. Such are the connections that lie at the heart of the smears against the U.S. freeze movement.

It is Rees’s job, within this clique, to “document” the charges of “subversion” often used in right-wing attacks on the left. Besides covering Washington for var­ious Birch periodicals, Rees publishes the closely circulated Information Digest (subscription price: $500 a year), which purports to focus on “the background … operations and real capabilities of social movements and political groups.” ID reports have been distributed mostly among intelligence units and conservative politicians such as former governor Meldrim Thomson of New Hampshire and Reagan.

Rees is also listed as editor at the curious Western Goals Foundation, founded in 1979 by Larry McDonald in Alexandria, Virginia, to “rebuild and strengthen the political, economic and so­cial structure of the U.S. and Western Civilization so as to make any merger with totalitarians impossible.” To this end, Rees produces foundation tracts such as “The War Called Peace — The Soviet Peace Offensive,” and oversees the com­puterization of what McDonald claims are 100 file cabinets of data on “terrorism and subversion.” (In an outgrowth of an ACLU lawsuit charging Los Angeles po­lice with improper intelligence activity, the department recently investigated whether one of its detectives improperly supplied confidential police files to West­ern Goals. According to Stern magazine, staff members of the German-based Western Goals Europe have been linked to the CIA and its German equivalent, the BND.)

The New Right’s leading lights have shined warmly on Rees. Robert Moss, co­author of The Spike, who in the summer of 1981 testified as an “expert on terror­ism” at Senator Jeremiah Denton’s hear­ings on “Terrorism: The Role of Moscow and Its Subcontractors,” says Information Digest is “the most important public source available in this country on the activities of the radical left … ” Allan Ryskind, an editor at Human Events, which Reagan has called “must reading,” says he has reprinted articles from Information Digest “directly,” and lauds “Rees’s enterprising journalism and credibility.” Heritage Foundation pundit Sam Francis cites Rees as “authoritative.” Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media con­fidently quotes “John Reese (sic) … a well-known investigative journalist.”

Such endorsements may help explain the striking similarities between Rees’s Birch and Western Goals screeds and the Reader’s Digest piece Reagan cited last October. In the February 1982 issue of American Opinion, Rees concluded that “the Soviet Union is running the current worldwide disarmament campaign through the KGB and front organizations … ” Eight months later, Barron averred in The Reader’s Digest that the U.S. freeze campaign “has been penetrated, manipulated and distorted to an amazing degree by people who have but one aim — to promote communist tyranny by weak­ening the U.S.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”720727″ /]

In the Atlanta Constitution last No­vember, Ann Woolner and Jerry Nesmith said Barron told them he had seen the Western Goals report, but that it was one of over 200 sources. Woolner and Nesmith listed numerous instances in which Bar­ron cites the same meetings, excerpts the same quotes, and uses paraphrasing simi­lar to Rees’s. For example:

In March, in his Western Goals report, “The Soviet Peace Offensive,” Rees wrote: “Mel King, active with both the World Peace Council and the U.S. Peace Council, gave a militant speech, saying, ‘We’ve been too damn nice … (and) al­ways on the defensive … It’s time we stopped just getting mad and started get­ting even.’ ”

In October, in Reader’s Digest, Barron wrote: “Mel King, a Massachusetts state legislator active in both the World Peace Council and the U.S. Peace Council, demanded a more militant spirit. ‘We’ve been too damn nice,’ he declared. ‘It’s time we stopped just getting mad and started getting even.’ ”

In March, for Western Goals, Rees wrote: “Rep. Gus Savage (D-Il.) stressed the need to bring black and other minority groups into the disarmament move­ment.”

In October, in Reader’s Digest, Barron wrote: “Congressman Savage spoke about how to induct blacks and other minorities into the disarmament drive.”

In March, Rees wrote: “… U.S. Peace Council executive director Mike Myerson, who has been a Communist Party U.S.A. functionary since his student days some twenty years ago, emphasized the U.S. Peace Council and World Peace Council’s unique responsibility of merging the fight for Western disarmament with pro­vision of support to … revolutionary groups in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, South Africa and the PLO … ”

In October, Barron wrote: “The execu­tive director of the U.S. Peace Council, Michael Myerson, a longtime communist functionary, asserted that the U.S. Peace Council had a unique responsibility to fuse the cause of disarmament with that of the Palestine Liberation Organization and guerrillas in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile and South Africa.”

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“John Rees is simply a good journalist who has done a valuable service in alerting the American people and the American government to the threats against our se­curity from terrorists, subversive, total­itarian and extremist organizations,” said Larry McDonald in the Congressional Record in 1981. “John Rees deserves com­mendations and accolades from the Amer­ican people.” Law enforcement agencies, however, have not always agreed with Rees’s boss.

The FBI first took note of Rees in the early 1960s in his native England. He worked in a minor business position for the London Daily Mirror. According to an FBI memo released under the FOIA, Rees misused his personal accounts, and was fired by the Mirror. Agents in the FBI office at the London U.S. Embassy dis­covered that during 1962 Rees had been “keeping the company” of a bureau steno­grapher. “Rees’s background and the fact that he was married and had five children were confidentially furnished to this stenographer, who was visibly shaken by this news inasmuch as she had planned to marry Rees,” the memo notes. Humil­iated, the secretary resigned from the FBI.

Leaving his family behind, Rees came to America in 1963 to take a reporting job. The job fell through. But when Rees was introduced that fall to Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, he presented himself as a writer for a Boston daily, and talked her into letting him do a “profile” on her. Metalious had been ruined by her own success, writes Emily Toth in Inside Peyton Place. She was recently divorced, isolated, and a chronic alcoholic.

The promised profile never appeared. But Rees soon became Metalious’s lover and business manager, and by December had moved into her Gilmanton, New Hampshire, estate. According to Toth’s book, Rees often kept family and friends away from her as Metalious sank deeper into alcoholism. On a rare visit, Metalious’s daughter Marsha found the house strewn with garbage and empty liq­uor bottles.

During a trip to Boston shortly there­after, Metalious collapsed, and died on February 25, 1964, of cirrhosis of the liver and massive cerebral hemorrhaging. Her deathbed will left her entire estate to Rees and nothing to her three children. She had known Rees less than six months. After the will was contested on behalf of the children, Rees relinquished his claim for what he called moral reasons. The FBI reached a different conclusion: “Rees subsequently renounced all claim to the estate when it was determined that the liabilities exceeded the assets.”

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By 1968 Rees had relocated in riot-stricken Newark where he worked as a research director in a Great Society job­-training program until he was forced to resign. Auditors discovered that while col­lecting his federal pay, Rees was often out of town for his own company, National Goals, Inc., a “non-profit organization spe­cializing in areas of education, training and law enforcement.”

In a plan submitted to the U.S. Justice Department, National Goals proposed the creation of “community peace patrols” to quell “the summer months and threats of violence and disorder.” Rees wanted to use federal funds to equip Anthony Imperiale’s North Ward Citizen’s Commit­tee, a white militant group, and Kamiel Wadud’s United Brothers of Newark, a black militant group, with uniforms, helmets, walkie-talkies, tape-recorders, cameras, patrol cars, four offices, and two warehouses. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and New Jersey governor Richard Hughes denounced it as a vigilante scheme.

Meanwhile, Rees and an investigator for the House Committee on Un-Ameri­can Activites (HUAC) quietly visited the Newark FBI office to cut a deal. “He stated he had information of a racial and criminal nature which he and the in­vestigator from HUAC believed was of an interest to the FBI,” agents observed in a report. “He attempted to sell himself and his services to the FBI.”

But like the Justice Department, the FBI wasn’t buying — at least. not yet. “Rees talked in generalities … and furnished no information of value,” the memo concludes. “The interviewing agents believed his interests were self­-serving and that he came to the FBI thinking this would enhance his creden­tials in contacting other potential clients.”

Rees remained undaunted. In Septem­ber 1968, according to FBI documents, he was undercover in Chicago, covertly tap­ing lawful political meetings for secret testimony he would later give before HUAC. Again a HUAC investigator of­fered the FBI the fruits of Rees’s labors. Again agents shied away. “We should not initiate any interview with this un­scrupulous, unethical individual concern­ing his knowledge of the disturbances in Chicago,” wrote an agent, “as to do so would be a waste of time.”

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Yet Rees had found his niche. He’d made several cameo appearances before HUAC, peddled his information to vari­ous police departments, and by now, ac­cording to Rees, Information Digest was finding its way onto the desks of Reagan gubernatorial aides beset by campus pro­tests. Frank Donner charged in The Age of Surveillance that “Rees used a familiar scam: he would hawk information to one department (typically a lurid tale of a violent plot) and in the course of this transaction pick up information that he in turn would peddle to a unit in another city. In the same way, he enlarged his sources for Information Digest.”

He also found a spouse. John Rees and Sheila Louise O’Connor arrived in Wash­ington, D.C., just before the 1971 May Day protests and quickly assimilated themselves into left circles.

Rotund, bearded, and longhaired, Rees was an articulate pamphleteer who often sported an Anglican priest’s collar. Sheila, big-boned and over six feet tall, was a whiz at office work. They came complete with then-rare commodities: an IBM Selectric and Gestetner mimeograph ma­chine.

