Category Archives: Authoritarianism

Rogues in the Ranks

On May 25, 2020, African American George Floyd, was arrested and killed by a white Minneapolis police officer. The officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt forcefully on Floyd’s neck, and in effect, crushing Floyd’s wind pipe. Three other officers were involved, two helping to restrain Floyd, and another standing guard between witnesses and the actual killing. Eight minutes passed and Floyd was dead. Video taken by onlookers was posted world-wide which led to protests and riots in Minneapolis and throughout the United States. Protests also broke out in countries around the world, most notably Europe. Absent the video, the question being asked is how many more killings are taking place at the hands of the police, specifically black men.

The cause of the protests and rioting, it is safe to conclude, has been the result of African American men and women being killed by police. George Floyd’s death unleashed rage and subsequently triggered protests which, at times, turned into violence, predominantly through the destruction of businesses and property. Yet the protest and rioting appeared different from the sixties. The African American uprising included whites, ostensibly millennial, a mixed-race, ethnic, gender identity, class struggle coalition of the discontent. In fact, while the immediate cause of the uprising was a concomitant reaction to lethal racist tactics by police, the “feel” of the uprising had deeper overtones. The protest was not only about deadly force used against African Americans, it was also, arguably, a continuation of what Reconstruction failed to do: eradicate the vestiges of white racism and its monuments dedicated to the South’s deviant overlords such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, Robert E. Lee, and host of other lionized sociopaths.

The general trend of African Americans being killed, without justification, has been transpiring increasingly for decades. The ACLU has documented numerous accounts of police harassment, intimidations, 4th and 5th Amendment violations, civil rights and civil liberty violations, and excessive force and brutality. The Innocence Project has documented disproportionately high number of African Americans who have been charged, tried, and convicted, to only be exonerated at a later date. Clearly law enforcement, District Attorneys, and the criminal justice system have all acted in illegal and rogue fashion targeting African Americans. This is systemic racism, and African Americans have been, and continue to be, the primary target.

Rogue Law Enforcement

There is sufficient evidence that law enforcement in the US has been attracting alt-right extremists in law enforcement. An FBI report, “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement” Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2006, identifies that white nationalist and supremacist groups have been, and continue to be, hired by law enforcement agencies. They are recruiting, knowingly or otherwise, current law enforcement personnel from extremist groups. The investigation warned that skin head groups were directing such recruits to take on a covert identity as “ghost skins.” The secret identity for white supremacists is to obviously “avoid overt displays” of their true identities, assimilating into society, and then promote the values of white hegemony.

In 2006 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office discovered that a neo-Nazi gang had formed within the Department. Similar investigations around the country have revealed that officers, and entire agencies, had ties with hate groups in states such as IllinoisOhio Arizona and Texas. This has been corroborated by an October 17, 2006 Intelligence Assessment from the FBI Counterterrorism Division which detailed the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police. Their point of their infiltration: to harass minorities and disrupt police investigations against racists and racist police themselves. The FBI report titled, “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement,” found that the use of racist tactics of intimidation, brutality and protecting fellow racists cops from prosecution was, sadly, a highly effective recruitment tool for like-minded supremacists.

In 2009, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremism and its relationship to “violent radicalization” in the United States. In the report, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” April 7, 2009, Federal law enforcement agencies, according to the report, had been alerted to an extremist threat in which state and local law enforcement have infiltrated these agencies and that other personnel are sympathetic to these groups and their cause. An FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015, gave greatest priority to the investigation of “domestic terrorism” focusing on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists, whose identifiable links connected to law enforcement personnel. On June 4, 2019, an FBI report from the Counterterrorism Division, “Confronting White Supremacy,” and June 4, 2020, FBI “Domestic Terrorism Conference Report,” described in detail the threat that white supremacist groups present to minorities and the public at large. On June 17, 2020, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) described, in their report, the deepening concern that white nationalist groups present to democracy itself. And on July 11, 2020, the PBS News Hour, examined the growth of the Alt-right in a report, “Should the US designate racial violence as terrorism?” The conclusion was not only in the affirmative but also concluded that racial terrorism is as much a concern as Islamic terrorism.

The Center for Investigative Reporting, published an investigation in 2019, that found thousands of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers were members of militia groups ranging from Confederate-sympathizing, anti-Islam, or anti-government. They were both active and interactive with each other on Facebook. Members of these groups are unabashed racists. They have been linked to groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, whose purpose is to defend white Americans from “enslavement” and the flood of immigrants, legal or otherwise. The investigation reported that active membership in these groups included active-duty and retired law enforcement officers. They are highly involved with explicitly racist Facebook groups such as “Veterans Against Islamic Filth” (the group deliberately lowercases “Islamic” in its name) and “PURGE WORLDWIDE (The Cure for the Islamic disease in your country)”, and more subterranean groups such as the “Patriots for the Reclamation of America,” and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs, City of Compton, “Executioners.” Even Netflix in a series, “Alt-Right: Age of Rage,” identifies the Alternative Right and the Aryan Brotherhood, and its ostensible leaders, Richard Spence and Jared Taylor, as incendiary in their goals to maintain white identity. They argue that white America is being destroyed by integrating different cultures and identities and that Western white culture is threatened with extinction.

The head of the Oath Keepers movement, Stewart Rhodes, proclaimed in 2009, that the anti-government group includes thousands of “retired and active” police, sheriffs, and marshals. On May 30, during protests in New York City, an NYPD officer was making hand gestures (similar to those used by gang members) that has been linked to white supremacist groups, later reported to the New York Attorney General’s office. The Plain View Project, a database of public Facebook comments made by nearly 2,900 current and former police officers in eight cities, suggests that nearly 1 in 5 of the current officers identified in the study made public posts or comments that appear “to endorse violence, racism and bigotry,” as reported by Buzzfeed News and Injustice Watch in a study of the database. In fact, there are 1269 identified problematic posts from active duty Philadelphia police officers on the site. Of the 1073 Philadelphia police officers identified by the Plain View Project, 327 of them posted public content endorsing violence, racism and bigotry. Of those 327, at least 64 hold leadership roles within the force, serving as corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, or inspectors.

Another example of racism and white supremacists in law enforcement can be traced to the 1990s in which a federal judge discovered that a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang” of Los Angeles police deputies – “the Vikings” – operated in the police department with full knowledge of the leadership. In San Francisco from 2015 – 2016, law enforcement attempted to terminate the employment of 17 police officers after an investigations revealed racist text messages were being sent within the ranks. Moreover, the Ku Klux Klan historically has been connected to local law enforcement. In 2014 a police department in Central Florida terminated the employment of two officers, one being the deputy chief of police, for membership in the KKK. In 2015, a police officer in North Carolina was photographed giving a Nazi salute at a KKK rally. The failure of police leadership to take disciplinary action on their own officers regarding excessive force and/or racist conduct is inherent to these agencies.

Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with George Floyd’s death, had been under investigation for over 17 documented complaints. None of those complaints resulted in disciplinary action while only a few resulted in a letter of reprimand placed in his file. The Minneapolis Police Department refused to disclose the exact nature of the investigations or reprimands. The refusal to disclose these disciplinary actions speaks to a larger issue of transparency and public accountability. Between 2011 and 2015, the NYPD recorded 319 law enforcement offenses, including harassment and assault in many cases. All offenses were “cause” for termination. Thirty-eight law enforcement officers were found guilty by police tribunals of excessive force, unnecessary and unprovoked fights during arrests, or firing weapons unnecessarily. Apparently internal investigations took little to no action on accusations of favoritism, racism, and unlawful interrogations to force confessions and guilty pleas.

Large cities, such as Chicago, also have struggles in holding police accountable. According to the Citizens Police Data Project, only 7 percent of complaints have resulted in disciplinary action. These include allegations of law enforcement using racial slurs. In 2018, the chief of police in Elkhart, Indiana, failed to discipline an officer for racial slurs while simultaneously promoting him to sergeant. The chief had full knowledge that the officer was making numerous statements on “white power” on police communications according to ProPublica. The “white power” motto has also been identified with Minneapolis Lieutenant Bob Kroll, who is president of the Police Officers Federation. He was named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by four black Minneapolis law enforcement officers against the Minneapolis Police Department for discrimination. In the complaint, the allegation by the plaintiffs alleged that the Lieutenant displayed a “White Power badge” on his motorcycle jacket. Kroll,rejects the characterization but has been heard frequently describing the Black Lives Matter movement as a “terrorist organization.”

The Obama administration made serious attempts to address police forces. In fifteen police departments throughout the United States, the administration legally forced these departments into consent decrees implementing reform. Under federal law the police departments were to commence with reforms from racial discrimination to brutality. In one case, the Justice Department report on its consent decree with Chicago, revealed that the police department received over 30,000 complaints of officer misconduct in five years and determined that a systematic pattern of excessive force has undermined confidence within minority communities. But the new Trump administration sought to undue these reforms.

On March 31, 2017, Trump’s former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, ordered the Justice Department to review Obama-era consent decrees on police department reform. Sessions then curbed their use by requiring political appointees to sign off on any future settlements. The Trump administration restriction on the use of the decrees was characterized as a transition away from protecting civil rights to instead promoting “law and order.” This was continued by Trump’s next Attorney General William Barr, who supported Sessions’ policy. To date, the Trump administration has not issued any new consent decrees against police forces within the United States.

Not all law enforcement officers are members of racist or white supremacist groups. Nor do all law enforcement support alt-right ideology. Notable examples of strong relations with citizens and community-led policing in response to this past several week’s protests include New Jersey police officers marching with Black Lives Matters protestors, police chiefs listening to and walking with protestors, and police in both New York City and South Florida kneeling in solidarity with protestors. In Flint, Michigan, Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson removed his riot gear and walked with marchers. In Long Beach, California, Chief Robert Luna fired a rogue officer for posting his picture on Facebook standing with his baton over blood.

*****

To be sure, there are other issues needing attention. Qualified immunity for police and district attorneys, police (unidentified) infiltration disguised as protesters assaulting protestors and damaging property falsely blaming protestors. Most disturbing is the fictional account of the Antifascists (Antifa) as a violent leftist terrorist group. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In an internal memorandum, FBI Director Christopher Wrey, found no evidence of Antifa’s involvement in national unrest, specifically with the George Floyd protests and riots as falsely reported by The Nation, June 2, 2020. The Washington Field Office memo states that “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement” was initiated during the protests, as erroneously stated from Trump, Attorney General Barr, and various right-wing news outlets such as FOX News. On June 12, 2020, the New York Times in “Federal Arrests Show No Sign That Antifa Plotted Protests,” cleared Antifa and on June 22, 2020, the New York Times, “41 Cities, Many Sources: How False Antifa Rumors Spread Locally,” described how propaganda against Antifa was spread through the media community, most likely from conservative politicians and political action committees. The attempt was to falsely blame the uprising on an orchestrated group such as Antifa, according to Glenn Kirschner, former FBI, counterintelligence. Blaming a “left-wing” group was a ruse created to gaslight the public and divert attention from the “right-wing” police tactics condoned by the Trump administration.

Most disturbing is the training techniques — taught to American law enforcement by the Israeli Defense Forces — involving the neck suppressing technique used on George Floyd. The IDFs use the same techniques on Palestinians as reported by Amnesty International, and also documented in The Progressive in “US Police Are Being Trained by Israel – And Communities of Color Are Paying the Price.” The police training tactics are sponsored by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (A-DL), which in turn sponsors the American Jewish Committee Project Interchange Institution and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

The term “systemic racism” means that institutions produce and perpetuate racially disparate effects in the case of minority populations. Professor Bernard Harcourt of Columbia University Law School has conducted and compiled several empirical studies of systemic racism in law enforcement agencies. These include a wide range of police tactics which include the use of policies such as “stop and frisk” and the disparate rates of police activities including traffic stops, searches of motorists during traffic stops, levels of respect shown during stops, misdemeanor arrests, marijuana arrests, use of SWAT teams, individuals jailed for inability to pay petty fines, militarized policing of targeted neighborhoods, resolution of murders of white versus black victims, sustained complaints against police officers, and unarmed victims of police shootings. The evidence of links to explicit white supremacist groups is only the tip of a racist iceberg, according to Harcourt.

In The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens, 2018, Harcourt argues that the effort to reduce crime in the United States initiated a terror campaign on its citizens, specifically African Americans, in much the same way the United States supported terror tactics in the Third World. Modern militarized police officers with tanks and drones have become pervasive tools along with government surveillance and profiling. Social media also serves to distract and track citizens from the fact that they have consciously or unconsciously surrendered rights to privacy, unauthorized surveillance, and unlawful searches and seizures. All of these, Harcourt contends, are facets of a new and radical governing paradigm in the United States — one that is rooted in the modes of warfare originally developed to suppress anti-colonial revolutions and, more recently, to prosecute the war on terror. Harcourt provides a penetrating and disturbing account of the rise of domestic counterinsurgency, first as a military strategy, and secondly, as an increasing way of ruling ordinary Americans in an authoritarian manner.

Finally, Harcourt demonstrates how counterinsurgency’s principles — bulk intelligence collection, ruthless targeting of minorities, misleading, gaslighting and pacifying propaganda — have taken hold domestically despite the absence of any radical uprising, that is, till recently with the nascent Minneapolis rioting and subsequent uprisings in urban America. This counterrevolution against phantom enemies, he argues, is the tyranny of government at the behest of the power elite. For Harcourt, seeing and identifying this is the first step in resistance to the white nationalist police state within America. So the immediate task is twofold: demand an end the police killings of innocent black men and resist descending into a fascism.

The post Rogues in the Ranks first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Political and Spiritual Cults: From Rapture to Complicity to Aftermath in the Shadow of 20th Century Yankeedom

“The party is always right, even when it’s wrong”

— Democratic Workers Party slogan

ORIENTATION

Everybody knows what cults are

People who join cults are mentally unstable before they join and less educated than the general population. True or false? Cult members also define themselves as lonely. True or false? Most people who join cults are from the poor and working class. True or false? People are physically intimidated into joining a cult against their will. True or false? No matter how much your vocabulary changes once inside a cult, you can still control what and how you think. True or false? Cults draw certain kinds of criminal elements, who in a sense get what they deserve. Good people would not be drawn into such extreme circumstances. True or false? This last statement is a version of the “just world hypothesis”. The implication being that you, a good person, could never fall into a cult.

If you answered “true” to any of these questions, you might have fallen for the social media propaganda against cults. In fact, the overwhelming number of members of cults come from middle and upper middle-class backgrounds, are well-educated and have no serious psychological problems previous to joining the cult. Furthermore, people join cults voluntarily and they are lured into them by various social and psychological techniques which offer immediate gratification. In her book Cults in Our Midst, Margaret Singer says people have an initial resistance to thinking they could be “taken in,” without force.

