Phil Berrigan, America’s Greatest Arms Inspector

American has lost one of its senior weapons inspectors, one of its most ardent would-be dismantler of weapons of mass destruction. Phil Berrigan died in the evening last Friday, December 6, at Jonah House, the community in Baltimore he co-founded in 1973, surrounded by family and friends. For 40 years he campaigned against war and violence, most of all against nuclear weapons. Challenge America’s weapons of mass destruction, and the state locks you up. Phil Berrigan spent about eleven years in prison in the cause of peace and disarmament.

Berrigan wrote a final statement in the days before his death. His final comments included this: “I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus told the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount, and Lo, Ronald Reagan named the MX nuclear missile the Peacemaker.

The Berrigans and their brave comrades shed their blood on a nuclear warhead being manufactured at the GE plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, recalling the blood that Jesus shed for sinful humanity, and Lo, they named a ballistic missile submarine USS City of Corpus Christi, the city of the body of Christ and they probably knew not what they did, aside from honoring the home port of some Texan pork dispenser on Capitol Hill.

The word from Jonah House is that those who mourn for Berrigan and wish to honor his memory may make donations in Berrigan’s name to Citizens for Peace in Space, Global Network Against Nuclear Weapons, Nukewatch, Voices in the Wilderness, the Nuclear Resister, or any Catholic Worker house.

Philip Berrigan, was born in 1923 in the Minnesota Iron Range, near Bemidji, maybe a hundred miles west of the birthplace of the man who wrote The Masters of War. He was the first priest to ride in a Civil Rights movement Freedom Ride.

In 1967 he poured blood on draft files in Baltimore with 3 Others, known as the “Baltimore Four.” A year later he burned draft files in Catonsville, MD with 8 others, including his brother, Fr. Daniel Berrigan. That action was known as the “Catonsville Nine.” He was convicted of destruction of US property, destruction of Selective Service records, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967.

In 1971, while in prison, he was named co-conspirator by J. Edgar Hoover and a Harrisburg grand jury, charged with plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up the utility tunnels of US Capitol buildings. In the event he was convicted only of violating prison rules for smuggling out letters. In September 9, 1980 he poured blood and hammered with 7 others on Mark 12A warheads at a GE nuclear missile plant, King of Prussia, PA. He was charged with conspiracy, burglary, and criminal mischief; convicted and imprisoned. The action became known as the “Plowshares Eight;” and began the international Plowshares movement. He participated in 5 more Plowshares actions, resulting in 7 years of imprisonment.

Is McGeorge’s SM Sex Life Relevant To His Iraq Mission?

And now to another weapons inspector, about whom there has been a great uproar over the past ten days. The weapons inspection team massing in Baghdad under Blix was scheduled to be the first such unit to be graced, if that’s the word, with an experienced torturer.

The Washington Post set the ball rolling with a story by John Grimaldi to the effect that Harvey John “Jack” McGeorge of Woodbridge, then in New York waiting to be sent to Iraq as a munitions analyst, is a figure of consequence in the world of BDSM, aka bondage, domination and sado-masochism. Co-founder and past president of Black Rose, a Washington-area pansexual S&M group, and the former chairman of the board of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, McGeorge is also a founding officer of the Leather Leadership Conference Inc., which “produces training sessions for current and potential leaders of the sadomasochism/leather/fetish community,” according to its Web site.

Don’t you love the way “community”, once used to evoke the organic virtues of medieval village life has now widened its ambit to dignify almost any association. “The cannibal community”, the coprophagite community” etc.

Why now do we have the expose of McGeorge as one well versed in the wisdom of the lash? Grimaldi let the cat out of the bag, by disclosing that in the arms inspection community, McGeorge’s selection over supposedly better qualified experts had caused rage, and presumably the leaking to the Post of McGeorge’s baroque sexual pursuits. “McGeorge was picked for the diplomatically sensitive mission over some of the most experienced disarmament sleuths in the world. A UN spokesman said McGeorge was part of a group recommended by the State Department, which in turn said it was merely forwarding names for consideration.”