In July Secret Service agents spotted Rees in a demonstration at the South Vietnamese Embassy. Running a com­puter check on him, they received several interesting reports. According to a Secret Service memo obtained by the National Lawyers Guild, the Washington Metro­politan Police Department disclosed that it employed Rees as an informant. The Chicago Police Department reported “subject is unreliable and is known to make a profession of providing intelli­gence to police departments.” The Secret Service memo also stated that the IRS had revealed “subject was a known con man in England.”

The agents also learned that Rees “possibly carries a gun” and used a string of aliases, including John Sealy, S. L. O’Connor, and Jonathan Goldstein. Besides his work as an informant, agents found, he had no known employment.

Yet at about the same time, FBI docu­ments indicate, the FBI designated Rees Potential Security Informant (PSI) No. WF-3796. (Sheila would later become a PSI too.) Like full-fledged informants, PSIs are paid for their information.

Former FBI agents and congressional staff familiar with intelligence matters said the government’s negative evalua­tions of Rees should have disqualified him from working for the FBI. But they noted that, as with Mel Weinberg in the Abscam case and Gary Thomas Rowe in the Ku Klux Klan, the bureau has used less-than-­credible informants in attempting to get convictions or discredit a target. The FBI will use “anybody they can,” explained a former agent. “But I wouldn’t touch Rees with a 10-foot pole … all you’re going to do is get yourself in trouble.”

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Rees and O’Connor moved into a left collective at 1616 Longfellow Street, N. W. Friction quickly developed. One day while searching for a packet of checks she be­lieved the Reeses had taken from her, a housemate stumbled upon a bizarre cache in their usually locked room. Pat Richartz, now a West Coast legal assistant, recalled finding “several guns, boxes of bullets,” and “a large black suitcase con­taining everything to wiretap a house.”

In the midst of Richartz’s discovery, the Reeses returned. According to Rich­artz’s signed affidavit, Sheila beat her “unmercifully” while John held her two young daughters. Stew Albert, then a D.C. activist and now a California-based writer, saw Richartz shortly after the al­leged attack. “She came up to my apart­ment looking very messed up,” he said. “She said John and Sheila did it to her.” Richartz claims she still takes daily medi­cation for migraine headaches stemming from the assault.

Richartz accused the Reeses of being informants, but no one believed her at the time. She was seen as an outsider; the Reeses were valuable volunteers. Richartz left for California. In researching this arti­cle, Sheila Rees could not be reached for comment on the charges.

When in July 1972 the National Law­yer’s Guild opened a Washington chapter and became rapidly involved in represent­ing activists and antiwar groups in Wash­ington, Sheila volunteered to be office manager. Soon she became the office’s key administrator and a member of the Guild’s national executive board; mean­while, John supplied the FBI a steady stream of internal Guild documents.

During the Guild’s 1973 national con­vention in Austin, Texas, for example, Rees provided the bureau with “ex­tensive” information, according to FBI memos, noting who spoke, what they said, the names of petition signers, and amounts of chapter contributions to the national office. He also supplied a letter concerning the Guild’s anti-surveillance project.

The Guild’s worst fears were not con­firmed until 1975, however, when New York State Assembly staff investigating Information Digest contacted them. The Reeses, now living in Baltimore, soon be­came central figures in anti-surveillance lawsuits brought by the Guild, the In­stitute for Policy Studies, and the Social­ist Workers Party. Shortly thereafter, ac­cording to a deposition Rees gave IPS attorneys, he transferred Information Digest‘s materials to McDonald’s office. McDonald brought O’Connor onto his congressional staff, and made Rees editor at Western Goals.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717255″ /]

When enough time had passed after the Reader’s Digest article to form a fat political cushion, FBI director Webster told Face the Nation in April that “the overall freeze effort does not seem to us to have been dominated … or successfully manipulated” by the Soviets. Yet those most vocal about alleged dissemblance in the freeze movement were most reticent about government reports on Rees’s shady past.

Reader’s Digest prides itself on its ac­curacy. It touts Barron, a former naval intelligence officer, as an expert on Soviet spying. But while Digest staff assured me that he’d picked up my messages, Barron returned none of my calls.

Last September, Jeremiah Denton en­tered some of Rees’s work into the Con­gressional Record to back up his claim that freeze supporters were commie dupes. Denton’s press aide said he was too busy for an interview during the next two weeks. But questioned briefly on his way to a Subcommittee on Security and Ter­rorism meeting, Denton said he was un­aware that the FBI had evaluated Rees as “unreliable,” or that the IRS had reported he was a “con man.” Asked if he did consider Rees reliable, Denton explained, “I was handed that stuff, that’s it, just to get information into the record on that matter … I didn’t get to see it … ”

McDonald refused requests for an in­terview. When shown a copy of an FBI memo on Rees outside an elevator, he summoned a nearby officer. “This reporter is bothering me,” he told the cop.

Rees himself, in an abruptly termi­nated interview, said he was merely a reporter with a unique philosophy. He said he favors stories that focus on “what I like to call the further shores of political thought, which range from Marc Raskin at IPS to Gus Hall of the Communist Party to the people who run Posse Com­itatus and the Minutemen and the Klan. And I see no difference between Marc Raskin and the Grand Dragon of the Klan because they’re both fuckheads … who want to control the world. I don’t like that.”

Rees claimed that similarities between his stories and the piece by Barron, whom he has described as a friend, were “coincidence.” He said Reagan had used his information during the 1980 campaign, and that while he was governor “members of his staff were getting Information Digest.”

He challenged charges that he or his wife had ever worked as government in­formants. “You just have to do one thing,” he said. “Find me proof that we have been paid informants … ”

Faced with such documents, however, Rees refused to comment and halted the interview. He and his assistant left our table at a congressional cafeteria, went directly to McDonald’s office, and slammed the door.

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In his suite at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI assistant director Roger Young and two assistants sat at the op­posite end of a huge coffee table, on chairs about a foot higher than the long, low couch where I sat alone.

Young said the FBI was familiar with the Barron article, but could recall no White House requests to verify it. He shrugged off questions about Rees. “We cannot be involved in evaluating some­body’s factual situation,” he said. “Our job is not to evaluate one journalist’s statements.”

The agent who escorted me out suggested, “It would probably be better if you went through the White House.”

White House deputy press secretary Lyndon Allin spoke with me several times over the phone, carefully evading my questions.

“When the president said he verified the Reader’s Digest article, did he mean it was examined as to its factual content?”

Allin: “Well, I think the term ‘ex­amined’ is a little harsh …. ”

“Who would have actually checked it?”

“I have no idea … There was no for­mal investigation — we don’t do that with the free press in this country for crying out loud!”

“Can you tell me who, if not an agency, verified the Digest piece?”

“No. We don’t get into process around here. That isn’t the way you run a govern­ment.”

“Was the president aware that one of the main sources for the Digest story was John Herbert Rees, a former police informant whom the FBI once called an ‘unscrupulous, unethical individual’ and an ‘opportunist,’ whom the IRS once described as a ‘con man’?”

“I just told you I wasn’t going to go any further … ”

“Rees claims he sent materials to Mr. Reagan and his staff during the presidential campaign, and that tbe president used them. Is that true?”

“I have absolutely no idea.”

“The FBI seems to contradict the pres­ident’s assertion that the KGB is manipu­lating the U.S. freeze movement. They say they’ve attempted — and failed — to manipulate it.”

“No. I think they say they’ve at­tempted to control it … But the fact of the matter is that the definition of ‘ma­nipulation’ is, ah, I think, subject to some discussion … Look — I’m not Noah or Daniel or whatever his name was that wrote the dictionary. And I’m not gonna get into that. The president’s word stands. And that’s that.” ■


Ward Harkavy, 1947–2020

Ward Harkavy, a Voice stalwart who left the paper before he had the opportunity to aim his editorial scalpel at the Trump regime, died from Covid-19 this morning, at age 72.

Below, we resurrect a classic Harkavy essay, surveying the departing George W. Bush administration — a hit parade of an inept commander-in-chief’s aggressive, unilateral wars; economic chicanery; and world-class propensity for gaffes. Ward didn’t find it necessary to specifically remind his readers of the ways in which earlier Republican POTUSes — Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush — had carried on their party’s grand old tradition of comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. He did, however, write a headline that specifically recalled a whiny Richard Nixon declaiming to the press, after losing the California governor’s race in 1962, “But as I leave you, I want you to know: just think how much you’re going to be missing. You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

A true journalist, Ward had no favorites — he would call bullshit on anyone and everyone (including himself). But he would also deliver the hardest of facts with humorous insights — although in this particular case, W made it easy by providing the writer with such quotes as “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

In every sentence Ward wrote (along with the untold thousands he edited for the Voice and other papers over the decades), he never forgot that “our people” were his readers, and that they deserved the truth.

And a laugh. —R.C. Baker


Ward Harkavy writes about the failures of George W Bush

Don’t Leave, George!
January 20, 2009
By Ward Harkavy

The Constitution says George W. Bush can’t remain in the White House past next week, but as we’ve learned during the past eight years, the Constitution is just a piece of paper. So it’s not too late to make a final plea: Bush, don’t leave us journalists hanging.