Lastly, many people mistakenly think that thoughts and language can be neatly separated. This is mistaken.  No one can think independently of language. If you force people to not use certain words, and insist on people substituting new words, you can control their thinking process. As Orwell pointed out, when the state controls the vocabulary and strikes words from its dictionary, it narrows the thinking range that is possible. If you use the word “freedom” to express autonomous thinking, but the word “freedom” has now been labelled by a leftist political movement as “bourgeois individualism” you have a problem in using it. You cannot coin new words by yourself. There has to be a movement of people who agree to create a new word and circulate it among themselves. Cult members are slowly socialized by their leaders and lieutenants to change their vocabulary as they coin and circulate new words through forums, meetings and media events. Slowly the members find their own vocabulary changes accordingly.

How many kinds of cult are there?

There are at least three kinds of cults: spiritual, psychological and political.

All three have left-wing and right-wing variants. Jim Jones’ People’s Temple; Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate; Rajneesh’s Tantric yoga, as well Charles Manson’s “the Family” are all examples of left-wing spiritual cults.  Right-wing cults are Reverend Moon’s Unification Church, Kurt Saxon’s Christian Identity, James Wickstrom’s Posse Comitatus and James Butler’s Aryan Nation.

Examples of left-wing psychological cults Harvey Jackins’ Re-Evaluation Counseling along with Saul B. Newton’s Sullivan Institute. Right-wing psychology cults include L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology and Charles Dederich’s Synanon. Political cults on the left include Gerry Healy in Britain and the Democratic Workers Party in San Francisco. A great example of a right-wing political cult was Lyndon LaRouche’s National Caucus of Labor Committees.

For most of this article I will be speaking of cults in general. But when I get more specific about mechanisms of control, I will sometimes refer to the left-wing Democratic Workers Party. I refer to them not only because they are especially monstrous compared to other cults. I do so more because my readers are most likely to be interested in political cults rather than spiritual or psychological cults. Secondly, my readers are more likely to identify as left-wing rather than right-wing political people. I think this article will “hit home”, especially among Leninists. I am not suggesting or implying that all Leninist parties are cults.

What is a totalistic institution?

Defining a cult has more to do with how the organization is run, not the political, psychological or spiritual beliefs of the organization. Cults can be characterized as a type of “total institution” (Goffman). Others include mental hospitals, jails, army barracks, orphanages and religious institutions such as monasteries, convents or abbeys. In modern capitalist societies, people enter and leave many social institutions during the course of a day. Examples include a son or daughter of a family at home, a student at school, an employee at work, a member of the choir at church, a fan for a sports team and a member of the national guard on the weekends.  While all these groups have a broad similarity in economic ideology (being pro-capitalism), within each group the power dynamics between the authority and the members differ. Different institutions are organized tightly or loosely with high, medium or low expectations. Most importantly the individual in a pluralistic society, with membership in all these groups can compare and contrast social expectations of each group, develop their own ideas and synthesize the results using critical thinking.

In totalistic institutions, sleeping, eating, working and playing all happen within a single organization, enacted within the same place, at the same time in the same way.  In pluralistic societies members enter into and leave a group of their own volition. In totalistic institutions members do not come and go as they please. Boundaries are strictly controlled.  Unlike in pluralistic societies, in totalistic institutions the authorities are a single centralized body, with very little feedback coming from the periphery to the core. In pluralistic societies, surveillance may be in place in certain settings, like in the military or in church, but there is no central setting from which family life, school life or work life is all watched from afar at the same time. In total institutions, besides centralized surveillance systems, there is a network of spying that goes on between members, breeding insecurity and paranoia. In totalistic institutions, everyone is treated bureaucratically in the same way, where sensitivity to the uniqueness of a person and situation is lost.

What is a cult?

Cults usually grow in a climate of political, economic or ecological instabilities in which the existing social order has been compromised. A cult is a spiritual, psychological or political institution which is hyper-critical of the existing spiritual, psychological and political institutions and wishes to overthrow them while often aspiring to create “heaven on earth”. Because cults are usually new and have not had years to socialize people the way organized religions have, they have to work quickly and use extreme measures to draw and hold people. Because a religious leader of a particular denomination is part of a large bureaucracy, that leader can be relatively dull while maintaining the following of his parishioners. But a cult cannot afford that.

Cults usually have at their head a charismatic leader with a grand philosophy who gives dramatic right and wrong answers to complex but deteriorating social situations. The leaders usually have lieutenants, ideologically committed members who have very good social psychological skills to keep the membership in line. Cults lack a democratic structure and the membership is kept passive and happy during the initial stages while being slowly terrified as membership continues into the later stages of the cult.

Characteristics of cults include:

  • Emerging out of a political, economic or ecological crisis;
  • Recruitment of young adults between 17 and 24 of middle-class and upper middle-class origins who are likely to be undergoing some developmental crisis in their personal lives;
  • An authoritarian, charismatic leader;
  • A revolutionary, dualistic ideology;
  • Possessing a social-psychological array of tools for luring in new members and sustaining their commitment;
  • A lack of mechanisms for critical feedback from the membership;
  • A small group of lieutenants to isolate and keep atomized the membership through spying so that no coherent opposition can form;
  • The development of rituals, myths and celebrations that allow the group to mark time;
  • Demonization of outside groups that are competition with the cult;
  • Rigid, terrorized boundaries that make it extremely difficult to leave.

STAGES OF CULTS

In their book, The Guru Papers, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad identify two stages of cults: the proselytizing stage and the apocalyptic paranoia stage.

In the proselytizing ascendant stage, the guru sees the possibility of realizing his ambitions. The group is touted as being at the cutting edge of new knowledge. Outsiders are welcomed although they are treated with a kind of benign superiority. In the ascendant phase, the guru rewards the enthusiasm of his followers and grants them positions which have opened up within the hierarchy. The tone of the community is celebratory. The guru is accessible to the public and is charming and playful. In terms of the recruitment this is the “honeymoon phase”. The focus is to expand the organization and the emphasis is on the present.

The apocalyptic, paranoiac, decadent phase is when the numbers of recruits have leveled off and explanations need to be found. The public is now seen as too stupid and blind to acknowledge the merits of the cult. In the declining stage the message becomes pessimistic, with a doomsday “I told you so” tone. Outsiders cease to be welcomed in a spirit of satisfying curiosity. Rather they are seen as enemies out to destroy the organization. Part of the descendent phase also involves the guru making more grandiose claims while promising to invoke occult power. The membership begins to have doubts.

Some find the courage to leave despite threats of violence, law suits, character destruction and loss of employment. Others hang on for fear of the costs of leaving. In the descendent phase recruits are expected to give far more than they receive in the way of time, energy and money. They are expected to work long hours recruiting, selling products and fundraising.  Because the organization is not growing, like most organizations this leads to squabbling for a diminishing set of resources. All too often the cult ends in scandal or tragedy.

PRE-CULT SOCIALIZATION

As we all know, when individuals are socialized within the first seventeen years of life, they are socialized by their families, their schools (including teachers and students), the various forms of media (tv, internet media), their religion, the state (propaganda to join the military) and their friends as well as by sports and music celebrities. All these forces are unified in presenting capitalism in a favorable light, but in other ways these socializing forces don’t agree. Broadly speaking, families, religion and the state appeal to the conservative forces of order and patriotism. Schools, mass media and entertainment celebrities are more liberal. As I said earlier, the diversity between these socializing influences allows the individual to develop thinking skills of comparing and contrasting which develops critical thinking.

But beginning in the teenage years, (and maybe even sooner) the individual begins to question these sources of influence. As early as ten or eleven, children are very aware that their parents are full of contradictions and are hardly infallible. By high school, some have developed Piaget’s formal operational thinking which helps them to critically evaluate religious claims about God and the afterlife. While in high school they may resent military recruiters in their schools. The problem with sports and music celebrities is that while they while they are held up as models, there is no feedback or dialogue which allows the individual to grow. By high school, one’s face-to-face friends may more likely to be the most solid socializing influence they have.

By the time the adolescent reaches seventeen, they have arrived at a developmental crisis. Do they continue on to college? Do they try to find full-time work? Do they join the military? Do they get married? It is here that cults might make their first appeal. Why now? Because developmentally, teenagers and young adults are in a fork in the roads of their lives. Additionally, the old forms of socialization have lost their stability and the teenager may be ripe for a new socialization process or a new group membership. If the individual decides to go to college, throughout the college years including graduation, they are suspectable to cult propaganda.

SOCIALIZATION INTO CULTS

The UC campus in Berkeley California stretches from south to north going from Bancroft Way at the south side to Hearst Ave. on the north side. There is a major walkway that begins at College and Bancroft and goes all the way to Hearst, cutting through the center of the campus. On both sides of the walkway there are tables with people stationed at them, inviting students to join clubs. Some of those clubs are front groups for cults. In addition, there are public bulletin boards advertising everything from movies, to offers for housing roommates, to free meditation classes.

The members of cults that are stationed at these tables are attractive, neatly dressed and extroverted. They are good social psychologists who can pick out a student that might be mildly depressed, lost or disorganized. These “hawkers” will call out to them, ask how they are doing and ask them if they’d like to hear a free talk and eat pizza afterwards. Once the person has come to the table, the hawkers will seize on anything the person says and respond in a very sympathetic way. They listen very carefully and keep the focus on the recruit. They are so engaging that they make an impression. Before the person leaves the table, they will be handed a flyer which appeals to nebulous conflicts like these:

  • Is it hard to make friends here at school?
  • Is college life harder than you thought it would be?
  • Is your romantic relationship lacking the things that you want?
  • If you have a job does it lack meaning?
  • Are you troubled about the state of the world, but feel powerless to do anything about it?

Then comes the pitch. “Come hear a talk by a celebrated expert in the field of psychology, religion or sociology on how to deal with all these problems in a meaningful way. Small group discussion afterward and free pizza. All are welcome.”

If the person attends the talk, there might be 50 people in the room, all of whom the recruit doesn’t know. What the recruit also doesn’t know is that 40 of those people are already in the cult. When any new people come into the room, the recruiters make sure they surround each new recruit and sit on either side of them and in back of them if possible. They engage the newbie, ask them questions about themselves before the talk even starts, and they make sure they compliment the newbie on their intelligence and insight. The leader giving the speech is usually an attractive, articulate, charming man with a sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic.

Once the leader makes their speech, the recruiters turn, and ask the newbie what they thought of the speech. They guide the newbie over to the table where there is pizza. The recruiters may hand them over to a new batch of recruiters who continue the discussion over pizza. Before the evening ends the recruits are told the time and place of the next meeting. Very causally they are asked for their email address “so we can keep you posted on up-and-coming events”.

At this point the recruit might feel like they just had an extraordinary date. They feel charged up and eroticized by some of the recruiters and might feel that they want to return to see one or more of the recruiters again. By comparison, these evenings are much more powerful than the times spent with family, friends and certainly religious services. After a couple of weeks the newbie returns again and the same thing happens. Now, the newbie is going to these talks three out of every four Sunday evenings. Their roommates, family and friends might inquire about where they have been. The newbie is not sure how to describe it. They might say this a “psychology group”. Both friends and family are not impressed and ask more probing questions. The newbie starts to feel defensive and stops talking about it, but continues to attend. This experience dovetails with a talk the leader gives the following Sunday on the nature of crisis.

The leader discusses how crisis involves the prospect of transformation and in that transformation, you meet new people while you have to let go of people that might be holding you back. This gently suggests that the newbie’s friends and family might not understand the nature of social change that the cult is part of and they are not among the enlightened ones (unlike the people in the cult). They also make a prediction that in the future they can expect their friends, families, church or state might not appreciate this cult and that is the price to pay for group enlightenment. But in the long-run, they may come to understand.

MECHANISMS OF CONTROL

Ascendant phase

The first, ascendant proselytizing phase of the cult is characterized by the following rewards. First – in terms of beliefs, a promise of the transformation of the world along with simplistic answers to complex questions. The cult then gives a sense of mission and purpose along with a sense of superiority over the ignorant and unenlightened masses. In terms of behavior, there is massive positive reinforcement which includes “love-bombing”: a great deal of attention to the recruit and their problems, along with an immediate, intense connection with many people. There is a promise (and deliverance in some cases) of erotic adventures. A regular dose of altered states of consciousness is achieved through chanting, hypnotic techniques of dissociation, group dancing, vertigo and hyperventilation. Along with this, a new identity is given which is often accomplished through changes in clothing or hair. At the climax in her recruitment just before she joined the DWP, author and sociologist Janja Lalich says: “Eleanor, leaned over, her face almost touching mine, she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘isn’t this what you’ve been waiting for?’ That’s all it took. I asked for the application”.

Descendent phase

Geographical isolation and physical deterioration

For the most part cults begin in cities, but in some cases, for various reasons (cheap land, control of members) they move to more rural areas as in the case of Jim Jones and Rajneesh. Especially if they are isolated in a rural area, they may be cut off from alternative forms of media. At this point with or without the move, in the descendent phase, the honeymoon is over for cult members. They are expected to work long hours in various phases of organization and as a result, become sleep deprived. In the DWP militants signed into a log book for keeping track of time, as if they were punching in their time cards in a factory. The organization does not provide for medical or dental insurance and their body begins to feel the wear-and-tear. Cult members who are older and have established incomes are pressured to contribute financially on a regular basis.

Atomizing the individual

Within the organization, the lieutenants work especially hard to keep people atomized so members cannot compare notes or consider their problems in any kind of collective way. In fact, the Democratic Workers party had a rule called “no gossiping”. But what they really meant was no comparing notes between members. Notice how comparing notes, a natural thing that is done in groups, was demonized by associating it with something bad.

Controlling vocabulary

The cult member’s vocabulary is controlled by the leadership and any kind of criticism is pathologized with certain labels. For example, in the DWP, “bourgeois individualism,” “careerism”, “grandstanding”, “factionalism” and “liberal” were used as “curse words” to shut down articulation of problems. In spiritual circles “unenlightened” or “materialism” might serve similar purposes.

Attacking the self:

True confessions

There are a number of ways one’s identity can be broken down. One of the ways the DWP used that was a requirement to write one’s personal history from a class point of view. Then they would write all the privileges they gained as a result of their class location. Finally, the recruit would have to present this in front of the whole group, exposing weaknesses to all.

Criticism and self-criticism

Once the true confessions are in place the cult member is treated to endless rounds of criticism and self-criticism. Once individual vocabulary is controlled and they have confessed their past privileges it is relatively easy for members to monitor each other by pointing out how current mistakes might be connected to their “middle-class” past.

Internalization of the party voice

When neither the leader or their fellow members were available the individual was controlled by their internalized “party voice”. When by themselves and in need of making a decision, they were to ask themselves “what would your older member say?”

At this point, they are in so deeply that they have burned their bridges with their families, friends, workers and no longer have a perspective of what’s happening to them. At the same time, it begins to dawn on them that maybe they should consider getting out.

