Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Harold Meyerson: Gershwin and Bernstein

Once again, Harold Meyerson has sent an e-mail out to The American Prospect list that I couldn't agree with more (and once again I have to repost it to my blog because it's an e-mail instead of an entry on the Prospect Web site I could just link to]. I had the same observation myself when on a recent telecast I heard Leonard Bernstein referred to as "the quintessentially American composer" — and I immediately thought, "No, he wasn't. George Gershwin was.” Gershwin created stronger and more beautiful “classical” concert works AND wrote better songs for Broadway musicals (though in line with the general practice of the 1920's and 1930’s, most of the plots of the shows Gershwin’s songs appeared in were silly and dramatically uninteresting), despite having far fewer years to do it in (Gershwin died at 37, Bernstein at 72). — Mark Gabrish Conlan

Meyerson on TAP

Before There Was Lenny, There Was George. This past weekend, the musical, theatrical, and critical worlds celebrated Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with performances and essays of appreciation. They’ve been doing it all year, and the Lenny-Fest, which has reached some very distant shores, will joyously roll on until winter.

Bernstein’s genius—as composer, conductor, performer; as the man who brought classical form to popular media and popular sounds to classical works; as the man who wrote profoundly American (which in his hands meant multicultural) music for classic European genres—has been treated not just as a kind of secular miracle, which it was, but also as sui generis, a one-of-a-kind achievement. Which it wasn’t.

There was one other American composer before him who blazed the trail down which Bernstein was to parade: George Gershwin. Much as Bernstein shuttled between the concert hall and Broadway, so did Gershwin—though Lenny was clearly the maestro of the classical genres that Gershwin hadn’t gotten to when he died. Much as Bernstein electrified the American musical with West Side Story, so Gershwin electrified American music with Rhapsody in Blue. Much as Bernstein brought an American sound to his symphonies, so Gershwin brought an American sound to his opera, Porgy and Bess. As Bernstein melded his own version of Latino-American music into a number of his scores, so Gershwin melded his own version of African American music into his shows and opera. (In the early 1920s, it was Gershwin—not the African American songwriting teams of Sissle and Blake or Miller and Lyles—who brought the blue note into Broadway music.) They were rooted cosmopolitans, these two Jewish composers, taking in all manner of music from all manner of idioms and transforming it into their own sound—propulsive, poignant, raunchy, mournful, breathtaking.

Gershwin seems to us a figure from a vanished world, while Bernstein is still a living presence. Gershwin emerged from the culture of song pluggers and Tin Pan Alley, now entries in the cultural histories, while Bernstein emerged from the culture of Tanglewood and other musical enclaves that are thriving to this day. Both were accomplished performers who loved displaying their brilliance before audiences, but Bernstein’s conducting is digitally with us still, while Gershwin’s piano recordings are the stuff of archives.

It comes as a surprise, then, to realize that Gershwin was only 20 years older than Bernstein. If he seems more distant from us than his birthdate would suggest, it’s because died so young—of a brain tumor at age 38, just three years after his opera premiered. Had he lived even just through middle age, his work, which was growing deeper both musically and thematically, would have overlapped Bernstein’s, and how the two would have interacted would have been a source of endless fascination, just as Bernstein’s debts to and interactions with a longer-lived Gershwin contemporary—Aaron Copeland—are studied today.

So I mean to take nothing away from Lenny the Magnificent to note that before him, there was Gershwin the Great. ~ HAROLD MEYERSON

Friday, August 24, 2018

R.I.P. Lady Soul


Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

It’s been hard to believe that Aretha Franklin is dead. Of course, rationally I knew she was a normal human being, a soul housed in a mortal body, and she would have to go sometime. But, like the also recently deceased Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, she seemed more than that, like an eternal institution of (African-)American culture who would on some level always be with us. Of course, in a way she always will be with us as long as records, films and memories survive, since it’s been one of the bizarre quirks of the modern recording industry that no major voice since the early 1900’s has ever died. As early as 1900 the Gramophone Company of London was promoting their invention with a long list of artists whose records were available — and the last few names on the list had “The Late” in front of them, letting people know that through the magic of recording performers could still continue to entertain them even after they were dead.
It took me a while to get into Aretha Franklin. When she broke through to superstardom in 1967 I was a 13-year-old white kid living — thanks to one of my mother’s weirder ideas — in the middle of Marin City, the so-called “gilded ghetto” in which affluent Marin County had housed most of its African-American population. It wasn’t that I was unfamiliar with Black music; if anything I might have been overfamiliar with it. Unlike most white kids my age in 1967 I knew who Dinah Washington was — and if you don’t know who Dinah Washington was, look her up on archive.org or YouTube right away. She was a Black jazz-pop-soul singer who emerged in the early 1940’s and built up a huge following in the Black community, but aside from a few hard-core jazz fans almost no whites had heard of her until 1959, when her breakthrough record of “What a Difference a Day Made” — a 1920’s pop song she gave a full soul-R&B treatment — hit the white charts.
So when this heavy-set Black woman came over on our TV, pounding gospel chords on a piano and lamenting that she had never loved a man the way she loved her no-good liar and cheat in one song and then demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the next, I didn’t know what to make of her. My first thought was, “She’s got all Dinah Washington’s power but none of her subtlety.” What turned me around was the release of Aretha: Lady Soul, her third album for Atlantic Records, in 1968. There was a small-print notation on the back cover saying that the guitar obbligato on one song, “Good to Me as I Am to You,” was provided by “Eric Clapton of ‘Cream’,” and if the intent behind that was to get white boys (and girls) to listen to this album and take Aretha Franklin seriously as an artist, it worked for me.
Years later I read Eric Clapton’s autobiography, in which he recalled that session. He said he’d walked into the studio, seen all those great Black guitar players and wondered, “What the hell does she need me for?” But he played a beautiful part on a song from an album whose 10 songs were of consistently high quality. Three of them — “Chain of Fools,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “(Sweet, Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” — became major single hits. Any of the other seven could have. She tore into “Money Won’t Change You,” effectively evoked Ray Charles by covering his “Come Back, Baby,” created a beautiful pastoral mood on the Rascals’ “Groovin’” (her first of many great covers of white pop-rock hits), ended the album righteously with her sister Carolyn’s composition “Ain’t No Way,” and went back to her Black church roots with Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”:

I believe, I believe,
I believe, I do believe.
People get ready, there’s a train a-comin’
Don’t need no baggage, you just get on board.
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’.
You don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

