Driving through a large part of the United States from the northern State of North Dakota south to Texas and then west to Arizona, as we did this year, it did not take long to realize that extremism is alive and not well in this country. While there is ample extremism on the left and the right, it clear that most extremism lives and thrives in the right wing.
I heard an interesting interview with Cynthia Miller-Idriss an award-winning author and scholar of extremism and radicalization in the US. She is the founding director of the Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab (PERIL) at the American University in Washington, DC, where she is also Professor in the School of Public Affairs and in the School of Education. She has testified a number of times before the US Congress on issues relating to extremism. She has also been a frequent commentator on these issues for various media outlets. She is a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Tracking Hate and Extremism Advisory Committee and the author of a number of books including recently Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right.
One of the problems that Miller-Idriss alerts us to is the fact that American federal law does not yet have a crime of domestic terrorism. As a result, American law enforcement has to try to squeeze the charges they want to lay against an accused into boxes that really are not the best fit.
The fact that in the new American Congress there were participants in the insurrection on January 6th , means that American democracy is still in jeopardy. Michael Fanone who was a police officer engaged in resisting the violent insurrection on Capitol Hill that day said we need political leaders who will clearly denounce political violence.
When the January 6th insurrectionists invaded the Capitol Hill police officers and 60 Metropolitan police officers were injured resisting the political violence, that was clearly an act of domestic terrorism. They were resisting a violent attempt to impose a political goal, namely, to stop the election of Joseph Biden. Many of them were chanting “Stop the Steal,” or, even worse, “Hang Mike Pence” while engaged in violence against the police authorities who were defending the Capitol and the elected political representatives. By any definition of “terrorism” these violent acts would qualify as domestic terrorism. They were using violence for a political end. That is what constitutes terrorism. Clearly their political aim was to support the case of Donald Trump with whom the rioters and Trumpsters were aligned. Yet many Republican leaders have not denounced that violence of the far right.
The future of America still seems clouded with violence. And that comes mainly, though not exclusively on the right. All political leaders of all stripes ought to object strongly to any political violence, especially from their own side. If we can’t do that the future is grim.
While we were in Arizona, a man in Utah killed his wife and 5 children because she filed for divorce? Why?
Just like an economic bubble does not deflate in an orderly fashion., so my theory is that when resentment explodes it does not do so in a rational manner. This is like the irrational hatred of the Ste. Anne Manitoba dairy farmer who a few years ago burned his farm to the ground including his cattle, after he could not settle his divorce with his wife as he would have liked. If he couldn’t have the farm no one else could either. Isn’t that what the new world disorder is all about?
Like a balloon rarely deflates in an orderly fashion, so resentment rarely explodes in a rational manner. That’s why resentment is so dangerous. This is particularly significant to the most dangerous people on the planet—young men. Jihadis and other extremist groups have learned how important young men are to their cause. That is why they work so hard to radicalize them. Many of the lone wolf killers that are so common are young men filled with resentment. Many of them live in a cauldron of hate. The jihadis then take advantage of the resentment for their own purposes.
When society is in decline. resentment is amplified.
This film shows how easy people can become estranged and how easily that estrangement, even among friends, can lead to violence. In this case shocking violence. Perhaps nowhere is that better understood than Ireland where former friends and neighbours have repeatedly come to blows, and worse, over minor disagreements. Sometimes the more minor the disagreement the more deadly the response to disagreement.
Ireland generates drinkers, great writers, and violence. That is a potent brew. And it can be a toxic brew. It was in the case of Pádraic (played by Colin Farrell) and Colm played by (Brendan Gleeson). I might add played brilliantly in both cases.
The movie opens with a sharp rupture between the two friends. The rupture occurs in a dark and dank Irish pub. How do I know it is dank? It takes place in Ireland. Moreover, I can feel it. It must be dank.