WHY DO PEOPLE STAY AND REMAIN COMPLICIT IN THEIR OWN OPPRESSION?

At this point, the reader might say what is wrong with these cult members? These were once hypercritical people who questioned everything? Where is that spirit now? Why don’t they just run away? There are at least nine very good reasons why people stay.

Attachment to the new belief

Cult members have worked very hard to desocialize themselves from previous beliefs. They have worked hard to acquire and internalize new beliefs and the prospect of having to give them up with no belief system to call their own is extremely painful.

Cognitive dissonance

Research has shown that once people commit to something publicly, through actions, speaking or writing about it, they are much more likely to stay with their commitment. Without understanding this, to an outsider, cult members’ behavior seems crazy. What cult members are doing is unconsciously changing their beliefs to justify the increasingly irrational behavior of the leader during the cult’s descendent phase. They don’t see their beliefs as having changed because there is no one in the community to point that out, including many people who don’t want to see it because they are in the same boat.

Entrapment

Just as in personal romances, once you put time, effort and resources into a relationship, you acquire a stake in it and are reluctant to give it up. Buying furniture together, a house, pooling finances, having children all become obstacles to throwing in the towel even if you are unhappy. So too in cults, the members have put in long hours of work, they have seen some success, they probably contributed financially, and they just don’t want to come up empty-handed. In addition, cult members then face the start-up costs of investing in a whole other institution and life. The thinking goes – “maybe it is better to wait it out. After all, things may change for the better.”

Peer pressure

Contrary to what most people think, peer pressure is far more powerful than even the commands of authority figures. Soldiers have reported having endured horrible times, not because they were obedient to the authorities, but out of loyalty to their comrades. Members of cults have gone through ordeals that might not be as intense as the ordeals soldiers go through in eight weeks of boot-camp, but the ordeal lasts much longer. In both cases feelings of extreme loyalty are produced in soldiers and cult members. They don’t want to let their comrades down.

In addition, because cults count doctors, lawyers, social workers with advanced degrees among their numbers their presence makes it more difficult to leave for the less professional cult member to leave. In order to do that those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy would have to consider that these highly trained professionals have been duped themselves. How could they all be wrong?

Exhaustion from overwork allows little time for self-reflection or objectivity

In the descendent phase of cults, rank-and-file members are working fourteen-hour days, sometimes more. After several weeks and months of sleep deprivation, medical and dental negligence, internal group meetings and public displays of solidarity for public consumption, cult members are exhausted.  There no vacations, no hobbies, no musical concerts nor ball games.  Who has the time to reflect on where you have been and where you are going?

Burned bridges separate the member from their past

When you join the military, you come back to a civilian life that is intact when your four years are up. If you join a convent and then realize after a few years later it is not for you, your family and friends are still there. Because cults are extremist groups, it became necessary to cut off family, friends, workmates and church in order to become a member. For a departing cult member, there is anger, confusion, hurt, revenge and shunning waiting for them on the outside. The prospect of making amends is daunting. In addition, you cannot so easily recover who you once were. You may always be a stranger to your former groups. Even so basic a thing as changing your name back or growing your hair out takes a great deal of courage. The prospect of having no friends on the outside is enough to keep you in.

Being ridiculed and called names by cult members is very painful

If you consider wanting to leave and state your reasons to others, you may receive a vicious reaction because you might be bringing up the self-doubts of other members they would rather not face. You can expect to be called a spy, traitor, materialist, bourgeois or less evolved. These are the very words used to denounce those outside the cult. Now you are one of the enemies, an infiltrator. You’ve watched this happen to others who tried to leave and now it is happening to you.

Fear for your life

The wealthier cults such as scientology or the Moonies play hardball. They will threaten you with lawsuits, loss of employment, character assassination and death. Members of the DWP “goon squads” would break into the homes of former members, beat them up put them on a plane with a one-way ticket and no money. Margaret Sanger, in her book Cults in Our Midst depicts some of the things done to her. They stuffed her mailbox with a dead rat every week while she was testifying in court against a cult. Rats were put in the ducts of her house, so she was treated to a house full of screaming rats upon returning home.  She needed an armed guard to be taken to and from the courthouse. She was kept on the witness stand for 12 ½ days by cult lawyers cross-examining her. Her office was broken into and files stolen. Her school lectures were disrupted regularly.

Guilt and embarrassment over having participated in the group to begin with

A cult member begins to have inklings that some of the things their cult did were pretty horrible and that they were complicit in it. it takes time to understand and be compassionate with yourself as to how you could be so naïve as to have joined and why you stayed. If you stay in the cult your complicity in what was enacted can be put off or rationalized.

CHARACTERISTICS OF PSYCHOPATHOLOGICAL LEADERS

There is a reason why I have held off describing to you the pathological characteristics of the leaders of cults. The reason is because of what I alluded to in my article Revolutionary Group Dynamics. In evaluating negative experiences in groups, people have a tendency to a) blame the leaders, or b) pathologize the intelligence or mental health of the followers. What I wanted to do here is draw attention to why the majority of cult members put up with the abuse, stayed in the cult and were complicit in what the cults did without thinking their intelligence or sanity has been insulted. My point is that these members would have been complicit regardless of the psychological health of the leaders. Now that we have gone through the reason why most members were complicit, we can turn to the leaders.

In their book Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, Janja Lalich and Madeline Tobias claim that most cult leaders can be diagnosed as sociopaths, narcissists or borderline personalities. Here are fifteen of their characteristics:

Glibness and superficial charm

Cult leaders are captivating storytellers and exude self-confidence.

Conning and maneuvering

Cult leaders are good at psychological maneuvering and do this almost as second nature, and maybe even unconsciously. The leader divides the world into suckers, sinners and himself. He is very perceptive and good at sizing people up. Cult leaders have an innate ability to attract followers who have the skills and contacts that the leaders lack.

Grandiose sense of self

He enjoys tremendous feelings of entitlement. He must always be the center of attention and cannot tolerate yielding the spotlight.

Pathological lying

Sociopaths lie coolly and easily. It is almost impossible for them to be consistently truthful. Leaders tend to create a complex belief system often about their own powers and abilities which they themselves get caught up in believing. They are rarely original thinkers and are more likely to be plagiarists and seldom credit the true originators of their ideas. They are talented at passing lie detector tests.

Lack of remorse, shame or guilt

They do not have friends. They have accomplices and victims and accomplices frequently end up as victims. For sociopaths, the ends always justify the means. In fact, they might not even separate ends and means in their own minds.

Shallow emotions

While sociopaths may display outbursts of emotions, these are more often than not responses calculated to obtain a certain advantage. They rarely reveal a range of emotions or a depth of emotions over time. The cult leader can witness or order acts of utter brutality without experiencing a shred of emotion. They are callous and lack empathy.

Incapacity for love

Love requires revealing strengths and weaknesses and it means trusting another person over time. The sociopath does not have the attention span, the depth or the capacity to self-reflect on any of this.

Sensation Seeking

Temperamentally, the sociopath is drawn to dangerous, thrill seeking behavior. He takes foolish risks and expects others to do the same. Robberies and shoot-outs with the authorities are par for the course (Jim Jones, David Koresh).

Impulsivity and lack of behavioral control

The cult leader has temper tantrums and fits of rage which the lieutenants are in charge of stage-managing. This behavior is a well-kept secret. If leaked, the behavior of the leader is collectively rationalized away by the followers as the work of his enemies.

Early behavior problems with juvenile delinquency

As teenagers, sociopaths frequently have a history of behavioral problems and run-ins with juvenile authorities. They often get by academically, taking advantage of other students or even teachers. They often have a history or theft, arson, and cruelty to others.

Scapegoating

They rarely accept blame for their failures or mistakes. Scapegoating is common. The blaming may follow a ritualized procedure such as a trial, gestalt “hot seat denunciations”, or in the case of leftist cults, criticism and self-criticism.

Promiscuous sexual behavior and infidelity.

Multiple relationships and marriages, rape and sexual acting out are common. At the same time, they are stringent about the sexual behavior of followers, insisting on celibacy.

Erratic work history of fits and starts

The sociopathic cult leader tends to move around a lot, making countless efforts at starting over as they seek out fertile new ground to exploit. One day they may be a rock musician, the next a messiah; one day a door-to-door salesman the next the founder of a self-rejuvenation program.

A materialistic lifestyle

The leaders of cults often present their movement as opposed to the decadence, shallowness and preoccupation with commodities of the dominant order. But in practice, these leaders often justify having these same luxuries for themselves. The leaders of cults often have many cars, houses, boats, planes, properties while they thunder against their followers who have the least in the way of material comforts.

Criminal or entrepreneurial versatility

Cult leaders change their image and that of the group as needed to avoid prosecution and litigation. They resurface later with a new name and a new front group, as Werner Erhard has done.

AFTERMATH FOR CULT MEMBERS

People who manage to make their way out of cults are a mess and are badly in need of social support. Deprograming, exit counseling and strategic interaction approach are three ways to help ex-cult members get on their feet.  According to Lalich and Tobias, there are five areas that are badly in need of attention.

  • Practical, everyday living
  • Emotional volatility
  • Cognitive inefficiencies
  • Lack of social networks and being socio-culturally out of touch
  • Theoretical instability

Practical, everyday living

Shell-shocked ex-cult members have lost their sense of how to manage everyday life. For example, people have to find work, while having to explain large gaps in their employment history which could span five to ten years or more. The work they did under the banner of the cult cannot be used as a reference. This would involve making up fake organizations to cover up their involvement, while claiming the skills they learned in the cult. Emotionally, the last thing ex-cult members need is more deception. If they are lucky enough to find a job, they have to learn to manage their money and set up a budget. If the ex-cult member is older this may mean relearning old skills. In the case of a young cult member this may involve learning new skills from scratch.

Something as simple as finding an apartment to live in can be overwhelming for someone who hasn’t done this in years. The rise in the cost of monthly rents over the last 15-20 years will come as a great shock. As mentioned earlier, cults typically do not provide medical and dental care. Since cult leaders rarely pay attention to such mundane things, the ex-cult member may badly need a physical check-up, blood tests and dental work at the same time they are trying to investigate a medical and dental plan while probably knowing nothing about how to proceed.  While cults often fetishize eating particular kinds of food (being vegetarian), the diet of cult members is often not well-balanced, especially during the later stages of cult work when the cult member is asked to work long hours. In addition, the times members eat is likely to be erratic because of the flurry of activity that is always going on. Lastly, matters of daily routines may be hard to set up as cults have their members constantly on the run and doing new things. DWP members were often asked to stop a project on a dime, and then throw themselves into a new one. Having a regular time and place to take walks, visit friends, and listen to music after dinner have to be established.

Emotional volatility

Ex-cult members may suffer from PTSD, insomnia, and frequent bouts of dissociation, including an inability to concentrate because of triggers or flashbacks. They are likely to feel depressed after a loss of group support and may feel a loss of self-confidence because their support systems are suddenly gone. There is real fear of cult retribution whether they have reason to be concerned or not. They also may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of taking legal action over child custody or conservatorship. It is no accident that members of cults lose their sense of humor. Humor tends to reveal the relativity of situations. It adds a comparative perspective that is dangerous in cults that want everyone to think in an absolute rather than a relative manor. Cults tend to be dead serious, and humor relieves that and gives members a break which is not to be encouraged.

Cognitive inefficiencies

While a great deal of critical thinking in relation to society is common among cult members when they first join, critical thinking is not rewarded or is tightly structured once inside the cult. Weighing the pros and cons of occupations, schools, choice of partner is not something that is practiced in cults. This results in ex-cult members being either indecisive when they get out or making rash decisions. Because they may have difficulty concentrating, they may not be able to think analytically about the causes or consequences of things. They may suffer from memory loss or they may have to overcome false memories they may have been propagandized to believe when inside the cult.

Often times, cults disrupt education and cult members are not likely to continue their education once inside the cult. Spiritual cults may tell the member they have a “natural way of knowing” which will not do much for them in searching for work or in being an active political person. A major challenge they must undertake is detoxifying their vocabulary from cult either-or thinking. As Orwell pointed out, if you control a person’s vocabulary you control their thinking. So, the ex-cult member needs to expand their vocabulary to re-introduce neutral language, use ambiguous terminology and to use metaphors. One of the major problems in cult thinking is taking everything literally.

Lack of social networks and being socio-culturally out of touch

One of the best things exit counseling or the strategic interaction approach can do is give ex-cult members an immediate support system, no questions asked. It is rare that an ex-cult member who has burned bridges with their families is going to have the welcome mat rolled out when they come knocking. It takes time to process hurt feelings, anger and confusion. These connections could take months to restore or even years, depending how long they have been away. The ex-cult member’s friends may have moved away, gotten married become sick and may be in no position to resume a relationship even if they wanted to.

Making new friends is extremely difficult. How do you account for being in a cult for eight years? Why would someone want to be friends with someone with such an intense background? Are ex-cult members dangerous people? In addition, ex-cult members have a mistrust of others as a result of being in a cult. They may be paranoid and afraid they are being watched by others, the “fishbowl effect”. Since cults usually blur boundaries between work and free time, friendship and sex, the ex-cult members are likely to have enmeshed boundaries when they try to make new friends.

Theoretical instability

Lastly, cults inspire people by claiming they are building a new world, and cult members have roles in that transformation. Compared to that, ex-cult members are likely to feel they have chosen an unenlightened, boring life. It is easy to understand why ex-cult members who have not had exit counseling might jump into a new cult.

Whether the ex-cult member has been involved in a spiritual, psychological or political cult, the ex-member needs to find a new grounding within that field. If a member has been in a spiritual cult of transcendental meditation does this mean they must give up Hindu or Buddhist religion completely? Can you practice these religions in a non-cult like way? If you have been in a psychological cult based on the work of social psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan, does that mean you no longer can study his work? Lastly if you have been in Leninist political cult, does that mean you have to renounce Lenin completely? Probably the answer to these questions depends on how badly you’ve been burned. The worse you’ve been burned the more extreme your reaction will be. If you haven’t been burned too badly, you might be able to be more dialectical and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

CONCLUSION

Cults arose in Yankeedom beginning in the 1970s and I’ve covered their continuance into the late 1990s under conditions of ecological, economic and political decline. Cults find their audience among educated, idealistic middle-class and upper-middle class people who are rightfully hypercritical of the existing order and who are attracted to a vision of a radical transformation based on greater equality, justice, peace and love. They do not know they are members of a cult until they are at least partially integrated into the organization and then they are caught between the world they once knew and the world they hope to create. They are initially lured into the organization through the implementation of sophisticated social-psychological techniques and they then become complicit in the cult’s reproduction of these techniques over time if they remain. If members leave, they face a great number of the psychological problems as I’ve described in the last section. Fortunately, there are now well-organized institutions that are specifically designed to help ex-cult members reintegrate back into the existing order.