McGeorge is a former Marine and Secret Service specialist who offers seminars on “weaponization of chemical and biological agents” for $595 a session. Since 1983, he’s run his own firm, Public Safety Group Inc., which sells “bioterror products” (presumably not including bio-engineered corn ) to governments. We should also note that according to a later story by Grimaldi, one of McGeorge’s former Secret Service supervisors, offered this account of his resignation from the Secret Service. As a Marine reservist from 1974 to 1979, McGeorge took a Claymore antipersonnel mine to a private residence and passed it along to a Marine colleague in the Special Forces. A Claymore mine is an explosive that can be remotely activated; larger versions can damage light vehicles. Later, the mine blew up prematurely when an assassin tried to plant it under a car. The assassin was seriously injured, and the subsequent investigation led to McGeorge. Supervisors asked for his resignation, the former supervisor said. What assassin? What car? The Post didn’t say.

In the New York Post Aly Sujo fleshed out some useful details, including news that Black offers a forum for “different expressions of power in love and play,” including “bondage and discipline, fetishism and cross-dressing”, also that the 53-year old McGeorge is “chubby”. McGeorge went to ground, after telling the Washington Post that “I am who I am. I am not ashamed of who I am – not one bit.” Amid the uproar after Grimaldi’s initial story, Blix stood by his man and said he had spurned a resignation offer from McGeorge. The UN said all inspectors had been briefed on local cultural practices in Iraq, which of course do include state sponsored torture in that nation’s prisons.

In England, homeport for spankers, the McGeorge stories were swiftly stigmatized as efforts to sabotage Blix’s mission. The Guardian headlined its story, “UN team faces smear campaign” with a story by Suzanne Goldenberg to the effect that the BDSM stuff “provides a convenient target for critics of Mr Blix, particularly aggrieved former inspectors. They say he has overlooked potentially qualified experts by requiring applicants to quit their government jobs before applying. There are also fears that some members of the teams are from private industry, and will use the mission to garner media attention and sell their products.”

Meanwhile the BDSM community rallied around their man. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom issued a “call to action” urging sympathizers to “Please support the SM community and Jack McGeorge by dropping a note to the various news agencies covering this story. McGeorge’s sexuality is a personal issue and should have no bearing on his qualifications for any job.”

Suggested text for the protest note: “It is irresponsible for a news organization like The Washington Post to attempt to discredit Jack McGeorge as a weapons inspector simply because of his sexuality. Many millions of Americans engage in SM according to a 1990 Kinsey Institute report. These people are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and news reporters, as well as professionals like Jack McGeorge. As a former Chairman of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, McGeorge ably assisted our national advocacy organization in fighting this sort of discrimination and persecution. McGeorge has also volunteered his valuable time to educate adults about safe, sane and consensual sexual expression.”

The NCSF bulletin noted helpfully that letters to the press are “an effective way to convey a positive image of alternate sexual practices such as SM, swinging, or polyamory. You can help to correct negative social myths and misconceptions about these types of practices.”

The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom does have its critics. Bill Dobbs of Queerwatch remarked to me that “NCSF has often acted in an opportunistic and unprincipled manner, typically slamming those more marginalized or under great pressure in the pursuit of respectability for itself.” Of course the sm-leather-fetish crowd, or community, suffers all kinds of discrimination and oppression, and NCSF deserves credit for gathering people together to advance sexual pleasure.

That said, Dobbs argues that the tactics and strategy of the group merit consideration and they reveal something of the political values and character of those in command, like Jack McGeorge.

It seems that on McGeorge’s watch NCSF came to the defense of some ‘dungeon parties’ held on a regular basis in Baltimore. Baltimore zoning and other authorities were bringing the wrathful law down on the party promoters. NCSF’s defense? Why bother these parties, they are nothing like the topless or strip clubs in Baltimore that the law was written for.