The film takes place on the fictional island of Inisherin on the coast of Ireland and mainly in the homes of each of the protagonists and the nearby pub where, as good Irishmen they must sojourn. The setting is Ireland in 1923 when the Civil War was already firing separating erstwhile friends so the rupture here is merely a piece of the main. Occasionally shots are heard from the battle. But no explanation is offered. Pádraic says he doesn’t even know what they’re fighting about, just like he doesn’t know why Colm is bent on separating from him and then going to such violent extremes to do it. That is how disputes so often go.
As in all art the particular is universal. Ireland is saturated with violent separations. So are the parties on Inisherin. Violence is inevitable. And so is the legendary mythic banshee cry that follows.
Notwithstanding the dankness of the pub, the pub is the heart and hearth of western civilization. Well at least Irish civilization. It is what civilization is all about. Convivial conversation and interesting music (art really) in the midst of darkness. An interesting feature of Irish pub music, which I love, is the democracy of it. When I was in Irish pubs it was explained to me that anyone can join the group of musicians sitting on chair in a corner, ignoring the audience. But in this case the civilizational aspect of it was broken by Colm abruptly breaking off the relationship with his friend Pádraic. He claims to do it to preserve his art. He feels he cannot take the time out from his art to spend time witha dullard like Pádraic. But the severance seems deeply wrong. After it happens, Pádraic’s best friend is a donkey.
There is an interesting side bar involving a simple young man, Dominic, who is being beaten and abused by his brute of father. This is another parallel severance that results in violence with Dominic eventually found floating dead in the water. The cause of death is not clear, but he might have taken his own life. Once more no explanation is offered.
Pádraic and his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) both have little respect for Dominic as they think he is dull, echoing Colm’s views about Pádraic. Dominic also asks her for a date but is rejected, just like Pádraic was rejected. Both rejections lead to violent deaths, suggesting that this is the common result of the severance of a relationship.
Throughout the film Pádraic runs into a quirky old woman who seemingly knows all the town gossip but is hungry for more. This is Mrs. McCormick (played by Sheila Flitton) and perhaps she is the banshee in the movie title. According to Irish folklore a banshee is a wailing woman who signals an impending death. She seems bizarre and eerie befitting a banshee. And death does follow her.
In this way that convivium of the small community is shattered, selfishly and inexplicably but viscerally real. And what follows when the sense of belonging is wrenched apart is fierce violence. Again, that is something Ireland is quite accustomed to, but it is difficult to witness even in a film. It is pungent barbarism. They may have forgotten why they are fighting but that does not heal the wounds.
I thought this was a fine film, well deserving of its accolades.
I did not want to interrupt my series of post on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I must.
We have been in the United States for 3 weeks now and I find this magnificent country incomprehensible. Mainly because some of the people who live here. Not all, but many.
Yesterday we learned of another Mass killing. We have not yet got all the news of the mass killing that happened a few ays ago in California. Now we have one more mass killing to consider. Last week the murderer in California killed 11 people. The number was upsized today when one of the victims who had been in the hospital died. Yesterday as were told “at least 7 died” of gunshot wounds.
Forget about the guns, let’s just consider why do so many Americans want to kill other Americans they don’t even know personally? Why do so many Americans want to kill complete strangers? To me that seems incomprehensible.
We also learned that in another killing that might not qualify as a “mass killing” 2 students were shot and killed and another is in critical condition in the hospital. How can CNN keep up with the killings? I have a hard time telling them apart. One mass killing melts into the next one.
Yesterday State Senator Josh Becker said the community where this happened was “a close-knit community” and they will be in shock. Is that what close knit now means?
CNN reported that there have been 38 mass killings in the 3 weeks we have been in the US. Laura Coates a CNN commentator and TV host said “now the front-line is everywhere.”
Later she said, if the front line is everywhere “we are all stakeholders.” That can’t be anything but true. But does it matter? Who cares? After all it’s just one more killing.
Here is the real question? Where is all this hate coming from? And it arises even in “close-knit” communities. How is that possible? What does that mean?