In last year’s PBS series American Epic, dealing with the crisis that faced the recording industry in the late 1920’s when radio came in, and their response — which was to start recording Black folk, blues and gospel acts, as well as white country singers, who were popular in out-of-the-way rural communities hadn’t penetrated yet — one of the commentators argued that singers like Aretha Franklin and James Brown were heirs to the spiritual traditions of African-American churches and the gospel songs performed in them. In Aretha’s case, that was literally true: her father, the Rev. C. L. Franklin, worked for decades as pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, the largest and most prestigious Black church in Aretha’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan.
Though he’d been an a cappella group singer briefly before he entered the ministry, Rev. Franklin neither sang nor played an instrument when he preached. Yet he became the number one best-selling artist on the Chicago-based Chess record label — at a time when its roster included Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf — even though his Chess albums were simply recordings of his sermons. His son, Rev. Carl Franklin, succeeded him in the pulpit at New Bethel and appeared with Aretha on a live gospel album she recorded there in 1986, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Rev. C. L. Franklin’s three daughters — Aretha, Erma and Carolyn — all pursued careers in music, Carolyn as a songwriter for her sister and Erma as a soul star in her own right. In 1967 Erma Franklin made the first record of the Bert Berns-Jerry Ragovoy song “Piece of My Heart,” which a year later would become the star-making hit for Janis Joplin.
So in 1956, when Rev. C. L. Franklin informed Leonard and Phil Chess, the white Jewish brothers who owned his record label, that his 14-year-old daughter Aretha wanted to record a gospel album, they weren’t about to risk offending their best-selling artist by saying no. They said, “When and where?,” and the album was duly made. It didn’t sell much, but four years later at age 18 Aretha Franklin was ready to break out of the church and establish herself as a secular soul singer the way other great Black talents like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke had done. She got a start when she hooked up with a Black songwriter named Curtis Lewis and he used her to record a demo — a demonstration record with which he could hopefully sell one or more of his songs to a record producer and get them recorded by a major artist.
The demo found its way to the legendary producer John Hammond at Columbia Records. In the 1930’s he’d produced the last recordings by the great blues singer Bessie Smith, had helped launch Benny Goodman’s career and had discovered and signed Billie Holiday and Count Basie. In 1960 he was rebuilding his career at Columbia, had given a major-label contract to formerly blacklisted Left-wing folksinger Pete Seeger and was about to land another major talent, Bob Dylan. Hammond heard Lewis’s demo and fixated on one song, “Today I Sing the Blues,” partly because he was sure he’d heard it before. He had: in 1947 he had recorded it with Helen Humes, the jazz singer who’d replaced Billie Holiday with Count Basie, and then it had been credited as a Lewis-Humes co-composition.
But it wasn’t just the song that struck Hammond’s ear. “I was distracted by the singer,” he recalled in his 1975 autobiography. “Her name was Aretha Franklin, and even at first hearing, on a poorly made demo intended to sell songs rather than the singer, she was the most dynamic jazz voice I’d encountered since Billie. I wanted her for Columbia.” Unlike some of Hammond’s other discoveries, who had been total unknowns when he signed them, he had to compete for Aretha. Sam Cooke, who had become a soul star at RCA Victor after starting out with a gospel group called the Soul Stirrers, was trying to land Aretha, whom he knew well because the Soul Stirrers had frequently performed at Rev. Franklin’s church. She also auditioned for Berry Gordy’s up-and-coming Motown label, which in a way would have made sense — the daughter of Detroit’s leading Black minister recording for Detroit’s Black-owned record label — but Gordy turned her down as “too rough,” ironically the same words another Black label owner, W. C. Handy, had used in turning down Bessie Smith 40 years before.
Ultimately Hammond signed Aretha to Columbia — but then ran into a solid wall of corporate politics that prevented him from recording her the way he wanted to. He quickly lost control of Aretha’s career as the “suits” at Columbia decided that the way to make Aretha Franklin a star was to copy the format that had broken Dinah Washington at Mercury. They even hired Clyde Otis, who’d produced “What a Difference a Day Made” and many of Dinah’s other big hits at Mercury — and who’d been one of the first African-Americans to work as a producer at a major white-owned label — to come to Columbia and produce Aretha the same way. The result was the series of bizarre misfires that music writers have been making fun of ever since, including songs like “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” that became Aretha’s only Columbia recording to nose its way into the white pop charts.
Aretha Franklin’s recordings during her years at Columbia, 1961 to 1966, remain one of the most misunderstood parts of her career. They’ve often been ridiculed, sometimes by people who’ve never heard any of them. In the early 1980’s Columbia issued a CD compilation called Aretha Sings the Blues which is a pretty good record when it actually features Aretha singing the blues. It includes several tracks from the memorial album Aretha did to Dinah Washington, Unforgettable, in February 1964 — just two months after Dinah’s death — which are good but nowhere near the bravado and intensity of Dinah’s own recordings. It features her slogs through white pop like “Drinking Again” and “Only the Lonely” (the song Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen wrote for Frank Sinatra — not Roy Orbison’s song of the same title, which might have actually been a good vehicle for Aretha), as well as some tracks from a live date including Chippie Hill’s 1920’s blues “Trouble in Mind” and Lou Rawls’ pop-blues hit “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.”
When I got Aretha Sings the Blues in the 1980’s I listened to it and noticed all the songs on which Aretha seems miscast, as well as the Dinah Washington covers and the songs that almost work — including the inevitable “Today I Sing the Blues,” the song that had attracted Hammond to her in the first place. Then, on the album’s very last song, “Maybe I’m a Fool,” it all comes together. From the hammering gospel piano chords that launch the piece to the entry of the voice, fully in command of her style and her material, driving home her tale of woe that she’s stuck on a no-good man, but if that’s foolish, then maybe she’s a fool, she’s at the top of her game, delivering her message with dramatic power and punch. When she cries out her own name in the middle of the release, it’s just one more dagger of pure emotion hurled at the listener, personalizing her tale of woe and making it unforgettable.
Surely, I thought, “Maybe I’m a Fool” must have been one of her very last recordings for Columbia. It so totally anticipates the masterpieces she would uncork and loose upon the world once she switched labels to Atlantic in 1967, one thinks it could only be the work of a singer who’d already worked out her style and was ready to make a series of songs of similar righteous power. Then I looked at the credits on the CD booklet and found that “Maybe I’m a Fool” was actually one of Aretha’s first records for Columbia, recorded January 10, 1961 and the only track on Aretha Sings the Blues personally produced by John Hammond. So the bitter comments about the end of her Columbia tenure in Hammond’s autobiography — “The musical misuse and eventual loss of Aretha as a recording artist disturbed me greatly, not least because her career since leaving Columbia has fulfilled every confidence I had in her” — aren’t the usual sour grapes of a record executive who signs an artist, gets nowhere with her, then sees her become a superstar somewhere else.
John Hammond knew. He knew not only that Aretha Franklin had the potential for superstardom, he knew what kind of material would get her there. He was a friend of Jerry Wexler, who took over her production when she moved to Atlantic, “and [I] knew he would return her to the gospel-rooted material she should be recording,” Hammond wrote. “She had every musicianly quality I thought she had. All she needed was to hold to her roots in the church.”

Aretha, Gospel, Soul and “First-Itis”

Certainly anyone who knew anything about Aretha Franklin’s music could hear its roots in the African-American church. She even sneaked almost pure gospel songs onto otherwise secular records, including “People Get Ready” on Lady Soul and “Are You Sure?” on her very first Columbia album, The Great Aretha Franklin. One of the most revealing anecdotes about Aretha’s roots came from Carole King, who with her then-husband Gerry Goffin wrote “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” King remembered that when Goffin came home with the great news that they had been asked to write a song for Aretha Franklin, the first thing she did was to sit at her piano and start hammering out gospel chords.
But in acknowledging Aretha’s roots in gospel and the African-American church, a number of the people memorializing her went too far and succumbed to the disease I call “first-itis,” the tendency of biographers to say that the person they’re biographing was the first one to do something even though there were plenty of people who did it before them. The Rev. Al Sharpton appeared on MS-NBC the day Aretha’s death was announced and said that she was the first person to bring the sounds of gospel to the pop music charts. Nonsense. There are many aspects in which Aretha Franklin was a trailblazer, but that wasn’t one of them. Dinah Washington had done it before her. So had Ray Charles, whose 1954 single “I Got a Woman” was called the first gospel-derived song to become a pop hit in the on-the-spot memorials when he died.
Indeed, the first example I can think of (and I’m hedging here because someone with even more knowledge of musical history than I may be able to come up with an even earlier one) of a singer bringing the sounds of gospel to the hit parade was in 1941, when Sister Rosetta Tharpe (another one of those names in music history that if you don’t already know her, you should) left her career as a gospel singer, joined Lucky Millinder’s swing band and had a hit in “Shout, Sister, Shout.” She followed it up with “That’s All,” a piece she’d already recorded as a gospel song with just her acoustic guitar, and redid it with Millinder, playing an electric guitar and rocking it out. Films exist of Tharpe playing these songs with Millinder, and while he stands in front of a tight-knit band of neatly attired Black men in identical suits, sitting behind music stands reading an arrangement, Tharpe looks like she’s beamed in from 20 years later. She looms over the band, holding a huge guitar and playing as loud as they are, rocking out in time to the music and playing stabbing lead guitar parts to her own voice. (Among other things, Sister Rosetta Tharpe invented shredding.)
What Aretha did do that was unique was bridge the wall that had traditionally existed between the gospel audience and that for Black rhythm-and-blues. Tharpe had tried it, but after a few years in the secular music world doing ribald novelties like “I Want a Tall, Skinny Papa” she went back to gospel and never looked back. Sam Cooke tried it and literally got booed off the stage. A few months before his still-mysterious death in 1964, Cooke’s friend Rebert Harris, who had recruited him as his replacement in the Soul Stirrers in 1951 and then returned to the group when Cooke left, saw him in the audience at a Soul Stirrers concert and called him to the stage to join in. The response was a lot of shocked screams from the audience, cat-calls and fortissimo denunciations like, “Get that blues singer off the stage! This is a Christian program!”
So when Aretha decided at the height of her soul-star career to return to gospel music and make the Amazing Grace album for Atlantic in 1972 — recording it live at the New Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles with the church’s regular choir backing her — it was a major risk to her career. Would the church audience accept a woman who, despite her roots and status as the daughter of one of the country’s most influential Black ministers, had become a celebrity singing blues-soul laments about being part of a chain of fools? Would the non-church audience, including the white people who’d taken up her music and learned to cherish it, buy an album of religious songs? As things turned out, it sold more than two million copies and became the most commercially successful album Aretha ever made. It also won Aretha the 1973 Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance. She was revered enough in her own community that she could take the stage in a church and not only not get booed off, but move the audience and sell them records.

