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.”
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.
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.
As Barack Obama considers ways to enforce immigration laws “more humanely,” VICE News travels to Guatemala to meet a deportee named Ray Jesus, who lives apart from his American wife and 5 American children. When Ray lived in the U.S., he was the family’s breadwinner. Now they rely on welfare to get by. It turns out that deporting parents costs much more than the price of a one-way ticket home.
Russia’s aggression in Crimea gave GOP talking heads yet another chance to blather on about how weak Barack Obama is and how America needs to bomb more countries in order to gain respect. Don’t listen to them.
Michael C Ruppert on Syria, Obama, and global economic collapse: “The United States Empire is crumbling as we speak. The world doesn’t have a Plan B for what happens when the United States fails. But the United States NEEDS to fail. The US dollar NEEDS to fail. Not until you have killed the last fish, cut down the last tree, and poisoned the last river will you discover that you cannot eat money.”
Did Obama Just Screw Weed Legalization by Supporting It?
The Obama administration’s relative silence on the issue of marijuana legalization has been good for the cause. But in a recent New Yorker article the president’s stated position on the topic evolved. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” he said, adding, “It’s important for [state-level legalization] to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.” He tempered this support by gingerly detracting from legalization advocacy, saying that those who claim marijuana to be a panacea are “overstating the case.” He also referred to “some difficult line-drawing issues” between weed and other illicit drugs, paying homage to the classic, perhaps arcane argument often wielded by conservatives. As cautious as he was in stating it, Obama’s support for legalization, and more strongly decriminalization, may actually be more damaging to the effort than his silence. If we’ve learned one thing from the past six years of Obama, it’s that conservatives find it easiest to irrationally rally against him on social issues like this one.
Until now, the state-level legislative efforts to legalize weed have not included retroactively reducing the sentences of those currently imprisoned on marijuana-related charges, as pointed out by a recent LA Times piece: “It’s far easier to sell voters on the financial benefits of creating a lucrative new marijuana industry than it is to persuade them to open up the prison gates and set convicts free,” writes Matthew Fleischer.
We traveled to Rio de Janeiro to meet the man who broke the biggest news story of 2013. Glenn Greenwald is an American journalist and author who’s best known for reporting on the leaks of classified National Security Agency documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Before he was a journalist, Greenwald was a constitutional law and civil rights litigator, and until 2012 he was a contributing writer at Salon. He has authored four books: How Would a Patriot Act, Tragic Legacy, Great American Hypocrites, and With Liberty and Justice for Some. For 14 months Greenwald was a columnist at the Guardian, where he broke the first NSA story in June of 2013. He has since left the newspaper to team up with filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Jeremy Scahill to start a new media venture, First Look Media, backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.