Keeping Oaths

The Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, is often quoted as saying that “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton” – but he may not have said that. It doesn’t matter – intense competition makes a man of you and teamwork produces results no individual effort can. Sports can be useful, and they do build character, and wiliness, and tactical skills. Perhaps the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Wellington was educated at Eton where he excelled at games but was abysmal at Classics, and perhaps the tactical skills Wellington began to learn as a kid did help make him the successful general he was against Napoleon. Perhaps book-learning is utterly useless, but there’s no evidence Wellington ever actually said those words. He just should have said those words – and those words have done a lot of damage. As Solomon Short pointed out, “The only winner in the War of 1812 was Tchaikovsky.”

The Duke of Wellington has a lot to answer for, because now we seem to see everything through the prism of sports, and not just the fair-play stuff. It’s cool to run up the score and humiliate the other guys, so they have no will to carry on at all – you then get that rush of alpha-male satisfaction. We want to crush ISIS for that reason, as much as for our safety. It feels good. And sometimes teamwork is for suckers – the superstars are way beyond that. They carry the team. That makes them heroes – and a little cheating is cool, unless you get caught. Bad boys get the job done. The job is winning. Sometimes you do what you must. Hell, you always do what you must. That’s what winners do.

This leads to some odd places. The sports story of the day, in early August, as the NFL training camps are now open, was this shocker:

New York Jets starting quarterback Geno Smith will miss six to ten weeks of the upcoming NFL season after a teammate broke his jaw during an altercation in the locker room on Tuesday. Linebacker Ikemefuna “I. K.” Enemkpali doled out the season-altering punch, Coach Todd Bowles later said, adding he was immediately cut from the team.

This may have been about money – a few hundred dollars the one owed the other, or about perceived disrespect one way or the other, but there was this:

Former NFL player and current ESPN analyst Chris Carter was on “SportCenter” to discuss Geno Smith getting sucker-punched by a teammate which left the Jets quarterback with a broken jaw and out of action for 6-10 weeks. In a larger discussion about the fight taking place in the locker room, Carter volunteered that the incident shows a “lack of leadership” on the part of Smith…

“I don’t know what happened,” said Carter. “But for me, it’s a lack of leadership on Geno Smith’s part, that he would put himself in harm’s way to get sucker-punched.”

Chris Carter gets it. This happens when “guys don’t respect you” – the coach and his staff may like you, the management may like you, but sometimes an individual like Enemkpali has to take things inro his own hands. He has to take you out and end your season before it begins. That’s another part of sports – the vigilante who bypasses authority to do the right thing. Geno Smith was asking for it. He got what he deserved.

Admittedly, this is the most minor of minor news stories, but if sports is life, or the other way around, this is how many think. Ted Cruz recently made this argument:

The right to gun ownership in America is not just about hunting, or protecting property and person, but “the ultimate check against government tyranny,” argues a fund appeal from Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The Cruz fundraising letter echoes arguments made by militia groups, and a far-right demonstration last winter that followed voter passage of an initiative requiring criminal background checks for gun purchasers.

“The Second Amendment to the Constitution isn’t just for protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice,” said Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general.

“It is a Constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against government tyranny – for the protection of liberty.”

Let’s see. In a representative democracy, if a majority of the duly elected representatives of the people vote for what those who put them in office pretty much told them to vote for, and what the majority passes into law is, in your opinion, wrong, then you have those Second Amendment remedies – get your gun and change the government. You do that if you believe in freedom – or maybe if you believe that what you see as freedom is far more important than majority-rule democracy. That has been a pretty consistent theme in all the Tea Party talk. They wanted to take their country back from the wrong-headed majority, who were foolish enough to elect Obama in the first place. That’s what Ted Cruz is saying, and it’s probably not wise to implicitly call for the violent overthrow of the government because the majority of the people agreed to implement a policy that you think restricts your freedom – to buy guns in this case. But it is bold to claim majority rule is tyranny, that democracy is the enemy of liberty. Someone should do something about that. Take things into your own hands. And someone should have broken Gino Smith’s jaw. The thinking is parallel.

