Friday, January 27, 2017

If You Want to Punch a Real Fascist, Go to India

If by fascist, you mean “adherent of a movement determined to seize state power with the help of violence committed by a disciplined and armed auxiliary, if necessary, to reorder society to achieve extra-constitutional, self-defined racial or ethnic objectives embodied by a charismatic leader”, that is.

Narendra Modi and his BJP party, in my reading, plays the democrat for advantage in the electoral game, but acts the fascist through deniable cutouts—the RSS Hindu nationalist movement and its constellation of affiliates, known collectively as the Sangh Parivar.

The BJP has a membership of about 100 million.  Members of Sangh Parivar organizations number in the tens of millions.  The VHP, which does the heavy lifting for the Sangh as far as virulent Hindu nationalism goes, reportedly has a membership of almost 3 million. 

So if you're eager to punch fascists in India, better bring some friends...maybe bring a chopper...well, maybe bring a gun...maybe bring a lot of guns.

Fascists play for keeps in India.

Reasonable people can disagree.  But before you disagree with me, please read my piece on Modi--Is Narendra Modi the Leader of the World's Largest Democracy...Or the World's Most Successful Fascist?—and the horror of the pogrom he allegedly orchestrated in Gujarat in 2002--first.

And read this, about the battle to come out on top in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly election, which will be held in stages between  February 11 and March 8 in seven phases.

Uttar Pradesh, a.k.a. UP, in addition to being an immense electoral prize in India’s heartland—if independent, its population of 200 million would make it the sixth largest country in the world—is 20% Muslim.

The BJP views that percentage as a challenge, a threat…and an opportunity to display its core competence in the science of communal polarization, intimidation, and worse.

One of the less savory expressions of the philosophy of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, that prevails among followers of Modi, the BJP, and the RSS, is the sentiment that Muslims are an affliction, a contamination and, especially via Pakistan, a threat to the purity and vigor of the Hindu polity.

“Reconverting” Indian Muslims back to Hinduism—on the grounds that the vast majority of Hindu Muslims are that way only because of forcible conversion to Islam back in the day and should be helped to return to their true religion—is a big deal for the BJP.

The movement is called “ghar wapsi”—“homecoming” and it’s run by cadet outfits of the RSS.
"Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra by 2021.  The Muslims and Christians don't have any right to stay here."

"So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here," Uttar Pradesh DJS head Rajeshwar Sing said.
In case you're laboring under the mis-impression that this is just the frothing of a bunch of marginalized extremist goombahs, for Rajeshwar Sing, the guy quoted above, running Hindu reconversion circuses in UP was his ticket to the big show.

The next year, Sing got promoted to the RSS, the organization Narendra Modi serves as a pracharak, or lifetime cadre, and whose political arm is the BJP.

In 2015, the Times of India reported on Singh's new responsibilities.  Singh obligingly schooled the Times on the hierarchy/deniable cutout arrangement that informs the relationship between the RSS, its multitude of affiliates, and the BJP:

Dharam Jagran Samaj's Rajeshwar Singh, the force behind the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's high-octane ghar wapsi programme in western Uttar Pradesh last year, who was quietly sent on a three-month leave by the RSS later, is back with an elevation. From the fringe body, Singh has now been promoted to the parent organization. According to regional RSS leaders, this is indeed a shot in the arm for Singh.
Singh, who will now be shifting base to Meerut from Agra on April 7, told TOI over phone, "According to our internal hierarchy, RSS is at the top, followed by VHP and others, while DJS is at the bottom of the rung.
Talking about his new role, Singh said, "I have continuously worked for the Sangh's campaigns and programmes. I will wait for the orders. Even earlier, there were orders to conduct ghar wapsi [“Homecoming” ceremonies for Muslims converting “back” to Hinduism], which I followed."

"My hard work and struggles have paid off as I am now associated (directly) with RSS."

To appreciate the tactical coordination between the RSS and the BJP and the endless PR games played by the BJP while it preserves political deniability as it exploits the communal polarization strategy executed by the RSS, it was elsewhere explained that Singh had been sent on vacay for a few months before his promotion not because he was doing a bad job, but because he was doing too good a job.  Muslim conversion started to generate too much political heat for the BJP & it was deemed necessary to cool things down:

In December 2014, the RSS leadership had relieved senior pracharak Rajeshwar Singh of his duties in its Dharm Jagran wing for creating an embarrassment for the BJP government through his reconversion drive in Uttar Pradesh, something that he had been doing with RSS' blessings since 1998.

"There is an understanding where every issue is allowed to be raised with the government, but there is an understanding also that it should not be taken to a stage to create an embarrassment for the government — our government," said a person privy to the larger understanding in the leadership of the Sangh Parivar.
Uttar Pradesh is historical ground zero for BJP’s politics of Hindutva nationalism and anti-Muslim agitation.
The signature piece of BJP incitement in its career in India--and perhaps the key inflection point in modern Indian history-- was the successful campaign to tear down the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya in eastern UP in 1993, on the pretext that it had been sacrilegiously built there by the Moghuls 400 years ago on top of the actual birthplace of Lord Ram. 

