The Bundy Ranch Standoff Was Only the Beginning for America’s Right-Wing Militias
For two decades the US government has tried to get Cliven Bundy to remove his cows from federal land, and for two decades the Nevada rancher has steadfastly refused, defying court orders and attempts to negotiate a settlement for the $1.1 million he owes in federal grazing fees. Finally, last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took matters into its own hands and started seizing cattle that had been illegally grazing on government property. Things went downhill from there.
For right-wing militias and paramilitary groups founded around a collective paranoid belief that the federal government is just looking for an excuse to impose martial law, images of armed federal agents forcibly seizing cows basically means it’s DEFCON 1. By Saturday, as many as 1,000 anti-BLM protestors from as far away as Virginia, New Hampshire, and Georgia had set up camp in Bunkerville, an arid patch of land where the BLM was rounding up the Bundy cattle. Packing handguns and assault rifles, the protesters carried signs featuring slogans like “Tyranny Is Alive,” “Where’s the Justice?” and “Militia Sighn In [sic],” and many said they were prepared for a shoot-out with the federal government. The mood was such that even Glenn Beck was wary of the crowd, announcing on his show that “there’s about 10 or 15 percent of the people who are talking about this online that are truly frightening.”
“I wouldn’t kill another person myself—and to pay someone else to kill people in my name with my tax dollars, it’s essentially the same thing,” said David Hartsough, a Quaker peace activist in his 70s. “I don’t have to look at the blood, but the blood is on my hands.”
The fact that Sharpton dealt in the underworld 30 years ago isn’t really news. The value of the Smoking Gun report is mainly historic—it offers a glimpse into Sharpton’s past life, before Obama and MSNBC, Upper West Side apartments, and private cigar clubs. It takes us back to a time when Al Sharpton wore tracksuits, weighed 300 pounds, and incited riots. Which gets at the real question: Why are we still talking about Al Sharpton?
It’s Wednesday morning, the first day of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention, and D’Juan Collins is telling me how the state took his son and won’t give him back. A slight man in a linen button-down and a Bluetooth earpiece, Collins is passing out flyers with a baby photo of his son Isaiah and a plug for his site, www.SaveIsaiah.com. Isaiah, now seven, was put into foster care in 2007, when Collins was sent to prison. When I ask what he was sent in for, he demurs. The conviction was overturned last year, he says, but Brooklyn Family Court and the foster care agency have declined to return custody of his son.
He has come here, to Sharpton’s annual civil rights confab, to get help. “I’m all about networking,” Collins explains, “because I can’t do this alone.”
If the Reverend Al Sharpton has a nexus of power, it is here, in the sweaty third-floor ballroom of the Sheraton Times Square, where more than 6,000 activists have assembled to talk shop at panels with titles like “American Holsters: How the Gun Won,” “The Role of Media in Crafting the Social Narrative,” and “Truth to Power Revival.” Outwardly, the annual civil rights hoedown is an essentially political event, a display of the influence Sharpton has aggressively cultivated over three decades in the national spotlight. But the convention is also a yearly pilgrimage for people, like Collins, who have been beaten by the system, screwed by insidious and structural racism that has stacked the deck against them. Because Al Sharpton, in addition to being a syndicated radio host, prime-time MSNBC talking head, and personal friend of the president, is still the guy you call when your kid gets shot.
Everyone I meet on Wednesday has a story. One woman at the conference tells me she’s here for the first time this year because her nephew was killed in Harlem last week, and she wants to “talk to the reverend about gun control.” Another spends the morning passing out yard signs that read: “My Civil Rights Were Violated.”
In some circles, Sharpton is considered ridiculous—a 90s race-riot relic turned smug cable-news hack. It’s easy to forget that he is probably the most powerful civil rights leader in the country, and a political kingmaker whose influence is evidenced by the parade of liberal pols who drop by his conference every year to pay their respects. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was on hand Wednesday, as was Attorney General Eric Holder and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. President Obama is headlining Friday.
