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  • June 19th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


I grew up in an era when the word “antifa” did not exist. In today’s surreal world, it means “anti-fascist.” It is used to describe a nonexistent organization, supposedly composed of left-wing, violent people, dedicated to civil unrest, looting, and anti-American activity. Among them, according to a tweet by the president of the United States, Donald J Trump (a.k.a. the Orange Cheeto) is a 75-year-old New York man, a longtime peaceful protester against anti-American values, who a Buffalo policeman shoved to the pavement so violently during a peaceful protest, that the old man cracked his head and lay in a pool of blood.


The Twitter Critter in Chief had this to say about the incident and the “violent protester” Martin Gugino: “Buffalo protester shoved by police could be an antifa provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”


Gucino was holding a cell phone, an obvious weapon of mass destruction designed to mow down the  Buffalo police. Obviously to Trump, the cop showed great restraint in not machine gunning the old man and anyone close to him.


I’m soon to turn 86, and I can honestly say that I have been antifa for almost 11 years longer than Martin Gucino. Back before that Buffalo cop even was born, there was a little thing called World War II where the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force were engaged in bloody combat against fascist dictators (think Adolf Hitler in Germany, and Benito Mussolini in Italy). Even as a little kid I didn’t like them and neither did anyone else living in America’s democratic Republic. Even at 9 or 10 years old I didn’t know what fascism was, but in common with every other United States citizen, I was anti-fascist.


The dictionary description of fascism is “fascist governments are dominated by a dictator, who usually possesses a magnetic personality, wears a showy uniform, and rallies his followers by mass parades, appeals to strident nationalism, and promotes suspicion or hatred of both foreigners and ‘impure’ people within his own nation, such as the Jews.” Substitute Muslims, Mexicans, and other nonwhite people for Jews, although don’t rule it out if Trump gets mad enough at his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and you have a pretty fair description of Donald J Trump.


Trump currently is lobbying for a mass parade on July 4 to celebrate the nation’s Independence Day. Desecrating the celebration of the nation’s independence is typical Trump. It’s not a parade to celebrate independence; it is a parade to celebrate Donald Trump. As for a magnetic personality, yeah, he has one, and it attracts the violent fringe of society, the bullies, cowards, and brainless riffraff who pollute the communal gene pool. Trump hasn’t yet resorted to a flowery uniform, but don’t rule it out. In fact, don’t rule anything out when it comes to this Sociopath in Chief. There is a depressing pair of photos circulating on the Internet. One is of the White House bathed in colored lights and beautiful in 2010; the other is of the current White House hidden by a 10 foot tall iron fence topped by coils of razor wire. This is the nation’s home, folks, a bunker compound occupied by an evil wannabe dictator.


So I proudly wear the label antifa in its full meaning “anti-fascist.” When I was 10 years old in the middle of World War II, in company with the neighborhood kids, my friends who included one from a Greek family, one from a Jewish family, one Polish family and others of mixed origin, we played soldier—not really knowing what all the fuss was about except that the country was bleeding somewhere overseas and we had relatives in the midst of that bloodshed. We hated Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito. We didn’t understand what they stood for, but we knew from the news and from our parents, that it was bad. We were fighting against fascism, even if we did not understand the word. Today we are fighting a different form of fascism, promoted by a grotesquely depraved Republican party, and its control of the administration, the Congress, and entirely too much of the court system.


Almost every day, the news carries examples of Trumpian fascism. If that Buffalo cop is not a graphic example of a modern-day Mussolini brown shirt, I don’t know who is. If the Minneapolis cop who knelt on the neck of a black man until he killed him, isn’t the modern-day equivalent of anyone who ever threw a rope around the neck of a black man and helped lynch him, then I don’t know who is. We are surrounded by social malignancy and if we are not vigilant it will prove to be a fatal cancer to the quarter millennium that this nation has endured and has been cherished.


Is the answer to do away with police departments entirely? Obviously not. They were established to protect, generally, the public from itself. Without law enforcement to rein in our baser instincts, chaos is only an eyeblink away. But law enforcement reform is an obvious need. How that should be done probably will be debated for many years and very possibly never will occur at all. Defunding is not the answer and does not mean withholding all money from law enforcement—but it does mean allocating that money usefully.