Here's a capsule video report.  Kar sewaks are religious volunteers, in this case mobilized by the BJP and other Hindu nationalist parties; a lakh = 100,000, so 200,000 people participated in storming the mosque.  A puja is a routine religious ritual that was used as a pretext for assembling the 200,000 kar sewaks.

As to consequences, thousands have died in communal violence directly related to the conflict ginned up over the Ayodhya mosque by the BJP.  The 2002 pogrom that stains Modi’s tenure in Gujarat was sparked by the deaths of BJP kar sewaks on a train returning from a ceremony at Ayodhya.

Ayodhya defined and affirmed the BJP as a dominating national party and the intimidating voice of Hindu chauvinism.

Narendra Modi was there, by the way.  In the 1990s he was a go-fer and organizer for LK Advani, the BJP head at the time, who built the BJP into a national force through his “Rath Yatra” a ceremonial procession through India led by a Toyota converted into Lord Ram’s chariot that that left a trail of communal violence and death in its wake, and culminated with an assault on the Ayodhya mosque.

If you have an hour to spare, watch this documentary, In the Name of God, on the BJP’s Ayodhya campaign and its impact on issues of caste, religion, and class in UP.  I found it a riveting piece of social history.

Here’s a picture of Modi at the time.  

Modi had a junior but important role in organizing the Yatra.  Among his many duties, he was Advani’s “mike holder” when the BJP chief issued his pronouncements.

The Ayodhya dog doesn’t quite hunt anymore, as far as stoking outrage over Muslim presumption goes.  The Babri Masjid was destroyed over 20 years ago...

... and a ramshackle temple to Rama stands in the ruins today.

But BJP ugliness in Uttar Pradesh is not just a matter of nostalgia for the bigoted thuggery of the Ayodhya mosque demolition.

The BJP and its surrogates returned to the reliable anti-Muslim program by, according to credible accounts, carefully orchestrating and exploiting an outbreak of communal violence in western Uttar Pradesh in 2013.

On one level, Uttar Pradesh politics is mind-numbingly complex (*see the Economic Times ‘splainer attached to the end of this piece).  On another level, it’s pretty simple.  Caste politics dominate.  Various political parties each have their “vote bank” a core identity-politics outfit they rely on for their electoral clout: Dalits (“untouchables”) for the BSP, Yadavs for the SP, “forward castes” (Brahmins, especially) for the BJP.  That’s around 70% of the electorate right there.  Each party deploys the full range of public relations hoohah at election time to try to cannibalize dissatisfied supporters from the other parties and gain an electoral edge.

Then there’s the Muslim vote.  There are quite a few Muslims in UP, maybe 20% of the population, potentially decisive in the highly fragmented world of UP politics.  The BJP is never going to win Muslim votes for obvious reasons, so its strategy is to strip away Hindu votes from the BSP and SP by resorting to its core competency in “polarization” i.e shifting the terms of political discourse away from communal interests to communal hatred, and rely on the marginalized and intimidated Muslims to fragment their votes among the various local parties instead of organizing as a bloc.

The BJP strategy was demonstrated in the outbreak of communal violence in western Uttar Pradesh against the backdrop of elections to the national parliament, the Lok Sobha, in 2014 that the BJP was determined to win.

A path to victory was to break the electoral solidarity of a key “backward caste” the Jats, comprised of both Hindus and some Muslims.  Jats served as the coveted local “vote bank” for the BSP, which relied on a combination of Jat and Muslim votes for its electoral fortunes in dozens of constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh.

The region is 25% Muslim, a demographic that, for understandable reasons, is largely beyond the reach of the BJP.  The key was to polarize the Jat electorate so that it would identify with the Muslim-despising national BJP more than the “all politics is local/Jat+Muslim tactical alliance” competing parties.

Unfortunately, western Uttar Pradesh already had some a history of communal violence between non-Jat castes and Muslims, so it was a matter of building on existing tensions rather than ginning up a pogrom from scratch.

According to a report compiled by ANHAD, a human rights group, after extensive site visits, RSS activists fanned out around the western UP city of Muzzafarnagar to create an atmosphere of communal tension by promoting the manufactured  threat of “love jihad”—the seduction of Hindu women by Muslim men for the purpose of converting them to Islam—by sending provocateurs to pose as Muslims to taunt Hindu girls and, just to make sure the communal pot got boiling, sending Hindus out to taunt Muslim girls:

About 10-15 young men were recruited by the Sangh Parivar in each town and village and were deputed to spread hate. Systematic and organised, incidents of eve-teasing [current term of art not just for sexually harassing speech directed to women in public but also other forms of physical molestation—ed.] had increased many folds. The method was simple, use skull caps to eve tease a Hindu woman and wear Kalawa while eve teasing a Muslim girl in a Burka. The anger against this escalation prepared the grounds for spreading notion of „love jihad‟ by Sangh Parivar in a highly male chauvinistic society, a campaign, which made the two communities suspicious of each other. Every instance where a Hindu Girl was found talking to a Muslim boy was publicised and seen as an invasion. This method had been successfully used in Gujarat before 2002 carnage.