  • First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism.
  • The post Political and Spiritual Cults: From Rapture to Complicity to Aftermath in the Shadow of 20th Century Yankeedom first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    US: Crimes against Humanity at Home and Abroad

    Photo Credit:  Albert Eisenstaedt

    This month marks the second year since former President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, announced to the world a campaign promoted by a group of Latin American writers and academics to declare August 9 as International Day of US Crimes against Humanity. Appropriately the day is to remember the second nuclear bomb dropped in 1945 on Nagasaki, Japan that came just three days after the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Imagine how depraved and cold-blooded the then Democratic President Truman could be to find that he had incinerated 150,000 people on one day and turned right around and did it again in Nagasaki instantly killing 65,000 more human beings. US historical accounts love to turn truth on its head by saying how many lives those nuclear bombs saved when Japan was already defeated before the bombs were dropped after 67 Japanese cities had been leveled to the ground by relentless US aerial fire bombings.

    The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed as an exclamation point on a proclamation to the world announcing the arrival of the US as the world’s new pre-eminent super power. It also served as an example that the US would commit any murderous crime of any proportion to maintain that imperial position of dominance and they have demonstrated that to be true time and time again. Even now in decline the US has never apologized for this unnecessary crime because that could convey a sign of weakness and a step back from a policy of nuclear blackmail held over the nations of the world. Obama had the chance to do that in the final year of his presidency when he had nothing to lose in a 2016 visit to Hiroshima. Instead of apologizing to the people of Japan or easing tensions in the world Obama, in eloquent fluffy double talk, said, “Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

    The responsibility for the majority of suffering in the world was then, and continues to be, on an imperialist policy and its inherent neoliberal engine that violently throttles the ability of countries to develop in a way that would bring health and prosperity for the benefit of their majorities. In the end it is an unsustainable system that only benefits a sliver of privileged society.

    The US crimes against humanity did not begin or end with the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan. As militant civil rights leader Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown) pointed out years ago, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” Since its inception the US has been ingrained with a motor force of violent oppression against everyone and every country that stood in the way of its expansion for control of resources and its entitlement to limitless accumulation of vast wealth for a few.

    The original thirteen colonies that rebelled against England were not motivated solely by being taxed without representation but more for the restrictions that King George had placed on the unbridled greed of the white settlers to expand and steal the lands of the indigenous nations and communities and to establish a system of slavery which was the main source of capitalist accumulation especially for the southern colonies. At the time of the revolution close to 20% of the population consisted of Black slaves.  Slavery actually ran contrary to British Common Law so the only way the emerging class of landowners in the colonies could flourish was to secede from the British Empire. In doing so it established a pivotal component of the original DNA of the United States; structural racism as a means to justify any level of discrimination and oppression with a deeply embedded belief in the inferiority of any race not white and Christian. The cries of Black Lives Matter in the streets of all the major cities and towns of the US today are a resounding echo of resistance that comes from the plantations and the slave ships that came from Africa.

    The genocide of indigenous people in the US was its initial crime wave against humanity as it expanded westward destined by God to exercise their Manifest Destiny. The early history of this country is littered with hundreds of massacres of the original caretakers of the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And that crime continues to this day with Native Americans suffering from the highest infection rates of Covid-19 in the country as a direct result of government neglect and broken treaties that keep the reservations in grinding poverty including in many areas where there is not even running water.

    On July 21 Congress passed a $740 billion military appropriations bill, the biggest ever, and $2 billion more than last year. The United States spends more on national defense than the next 11 largest militaries combined.  A well intended but feeble attempt by sections of the Democratic Party to cut 10% of the budget to go to health and human services failed because ultimately funding the 800 US military installations that occupy territory in more than 70 countries around the world takes precedence over something so basic and human as subsidized food programs. Meanwhile approximately 20% of the families in this country are struggling to obtain nutritious food every day just as one example of the growing social and health needs.

    Wars and occupations are expensive and that money goes right down the drain. It does not recycle through the economy; rather it is equipment and operations meant to destroy and terrorize, and the only part of it that is reused is the militarization of police forces in the US who are geared out in advanced equipment for the wars at home not even normally seen in theaters of war abroad.

    When Obama took over from Bush junior he vowed to end the war in Afghanistan and instead left office with the unique distinction of having had a war going every day of his 8 years in office. He launched airstrikes or military raids in at least seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and Trump came in and did not miss a beat and has carried the war of death, destruction and destabilization of Afghanistan into its twentieth year. The Pentagon knows that the days of outright winning a war are over and relies now on hybrid wars that are perhaps even more criminal. It is now wars of attrition with proxy and contract armies, aerial bombardment, sabotage of infrastructure that turns into endless wars, the intent of which is to make sure that a country is imbalanced, exhausted and does not become independent or develop and use its resources for the benefit of its own people.

    This, of course, is not the only type of criminal warfare in the Empire’s arsenal. Economic sanctions are just as much a crime against humanity as military attacks. No one should ever forget the 10 years of the US orchestrated UN sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s that were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.  Primarily through executive order Trump has put some sort of sanctions on around one third of the countries of the world ranging in severity starting with the 60 year old unilateral blockade of Cuba for the crime of insisting on its sovereignty just 90 miles away, to the sanctioning of medicines and food to Venezuela causing the deaths of 40,000 people, the outright stealing of billions of dollars of their assets out of banks, and organizing coup plots against the democratically elected President, Nicolas Maduro.

    Now the chickens have come to roost with Trump sending shadowy military units of federal agents into cities like Portland, Seattle and other cities like it was a military invasion of some poor country, barging in uninvited not to bring order and peace but to brutalize, escalate and provoke people in the streets who for months now have been demanding real justice and equality. The combination of the failure of the Trump Administration to confront the pandemic with any sort of will or a national science based plan, the existing economic crisis with its glaring separation of wealth and the endless murdering of people of color as normal police policy has exposed the system like never before. The growing consciousness of a majority of the US population that now seem to be getting that there has to be fundamental change will be the catalyst for real change to happen. It will not come from a government that does not reflect their interests but only through a unity of struggle will we be pointed in a direction that will push US crimes against humanity, at home and abroad, to become a thing of the past.

    Popular Movements Can Overcome Authoritarian Policing

    Portland protests say Go Home Feds as protests grow (by Noah Berger, AP)

    Today is the 60th day of protests since the murder of George Floyd. This weekend, people marched in cities across the country in solidarity with Portland and in opposition to the US becoming a police state.

    President Trump sending troops to cities added fuel to the nationwide uprising against racist police violence. Protests have grown not only in Portland but in Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Omaha, Austin, Oakland, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC, among other cities.

    Trump is not a ‘law and order’ president, he is a chaos and disorder president. He is mistaken to think that increasing conflict in cities throughout the country will save his failing 2020 campaign. Just as his hyped attack on Central American caravans backfired before the 2018 mid-term elections, this escalation is also backfiring as people are mobilized to stand against Trump’s authoritarianism.

    While Trump’s actions are the focus of current protests, Portland demonstrates there is a long history of police violence that preceded Trump. Mayors have allowed police violence and Joe Biden, when he was Chair of the Judiciary Committee, authored legislation that led to over-policing and encouraged police militarization. While Trump sending in militarized troops to cities needs to be opposed, police violence is bigger than Trump.

    Federal troop pushes a mother back during a demonstration against the presence of Trump’s federal enforcement (Reuters)

    Trump Sends In Federal Troops, Escalates Violence

    While federal officers protect federal buildings across the country that is not what Trump is doing. He is using the excuse of protecting federal buildings as cover for sending in federal troops to dominate cities.

    On June 1, President Trump made his plan clear, warning governors that if they did not get control of the cities, he would send in troops. He told governors “You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time.”

    June 1 was also the day that National Guard troops in Washington, DC fired tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets into non-violent protesters in Lafayette Park across from the White House so Trump could walk across the park for a widely denigrated photo-op holding a bible in front of St. John’s church. Trump said last week that he sent personnel to Portland because “the locals couldn’t handle it.”

    The presence of federal troops in Portland and being sent to other cities is based on an executive order signed on June 26 to protect “Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.” Homeland Security director, Chad Wolf, created a task force made up of Border Patrol, Coast Guard, U.S. Marshals, and other agencies. Three different operations have been announced: Wolf’s “Protecting Americans Communities Task Force”; the Department of Justice’s crime-fighting “Operation Legend” announced on July 8; and “Operation Diligent Valor,” which includes the Portland police mission.

    Legal analysts and commentators are debating whether the actions of federal troops in Portland are legal. The government argues they are merely protecting buildings and when they go blocks away they are investigating who damaged buildings. The Oregonian questions that writing, “Even if the federal agencies have legitimate license to defend the courthouse, ‘The real question is: Is it being used as a pretext?’”

    It is evident from federal troop actions in Portland that this generalized federal policing is beyond federal authority.

    Reports and videos of unidentified Border Patrol agents in camouflage grabbing people off the street, stuffing them into unmarked vehicles, and driving off are unconstitutional, illegal actions.

    Oregon officials including the governor and Portland mayor have asked Homeland Security to keep its troops off of Portland’s streets but Chad Wolf has refused. Oregon’s senators have also opposed Trump sending paramilitary squads to Portland.

    Some, including the District Attorney of Philadelphia Larry Krassner, say federal troops should be prosecuted when they violate the law. The Oregonian reported that Steven Wax, a former Federal Public Defender, called on Oregon’s US attorney and the Multnomah County district attorney to convene grand juries with subpoena powers to investigate alleged criminal acts by federal officers. Potential charges could include kidnapping, assault, and racketeering conspiracy, he said. The district attorney and attorney general are conducting a criminal investigation focused on the injury of a protester, 26 year old Donovan La Bella, on July 11 who was shot in the head with an impact munition near the federal courthouse and subsequently needed surgery.

    Oregon’s attorney general, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, state legislators, and others have filed at least four lawsuits against federal agencies. US District Judge Michael H. Simon issued a 14-day order barring federal officers from targeting journalists or legal observers and said in court that he was disturbed by several images of federal officers using force against non-aggressive demonstrators. He noted the July  18 baton-beating of 53-year-old Navy veteran Chris David who tried to talk with federal officers outside the courthouse and the injury of La Bella.

    As our guest on Clearing The FOG, constitutional lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard makes the point that courts need to protect the rights of all people to protest and not make journalists and legal observers a separate category with greater rights than others.

    The Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) carries weaponry of the sort usually used in Afghanistan or Iraq (John Rudoff)

    Paramilitaries Instead of the Military

    We describe these federal agents as “troops” because that is what they are. President Trump threatened to use the Insurrection Act to deploy armed services to states but people in the military and legal scholars opposed him. Instead, Trump has sent militarized troops from civilian agencies into the cities.

    The Department of Homeland Security sent Border Patrol Tactical Units (BORTAC) from Customs to Portland. BORTAC is an elite paramilitary unit that includes snipers and other highly trained troops who often operate outside of the US and are based along the Mexican border.  These “Specialized Response Teams” wear the US Army’s camouflage and use military gear. BORTAC units have been deployed to war environments, including Iraq and Afghanistan. While not a violation of Posse Comitatus, which forbids the use of the military in domestic law enforcement, they subvert the intent of the Act.

    An internal Homeland Security memo found the federal troops were not trained in riot control or mass demonstrations. It also stated this kind of federal action was “going to be the norm” so training was needed. Trump has promised to send troops to “Democrat” cities in an election year spectacle.

    In addition to on-the-ground troops, the US is using the US Air Force ‘Cougar’ surveillance plane over Portland.  The Intercept reports the flight data shows tight, circular surveillance flights over Portland. Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Government Secrecy Project, asks “What is their mission? Under what authority are they operating, and who authorized them?”

    Trump is using police as a prop in the 2020 election with Portland as a campaign stage. The campaign seeks to win votes in the suburbs, which he won by 4 percent in 2016 but is now losing by double digits. Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $983 million in 2020, more than the $878 million spent in his entire 2016 campaign. Despite this spending, he is behind Biden by landslide margins in all of the battleground states. He fired his campaign manager and is obviously getting desperate.

    Trump is mimicking the ‘law and order’ campaign of Richard Nixon but this is a different era when police violence and racism are on video for all to see. Protests after police murdered George Floyd took place in cities of all sizes and in many suburbs. A national consensus is developing that racist police violence exists and it must end. Images of militarized police shooting and tear-gassing unarmed protesters is likely to backfire against Trump.

    Portland protester enveloped in tear gas waves US flag (Nathan Howard for Getty Images)

    Police Violence is Bigger Than Trump

    Before the federal troops arrived, Portland police were using extreme violence and chemical weapons against protesters. The Portland Police Bureau already had a temporary restraining order for its violation of protesters’ free speech rights and another for arresting journalists and legal observers. Another court ruling largely prohibited local police from using tear gas, but that has not stopped federal troops from doing so. When Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also serves as the police commissioner, came to the courthouse protests people jeered him and signs called him ‘Tear Gas Ted.’ Wheeler was teargassed himself by the federal troops.

    The Intercept describes how the Portland Police Association has dominated elected officials for decades. In meetings with the mayor, one police union president would put his gun on the table. The union contract protects racist cops making it hard to fire those who’ve used deadly force. When the new contract was being considered in 2016, people protested at City Hall and the police rioted forcing protesters outside where police in riot gear then surrounded the building as city officials approved their union contract.

    The NY Times reports that of the 35 cities in the United States with populations larger than 500,000, Portland is the whitest with 71 percent of residents categorized as non-Latino whites and only 6% are Black. This stems from the state being founded as a state for white people. A 19th-century law called for whipping any Black person found in the state. In the early part of the 20th century, Oregon’s Legislature was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan. As the destination of Lewis and Clark, Oregon symbolized the conquest of the American West and the subjugation of Native peoples.

    Police violence in Portland is disproportionately against Black people including being stopped by police and targeted with the use of force. Slate reports, “When the police chief banned chokeholds in 1985 after officers killed a Black man with the hold, officers made T-shirts that said, ‘Don’t Choke ’Em. Smoke ’Em.’ In 2012, the Justice Department reported that the PPB had an unconstitutional ‘pattern or practice’ of using excessive force against people with mental illnesses.”  The Portland police have also been sympathetic to right-wing, white supremacist organizations when they demonstrated in the city.

    With this history of white domination, some would think racist policing would not be a political issue but the evidence of racist police brutality has struck a chord not only in Portland but across the country. Portland has had a strong protest movement over inequality, neoliberalism, wars, and more. The police have a long history of using violence against protests resulting in court settlements for victims. Now, opposition to racism, capitalism, and fascism has led to a unified movement.