Aretha’s Limitations

Another silly thing Rev. Sharpton said about Aretha on MS-NBC was that “she could sing anything.” She couldn’t. On the 1998 Grammy Awards telecast she proved there was a sort of music she couldn’t sing — opera — when for some unearthly reason she was drafted to replace an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and sing the big tenor aria, “Nessun dorma” (“None shall sleep”), from Puccini’s last opera, Turandot. Singing a piece in an idiom totally unfamiliar to her, in a language she didn’t understand, and which had been written for a man, Aretha came up with a messy performance that was a testament to her professionalism, her sense of responsibility and her determination that, in the old showbiz axiom, “the show must go on.” What it wasn’t was great music.
Nor — much more oddly — could Aretha sing jazz. That’s surprising, especially since Dinah Washington, whose career anticipated Aretha’s in so many respects, was a superb jazz singer. Whether on those early Columbia records on which John Hammond was trying to turn her into the next Billie Holiday, or a later piece like her version of “Moody’s Mood for Love” (the vocalese piece by Clarence “King Pleasure” Beeks based on James Moody’s recorded jazz improvisation on Jimmy McHugh’s song “I’m in the Mood for Love”) on what’s otherwise one of her best later Atlantic albums, Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky), she simply didn’t feel the softer, subtler rhythms of jazz. She needed the rock-solid rhythms of gospel, R&B and soul to be at her best, and she knew it. Hammond acknowledged in his autobiography that as many jazz musicians as he tried to pack into her studio bands, “Aretha always insisted on having a rock drummer.”
Aretha Franklin did the best work of her career in the late 1960’s, on her first three albums for Atlantic Records. Later she could still sing beautifully, and within her limits she commanded a wide range of material, from romantic ballads like “With Pen in Hand” to rockers like “Sister from Texas.” But her career at Atlantic trailed off in the 1970’s and her final album for the label, Aretha La Diva, was an embarrassing collaboration with Black songwriter and bandleader Van McCoy, best known for his instrumental “The Hustle.” She switched to Clive Davis’s Arista label in the early 1980’s, and Davis threw her into some unsuitable collaborations — duets with white singers George Michael and Elton John and a whole album with Luther Vandross, Jump to It, that was as lame as Aretha La Diva. It might have seemed that Aretha’s career as a creative musician was over and it was time to greet each new album with, “Remember her when … ?”
Then she did another return to her roots, making the double album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism in 1986 and bracketing it with the 1985 release Who’s Zoomin’ Who? and a 1987 album simply called Aretha. Who’s Zoomin’ Who began with the hit “Freeway of Love” and also included the feminist duet “Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves” with Annie Lennox of Eurythmics (which appeared on a Eurythmics album as well). While she could have used a stronger duet partner than George Michael on “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me” on Aretha — her supercharged Black gospel voice totally wipes the floor with Michael’s British white-boy whine — Aretha has one intense song after another: “Jimmy Lee,” a searing cover of “Jumping Jack Flash,” a song oddly called “Rock-a-Lott” (as in, “I like to rock a lot,” which she did), and one of her quirky covers of a white show tune, Burton Lane’s and E. Y. Harburg’s “Look to the Rainbow” from the 1946 musical Finian’s Rainbow.

Aretha: Down to Earth

One of the biggest things I like about Aretha Franklin is how down-to-earth she was. It’s a testament to her strength not only as a musician but as a human being that she lived to be 76. She kept enough faith in the values she’d learned in her dad’s church that she didn’t drink, smoke or drug herself to an early death the way Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Judy Garland did before her or Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston (whose mom Cissy Houston was a member of the vocal trio, the Sweet Inspirations — itself a gospel-derived name! — that sang backup for both Aretha and Elvis Presley) and Amy Winehouse did later. And for the most part she was able to keep her private life private; like Ella Fitzgerald, another great African-American voice who avoided the pitfalls of superstardom, lived to a great age and had all the rewards, artistic and commercial, to which her talents entitled her, she lived her life quietly, appearing in public only when it was time to sing, and kept from being dragged through the tabloids.
Another fascinating thing about Aretha Franklin is that she knew exactly what she was worth and demanded to be paid accordingly. According to John Hammond, after she left Columbia some of the company’s executives decided to dub additional string and brass parts on her Columbia recordings to make them sound more like her Atlantic hits. “I was heartily against it, which cut no ice,” Hammond recalled. “Aretha was equally against it, which did. Believing that Columbia had violated her contract by altering the original accompaniments of her records, she sued. The out-of-court settlement cost the company lots of money.”
Aretha’s determination to be paid what she felt she was worth turned up again in 1970, when rock promoter Bill Graham decided to hire her for the Fillmore West in San Francisco. She learned what he was planning to pay her and said no way. Only after Atlantic offered to record her Fillmore West gig for a live album did Aretha agree to play there because the fee for the recording, added to Bill Graham’s offer, sweetened the pot enough to make the job worth her while. With the hot R&B band of saxophonist King Curtis (which accompanied Aretha as well as playing the opening set — and giving Atlantic a live album of him as well), Aretha’s Live at the Fillmore West turned out to be one of the most powerful records of her career.
Knowing her audience, she trotted out a lot of her covers of white rock songs — Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and David Gates and Bread’s “Make It with You” — and turned up the emotional temperature on all of them. (Her cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which returns the song to its gospel roots, is especially beautiful.) She also does some songs from the Black tradition, including a version of Otis Redding’s “Respect” even faster, angrier and more assertive than her studio recording; singing the original flip side of “Respect,” the neo-blues “Dr. Feelgood,” and doing her then-current singles — her cover of Ben E. King’s “Don’t Play That Song” and her own “Spirit in the Dark.” The surprise guest appearance of Ray Charles joining her on “Spirit in the Dark” is just frosting on an already incredibly rich cake.
Aretha’s determination to assert herself financially as well as musically came out again in 2011, when she went to war against Warner Brothers over the proposed release of a documentary film of the making of her 1972 gospel album Amazing Grace. The film had been shot during the original rehearsal sessions and live concerts, but the original director, the late Sydney Pollack, wasn’t able to complete a releasable version because of problems synchronizing the picture and sound. Just before his death Pollack gave the footage to producer Alan Elliott, who put a releasable version together and announced it would be released in 2011. Aretha sued him for using her likeness without permission. Warners, which had also owned Atlantic Records in 1972, claimed that Aretha’s original contract authorized them to release the film without additional payment.
In 2015 Warner Bros. announced that Amazing Grace would be screened at upcoming film festivals in Telluride, Toronto and Chicago. Aretha immediately filed for injunctions to block the film’s public showing and announced that her price for the rights was $1 million, non-negotiable. When a judge in the case granted her injunction against the Telluride festival, Aretha issued a public statement saying, “Justice, respect and what is right prevailed and one’s right to own their own self-image.” Warners offered to screen the film privately for Aretha, hoping that seeing it might persuade her to allow its release. She refused.

Aretha’s Legacy

Perhaps the greatest legacy Aretha Franklin leaves behind is a huge multi-racial audience for the raw, intense, emotional singing of African-American artists drawing on the gospel tradition. In fairness to the “suits” at Columbia Records who treated her so ineptly in the early 1960’s, it’s not all that clear that there would have been the white market for Aretha’s unvarnished soul in 1961 that there was in 1967. It’s arguable that white listeners had to be “prepped” by Motown’s pop-soul — Motown made great records that drew on the gospel-soul tradition, but Berry Gordy and his producers shaved down the rough edges of their artists and made records that soothed rather than seared — to accept the real deal.
Aretha Franklin was the right artist at the right time to break down the walls that had existed between Black and white music. Earlier singers like Nat “King” Cole, Billy Eckstine, Johnny Mathis and Sam Cooke had cracked the white market, but only by fusing their tradition with the soft, romantic sounds of the white crooners. Even Ray Charles, with his roots in the gospel tradition, only became a mega-seller to white audiences when he largely abandoned original R&B material and applied his soul style to white pop and country songs. Dinah Washington and Otis Redding might have brought the pure soul style to mass white audiences, but they died too soon — Dinah of a prescription drug overdose in 1963 and Otis in a plane crash in 1967.
Though a lot of the baby divas — white, Black and Latina — who clog the charts today have been claimed as Aretha’s heirs, there are surprisingly few singers around who have truly built on her style. Jill Scott, a powerful soul singer whom I remember seeing on a TV tribute to Aretha and thinking was the only other artist on the program who deserved to be on the same stage with Lady Soul, is one. So is Jennifer Hudson, whose star-making turn in Dreamgirls — which in its way is a musical about what might have happened if a singer with the power and “edge” of Aretha had found herself stuck in a pop-soul group like the Supremes — got people saying “the next Aretha” about her.
And one of the biggest surprises I’ve had listening to music lately has been a Black gospel singer named Marbisa. I was in the home of someone who had on a “Christian rock” station, and I was startled that in the middle of the musical pablum that is most “Christian rock” I was suddenly hearing a great soul voice belting out a song called “Unfinished.” However, like Cassietta George of the Caravans — a contemporary of Aretha’s who could have had a comparable career had she not chosen to remain in the gospel world and avoid the temptation of a secular career — Marbisa seems content to remain in Christian music and not pursue the superstar soul career that would probably be hers for the asking.

Aretha Franklin proved that you could have it all — artistically, commercially, career-wise. She achieved incredible success and she did it on her own terms. She brought real, uncompromising Black gospel-soul to a white audience. She took this music out of the church and put it on the charts, and through her huge catalog of recordings her voice will live on. If you believe in Heaven, its music just got a whole lot better.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Harold Meyerson: Get Rid of Priestly Celibacy

I haven't contributed to this blog in some time, but I just found this in my e-mail inbox from veteran political commentator Harold Meyerson about how the Roman Catholic Church needs to get rid of priestly celibacy to stop the epidemic of pedophile priests. I couldn't agree more: I've long felt that if you demand as a condition of employment that you can't have any sort of normal sex life,  hetero or homo, it shouldn't be a surprise that you draw an awful lot of sexual weirdos to your profession.