I speculate that the profoundly ugly foundation for this RSS strategy was awareness that western Uttar Pradesh is not just “traditional” or “chauvinist”--it leads India in honor killings. In fact, in 2003, Muzzafarnagar district reported 13 honor killings in 9 months, which probably made it the honor murder capital of all India.

 Extreme private/public violence to control female behavior is practiced in Jat communities and is reportedly an emblem of power and authority for the village heads, as one study described:

The khap leaders are a handful of self-appointed, self-styled protectors of the ‘purity’ of the Jat community in rural Haryana. Baljit Malik, a leader of the Jathwala khap, says: “We do not subscribe to these killings. It is the families that execute such murders. Khaps are needed today like never before, given the exposure to the outside world. The village cannot depart from conventions which form the basis of civilisation.” He is speechless when asked why they do not issue fatwa, osctracising families indulging in such killings or repressing women. 

The authority the khap has in a village makes its leaders demigods. Their word is law and any digression is enough to invite the severest punishment. 

So, what better way for the RSS/BJP to insinuate itself into the Jat polity and put itself on the side of the conservative khaps by fomenting a moral panic based on the sexual threat to Jat womanhood from Muslim men.

The campaign of communal violence was encouraged at inflammatory rallies with BJP attendance.  In time honored fashion, trishuls—the signature BJP trident and a rather nasty looking metal implement--were distributed, a pretty good predictor that things are going to turn bloody.

And they did.

A cycle of eve-teasing offense, punishment, and retaliation led to the deaths of three people in a town outside Muzzafarnagar city.  Fatally, the incident involved Muslims & Hindus, providing the BJP and khaps with the opportunity for a mass mobilization on the pretext of the Muslim threat to Jat lives and honor.

Per the ANHAD report:

Despite prohibitory orders ... proclaimed by the administration … about 100 thousand people were allowed to assemble. Many of them were armed as was requested by BJP-RSS combine. The slogans that were used by the coming crowed were highly provocative and communal. For example „Musalmano Kaeik histhan, Pakistan ya qabristan (for Muslims there is only one option Pakistan or graveyard), Modi Lao Desh Bachao (Bring Narendra Modi Save the Nation), Tumne do Ko mara hai ham sau katwe marenge (you have killed two Hindus we will kill 100 Muslims).

Fearing an attack Muslims started collecting in Madarsa (sic) and Mosques.During the Mahapanchayat [meeting of khaps ostensibly called by Jat leaders but actually organized by the BJP in this case-ed.], the leaders spitted venom against Muslims. A fake video [showing two youths being brutally murdered, actually showing events in Pakistan—ed.] was used to raise the temperatures. The same was circulated, by the BJP and RSS workers in the form of MMS and CDS. It was uploaded on the social Media as well.  Sangeet Som (BJP MLA) was the first to upload the video on his social networking site account

The butcher’s bill: 46 Muslims killed and 13 Hindus.  Officially.  About 50,000 residents, overwhelmingly Muslim, fled to refugee camps.

Activist filmmaker Gopal Menon did extensive local interviews as well as rounding up footage of the inflammatory mahapanchayat assembly organized by the Jat khaps and the BJP for his documentary, The Killing Fields of Muzzaffarnagar, which is well worth watching.  According to Menon, the Muslim death toll was more like 150.  

Rape, as one would expect from the sexually charged campaign, was a feature of the pogrom.   

So was police and official collusion in leaving victims unprotected during the attacks and without redress afterwards, and studied indifference to the plight of refugees.

The electoral payoff in the UP segment of the Lok Sabha (national assembly) races:  the Jat Hindu community was successfully polarized between its Hindu and Muslim members.  Many Jat Hindus cleaved to the BJP instead of continuing to back the BSP, and the BJP dominated while the local parties scrapped over the leftovers.

The BJP clobbered the local parties statewide, but no region came out in bigger numbers for the BJP than the Jat core in western UP.  Not even eastern UP, the home of Ayodhya, a center of Brahminism, and the BJP traditional heartland.

One of the alleged insigators of the unrest, BJP UP executive committee member Umesh Malik, subsequently claimed, somewhat hyperbolically:

“During the Lok Sabha election, the embers that rose from Muzaffarnagar spread to the state, and from there to the entire nation. The embers that you created made Narendra Modi the Prime Minister”.
The good news, at least temporarily, was that in a handful of UP 2014 state assembly races held soon after the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won only 3 of the eleven contested seats despite energetically turning the communal hatre crank, stalling the Modi juggernaut.

