Bring Back the Posse

Since there undoubtedly will be a next time, probably in the not so distant future, what useful counsel on preventive measures can we offer students and faculty and campus police forces across America?

There have been the usual howls from the anti-gun lobby, but it’s all hot air. America is not about to dump the Second Amendment to the US Constitution giving people the right–albeit an increasingly circumscribed one — to bear arms.

A better idea would be for appropriately screened teachers and maybe student monitors to carry weapons. A quarter of a century ago students doing military ROTC training regularly carried rifles around campus. US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently recalled regularly traveling on the New York subway system as a student with his rife. Perhaps there should be guns in wall cases, behind glass, at strategic points around campuses, like those fire axes, usually with menacing signs about improper use.

Five years ago Peter Odighizuwa a 43 years old Nigerian student killed three faculty members at Appalachian Law School Dean with a semi-automatic handgun, but before he could wreak further carnage two students fetched weapons from their cars, challenged the murderer with guns levelled ,and disarmed him.

When the mass murder session began in the engineering building the police cowered behind their cruisers till Cho Seung-Hui finished off the last batch of his 32 victims, then killed himself. Then the police bravely rushed in, started sticking their guns in the faces of the traumatized students, screaming at them to freeze or be shot. Similar timidity was on display in Columbine, where Harris and Klebold killed students in the library over a period of 15 minutes and then committed suicide. The police finally mustered up the nerve to enter the library over two hours later.

Years ago campus police were greeted as a welcome alternative to regular cops hassling students and creating trouble.. But now they mostly are regular cops, hassling students, dishing out speeding tickets like the one the Virigina Tech campus police issued Cho. They were good at spotting a car going a few miles over the limit, bad at protecting the campus from a smouldering psychotic.

The Virginia Tech terrible massacre should prompt a radical review of the utility of SWAT teams which now infest almost every community in America. Each time there’s a hostage taking or a mass murderer on the rampage, one sees the same familiar sight: overweight SWAT men, doubled up under the weight of their costly artillery, lumbering along in their body armor and then hiding behind trees or cars or walls while the killer goes about his business. SWAT teams perform most efficiently when shooting down unarmed street people menacing them with cellphones.

The answer is to disband SWAT teams and kindred military units, and return to the idea of voluntary posses or militias: a speedy assembly of citizen volunteers with their own weapons. Such a body at Columbine or Virginia Tech might have saved many lifes. In other words: make the Second Amendment live up to its promise.

In 2005 I listened to some earnest ACLU type at a meeting in Garberville, an hour from where I live, deliver a judicious speech about Taser guns–a new toy for the cops, whereb y a person can be zapped with 50,000 volts. The ACLU guy was torn. On the one hand, he reasoned that the Taser — being purportedly, though not actually non-lethal — is better than a 12-gauge or high powered rifle. On the other hand, there is the possibility of “improper use”. His answer: more regulation. He didn’t entertain the actual course of events, namely that Tasers have now been added to the means whereby the police can kill or terrorize people and that regulation will be zero.

The left complain about SWAT teams, but doesn’t see that the progressives bear a lot of responsibility for their rise. If you confer the task of social invigilation and protection to professional janissaries–cops — and deny the right of self and social protection to ordinary citizens, you end up with crews of over-armed thugs running amok under official license, terrorizing the disarmed citizens. In the end you have the whole place run by the Army or the federalized National Guard, as is increasingly evident now with the overturning of the Posse Comitatus laws forbidding any role for the military in domestic law enforcement.

What should be banned from campuses are not weapons but prescriptions for antidepressants. Eric Harris, co-slayer (with Dylan Klebold) of twelve students and a teacher in the Columbine school shootings in 1999, was on Luvox, a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) of the same class as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. Initially Harris had been prescribed Zoloft, but told his doctor he was having suicidal and homicidal fantasies. So the doc shifted him to Luvox.

16-year Jeff Weise, who killed 10 schoolmates at Red Lake High School on an Indian Reservation in 2005 was on Prozac. The manufacturer said 4 per cent of children in one of its tests of Luvox developed short-term mania. Other studies of the SSRI anti-depressants have claimed they have a 15 per cent chance of prompting suicidal or homicidal reactions.