Don’t pardon our behavior during the past eight years. Don’t make us commute our sentences. Bail us out. Don’t leave.

George W. Bush has set a standard that’s unmatched in the history of the U.S. presidency.  And now, with the bar he’s set, he’s leaving us in limbo?

That’s low.

Bush is abandoning reporters when we need him the most. The newspaper industry is in the tank, and no other bailouts are in the offing. Survival depends on a sense of humor, and what will journalists do without Bush?

He’s been the problem. He’ll never be the solution. And that’s why he needs to stick around.

It’s a selfish argument, but what’s more American than selfishness, or haven’t you been following the Bernie Madoff saga?

For journalists accustomed to feeling dumbstruck, this goes beyond selfishness to true double-pronged satisfaction: self-expression and a strong sense of duty to lick the roadkill clean so the public doesn’t step in it.

Face it: Reporters are vultures, and Bush is the carcass that never stops putrefying.

Carry on without Bush? Can’t imagine how journalists will do it.

Barack Obama may be the first black person elected president, but compared with Bush, he’s colorless. Reporters certainly won’t be catching Obama frequently flub-a-dubbing at press conferences or getting stumped on the stump.

The days are over when drooling reporters will get to pick at such presidential bone mots as “Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again” or the more recent “Let’s make sure that there is certainty during uncertain times in our economy.”

So the question is not whether “the human being and fish can coexist peacefully,” as Bush once philosophized, but whether reporters can live without Bush as life drags on.

Fun and excitement make time pass so quickly. Where have the past eight years gone? They’ve just flown by, except maybe for the families of the thousands of U.S. soldiers killed, maimed, or shell-shocked in Iraq since Bush declared, “Mission accomplished!”

The shoe. My Pet Goat.
Yellowcake. The flight suit. Curveball.
Katrina. Brownie.

OK, so it’s not strict haiku, just a few “symbols of Bush’s reign” that The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank threw out there recently that I tried to convert to a metric system.

Poetry doesn’t usually put food on the table, but poetry editors sometimes do well, and Slate’s Jacob Weisberg elbowed his way to the front row at the parade of politics and words with his meticulously collected Bushisms archive. Somehow, I don’t see Weisberg gaffing similar gaffes from Obama, who never seems to be in over his head as a communicator.

Which gives journalists a serious problem: The new president is as eloquent as Bush isn’t, but how many different ways can reporters note that for their readers? That’ll get old quickly.

And if Obama’s not the man of peace lefties hope he is (don’t worry, he isn’t, if he’s installed Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross as his Middle East peacemakers), you can bet that he’s not going to start many, if any, wars.

That’s right, no more unilateral invasions. That means rough times ahead for writers. As Thomas Hardy—a serious writer, not a journalist—once noted, “War makes rattling good history, but peace is poor reading.”

There have been no worries on that score while Bush has been president. Just a few months (or minutes) after 9/11, the Bush-Cheney regime abandoned the hunt for Osama bin Laden and started plotting how to justify an invasion of Iraq.

Only now have Afghanistan and Pakistan resumed their rightful places as the prime battleground for U.S. troops into the frightening future.

Maybe it doesn’t matter where the politicians send a generation or two to die. If the Iraq invasion was built on lies, well, politicians will always lie; it’s just that some lies are bigger than others, and when they are, reporters have more to gnaw on.

But it was when Bush accidentally spoke the truth that he truly took our breath away. Like when he said in August 2004, while signing a gigantic Department of Defense bill, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Hold that thought, Bush. And good luck to reporters who are waiting for the next president to say something like that. In fact, covering Obama will be tor­ture for the traveling White House press corps. Instead of going to Crawford, Texas, where there were no distractions and they had to focus on work, they’ll have to tag along with the Obamas to Hawaii during presidential respites from D.C.

Waterboarding’s out; surfboarding’s in. Boring.

The liberal media and lefty activists have already abandoned their carping at Bush for the even more futile flurry of “suggestions” to Obama about how he can “change” things.

A suggestion box. Boring. In any case, the early returns indicate that Obama is not a conservative Democrat, like the Clintons, but he may not be a lefty, either. So far, he seems to be just to the center of center.


As for the incoming vice president, Joe Biden has no chance of filling the vacuum, the black hole, that is Dick Cheney. Biden is so unexciting that he’s likely to be re­membered mainly for his charter mem­bership in the Hair Club for Senators.

Reporters will have a whole lot less fun traipsing off to Delaware with Biden than bird-dogging Cheney while he hunted for his next victims.

Will Biden tour the country, as Cheney did only a few short years ago, trying to hoodwink Americans into letting Wall Street handle their Social Security accounts? I don’t think so.

That’s fortunate for the public, but style is more important to reporters than substance. Biden’s weird little smile can’t compare with Cheney’s lip-curling sneer.

Biden as the imperial vice president, the Rasputin, the man behind the throne, the puppet master, the bender of the Constitution to his will?

No, that dog won’t hunt — with or with­out the Chief Justice of the United States. Here’s $100 that says Biden will never shoot a hunting partner. And another $100 that says Biden will never mutter, “Fuck yourself,” as he brushes past a senior senator from the other party.

On the sanctimonious end of the scale, there were Bush’s Jesus freaks. You may have already forgotten that his first attorney general, John Ashcroft, ordered a modesty shroud for a naked ­lady statue in the Justice Department. But in the 9 /11 aftermath, he rounded up thousands of Muslims on American streets who were wearing their own modesty shrouds.

Forget that nonsense. No more hillbilly evangelists or Pat Robertson law-school grads making important decisions at Justice. Just take my word for that.

Deep in its bowels, the Obama White House may move with much the same rhythm as the Bush White House. But no matter how much of a shark-like en­forcer Rahm Emanuel is sure to be, it’s hard to imagine that Obama will give him a nickname like the one that Bush lov­ingly gave Karl Rove: “Turd Blossom.”

Or that Emanuel will have to continually hiss in Obama’s ear, as Rove did with Bush, “Stick to principle! Stick to principle!”

One of Bush’s Farewell Tour ’08 speeches last month did hold out a glim­mer of hope that there would continue to be 24/7 excitement for political reporters. He told his American Enterprise Institute friends at a Mayflower Hotel banquet in D.C., “Under ordinary circumstances, failed entities — failing entities should be allowed to fail. I have concluded these are not ordi­nary circumstances for a lot of reasons.”

Bush was referring to Detroit’s automak­ers, but he could have been hinting that he himself was one of those failed entities who should be saved — at least for four more years. Of failing. One bad term deserved another. Why not another after that?

Yet it seems clear that Bush is going to back up the Mayflower to the White House.

Mike Bloomberg abolished term limits so he could run for mayor again and continue walking the beat on Wall Street, making his business pals keep their market stalls clean and orderly. The mayor took his failure to do so in his own hands and decided he wanted to keep failing.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s situation was different, but he did flout tradition by grabbing an unprecedented third term after pulling the country out of a depression. Why can’t Bush have a third term, even though he’s driving us into one?

And he’s jumping out just as we’re going over the cliff? It’s not fair.

Not that life should be fair. We know the public’s not going to be rescued. But if Cheney doesn’t mount a coup to keep Bush in office, who’s going to bail out America’s journalists?

After eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, followed by eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth, reporters are spoiled.

Now, after 200 years of toiling for highly profitable, ad-rich media outlets, the working press, gravy stains on its cheap ties, is rapidly being displaced by bloggers in bathrobes.

Tough luck for journalists still intent on getting paid for their work. At least Bush’s presence has provided enough of a distraction to take their minds off the industry’s collapse.

Now, journalists face at least one unavoidable change: Obama will screw up some things, but he doesn’t seem like a screw-up who can’t control himself He seems like … an adult.

And adults are so boring.

From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Inside the White House: The First & Last Days of a Banana Republic

“…a camera can misquote or misinterpret a man. An unconscious unintentional upturning of the lips can appear in a picture as a smile at a given moment. On the other hand too serious an expression could create an impression of fear and concern which also would be most unfortunate.”

—Richard Nixon
“The Heart Attack,”
in Six Crises

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tuesday morning. Inside the Cabinet Room Richard Nixon in smiling consciously and intentionally. This is the morning after he confessed to lying and deceiving not only the public but his most loyal supporters, his closest friends, his own family. Yet he has decided to call a Cabinet meeting to show the country he still is in com­mand, that he intends to stay on and fight rather than resign. Having been Vice-President while his Presi­dent was incapacitated, Nixon knows he has to show the rest of the gov­ernment he is still of sound mind. Newspaper reports have begun re­ferring delicately to the President’s “lack of touch with reality,” his “almost unnatural serenity.” Enough high-level members of his own staff have slipped quotes like these to reporters to raise the ques­tion of whether the President is stable enough to continue to govern.

So the White House has arranged what they call a “photo opportunity” before the Cabinet session gets under way to give the American people a clear picture of the President hard at work at the business of government. Allowing myself to be mistaken for a photographer, in order to get a close-up look at the President’s “sereni­ty,” I follow a group of cameramen and film crews through Gerald War­ren’s press office, up some steps into the gold-carpeted corridors of the White House West Wing, past a pho­tograph of the President silhouetted against the pyramids, and finally into the Cabinet Room itself, where, 10 feet from me, Richard Nixon is smiling.