Mark Gabrish Conlan


Meyerson on TAP

A Modest Proposal for Fixing the Catholic Church. By now, I must have read a dozen articles on the Pennsylvania grand jury’s revelations of the horrors and abominations that 300 Catholic priests inflicted over a period of 70 years on their parishioners, the vast majority of them children. Each of those articles offered various prescriptions on how the Church should deal with its pedophiles and sadists, how it should change its culture of clerical permissiveness.

None of those prescriptions, I fear, will really change anything, however—because they are providing answers to the wrong question. A serious effort to make the Church more decent can’t begin by asking how the Church should crack down on its miscreants. The first question those who seek to save Catholicism must grapple with is why the Church is so damned different. Why have there been more assaults and molestations in the Catholic Church than in the Eastern Orthodox, or the Episcopal, or Protestant denominations, or the other world religions? What Émile Durkheim wrote in his classic study of comparative suicide rates applies as well to the comparative rates of clerical abuse: They “can be explained only sociologically.”

And what is sociologically distinctive about Catholic clerics is that unlike clerics of other faiths, they must take a vow of celibacy. This has required the Church to drape a veil of secrecy over all the sexual activities—from long-term consensual adult relationships to the torture of children—in which its priests, being human, engage or struggle with or try to repress. The conjoined cultures of celibacy and secrecy narrow the field of clerical recruits—who already include the good and the occasionally holy who are found in the pulpits of all religions—but also to those who feel they must keep their sex lives secret, who fear to express their sexual desires openly, among whom we find, as the grand jury found, misogynists, pederasts, sadists, and everyday monsters. We find such people in many places, of course, but the fact that they congregate disproportionately in the Catholic priesthood suggests that the inextricably intertwined cultures of celibacy and secrecy is what draws them in. The faith’s core belief that sex is sinful (save, sort of, for married procreation) is thus what ultimately underlies the sexual depravity of so many of its priests. No church can survive an irony this corrosive, once that irony is known to all.

What the Church needs to change, then, are its core beliefs about women and sex. Given that doctrinal change takes some time, however, here are some handy concrete steps that the Church might take now to rid itself of its malevolent priests: First, eliminate the celibacy idiocy. That alone would bring a higher share of normal humans into the priesthood. Second, admit women to the priesthood, mandate that all seminaries go co-ed, and—following the maxim that it’s better to be safe then sorry—remove the current generation of priests and bishops to remote monasteries, supplanting them with the current generation of nuns and the new, non-celibate recruits of both genders. Triple the size of the College of Cardinals, with all the new recruits coming from orders of nuns and from prominent and humanistic members of the Church laity.

Francis, I’m a fan, but this is no time for dilly-dallying. Écrasez l'infâme and bring in the gals. ~ HAROLD MEYERSON

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Grand Jury and Sam Nunberg


Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

On Monday, March 5 an obscure New York attorney named Sam Nunberg got his 15 minutes of fame. Apparently Nunberg, whom I’d never heard of before, was involved in Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign in its early days, before Trump took command of U.S. politics with his spectacular June 2015 announcement that he was running on a platform of deporting “illegal” immigrants and building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico because all, or nearly all, Mexican immigrants were murderers and rapists.
Nunberg didn’t last long in the Trump campaign — he seems to have left it in September 2015 — but the ever-widening net of Robert Mueller’s special-counsel investigation into whether the Russian government tried to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections and Trump’s people helped them snagged him recently. First he met with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents detailed to Mueller’s investigation and gave them good reviews in his Twitter posts afterwards. But whatever he told the FBI wasn’t good enough for Mueller; the special counsel slapped him with a grand jury subpoena.
This time Nunberg went ballistic. Told that the subpoena would require him not only to show up to testify before the grand jury on March 9 but to produce a huge list of documents, including e-mails between him and his friend and mentor Roger Stone, Nunberg spent March 5 going from cable news show to cable news show telling hosts of all ideological persuasions that he had no intention of testifying or producing anything.
Told by the first people who interviewed him, a reporting team from the Washington Post, that he could go to jail if he refused to appear before the grand jury, Nunberg replied, “Let him arrest me.” In later interviews he said he would “laugh” if Mueller tried to incarcerate him for refusing to participate in a witch hunt, not so much against Donald Trump or his administration as against Roger Stone. He told cable hosts he believed Mueller was trying to ensnare Stone in a “perjury trap” and said he refused to be part of a process designed to entrap a close friend.
During his Wundertag on cable TV, Nunberg had some choice comments about President Trump. He said he suspected that Mueller has concluded that Trump “may have done something” illegal by accepting Russian help to boost his campaign and sabotage that of his principal opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Even if Trump did nothing wrong, Nunberg added, he “caused this because he’s an idiot.”
Referencing a meeting Trump had with Russia’s foreign minister and U.S. ambassador in the Oval Office of the White House in 2017 the day after he fired FBI director James Comey — a meeting Trump kept secret from the American people, and which we only found out about because the Russians had a photographer there and released pictures — Nunberg said, “Who the hell advised him to allow those Russians in the Oval Office?”
Various commentators on MS-NBC the night of March 5 — including Ari Melber, the afternoon host who had actually done his network’s interviews with Nunberg — stressed that, despite Nunberg’s light-hearted manner, defying a grand jury subpoena is nothing to laugh at. The reason is that a federal grand jury has major — and, I think, quite horrific — powers to hurt people who refuse to appear before it.
Unlike a law-enforcement interview or a Congressional hearing, a grand jury appearance is secret. You can’t have an attorney in the room with you, though you can have one waiting for you outside. Since the grand jury’s purpose is merely to decide whether there’s enough evidence to indict someone for a crime and put them on trial, not determine guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt (that’s the job of a trial jury, the so-called “petit jury” — the names “grand jury” and “petit jury” are from the French words for “big” and “little” and merely mean that a grand jury has more members than a trial jury), you don’t have the due-process rights you do in other legal proceedings.
If you refuse a subpoena to appear before a grand jury, or if you do appear but refuse to answer some of the prosecutor’s or the grand jury’s questions (unless you’re invoking your Fifth Amendment right to refuse to give evidence that may tend to incriminate you personally in a crime), you can be thrown in jail in the spot for contempt. A grand jury can have you incarcerated for up to 18 months if the prosecutor running the grand jury can get the judge supervising it to impose the penalty. Officially the theory is you’re not being punished; you’re simply being held until you give up your resistance and agree to talk. But even after the 18 months are over, if you still haven’t testified or answered all the grand jury’s questions, the prosecutor can ask the supervising judge to find you in contempt and sentence you to an additional six months.
There are further nasty things a sufficiently determined prosecutor and a grand jury can do to you if you don’t tell them what they want to. The reason for the 18-month limit on round one is that that’s the length of time a federal grand jury is supposed to be in office; once a grand jury’s time expires, their power to penalize you for not cooperating expires too. But that doesn’t let you off the hook because the prosecutor can request the appointment of a new grand jury, and that grand jury can subpoena you and ask you the same questions. If you again refuse, the 18-month time window they can put you in federal jail starts all over again. At least theoretically, a prosecutor could incarcerate someone for life just by continually convening new grand juries and hauling him or her before them until they either talk or spend the rest of their lives in federal jail.