Of course the major story of the day, other than the latest on Donald Trump, was what was happening in Missouri:

About 100 protesters gathered along West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson late Tuesday in a demonstration that was decidedly smaller and calmer than others on recent nights. Attendees mostly mingled quietly along the side of the road. Some chanted, and a few held signs. Police officers, most wearing riot gear, appeared to outnumber protesters.

The St. Louis suburb has seen demonstrations for days marking the anniversary of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, whose shooting death by a Ferguson police officer sparked a national “Black Lives Matter” movement. Tuesday was the fifth consecutive night a crowd gathered on West Florissant, the thoroughfare that was the site of massive protests and rioting after Brown was killed. Other nights drew hundreds of people, and one protest earlier in the week was disrupted by gunfire.

Larry Miller, 58, organizer of the protest group Ferguson Freedom Fighters, said late Tuesday that it was clear the latest round of demonstrations were dying down. He wasn’t convinced much was accomplished.

“We already know what needs to be happening is not happening,” Miller said. “We’re still bothered over the killing of Mike Brown because we still need police reform, criminal justice system reform.”

This had been nasty, again, but the turmoil was tapering off, maybe because they got wind of this:

Local police are armed with Skunk, a controversial chemical “malodorant” – or more plainly, an unbelievably foul-smelling liquid that can be fired at protestors to make them disperse, or mark them for later arrest.

Last November, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department ordered fourteen 1.4-liter canisters of Skunk at a unit price of $30.60, for a total cost of $428, according to a Nov. 14 invoice obtained through the state’s open-records law. The order also included two MK-46 HE canisters, which can shower 60 ounces of Skunk on people up to 40 feet away, and five MK-20 Titan canisters, which can carry 20 ounces up to 24 feet. The department also ordered four units of special disinfectant soap for $121. A second document, dated January 12, 2015, appears to confirm delivery of the material as an “emergency purchase.”

Developed in 2008 by the Israeli Defense Forces for use against Palestinian protesters, Skunk is a mix of amino acids and baking soda. It is technically “non-toxic” but hardly humane. Once used, it can linger for weeks unless removed by the special soap. The smell has been described as a cross between feces and rotting corpse.

In sports, you win by running up the score and humiliating the other guys, so they have no will to carry on at all – you then get that rush of alpha-male satisfaction. This is that. The humiliation, the stench, will last for weeks. You can’t wash it off. This no doubt made the Israelis gleeful in a manly sort of way:

SkyNews footage from 2008 documents one of the first uses of Skunk in a military setting. In the video, a Palestinian man can be heard declaring, “It makes you feel inhuman.”

That’s the whole point, isn’t it? But this wasn’t used, this time. Instead, the Second Amendment folks showed up:

Four white men carrying military-style rifles and sidearms added a disquieting element to riot-torn Ferguson, Missouri, when they began patrolling the streets before dawn on Tuesday, which police quickly labeled “inflammatory.”

The men said they were part of a group called “Oath Keepers,” which describes itself as a non-partisan association of current and former U.S. soldiers, police and first responders who aim to protect the U.S. Constitution. They told reporters on the street that they were in Ferguson to protect a media organization.

That media organization was Infowars.com – run by Alex Jones – who claim the Sandy Hook massacre was faked by Obama and the media to take away everyone’s guns – no kids died – nothing happened. And the Boston Marathon bombing was a false-flag operation and our own government was behind 9/11 and the moon landings were faked – and Jade-Helm, the current Army training exercise, is an attempt to take over Texas and establish marshal law – and so on and so forth. Alex Jones is who he is, but there was this:

In an item without a byline, Infowars said it did not “hire” the Oath Keepers, which is a group comprised of volunteers.

“Despite the remark by ‘John,’ Infowars did not hire the Oath Keepers to protect its journalists reporting from the embattled Missouri city,” the item read. “The Oath Keepers went to Ferguson on their own without consulting with Infowars.”