Cry-Baby #1: Lumberton Independent School District
The incident: Some parents complained that their children’s teacher was transgender.
The appropriate response: Nothing.
The actual response: The teacher was suspended.
Laura Jane Klug is a transgender woman who was recently hired by the Lumberton ISD School District in Texas as a substitute teacher. She was filling in as a teacher for a 5th grade class last Thursday when she found out that there had been complaints from the parents of some of her students about her being transgender.
The school responded to these complaints by suspending Laura, which was a legal for thing for them to do because Texas, a state located in a first world country, does not have laws to protect transgender people from workplace discrimination.
Roger Beard, whose son was in Laura’s class, said he complained because he felt that 11-year-olds were too young to understand the (fairly uncomplicated) concept of a trans woman. “There are some things that we accept in society that children are not going to accept in the same way that we do,” he told local news station 12 News. Adding, “I just don’t want them teaching, especially not this age group.”
Thankfully, other parents defended Laura. “My son knows who he is and I don’t think any outside influence is going to change that. I’m more concerned about straight predatory teachers rather than I am someone who lives an alternative private lifestyle. I don’t worry about my son,” said Jammie Marcantel, whose son was in Laura’s class.
Speaking to 12 News, Laura said she had substituted before without incident and wasn’t sure why people were complaining now. “I have always conducted myself in a professional manner and would never discuss my gender identity in school,” she said.
According to another local news station, Laura will find out later today if she gets to keep her job.
Why Obama’s Regulators Let Wall Street Bankers Off Easy
If there’s anything more maddening than the sheer scale of the financial fraud that sent America and the rest the planet spiraling into the economic abyss in 2008, it’s the fact that no Wall Street bankers have gone to jail for causing the mess. As in zero, zilch, none at all.
So at his farewell party last month to celebrate a lengthy career at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—the US regulatory agency that supposedly keeps Wall Street in check—James Kidney, a trial attorney who had been hamstrung for years by indifferent bosses, broke his silence and went off on an awesome rant about how no one in the financial sector fears the body supposedly policing their behavior. The SEC, in essence, is a joke.
Describing it as “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors,” Kidney told an audience of fellow employees that they had dropped the ball because of a revolving door of corruption between the SEC and Wall Street megabanks. “I have had bosses, and bosses of my bosses, whose names we all know, who made little secret that they were here to punch their ticket. They mouthed serious regard for the mission of the Commission, but their actions were tentative and fearful in many instances,” he said.
'B-stylers' Are Japanese Teens Who Want to Be Black
Dutch photographer Desiré van den Berg has spent the past seven months traveling around Asia. She lives in Hong Kong at the moment but when she was in Tokyo, back in December 2013, she met Hina, a 23-year-old who works at a trendy Tokyo boutique called Baby Shoop. Hina’s shop has the tagline “Black for life.” She describes its products as “a tribute to Black culture; the music, the fashion, and style of dance.”
Hina’s appearance is also loyal to what the Japanese call “B-style”—a contraction of the words “Black” and “Lifestyle” that refers to a subculture of young Japanese people who love American hip-hop culture so much that they do everything in their power to look as African American as possible.
I called up Desiré to find out more about her time photographing Hina and her gang.
VICE: How did you meet Hina? Desiré van den Berg: She appeared in a documentary about B-style a couple of years back, which I happened to watch. This is what got me interested in the culture. It took a lot of effort, but I eventually got in touch with her on Facebook, through other B-stylers. I said I wanted to take photos of her, and she actually thought that was pretty cool. It was all a bit of a hassle though, because Hina and the other B-stylers didn’t speak a single word of English. We needed a translator both to make an appointment and at the actual first meeting, too.
How does that work in terms of translating rap lyrics? Hina speaks some English but not fluently. She does like to use some English slang when she speaks Japanese with her B-style friends, like finishing a sentence with “man” or using bad words like “motherfucker” jokingly.