    The Wall of Moms, followed by a Wall of Dads, combating tear gas with leaf blowers, has been joined by a wall of veterans. Veterans are challenging the federal troops, telling them they are following illegal orders. Other affinity groups forming “walls” include grandparents, chefs and lawyers. People have made shields and are wearing helmets and gas masks to protect themselves against federal violence. Some are using hockey sticks to hit tear gas containers back toward federal troops.

    Most local officials have opposed Trump’s threats to send troops to their cities and have threatened litigation. Lori Lightfoot, a neoliberal Democratic mayor, initially opposed federal troops coming to Chicago but, after a phone call with Trump and a promise that troops would work under the control of the US Attorney with a very limited role, she changed her mind. Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, has faced protests at her home for this.

    Alliances with federal police can be problematic. Separate from the current controversy, Albuquerque, Atlanta, St. Paul, San Francisco, and Portland all pulled out of federal-local task forces because federal agents have violated local rules regarding racial profilinguse-of-force policies, and requirements to wear body cameras.

    While Trump is putting himself at the center of current police violence, the reality is police violence is bigger than Trump. The system-wide challenges with policing are deeply entrenched. Police defend the status quo including racial injustice and class inequality. Whenever political movements develop to respond to racial and class unfairness, the police have undermined their politically-protected constitutional rights. Now that the conflict has heightened, it is time for the people to resolve it.

    Retired US Army major intelligence officer Jenine Betschart (center) protests outside the Multnomah County Justice Center along with the ‘Wall of Moms’ as night fell on the city (Daily Mail)

    People Can Protect the Right to Protest and Limit Police Powers

    Militarized police violence is the wars abroad coming home. Strategic tactics like the Wall of Moms and veterans in broad opposition to militarized federal police demonstrate how movements can stop Trump’s authoritarianism, limit the actions of police and protect the right to protest.

    At the beginning of this century, mass protests in Washington, DC against corporate trade agreements led to violent responses by DC and federal police. Litigation by the Partnership for Civil Justice followed. The result was large monetary awards to protesters but also agreements between the parties that put in place “best practices” to protect the right to protest in Washington, DC. Now both local police and federal police are bound by these agreements.

    We interview Mara Verhayden-Hilliard on this week’s Clearing the FOG Radio (available Monday night) about whether the current protests could also lead to the protection of our rights. The overreach of President Trump and the violent reaction of local police is an opportunity for change. To succeed requires smart litigation that protects all protest, not a hierarchy protecting media or legal observers, and the litigation must act in synergy with the people.

    People cannot give up the streets but must oppose violent police with strategic tactics that continue to pull people to support the movement and oppose police violence. Our goal is to transform the concept of public safety to mean programs that meet people’s basic needs and build a national consensus for policing that is defundeddemilitarized and democratically controlled. Already the movement has changed the opinions of people in the US.  We must build on that success, and continue the pressure for change no matter who is elected president.

    The Scourge of Authoritarianism in the Age of Pseudoscience 

    Following the court decision in the US to award in favour of Dewayne Johnson (exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and its active ingredient, glyphosate, caused Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma), attorney Robert Kennedy Jr said at the post-trial press conference:

    The corruption of science, the falsification of science, and we saw all those things happen here. This is a company (Monsanto) that used all of the plays in the playbook developed over 60 years by the tobacco industry to escape the consequences of killing one of every five of its customers… Monsanto… has used those strategies…

    Johnson’s lawyers argued over the course of the month-long trial in 2018 that Monsanto had “fought science” for years and targeted academics who spoke up about possible health risks of the herbicide product. Long before the Johnson case, critics of Monsanto were already aware of the practices the company had engaged in for decades to undermine science. At the same time, Monsanto and its lobbyists had called anyone who questioned the company’s ‘science’ as engaging in pseudoscience and labelled them ‘anti-science’.

    We need look no further than the current coronavirus issue to understand how vested interests are set to profit by spinning the crisis a certain way and how questionable science is again being used to pursue policies that are essentially ‘unscientific’ — governments, the police and the corporate media have become the arbiters of ‘truth’. We also see anyone challenging the policies and the ‘science’ being censored on social media or not being given a platform on TV and accused of engaging in ‘misinformation’. It’s the same old playbook.

    The case-fatality ratio for COVID-19 is so low as to make the lockdown response wholly disproportionate. Yet we are asked to blindly accept government narratives and the policies based on them.

    Making an entire country go home and stay home has immense, incalculable costs in terms of well-being and livelihoods. This itself has created a pervasive sense of panic and crisis and is largely a result of the measures taken against the ‘pandemic’ and not of the virus itself. Certain epidemiologists have said there is very little sturdy evidence to base lockdown policies on, but this has not prevented politicians from acting as if everything they say or do is based on solid science.

    The lockdown would not be merited if we were to genuinely adopt a knowledge-based approach. If we look at early projections by Neil Ferguson of Imperial College in the UK, he had grossly overstated the number of possible deaths resulting from the coronavirus and has now backtracked substantially. Ferguson has a chequered track record, which led UK newspaper The Telegraph to run a piece entitled ‘How accurate was the science that led to lockdown?’ The article outlines Ferguson’s previous flawed predictions about infectious diseases and a number of experts raise serious questions about the modelling that led to lockdown in the UK.

    Ferguson’s previous modelling for the spread of epidemics was so off the mark that it may beggar believe that anyone could have faith in anything he says, yet he remains part of the UK government’s scientific advisory group. Officials are now talking of ‘easing’ lockdowns, but Ferguson warns that lockdown in the UK will only be lifted once a vaccine for COVID-19 has been found.

    It raises the question: when will Ferguson be held to account for his current and previously flawed work and his exaggerated predictions? Because, on the basis of his modelling, the UK has been in lockdown for many weeks, the results of which are taking a toll on the livelihoods and well-being of the population which are and will continue to far outweigh the effects of COVID-19.

    According to a 1982 academic study, a 1% increase in the unemployment rate will be associated with 37,000 deaths [including 20,000 heart attacks], 920 suicides, 650 homicides, 4,000 state mental hospital admissions and 3,300 state prison admissions. Consider that by 30 April, in the US alone, 30 million had filed for unemployment benefit since the lockdown began. Between 23 and 30 April, some 3.8 million filed for unemployment benefit. Prior to the current crisis, the unemployment rate was 3.5%. Some predict it could eventually reach 30%.

    Ferguson – whose model was the basis for policies elsewhere in addition to the UK — is as much to blame as anyone for the current situation. And it is a situation that has been fueled by a government and media promoted fear narrative that has had members of the public so afraid of the virus that many have been demanding further restrictions of their liberty by the state in order to ‘save’ them. Even with the promise of easing the lockdown, people seem to be fearful of venturing out in the near future thanks to the fear campaign they have been subjected to.

    Instead of encouraging more diverse, informed and objective opinions in the mainstream, we too often see money and power forcing the issue, not least in the form of Bill Gates who tells the world ‘normality’ may not return for another 18 months – until he and his close associates in the pharmaceuticals industry find a vaccine and we are all vaccinated.

    In the UK, the population is constantly subjected via their TV screens to clap for NHS workers, support the NHS and to stay home and save lives on the basis of questionable data and policies. Emotive stuff taking place under a ruling Conservative Party that has cut thousands of hospital beds, frozen staff pay, placed workers on zero-hour contracts and demonised junior doctors. It is also using the current crisis to accelerate the privatisation of state health care. In recent weeks, ministers have used special powers to bypass normal tendering and award a string of contracts to private companies and management consultants without open competition.

    But if cheap propaganda stunts do not secure the compliance, open threats will suffice. For instance, in the US, city mayors and local politicians have threatened to ‘hunt down’, monitor social media and jail those who break lockdown rules.

    Prominent conservative commentator Tucker Carlson asks who gave these people the authority to tear up the US constitution; what gives them the right to threaten voters while they themselves or their families have been exposed as having little regard for lockdown norms. As overhead drones bark out orders to residents, Carlson wonders how the US – almost overnight – transformed into a totalitarian state.

    With a compliant media failing to hold tyrannical officials to account, Carlson’s concerns mirror those of Lionel Shriver in the UK, writing in The Spectator, who declares that the supine capitulation of Britain to a de facto police state has been one of the most depressing spectacles he has ever witnessed.

    Under the pretext of tracking and tracing the spread of the virus, the UK government is rolling out an app which will let the likes of Apple and Google monitor a person’s every location visited and every physical contact. There seems to be little oversight in terms of privacy. The contact-tracing app has opted for a centralised model of data collection: all the contact-tracing data is not to be deleted but anonymized and kept under one roof in one central government database for ‘research purposes’.

    We may think back to Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of Facebook data to appreciate the potential for data misuse. But privacy is the least concern for governments and the global tech giants in an age where ‘data’ has become monetized as a saleable commodity, with the UK data market the second biggest in the world and valued at over a billion pounds in 2018.

    Paranoia is usually the ever-present bedfellow of fear and many people have been very keen to inform the authorities that their neighbours may have been breaking social distancing rules. Moreover, although any such opinion poll cannot be taken at face value and could be regarded as part of the mainstream fear narrative itself, a recent survey suggests that only 20% of Britons are in favour of reopening restaurants, schools, pubs and stadiums.

    Is this to be the new ‘normal’, whereby fear, mistrust, division and suspicion are internalized throughout society?  In an age of fear and paranoia, are we all to be ‘contact traced’ and regarded by others as a ‘risk’ until we prove ourselves by wearing face masks and by voluntarily subjecting ourselves to virus tests at the entrances to stores or in airports? And if we refuse or test positive, are we to be shamed, isolated and forced to comply by being ‘medicated’ (vaccinated and chipped)?

    Is this the type of world that’s soon to be regarded as ‘normal’? A world in which liberty and fundamental rights mean nothing.  A world dominated by shaming and spurious notions of personal responsibility that are little more than ideological constructs of a hegemonic narrative which labels rational thinking people as ‘anti-science’ — a world in which the scourge of authoritarianism reigns supreme.

    Revolution Is Inevitable and Necessary

    None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free. The truth has been kept from the depth of their minds by masters who rule them with lies. They feed them on falsehoods till wrong looks like right in their eyes.

    — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Bk. II, Ch. 5; source: Die Wahlverwandtschaften, Hamburger Ausgabe, Bd. 6 (Romane und Novellen I), dtv Verlag, München, 1982, p. 397 (II.5).

    I keep plotting a revolution no one else seems to be interested in having. So be it. I’ll have my solitary revolution. There will be no pink hats, guillotines, or marches, just me and a bitter jaded middle finger saluting towards the firmaments in utter rejection of most what this society represents. Although I hold no lasting contempt for anyone in this society because I understand we all have fallen into cultural traps and have done things that we believed we had to do so that we could be accepted, or just to be allowed to sleep indoors somewhere and be fed; we’ve had to commodify and sell out pieces of ourselves to serve the desires of those in a system of power who sanction and control the flow of money backed by military forces and institutions of incarceration, and this way of being was set into motion a long time ago, but it doesn’t have to continue if that’s not what we really desire, but for right now it’s close to all we know.

    So, it does seem a revolution of sorts is inevitable due to inequality reaching grotesque heights of avarice where there is no longer any excuse for the wealthy to hide behind in order to explain why it is they have so much and others have so little. However, this just emphasizes the point that this population is largely not wise enough yet to create a revolution worth having, because a more enlightened culture would have taken a stand a long time ago before things became an emergency. Every second we acquiesce to power and don’t push for something radically better we compound an already grim situation. Globally there seems to be a majority who don’t understand what it is to be free, they merely fight to be better treated servants. So it’s highly likely their coming revolution will be a flailing inchoate attempt at something marginally better than what is here now and won’t set out to correct much, if any, of the underlying structural problems.

    Consequently, the odds are the revolution we’ll end up with will circle directly back to where we are now or worse in no time at all. But my critiques and frustrations are mine, not a concern for the coming revolution. I must remember it’s their revolution, not mine. I’m not invited to theirs — well, that’s not entirely true.  I just have to ignore most of what I believe to be true, then I’m invited. As things are, I have only a single pathetic pity party scheduled as an event to prove my revolution ever existed, but I should be appreciative of what I have and cease bemoaning what I do not.

    So this is where I will make my stand. The beginning and likely end of my revolution of one. In reality my revolution is simply a rough translation through the English language describing my light of truth within, which I’ve gone to great pains to keep safe, dry, and burning from a clean source of fuel. Probably all done in futility except to selfishly inoculate my own mind from the lurking darkness of the culture cave; still, a lingering desire remains to light a path out for others to follow who have become stuck watching dark Platonic shadows flicker across the walls.

    With that said, here’s the path I’m lighting with argumentation and I believe it to be a solid one.  We, as in the we consisting of the global middle/lower classes of the entire planet, aka the 99%, are not a free people now nor have ever truly been free while living in the bounds of a social hierarchy. While many a winsome word has been applied to parchment declaring this or that people free, unfortunately soon thereafter the founding document is handed over to record keepers to energize the narratives of posterity while the same ole domination and ownership-driven society meters out the same ole grind. The reward and punishment operant conditioning culture is uniformly applied and chosen specifically to keep people compliant, reactive, and rutted into perpetual business as usual subservience to authoritative forces.

    Constitutions supply grandiose ideas which are undermined by underlying conditional legislature where the original words are made into feckless futile notions that allows the ruling authority to do all the draconian bullshit they’ve always done with prettier sounding words. The powers that be couch authoritarian ideas in language that sometimes sounds reasonable on the surface but ultimately leads people to a deleterious state of believing they are free when they are nothing close to any working definition of freedom. Freedom is a condition which is now only possible within our own minds, but our physical bodies are fodder for the whims of a class of people who clearly believe themselves superior to just about everyone else.

    Those causing the most damage are simply playing out a cultural role that’s a legacy of deceit passed down from one generation to the next, and each falling prey to traps of chasing after things; endless shiny carrots on shiny sticks. And not just chasing, but lusting, demanding, an obsessive hedonistic pursuit wanting total ego domination at any macabre cost. Pure obsession with the chase. While irony sits on many of their own bookshelves as Melville’s whale tale of wisdom lies fallow and ignored serving only as bookcase filler to give guests the impression they’re well read.

    The ego-driven mind thinks primarily in the language of temporal imperatives. Short term must do this, must do that kind of thinking where all thought is disseminated through a lens of self importance with agendas to accomplish to validate that self importance. And if it thinks itself important enough it will eventually see itself as messianic. After they have assumed role of savior it’s just logically congruent that the ruling class allocate all the resources they desire for themselves so they can help all the people they will eventually save, and they need deep pockets to be the inspiration for the entire world.

    Over time the ruling class creates rules and cultural dogmas that they claim are for the good of the people, but oddly enough their beliefs always result in making them richer and giving them more power. What an odd purported symbiosis they have dreamed up. The surest sign of being under an authoritarian power is when they make it really difficult to live independent of them. They demand you be hooked up to their electrical grid, pay taxes to live on the land, and hooked into the public water system. Total forced dependency on their system and it is barely noticed yet subtly removing choice and creating an artificial cage. Creating dependency is the best way to control people, and tyranny is then accepted under the umbrella of the common good, so the messianic ones can provide shelter from the storm while, of course, the common person sacrifices most of their free will in the process in a Faustian bargain which is the default role we are thrust into in this world of imperial forces.