When recently I was frantically trying to see all 10 movies that had been nominated for best Picture, I never realized that the Oscars ceremony would so closely mirror the films and life. After they award show was over where Will Smith walked up to Chris Rock who was introducing an award and made a poor joke about his wife I was amazed. It is amazing how much we can learn about life from art and about art from life.
I had noticed from the stunning film The Power of the Dog how masculinity could be toxic. Phil one of the two brothers in that film shows himself as a vessel of toxic masculinity when he mocks the “art” of Rose’ son Peter who he clearly sees as effeminate and weak. Later he comes to change his views, perhaps because of his own latent homosexuality. Then Peter is driven to extreme measures to protect his mother, much like Will Smith at the Oscars was driven to extremes to defend his wife from a perceived insult. This may have been brought on by the fact that at a young age Smith saw his father beat his mother and always considered himself a coward for not defending her. At the Oscars he tried to be more manly and do better. Did he succeed or cruelly flop again?
I noticed that when at first Smith heard the poor joke about his wife that he was laughing and enjoying it. Then the camera switched to his wife who started laughing but quickly switched to disapproval when she realized what was being said. Did she communicate her disappointment to her husband? Did she goad him to act? That was not shown, but it was remarkable how quickly Smith’s manner change from jocularity to menace. It is also remarkable how quickly men can stoop to violence to defend the honour of their women. Do women like that? Do they want their men to get violent in their defence? Sometimes it seems so. I was surprised to read 2 New York Times female writers presumably, weak kneed liberals, say they thought Smith did the right thing?
I had just the day before watched the film The Tragedy of Macbeth. The tragedy was that Macbeth’s wife goaded him into killing the king and in doing so mocked his lack of courage. If that is not toxic femininity what is? When Macbeth hesitates to do the dirty deed she urges him to do it. This is part of what she said,
“When you durst do it, then you were a man;
…I have given suck, and know
How tender it is to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face
Have pluck’d my nipple from his toothless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I sworn as you
Have done to this”
Then after he kills the king but still has doubts, she mocks him and finishes hiding the evidence for him.
I realize that this entire Oscar incident was coloured by the ugliness of a black man defending his insulted wife. Many a black man has been cruelly emasculated by such actions. Violence is deeply engrained in American and Canadian societies. This is true even in societies where black men react violently against other black men. This is one product of centuries of oppression. Deep and persistent hatred has led to deep and persistent self-hatred. After all they learned it from their masters. What can be more cruel than that?
But to deny this painful and ugly fact, as we are urged to do by white supremacist pundits today, is to drive the hatred and resentment deeper where it can do even more perverted harm. Ugly truths must be faced. Denying them is not the way out. It just makes things worse.
What really bothered me about this incident at the Oscars was that about an hour or less later, when Will Smith won the award for best actor, and he stumbled through a tearful speech that included an apology to the Academy and fellow actors, but notably not Chris Rock, the audience erupted with applause. What are the rest of us (including children who witnessed it) to think? Are we to think that violence is the answer to insults? That after all is the American way (with Canadians not far behind). Is this not how cycles of violence perpetuate themselves harming no one more than the victims turned aggressors?
Art can help us understand such questions, but it offer few clear and definitive answers.
Even though I have been to Belfast, I think it was very helpful for me to hear Kenneth Branagh who wrote, directed and produced the film Belfast explain the background to the film when interviewed on the Bill Maher show. Instead of shot from the film I include some of my own photos of Belfast taken in 2009 when Christiane and I made a wonderful trip to the wonder country of Ireland.
This photo is one of many I took of murals in Belfast that celebrate heroes of the Troubles. This one felt threatening. The rile held by masked man “followed” us by a the trick of an optical illusion.
The film Belfast has been nominated for Best Picture and it is a sad love story about the love of a Kenneth Branagh for his hometown which he had to leave a 9 year old boy. That was the same age as Buddy in the film. Just like the family in the film, his family lived on a street in Belfast. His family was Protestant but there were many Catholics as well on the street.