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He continues to smile throughout the “photo opportunity.” He does not smile at anyone in particular. In fact, slumped down in his chair, he appears to be grinning most enthusiastically at the top of the Cabinet table.

Henry Kissinger, seated at the President’s right, leans over and appears to be speaking to the Presi­dent with great animation. The President grins at the table top. Defense Secretary Schlesinger at the President’s left, brow furrowed as if with some weighty problem of nu­clear strategy, leans over and speaks intently to the President. The President continues to grin at the table top.

The President seldom raises his gaze from the bleak teak. When he does, he shoots his eyes wildly up and then back again. The peculiar slumped posture he has adopted — ­apparently an effort to suggest a casual, easy-going sense of confi­dence and command — has buckled his suit jacket up around his chest. His lapels gape awry.

This is not a particularly reassuring glimpse of the Chief Executive. It comes close to making a prima facie case for resignation. Little did I know that for the past 48 hours, while the President and his family had been once again resisting resigna­tion, his closest aides were conspir­ing behind his back to force him to resign.

Despite all the crowing from col­umnists about how the resignation process re-affirmed the strength and viability of the democratic process, the impression an uncharitable ob­server might get from several reports is that of a small staff cabal led by an ex-General driving an elected President from office against his will through the use of damaging leaks and dirty tricks. Defenders of Haig say he was acting responsibly to restore order to the processes of government and save the country from a dangerously irresponsible President. That’s what banana re­public generals always say.

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Wednesday morning. Looking back over my notes, I realize that what we have here is nothing less than America’s first full day as a banana republic.

Arriving early at the White House briefing room, the first thing I hear is that General Haig has summoned Gerald Ford to an early morning meeting. The President is not present. He may not have been invited. Purpose of the meeting undisclosed.

At the noon briefing Gerald Warren tries to make light of this hour­-long session. Nothing unusual. Warren claims: Haig meets with the Vice-President “often.” Then Warren amends “often” to “regularly.” Then he amends “regularly” to “from time to time.” Finally he concedes, a bit sadly, “It would be fatuous of me to say that any meet­ing would be a routine meeting at this point.”

The other big rumor this morning is that Senator Goldwater tried without success to get through to the White House last night to “deliver a message” to the President that Goldwater, in fact, was turned away from the White House gate. This feeds talk that the President is hold­ing himself incommunicado, that Haig is now running a caretaker government for a President para­lyzed by despair and indecision. Further hints of palace intrigue surface at the noon briefing. A reporter asks Gerald Warren if St. Clair had a meeting with Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski to explore plea bargaining for the President.

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Warren swallows hard. He de­livers a curiously mechanical an­swer: “At Mr. St. Clair’s request I am in a position where I cannot speak about any meetings he is engaged in.”

Warren is a shaken man today. His unfaltering calm is legendary, but this morning instead of puffing placidly on his pipe, he rubs it nervously between his hands. Usually Warren is able to maintain his dignified calm in the midst of the most sordid Watergate deceit because he is genuinely ignorant of what is going on. Today he seems to know that something unpleasant is going on.

St. Clair’s peculiar request that Warren refrain from confirming or denying any meetings may well be another little maneuver in General Haig’s game plan. St. Clair, in fact, may not be doing any plea bargaining at all (if he was, he’d certainly tell Warren to deny it categorically), but by forcing Warren to drop a crude hint that the President might be trying to make a deal for himself, St. Clair pushes his client a little closer to a forced resignation — spec­ulation that the President is clinging to office just to stay out of jail would make his already untenable position intolerable.

And then, not long after the briefing and shortly after Goldwater’s lunch with Haig, the wire services carry reports that Senator Barry Goldwater himself is predicting that the President will resign this very day. Goldwater plays a role in the Haig scenario analogous to that of the leading Catholic bishop in your average banana republic. He doesn’t lead the coup himself, but his tacit approval lends sanctity to the conspirators when they begin shelling the Presidential palace.

So as soon as the Goldwater report appears on the wires, reporters begin thronging into the briefing room from all over town to begin the death watch on the Nixon Presidency. Once Lyndon Johnson frolicked nude in the swimming pool that occupied the site of this briefing room. When Richard Nixon took office he paved over Johnson’s swimming pool with concrete, and built a brand-new press headquarters on top of it.

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Not from any special affection for the press. No, “the President did that,” Alexander Butterfield testified, “to get the press out of the West Lobby so they would not inhibit guests to the White House and bother them.” The President’s plan worked. Not only is it impossible for the press to molest entering guests from the sunken briefing room, it is impossible to see them — the view from the briefing room windows is blocked by a sloping ridge of grass which yields only a glimpse of driveway.

This handicap is particularly galling today, because it makes it impossible to monitor who is arriving to meet with whom. Reporters and cameramen flock out of the briefing room to stake out the West Wing driveway from the White House lawn.

Around 2 p.m., a red Mercedes pulls up to the West Wing entrance and Rabbi Baruch Korff steps out. Not an insignificant development considering Rabbi Korff’s claim yesterday that the President would let him be the first to know if he decided to resign. The rabbi is ushered directly into the Oval Office to see the President. But midway through the vigil in front of the rabbi’s red Mercedes two armed White House guards approach a knot of reporters and order them back into the briefing room. New security restrictions have been imposed on reporters: they must remain inside the briefing room or get out of the White House entirely. There will be no loitering in between.

Back inside the congested briefing room “the lid” is off. The “lid lights” are located over the doorway connecting the briefing room to Gerald Warren’s office. The lid lights are two white plastic stars with light bulbs behind them. When both stars are lit, usually in mid-afternoon, the “lid” is on, which means that the White House press office has no more statements to issue for the day and daily reporters can feel free to head home. When both lights flash on and off alternately a “temporary lid,” or a “lunch lid” is indicated. Today, an hour after the regular p.m. posting has passed, both stars are unlit, which means the lid is off and something is going on.

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What is going on is that General Haig is orchestrating the penultimate step in his scenario for depos­ing the President: the visit of Bishop Goldwater and his delegation to ad­minister the last rites.

The day ends with the Goldwater delegation coming out of the West Wing and declaring to assembled reporters that they did not discuss resignation, they merely gave the President some “gloomy” roll call assessments.

Inside the briefing room the lid is on for the night.

But inside the White House that night a curious incident reveals how shrewdly Haig employs his knowledge of the Nixon psyche to seal the President’s fate. Inside the residence Henry Kissinger has dinner with the President and succeeds in convincing him he must resign. The only obstacle left is the Presidential fam­ily — wife, daughters, and in-laws­ — all of whom are reported absolutely adamant against resignation. The President calls them in to tell them the decision Haig and Kissinger have led him to make. Tears of grief and rage ensue. At this point, Haig steps in to ensure that the flood of tears doesn’t sweep the President back into battle. According to one report, at this very moment “Haig quietly arranged for White House photogra­pher Hollie Atkins to record the sad and historic scene.”

Perhaps Haig calculated that to Richard Nixon, that which is record­ed becomes irrevocable. Once the pictures were taken of the tear­-stained decision, Nixon would find it far more difficult to change his mind in the middle of the night. Recording something gives it a special sanctity beyond the reach of late-night whims. Perhaps that is why Nixon was never able to bring himself to destroy the tapes, however self-destructive they were.

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Thursday morning. Mrs. Ford postpones a scheduled visit to the foot doctor this morning. Mr. Ford postpones a scheduled fund-raising trip to California. Mr. Nixon summons Mr. Ford to an 11 a.m. conference. Gerald Warren postpones the 11 a.m. briefing till 12 noon when, he says, Ron Ziegler will appear with an important announce­ment.

Meanwhile, Warren’s assistants move out through the press handing out releases announcing what turned out to be the latest official act of the Nixon administration — appoint­ments to the Pacific Sockeye Salmon Fishery Commission, to the U. S. delegation to the Dominican Repub­lic Presidential Inauguration, to the D.C. United Fund Campaign. And, apropos of sinking ships and leaving jobs, he signs a catch-all bill which provides for a “vessel repair duty exemption,” and an extension of “liberalized eligibility for state-ex­tended unemployment benefits pro­grams.” He accepts three resigna­tions from his own adminis­tration — one “with deep regret,” an­other “with a special sense of re­gret,” and a third “with deep grati­tude.”

At 11:30 a.m. I find some wire service reporters backing Gerald Warren into a corner of his office and browbeating him mercilessly. Final­ly I see him shrug and concede something. The wire service report­ers dash out of Warren’s office toward their phones in the rear of the briefing room. “We’re going ahead with it,” one of them whispers to the other triumphantly. “We’re going ahead.”

“With what?” I ask.

“The President’s drafting his res­ignation speech for delivery to­night.”

Later, one of the wire service people told me that when she asked Warren who was writing the resignation speech “Gerry told me ‘Ray Price is,’ but then added, ‘But the President is contributing his ideas,’ and all of a sudden Gerry broke down and cried. I put my arm around him. ‘The President’s own ideas.’ How sad it was.”

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The strangest interlude of the nine-hour vigil that followed Ron Ziegler’s announcement that Nixon would go on tv that night was the time when the President placed the entire press corps under house ar­rest.