Gilles Vernier, a professor of political science at Ashoka University, looked at the fresh wave of violence in the run-up to the state polls and  observed in 2014:

The amplitude of the current outbursts of violence seems disproportionate for the political gains at stake … The real objective is the next assembly elections in 2017…

This pratfall apparently forced the BJP to re-evaluate its UP-wide strategy and pull back from aggressive statewide Hindutva agitation this year: the 2017 assembly elections, the big one, when all 403 state assembly seats are at stake.

In the run-up to this year's polls, demonetization is being advertised as the magic bullet for the BJP’s UP hopes, on the theory that sucking almost half of the nation’s cash out of circulation would disproportionately discommode the BJP’s adversaries in their vote buying/campaigning exercises.  At the same time, so the theory goes, demonetization would be understood by the little people of all castes as the sure sign that the BJP and Modi are the only guys fighting for them in UP against the forces of black money and corruption which, to be sure, dominate the political and economic culture in the state.

On hot button Hindutva issues, moderation, at least on the surface, is seen as the key:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appreciation of the canonisation of Mother Teresa or the snub to cow vigilantism recently may run against the common strand of RSS belief, but the Sangh has not made them an issue to confront the government, they said.
The RSS has …only desisted from raising heat over the Ram Temple, Common Civil Code [promoted by the BJP to supplant shariah and other religious laws in family matters—ed.] or Article 370 [constitutional amendment granting limited autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir], …
In the current campaign, the BJP expended considerable energy to try to sell itself in UP as a suitable destination for Dalit votes, even though it is founded on a vision of returning to the glory days of Brahmin dominion.  Apparently, the effort faltered and the BJP Dalit outreach program, instead of culminating in a supercolossal rally addressed by Modi in UP’s state capital of Lucknow, petered out as a meeting in Kanpur chaired by the head of the UP BJP.  

Nevertheless, the BJP recently announced a slate of 80 Dalit candidates for the UP assembly, a sign that the leadership is pinning serious hopes on duplicating its 2014 success in eating into the BSP’s base for the Lok Sabha elections…and relying on its adversaries hopelessly splitting the Muslim & other vote blocs between them.

 Apparently some discreet Hindutva dog whistling is apparently still required to show that the BJP’s heart is still in that deep, dark place where communal violence is the ticket to electoral success.

The president of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh called for prompt erection of a magnificent temple to the Hindu god Lord Ram…on the site of the demolished Muslim mosque in Ayodhya…that triggered communal violence throughout India…and the notorious Gujarat pogrom of 2002…presided over by Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat.
Here’s a photo of the scale model of the envisioned temple that serves as the BJP’s Ayodhya temple fetish.  Rama not shown actual size, natch.

The BJP chieftain then distanced himself from the subsequent uproar, in the best BJP-tactical/post-truth fashion, by simply denying he had said it.

Modi also discreetly honored his Hindutva roots during an appearance at a ceremony honoring Lord Rama by echoing the battle cry of the militants who had demolished the Ayodhya mosque, the god whose birthplace was supposedly defiled by Babri Masjid. 

As for western Uttar Pradesh, the Hindutva bell had been rung emphatically in 2013 in Muzzaffanagar, and it was re-rung in Muzzaffanagar in February 2016 when the BJP won a state assembly by election in the miserable district on the platform of defense against gangrape and love-jihad in a campaign run by the alleged Jat and BJP orchestrators of the 2013 pogrom.

The durability of the polarization strategy in the Jat regions of western Uttar Pradesh, with its promise that the RSS/BJP has permanently cracked this pillar of the BSP vote bank—and hope that the BSP and SP will cripple themselves competing for the limited untouchable/Muslim votes remaining—probably accounts for the professed public confidence of the BJP as it goes into this year's state assembly election.

Umesh Malik, who was an alleged linchpin of the 2013 pogrom, is on the BJP’s candidate list for the upcoming election for Budhana, a small town in the Muzzaffanagar district.

The election in Uttar Pradesh is crucial because it is a test, in India’s biggest state, of the “Modi Magic” which has failed to deliver big wins for the BJP in recent by-elections.  

The formidable Modi machine—which, by the way, takes advantage of generous reporting in the Western press accruing from India’s importance as an anti-China counter and techlords’ dream date to feed back images of Modi as a global darling to the Indian market—will be on full display in conventional media, social media, and local organizing in Uttar Pradesh.

What’s the staying power of fascism in the 21st century?  Modi’s India, more than Trump’s America, will give us an answer.


*Per Economic Times the social structure and vote bank state of play in Uttar Pradesh:

There are 79 castes under other backward classes (OBCs). There are sub-categories of backward classes (BCs) and most backward classes (MBCs) within OBCs. Yadav, Lodh, Kurmi and Jat come under BCs and constitute around 18% of the population, while all MBCs make up around 16.7%. Together, they have dominance in 145 assembly seats across UP . Yadavs are dominant OBCs and hold sway in 75 assembly constituencies with a population of over 20%. These include Etawah and the adjoining areas in west UP and Azamgarh and areas border ing Bihar in east UP . Dalits have 66 sub-castes and to gether they make up more than 20% of the population in near ly 100 assembly constituen cies. Muslims are over 20% in 145 assembly seats.

