Monthly Archives: July 2020

The Tactics of Terror

“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” – Vladimir Lenin


Between 1973 and 1990 scores of people were disappeared by the US supported fascist regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. They were incarcerated, tortured and thousands were murdered. In fact, the official total of those killed by the regime is just over 40,000. But some critics suggest it was much higher. Pinochet was able to do all of this with the blessing of the CIA who assisted him in the coup against the elected President, Salvador Allende, and in his reign of terror afterward in Chile. The painful lessons of the Pinochet years has often been obscured under neoliberal historical revisionism, but with what is currently unfolding in cities like Portland, Oregon, it is urgent to revisit them.


When Donald Trump’s federal agents rolled into Portland last week, they began to employ classic police state tactics of intimidation. Tear gas was employed, “non-lethal” munitions, and the psychological terror of unmarked vans snatching protesters, and even those simply standing by, off the streets without arrest warrants and whisked off to undisclosed locations. The use of forced disappearance should not be underestimated because it is, perhaps, the most effective tactic at crushing dissent and eliminating political rivals.


Under the fist of General Pinochet, the state became a ruthless force of terror. In September of 1973, at least 10,000 people, many of them students, activists and political dissidents, were rounded up by the military shortly after he took the office of the presidency by a US supported and orchestrated coup.They were taken to the National Soccer Stadium in Santiago where they were subjected to torture or were massacred outright. Thousands of bodies were buried in mass graves. Thousands were never recovered as they were discarded in rivers and even in the Pacific Ocean. Even today, families await justice and the chance to bury their loved ones.


Forced disappearances are a crime against humanity according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. And there is no statute of limitations on this crime. But, as we have seen over the past few decades, the US government and military cares little for the international rule of law. Indeed, it has enjoyed impunity for its atrocities while those who violate these statutes in the Global South are often brought to trial and punished severely. The US invasion of Iraq, along with the occupation and atrocities are clear examples of this. And under Trump, the American Empire has divorced itself even more from international bodies that seek at least some regulation of state excesses or the management of crises. His withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change and his recent withdrawal from the World Health Organization during a global pandemic point to a brazen disinterest in engaging with the international community.


Pinochet’s Chile was not alone in its use of forced disappearances. During the Dirty War in Argentina at least 30,000 people were disappeared and murdered by the US backed, rightwing military junta. In fact, under the US implemented and CIA backed and assisted “Operation Condor,” which targeted leftist or socialist political activists, student organizers, and academicians, the entire South American continent became a killing field from the 1970s well into the 1980s. Unsurprisingly, the genocidaire Henry Kissinger was deeply involved in these atrocities in much the same way as he was in Southeast Asia and on the African continent. And he assisted in marrying federal agencies, surveillance and state police, and paramilitary mercenaries and death squads to one another in order to carry out the crimes successfully.


It is not hyperbolic for there to be great alarm over Trump’s use of forced disappearances. Although there have been no deaths because of it, his flouting of the rule of law and use of this tactic of terror is not an accident. And the people under him have proven time and time again that they are ever willing to carry out his orders. As the election looms in November, we should not underestimate the timing of this either. Across the nation protests have arisen to confront the long legacy and continuing ruthlessness of racist, police state violence. The rage has been simmering for a long time, and the murder of George Floyd ignited and galvanized millions to take a stand. To Trump, who is one of the most overtly racist presidents to have taken office since Woodrow Wilson or Teddy Roosevelt, this represents the greatest threat to his legitimacy.


The US is now leading the world in cases of Covid-19 with over 140,000 deaths. Indeed, the pandemic is currently wreaking havoc on an American healthcare system which was already suffering from disorganization and beholden to the whims and will of merciless capitalist predation. When Trump came in, he literally threw out the handbook on how to deal with global pandemics, so the ongoing protests to police brutality provide him a perfect distraction from his colossal blundering and incompetence.