The Grand Jury: Modern-Day Star Chamber

One of the MS-NBC commentators who talked about Nunberg’s interesting odyssey through cable TV news on March 5 justified this incredible degree of punitive power on the part of grand juries and the prosecutors and judges who work with them as justified on the old common-law concept that “a grand jury is entitled to every man’s evidence.” But ever since I encountered it personally from two people, one I met just once on her book tour and another whom I consider a close friend, I’ve loathed this grand-jury power. If it has a parallel in British history, it’s not the relative justice of the common law or the guarantee of habeas corpus in the Magna Carta, but the Court of Star Chamber, the wicked parallel judicial system set up when Henry VII won the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and started the Tudor dynasty.
An online source about the Star Chamber, http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Documents/the_court_of_star_chamber.htm, says it took its name from the star-shaped pattern on the ceiling in the room at Westminster Palace where it met. “In 1487 the court became a judicial body separate from the king's council, with a mandate to hear petitions of redress,” the Tudor Place post states. “Under the leadership of Thomas Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer, the Court of Star Chamber became a political weapon for bringing actions against opponents to the policies of Henry VIII (Henry VII’s son and successor), his ministers and his Parliament. Although the court was initially a court of appeal, Henry VIII and his councilors WoIsey and Cranmer encouraged plaintiffs to bring their cases directly to the Star Chamber, bypassing the lower courts entirely.”
When Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1603 ended the Tudor dynasty and the Scottish House of Stuart took over, the powers of the Star Chamber grew and so did its abuses. “[B]y the time of Charles I it had become a byword for misuse and abuse of power by the king and his circle,” Tudor Watch states. “James I (the first Stuart king) and his son (and successor) Charles I used the court to examine cases of sedition, which, in practice, meant that the court could be used to suppress opposition to royal policies. It became used to try nobles too powerful to be brought to trial in the lower courts.” Though under the Tudors the Star Chamber had met in public, under the Stuarts “court sessions were held in secret, with no right of appeal, and punishment was swift and severe to any enemy of the crown.”
The commentary on Sam Nunberg cited one courageous woman who had refused to testify before a previous grand jury called by a special prosecutor to investigate a President: Susan McDougal. She was the wife of Jim McDougal, an Arkansas real-estate developer who got Bill and Hillary Clinton to invest in a proposed development called Whitewater while Bill was governor of Arkansas and Hillary a partner in the powerful Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. The project went bust financially and was never built, but in 1994 Kenneth Starr was appointed special prosecutor to investigate whether Bill Clinton, then President of the United States, had done anything illegal or corrupt in connection with the land deal.
Susan McDougal was convicted of fraud in connection with Whitewater and was sentenced to two years, but by the time she was to start that sentence Starr had convened a grand jury and wanted her to testify. She felt that Starr had persuaded his two key witnesses against the Clintons — her ex-husband and former Arkansas judge David Hale — to lie under oath, and feared she would be convicted of perjury if she didn’t back up their lies. When she showed up before Starr’s grand jury, she stated her name for the record but refused to answer any questions. She was sentenced to 18 months for contempt plus four months for fraud. She spent eight months of her time in solitary confinement and got moved around the country from Little Rock to Oklahoma City to Los Angeles and back to Little Rock. After she served the 18 months for contempt and four months for the fraud conviction, Susan McDougal finally won a compassionate release due to ill health. On the last day of Bill Clinton’s Presidency, he granted her a full pardon.
In 2003 Susan McDougal published a book about her experiences, The Woman Who Wouldn’t Talk, and I met her in San Diego when she appeared here as part of her book tour. As someone who had considered the Starr investigation a fraud and a set-up from the get-go — “the Starr Chamber,” I called it — I had watched as Starr, unable to come up with a charge against the Clintons over Whitewater that could stick, instead turned his attention to Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs and charged him with lying under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives but was spared when the Senate fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict him and remove him from office.
By resisting the Starr investigation even at the cost of nearly two years of freedom, Susan McDougal became a hero to Democrats and progressives, a courageous woman who heroically resisted a runaway special prosecutor and an outrageously unfair grand jury process. Naturally a journalist — Matt Zapotsky of the Washington Post — reached out to her after Sam Nunberg’s wild ride through cable TV news shows March 5.
In her interview, which I accessed on line through the San Jose Mercury-News at https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/03/05/youre-not-going-to-save-anybody-what-the-last-person-to-rebuff-an-independent-counsel-subpoena-would-say-to-sam-nunberg/, she said she would not do anything differently today even though she warned Nunberg that being imprisoned for contempt of a grand jury is no joke: “You don’t just go sit and work out in the afternoons.” She also told Nunberg that he can’t count that his refusal to testify will help his friend: “If they have done something, you’re not going to save them.”

My Friend and the Grand Jury

The other incident in which a grand jury investigation — and its awesome power to punish people who won’t answer its questions — involved a person I know far better than Susan McDougal. In the summer of 2003, radical San Diego activists David Agranoff and Michael Cardenas organized a series of events they called “Revolution Summer” to challenge various policies, both domestic and foreign, of the George W. Bush administration and also target private companies they felt were oppressing the people. As part of this series, Agranoff arranged to bring Rod Coronado, a Native American activist who had already served prison time for a 1995 arson fire at Michigan State University, which he set with a homemade incendiary bomb to protest the use of animals in research there, to speak at the LGBT Community Center in Hillcrest, San Diego.
By chance, the same day Rod Coronado was scheduled to speak — August 1, 2003 — an arson attack occurred at an apartment complex in La Jolla in northern San Diego. Whoever burned down this building set up a banner proclaiming the action as having been the work of the “Earth Liberation Front.” As Agranoff explained it to me, the Earth Liberation Front and the similar Animal Liberation Front are not centralized organizations. Instead, they are Web sites to which anyone can post proclaiming their affiliation if they have done something in line with the sites’ stated principles — a decentralized structure that groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS have also adopted for their actions in the West.
Nonetheless, federal authorities in San Diego and Washington, D.C. saw a direct connection between the La Jolla action and Coronado’s speech, since he had proclaimed himself an “unofficial ELF spokesperson.” The San Diego branch of the FBI launched an investigation to determine whether Coronado himself had set the La Jolla fire, or whether it had been set by someone “inspired” by his scheduled appearance later that evening. I had covered the August 1, 2003 speech by Rod Coronado for my own publication, Zenger’s Newsmagazine, and my story included two photographs: a head-shot of Coronado and a picture of him, taken during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, holding a half-full apple-juice jug and mentioning, in answer to a question, that this was the sort of container he had used to set the lab fire in Michigan.
By chance, I was the first person contacted by local FBI agents for this investigation. They knocked on my door early one morning and said they didn’t want to have me subpoenaed to a grand jury. Though the federal government has no “shield law” protecting journalists from being summoned to grand juries the way most states, including California, do, nonetheless they wanted me to agree to testify voluntarily. I met their polite request with a polite refusal, but I talked to them long enough to get a handle on what the investigation was about and post online to warn my friends in Revolution Summer that the feds were on the warpath and what questions they might be asked.
Soon a number of people associated with Revolution Summer received grand jury subpoenas, and later they told me of a broad and stunningly intrusive array of questions they were asked. Among the questions the prosecutors running the grand jury had for them were what books they read, whether they collected punk-rock CD’s, and whether they practiced the Wiccan religion. With my overdeveloped sense of irony, I was particularly struck that they were being asked whether they practiced the Wiccan religion, since that made the investigation not only figuratively but literally a witch hunt.
David Agranoff flatly refused to cooperate with the grand jury in any way, shape or form, and as a result he was placed in the San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) for over six months. He sent out messages to his friends that what he needed most from us were letters addressed to Irma Gonzalez, the judge that had sentenced him. Since the stated purpose of the grand jury’s power to imprison people for refusing to testify is not to punish them but to persuade them to talk, he wanted people who knew him to write Judge Gonzalez and tell her that no amount of incarceration would persuade him to testify. I was happy to write the letter, which I did on July 20, 2005, and here’s what it said:

I have known Mr. Agranoff for over two years. I have found him to be an honest, upright man, strongly committed to peace, justice, the health of the earth’s environment and the rights of human beings and animals. From the time we first met, I have been impressed by the depth of Mr. Agranoff’s commitments and his willingness to stand firmly for what he believes is right.

That is one reason I believe that no amount of incarceration or other compulsion will persuade him to testify in the current investigation. There’s another reason for my belief: in the summer of 2003 I attended a lecture Mr. Agranoff gave at UCSD in which he talked about other grand jury investigations into the animal rights and environmental movements. He said that grand jury investigations into the legal, above-ground political activities of animal rights and environmental activists were fundamental infringements on the rights guaranteed them by the U.S. Constitution and that under no circumstances would he cooperate in such an investigation if he himself were called to testify. He meant that then; he means it now.

The FBI’s investigation, the grand jury subpoenas and the incarceration of one of my best friends for over six months in an attempt to get him to talk had no results whatsoever. They learned that Rod Coronado had nothing to do with the apartment fire, he had no idea who did, and indeed the case has never been solved. A number of people involved with Revolution Summer thought the San Diego FBI was trying to build a case against Coronado and the Earth Liberation Front to cover up their embarrassment over the revelation that two of the 19 9/11 hijackers had lived in San Diego for months before the attacks and the FBI had done nothing to find or apprehend them.
Rod Coronado was ultimately indicted in February 2006 for his San Diego speech under a Bush-era law making it a crime to disseminate information about how to make terror devices. The law was originally targeted at publishers of resources like The Anarchist’s Cookbook, but in a weirdly twisted interpretation the government decided that Coronado holding aloft a half-full jug of apple juice at a public meeting in response to an audience question about his previous activities constituted disseminating information about how to make terror devices.
It turned out that three recordings of Coronado’s speech existed — made by David Agranoff, Michael Cardenas and me — though mine was just an audio tape while theirs were videos. However, neither Agranoff nor Cardenas had recorded the question-and-answer portion of the meeting. I dubbed my audio cassettes to CD and leaked them to Coronado’s attorneys in the later stages of his September 2007 trial in San Diego, and the next thing I heard was that my recording had been instrumental in sparing Coronado the lengthy prison term he would have received on a jury conviction. Instead, the jury deadlocked and Coronado accepted a government plea bargain that would cost him only a year of his freedom.