It seems to me that reform in law enforcement where it seems weak should start with the policemen themselves—and, if that is true, the Minneapolis area law enforcement folks are doing a hell of a poor job at it. There is a video of Anoka County cops slashing the tires of protesters and reporters in a parking lot in what they officially explain as “strategically deflated tires.” The Sheriff’s Department of Public Safety spokesman said, in a goofy explanation that “vehicles were being used as dangerous weapons and inhibited our ability to clear areas and keep area safe where violent protests were occurring.” The fact that the cars were parked kind of contradicts the idea that they were moving weapons of mass destruction. When it becomes difficult to tell the vandals from the accused vandals you have to begin to wonder who’s in the wrong.


Every law enforcement agency in the country should immediately begin to weed out potentially lethal officers. Every applicant for a police job should undergo a rigorous psychological examination looking for chinks in the mental armor which a good cop uses to protect himself and the public from dangerous impulses. We all have moments of blind rage; we just learn to control them, otherwise we would turn into savages. We spent a long time evolving from a Neanderthal brutality to the concept of civility and law abiding conduct. Now is not the time to return to caveman behavior.


Law enforcement applicants, beyond being screened for suitability, should have to undergo a drastically altered schooling before being released into the public on active duty. And they should be paid a salary equivalent to what they would get entering any non law enforcement profession. It’s an axiom that you get what you pay for and if you pay for cheap cops you’re going to get low talent cops. As usual after an unwarranted shooting of a black person by a white cop, there are promises of drastic reform, but has also is usual, the story quickly fades from the daily news and the minds of our citizenry which all too often has the attitude of “it didn’t happen to me—let someone else fix the problem.”


While William Barr, the Rottweiler jowled Attorney General, the nation’s top cop, has repeatedly praised the police response to demonstrations against the murder of George Floyd, he also has tried to blame the mostly peaceful protests on African-Americans: “while many police officers do their job admirably and well, it is undeniable that many African Americans lack confidence in our American criminal justice system.” Gee, wonder why that is? Maybe it has something to do with cops kneeling on the neck of African-Americans until they die. You think?


Lost amid the many protests against authorities involved in the Georgia bar murder, is the equally egregious murder of Breonna Taylor on March 13. Ms. Taylor was a 26-year-old African-American in Louisville Kentucky, an emergency room technician, innocent of any crime. Police broke into her home under a judge’s no knock order under which they were allowed not to identify themselves as police. First of all, she was in bed, and, according to police, her boyfriend shot at them with a licensed gun upon which they opened fire, hitting her eight times and killing her. The boyfriend said he feared for his life and thought that the unidentified men battering their way into the apartment meant harm to him and his girlfriend so he fired in self-defense. As is increasingly common in fatal encounters between police and the public, the officers’ body cameras were inactive. They were 10 miles from the apartment designated on the no knock search warrant. Ms. Taylor falls into the category of collateral damage.


Much of what Trump does is symbolic, but I don’t think he smart enough to create these subtle references by himself. I think it’s more in the nature of evil minions like Stephen Miller to come up with coded racism. Not that Trump is not a racist; he has demonstrated both by word and deed over and over again that he is, but it helps him to have someone feeding him insidious language.


Nothing is more blatantly symbolic than his choice of Tulsa as a location to reopen his beloved campaign rallies. It has been almost exactly 100 years since Tulsa was the scene of one of the most infamous race riot in the nation’s history. On May 31 and June 1, 1921 a mob of whites stormed into the black Greenwood section of the city, a thriving business district referred to as “Black Wall Street.”


It came after a black man was arrested for allegedly assaulting a white elevator operator, the African-American community feared that he would be lynched (this was a time when if a black man even so much as smiled at a white woman, he was in danger of being lynched).  Armed mobs of both races gathered and what followed was nothing short of a massacre. The white mobs swarmed into the black district.  Ultimately more than 800 people were hospitalized and 26 black people and 10 white died, but overall estimates range to as many as 300 dead. The white mob essentially destroyed the black community, burning it to the ground, as thoroughly as the atom bomb leveled Hiroshima.  Apparently bowing to public pressure and sentiment, Trump changed the date of his Tulsa rally, but the damage had been done. Having fathered the evil baby, he couldn’t stuff it back into the womb.