Cho Seung-Hui was on a prescription drug for his psychological problems. What exactly it was not yet been disclosed, though the likelihood of it being an anti-depressant is high, since doctors on campuses dispense prescriptions for them like confetti.

There was plenty of evidence that Cho Seung-Hui was a time bomb waiting to explode. Students refused to take classes with him. His essays so disturbed one of his teachers with their violent ravings that she arranged a secret signal to another professor in case she needed security during her tutorials. It seems he may well have harassed female students and set fire to a dorm earlier this year. Students talked about him as a possible shooter. Three weeks ago there were anonymous threats to bomb the engineering buildings. Come the first two slayings in the dorm and the cops don’t raise the alarm or clear the campus.

Make laxity in closely supervising and, where necessary, committing visibly psychotic students grounds for termination. More than one teacher felt Cho was scarily nuts. They recommended “counseling”, then didn’t bother to review the conclusions of the counselors. And now it has emerged that Cho was actually institutionalised as a psychotic and eminent suicide risk in 2005. Yet when he returned to campus the administrators didn’t even tip off his room-mate to be on the watch.

College administrators live in constant fear of declining students enrollment. At the first sign of trouble and adverse publicity they cover up. So, there’s a double killing in the dorm at 7.15am, after which Cho has time to go home, make his final home video, walk to the post office, mail off the video collection to NBC and head off to the engineering building with his guns. The school’s first email to students goes out more than two hours later. The ineffable Warren Steger, college president, said later “We can only make decisions based on the information you had on the time. You don’t have hours to reflect on it.” Two dead bodies, a killer somewhere on campus, and Steger makes his big decision to do nothing.

As Lila Rajiva remarked here the other day, don’t hire stupid administrators.

Learning to be an American: there are many ways, of which the Cho family learned at least two: Cho’s sister went to Princeton and now administers Iraq reconstruction money for the State Department: a cog in the mighty wheel of empire. Cho raved that his victims brought it on themselves, and richly deserved fire and brimstone. There are no innocent bystanders who should be spared. In practical terms this is the imperative of Empire too, as we see every day in Iraq.

Anti-Depressants and Killers–A Sampler

Eric Harris was on Luvox and Jeff Wiese was on Prozac.

Kip Kinkle (Oregon), on methylphenidate and Prozac, killed four people, including his own parents, and wounded at least 22 others.

Luke Woodham (Mississippi), on an SSRI, killed three people, including his mother, and wounded at least six others.

Jason Hoffman (California), while taking the antidepressants Celexa and Effexor, shot and wounded four students and two teachers. He later committed suicide while incarcerated.

Cory Baadsgaard (Washington). On Effexor, he held 23 classmates and a teacher hostage with a rifle.

Elizabeth Bush (Pennsylvania). She blasted away at fellow students, wounding one. She was on an antidepressant.

T.J. Solomon (Georgia). He wounded six classmates. He was on antidepressants.

Shawn Cooper (Idaho). He fired two shotgun rounds in his school, narrowly missing human targets. He was on antidepressants.

Jeremy Strohmeyer (Nevada). He raped and killed a 7-year-old in a ladies’ room. He was on Dexedrine.

Michael Carneal (Kentucky). He killed three students and wounded five others. He was on Ritalin.

Bonkerism, Quebec-style

To CounterPunch:

It is perhaps fairly indicative of the total ignorance of the American left about anything in Canadian history that a “radical” site like Counterpunch would run pap like R.T. Naylor’s essay on Québec. What Naylor calls an “infantile” reading of Québec history happens to be a reading shared not only by the entirety of the Québec labour movement, the Québec left and the Québec student movement (the movement of Francophone students, of course; not the middle class brats at Naylor’s McGill, which has long been the bastion of Anglo privilege in the province) — it is also the reading of most Canadian progressives, French philosophers like Sartre, as well as Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panters and various Palestinian liberation movements of the 1960s.

The “absurd analogies between the situation of American blacks and Canada’s francophones” weren’t absurd for Carmichael, who wrote the jailed Vallières and Gagnon “Courage, my brothers…” when they were jailed by American authorities in New York. Incidentally, they weren’t absurd or particularly abstract for my grandmother, either, who was refused service in English-language department stores throughout the 1960s.