    Social hierarchies hold their grip on power in increasingly sophisticated ways. They’ve mostly advanced past public executions to keep people in line. They’ve learned it’s far more effective to manipulate minds into believing all are equals and free, and stoke the fear response towards something external that threatens that equality and freedom. It’s become understood by hierarchy that if the ruling power is perceived as the threat they are far more likely to be ousted from that power, so the engines of power must diffuse the blame of their actions lest they be held responsible for the tyranny they impose.

    So semi-plausible sounding fears are brought to the forefront so they can provide you with adequate safety, which gives them the power to deprive you of the liberty they are telling you they are protecting, since you know they care so much about you. The gas-lighting of the masses creates reactionary conditioning that puts people in a state where they no longer trust their own mind and become prone to believing all the fears power claims are real. And fear is then used as a prod to move the human animal in a chosen direction power wishes.

    Revolution of a real kind, one where our relationship to power radically changes, will be a series of progressions in pulling our minds out of this culture trap. Change will come in relation to how well we come to understand the implications of centralized power and ultimately integrate that knowledge into how we live. Further, how well we learn to work together cooperatively in a voluntary manner will correlate  directly to how likely it is our species survives past the next hundred years. But curing ourselves of  these brutal mental afflictions is not an easy path to traverse. However, I’ll argue a radical change is needed if we want to once again have human lives worth living with real choice and agency over our own mind, body, and time.

    Welcome to the Era of the Great Disillusionment

    This is a column I have been mulling over for a while but, for reasons that will be instantly obvious, I have been hesitant to write. It is about 5G, vaccines, 9/11, aliens and lizard overlords. Or more accurately, it isn’t.

    Let me preface my argument by making clear I do not intend to express any view about the truth or falsity of any of these debates – not even the one about reptile rulers. My refusal to publicly take a view should not be interpreted as my implicit endorsement of any of these viewpoints because, after all, only a crazy tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist sympathiser would refuse to make their views known on such matters.

    Equally, my lumping together of all these disparate issues does not necessarily mean I see them as alike. Rather, they are presented in mainstream thinking as similarly proof of an unhinged, delusional, conspiracy-oriented mindset. I am working within a category that has been selected for me.

    Truth and falsehood are not what this column is about. To consider these topics solely on the basis of whether they are true or false would distract from the critical thinking I wish to engage in here – especially since critical thinking is so widely discouraged in our societies. I want this column to deny a safe space to anyone emotionally invested in either side of these debates. (Doubtless, that will not deter those who would prefer to make mischief and misrepresent my argument. That is a hazard that comes with the territory.)

    I am focusing on this set of issues now because some of them have been playing out increasingly loudly on social media as we cope with the isolation of lockdowns. People trapped at home have more time to explore the internet, and that means more opportunities to find often obscure information that may or may not be true. These kinds of debates are shaping our discursive landscape, and have profound political implications. It is these matters, not questions of truth, I want to examine in this column.

    Social media and 5G

    Let’s take 5G as an example. I am not a scientist, and I have done no research on 5G. Which is a very good reason why no one should be interested in what I have to say about the science or the safety of 5G. But like many people active on social media, I have been made aware – often with little choice on my part – of online debates about 5G and science.

    Like TV presenter Eamonn Holmes, I have inevitably gained an impression of that debate. To a casual viewer, the debate looks (and we are discussing here appearances only) something like this:

    a) State scientific advisers, as well as scientists whose jobs or research are financed by the mobile phone industry, are very certain that there are no dangers associated with 5G.

    b) A few scientists (real ones, not evangelical pastors pretending to be former Vodafone executives) have warned that there has not been independent research on the health effects of 5G, that the technology has been rushed through for commercial reasons, and that the possible dangers posed long term to our health from constant exposure have not been properly assessed.

    c) Other scientists in this specialist field, possibly the majority, are keeping their peace.

    Business our new god

    That impression might not be true. It may be that that is just the way social media has made the debate look. It is possible that on the contrary:

    • the research has been vigorously carried out, even if it does not appear to have been widely reported in the mainstream media,
    • mobile phone and other communication industries have not financed what research there is in an attempt to obtain results helpful to their commercial interests,
    • the aggressively competitive mobile phone industry has been prepared to sit back and wait several years for all safety issues to be resolved, unconcerned about the effects on their profits of such delays,
    • the industry has avoided using its money and lobbyists to buy influence in the corridors of power and advance a political agenda based on its commercial interests rather than on the science,
    • and individual governments, keen not to be left behind on a global battlefield in which they compete for economic, military and intelligence advantage, have collectively waited to see whether 5G is safe rather than try to undercut each other and gain an edge over allies and enemies alike.

    All of that is possible. But anyone who has been observing our societies for the past few decades – where business has become our new god, and where corporate money seems to dominate our political systems more than the politicians we elect – would have at least reasonable grounds to worry that corners may have been cut, that political pressure may have been exerted, and that some scientists (who are presumably human like the rest of us) may have been prepared to prioritise their careers and incomes over the most rigorous science.

    Looney-tunes conspiracism

    Again, I am not a scientist. Even if the research has not been carried out properly and the phone industry has lobbied sympathetic politicians to advance its commercial interests, it is still possible that, despite all that, 5G is entirely safe. But as I said at the start, I am not here to express a view about the science of 5G.

    I am discussing instead why it is not unreasonable or entirely irrational for a debate about the safety of 5G to have gone viral on social media while being ignored by corporate media; why a very mainstream TV presenter like Eamonn Holmes might suggest – to huge criticism – a need to address growing public concerns about 5G; why such concerns might quickly morph into fears of a connection between 5G and the current global pandemic; and why frightened people might decide to take things into their own hands by burning down 5G masts.

    Explaining this chain of events is not the same as justifying any of the links in that chain. But equally, dismissing all of it as simply looney-tunes conspiracism is not entirely reasonable or rational either.

    The issue here is not really about 5G, it’s about whether our major institutions still hold public trust. Those who dismiss all concerns about 5G have a very high level of trust in the state and its institutions. Those who worry about 5G – a growing section of western populations , it seems – have very little trust in our institutions and increasingly in our scientists too. And the people responsible for that erosion of trust are our governments – and, if we are brutally honest, the scientists as well.

    Information overload

    Debates like the 5G one have not emerged in a vacuum. They come at a moment of unprecedented information dissemination that derives from a decade of rapid growth in social media. We are the first societies to have access to data and information that was once the preserve of monarchs, state officials and advisers, and in more recent times a few select journalists.

    Now rogue academics, rogue journalists, rogue former officials – anyone, in fact – can go online and discover a myriad of things that until recently no one outside a small establishment circle was ever supposed to understand. If you know where to look, you can even find some of this stuff on Wikipedia (see, for example, Operation Timber Sycamore).

    The effect of this information overload has been to disorientate the great majority of us who lack the time, the knowledge and the analytical skills to sift through it all and make sense of the world around us. It is hard to discriminate when there is so much information – good and bad alike – to digest.

    Nonetheless, we have got a sense from these online debates,  reinforced by events in the non-virtual world, that our politicians do not always tell the truth, that money – rather than the public interest – sometimes wins out in decision-making processes, and that our elites may be little better equipped than us – aside from their expensive educations – to run our societies.

    Two decades of lies

    There has been a handful of staging posts over the past two decades to our current era of the Great Disillusionment. They include:

    • the lack of transparency in the US government’s investigation into the events surrounding 9/11 (obscured by a parallel online controversy about what took place that day);
    • the documented lies told about the reasons for launching a disastrous and illegal war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 that unleashed regional chaos, waves of destabilising migration into Europe and new, exceptionally brutal forms of political Islam;
    • the astronomical bailouts after the 2008 crash of bankers whose criminal activities nearly bankrupted the global economy (but who were never held to account) and instituted more than a decade of austerity measures that had to be paid for by the public;
    • the refusal by western governments and global institutions to take any leadership on tackling climate change, as not only the science but the weather itself has made the urgency of that emergency clear, because it would mean taking on their corporate sponsors;
    • and now the criminal failures of our governments to prepare for, and respond properly to, the Covid-19 pandemic, despite many years of warnings.

    Anyone who still takes what our governments say at face value … well, I have several bridges to sell you.

    Experts failed us

    But it is not just governments to blame. The failings of experts, administrators and the professional class have been all too visible to the public as well. Those officials who have enjoyed easy access to prominent platforms in the state-corporate media have obediently repeated what state and corporate interests wanted us to hear, often only for that information to be exposed later as incomplete, misleading or downright fabricated.

    In the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq, too many political scientists, journalists and weapons experts kept their heads down, keen to preserve their careers and status, rather than speak up in support of those rare experts like Scott Ritter and the late David Kelly who dared to sound the alarm that we were not being told the whole truth.

    In 2008, only a handful of economists was prepared to break with corporate orthodoxy and question whether throwing money at bankers exposed as financial criminals was wise, or to demand that these bankers be prosecuted. The economists did not argue the case that there must be a price for the banks to pay, such as a public stake in the banks that were bailed out, in return for forcing taxpayers to massively invest in these discredited businesses. And the economists did not propose overhauling our financial systems to make sure there was no repetition of the economic crash. Instead, they kept their heads down as well, in the hope that their large salaries continued and that they would not lose their esteemed positions in think-tanks and universities.

    We know that climate scientists were quietly warning back in the 1950s of the dangers of runaway global warming, and that in the 1980s scientists working for the fossil-fuel companies predicted very precisely how and when the catastrophe would unfold – right about now. It is wonderful that today the vast majority of these scientists are publicly agreed on the dangers, even if they are still trapped in a dangerous caution by the conservatism of scientific procedure. But they forfeited public trust by leaving it so very, very late to speak up.

    And recently we have learnt, for example, that a series of Conservative governments in the UK recklessly ran down the supplies of hospital protective gear, even though they had more than a decade of warnings of a coming pandemic. The question is why did no scientific advisers or health officials blow the whistle earlier. Now it is too late to save the lives of many thousands, including dozens of medical staff, who have fallen victim so far to the virus in the UK.

    Lesser of two evils

    Worse still, in the Anglosphere of the US and the UK, we have ended up with political systems that offer a choice between one party that supports a brutal, unrestrained version of neoliberalism and another party that supports a marginally less brutal, slightly mitigated version of neoliberalism. (And we have recently discovered in the UK that, after the grassroots membership of one of those twinned parties managed to choose a leader in Jeremy Corbyn who rejected this orthodoxy, his own party machine conspired to throw the election rather than let him near power.) As we are warned at each election, in case we decide that elections are in fact futile, we enjoy a choice – between the lesser of two evils.

    Those who ignore or instinctively defend these glaring failings of the modern corporate system are really in no position to sit smugly in judgment on those who wish to question the safety of 5G, or vaccines, or the truth of 9/11, or the reality of a climate catastrophe, or even of the presence of lizard overlords.

    Because through their reflexive dismissal of doubt, of all critical thinking on anything that has not been pre-approved by our governments and by the state-corporate media, they have helped to disfigure the only yardsticks we have for measuring truth or falsehood. They have forced on us a terrible choice: to blindly follow those who have repeatedly demonstrated they are not worthy of being followed, or to trust nothing at all, to doubt everything. Neither position is one a healthy, balanced individual would want to adopt. But that is where we are today.

    Big Brother regimes

    It is therefore hardly surprising that those who have been so discredited by the current explosion of information – the politicians, the corporations and the professional class – are wondering how to fix things in the way most likely to maintain their power and authority.

    They face two, possibly complementary options.

    One is to allow the information overload to continue, or even escalate. There is an argument to be made that the more possible truths we are presented with, the more powerless we feel and the more willing we are to defer to those most vocal in claiming authority. Confused and hopeless, we will look to father figures, to the strongmen of old, to those who have cultivated an aura of decisiveness and fearlessness, to those who look like down-to-earth mavericks and rebels.

    This approach will throw up more Donald Trumps, Boris Johnsons and Jair Bolsonaros. And these men, while charming us with their supposed lack of orthodoxy, will still, of course, be exceptionally accommodating to the most powerful corporate interests – the military-industrial complex – that really run the show.

    The other option, which has already been road-tested under the rubric of “fake news”, will be to treat us the public like irresponsible children, who need a firm, guiding hand. The technocrats and professionals will try to re-establish their authority as though the last two decades never occurred, as though we never saw through their hypocrisy and lies.

    They will cite “conspiracy theories” – even the true ones – as proof that it is time to impose new curbs on internet freedoms, on the right to speak and to think. They will argue that the social media experiment has run its course and proved itself a menace – because we, the public, are a menace. They are already flying trial balloons for this new Big Brother world, under cover of tackling the health threats posed by the Covid-19 epidemic.

    We should not be surprised that the “thought-leaders” for shutting down the cacophony of the internet are those whose failures have been most exposed by our new freedoms to explore the dark recesses of the recent historical record. They have included Tony Blair, the British prime minister who lied western publics into the disastrous and illegal war on Iraq in 2003, and Jack Goldsmith, rewarded as a Harvard law professor for his role – since whitewashed – in helping the Bush administration legalise torture and step up warrantless surveillance programmes.

    Need for a new media

    The only alternative to a future in which we are ruled by Big Brother technocrats like Tony Blair, or by chummy authoritarians who brook no dissent, or a mix of the two, will require a complete overhaul of our societies’ approach to information. We will need fewer curbs on free speech, not more.

    The real test of our societies – and the only hope of surviving the coming emergencies, economic and environmental – will be finding a way to hold our leaders truly to account. Not based on whether they are secretly lizards, but on what they are doing to save our planet from our all-too-human, self-destructive instinct for acquisition and our craving for guarantees of security in an uncertain world.

    That, in turn, will require a transformation of our relationship to information and debate. We will need a new model of independent, pluralistic, responsive, questioning media that is accountable to the public, not to billionaires and corporations. Precisely the kind of media we do not have now. We will need media we can trust to represent the full range of credible, intelligent, informed debate, not the narrow Overton window through which we get a highly partisan, distorted view of the world that serves the 1 percent – an elite so richly rewarded by the current system that they are prepared to ignore the fact that they and we are hurtling towards the abyss.

    With that kind of media in place – one that truly holds politicians to account and celebrates scientists for their contributions to collective knowledge, not their usefulness to corporate enrichment – we would not need to worry about the safety of our communications systems or medicines, we would not need to doubt the truth of events in the news or wonder whether we have lizards for rulers, because in that kind of world no one would rule over us. They would serve the public for the common good.

