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March 24, 2006

Racism and red scares: Domenech on King

Chris Kromm of Southern Exposure puts Ben Domenech's "joke" about Corretta Scott King being a communist in its ugly historical context.

A lightweight like Domenench probably has no idea that the FBI used spurious accusations of communism to discredit Dr. and Mrs. King and many of their colleagues in the Civil Rights Movement.

Chris elaborates:

Communist hysteria like Domenech's outburst was one of the critical tools -- some historians say the most important -- that the Southern power structure and their national allies used to discredit the civil rights struggle and maintain white supremacy.

Days after Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his stirring "I Have a Dream" speech at the August 1963 March on Washington, [J. Edgar] Hoover's FBI went into overdrive to find a way to discredit King, who he saw as a "demagogic."

Realizing that King and the movement were gaining the moral high ground, the FBI desperately turned to two lines of attack to bring King down: exposing him as a philanderer and, most importantly, a communist.

To Domenech and his right wing buddies, "communist" is just another epithet like"moonbat." He's probably blissfully unaware that calling someone a communist during the Cold War was the equivalent of calling someone a terrorist today. Trumped up charges of communism were the goverment's way of marginalizing and discreding dissenters. Cold War politicians abused their credibility on national security to undermine their political enemies. It's important to remember that the Bush administration isn't the first to exploit national security concerns for political purposes.

 

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Comments

Herbert Hoover's FBI? In 1963?

J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.

Thanks for catching that. I tentatively changed the copy in the quote and emailed Chris to confirm that he meant JEH.

"He's probably blissfully unaware that calling someone a communist during the Cold War was the equivalent of calling someone a terrorist or a today."

I wonder what is missing here, what would fill in after "or a"? :)

M.


That was going to be "or a terrorist sympathizer", but I decided "terrorist" about summed it up.

To be a capital-c Communist in Cold War America was to be an agent of a foreign enemy, and imputing Communist motivation or leadership to the Civil Rights (and then the anti-Vietnam-War) movements allowed the imputers to write them off as treasonable and go on fooling themselves that "our Negroes" (and "our kids") were naturally subservient, loved domination, and adored their dominators. The problem was them outside agitators stirrin' 'em up.
The other side of this mythic thinking is that Reagan and John Paul II brought down the Soviet Union. Presumably the workers of Poland, or Soviet reformers, especially Mikhail Gorbachev, should get less credit for transformation of an already moribund system -- they were in their way acting out Reagan's wishes.
Or again, some of the madder advocates for war with Iran point to the political opposition and disaffected millions there as if they were natural allies of the U.S., and so could be counted on as quislings who would collaborate with a U.S. invasion and occupation.
All three errors underestimate how people in a situation act according to their perceptions of its rights and wrongs and their own interests in it. To see the insiders as acting out the conflicts the outsiders pursue, as if they were sublunary creatures whose affairs were compelled by astrological configurations, is to describe the insiders' motives too thinly, to miss their point, to opt for narcissism instead of understanding. That comes naturally to members of dominant groups and take-charge individuals who view the dominated and the taken-charge-of not as ends in themselves but means only.

Very well put:

To be a capital-c Communist in Cold War America was to be an agent of a foreign enemy, and imputing Communist motivation or leadership to the Civil Rights (and then the anti-Vietnam-War) movements allowed the imputers to write them off as treasonable and go on fooling themselves that "our Negroes" (and "our kids") were naturally subservient, loved domination, and adored their dominators. The problem was them outside agitators stirrin' 'em up.

And when the President and the Vice President say that Russ Feingold and other civil libertarians are terrorist sympathizers, they're engaging in the same proud tradition. So far they're doing their best to blur the line between metaphor and literal accusations of terrorism against white people. However, it's hard to know how many other non-violent political dissidents and political enemies (at home and abroad, especially abroad) have already literally been accused of terrorism or terrorist sympathies and punished accordingly in America's penal achipelago.

On the home front, we've already we've heard of the LGBT law students and the Quaker peace activists who got spied on without warrants on the pretext of terrorism.