And of course, there are other ingredients to this recipe for disaster. Trump faces a weak candidate in Joe Biden, who cannot seem to form a coherent opposition to his blatant fascist impulses. If there is no meaningful alternative that represents real change in ordinary people’s lives then, like it or not, the people will not bother to vote. There is also the precarious economic situation, the elephant in the room that few wish to acknowledge. With millions unemployed and facing eviction or foreclosure, the elements of fascism may be coalesced even further. God help us if a climate change fueled catastrophe comes this summer or in the fall, because it will be the perfect storm for him to pull whatever levers necessary for him to quell dissent and remain in power. He has such mechanisms at his disposal thanks to the Patriot Act and the NDAA. He can detain any US citizen indefinitely by merely calling them a terrorist, thanks to legislation designed and endorsed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And he has already begun branding anyone who opposes his tyranny, like Antifa and Black Lives Matter, with that spurious charge.


The uprisings taking place across the US are the stirrings of a global mass movement that shows great promise. That they are taking place in the most wealthy and powerful empire on the planet is an indication that this empire itself is beginning to unravel under the weight of its hubris and a long legacy of cruelty, racism and brutality. But no one should underestimate the tremendous pain a wounded giant can inflict as it falls. Its violence is unoriginal, but it will use the only tactics it knows. And we should remember that it is very familiar with atrocities, because it has visited them frequently on the Global South for decades. Portland is a portent. And, as Lenin inferred in the quote above, things can happen rapidly and in a short span of time. We would be wise to heed these urgent lessons before it is too late.


Kenn Orphan  July 2020

It’s True, America has been”Running the World Since 1776″

Lately, there doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by without another viral video of some white American going ballistic in public. Even before an outright racist was put in the Oval Office, in the age of social media we have been allowed to see countless moments of racist intimidation and threats that, although common, were most often hidden from public view. But the latest spate of outbursts seems to be related to mask wearing in stores and other public spaces to stem the spread of Covid-19. One incident involved a man in a Costco store in Florida who screamed at an elderly woman who asked him to wear a mask. The man yelled: “I feel threatened! Back off! Threaten me again!” as he stepped toward the woman in a threatening manner. This moment of unhinged rage would be like every other if it were not one other glaring characteristic about the man. He was wearing a t-shirt that read: “Running the world since 1776.”


To most Americans there is nothing odd about this t-shirt. I lived most of my life in the States and I understand the mindset. American Exceptionalism is a noxious myth that permeates virtually every aspect of the culture. It is embedded in almost every speech given by politicians from either side of the aisle. There was Ronald Reagan, the man who supported rightwing death squads and genocidaires in Central America, who described the US as being “a shining city upon a hill.” And there was Hillary Clinton who said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations that the US is “the indispensable nation.” This was in 2013 after the invasion of Iraq. After Libya. After scores of atrocities committed by the American military and intelligence establishment. She went on to say: “we are a force for progress, prosperity, and peace.” Orwellian doublespeak in real time.


Indeed, Americans are constantly told they “live in the greatest country on earth.” But even prior to the pandemic around 60% of the population was not in possession of a passport. Meaning, most Americans have never been to another country, not even to one neighboring them to the north or south. So how, then, did they know they were the greatest country on earth? The oft used argument is that it is because so many people are clamouring to “get in.” Yet few Americans bother to ask why there are so many immigrants from certain countries as opposed to others. No one dare suggest that decades of belligerent and ruthless American foreign policy against these nations, which has destabilized and made life a misery for millions, might have something to do with this phenomenon. And this indicates how toxically uninterested and myopic the American worldview is.


Most Americans do not see themselves as imperialists. Yet this t-shirt, worn as a testament to ones’ patriotism, is emblematic of this detestable truth. And it belies the murderous foreign policy of the US government which has overseen countless atrocities, from the carpet bombing of South Asian countries, the invasion and bombings of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and beyond, and state-run gulags like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.  And the way in which America has “run” the world has most often been to suppress democracy and support dictatorships and oppressive governments who favor the interests of corporate capital.


In addition to this, the fact that this man employed the commonly used excuse of feeling threatened, when in fact he was the one making the threats, underscores the contradictory nature of this culture. How many police officers, for instance, have used this same excuse when shooting unarmed Black people or people of color? How often has this excuse been used by politicians and policy makers when justifying yet another military foray against a nation in the Global South?