So here was NCSF trying to paint itself as ‘good’ at the expense of others that it would paint as ‘bad.’ Topless bars and strip clubs are an endangered species across the country so why drag them into the mess? Then, again on McGeorge’s watch, NCSF waded into a Pennsylvania case where a scoutmaster faced very serious charges in connection with some hazing of boy scouts under his charge. State police accused John T. Levendosky, 52, of hanging the boys from trees by their bound hands and carving the letter “T” into their chests with a knife, telling them it stood for “trust and training.” Police said Levendosky did not sexually assault the boys — aged 11, 12, and 13 — but made them play several sadomasochistic games during their private overnight trip near Derry, 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. The cops said they raided his home and found sadomasochistic pornography. Levendosky “admitted to having always been fascinated with bondage and servitude and stated that he just wanted to see how people react in these situations,” the police report said.

Once again, Dobbs asks, what did NCSF gain by its opportunistic tactic in calling for the scoutmaster to be put through the wringer? Given a situation with two minors, an adult authority figure, s-m and homosexual overtones – what prosecutor in the country needed to be nudged to throw the book at the guy?

“I cannot support NCSF,” Dobbs recently wrote to the organization, and wish it would recognize the perils of seeking respectability at the expense of vulnerable individuals and groups. To the extent that the BDSM/leather constituency has been unorganized, it is too bad that e just some of the reasons that I do not care for NCSF’s politics. In many cases your group does harm. All this is sad because the core constituencies you do serve, those who engage in BDSM have historically been unorganized and need to get politically active.”

Well, that puts another perspective on McGeorge, doesn’t it? Flay him not for his tastes, but for his political cowardice in defending those tastes. So yes, it is relevant to examine McGeorge’s character and experience, contrary to what pwog crowd has been writing. On this issue there’s been plenty of knee-jerking from the pwogs. Had McGeorge been involved with Focus on the Family, might some have so quickly jumped to his defense? The religious right and McGeorge’s SM advocacy work (distinct from his sex life) are both wrapped around politics. One wonders what some pwogs and others have to say now that the grenade/car bomb story is out. This is not simply hiring someone for a line job at a Saturn plant. As Dobbs says, There are plenty of situations where a person’s experience as well as character and integrity are quite relevant, even to a point of becoming factors in hiring. It seems from one web ad, that McGeorge wants a female slave. Now it all makes sense. Of course the State Dept. sent over his name. McGeorge is a great American.

SM Girl Scouts In Twin Cities

For political courage let us hail a group of youths who “have an interest in BDSM”, a Girl Scout Gold Award project. The organizers are firmly to the left of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom since NCSF always making a point of fighting for adults-only sexual freedom. This news comes courtesy of Lavender Magazine of Minneapolis, MN.

Queer Youth Exist was created by two high school students as their Girl Scout Gold Award project, ” an education and safety group for youth under the age of 21 who have an interest in BDSM, fetishism, or any queer or alternative culture.” Queer Youth Exist was started by two high school students, Hedge (a senior) and Katze (a junior). Both are also Girl Scouts (Hedge has been a Girl Scout for 13 years), and this is their Girl Scout Gold Award project. You may not know this, but a Gold Award is the highest honor for a Girl Scout–the equivalent of becoming an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts. Over to Katze, as quoted in Lavender mag: “We’re trying to make youth be less of a threat to the adult community- we know how to act appropriately.”

Both Hedge and Katze see BDSM and fetish culture is alluring to the younger crowd. “They’re attracted to the young Goth BDSM culture–to the shiny clothes, attractive people, great music, and club nights,” claims Katze. “It’s a fun culture, and people want to be part of it even if they don’t practice BDSM. They want to separate themselves from the Abercrombie and Fitch jock crowd–they want to be with older people who are in their culture scene.” We’ll probably have a presidential candidates forty years down the road, saying that as a kid in the Twin Cities she “experimented with BDSM” and it was first-class training in the art of firm government.”


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.