It happened this way. All day long reporters had been skirmishing with White House guards. A limousine would pull up to the driveway of the West Wing, a throng of reporters would pour out of the briefing room toward the West Wing to see who the arrival was, the White House guards would drive them back inside the briefing room.

But at 6:20 an armed guard takes up a position right outside the brief­ing room doors. Reporters trying to leave are told that no one is to exit or enter “for a few minutes.” No expla­nation. Orders.

About this time reporters seeking an explanation find the doors to Gerald Warren’s complex locked and dead-bolted shut. Pounding on the door produces no response. I pick up a White House extension phone in a corner of the briefing room just on the other side of the wall from Warren’s office and ask for Warren’s extension. One of Warren’s assis­tants answers.

I ask her if she knows the press has been locked in.

“Yes we do,” she says cheerfully.

“Why is it being done?” I ask.

“That’s a question you’d have to address to Mr. Warren, but I’m afraid he’s tied up now.”

“But we’re locked up.”

She hangs up.

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The “few minutes” of lock-up have stretched into 20 minutes. The armed guard at the door refuses to explain. He repulses all pleas to let anyone out (one reporter yells: “I’ve got a terrible case of diabetes and if I don’t get out and get my insulin shot I’ll die.” “There’s a telephone inside,” the guard replies.) A technician with a walkie-talkie reports that the other half of his film crew and a number of other reporters have been detained in the guardhouse.

People line up to stare out the windows. An armed guard sprints by from the West Wing toward the residence. A panel truck tears past in the opposite direction. Something seems to be going on. There is some speculation that the President has decided to hold the press hostage in return for asylum in Costa Rica, that a coup is in progress (led either by General Haig or by the President against General Haig), that the President has done Something Drastic. There are jokes about the President turning the briefing room back into a swimming pool immediately, and about gas hissing through the vents.

At 6:52 the guard is lifted. People burst out to see what’s going on. There is a strange mournful wailing sound in the air, but it turns out to be nothing more than Korean hymns sung by the loyal followers of the Reverent Sun M. Moon.

Back inside, Warren’s door has been unbolted and reporters press inside to demand an explanation. Warren claims he didn’t know about the armed guard outside. He says his own door was shut because the President was walking back from the Executive Office Building to his last supper at the White House and he wanted to make that walk alone and unwatched.

There’s a strange passage in the “Caracas” chapter of Six Crises which might help illuminate this bizarre incident.

Nixon is in Lima confronting an anti-American demonstrator in his hotel lobby.

“I saw before me a weird looking character whose bulging eyes seemed to merge with his mouth and nose in one distorted blob. He let fly a wad of spit which caught me full in the face. One must experience the sensation to realize why spitting in a person’s face is the most infuriating insult ever conceived by man. Sherwood deserves the credit for keeping me from handling the man personally. He grabbed him by the arm and whirled him out of my path, but as I saw his legs go by I at least had the satisfaction of planting a healthy kick on his shins. Nothing I did all day made me feel better.”

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Interesting, is it not, how Nixon’s hysterical description of the “weird looking character” sounds like a metaphor for the media, particularly tv with its “bulging eyes” which “merge into mouth,” a mouth that constantly spits out degrading insults at him.

For a man who thinks he has been driven from the Presidency to the brink of jail by the media, this business of locking up media may be Nixon’s way of giving his adversary with the bulging eyes one last kick in the shins before they don’t have each other to kick around anymore.

And this time Nixon might have some objective justification for wanting to keep the camera eye off him. On the front page of this morn­ing’s Times there’s a picture of Nixon and Ziegler taking that same walk from the EOB over to the West Wing of the White House. The picture makes Nixon look like he’s doing some sort of awkward goose step behind the back of a uniformed guard. The Times printed the odd looking picture on the bottom of the front page, separated from the main Nixon story, but right next to a headline which reads “Many Mental Patients Simply Walk Out.” An amusing accidental juxtaposition perhaps, but in Nixon’s mind, grounds enough to make it impossi­ble for the media to “simply walk out” while he took his last stroll. Undoubtedly nothing he did all day made him feel better.


From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

F. Lee Bailey’s Golden Age Club Goes Public

Don Francisco Vasques de Coronado, would thou wert with us at this hour! Your search for the Seven Cities of Cibola, where according to legend gold was as plentiful as styrofoam hot cups at a working session of the Practicing Law Institute, has finally neared fruition in, of all venues, the Senate Caucus Room. Who could have imagined that the Senate Watergate inquest — Water Pik, I call it — would have ranged as far as the fabled Treasure of the Aztecs?

John W. Dean III has testified that in return for having been helpful as attorney for the recalci­trant Mr. Jim McCord, pyramid-­builder F. Lee Bailey asked John Mitchell to help a client of his who happens to have 292 bars of gold weighing 80 pound each (worth by my count $14,307,998 at the $42 of­ficial price, and $43,264,659 at last week’s $127 free market price, F.O.B. London) and wishes to make “arrangements” with the govern­ment by which the gold could be turned over to the Treasury without his client being prosecu­ted for holding the metal. The bullion was supposedly from “an old Aztec cache” hidden on the White Sands, New Mexico, rocket range. Mitchell asked H.R. Hal­deman whether such “arrangements” could be arranged. H.R. was “non-responsive.” “Fray Motolinia,” says ar­chaist Edward Dahlberg in The Gold of Ophir, “a mild and good man, blamed the Spaniards for the 10 plagues in Mexico. The worst, the monk said, was the gold mines where the Aztecan la­borer had to toil until he perished. He was compelled to furnish all the materials for the mines and even his own food. Often he ran for 30 leagues with the little maize he had and died on the way. For half a league from Oaxaca, the principal mining town, the ground was so bleached with human bones that one could not go in that direction without stepping on skeletons.”

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And yet this administration, which loves lucre more than life, and lately has been doing its dam­nedest to bleach the ground of Cambodia with human bones. was non-responsive. How non-­comprehensible.

But if the truth be known, Bailey’s clients may be sitting not on an old Aztec cache at all, but on an infinitesimal portion of the greatest fortune ever assembled in the history of civiliza­tion as it knows us.

April last, after the Senate voted to permit Americans to own gold for the first time since 1934, Del Schrader, a staff writer of the staid, conservative Herald-Ex­aminer, was invited to attend a “confabulation” of old “Confeder­ates” — sons and grandsons of the elite Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society of Southrons which was formed immediately after Appomattox to fill a war chest to finance a second civil war that would take place when the South would Rise Again. The “Confederates,” who range in age from 67 to 91, told Schrader that in 1865 the 13 members of the Circle’s Inner Sanctum, including General William C. Quantrill and Colonel Jesse James, vowed that they would tithe, beg, borrow, and steal to add to the $7 billion worth of gold in the Confederacy’s hidden reserves (cf. the scene in Gone With the Wind in which the ladies of Georgia are asked to donate their jewelry to The Cause) in order that Civil War II “could be fought on a cash-and-­carry basis so that international war lords and bankers would not realize usurious profits from blood lost on the battlefield.”

By stealing millions worth of gold from Jay Gould, by infil­trating mines around the world, falsifying production figures and smuggling the metal into the U. S., suborning mine and stamping mill employees to larceny over a period of 51 years — until in 1916 the cabal decided Civil War II wasn’t going to happen in their time and disbanded — the Knights of the Golden Circle were able to collect over one billion ounces of gold, an amount roughly equal to the world’s total known reco­verable reserves in 1973, Russia excluded.

The total cache would be worth $43 billion, or twice the value of what’s left in Fort Knox, if it could be sold to the Treasury at the official price, $131 billion if it could be smuggled to Zurich disguised as gnome suppositories minus a nominal charge for postage and handling. Eat your heart out, Jean Paul Getty, Howard Hughes, and Aristotle Onassis.

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Let’s see here, according to the old-timers, at the former official price of $35 the ounce there’s $4 billion in Montana and Idaho, $2.5 billion in Texas, $500 million in California, $500 million in the Dakotas, $630 million in New Mexico, $330 million each in Nevada and Utah, $175 million in Arizona, $500 million in Colorado, $333 million in Oregon, $175 million in Washington, $500 million in Mexico, $333 million in New England, $63 million in the Canary Islands, lots more in Canada, and — start digging: $1 billion in New York.

“The Golden Circle spared no expense in burying its stolen or accumulated gold,” says Jesse James III of Banning, California, grandson of who do you think. “It employed the best engineers and the most modern equipment. My daddy said a white laborer was seldom employed in building a depository. Indians or Negroes were preferred because they could keep their mouths shut… The depositories were booby-trapped from all directions and more than one snooper has been blown into a million pieces.”

Against the possibility that the House will follow the Senate’s ac­tion and that President Agnew will sign the law rescinding gold prohibition, the old-timers are beginning to plan what to do with their hoard. “We’ll first try to cut a deal with the U.S. government. Say, it would give us 10 per cent tax free and safe from do-gooder bureaucrats. We’d take our 10 per cent and establish scholarships for the much-maligned Indians and descendants of Negroes and Mexicans who worked on our ancestors’ depositories. We’d preserve historical landmarks. And we’d financially aid non-Com­munist pacifist groups because the Knights of the Golden Circle which amassed this fortune be­lieved only war lords and interna­tional bankers profit from war.”