And the choice of Jacksonville, Florida, as the site of the Republican national convention is yet another suspiciously coincidental choice by the Republicans. It will be held on the 60th anniversary of a savage beating by a white mob of African-Americans with ax handles and baseball bats. And Trump’s acceptance speech apparently will be written by Stephen Miller. Miller closely resembles in word and action Heinrich Himmler, the most evil of Hitler’s henchmen.


Those sickening episodes are a couple of many examples of white brutality against black people, a persistent and disgusting stain on our national record. Even worse, was what happened to 300 black union soldiers in May 1863 in Tennessee. It’s called the Fort Pillow massacre. Instead of being treated as prisoners of war, they were massacred by Confederate troops. That is part of the heritage that today’s celebrants of the South side of the Civil War don’t point to when they laud the heritage of the old South. The old South in reality was one of slavery and degradation of African-Americans and the echoes of it today sound all over the Southland, no matter how hard the would be Johnny Rebs try to deny it.


Tulsa may be the most egregious example of Trump’s racist philosophy, but certainly not the only one. In the town where I went to high school, Keytesville, Missouri, there is in the city Park a statue of General Sterling Price, a Confederate General so venerated that there is every year a celebration dedicated to him. Nationally we are in the midst of a call to tear down statues of Confederates as symbols of treason, distinctly un-American, representing the losing side of America’s bloodiest war.


The presence of the statue never bothered me in high school or at any time since and actually a few years ago I was honored to be recognized as a notable Keytesville citizen during Price Days—got to ride with wife Marty in the back of a convertible down the parade route, waving at Keytesvillians lining the street, like an actual celebrity. The symbolism of the moment escaped me at the time, but it doesn’t now. I say take down the statue of Sterling Price, stick him in a dusty museum somewhere, and rename the park that he stood in for, let’s say, General Omar Bradley whose hometown was nearby Moberly—close enough. Or it could be general John J “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of American forces in Europe during World War I. He was from Meadville, just up the road from Keytesville. Close enough.


If I had a choice of who to replace Price in the park, I’d opt for Give ‘Em Hell Harry Truman. After all, Sterling Price’s rebel forces captured my great grandfather and his brother, both Union militia men, paroled them and sent them home. They were lucky that Bloody Bill Anderson a sociopathic, Southern sympathizing killer, who was roaming the same central Missouri countryside as was Price’s Army, didn’t encounter them and shoot them dead. I guess I owe more to Sterling Price for being here than I do the Yankee cause.


But removing statues or renaming locations that have a connection to the Confederate side smacks more of blame shifting, than it does of redressing centuries of racial injustice. What good does it do to take down the statues of Confederate generals or, for that matter, presidents who owned slaves which includes many of the founding fathers. I support trashing the Confederate flag and renaming military bases named for Confederate figures. The stars and bars is as much a symbol of repression as is the Nazi flag. But it makes little sense to me to remove the statue of Thomas Jefferson from the University of Missouri campus which has been the site of black protest in recent years. The University has rejected the idea. After all, Thomas Jefferson was a champion of many of the ideals that shape what we would aspire to as a country. He even donated his library to found the Library of Congress.


Donald Trump, of course, endorses the presence of these tributes to the leaders of the so-called “lost cause” and also is opposed to the renaming of military bases named for these same historic figures. Of course they are part of the fabric of the United States, and of its history. They should not be ignored nor attempts be made to erase them from the record because they existed. But that does not mean we should venerate them and recognize them as anything other than leaders of not a lost cause, but a lost rebellion.


Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore in one of history’s bitter ironies was the first sculptor asked to design and sculpt a Confederate Memorial on Stone Mountain, Georgia. He actually completed models of the sculpture. Borglum was affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan which was deeply involved in lobbying for the memorial, but he ultimately was fired over money issues. His next and most famous sculpture was…. Mount Rushmore.


I wouldn’t be surprised if Donald Trump’s most cherished secret wish is that he could order the carving of Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore be sandblasted off so it could be replaced by his face. Instead I would offer Stone Mountain which was opened as a State Park exactly 100 years to the day from the Abraham Lincoln assassination.  Symbolism seems to be the order of the day when it comes to bigotry.  It is where the heads of Robert E Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson loom over the adoring redneck masses below.  There’s room for Donnie to join them, if he’s looking for yet another Confederate racist symbol.  Perfect for Donnie and his bigoted followers to celebrate, so there it is.


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