The American project has always been predicated on two conflicting narratives. One is the supremacist myth of Manifest Destiny, a divine right to ethnically cleanse the land of indigenous peoples and grant it to white European settlers. This myth was built on the slave economy and its violent dominance would inevitably extend well beyond the continent.  The other is the myth of the perpetually threatened “white race.” Throughout American history this has influenced and informed every policy and action of the settler state. Not only are non-whites, as well as whites who are non-conforming, to be cast as inferior players on the world stage, they are also to be seen as an existential threat to white people and white culture. They must therefore be subdued, assimilated, and if all this fails, they must be eliminated.


The man in that Florida Costco was asked to wear a mask by several people before he had that public meltdown. And in video after video the same scenario is being played out. Some throwing items of food around supermarkets, others brandishing firearms. All of the videos feature white people exploding in rage for simply being asked to care about the welfare of the most vulnerable people in their society, or to think deeply about the privileged status they have enjoyed thanks to their skin pigment.  It is no coincidence that people of color, Indigenous, Latinx, and Black people in the US are the most impacted and devastated by Covid-19. On the contrary, this sad reality aligns perfectly with the precepts of a supremacist culture. Trump has emboldened this sense of white fragility, but a global pandemic has torn the garments of its entrenched conceit to shreds.


The t-shirt the Florida man was wearing was one of the most honest things I have seen emanate from far right, imperialistic, white America. “Running the world since 1776.”  Indeed, the American Empire has been running things for that long, and ruining them as well. It has saturated the planet with its noxious ideology of capitalist predation, exported its tactics of political repression to client regimes and “allies,” bullied and brutalized the people of any nation that dared dissent, committed countless atrocities, and has defended corporations and businesses which have polluted vital ecosystems and accelerated climate catastrophe.  So it is refreshing, given the current state of the world, that at least one of its subjects would finally take responsibility for its horrendous crimes, abysmal leadership and disastrous legacy.


Kenn Orphan   July 2020

On Susan Rosenberg and Black Lives Matter

          Since the uprisings against police state violence following a spate of recorded instances of brutality, there has been an unrelenting effort by far right and pro-establishment critics to tarnish organizations like Black Lives Matter. Not surprising for anyone who has studied US civil rights history. The American government has long sought to demonize anyone who dissents from their repression and violence. The latest effort has been to link BLM to terrorism.
          Susan Rosenberg, who apparently is on the board of directors of BLM, has become the latest victim of this old smear. According to Wikipedia:
“Rosenberg was charged with a role in the 1983 bombing of the United States Capitol Building, the U.S. National War College and the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, but the charges were dropped as part of a plea deal by other members of her group. After living as a fugitive for two years, she was arrested in 1984 with an accomplice, Timothy Blunk, while unloading 740 pounds of dynamite and weapons from a car into a storage locker in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Convicted of explosives possession, she received a 58-year-sentence, which was sixteen times the national average sentence for such offenses. Her lawyers contend that, had the case not been politically charged, Rosenberg would have received a five-year sentence.”
          After her release from prison, she was also made communications director of the American Jewish World Service, yet there was little said to denounce that organization or accuse it of being violent when this happened. So we should all understand that the basis of this is simple racism and suppression of dissent to state violence.
          Rosenberg became an activist at a time when the US was carpet bombing south Asian countries, napalming children, and spraying rain forests with Agent Orange. The FBI, who had just tried to convince Martin Luther King Jr. to commit suicide prior to his assassination, was also running the infamous COINTELPRO program which infiltrated and sought to discredit a wide spectrum of political organizations they saw as subversive. And scores of anti-racist activists were being targeted for non-violent protest. Rosenburg’s alleged crimes didn’t target innocent people and no lives were lost. One cannot say the same in regard to the millions lost around the world by US wars and state violence.
          Rosenberg spent her time in prison as an advocate for prisoner rights and for people with AIDS. Since then, she has devoted her life to activism on behalf of the poorest and the most vulnerable, both in prison and out, and of the global south which continues to suffer at the hands of American imperialism. That she has been chosen to serve on the board of directors for Black Lives Matter should not be seen as troubling in the least. On the contrary, as one of the most important mass movements of our time, it is absolutely where she belongs.
Kenn Orphan  July 2020