    Sounds like a fantastical, improbable system of government? It has a name: democracy. Maybe it is time for us finally to give it a go.

    Netanyahu’s Coalition Deal paves the Way to Annexation

    Only weeks ago, Benjamin Netanyahu was a hair’s breadth from being ousted from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office in disgrace, after 11 years of continuous rule. But after a dramatic turnaround in fortunes last week – that saw him signing a pact with Benny Gantz, his chief political rival – Netanyahu has begun to rapidly consolidate his power.

    In what many critics claim amounts to a power grab, he began pushing through changes on Thursday to Israel’s basic laws, the equivalent of a constitution. The move was described as “terrifying” by Elyakim Rubinstein, a conservative former supreme court judge.

    Another commentator warned that, under cover of forming an “emergency government” to deal with the coronavirus epidemic, Netanyahu had driven Israel into the early stages of totalitarianism.

    What has especially alarmed observers is the apparent ease with which Netanyahu has manoeuvred Gantz, a former general, into rubber-stamping the new arrangements.

    Gantz led a bloc of parties whose anti-corruption platform expressly promised to bring down Netanyahu, who is due to stand trial on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in a month’s time. After an election in March, the third in a year, Gantz vowed to use his bloc’s 62-seat majority to pass a law making it impossible for a criminal defendant to serve as prime minister.

    Netanyahu was on the backfoot, too, fearful of a fourth election in the late summer when he risks being blamed for the expected collapse of the Israeli economy after more than a month of lockdowns.

    Instead, Gantz has caved. He has not only secured Netahyahu at least another 18 months in office but, in the words of one Israeli commentator, has offered to serve as his “bodyguard”.

    The coalition agreement means Gantz cannot dislodge Netanyahu during the government’s three-year term. The two stand or fall together. That gives Netanyahu a solid advantage in his court proceedings, as he fights the case not only with the authority of a prime minister but with Gantz’s complicit silence.

    Even if Netanyahu is found guilty, Gantz’s faction is barred from ousting him or voting to bring down the coalition, leaving Netanyahu free to launch an appeal from within the government. Likewise, under a rotation agreement, Gantz must let Netanyahu serve out the second 18-month period as his deputy. Assuming, that is, that Netanyahu steps back.

    Despite some two-thirds of Israelis supporting the emergency government, a poll shows more than 40 per cent doubt Netanyahu will honour his commitment to hand over power. In any case, even as Gantz’s deputy, Netanyahu will enjoy the allegiance of the vast majority of the governing coalition’s legislators. He could still be in the driving seat.

    Most expect him to use his position to intensify his long-running campaign to demonise the courts, accusing them of overseeing an undemocratic, “leftist” plot to unseat him.

    To an increasing number of Israelis, the country’s political system looks broken. Several thousand of Gantz’s former supporters defied Israel’s lockdown at the weekend – as they did the week before – to attend a rally in central Tel Aviv.

    Standing on marked positions to maintain two metres’ distance, they protested Netanyahu’s increasing accumulation of powers. Carmi Gillon, a former head of Israel’s domestic spy agency, the Shin Bet, told the crowd the courts were now all that was left to “defend Israeli democracy before it is finally crushed”.

    Critics note that the Shin Bet have already been given an unprecedented right – previously available for use only against Palestinians – to track Israeli citizens. Combined with anti-coronavirus restrictions, opponents fear Netanyahu is establishing a security regime at home that can be used to oppress dissenters.

    They point to his imminent trial, noting that most of the charges relate to his alleged efforts to intimidate or bribe major Israeli media outlets into becoming little more than his personal cheerleaders.

    Meanwhile, other checks on the executive branch he heads are being sacrificed on the altar of the emergency government.

    Despite being a criminal defendant, Netanyahu will have a veto on the appointment of the two most senior law-enforcement officials – the state prosecutor and attorney general – who are supposed to oversee the case against him at trial.

    Netanyahu has already installed an acting prosecutor considered loyal to him who, according to the coalition agreement, cannot be removed for many months. Israeli commentators have expressed little faith that he will prosecute Netanyahu with full vigour.

    Netanyahu will also continue to wield control over the appointment of judges to the supreme court, which has been drifting ever further rightwards after more than a decade of Netanyahu’s influence.

    In these circumstances, the courts may baulk at the prospect of inflaming a constitutional crisis – and possibly civil war – by trying to remove a sitting prime minister.

    With the judicial and legal branches increasingly enfeebled, the coalition agreement also strips the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, of any meaningful oversight. The government will be able to strangle legislative proposals at birth, before they can be debated. Unusually the main parliamentary committees will be under the governing parties’ control, too. And a Netanyahu loyalist will be the Knesset Speaker.

    But the coalition agreement does allow for one emergency legislative move unrelated to tackling the virus: annexation of swaths of the West Bank in violation of international law but under licence from the “vision for peace” published earlier in the year by US President Donald Trump.

    The government can set forth an annexation plan from July – well before Trump faces a re-election contest in the US in November. Mike Pompeo, his Secretary of State, offered what appeared to be Washington’s blessing for fast-track annexation last week.

    While Gantz headed the opposition bloc, he refused to rule out annexation, expressing concern only that it would prove unpalatable to some western allies.

    But aside from formulaic denunciations from a few European states, Israel fears little in the way of repercussions. And Gantz now appears on board.

    As defence minister, he will be responsible for crushing any Palestinian resistance to Israel’s annexation moves, while Gabi Ashkenazi, his political ally and another former general, will be responsible as foreign minister for putting a respectable face on the annexation drive in overseas capitals.

    Netanyahu appears to have the wind behind him, and three more years in which to meddle in ways that could see him maintaining his grip on the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office well beyond that.

    • First published in The National

    Will the Coronavirus Change the World?

    The prophecies are here and it is a foregone conclusion: the post-coronavirus world will look fundamentally different from anything that we have seen or experienced, at least since the end of World War II.

    Even before the ‘curve flattened’ in many countries that have experienced high death tolls — let alone economic devastation — as a result of the unhindered spread of the COVID-19 disease, thinkers and philosophers began speculating, from the comfort of their own quarantines, about the many scenarios that await us.

    The devastation inflicted by the coronavirus is likely to be as consequential as “the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of the Lehman Brothers,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine in a widely read analysis, entitled ‘How the World Will Look After the Coronavirus Pandemic’.

    While major newspapers and news media outlets jumped on the bandwagon of trying to construct the various post-coronavirus possibilities, Foreign Policy sought the views of twelve thinkers, each providing their own reading of the future.

    Stephen M. Walt concluded that “COVID-19 will create a world that is less open, less prosperous, and less free”.

    Robin Niblett wrote that it is “highly unlikely… that the world will return to the idea of mutually beneficial globalization that defined the early 21st century”.

    ‘Mutually beneficial’ is a phrase deserving of a completely different essay, as it is a claim that can easily be contested by many small and poor countries.

    Be that as it may, globalization was a focal point of discussion among many of the twelve thinkers, although a major point of contention was whether globalization will remain in place in its current form, whether it will be redefined or discarded altogether.

    Kishore Mahbubani wrote that, “the COVID-19 pandemic will not fundamentally alter global economic directions. It will only accelerate a change that had already begun: a move away from US-centric globalization to a more China-centric globalization”.

    And so on…

    While political economists focused on COVID-19’s impact on major economic trends, globalization and the resultant shift of political power, environmentalists emphasized the fact that the quarantine, which has affected the vast majority of the world’s population, raises hopes that it might not be too late for Planet Earth after all.

    Numerous articles, citing scientific research and accompanied by photo galleries that illustrate the blue skies over Delhi and the clean waters of Venice, all underline the point that the upcoming ‘change’ will prove most consequential for the environment.

    With prophecies afoot, even discredited philosophers such as Slavoj Zizek, tried to stage a comeback, offering their own predictions of ‘ideological viruses’, including “the virus of thinking about an alternate society, a society beyond nation-state, a society that actualizes itself in the forms of global solidarity and cooperation”.

    In his article, published in the German newspaper Die Welt, Zizek proposes what he describes as a ‘paradox’: while COVID-19 constitutes a ‘blow to capitalism’ it “will also compel us to re-invent communism based on trust in the people and in science”.

    Ironically, only a few years ago, Zizek, who is often referred to as a ‘celebrity philosopher’, advocated an ethnocentric discourse targeting refugees, immigrants and Muslims.

    “I never liked this humanitarian approach that if you really talk with them (meaning war refugees who sought safety in Europe) you discover we are all the same people,” Zizek said in his book Refugees, Terror and other Troubles with the Neighbors. “No, we are not — we have fundamental differences.”

    In an article discussing Zizek’s book, published in Quartz, Annalisa Merelli wrote, “Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, Zizek warned that liberals need to let go of the taboos that prevent open discussion of the problems that come from admitting people of different cultures to Europe, and in particular the denial of any public safety danger caused by refugees.”

    This supposedly ‘Marxist philosopher’ went even further, borrowing from Christian theology in explaining that “the Christian motto ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is not as simple as it appears,” criticizing the alleged ‘prohibition’ by some leftist circles of “any critique of Islam”.

    “It is a simple fact that most of the refugees come from a culture that is incompatible with Western European notions of human rights,” Zizek wrote, conveniently omitting that it is Western imperialism, colonialism and wars of economic dominance that have been the main triggers of Middle Eastern crises for at least a century.

    It would be safe to assume that Zizek’s unorthodox ‘reinvention of communism’ excludes millions of refugees who are paying the price, not for the ills of ‘the global economy’ – as he conveniently proposes – but for war-driven Western hegemony and neo-colonialism.

    Our seemingly-disproportionate emphasis on Zizek’s unsettling ideas is only meant to illustrate that ‘celebrity philosophy’ is not only useless in this context, but also a distraction from a truly urgent discussion on the mechanics of equitable change in society, a process currently hindered by war, racism, xenophobia, and populist-centric far-right ideologies.

    In truth, it is far easier to predict the future of globalization or air-pollution when analysts are confronted with straight-forward indicators – technological advancement, exports, currency valuation, and air quality.

    But speaking of the reinvention of society, with little credibility to boot, is the equivalence of intellectual guesswork, especially when the so-called intellectual is almost entirely detached from the trials of everyday society.

    The problem with most analyses of the various ‘futures’ that lie ahead is that very few of these predictions are predicated on an honest examination of the problems that have plagued our past and afflicted our present.

    But how are we to chart a better understanding and a suitable response to the future and its many challenges if we do not truly and honestly confront and dissect the problems that have taken us to this dismal point of global crisis?

    We concur. The future will bring about change. It ought to. It must. Because the status quo is simply unsustainable. Because the wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan; the Israeli occupation of Palestine; the dehumanization and economic strangulation of Africa and South America, and so on, must not be allowed to become an everyday occurrence.

    But for that better, more equitable future to arrive, our understanding of it must be situated within a historically valid, ideologically defensible, and humane view of our troubled world, of ourselves and of others — and not within the detached and callous view of mainstream Western economists or celebrity philosophers.

    It is indeed strange how Zizek and his like can still embrace an ethnocentric view of Europe and Christianity while still being viewed as ‘communist’. What strange breed of communism is this ideology that does not acknowledge the centrality and history of global class struggles?

    If we are to place the Marxist class struggle within broader and more global terms, it is befitting and tenable then to assume that Western powers have historically represented the ‘ruling classes’, while the colonized and historically oppressed Southern hemisphere makes up the ‘subordinate classes’.

    It is this dynamic of oppression, usurpation and enslavement that fueled the ‘engine of history’ — the Marxist notion that history is propelled by internal contradictions within the system of material production.

    It would be simply naive to assume that an outbreak of a pandemic can automatically and inexorably, in itself, propel and produce change, and that such a romanticized ‘change’ will intuitively favor the ‘subordinate classes’, whether within local societal structures or at a global level.

    There is no denial that the current crisis — whether economic or within the healthcare system — is fundamentally a structural crisis that can be traced to the numerous fault-lines within the capitalist system, which is enduring what Italian anti-fascist intellectual and politician Antonio Gramsci refers to as ‘interregnum’.

    In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci wrote: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

    The ‘variety of morbid symptoms’ were expressed in the last two decades in the gradual decay, if not decimation, of the very global system that was constructed ever so diligently by capitalist Western forces, which shaped the world to pursue their own interests for nearly a century.

    The collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s was meant to usher in a whole new world – uncontested, militaristic to the core and unapologetically capitalist. Little of that has actualized, however. The first US-led Iraq military adventure (1990-91), the parallel ‘new world order’ and subsequent ‘new Middle East’, and so on, ultimately, amounted to naught.

    Frustrated by its inability to translate its military and technological superiority to sustainable dominance on the ground, the US and its Western allies fell apart at a much faster rate than ever expected. Barack Obama’s administration’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ — accompanied by military retreat from the oil-rich Middle East — was only the beginning of an inevitable course of decline that no US administration, however belligerent and irrational, can possibly stop.

    Largely helpless before relentless crises facing the once-triumphant capitalist order, dominant Western institutions, the likes of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU), grew useless and dysfunctional. No prophecies are required here to assume that the post-coronavirus world will further undermine the very idea behind the EU. Interestingly, although not surprisingly, the ‘European community,’ at the time of Europe’s greatest crisis since World War II, turned out to be a farce, since it was China and Cuba that extended a helping hand to Italy and Spain, not Germany, France or the Netherlands.

    It is rather ironic that the very forces that championed economic globalization — and derided reluctant countries that refused to join in — are the same as those that are now advocating some form of sovereignism, isolationism, and nationalism.

    This is precisely the ‘interregnum’ that Gramsci has talked about. It should not be taken for granted, however, that this political vacuum can be filled through wishful thinking alone, for real, lasting and sustainable change can only be the outcome of a mindful process, one that keeps in mind the nature of future conflicts and our ideological and moral position in response to these conflicts.

    Celebrity philosophers certainly do not represent, nor do they earn the right to speak on behalf of the ‘subordinate classes’ — neither locally nor globally. What is needed, instead, is a counter ‘cultural hegemony’, championed by the true representatives of oppressed societies (minorities united by mutual solidarity, oppressed nations, and so on), who must be aware of the historical opportunity and challenges that lie ahead.

    A distinct symptom of ‘interregnum’ is the palpable detachment exhibited by the masses towards traditional ideologies —  a process which has begun much earlier than the outbreak of the coronavirus.

    “If the ruling class has lost its consensus, i.e., is no longer ‘leading’ but only ‘dominant,’ exercising coercive force alone, this means precisely that the great masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies, and no longer believe what they used to believe previously”, Gramsci wrote.

    Admittedly, there is a problem with true democratic representation all over the world, due to the rise of military dictatorships (as in the case of Egypt), and far-right populism (as in the case of the US, various Western countries, India and so forth).