No sooner had Dean spilled the refritos about F. Lee and his Aztec pefl than James informed Schrader that the gold in question was actually part of what the old Confederates called their “Ala­mogordo Cache.” “Everything seems to be turning up these days in the Watergate hearings,” says Jesse James III.

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Indeed, indeed. Let us look at Bailey’s role again. The Boston attorney’s clients include these two:

a) James McCord, for whom, as long as he was represented by the superbly suntanned Gerald Alch, Esq., an employee of Bailey’s, mum was the word on the subject of Watergate derring-didn’t.

b) Mr. or Messrs. X, individu­al(s) with access to the Alamo­gordo Cache of the Knights of the Golden Circle.

In consideration of his work in “dealing” with client (a) Bailey approaches the administration to obtain a dispensation for client (b), but is rebuffed. Shortly there­after, Bailey unaccountably loses his ability to “deal” with client (a). Client (a) fires Bailey’s firm and writes the letter to Judge Sirica that becomes the crucial first squeal that leads to the cur­rent Senate hearings and Dean’s testimony revealing the existence of and non-responsive treatment accorded to client (b).

Meanwhile, we should note, Bailey himself is indicted by the administration for alleged fraudulent activities in concert with Florida Kosmetic King Glenn Turner.

Is it possible that client (a) let the Watergate cat out of the bag because the administration was non-responsive to the boon requested on behalf of client (b)?

Is it significant that McCord has acted, in effect, as hatchet man against the administration on behalf of the guardians of the Alamogordo Cache?

Has Bailey been indicted be­cause he Knows Too Much?

Has the Southern Strategy been checkmated by the Southron Stra­tegem?

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As you ponder these questions, let me leave you with some thoughts about gold.

The two great movements of the modern age are science and exploration. Science grew out of alchemy, whose goal was to magically transmute base metal into gold. Exploration was con­ducted largely to discover extant sources of gold. Gold was valued because of its unique ability to energize the society that pos­sessed it through its power to regulate money. Governments cannot regulate the value of money. All they can do is make more of it or confiscate some of it. But they cannot raise or lower the total value of all money. Only gold can do that. It is often said that gold has no “intrinsic value.” On the contrary, it is the only materi­al manifestation we are aware of that does have intrinsic value; it has only intrinsic value; and all other things and non-things have only extrinsic value, relative to each other.

Why, after all, if Roger Bacon wanted to transmute base ele­ments into something, didn’t he try to turn them into digital wrist­watches, which undoubtedly would have gone like hotcakes in those days; or cream cheese, upon which the perennially starving populace could have eagerly munched; or colored floral print toilet paper, which you probably could have flogged to royalty at a nifty profit; or plastic high explosives, which could have been used to hijack castles; or De Tomaso Panteras, which would have been good for cruising for tricks on the King’s Road. Whyever gold?

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Because he believed that the magician was the conduit through whom the values of the impal­pable world were to be imposed on the values of the all-too-pal­pable one here at hand, and that gold was ordained, by dint of its beautiful uselessness. to be de­ployed against any system of worth that overvalues utility as against beauty. In the United States today, a successful alche­mist would be ipso facto a felon. The chief significance of the gold legislation pending in the House is that it would legalize alchemy.

Does the saga of the Knights of the Golden Circle sound like a lot of hogwash to you? Perhaps so, though it is intriguing to wonder whether there is a connection be­tween it and the bath a whole lot of swine seem to be taking these July days. Maybe it is simply the purposively flimsy explanation the macrocosm is fronting at this point for the fact that suddenly hundreds of thousands, if not hundreds of millions, of fine ounces Troy of the solar metal have been brought out of nowhere into play in the political soap opera by who else but that stone Philosopher, modern alchemy’s Mr. Big, the Master of Confabula­tion.

From The Archives From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Nixon’s Pardon: Our Castle

Like any number of stunned citizens, I have in recent days been looking for something to help me to understand the latest shock to the political system and the national conscience, the pardoning of President Ford of former President Nixon. Now where are we? It has occurred to me that at least for the moment, and perhaps for some years to come, we are in something like the world of Kafka’s Castle.

To be sure, Franz Kafka’s novels, The Castle and The Trial, have come to provide a model that is frequently overworked or misapplied. At the popular level, the novels have given way to a word, “Kafka­esque,” which by now is plastered indiscriminately on almost any baffling or unusually opaque event that is not easily translatable into the going simplifications. Kaf­kaesque has certainly never seemed, until now, a word that might add appreciably to an understanding of the Watergate Years, even if any number of the characters and events that have surfaced along the way have partaken of that eerie mix, formerly associated with dreams, of the grave and the bizarre, the horrifying and the ridiculous, that gives Kafka’s novels their special resonance and saliency.

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Likewise, the attempt to determine President Nixon’s culpability did not, strictly speaking, have much to do with the plight of Joseph K., the accused isolate of The Trial. Nixon protested his innocence no less vehemently, and his talent for self-delusion and self-pity undoubtedly enabled him to see himself in a predicament very like Joseph K.’s, as it is described in the opening sentence of The Trial: “Someone must have traduced Richard N., for without having done anything wrong, he was arrested one fine morning.”

Nonetheless, unlike Kafka’s doomed hero, the former President was never without the power to defy and obstruct the tribunals that would call him to judgment. And “the ending” that President Ford has written for Richard N.’s suffering is the very one that eluded poor Joseph K., despite his equally fervent efforts to bring his own famous case to precisely this conclusion.

And yet it is just this seemingly un-Kafkaesque ending that has now given to Watergate a truly Kafkaesque dimension. President Ford, so very deliberate about closing the Watergate story, has actually, like some latter-day Kafka, imagined an ending wholly in the modernist literary tradition that scorns conventional unravelings and final judgments as so much Mother Goosery, and insists instead upon the ungraspable, the impenetrable, on all that is tediously ambiguous. That human affairs can be settled and managed, even to some large degree understood, is an idea that is as uncongenial to the imagination of the good-natured Middle Western President as it was to the depressed and tormented Prague Jew. Story-writing, it now seems, makes even stranger bedfellows than politics. Kafka, thou shouldst be living at this hour — the White House has need of a new Press Secretary.

And there is, as I see it, another telling Kafkaesque dimension to Watergate now that President Ford has given us his version of an ending. It is the enormity of the frustration that has taken hold in America ever since Compassionate Sunday, the sense of waste, futility, and hopelessness that now attaches to the monumental efforts that had been required just to begin to get at the truth. And along with the frustration, the sickening disappoint­ment of finding in the seat of power, neither reason, or common sense, or horse sense-and certainly not charity or courage — but moral ignorance, blundering authority and witless, arbitrary judgment.

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It is as though the American public, having for a decade now been cast in one painful or degrading role after another — Kennedy’s orphans, Johnson’s patriots, Nixon’s patsies — has now been assigned by President Ford to play the part of the Land Surveyor K. in Kafka’s Castle. In this novel, the Land Surveyor, full of hope and energy, enters a village that is under “the jurisdiction of a labyrinthian bureaucracy whose headquarters is a rather inaccessible Castle looming over the landscape. How eager the Land Surveyor is to get permission from the Chief of the Castle bureaucracy — a Mr. Klamm of unascertainable competence — to get down to work and achieve a purposeful social existence. How willing he is to bend over backwards to live on friendly terms with the powers-that-be, imperfect as they are. Indeed, his early hours in the Castle village bring to mind the touching atmosphere that prevailed in these parts during the 30-day honeymoon with our Mr. Klamm. How willing! How eager! And how innocent.

For with all the will in the world to get on with the job, what the Land Surveyor discovers is that he can’t. The Castle won’t let him. He is blocked at every turn by authorities to whose inscrutable edicts and bizarre de­crees he is beholden, but whose motives and methods defy his every effort to make sense of them, and to abide by them. And that the Mr. Klamm who is running the whole bewildering operation happens not to be a criminal does not make the Land Surveyor’s frustrations any less enervating to the body or the spirit.

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Republican Nation: Save Our Symbols

S.O.S.: Save Our Symbols
January 10, 1995

THE NIGHT AFTER THEIR REVOLUTION, Esther and I washed dishes in Laura’s kitchen. It was Laura’s birth­day, and we’d celebrated (because, fuck it all, we needed to). Now, we were talking about the fact and the fairy tale of what had happened. We threw around the common predictions — social repression, economic depression, the dismantling of civil rights. I tried to make fun of fundamentalists, but ended up retreating into the dislocated feeling I’d first experienced way back when I was 20 and nobody I knew elected Ronald Reagan. My country, their revolution: here it came again, supposedly the spawn of a Middle America I couldn’t see in my kind, tolerant, working-class Wisconsin cousins, or in my freedom-loving Northwest family, all middle class and raised religious, with different opinions about abortion and the welfare state, but none of them this inhumane or this foolhardy.

“What’s being said,” Esther muttered into the soap suds, “makes me feel erased.”

“I know what you mean,” I replied.

“No,” she said. “I mean by our side. By the left.”