Brahmins play a crucial role in 60 assembly seats (over 20% of the population) in central and east UP and Thakurs are important in 85 seats (over 15% of population) mainly in central and east UP , such as Pratapgarh, Amethi, Domariaganj and Sultanpur, and some in west UP like Fatehpur Sikri. To win an election, a party needs at least 30% of the total votes, which cannot be achieved through one caste alone. Parties thus cobble up caste and communal alliances to sail through.
“The role of MBCs and subcastes comes into play here. Though the numbers differ from west to east UP , the demographic distribution and concentration of castes is such that a minor tilt of one caste or sub-caste can influence the election in a seat or even a region,“ says analyst Ashish Awasthi.
For example, among OBCs, Jats constitute only 2%, but they are over 17% of the populace in 11 districts of west UP , influencing 55 assembly seats. Similarly, Kurmis are 4% and Lodhs 2% of the population but have influence in many seats in Bundelkhand, central and east UP .
Among MBCs -Mauryas, Shakyas, Sainis, Kushwaha, Nishads and Binds -have influence in central and east UP , Rajbhars in east UP . Together, they can play a crucial role in about 100 seats. Parties with bases among BCsMBCs and sub-castes have also come up.RLD has influence over Jats, Apna Dal over Kurmis, Mahan Dal over Mauryas, Shakyas, Sainis and Kushwaha, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party over Rajbhars and Peace Party over a section of east UP Muslims. A swing of 4,000-5,000 votes can win you an election in a particular constituency. This explains why major parties ally with smaller ones,“ says an analyst. Akhilesh Yadav's move to recommend the inclusion of 17 sub-castes from OBCs into the scheduled caste category is aimed at getting their votes. These castes are Kahar, Kashyap, Kewat, Nishad, Bind, Bhar, Prajapati, Rajbhar, Batham, Gaur, Tura, Majhi, Mallah, Kumhar, Dheemar and Machua -spread across UP .

Similarly, among Dalit subcastes, BSP holds sway among Jatavs, which is why other parties are wooing sub-castes like Pasis and Balmikis, which are a good number in central UP.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Advantage: Nicholas Wilson!

I am pleased to report that in this month of January 2017 Nicholas Wilson was both able to avert foreclosure on his home for back mortgage payments and get the British government to acknowledge the merits of his 13 year campaign as a whistleblower to bring HSBC to book for improper charges on credit card debt.  Details here.  Background here.

Guardian headline from January 20, 2017: here.

For those of us who participated in Wilson's crowdfunder to save his house, there's a nice shoutout at the end of the piece:

[Wilson] said the proceedings were later dismissed after he paid off all the arrears “thanks to supporters on Twitter”. An online crowdfunding appeal had raised about £3,700.

Once again, I thank everyone who responded to my notice of Wilson's crowdfunder by either contributing or retweeting, with special thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair at CounterPunch and Joanne Leon at Shadowproof for publicizing the effort to their followers.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Would Buzzfeed Have Published the Martin Luther King Sex Tape?

Kompromat--the term for the acquistion and exploitation of compromising material, often of an embarrassing sexual nature--is very much in the news today, thanks to the allegation that Russian security services have dirt on Donald Trump and are blackmailing him to follow Kremlin policies.

On Martin Luther King Day, we can remember a great American--and one who was subjected to the most notorious kompromat exploit in US history--Martin Luther King Jr.

I'm re-upping a post I did last year on the FBI sextape/suicide campaign against King.

I'd also like to point out that the most successful kompromat dossier assembled on a US president was Monica Lewinsky's blue dress.

You know, the dress spotted with Bill Clinton's semen that she put at the back of her closet and forgot to take to the cleaners?

The blackmail element, though denied and ignored by loyal liberals by myself and softpedaled during the impeachment hearings, was there as well.  If you think it was a matter of disinterested benevolence that caused President Clinton to set up a job interview for Monica Lewinsky with Vernon Jordan, well...

A president yielding to sexual blackmail and lying about it was stone impeachable.  Didn't happen, though.

The best we got was Peggy Noonan enriching the vocabulary of American political ratf*ckery with her allegation that Castro was blackmailing Clinton with tapes of his phone sex sessions with Lewinsky, justified by the statement--which seems to be the lodestar for current discourse-- "Is it irresponsible to speculate?  It would be irresponsible not to."

Presidential semen, one might think, is the best kompromat there is but, as readers of thrillers such as Primal Fear and Gone Girl will tell you, there are ways even to mess with that!

Once the security services get involved, we're all the way down the rabbit hole.