The swaggering ultra-leftism of the FLQ is not something I would deny (just as I wouldn’t deny it of the Panthers). But Naylor’s dismissal of French Canada’s historical grievances is arch-conservative balderdash; or, in the vernacular, un crisse de char d’merde d’un maudit bloke épais.

Charles Demers
Seven Oaks Magazine

R.T. Naylor responds

My immediate reaction to the tirade by Charles Demers was to wonder if we were talking about the same article. I searched in vain for some slip where I downplayed Quebec’s “historic grievances” of which as a historian who has lived in Montreal for over 30 years I suspect I know at least a little. I reread it forwards, backwards and inside out and it still seemed to me an analysis of how governments, separatist ones by and large, were able to defuse social tensions and rectify precisely those “historic grievances” without recourse to violence, and how the FLQ bogey-man was used by the federalist side to try to undercut movements in Quebec seeking genuine social and economic equality. To describe that as “ultra conservative” suggests that it might be useful for M Demers to not merely rethink some aspects of Quebec’s recent political history but also to buy himself a decent dictionary.

I notice that M. Demers takes particular umbrage at my characterizations of the works of Leandre Bergeron and Pierre Vallieres, much beloved of urban radicals of Montreal and Quebec City in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Personally I was always amused at how Bergeron a distinguished linguist from Manitoba educated by a French government scholarship in Marseilles whose first academic gig was at the Royal Military College in Ontario, could have become such an icon on the Quebec left-intellectual scene on the basis of the discovery that the root of all of Quebec’s social, political, economic problems lay not in the international division of labor or the oppressive structures of corporate capitalism, but in the fact that some people in Quebec with a disproportionate share of the money and power spoke English. It was fascinating to note, for example, that in his Petit Manuel d’Histoire du Quebec, he dwelt at great length on the suppression by the British of the anti-colonial rebellion in Quebec in 1837-8–with not a word about the parallel armed rebellion in Ontario even though the two movements exchanged messages of support. When the time came to appeal to an audience outside Quebec, Bergeron did manage to slip some such passages into an English edition, but they never appeared in the French printings.

As to Pierre Vallieres and his White Niggers of America tract, despite ringing jailhouse endorsements by Stokely Carmichael, I still find that the attempt by certain Quebec radicals to claim such close affinity to the struggle of American blacks of the same era is simply silly. I am sorry that M. Demers’s grandmother was insulted in certain department stores in Montreal in the 1960s where the staff refused to speak French. (He might have more usefully noted that workers in many major firms were forced to file their grievances in English.) However I doubt his grandmother was incarcerated without cause, chased by lynch mobs with white hoods, deprived of her right to vote, threatened with snarling dogs, or forced to the back of any Montreal bus I happened to ride, of which there have been not a few. Fortunately the overwhelming share of the francophone population, unlike M. Demers (or Pierre Vallieres), managed to find its own sense of being without, in that classic reflex of insecure political losers, turning it into a second-hand version of someone else’s struggle. If M. Demers grandmother is still alive she would be no doubt delighted that today she would be greeted and served exclusively in polite French not only in all the big department stores but on the floor of the Montreal stock exchange. And that, M. Demers seems to suggest, is what the fight was really all about.

Je me souviens!

Dear Dr. Naylor:

You brought up many memories of my late teens in Quebec. It was such a heady times of sit ins and protests and yes, anger regarding the treatment of the French from the time of Montcalm and Wolfe. Je me souviens!
Regardless, the War Measures Act was horrendous and had an impact that I will never forget. It was not normal to see armed forces personnel with their armaments on every street corner. While one could say that it was a safety measure, it was overkill and oppressive. I hope that our country never reverts to any of these types of operations ever again.

CSIS is the biggest joke of all in Canada after experiencing dealing with that department while working as a public servant. I shall say no more to that. “Drapeau, le vieux crapeaux,” was a nightmare. Had the atmosphere been different, that disgusting creature would never had been re-elected. But that was then and life moves forward…is Quebec joining the growing neo-conservative Global North? I hope not, I am moving back soon and would prefer my Montreal, and Quebec in general, as hot and socialist leaning as when I left it. C’etait excitant!

Thanks for the memories!
Marie-France Germain
Nanaimo, BC.



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