The Switch

When the cases involving Susan McDougal and David Agranoff happened, I hailed them as heroes for resisting a corrupt grand jury power that I regard as antithetical to the fundamental rights of due process guaranteed to all Americans under the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. I still feel that way. If Sam Numberg indeed defies Robert Mueller’s grand jury — a position he backed away from just a day after he ran around the cable news networks, saying that this time he’s inclined to testify — I will regard him as a hero for civil liberties no matter what I think of his politics or his motives.
Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of the Trump era has been what I call “the switch.” Progressives who for years have denounced the FBI as a political police force aimed at suppressing Left-wing dissent are now embracing it because it’s using its powers to investigate allegations against President Trump and members of his administration. And Right-wingers who have long hailed the FBI and America’s intelligence agencies in general as heroic defenders of the national security are now attacking them on the floor of Congress and calling for major purges of their personnel.
The FBI has a particularly checkered past in these regards. In the aftermath of World War I, the administration of President Woodrow Wilson saw an opportunity to suppress all those troublesome Leftists who had stood in the way of America’s war effort once and for all. Wilson’s attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, investigated the major leaders of the American Left, found that a lot of them were foreign-born, and ordered them deported to the newly established Soviet Union. Palmer’s assistant in this project, which included rounding them up in secretly organized raids, was a young attorney named John Edgar Hoover.
In 1924, five years after the “Palmer Raids,” President Calvin Coolidge and his attorney general, Harlan Fiske Stone, appointed Hoover to head the FBI. Hoover did the big thing Coolidge and Stone were hoping for: he rid the FBI of the institutional corruption that had beset it and made it virtually useless as an investigative agency for common crime. But Hoover also put in place a political spying operation aimed primarily at the Left, and during the 48 years he ran the FBI — until his death in 1972 — he maintained extensive files not only on open Leftists but mainstream politicians and anyone else he felt might pose a threat to his power as FBI director.
The last and most sweeping of these programs, COINTELPRO (for “Counter-Intelligence Program”), was exposed in 1971 when a group of peace activists burglarized the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole papers documenting the FBI’s decades of unconstitutional and legally unauthorized actions against the American Left. They made packets of their information and sent it to various media outlets, but most of the recipients — including the much-vaunted New York Times and Washington Post — returned the packets, unopened, to the FBI. However, the packet sent to the Los Angeles Times landed on the desk of reporter Betty Medsger, who persuaded her paper to print stories based on the information and continued to write about it for 43 years, publishing the definitive account, The Burglary, in 2014.
The FBI has not suddenly become a politically “clean” agency just because at the moment the President they’re investigating is named Trump instead of Clinton. They are taking advantage of the same scummy tactics they’ve always used against political enemies just because their current targets are a Republican president that may or may not (probably wasn’t) have been elected with the help of Russian interference.
James Comey, the former FBI director Trump fired over his unwillingness to tell the world that Trump himself was not under investigation, didn’t become a hero overnight just because instead of screwing over Hillary Clinton, telling the world just 11 days before the election that he was reopening the investigation into her e-mails, he refused to make a public statement that he wasn’t investigating Trump because, as he put it in the opening statement of his Congressional testimony on June 7, 2017, “because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.”
Don’t get me wrong: I believe that President Trump’s current occupancy of the White House and the enormous power that gives him, which he uses in a stunningly arbitrary and capricious manner, constitute a clear and present danger to America’s continuance as a bourgeois democracy and to the civil rights and liberties of all Americans. I believe he needs to be stopped in the one way I think he can be stopped: by Americans coming together at the ballot box in November 2018 and electing Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate so there will be at least some resistance to his anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-people of color, anti-woman, anti-Queer, anti-public health, anti-culture and pro-corporate agenda — and by massive street actions to keep up the pressure on both major parties to respond to the real needs of the people.

What I don’t want to see happen is the Trump administration disgraced and driven from office by the same foul and fundamentally unjust political, legal and judicial tactics that have traditionally been used against the American Left. I don’t want to see Democrats and progressives coming to the aid of an agency that has traditionally been an instrument of anti-progressive repression simply because we think we have a temporary gain in seeing it go after Trump. And I remain convinced that the Star Chamber-like powers a federal grand jury has to force Americans to testify against each other against their will is an evil that cannot be countenanced in a society that calls itself free.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

MS-13: PBS Program Shows Two Sides of Notorious Gang


Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

At 10 p.m. on Tuesday, February 13 I switched from the Winter Olympics to watch a PBS documentary on the Frontline series, narrated in the usually comforting tones of Will Lyman (whose other job is narrating BMW commercials, of all things), who’s done literally hundreds of Frontline videos and whose voice, like Walter Cronkite’s, conveys an air of folksiness and lordly authority at the same time. The show was called The Gang Crackdown and it dealt with the MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha Trece, or “Salvadoran Gang 13”) gang, its hold over several American communities — particularly Long Island, New York, where the show was focused — and the attempts of the Trump administration to combat it by deporting virtually all undocumented Salvadoran immigrants who came in as “unaccompanied youths” against whom a claim of gang affiliation can be made, however tenuous.
The show was a bit disappointing in that it lacked much context about MS-13, including the fact that it was actually formed in the U.S. (in Los Angeles in the 1980’s) and it was then imported into El Salvador as the U.S. caught and deported some of its members. According to the Wikipedia page on MS-13, “Originally the gang's main purpose was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other, more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominantly composed of Mexicans and African-Americans. Many Mara Salvatrucha gang members from the Los Angeles area have been deported after being arrested. For example, Jose Abrego, a high-ranking member, was deported four times. As a result of these deportations, members of MS-13 have recruited more members in their home countries. The Los Angeles Times contends that deportation policies have contributed to the size and influence of the gang both in the United States and in Central America.”
But, as a debunking article posted on Snopes.com, “What Is MS-13?” by Bethania Palma (https://www.snopes.com/2018/02/11/what-is-ms-13/), from most of the coverage of MS-13 you wouldn’t know that it was originally founded in L.A. and then exported to El Salvador and other Central American countries, not the other way around. Palma published her article largely due to the mention President Donald Trump made of MS-13 in his January 30 State of the Union address, in which he made it sound like MS-13 was his justification for taking a hard line against Latin American immigrants in general and Salvadorans in particular:

Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens. Their two teenage daughters — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — were close friends on Long Island. But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa’s 16th birthday, neither of them came home. These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors — and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school.
Evelyn, Elizabeth, Freddy, and Robert: Tonight, everyone in this chamber is praying for you. Everyone in America is grieving for you. And 320 million hearts are breaking for you. We cannot imagine the depth of your sorrow, but we can make sure that other families never have to endure this pain.
Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again.

President Trump’s lurid account of MS-13 in general and two particularly loathsome murders in which the gang is alleged to have taken part is also reflected in the first part of the PBS documentary, which essentially portrays MS-13 as a band of lawless thugs whose only interests are murder and recruiting new members. One of the show’s interviewees, retired detective John Oliva of the Suffolk County Police Department, said, “I’m going to describe them as the most violent gang that we have here on Long Island. They’re killing teenagers. They’re killing our children. It’s just pure violence, and that’s what they thrive on.”
The first half of the PBS program, The Gang Crackdown, is a portrait of MS-13 in general and its “cliques” (the gang’s subdivisions) on Long Island in particular that presents them as such depraved thugs the viewer is led to believe that any action to stop them, however detrimental or offensive to civil liberties or due process, is justified. The narration by Marcela Gaviria, who wrote, produced and directed the program, describes MS-13’s presence in Long Island as having begun “in 2014, when an influx of nearly 9,000 minors, mostly from Central America, started flooding in.” These are called “unaccompanied youth” in immigration-speak, and while some — including a young man identified in the program only as “Junior,” who features prominently in the film’s second half — were joining parents or relatives already in the U.S., others were simply fleeing the war and violence endemic in El Salvador ever since the civil war of the early 1980’s.
One of Gaviria’s interviewees, Michelle Brane of the Women’s Refugee Commission, explained, “What we were seeing [was] a drastic increase in violence in Central America. We were seeing that gangs had really taken over entire neighborhoods. Children were being threatened and forcibly recruited into gangs under the threat of death to themselves or their families.”
Huntington High School in Huntington, New York is one of the schools the new arrivals went to for an education. One of them, the show explained, was Junior, who had come to the U.S. by train to live with his father, George, who’d been in Long Island for a decade. He had emigrated in 2016, at age 14, largely to avoid being recruited into a gang in his native Honduras. In a series of subtitled interviews, Junior describes being scared by the train, overjoyed to see again the father who’d left when Junior was just three — and intimidated when he found that the same gangs he’d fled Honduras to avoid had their hooks into the student body at Huntington High.
“I was scared when they would talk to me about the gangs, and would ask me if I wanted to be one of them,” Junior recalled. “And I would tell them no.”
“The recruitment starts right out at the school,” retired Suffolk County detective Oliva added. “They’ll approach you [and say], ‘Hey, we’re part of the gang.’ A lot of these kids, especially the undocumented ones that came into this country … came here with really no friends … and they were very easily absorbed by these guys. It was almost like they were being given a feeling that they have a family now.”
The show followed another young immigrant, Jésus Lopez from El Salvador, who arrived in Huntington in 2014 — two years before Junior — and also found that the gangs he’d fled his home country to escape were very much present in the U.S. “I started studying in September [2014], after I got in. I started studying at Huntington High School. I didn’t adapt quickly, but I liked it because I was learning things. I got good grades.” He also got an after-school job at a local restaurant, where his co-workers liked him and were impressed by his dedication. “I would go to cook, then go to school, cook, and go to school,” Lopez said. “I was just working so I could send money back to my parents.”
Julia Saltman, one of Lopez’s co-workers at the restaurant, said Lopez and other immigrants told her “they were being hassled at school. If MS wants to find you and wants to start trouble, it’s difficult to avoid. It just terrified them.”
Just what MS-13 wanted new members like Jésus Lopez and Junior to do remained a mystery in the PBS program, which never explained the economics of the gang. It presented them basically as amoral criminal thugs with no concern about anything, including making money from their activities. This is pretty much the standard picture of them; the Wikipedia page on MS-13 claims, “They are notorious for their violence and a subcultural moral code based on merciless retribution.” The Wikipedia page said that they were recruited as security people, enforcers and hit men for the Mexico-based Sinaloa drug cartel because of their cruelty.
Various reports have linked MS-13 to immigrant smuggling and human trafficking, as well as spreading terror among would-be immigrants from Guatemala and other Central American countries on Mexico’s southern border. According to Stephen Dudley, co-director of a think tank called InsightCrime that studies organized crime in the Americas:

