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Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, T-Shirts

On October 2, Litquake, a San Francisco literary movement founded by Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware, held a tribute to poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Thousands showed up at the Herbst Theater to honor the 90 year old writer. Among those participating in the tribute were Juan Felipe Herrera, Jack Hirschman, devorah major, Patti Smith, Michael McClure and Winona Ryder and Robert Scheer. For my part, I saluted Lawrence Ferlinghetti as an American writer who saw through the glorification of an Imperial president, whose words of peace are now used in commercial advertising. Even progressives and liberals have joined in on the celebration of a president whose warnings about a “military industrial complex” are quoted fondly even though he used the military to support the interests of industrialists like United Fruit. The actual phrase, military industrial complex,  was created by Emmett John Hughes, a speech writer, but this appears to be all that a younger generation of historians and pundits remember about Dwight Eisenhower.

Steve Hayward, a fellow of the Claremont Institute, notes that “center left thinkers” have begun to embrace former President Eisenhower, retrospectively, following the lead of Murray Kempton, the former writer for the pre-Murdoch liberal New York Post.

A few weeks ago, I tuned into the Thom Hartmann Show and heard Hartmann heap praise upon the former president. He was joined in this tribute by Peter Beinart a writer for The New Republic magazine. Thom Hartmann is described as a progressive voice on radio and Beinhart, a hawk, plays a liberal on the talk shows. Douglas Brinkley, a liberal historian, has compared Dwight Eisenhower to George Washington.

This is the Eisenhower who said that Asians had no regard for human life and who was constantly threatening Asian countries with “nuclear black mail.” He even suggested a target for a nuclear attack during the Korean War. The North Korean city of Kaesong.

Eisenhower wanted the Supreme Court to uphold Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Jim Crow doctrine of separate but equal and when Earl Warren went against his advice, Warren was never again invited to a White House reception.

This was the president who told nigger jokes to his golf partners. The Eisenhower who okayed the overthrow of an Iranian government replacing the elected leader, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, with the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Shahanshah, an act that has cost a resentment that we are still paying for in blood and treasure.

A covert operation under Eisenhower took out Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, the elected head of Guatemala’s government; he ordered that Air Force cover be provided for Arbenz’s foes which led to the resignation of Arbenz. Eisenhower even tried to unseat the government of Indonesia. It was under the Eisenhower administration that the assassination of Patrice Lumumba was planned and the invasion of Cuba.

This was the president who wrote a glowing letter on behalf of the apartheid government of South Africa.

In 1958, President Eisenhower was viewed by most Americans as a Caesar, a god, and a man whom Douglas MacArthur said could become as admired as Jesus Christ if he ordered a nuclear field placed at the Yalu River.

In 1958, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published “Tentative Description Of A Dinner Given to Promote The Impeachment of President Eisenhower,” a courageous act in the 1950s when those who opposed the government were considered communists, the demonized entity of the day.

Therefore I was surprised when Lee Siegel, writing in The New York Times Book Review, made a bizarre attempt to link The Beats to the T-Shirts. He wrote “The Beats, though pacifist, were essentially apolitical.”

Apolitical? He hasn’t read Ted Joans, Bob Kaufman, Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti. Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” which condemns war politicians by name, is one of the best antiwar poems. I asked Kerouac biographer Gerry Nicosia his opinion of the Siegel claim.