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This is how believing in their revolution hurts us. Esther spent the Reagan-Bush years — her twenties — as an activist and a cultural progressive, organizing for ACT UP, hanging out in an experimental arts collective, teaching junior high, and designing workshops to promote racial tolerance. Like me, like our friend Laura the Middle East activist and new-music promoter, Esther was very busy during the ’80s. She endured failure and dissension within her various communities, but she also saw progress. She wasn’t just living in a boho fishbowl; her efforts educated, expanded the discourse, and often effected real change. And she wasn’t alone — across America progressives created different versions of this synthesis of radical culture and political organizing. Yet she was being told that the left she’d helped preserve during a decade of very hard times was dead; that street activism and identity politics, not to mention a too-strong focus on culture, had in fact destroyed the left long ago. And that the only way to reclaim power was to disregard the importance of the very ground people like herself had won.

“The ambitions of the left have been political and their triumphs cultural, while the ambitions of the right have been cultural and their triumphs political,” Adam Gopnik wrote recently in The New Yorker. This aphorism elegantly de­scribes the way much of the left currently sees itself. The duality it expresses makes possible the judgments self-styled leftsavers are making about activities they deem “cultural.” This cordoning-off of culture from politics leaves no room for the evolving reality of left politics since the early ’70s, as it’s been shaping up in the imagination and on the streets. It dismisses the power of the arts to effect consciousness, and questions the importance of lifestyle, education, or any kind of socially oriented work that falls outside the the traditional political arenas of the voting booth, the picket line, and the halls of power.

Yet the very slipperiness of the term culture highlights its capacity to jump and blend boundaries, emphasizing the interplay of knowledge, belief, and behavior through which a society emerges over time. The split between culture and politics is an unnatural one; this is the rudimentary lesson of feminism, queer liberation, and movements led by people of color. If such a split is reasserted, it will once again devalue these groups, who’ve often been dismissed by hard-line politicos, in a very old-fashioned way: by marking their pre­occupations as frivolous. (Did I hear someone say “too fem­inine”?) And it will narrow our political vision on an even deeper level. What we’ve developed by taking culture seri­ously is a view of the political as a web, connecting individ­ual identity to community concerns, and personal passions to a larger social agenda. Exploring this web has kept the left alive during an era of vicious attack from the right. More than that, it’s made the left a more inclusive, multifaceted presence in American society.

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SOME MAY SAY TALKING about the links between lifestyle and activism, or the symbolic and the material, is mere distraction in our current state of emergency. But dis­missing this conversation as irrelevant not only makes it hard to understand our weaknesses, it denies our strengths. The syncretic view is what fed the heart of the left as it beat within direct-action groups like ACT UP, WAC, WHAM, and Queer Nation; in those doing clinic defense, guerrilla environmentalism, and immigrant advocacy; in the oft-maligned academy; and through the work of artists ranging from Karen Finley to Public Enemy and Roseanne. What these various figures and groups shared was the radically democratic notion that politics could happen wherever a person’s strengths and interests led.

This principle is elemental to our nation of individual­ists. It became progressive through the social critique orig­inating in the civil-rights movement and the counterculture. Those of us schooled in this history invested less faith in electoral politics than we did in the changes that sprang from conversations across women’s kitchen tables or in the neigh­borhoods where community workers lived, or, yes, through the words and visions of artists who have helped us under­stand the structure and experience of oppression, and the possibility of freedom. Our faith came from witnessing how change happened in our own lives.

The decentralized approach many activists have adopt­ed since the ’70s suits our moment. Direct action efforts like abortion clinic defense, for example, require loose net­working that can easily adapt to changes in agenda. Battered women’s shelters, free clinics, or needle exchange services all originate (and thrive) through the efforts of a few dedicat­ed people who see a need right there, right then, and fill it. When such methods work, they offer an antidote to the big­-government approach the right accuses the left of backing: grassroots organizing reduces bureaucracy in favor of a hands-on, usually nonhierarchical, practical approach.

So much of our daily lives contradicts the old defini­tion of a common culture as a homogeneous whole and de­mands a new model for community. Technology makes mi­crocosms. Architecture subdivides. The marketplace places us in niches. We need a model that accepts difference and seeks the common within it — a key to the new language that arises from mixing things up. Multiculturalism tries to imag­ine such a model. Rather than the downfall-of-the-left naysayers accuse it of being, multiculturalism is at heart a complex lesson in the art of empathy, essential to forming a vital movement in divided times. Multiculturalism starts with a simple method: listen and learn. It uses culture’s tools (the story, the image, the custom) to ground analysis. The process takes time. As we unlearn the rhetoric of Barbie Dolls and a vengeful God, we replace it by hearing other tales, discovering other icons, celebrating other realities. If we really want a broad-based left, this is the first, most prac­tical step.

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SOME OF US DRAWN to the left since the 1970s studied politics or stumped for the Democrats in school; more often, we learned our values from what the left’s stern commentators would label “cultural.” Sometimes the way the web works is very clear, as when homocore punk band Team Dresch offers a self-defense workshop (women only!) to open a gig, or the San Francisco conceptual art team Margaret Crane/Jon Winet de­sign tiny, elegant placards inscribed with AIDS prevention information and distribute them in restaurants. Less easy to prove, but nonetheless traceable, is the path that leads from being a Pearl Jam fan to volunteering at a center for child abuse victims, or from frequenting the Body Shop to becoming an environmentalist, or from reading a Toni Morrison novel to organizing against racist policies in your local school district. (Or reading a Morrison novel and hating Clarence Thomas; your public opinion isn’t just based on watching the nightly news, after all.)

It’s not just Lollapaloozers who believe that your life can be changed by rock and roll, or a great book, or even a TV show. Ad people know that ritual and image influence how people structure their opinions and their lives. So does the Christian right. In fact, the right un­derstands that in the 25 years since Janis Joplin died, pop­ular culture has helped shape a more liberal public. Anita Hill’s fall followed the summer of Thelma & Louise, and al­though the hearings themselves favored a horrifying con­servatism, you can bet that the women and men watching at home — those who, in the next election, chose more women than ever before — took what they’d felt and learned from the confluence of imagined scenarios and cold, hard facts into the voting booth.

Now, the right aims to possess the leaky means of ideological distribution known as the popular. The right knows the value of culture; that’s why it uses talk radio and television and religion now, and why, before Clinton became the only punching bag that mattered, it fought so hard against lightning rods like Karen Finley, hip hop, and Murphy Brown. Conservatism’s superstars attract their supporters by making their narrow-minded viewpoints fleshy, fun­ny, and moving — ex­actly what rock and roll, street fashion, and strains within all of the common arts have done for radical thought over the past third of a century. For the moment, the right’s wet weekend with pop has given it a ruddy glow. But the mass appeal they’re mining is a cruel one, based around bullying. Their fun is a gouge in the eye — a shtick that’s always appealed to crowds, from Shakespeare’s time to the present. Such mean-spirited fun appeals to the weakness in people, which is certainly vast, but ultimately un­satisfying. The aspect of culture that’s about learning, about expanding the self, isn’t honored here. That’s why figures like Father Coughlin and Joe McCarthy fell, and why Rush and Howard will someday, too.

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Progressive movements have been far more successful in changing people’s worldviews. In fact, the loose web of attitudes reflecting some tie to post-’60s left politics has so successfully invaded the main­stream that it’s got its own market niche: alternative. This term, dread­ed by all who feel protective of the margins, encompasses everything from earth-friendly toilet paper to postpunk music to the Internet. Its impact remains hard to bottle: there’s been a sea change in attitudes about gays and lesbians since Stonewall, for example, obvious in the wide defeat of antigay legislation in the last election as well as in the popularity of Philadelphia and k.d. lang. Yet that legislation keeps pop­ping up, and as the tussle over gays in the military showed, many people aren’t willing to open the doors of American institutions to new values. Still, radical culture’s energy keeps regenerating, and when it’s tapped it can bring new people into the left, sustain those who are already com­mitted, and sway those on the fence.

The feeling on the left right now may be that we need to abandon our cultural focus and get seri­ous. I think we need to get serious about culture — as serious as we’ve ever been. We can see Melissa Etheridge at the Garden and feel uplifted, or give Mom a copy of Cor­nel West’s new volume and possibly affect one point of view. But we know that’s not enough. We need to retain the critique of capitalism that helps us recognize consumption as part of the system, not freedom from it. Then we need to take the next step, not abandoning the cultural but politicizing it further. That next step can lead in many different directions — toward intervening in institutions, seizing the means of pro­duction, changing our family lives, our sex lives, ourselves.

Artists and activists must be fearless now. Retreating isn’t the so­lution, and neither is penitence. We need to devise ways to make the symbolic a potent political weapon once again. The legacy starts here. ❖


Edward Said on the “Persian Psyche”

Innocence Abroad: Bruce Laingen’s Memo on “the Persian Psyche”
February 4, 1981

On August 13, 1979, a confidential tele­gram signed by Bruce Laingen, charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, was sent to then Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. On January 27, 1981, after the hostages had been released, excerpts were published on the Op Ed page of The New York Times.

Editors at the Voice thought the tele­gram so astonishing, so revelatory of an occidental, imperial mentality that we asked Edward Said, professor of English at Columbia, author of Orientalism, The Question of Palestine, and the forthcoming Covering Islam, to discuss the his­torical and cultural mindset that inspired it.

For those who did not read the excerpts published in the Times, here are its essen­tial points. The author set himself the task of analyzing the “Persian psyche” and the “cultural and psychological qualities” that accounted for difficulties experienced by Americans in their dealings with Iran.