In southern Ireland the Catholics are in a majority, but in Northern Ireland which was part of the United Kingdom the Catholics were in the minority at about 40% of the population. Yet they got along well, at least until they didn’t.
This writing on the wall expresses the spirit of Branagh’s family.
Maher asked Branagh to explain the history of what happened in Belfast during the troubles. The troubles began in 1968 because the Catholics were dissatisfied that they were not getting the same economic and social benefits as the Protestants in Northern Ireland. It was not really a religious dispute, but religion helped to fan the flames of hate as so often happens. The Protestants were dominant in the north, and the Catholics there thought they were not getting a fair shake. From the mid-1960s there was a civil rights movement in Ireland as there was in the United States and Canada. People started to speak up for their rights and that can lead to trouble, or in this case, to the Troubles.
The film opens up on August 15, 1969 when the grievances suddenly spilled out into street violence. Until then the Protestant majority in the north got along well with the Catholic minority. They had the same kinds of jobs and the same kinds of homes. But in one fell swoop a Protestant mob came down the street where Buddy, the 9-year old protagonist in the film was playing with his friends, both Catholics and Protestants. This is exactly what Branagh experienced as a young boy in Belfast at that time. The story is also the story of his life in fictional form. The Protestants marked the houses of the Catholics with stones, and broke the windows on their houses. The message was clear, “We know where you live. It’s time for you to get out.” As Billy Clanton one of the leaders of the Protestant gang I the film said, “We want to cleanse the city.” Ominious words in the 20th century.
1969 in the US was the summer of love, but in Belfast it was the summer of hate. There was the greatest displacement of people in Europe since the second World War, up to that time. Thousands of Catholics were forced to leave and a dark period in Ireland began. It lasted for 30 years.
Branagh’s family was Protestant but they did not join in the violence against the Catholics. They were opposed to violence against their friends with whom they got along. Some of the Protestants did not like that. The Protestant leaders came to visit Branagh’s father and told him, “You’re either with us or against us. There is no middle ground.” Again these are ominous words, later adopted by George W. Bush after 9/11. Branagh’s father tried to stand up against the mob, but that was hard. As Branagh said,
“It was a really difficult thing to do to disagree fundamentally with someone, but not to translate that into hating them. Or rejecting them. But the even more difficult thing of actually trying to understand them. That was the example he set.”
That is difficult everywhere. It is difficult in the United States and it is difficult in the bible belt of southern Manitoba. Bill Maher claimed that this is what he tries to show on his television show. He always wants to show that he thinks for himself, not a tribe. “Im not with either tribe,” Maher said. His father said, “I’m not going to join you to hate the Catholics for reasons I don’t share. A 9-year old must be taught that.”
The walls, still standing in 2009, had to be built very high to stop people from throwing rocks and more dangerous things over it.
As Branagh said, a 9-year old can be simple and open in the stand off, but people forget that the effects may last for decades when violence rears its ugly head. The situation can be quickly polarized with ordinary people caught in the maw. Branagh said, when he grew up it was a beautiful day in the neighbourhood everyday. He did not understand why one day a man came and told him that he and his friend Paddy, who was a Catholic, could no longer play together. Why? He said it was buried in his mind for 50 years. That is why he wrote the story of the film.
3,700 people died in Ireland during the Troubles. Yet the world over people have showed that tribal pressure can be overcome by talking to each other no matter how hard it is. The same things happens everywhere. It happens in Iran, Palestine, Ukraine, Congo, and southern Manitoba. Every where there is a trouble spot. The good stuff of family, laughter, music, dancing, and partying can help. Insisting that we are always right and they are always wrong does not help. Religions though encourage such attitudes, at least when they are least religious.
This is the way the house still looked in 2009. First a barrier on top of the wall, and then supplemented by screen over the porch. Belfast was a hard place to live.