They are often painted as an international drug smuggling or human trafficking organization. We get no indication they are deeply involved in anything other than pretty systematic extortion in Central America and other places they’re operational. They’re very much a hand-to-mouth criminal organization — this is not the Sinaloa cartel. …
We found no evidence to indicate the gang itself was paying for anybody to actually come to the U.S. This for us was the key indicator. Of course there’s communication [among members about migration] but these decisions to pick up and leave are very intimate family decisions that we think are determined by the closest inner circle of these individuals. The gang is a very intimate group to be sure but they are not the final determinants of this.
Nor did we find any evidence that they are so sophisticated that they’re finding loopholes in the U.S. system to replenish depleted cells that are in the U.S. They’re finding ways to take advantage of the movement of people that happens organically, through the already-established migrant paths to the places where there are populations of the same nationality really, regardless of whether or not there are any gang members there. It’s a huge leap to say that there is a plan afoot on the part of the gang to move people.
We also found that the gang itself is a very loosely knit organization, especially at the top. There is no single ruling council that controls every piece of the gang. The gang members themselves are more loyal to their particular cliques than they are to the actual gang in most instances.

“What has grabbed recent headlines for the now decades-old gang was a spate of gruesome murders on the East Coast and evidence that some factions of MS-13 are trying to accomplish some of the things they are being accused of doing — if unsuccessfully,” Palma wrote in her Snopes article — for which Dudley of InsightCrime and University of Southern California associate professor of anthropology Thomas Ward were principal sources. Dudley told Palma:

They have tried to establish better means of communication between their different factions, the major factions being West Coast, East Coast and El Salvador. To some extent there is more movement of money and weapons.
There are tendencies that are worrying for sure, and probably the most worrying aspect is their ability to take advantage of the vulnerability of large numbers of youth and incorporate many of them into their ranks and involve them in really macabre criminal acts in places like Maryland, Long Island and the Boston area. But the standard answer of increasing enforcement and vilifying entire communities — with 40 years of experience behind us, we can say that is not going to lead to the end of this gang.

Wald argues that by sensationalizing MS-13 and making them seem like, in the title of a previous (2005) National Geographic special about them, the “World’s Most Dangerous Gang,” politicians like President Trump may actually be helping MS-13 recruit. “The president doesn’t realize it, but he’s doing a disservice to the public [and] a service to the gang because it elevates their reputation,” Wald told Palma. “All gang members and all gangs want to be known as notorious. By mentioning them as this horrendous group of people who are like terrorists, he’s elevating their status. It fuels the flames of crime and violence because it attracts youth who are rebellious and are seeking to belong to some group that will accept them.”

Protecting the Innocent

The second half of the PBS Frontline special on MS-13, “The Gang Crackdown,” does a virtual 180° from the first half. Where the show began by highlighting the savagery of MS-13’s murders in Long Island, mostly of fellow teenage Salvadoran migrants, the second half strongly critiques law enforcement in general and the Trump administration in particular for behaving as if police action against the gang and deportations of its members are going to be enough to solve the problem. Timothy Sini, police commissioner for Suffolk County, Long Island from 2015 to 2017, is shown on the “Gang Crackdown” program saying that “we have promised to eradicate MS-13 from our streets”
Sergio Argueta, an activist with a community anti-gang group called S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth (http://www.strongyouth.com/), replied on the show, saying, “This idea that you’re going to launch this repressive attack and you’re going to annihilate this gang — violence meeting violence is not going to solve the issue.”
In March 2017, Suffolk County law enforcement officers arrested four MS-13 members for the murders of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, the two young victims President Trump had mentioned in the State of the Union speech. One month later, on April 11, police found the bodies of four young immigrant men — Mike Lopez, Justin Llivicura, Jefferson Villalobos and Jorge Tigre — in what they described as a “killing field.” The young men had been hacked to death with machetes, a preferred murder method for MS-13, and police believed that girlfriends of MS-13 members had lured them into the woods where they were killed with promises of sex.
Given the history of bad relations between Suffolk County law enforcement and the immigrant communities — “By the simple fact that you are undocumented, they treat you very poorly; there is a lot of arrogance, a lot of racism” one unidentified woman who appeared to be victim Mike Lopez’s mother told Frontline — the boys’ parents and friends of their families organized their own search parties when the boys went missing. “I was worried because Mike always answered my messages,” the woman said. “He always talked to me. He always answered. And that night, he never answered.”
President Trump’s public statements on MS-13 and the Long Island killings showed two of his least attractive qualities: his tendency to demonize entire groups of people and his belief that the way to stop bullies and thugs is to bully them and be thug-like in treating them. He canceled the entire program for helping Salvadoran refugees settle in the U.S. and repeatedly threatened that his answer for dealing with MS-13 was to deport them. In one tweet, Trump said, “The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS-13 gangs to form in cities across [the] U.S. We are removing them fast!”
Trump also openly endorsed police brutality as an appropriate way to deal with MS-13. He picked Long Island as the site of his July 28, 2017 speech advocating that police take a hard line against arrestees and suspects. “When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?” Trump said, miming the physical motion of an officer shielding a suspect’s head to keep it from bumping against the squad car. “Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head,” Trump continued. “I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
Apparently Trump picked Long Island as the locale for this speech because he believed the Suffolk County Police Department’s experiences with MS-13 would prime them to accept his thug-like advice for how police officers should behave. If so, he was mistaken. Just hours after Trump’s speech, the department responded with an e-mail which read, “The Suffolk County Police Department has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners, and violations of those rules and procedures are treated extremely seriously. As a department, we do not and will not tolerate ‘rough[ing]’ up prisoners.”
Though both President Trump and attorney general Jeff Sessions turned down Frontline’s request for interviews for “The Gang Crackdown,” deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein was interviewed — and anyone on the liberal or progressive Left who regards Rosenstein as a hero for his resistance to Trump’s attempts to meddle into the investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. elections will be sobered by his remarks on the Frontline “Gang Crackdown” program. He gave a full-throated party-line defense of Trump’s law enforcement policies in general and his reliance on deportation as a key front-line weapon against MS-13 in particular:

The reason MS-13 has been our priority this year is because of the unprecedented growth of the gang, and the extraordinary depravity we see in some of the criminal activity it commits. But in terms of the overall objectives of the administration, our goal is to keep out the criminals in the first place. In fact, the majority of the MS-13 members that we prosecute are illegal aliens, and a large proportion of them are unaccompanied minors. And people here unlawfully and [who] pose a danger to American citizens are removed as quickly as possible.