Another article at Infowars acknowledged the Oath Keepers’ proximity to the website’s reporters, however.

“Following Sunday night’s shooting, Infowars reporters Joe Biggs and Jakari Jackson arrived in Ferguson to cover the latest developments,” Infowar’s Paul Joseph Watson wrote. “They were flanked by Oath Keepers members who were exercising their right to open carry.”

That was the problem:

The men attracted immediate attention in the mostly black neighborhood, which exploded into violence on Sunday night as protesters marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of an unarmed black teen by police.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization, has described the “Oath Keepers” as a “fiercely anti-government, militaristic group,” and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar condemned their appearance in Ferguson.

“Their presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory,” he said, adding that police would work with county prosecutors to see if the men had broken any laws.

That won’t go anywhere:

The men told reporters they were licensed to carry firearms. A voter-backed 2014 amendment to the state constitution cleared the way for open carrying of licensed firearms, so long as they are not used in a threatening manner, legal experts said.

“There is no exception for a state of emergency for these laws not to apply,” said Marcia McCormick, a professor of law at St. Louis University Law School.

State law prohibits brandishing a weapon in an “angry or threatening manner,” McCormick said, but that standard is subject to interpretation.

“Clearly the people who are carrying these weapons are trying to send a message that some might see as threatening but it’s probably not a violation of the statute,” McCormick said.

But it’s not wise:

Many in the crowd questioned the wisdom of openly carrying such heavy weapons into an emotionally charged situation.

“You’re going to bring some uncommissioned citizens, white citizens, into a black community like this? It’s disrespectful,” said Talal Ahmad, 30, who is black and was a fixture at last year’s protests.

“Here, in a black neighborhood, we’re already living in a state of terror,” Ahmad said.

Why? These are just random white men, no official anything, walking around your neighborhood, in body armor, carrying heavy weapons. That’s their right, and this is nothing new:

Volunteers from the group briefly had showed up around town in November, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the unarmed teen’s shooting death, at what they said was the request of business owners and residents worried about the safety of their property. The group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, told local media that the volunteers left their posts once they were threatened with arrest for operating without a license.

Rhodes has since made headlines for suggesting that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) should be hanged for treason.

Authorities aren’t pleased with the Oath Keepers’ presence this time around, either. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar called their presence at the protests “both unnecessary and inflammatory,” according to NBC News.

That may be so. Rhodes did suggest that John McCain should be hanged for treason:

The founder of the Oath Keepers, a loose-knit group of current and former law enforcement officials and military who pledge to defend the Constitution, called for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to be “hung by the neck until dead” for treason last week as the president of the Arizona Senate looked on.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, state Senate President Andy Biggs (R) and “constitutional sheriff” movement leader Richard Mack were all on hand at an event on May 5 in Tempe, Arizona. The stated topic of discussion at the event, which was hosted by a group called the Arizona Liberty Caucus, was the “Dangers of an Article V / Constitutional Convention.”

Rhodes recalled serving as a Nevada delegate for former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) during the 2008 presidential campaign. He accused McCain and the “GOP machine” of manipulating the convention to sabotage Paul’s chances of winning the state’s delegates, according to a video of his speech posted by Right Wing Watch.

This was a surprise:

Biggs, the state Senate president, later told The Arizona Republic newspaper that he didn’t know Rhodes personally or even know who the Oath Keepers were. He told the newspaper he thought “an Arizona liberty group” had invited him to speak. As for Rhodes’ comments about McCain, Biggs told The Arizona Republic that he didn’t agree with the sentiment but didn’t think it was his place to interrupt the Oath Keepers founder’s speech.

A spokesman for McCain, Brian Rodgers, told the newspaper that the senator had no comment.