Belfast really is a lot like so many places around the world. From Ireland to Winkler, from Croatia to Rwanda. From Iran to the Middle East. Neighbours fighting neighbours. Neighbours hating neighbours. For no good reason. It just happens when we gather in tribes and it becomes us against them. It can be in the name of religion, or politics or creed whenever we try hard not to understand each other. And troubles can arise as quickly as prairie fire.
All of this is background for the film Belfast I want to talk about next.
First, we should all realize in the democratic west that Ukraine deserves to be supported as it suffers the onslaught of a villainous bully. If the Ukraine wants to fight for freedom, we should support that.
We should remember what Putin has done so far: The Russians under Putin in 2008 invaded Georgia and the Bush Administration did nothing but complain. He invaded Crimea in 2014 and the west under Obama’s leadership again did nothing. Then Putin started a war in the eastern Ukraine that killed 13,000 people again we did nothing. Now he has invaded all of the Ukraine. Is it time to do something? All of this reminds us, as many have already mentioned , of Hitler. Do we want to go there again?
I am not a warmonger. I think the history of warfare does not fill me with confidence that it ever makes sense, though I don’t rule it out absolutely either. I think we have an awful capacity to screw up wars so that people die. Especially young people and poor people. Old men, like me, in particular should not fan the flames of war. Yet we must do something effective to stand up to fascist bullies. Trying to appease the bullies has never worked well.
I think we should be smart enough to marshal our allies and right thinking peoples together to effectively lock out the Russian leadership from their ill got gains. Countries are incredibly tied together in modern economies. We must do all that we can to cut the thugs off from their corruptly accumulated wealth and starve the leaders into submission.
We must also deal with the war on truth. In many ways it is as terrible as the war on the ground. We need to collectively stem the tide of Russian lies.
I just think we are smart enough to do this. I am not so sure that we are smart enough to go to war without causing more harm than we prevent.
I understand that the jury has still not rendered its verdict in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse and will resume deliberations tomorrow. Yesterday I posted about why I thought there was a good chance he would be acquitted and made a hero. Today I want to talk about the less likely chance that he will be convicted and made a martyr. If he is a patriot for his actions as his supporters allege and many on the right believe to be the case, then if he is convicted he will be hailed as a martyr. Which is it?
Personally, I don’t think a young man who travels from out of state carrying an automatic AR-15 style rifle to an area of heated dispute that some call riots and others protests, depending on which side of the great divide in America (and Canada) they lie, is a hero so should not be welcomed as a hero if successful or a martyr if not. Instead, he was a foolish young man who took a dangerous chance while endangering the lives of many others that led in fact to the deaths of 2 Americans while injuring a third. He was not trained for this job and took it upon himself as a vigilante to “help” the police to do their job. He made things much worse as the trail of devastation behind him made clear. It is part of their belief that “the system” cannot be trusted and only private vigilantes or warriors can be trusted.
I realize that many young American men have been raised in the Marvel FantasyLand where such actions are encouraged. They think they can stand up to the evils of a corrupt or inept system that fails to protect American citizens.
Rittenhouse should not be valorized. He was hardly a peacemaker. No one should encourage other young American men (and they are largely men who do this) to take such foolhardy and dangerous actions. Such actions are not helpful. They are pouring fuel onto an already raging fire.
Rittenhouse may or may not be guilty of murder or the other crimes he was charged with, but he is neither a hero nor a martyr. And he might be much worse.
I have been fascinated by the case of Kyle Rittenhouse since the day I heard about it. I think the Associated Press captured the issue well: “the shootings that left Americans divided over whether he was a patriot taking a stand against lawlessness or a vigilante.” That is exactly what I have been trying to figure out. It seems everyone on the left thinks he is a crazed self-appointed vigilante while those on the right see him as a glamorous defender of life and property. Which is it?