“The single dominant aspect of the Persian psyche is an overriding egoism… an almost total Persian preoccupation with self.” The writer noted the “bazaar mentality so common among Persians, a mindset that often ignores longer-term in­terests in favor of immediately obtainable advantages.” He also stressed “a general incomprehension of causality,” partly to be accounted for by Islam’s “emphasis on the omnipotence of God,” which led to difficulty in “grasping the inter-relationship of events.” The writer suggested that this helped explain the “Persian aversion to accepting responsibility for one’s own actions.” He concluded that Persians had imperfect understanding of the notion of obligation and “given the Persian negotiator’s cultural and psy­chological limitations he is going to resist the very concept of a rational (from the Western point of view) negotiating process.”


At one point during the recent ABC special on the secret negotiations leading to the hostage release, Christian Bourguet describes his late March 1980 meeting with Jimmy Carter at the White House. Bourguet, a French lawyer with ties to the Iranians, acted as an intermediary be­tween the U.S. and Iran; he had come to Washington because, despite an arrange­ment worked out with the Panamanians to arrest the Shah, the deposed ruler had left suddenly for Egypt. So they were back to square one:

Bourguet: At a given moment [Carter] spoke of the hostages, saying, you under­stand that these are Americans. These are innocents. I said to him, yes, Mr. Presi­dent, I understand that you say they are innocent. But I believe you have to understand that for the Iranians they aren’t innocent. Even if personally none them has committed an act, they are not inno­cent because they are diplomats who represent a country that has done a number of things in Iran.

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You must understand that it is not against their person that the action is being taken. Of course, you can see that. They have not been harmed. They have not been hurt. No attempt has been made to kill them. You must understand that it is a symbol, that it is on the plane of symbols that we have to think about this matter.

In fact Carter seems to have viewed the embassy seizure very much in symbolic terms, but, unlike the Frenchman, he had his own frame of reference. From Carter’s perspective, Americans were by definition innocent and somehow outside history; Iran’s grievances against the U.S., he would say on another occasion, were an­cient history. What mattered now was that Iranians were terrorists, and perhaps had always potentially been a terrorist nation. Indeed, anyone who disliked America and held it captive was dangerous and sick, beyond rationality, beyond humanity, beyond common decency.

Carter’s inability to connect America’s longstanding support for local dictators with what was happening to the Ameri­cans held unlawfully in Tehran is ex­traordinarily symptomatic. Even if one completely opposes the hostage taking, even if one has only positive feelings about the hostages’ return, there are alarming lessons to be learned from what seems like the official national tendency to be ob­livious to certain realities. All rela­tionships between people and nations in­volve two sides. Nothing at all enjoins “us” to like or approve of “them,” but we must at least recognize (a) that “they” are there, and (b) that so far as “they” are concerned “we” are, at least in part, what “they” have experienced of us. Neither side in a conflict has such command of reality as to disregard totally the other viewpoint. Unless of course we believe as Americans that whereas the other side is ontologically guilty, we are innocent.

Consider now the confidential cable sent from Tehran by Bruce Laingen to Secretary of State Vance on August 13, 1979 — a document entirely consistent with President Carter’s attitudes in his con­versation with Bourguet. The cable was published on The New York Times Op Ed page January 27, 1981, perhaps to explain what Iranians are really like, perhaps only as an ironic footnote to the crisis. Yet Laingen’s message is not a scientific ac­count of “the Persian psyche,” despite the author’s pretense to calm objectivity and expert knowledge of the culture. The text is, rather, an ideological statement de­signed, I think, to turn “Persia” into a timeless, acutely disturbed essence, there­by enhancing the superior morality and national sanity of America. Each assertion about “Persia” adds damaging evidence to the profile, while shielding “America” from scrutiny and analysis.

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This self-blinding is accomplished rhetorically in two ways. First, history is eliminated unilaterally: “the effects of the Iranian revolution” are set aside in the interests of the “relatively constant… cultural and psychological qualities” un­derlying “the Persian psyche.” Hence modern Iran becomes ageless Persia. The unscientific equivalent of this would have Italians becoming dagos, Jews, yids, blacks niggers, etc. (How refreshingly honest is the street-fighter compared to the polite diplomat!) Second, the Iranian national character is portrayed only with reference to their imagined (i.e., paranoid) sense of reality. Laingen neither allows that the Iranians may have experienced real treachery and suffering, nor that they may have arrived at a view of the United States based on their understanding of U.S. actions in Iran. This is not to say that Laingen implies the U.S. did not do any­thing in Iran: only that the U.S. is entitled to do what it pleases, without irrelevant complaints or reactions from Iranians. The only thing that counts for Laingen is the constant “Persian psyche” that overrides all other realities.

Most readers of the Laingen message will accept, as doubtless he does too, that one should not reduce other people or societies to such a simple and stereo­typical core. We do not today allow that public discourse should treat blacks and Jews that way, just as we laugh off Iranian portrayals of America as the Great Satan. Too simple, too ideological, too racist. But for this particular enemy — Persia — the re­duction serves. The question is what ex­actly does it serve if, as I shall argue, it neither taught us anything about Iran nor, given the existing tension between the U.S. and Iran after the Revolution, did it help to guide our actions there.

Laingen’s argument is that no matter what happens, there is a “Persian proclivi­ty” to resist “the very concept of a rational (from the Western point of view) nego­tiating process.” We can be rational: Per­sians cannot be. Why? Because, he says, they are overridingly egoistical; reality for them is malevolent; the “bazaar mentali­ty” urges immediate advantage over long­term gain; the omnipotent god of Islam makes it impossible for them to under­stand causality; and words and reality, in their world, are not connected to each other. In sum, according to the five les­sons he abstracts from his analysis, La­ingen’s “Persian” is an unreliable nego­tiator, having neither a sense of “the other side,” nor a capacity for trust, good will, or character enough to carry out what his words promise.

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The irony of this cliché is that literally everything imputed to the Persian or Muslim without any evidence at all can be applied to “the American,” that quasi-­fictional, unnamed author behind the message. Who but “the American” denies history and reality in saying unilaterally that these don’t mean anything to the “Persian.” Now play the following parlor game: find a major Judeo-Christian cul­tural and social equivalent for the traits that Laingen ascribes to “the Persian.” Overriding egoism? Rousseau. Malevolence of reality? Kafka. Om­nipotence of God? Old and New Testa­ments. Lack of causal sense? Beckett. Bazaar mentality? New York Stock Ex­change. The confusion between words and reality? Austin and Searle. But few people would construct a portrait of the essential West using only Christopher Lasch on narcissism, the words of a fundamentalist preacher, Plato’s Cratylus, an advertising jingle or two and (as a case of the West’s inability to believe in a stable or bene­ficent reality) Ovid’s Metamorphoses laced with choice verses from Leviticus.

Laingen’s message is a functional equivalent of such a portrait. In a different context it would be a caricature at best, a crude though not particularly damaging attack at worst. It is not even effective as a bit of psy-war, since it reveals the writer’s weaknesses more than its oppo­nent’s. It shows, for example, that the author is extremely nervous about his opposite number; and that he cannot see others except as a mirror image of himself. Where is his capacity for understanding the Iranian point of view or for that matter the Islamic Revolution itself, which one supposed had been the result of in­tolerable Persian tyranny and the need to overthrow it?

And as for good will and trust in the rationality of the negotiating process, even if the events of 1953 and U.S. support for the Shah were not mentioned, much could be said about the attempted army coup against the Revolution, directly en­couraged by the U.S.’s General Huyser in late January 1979. Then too there was the action of various U.S. banks (unusually compliant in bending the rules to suit the Shah) who during 1979 were prepared to cancel Iranian loans contracted in 1977 on the grounds that Iran had not paid the interest on time. (Le Monde’s Eric Rouleau reported on November 25–26, 1979, that he had seen proof that Iran had actually paid the interest ahead of time.) No wonder that “the Persian” assumes his opposite number is an adversary. He is an adversary, and an insecure one at that: Laingen says it plainly.

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Let us concede that accuracy, not fairness, is the issue. The U.S. man on the spot is advising Washington. What does he rely on? A handful of Orientalist clichés that could have been taken verbatim from Sir Alfred Lyall’s description of the Eastern mind, or from Lord Cromer’s ac­count of dealing with the natives in Egypt. If poor Ibrahim Yazdi, then foreign min­ister of Iran, resists the idea that “Iranian behavior has consequences on the per­ception of Iran in the United States,” which U.S. decision-maker was prepared to accept in advance that U.S. behavior had consequences on the perception of the U.S. in Iran? Why then was the Shah admitted here? Or do we, like the Per­sians, have an “aversion to accepting re­sponsibility for one’s own action”?

Laingen’s message is the product of uninformed, unintelligent power, and certainly adds little to our understanding of other societies. As an instance of how we confront the world it does not inspire con­fidence. As an inadvertent American self­-portrait it is frankly insulting. What use is it then? It tells us how our representatives created a reality that corresponded neither to our world nor to Iran’s. But if it does not also demonstrate that such misrepresenta­tions had better be thrown away forever, then we are in for more international troubles and, alas, our innocence will again be uselessly offended.