As an illustration, consider this:

There is plausible speculation that the US government forged a typewriter to convict Alger Hiss.  The typewriter was in question was convincingly identified as Hiss's (he'd gotten rid of it but the FBI tracked it down) and shown to be the same machine that produced the notorious "pumpkin papers" produced by Whitaker Chambers.

But the scuttlebutt (including an alleged statement by Richard Nixon that "we built [a typewriter] on the Hiss case") is that the FBI couldn't find the Hiss typewriter; instead, a similar model was obtained and modified so it could reproduce the "fingerprint" of the original machine that typed the pumpkin papers.  Wikipedia has an excellent account of the case and the typewriter controversy.

Bad FBI!

But this rumor is layered on top of the conclusion that the FBI had identified Hiss as a Soviet agent thanks to the Venona intercepts, whose existence it did not want to reveal in open court as the price of nailing Hiss.


As someone once commented in the case of the TV show "Making of a Murderer" sometimes the cops frame guilty people...

...or people they think are guilty...

...or people they hope are guilty.

Something to remember!

As in don't let the IC push a particular political agenda, maybe.

So shoulda woulda Buzzfeed published the MLK sextapes?    Remember, it published the Trump dossier not because it could vouch for the accuracy of the allegations; release was justified by the fact that the dossier was circulating throughout official Washington and the media and the public had a right to know, even if was the last to know.

Apparently, lots of people in Washington got a listen to the MLK tapes, just as multitudes pored over the Trump dossier. The authenticity of the events on the Martin Luther King tapes--if not the sexually heroic composite generated by the FBI--is, as far as I can tell, challenged by no-one.

As for the public interest/puppet of Moscow angle, the proximate justification for surveilling King and trying to destroy him with sex tape was Hoover's conviction--never successfully documented by the FBI, at least in the public realm-- that a key King adviser was a Soviet agent.

Gosh, should the American public have a right to judge for itself as to whether America's top civil rights leader was vulnerable to Soviet manipulation by listening to a mixtape of his alleged sexual exploits provided by an intelligence service?

The assumption is, however, that all copies of the King tapes were destroyed when Hoover died, sparing Buzzfeed the heartburn of a genuine, real-life choice.

But we can appreciate the bizarre spectacle of Donald Trump appearing as Martin Luther King's 21st century doppelganger if only in the matter of deep state sexually-tinged kompromat campaigns.

 Here's a reup of my original post, trimmed a touch, with a couple grafs added from another Hoover post of mine, “Everybody Wants Their Own Stasi.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall

In the case of Martin Luther King, America's deep state intersected with politics and civil rights and Thurgood Marshall's strategy for African American legal equality in some ugly and dangerous ways.

And they intersect at a most unpleasant and unhappy point, one that is largely ignored when putting an optimistic, feel-good gloss over Dr. King's struggle for civil rights: the infamous MLK sex tape gambit cooked up by the FBI.

The most uncomfortable issue raised by the existence of tapes is not the matter of Dr. King's human appetites and deficiencies in the area of marital fidelity.  It is the potential for blackmail, the leverage that the FBI and the US government could have brought to bear against Dr. King and his direction of the civil rights movement by exploiting the tapes.

And the case of the tapes also shines an awkward light on the relationship between America's deep state and another African-American civil rights giant: Thurgood Marshall.  

For background, I highly recommend Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.  Reading it in the context of Ferguson, Garner, etc. this book really f*cked me up, as they say nowadays.  Based on my experience, I’d recommend just picking up the book and reading it, without googling “Groveland Boys” or looking at some reviews of the book.  All I can say is that, despite that determinedly sunny subtitle, it will take you into some very dark places.

Actually, what I will say is that the book also offers some more fascinating insights into the relationship between J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, the political civil rights movement served by Dr. King, and the "lawfare" civil rights legal battle fought with similar dedication and personal courage by Thurgood Marshall.  

As I wrote in a previous post, “Everybody Wants Their Own Stasi,” Hoover disliked and distrusted Martin Luther King as a troublemaker and, possibly, a communist asset.  

One of the most interesting chapters in Hoover’s history is the lethal dance that the Kennedy brothers led with Hoover over the issue of Martin Luther King and, in particular, the purported Communist ties of King’s white advisor, Stanley Levison.  Levison had apparently broken with communism as an ideology in 1956 over Hungary, before he started working with King.

Cognizant of the epic sh*train that would descend on anybody who irresponsibly alleged that King was acting on the advice of a Soviet agent, today everybody is extremely cautious and circumspect in their verbiage concerning this issue.  [Here is an excellent, judicious parsing of the Levison matter, albeit from 2002, by David Garrow in The Atlantic.  CH, 1/14/15]  But not Hoover and the FBI in the 1960s.  Hoover was determined to establish Levison’s current communist ties in order to discredit King and the movement, and Robert Kennedy as AG greenlit Hoover to blackbag, wiretap, and bug King, Levison and his associates to the nth degree in an attempt to establish the link.  The smoking gun never emerged (Levison did get hauled before a secret session of a Congressional committee, where he denied “now or ever having been” and then took the 5th on all other queries), and the Kennedys did not allow themselves to get buffaloed into turning against King by Hoover and the non-stop stream of anti-King tittle-tattle that the FBI funneled into the Oval Office, and to their allies in Congress and the media.