Rittenhouse testified on his own behalf, which is always a risky move. Yet an innocent man should be entitled to present his own defence. That is what Rittenhouse did. He told the jury under oath that he was defending himself when he used the rifle he brought to the Kenosha from the neighbouring state of Illinois where he lived declaring his intentions on the internet to defend property. A true public protector, or a true vigilante? The judge was expected to give his final instructions to the jury today.
The prosecutors tried to portray Rittenhouse as the instigator of the bloodshed. There was video footage of 3 people coming after Rittenhouse and one tried to grab his rifle. He said he heard a shot and turned to the pursuers and shot at them. He killed two people and injured a third. The jury “appeared largely white” according to the Associated Press reporters. That is not surprising since Wisconsin is largely white.
One of the final witnesses for the defence was a use-of-force expert, John Black, who testified that less than three seconds elapsed between the time somebody fired a bullet in the air and Rittenhouse opened fire on the first man he shot, Joseph Rosenbaum. Rittenhouse testified that he heard a gunshot directly behind him as he was being chased by Rosenbaum. It is not clear who made shot, but apparently it was none of the three men chasing Rittenhouse.
According to the Associated Press,
“The account Rittenhouse gave has largely been corroborated by a wealth of video and the prosecution’s own witnesses: Rittenhouse said that Rosenbaum cornered him and put his hand on the barrel of his rifle, the second man hit him with a skateboard, and the third man came at him with a gun of his own. At one point Wednesday, his lawyers demanded the judge declare mistrial and bar Rittenhouse from being retried — essentially asking that the case be thrown out. They accused the chief prosecutor of asking Rittenhouse out-of- bounds questions. The judge lambasted the prosecutor but pressed on with the case.”
I am particularly interested in the question of vigilantism that is so prominent in the US. It arises because of a distrust in the government that is also so prevalent in cases of people who refuse to be vaccinated. These issues are related. There is another case going on right now as well in Georgia that raises similar issues. It is quite possible that those who don’t like the result will protest vigorously. That seems to happen with every trial in the US where the country is so deeply divided and polarized. We certainly live in interesting times.
This is not an easy case. The onus of proof is on the prosecutors who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse is guilty. If not Rittenhouse will be a hero! Even if he doesn’t deserve to be. It will be interesting to see what the jury does.
A very interesting trial is going on in Wisconsin that is dividing the country.
In the summer of 2020, the city of Kenosha Wisconsin became the site of large and active protests after Jacob Blake, an African American man was wounded by Wisconsin police officers. The protests got carried away with widespread fears expressed on the internet that businesses might be looted and destroyed. Kyle Rittenhouse drove to Kenosha from his home in Antioch Illinois. He took with him two things one would not normally expect to go together. One was a medical kit and the other was a rifle.
Rittenhouse was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, which apparently what is called murder in Wisconsin, and as well attempted first-degree intentional homicide for the man who lived, and first-degree reckless homicide; reckless endangering; and illegal possession of a weapon by a person under 18.
All serious charges. Was he a murderer as many on the left alleged or was he a public warrior/defender as many on the right claim? This issue has captured national attention.
The protesters included many whites and blacks. Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot. The jury, which appears to be mainly white, will make the decision. Inevitably, a large part of the US will be upset while another large part will be jubilant. It is guaranteed that many people in the US will not agree with the decision of the jury. The judge was adamant that this would not become a political trial, but many think that is exactly what it became.
Rittenhouse said he was going there to protect businesses that had been ransacked the night before. The rifle, he claimed, was for self-defence. Rittenhouse was white, but so were the 3 men he shot. 2 of them died from the gunshot wounds. As the Associated Press reported,
“The case has stirred fierce debate over vigilantism, self-defence, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and the unrest that erupted around the U.S. over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police violence against Black people.”
That is a very important issue. Throughout American history vigilantism has been frequent, violent, and controversial. This case is no exception. It will be very interesting to learn what the jury thinks of the case.