    Bearing all of that in mind, simply counting on ‘trust in the people and in science’ — as disconcertingly prescribed by Zizek — will neither ‘re-invent communism’, restore democracy or redistribute wealth fairly and equitably among all classes. And, needless to say, it will not bring the Israeli occupation to an end or humanely end the global refugee crisis.

    In fact, the opposite is true. Under the cover of trying to control the spread of the coronavirus, several governments have carried out authoritarian measures that merely aim at strengthening their grip on power, as was the case in Hungary and Israel.

    Not that Hungary and Israel have been governed according to high democratic standards prior to the spread of the coronavirus. The collective panic that resulted from the high death-toll of a barely understood disease, however, served as the needed collective ‘shock’ — see Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine — required by authoritarian regimes to seize the moment and to further erode any semblance of democracy in their own societies.

    Following each and every global crisis, analysts, military strategists and philosophers take on whatever available platform to prophesize seismic changes and speak of paradigm shifts. Some even go as far as declaring the ‘end of history’, ‘clashes of civilizations’, or, as in the case of Zizek, a new form of communism.

    French critic and journalist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (born November 1808), has once written that “the more things change, the more they continue to be the same thing”.

    Indeed, without a people-propelled form of change, the status quo seems to constantly reinvent itself, restoring its dominance, cultural hegemony and undemocratic claim to power.

    Undeniably, the global crisis invited by the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic embodies within it the opportunity of fundamental change (towards greater equality or greater authoritarianism), or no change at all.

    It is us, the people, and our true authentic voices — the ‘organic intellectuals’, not the celebrity philosophers — who have the right and the moral legitimacy to rise up to reclaim our democracy and redefine a new discourse on a global, not ethnocentric, form of justice.

    It is either that we exercise this option, or the current ‘interregnum’ will fizzle out into yet another missed opportunity.

    Drug Dealers, Polluters and Sex Traffickers: Welcome to Oligarch Cloud Cuckoo Land

    Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues
    We write in water.
    Henry VIII (IV.ii.)

    The notion that American oligarchs amass great wealth due to their extraordinary intelligence has become a deeply engrained tenet of liberal fundamentalist dogma. For in order for neoliberalism to maintain popular support it is necessary that the media relentlessly extol the virtues of the new robber barons. This myth of the meritocracy is sustained with fawning from the presstitutes, but also from the dubious practice of philanthrocapitalism. And yet cracks have appeared in the meritocratic facade which even the mass media has not been able to conceal.

    From Andrew Carnegie to Henry Clay Frick, from John D. Rockefeller to Cornelius Vanderbilt, American capitalists have long embraced philanthropy as a means with which to not only deify themselves, but to also glorify and perpetuate a system anchored in authoritarianism, cruelty, and the impoverishment of millions.

    Jeffrey Epstein hails from this blood-soaked lineage, as his rise was inextricably linked with a culture in thrall to the lie that those who are the most virtuous acquire the most wealth. A sex trafficker, who for decades managed to maintain a carefully cultivated image of an urbane and munificent New Yorker, Epstein had become a magnet for careerists, opportunists, and fellow con artists alike.

    Helaine Olen writes in The Washington Post:

    The major lie of the age of wealth inequality is that the moneyed are somehow better than the rest of us day-to-day working schlubs. The aristocracy of prewar Europe had their bloodlines. Our latter-day meritocratic aristocrats, we are told, possess the modern equivalent, which is extraordinary intelligence. The slothful working class are slaves to short-term pleasure. The rich, on the other hand, are disciplined. They wake up early, and they refuse to live beyond their means.

    This is a lie. The Epstein scandal proves it.

    Epstein preyed not only on destitute American girls from broken homes, but also on foreign girls, some of whom did not speak English, making them even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Writing in The Miami Herald, Julie K. Brown writes that “after the FBI case was closed in 2008, witnesses and alleged victims testified in civil court that there were hundreds of girls who were brought to Epstein’s homes, including girls from Europe, Latin America and former Soviet Republic countries.”

    The suspicious deal worked out a little over a decade ago by Epstein’s high powered legal team allowed their client to get off with incredibly lenient sentencing terms, and served to protect other creatures of dubious repute who may have been involved in a vast criminal network. Brown continues: “The deal, called a federal non-prosecution agreement, was sealed so that no one — not even his victims — could know the full scope of Epstein’s crimes and who else was involved.”

    Epstein’s “black book” contained personal phone numbers belonging to such “masters of the universe” as Donald Trump, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Senator Ted Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, David Koch, Ehud Barak, John Kerry, David Rockefeller, Michael Bloomfield, Leslie Wexner, Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth, Saudi King Salman and Edward de Rothschild. Irregardless of whether these plutocrats were involved in the abuse of minors, the fact that Epstein was permitted to inhabit this peculiar parallel legal system for so many years signifies the degradation of checks and balances which has opened up the floodgates of the West to barbarism.

    Ghislaine Maxwell, who allegedly procured underage girls for Epstein, founded the TerraMar Project in 2012, a nonprofit ostensibly devoted to protecting the world’s oceans. Ghislaine’s father, Robert Maxwell, was a Mossad agent, and some have speculated that she may have introduced her boyfriend to the Israeli intelligence services.

    There is a high degree of probability that Epstein was running a blackmail operation in conjunction with an intelligence agency (or agencies), as he had hidden cameras scattered throughout the rooms of his many residences, and appeared to be filming his guests as they were “getting a massage.” Epstein also had an Austrian passport, coveted by spies, due to Austria’s neutrality.

    Chicago criminal defense attorney Leonard C. Goodman writes in the Chicago Reader:

    A public criminal trial would have made it very hard to cover up Epstein’s relationship to intelligence agencies. These are the agencies that tell our presidents which countries to bomb, what leaders to depose, and which terrorists to assassinate by drone.

    Frequently referred to by the presstitutes as a “disgraced financier,” despite the fact that no one has seen a website for the firm which he allegedly operated; and often referred to as “pedophile Jeffrey Epstein,” as if he were a lone villain acting all by himself, Epstein’s life personifies the depravity of contemporary American society. Moreover, this “financial genius” was somehow able to acquire one of the most luxurious residences in Manhattan (21,000-square-feet, and steps from Central Park), a 10,000 acre ranch in New Mexico, an apartment in Paris, a luxury villa in Palm Beach; and two islands in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Little Saint James and Great Saint James.

    Epstein’s charitable donations were clearly a smokescreen designed to disguise extremely nefarious activities. The mega-rich in other countries may be crooks (consider Pablo Escobar, described by Wikipedia as a “narcoterrorist”), but not wealthy Americans, who are simply smarter than everyone else. That Epstein came from a working class family, and that his father, Seymour Epstein, worked for the New York Parks Department as a groundskeeper, only deepens the mystery of where this money really came from.

    Ever the debonair cool guy of Manhattan’s in-crowd, Epstein donated to the Independent Filmmaker Project, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Interlochen Center for the Arts, Ballet Palm Beach, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Cancer Research Wellness Institute and the Melanoma Research Alliance. In May of 2012, PR Newswire ran an article titled “The Largest Private Funder of Melanoma Research Receives Vital Support From Activist Jeffrey Epstein.”

    One of Epstein’s favorite places to donate was Harvard, as this allowed him to hobnob with a variety of influential academics and scientists. As John Patrick writes in The Washington Examiner:

    The disgraced finance mogul donated millions to Harvard endeavors from the late 1990s throughout the 2000s, including a $6.5 million donation to Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, and a $2 million pledged donation for Harvard’s Jewish organization Hillel. Plus, Epstein contributed more than $100,000 to a Harvard performing arts organization, and gave a gift of more than $100,000 to a non-profit run by Elsa New, wife of former Harvard president and Clinton administration member Larry Summers.

    Epstein also donated $2.5 million to Ohio State University and $800,000 to MIT. Taking hypocrisy to new heights, he even donated to the Women Global Cancer Initiative, the Mount Sinai Breast Health Resource Program; and to The Hewitt School, a prep school for girls on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Underscoring the netherworld of imaginary morality that our plutocrats inhabit, Epstein told the New York Post that “I’m not a sexual predator, I’m an ‘offender.’ It’s the difference between a murderer and a person who steals a bagel.”

    Bernie Madoff, another exhilarating New York success story, was managing – at least according to his computer printouts – the astronomical sum of $50 billion, and was equally fond of donating to charitable causes. Yeshiva University, The Ramaz School, Maimonides School, and the Hadassah Women’s Organization were some of the institutions that suffered serious losses when Madoff’s firm revealed itself to be the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

    Cousins of human traffickers, polluters also need to unwind from time to time, and what better way to bask in the grandeurs of perdition than donate to the arts? The New York State Theater, an important performing arts space within Lincoln Center and home to the New York City Ballet, was renamed the David H. Koch Theater in 2008; while the Metropolitan Museum of Art now offers the David H. Koch Plaza, whose namesake paid $65 million to have the new plaza built in his name. The Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT is another child born of Koch philanthropy.

    The Charles Koch Foundation has donated enormous sums of money to hundreds of universities with the aim of inculcating impressionable young minds with their reactionary ethos, which is anchored in the idea that all attempts at corporate regulation and maintaining a public sector should be jettisoned. The Koch brothers donated over $95 million to George Mason University, which is a public university, and this led to the Charles Koch Foundation being granted a significant amount of leverage with regard to the hiring and firing of faculty.

    Steven Pearlstein writes in The Washington Post:

    When someone gives $10 million to an engineering school rather than the college of humanities, it changes the university’s priorities. When someone endows a center to study the causes and consequences of climate change, it affects who is hired and what is taught and researched. When someone gives enough to name a school after a public figure, it shapes a school’s ideological profile. It would be great if all donations were unrestricted, but they aren’t. Many donors have agendas. The Kochs are just an extreme example.

    The Koch brothers have left behind a toxic legacy from Corpus Christi, Texas; to Chicago and Detroit; to Crossett, Arkansas; to New Delhi, India, and beyond. Greenpeace posits that “Koch Industries is a major polluter, with ongoing incidents and violations of environmental laws.” Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone that “Thanks in part to its 2005 purchase of paper-mill giant Georgia-Pacific, Koch Industries dumps more pollutants into the nation’s waterways than General Electric and International Paper combined.” He goes on to point out that “Koch generates 24 million metric tons of greenhouse gases a year.” Together, Charles and David Koch accumulated around $100 billion.

    The Sackler Family, which owns Purdue Pharma and made billions off of the opioid crisis, deceived doctors about the highly addictive nature of OxyContin. This particularly dangerous opioid was promoted in part through dishonest advertising, but also though manipulating physicians into believing the drug was safe. Patrick Radden Keefe writes in The New Yorker that “The marketing of OxyContin relied on an empirical circularity: the company convinced doctors of the drug’s safety with literature that had been produced by doctors who were paid, or funded, by the company.” The Sackler family is now attempting to sell the drug abroad through Mundipharma, a Purdue subsidiary, and is marketing OxyContin in Asia, South America and the Middle East.

    It is noteworthy that Arthur Sackler aggressively marketed Librium and Valium in the 1960s, which earned tremendous profits for Hoffmann-La Roche, and also led many Americans down a path towards abuse and addiction. Judith Warner writes in Time:

    Valium has long served extremely well as a vehicle for proving the perfidy of psychiatrists and the drug companies behind them. It was indeed dispensed in outrageous-seeming numbers in the 1960s and early 1970s. It did indeed lead to tragic levels of abuse and addiction.

    The Sacklers are now one of our richest families. Like Epstein, the Sackler family sought to cultivate a worldly image anchored in their patronage of education and the arts, and some of the most prestigious museums in the Western world have galleries and wings named after them.

    At the Guggenheim, there is the Sackler Center for Arts Education; at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is the Sackler Wing; and at the American Museum of Natural History, there is the Sackler Educational Laboratory. At Harvard, there is the Arthur M. Sackler Museum; in Washington DC, the Sackler Gallery; and at the Brooklyn Museum, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Moreover, there are Sackler wings and educational institutions at renowned British museums such as the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology, the British Museum, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and at the Tate Modern. The Sacklers have also donated to the Royal Ballet School, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Royal Opera. Perhaps the Whitney Museum of American Art, which has a board run largely by war profiteers, could receive the funds accumulated from the many lawsuits arrayed against Purdue and be renamed the Sackler.

    Not content with defiling artistic institutions with their blood money, the Sacklers have donated to educational institutions. At Columbia, there is the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology; and at Oxford, the Sackler Library; at Yale, there is the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences.

    Particularly egregious conflicts of interest are the Sackler Brain and Spine Institute at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Biomedical and Physical Sciences at Weill Cornell, and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts. No less disturbing, in the winter of 2010 Thomas J. Lynch Jr., MD, was named Richard Sackler and Jonathan Sackler Professor of Medicine and Director of the Yale Cancer Center. The Sacklers have also donated millions to Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard’s oldest teaching hospital. Andrew Joseph writes in “Purdue Cemented Ties with Universities and Hospitals to Expand Opioid Sales, Documents Contend,” that “At Mass. General, the agreement with Purdue allowed the company to suggest curriculum for pain education.” No less outrageous, in Israel there is the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. Emblazoned in its lobby are the words “Dedicated to Mankind for the Health of All People.”

    Some arts institutions have disassociated themselves from the Sacklers, such as the Louvre, which took down the Sackler name from its Wing of Oriental Antiquities. A number of prominent museums, such as the Guggenheim, the Met, and the Tate galleries have refused to accept further donations from the Sacklers, although the name continues to sully their august halls.

    Teva Pharmaceuticals has likewise played a role in the opioid crisis, and partners with Mount Sinai, a blatant conflict of interest. Ostensibly, they will treat “multiple chronic conditions” together. Teva has donated to a wide variety of health care organizations and gave $2.5 million to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. In an article in The Times of Israel titled “Federal Data Reveals Extent of Teva’s Role in Fueling US Opioid Crisis,” the authors write that between 2006 and 2012 “Teva Pharmaceuticals USA produced 690 million opioid pills.”

    When not getting Americans addicted to opioids and psychotropic drugs, Johnson and Johnson delights in donating to Johnson & Johnson Vision and the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), both of which make endearing videos replete with cute kids and teary-eyed grandparents.

    Indeed, this was how some of the most diabolical drug dealers in America, were, at least for a time, able to convey an image of benevolence, munificence and altruism. Keefe writes that “Over time, the origins of a clan’s largesse are largely forgotten, and we recall only the philanthropic legacy, prompted by the name on the building.”

    Where are our heroes, America? Our novelists, labor leaders, artists and intellectuals? What would Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, or Mark Twain say about these soulless creatures who sought to use their lucre to envelop themselves in a halo of veneration and hagiography? A society that prostrates itself at the altar of depravity is a society of death.

    Let us disenthrall ourselves from the shackles of materialism and careerism. Let us cast the false idol of avarice from the tallest cliffs, and from its ashes embrace a phoenix reborn, a harbinger of compassion, altruism and justice.