Well, not completely.  Hoover’s campaign had made Levison toxic enough that the Kennedys prevailed on King to break overt ties with him as a condition of White House support for King’s efforts.  Levison continued to work with King through a cutout.

And thanks to the Kennedys’ desire to hedge their security and political bets, the FBI did collect enough tapes of King’s bedroom activities in order to produce one of the seamiest COINTELPRO crimes: the attempt to drive King to suicide by sending the tapes and a jeering letter to his home urging him to commit suicide (not at the behest of the Kennedys, I might point out).

Remarkably, the relationship between Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, two civil rights icons, does not seem to have been any closer or sympathetic than the ties between Marshall and J. Edgar Hoover, judging by Marshall's attitude toward the sex tape compiled by Hoover.

Readers can judge for themselves, with this excerpt from interviews recorded by Marshall’s biographer, Juan Williams:

Q: Did (Hoover) fear that King was a communist?
A: He just had an absolute blur on communism. It's unbelievable. I don't know what happened to him, I don't know what happened but something happened.

No, it was personal. He bugged everything King had. Everything. And the guy that did it was a friend of a private detective in New York who's a good friend of mine, Buck Owens.  He called up and said, Buck, do you know Martin Luther King? And he said, no. He said do you know anybody that goes? He said yes. He said well you please tell him, don't use my name but I'm in the group that's bugging everything he's got. Even when he goes to the toilet. I mean we've bugged everything and I think it's a dirty damn trick and he ought to know about it.
So Buck called me and I called Brother King. He was in Atlanta then. And I told him about it and he said, oh forget it, nothing to it. Just didn't interest him. That's what he said. He didn't care, no. 
Q: How do you interpret that?
A: I don't and I've never been able to. That he wasn't doing anything wrong. Well they ain't nobody who can say that. Right. Right. And when I called him up and told him that his house was bugged and all, he said so what? Doesn't bother me. That's what he said.

Q: Did you guys know about all this sex stuff that they talk about these days?
A: I knew that the stories were out. And I knew who was putting them out.

Q: Mr. Hoover?
A: No, it was a private police business. They used to settle strikes and everything. [Pinkertons] I'm not saying whether, I don't know, I don't know whether he was right or Hoover was right. I don't know which one was right.

Q: What did you think about the fact that he didn't care about being bugged?
A: Well, the answer was simple. I don't know if a man can humanly do all the things. Five and six times a night with five and six different women. We add it all up, I mean he just couldn't be all them places at the same time. I don't believe in it personally. But I don't know, when I was solicitor general, a lot of things came by, arguments between the attorney general and the director of the FBI and I, by internal rules, had to get copies of all of it. And we had to have a special safe and I know that of all the things that I listened to and read, I never found Mr. Hoover to have lied once. Not once. I don't know, I'm not saying he always told the truth -

Q: You never found him to have lied?
A: That's right. I mean he was never proved to be a liar. He always came up with the right stuff, usually it would be a taped thing. You can tell by the tape. I don't know. But that's between him and, I think the only way to do it would be him and King and put 'em in the same room. And it's too late to do that.

Marshall’s remarks support Tim Weiner’s portrait of Hoover in Enemies as an unnervingly astute and capable bureaucrat who effectively performed his impossible mission—navigating between the conflicting demands of the Constitution for civil liberties and the Executive Branch for universal intelligence—with marked success for five decades…

…perhaps as astutely and capably as Marshall shrank the grey areas between the Constitution, state law, and justice in his epic struggle for civil rights.

Contrast with Marshall’s dismissive attitude toward King and Jesse Jackson:

Who made Jesse Jackson? The press. Who made Martin Luther King? The press, they do it. Because it writes good, it writes well. And you know Martin Luther King didn't have a publicity person. No sir. The press did it all. The press did it all.

Reading Marshall’s account of his awkward exchange with King over the surveillance issue, I find it hard to believe that King’s reaction to the intense surveillance was really “oh forget it, nothing to it. Just didn't interest him...He didn't care, no.”

I have a feeling King didn’t really feel that way.  Maybe what he was thinking, “Marshall, he’s close to Hoover.  I’m not going to let it get back to Hoover that I’m upset or afraid.  That’s what he wants.”