Sometime during the years between when R. Reagan was Gov. of Calif. and when he was president, Reagan had a radio show where he'd read some little essay an a topical issue. I recall hearing one in which the subject was whether or not to have a M.L. King federal holiday. I remember him saying that, among other dreadfull things, King associated with known communists. With all the fucking hagiolatry Reagan gets, no one seems to remember he was one of the great Republican pioneer assholes. Certainly, he was not above a little racist red-baiting.

>The problem was them outside agitators stirrin' 'em up.

"Are you one of those agitators? Those outside agitators. 'Cause I won't stand for it."

-- Actor Norman Fell, in the first of two landlord roles for which he became famous

To see the insiders as acting out the conflicts the outsiders pursue, as if they were sublunary creatures whose affairs were compelled by astrological configurations, is to describe the insiders' motives too thinly, to miss their point, to opt for narcissism instead of understanding.

This is a mistake we (and the Soviets) constantly made during the Cold War. Many of the Non-aligned countries, especially countries like Egypt, which were in zones we were especially concerned about, seemingly didn't care one bit about the US or the USSR's ideologies, but were taking all the military and financial assistance they could, just to further their own ends, which had nothing to do with the Cold War.

I think the worst, most rash mistake we made during the Cold War (though I don't agree with colonialism), was to push France and Britain from the world stage the way we did during the Suez crisis. It was megalomania on our part. We should have delegated some spheres of influence to those who had been there before, if the locals couldn't run things without being overrun. Instead, we made Europe a mere missile base, and ensured that everywhere the Russians or Chinese turned, they'd see our face. It ratcheted up the paranoia way past the point that a more multilateral approach would have done.

And speaking of Reagan, Cold War paranoia, and the end of the Cold War: if you want a good retroactive scare, study the Able Archer exercises of 1983. We ran some war games, and the Soviets were just about convinced that we were about to nuke them. We came closer to nuclear war 22 years ago than at almost any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It bothers me very much, though nuclear North Korea is very poor, and uses much outdated conventional weaponry, that we keep tweaking their paranoia in much the same way. They have an armed forces of over 1,000,000, and reservists totaling several million more. If we go into Iran, as you say, the people there won't throw us rose petals, any more than Iraq did, though their people aren't as anti-US as we keep being led to believe. But that's an even bigger quagmire waiting to happen. But using this "Axis of Evil (foreign)/With the Terrorists (domestic)" rhetoric as the new "Empire of Evil (foreign)/Communistically Inclined" slur seems to be tweaking the nose of North Korea in the same way we did the Russians. The difference is, Russia always sought to expand, but were conservative, like we were, not a horde waiting to pour over the border like the Chinese in the Korean conflict. North Korea is really run by a paranoid. Don't tweak the paranoid.

Able Archer, not incidentally, was also said to have jolted Reagan a bit out of his fiery anti-Communist rhetoric, and into a more diplomatic engagement with the Soviets.

>We should have delegated some spheres of influence to those who had been there before, if the locals couldn't run things without being overrun.

Though it bears mentioning, in this context, that one of the most appalling incidents, both regarding Russian paranoia and colonialism vs. letting the locals run things, occurred when we colluded with the British to overthrow Mossadeq of Iran.

And, yes, I know that Britain never colonized Iran. (/ass-covering)

""A lightweight like Domenench probably has no idea that the FBI used spurious accusations of communism to discredit Dr. and Mrs. King and many of their colleagues in the Civil Rights Movement."

And this general sort of historical ignorance - COINTELPRO? Is that some sort of telecommunications company? really, in my mind, helps explain why so many people don't seem to get why folkss are so upset over a little name-calling, a little domestic spying, a little . . .

The Red-baiting in the South had its direct and obvious uses, but also had its subtler purposes during the Cold War era, as an effort to deligitimize unions, the Great Society/welfare state, and liberalism in general. Ben Domenech might or might not understand that purpose. I suspect he does understand the various programs that help raise Southern blacks into economic and political competitiveness, and that those programs can be tainted with communist/socialist labels. The racism endures.

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