The Crackdown in Practice

The final segment of the Frontline MS-13 documentary “The Gang Crackdown” focuses on the cases of the two young immigrants profiled earlier in the show, “Junior” and Jésus Lopez to show how Suffolk County’s and the feds’ emphasis on apprehension, immigration and a “zero tolerance” policy towards actual or suspected gang-affiliated young men works in practice. It begins with the narrator explaining that in late 2016 local law enforcement in Long Island started focusing on middle schools and high schools, scrutinizing new students to see if they had gang-related clothing or other supposed markers of membership or affiliation.
One anonymous school resource officer — a sworn police officer embedded in a school in part to ferret out suspected gang members —showed Frontline a photo of an old-style MS-13 member with the heavy tattooing and body art that used to be typical of the gang. Then, he explained, “You really don’t see this guy anymore. … It’s going to be the kid in the skinny jeans and the polo shirt and maybe the Chicago Bulls cap.” The reason for the latter is that the bull is a symbol for MS-13 and a lot of members supposedly started wearing gear from the Chicago Bulls basketball team as a way of proclaiming their gang affiliation while seeming to be innocuous sports fans.
Mariana Gil, assistant principal of Bellport Middle School in Long Island, told Frontline that local police visit her school and others in the area to educate school staff about what to look for that might indicate a student has ties to MS-13. “They put on a presentation,” she explained. “They show images of bandanas, or bull’s horns. And they tell us that those are the items that if we see the students wearing or drawing, that we should be on the alert because it’s related to a gang.”
School officials responded to the law-enforcement presentation by calling hundreds of students to principals’ offices, questioning them and often suspending them on flimsy evidence. Some students were harassed and told that they had written “503” in their notebooks. It’s the area code for El Salvador, and it’s a set of numbers police in Long Island apparently regard as a sign of MS-13 affiliation. “Duh, that’s the area code of where they’re from,” said Sergio Argueta of S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth.
Jésus Lopez was one of the students identified early on as an MS-13 affiliate. “The school had sent a paper that said I had written MS-13 on my hand, but I knew it wasn’t true,” he told Frontline. “I had only written the name of my girlfriend on my hand. I didn’t write MS-13.” This sent him into a Kafka-esque situation where the mere existence of a school report that he’d written MS-13 on his hand — with no photograph or other documentation that it wasn’t just the name of a girlfriend — became “truth.” He had no opportunity to defend himself against the allegation; it just stood and was accepted as fact throughout the process.
Junior also got caught up in the Huntington High dragnet. His father George was startled when in March 2017 he received a call from the school to come to campus because his son was in trouble. George’s employer told Frontline, “They said, ‘Look, we want to keep this kind of simple. He’s been accused of making signs of MS-13. Just sign the paper. And we’re going to suspend Junior, and if he wants to come back to school, he can come back to school next year, 2018.’ And George, he signed the paper. And as soon as he signed the paper, it was just a snowball going downhill.”
In late June 2017 — just before President Trump gave his big speech in Long Island urging law enforcement not to worry about injuring people in the course of arresting them — Lopez was apprehended at the restaurant where he worked. “A truck was waiting for him in the back of the restaurant, and when he walked out of work, they picked him up,” recalled his co-worker Julia Saltman. “They took them out so fast.” Concerned that Lopez would be deported, Saltman hired him an attorney — and the attorney, Adam Tavares, told Frontline that the only information the government gave him to support its charges against Lopez was a two-page memo that misidentified his name as “Polanco.”
Neither school officials nor Suffolk County law enforcement would officially describe the criteria they use to determine whether a student is MS-13, an MS-13 wanna-be or merely someone wearing gang colors, Chicago Bulls paraphernalia or the area code of El Salvador without knowing that’s going to get them accused of being part of MS-13. “We don’t publicly disclose the criteria because if we did, when our officers and detectives are attempting to generate intelligence, MS-13 would be one step ahead of us,” former Suffolk County police commissioner Sini said.
But Sini readily acknowledged that he and his department used deportation or the threat of deportation — including extended detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — to go after people they suspect of MS-13 affiliation but haven’t committed any crime:

For example, if we have intelligence that they are a gang member, that’s not necessarily a crime, right? Certainly, being a gang member is not a crime, and the intel that we may have may not indicate a significant state crime. We may have something small on them, but nothing that’s going to keep them in jail. So if we perceive someone as a public safety threat, we utilize all of our tools, which include immigration tools. So we’ll partner with the Department of Homeland Security to target them for detention and removal.

Junior got caught up in a law-enforcement attack on MS-13 called “Operation Matador” — an attempt to turn MS-13’s bull symbol against it by invoking the person who kills the bull in a bullfight — when Suffolk County police got a series of so-called “gang memos” circulated by ICE, many based on information from embedded cops in the schools (“school resource officers”). Frontline obtained copies of several of these “gang memos,” one of which identified Junior as an active MS-13 member. Junior denied it, telling Frontline, “I’m not a gang member. I’m a church-going young man … I don’t even have a criminal record.”
But neither he nor his father and legal guardian, George, would get a chance to contest the “gang memo” in court. Four days after the “gang memo” identifying Junior was drafted, he was followed on his way to church by four black vehicles. Later, George’s employer recalled, “I got a phone call from George and he said that they took Junior. They said, ‘We’re taking the boy. We’re government.’”
Like Julia Saltman with Jésus Lopez, George hired an immigration attorney to represent Junior. The attorney, Dawn Pipek Guidone, was shocked that the government shipped Junior to a detention facility in Shenandoah, Virginia, without any notice either to his father or to her, his official legal counsel. Eventually Guidone helped George and his employer reached out to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which was putting together a class-action lawsuit challenging the legality of the crackdown.
“During the summertime [of 2017], I remember our office would get calls almost every Friday or so beginning around June or July where we’d hear from a family saying, ‘Our kid was just taken from us. We don’t know where he is,’” NYCLU attorney Phil Desgranges told Frontline. “And so then we’re calling around, trying to figure out would the immigration attorney know, and the immigration attorney has no idea, as well. And that seemed to be a pattern that happened, you know, weekend after weekend.”
The NYCLU took on Junior’s case and eventually located him. “In Virginia, he was kept in solitary confinement, you know, where all he had in his cell was a bed, a toilet, and no window,” Desgranges said. “It was a really traumatizing experience for him. This is a kid who had never been arrested, never been charged with a crime. There’s no allegation that he committed a crime. But nonetheless, he’s been in detention for four months.”
Junior himself told Frontline, “You can never see the sun or the moon [in detention]. I was desperate. In my desperation, I made a lot of mistakes. I tried to kill myself. I took my shirt off and made a rope. And I put it around my neck, and I started to kill myself. The only thing I thought about was that my dad loves me, and I love him, too. They were trying to revive me and I didn’t respond because I was already dying. After that, they put me on restriction, with no clothes. They took everything away from me. I was suffering through the cold for a week. Here I cut my vein. I stuck in a piece of glass and a lot of blood came out. Here, too. Desperation had taken over me, sadness, solitude, and that’s why I made this mistake.”
The NYCLU was finally able to get Junior transferred from Virginia to a less restrictive facility in New York, and eventually they got him a hearing before a judge — the first sign of due process in his months-long ordeal. Junior’s attorney, Dawn Pipek Guidone, told the judge in the case, “We were served with the memo, very unsubstantiated information, wearing certain colors to school, allegations of throwing gang signs. The allegations are completely general in nature. They don’t indicate anything other than association with gang members, but they provide no identification of these individuals.”
Guidone objected to the use of the gang memo as evidence, and asked the judge to release Junior immediately. The judge said he couldn’t. “What you’re talking about is something I have no authority over,” he said. “Unless I’m mistaken, I can’t order him released from Children’s Village. That is not within the scope of my authority.”
In August 2017, attorney Julia Harumi Mass with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in California filed a class-action lawsuit to release 34 people who had been detained by ICE as suspected gang members without due process. Junior was one of the plaintiffs in her case. Three months later, she won a court order stating that ICE would have to go through judicial hearings on each detainee and let a judge rule on whether the gang allegations were valid or not — and they would have to release the ones against whom there was insufficient evidence or no evidence at all.
Once the hearings started, 28 of the ACLU’s 34 clients — including Junior — were ordered released. But the court ruling in favor of the ACLU applied only to minors, not legal adults. Because he was 18, Lopez stayed in custody until December, when he was deported. “Honestly, it’s really terrible because there are bad criminals here, but they’re treated better than us,” Lopez told Frontline in an interview at the New Jersey detention facility, where he was held until he was deported. “Sometimes they bring us to court with our hands and feet cuffed, whereas they bring the others in with just their hands cuffed to their stomach. So they treat us worse than these big criminals.”
Lopez told Frontline his big fear is that as a deportee back in El Salvador he’ll be suspected of gang ties by rival gangsters, and be murdered. “I’m very scared I’ll get back, and they’ll think I’m a gang member. They can look for me at my house. They can assassinate me. I don’t want to end up like a lot of people who are deported who later end up dead in the streets.”
Frontline’s “The Gang Crackdown” episode ended with some chilling statistics and yet another hard-line statement by President Trump against MS-13. According to the program, 44 of the over 400 people taken into custody under “Operation Matador” have been deported. Suffolk County authorities, working with ICE, have launched a new operation, “Raging Bull,” and made 218 arrests since the murders of Misa Nickens and Kayla Cuevas. “Gang members took advantage of glaring loophole in our laws to enter the country as illegal unaccompanied alien minors,” President Trump says in the clip from his January 30 State of the Union speech that ends the program. “Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.”

There’s an old saying that “when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” When the full resources of the federal government are turned on a vicious, reprehensible criminal organization like MS-13, the blades of grass that get trampled are the innocent victims of MS-13’s depradations and brutalities — and the innocent immigrants trying to work themselves up and live the American dream, who get accused of gang affiliations and are deported on the flimsiest of evidence. President Trump didn’t start the Right-wing ideology on crime — that any attack on suspected “criminals,” whether or not they’ve actually done anything illegal, is warranted and those pesky guarantees of “due process” in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments just get in the way of law enforcement — but, as with so much of the rest of the ideology of the American Right, he’s put his own spin of bigotry, hatred and brutality on it.