David Garrow’s biography of King, Bearing the Cross, tells us of the actual aftermath of the letter:

The FBI’s frightening threat sent King into an even worse state of mind.  He became so nervous and upset he could not sleep…”They are out to break me,” he told one close friend over a wiretapped phone line.  “They are out to get me, harass me, break my spirit.”…King…had decided that something must be done about the FBI’s threat.  He had tried resting at a private hideaway known to just two other people, only to have Atlanta fire trucks turn up at the door in response to a false alarm that King correctly surmised had been turned in by the FBI so as to upset him further…As a deeply depressed King...discussed the FBI situation [the Bureau had bugged King’s hotel room in New York]…The conversation revealed how greatly disturbed King was…King [characterized] the mailing of the tape as, “God’s out to get you,” and as a warning from God that King had not been living up to his responsibilities…When King was in Baltimore, [Andrew] Young and [Ralph] Abernathy met in Washington with [the FBI’s Deke] DeLoach [who denied] that the FBI had any interest in…King’s private life.  Young and Abernathy knew that DeLoach’s assertions were false…Its one value, Young explained later, was to show him how FBI executives like DeLoach had “almost a kind of fascist mentality.  It really kind of scared me”…DeLoach gloated to his superiors that he had tried to make the talk as unpleasant and embarrassing as possible…Meanwhile the Bureau kept its campaign on full throttle.  Assistant Director Sullivan tried to derail a dinner honoring King…and two prominent Georgia newsmen…were contacted to offer them tidbits on King’s personal life…” [pp. 373-77]

A complicating element of the situation that King had been previously aware of Hoover’s hostility, and that the FBI was building a file on his sexual activities.  At first, in November 1964, King tried to go on the offensive against Hoover.  King critiqued Hoover’s alleged shortcomings in investigating civil rights cases and went the extra mile in denouncing Hoover (in calls wiretapped by the FBI) as “too old and broken down” and “getting senile.”  Then King proposed, in Garrow’s words, that Hoover “should be ‘hit from all sides’ with criticism in a concerted effort to get President Johnson to censure him.” [p. 361].  As one might expect, this gambit failed to sway Johnson.

Instead, King was in the unhappy situation of realizing he had mortally offended a supremely ruthless, capable, and vindictive national security bureaucrat, one who also had documented evidence of details of King’s personal life that could destroy him.

King’s efforts to backtrack and reconcile with Hoover in a meeting arranged by Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach were, if not doomed from the start, too little too late, and King spent the next weeks under a pall of anxiety that even overshadowed his triumphal appearance to receive his Nobel Peace Prize at Stockholm.

Then the FBI dropped the hammer in January 1965, sending the tape and suicide letter.   His wife, Coretta, heard the tape; King gathered his advisers to deal with the imminent threat of humiliation, disgrace, and failure.

King, bearing this unimaginable mental and emotional burden, descended into the vortex of Selma…

…and that is, apparently, where the saga of the King sex tape ends.

The next reference to Hoover in Garrow’s biography occurs in May of 1965, after King’s triumph at Selma and Montgomery, Alabama and LBJ’s endorsement of federal voting rights protections for African-Americans:

King knew the FBI still had an active interest in his personal life, and he worried greatly about a public revelation of the Bureau’s embarrassing tapes.  He asked a longtime family friend, Chicago’s Rev. Archibald J. Carey, Jr., to speak with his friends in the FBI hierarchy.  Cassey did so, reporting back to King that it would be wise to keep up his public commendations of FBI accomplishments. [425]

Hmmm.  That’s all?  Recall that Hoover bore an intense personal dislike for King, had information that could destroy King’s reputation and public standing and, indeed, had already played the sex tapes for much of official and unofficial Washington.  Judging by the FBI’s machinations, Hoover would have been glad to see King commit suicide.  For King, suppressing the tapes had been a matter of desperate, existential importance and endless worry.

After all this, all the lethal J. Edgar Hoover wanted was just a few generous public attaboys from Martin Luther King?

Don’t think so.

I can only draw the inference that LBJ, the only individual with the necessary stroke and personal relationship with Hoover to channel and modify the Director’s actions, convinced Hoover that the tapes should stay in the safe.  

And Hoover, perhaps, stayed his hand because LBJ convinced him that there were plenty more radical and scary African-American leaders out there to destroy and King, in contrast, was actually a manageable, moderating force.  

And perhaps, with the sex tapes in his safe--and serving as a sword of Damocles over King's head--Hoover believed he could regard King as something of a beholden asset that could be accessed, guided, cajoled, bullied, and if need be publicly discredited in the course of the Bureau's operations involving the African American civil rights movement.

 King was the idealist who advocated for America "as it could be".

Hoover and Marshall were two insiders “present at the creation”, their exalted status and power the result of a hard-won, superior understanding of the contradictions and potentialities of American government "as it is".

Their lives--and services to the state--followed different paths.

At the time of the King surveillance, Marshall was serving as an appellate court judge; the next year LBJ appointed him Solicitor General and, in 1967 nominated Marshall for a seat on the Supreme Court.  Hoover served as director of the FBI until his death in 1972.  Martin Luther King, of course, was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

Maybe declaring April 4 as "Martin Luther King Day" would be a more meaningful recognition of Dr. King's suffering, struggle, and sacrifice.