What Biggs didn’t know is The Oath Keepers is a self-declared patriot group, of what they claim to be veterans and active-duty members of both the military and first responders, such as police and firefighters, and an item in Mother Jones explains their hook:

There are scores of patriot groups, but what makes Oath Keepers unique is that its core membership consists of men and women in uniform, including soldiers, police, and veterans. At regular ceremonies in every state members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution – but then they go a step further, vowing to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government.

This item goes on to explain that Glenn Beck loves them. Tea Partiers court them. Congressmen listen to them. Some of their members, in the Army, have refused any order originating from the president, because he wasn’t born in America, so he can’t be president, and thus all his orders are, in fact, unconstitutional. Since all orders in the Army are, in fact, from the commander-in-chief, the president, in one way or another, they can’t obey any of them. Those guys were asked to leave the Army. Now they walk the streets of America, heavily armed, because they can. And they swear they’ll obey no law they sense is unconstitutional. They swore an oath.

They are a bit like the sovereign citizen crowd – those who claim each of us is really a nation – we each get to make our own laws. They obey no laws of others. They’re totally free, except a good number of them are in jail. Everyone else thinks we have laws for a reason. Laws make life a bit easier for everyone, even if they do limit your freedom to drive as fast as you want and own slaves or whatever your thing is – and laws against this or that, and others requiring that you do something or other, have been worked out by the people, collectively. Deal with it. Those folks refuse, on principle. The Oath Keepers aren’t that crazy – but each of them is a constitutional scholar.

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir thinks that just doesn’t cut it:

Anyone with any minimal understanding of American history and culture should be able to see the problem here… Whatever their conscious intentions may be, these guys are channeling two interwoven and inextricable strands of deep American mythology: The icon of the white man with a gun, defending his property and his womenfolk, and the long and ugly history of American vigilante violence. On one hand you have John Wayne in “Stagecoach” and Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry” (and for that matter Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”); on the other, you have the Ku Klux Klan bringing down Reconstruction with its reign of terror, lynch mobs hanging black men in the town square for offenses against the Jim Crow moral code, and Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, seeking to cleanse the Manhattan streets with blood in “Taxi Driver.”

To put it mildly, these phenomena look radically different from opposing sides of the racial divide.

No kidding:

In African-American history, the white man with a gun is not a nurturing or reassuring figure, or a symbol of liberty. There may yet be living people in Ferguson who can remember the last recorded lynching in Missouri, which was in 1942. Virtually the entire black community has heard those tales of terror passed down from their parents and grandparents. While African-American activism and resistance has taken many forms at many times (and I claim no special expertise) I think we can say without fear of contradiction that the mistrust of central authority and the federal government epitomized by the militia movement is not widely shared by black people.

There’s a reason for that:

Going back to Ulysses S. Grant’s attempts to crush the Klan and enfranchise black voters, African-Americans have repeatedly demanded that Washington step in to enforce the law and protect their rights. The fact that every president between Grant and Dwight Eisenhower declined to do so was precisely what allowed the white men with guns across the South to enforce a social order of violent repression. So it is hardly surprising if many African-American residents of Ferguson view this contingent of camo-clad, heavily strapped red-state interlopers with a mixture of emotions running the gamut from “no” to “oh hell, no.”

Which seems empirically more likely, given everything that has ever happened in the last three centuries of American history: That the Oath Keepers have showed up in Ferguson to protect citizens and property owners of all races (as they claim), or that they’re there to express their kinship and solidarity with racist cowboy cops like Darren Wilson and his ilk?

On the other hand, maybe they care very deeply about the Second Amendment and think everyone should – even these black folks and these local cops. They swore an oath to defend the Constitution after all. If either side does something that they decide is unconstitutional, they’ll take matters into their own hands, with their guns, and make things right. Screw the law. They know what’s constitutional. No one else seems to know that – and none of this is actually racist. It’s about what’s right. Sometimes you have to sucker-punch the useless quarterback and break his jaw and get him out of the game for the season, or longer, no matter what those “in power” think. It’s really the same thing. The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton after all.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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