“It is absurd to say the Beats were apolitical.  The Beats—speaking now of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, John Clellon Holmes, among others—were deeply shaped by World War II.  They understood the necessity of fighting evil – Kerouac volunteered for the merchant marine—but they also believed that militarism for its own sake was a highly dangerous path and likely to become addictive to those in power.  The Beats were, to a man and woman, appalled by the use of the atomic bomb against the Japanese, and they felt that the rapidly escalating buildup of American military armaments after World War II and the concomitant Cold War—with its threat of mutual destruction—was absolutely insane.  Kerouac comments on the show of empty-headed military might in ON THE ROAD as Kerouac and Cassady drive through Washington, D.C. at the time of Truman’s inauguration and Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) wonders why a good “man from Missouri” like Truman had “fallen asleep at the wheel.”  When Kerouac defined Beat Generation for John Clellon Holmes, he also talked about the need to transform America into a kinder and gentler nation (long before George H.W. Bush used it as a political catch phrase)—a nation that would welcome and try to understand other cultures and religions, not bomb them.  Ginsberg’s poem “Hum Bomb!” is of course the most obvious satire and condemnation of America’s propensity to bomb rather than love and understand peoples who are different from us, but Ginsberg’s whole career twined with antiwar activism—culminating with his great poem against the madness of the Vietnam War, “Wichita Vortex Sutra.”  As for Burroughs, almost his entire oeuvre is about the misuse and abuse of power, the continual institution of control systems which limit human growth and fulfillment, and an exploration of the destructive effects of government on the course of human cultural evolution.  If Naked Lunch were not so threatening to the established system of government, and to the constrainment of natural human behavior that government seeks to enforce, the U.S. government’s strenuous efforts to suppress it would be almost incomprehensible.”

Moreover, while the T-Shirts seek to cut off knowledge from the world by banning Ethnic Studies in Arizona, and banning the teaching Islam in Texas (in the name of Western civilization about which they also lack knowledge), Allen Ginsberg, a Buddhist, and his followers were always known for their cosmopolitanism. A few years before his death, Ginsberg taught Black Literature at Brooklyn College; I was one of his guest lecturers.

All one has to do is read the ads for writing workshops, conferences, retreats, etc. carried in Poets and Writers, The American Poetry Review, and AWP to see that Naropa University, founded by Ginsberg and now run by poet Anne Waldman, is one of a handful that appreciates diversity beyond tokenism. The American literary scene is as white separatist as the Tea Party.

While the man who occupied the White House at the time enthralled the majority of Americans, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s document ends with Eisenhower’s resignation.

Before I went onstage to offer my tribute, I ran into Robert Scheer back stage. He approached me to discuss my CounterPunch reference to remarks he’d made about mortgage foreclosures. He’d said on radio station KPFA that the banks extending loans to “the poor and drug addicts,” which to me are code words, caused the economic collapse. In my article I cited studies from Brandeis and the Center for Responsible Lending, which accused the banks of engaging in racist practices by holding blacks and Hispanics to higher interest rates than whites. Scheer told me to read his book: The Great American Stickup.

I didn’t think much of it until I heard Scheer on Berkeley’s KPFA, FM, (10/09/10). He was answering some soft questioning by Aimee Alison.While blasting Obama, Maxine Waters, and Jesse Jackson, Scheer had kind words for the Tea Party, America’s equivalent of Hitler’s Brown Shirts, and Mussolini’s Black Shirts: the T-Shirts. He praised Rand Paul, a Medicare pimp, for his integrity.* He’s not the only progressive, or liberal who is getting all touchy feely about the T-Shirts.

Air America Progressive Thom Hartmann is on board. Also the kind of person who is described as a “responsible conservative” in the Neo Nazi handbook , The Turner Diaries, Ross Gregory Douthat, a Pentecostal turned Catholic, who is present on the Times’ editorial page to present red meat (choice cuts, not like the maggot infested brand over at Fox) to Red State subscribers. He says that those who accuse the T-Shirts of racism have it wrong. “The ‘tea partiers are racists’ theory is the most inflammatory story line, but there are many more.”

Inflammatory?  Not according to a 92 page report prepared by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind from the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, serious scholars, who, unlike some pundits don’t just make remarks originating in their lower digestive tracts. Some of their findings:

“Tea Party leaders have promoted and provided a platform to known racists and anti-Semites on multiple occasions. Dale Robertson, the chairman of the 1776 who displayed the infamous “n****r sign,” for example, brought Martin “Red” Beckman on as a guest to the Tea Party Radio hour that he co-hosts with Washington state talk show host Dr. Laurie Roth. Beckman has been known for over twenty-five years for his anti-Semitic writings and his defense of militias. In 1994, Beckman was evicted from his property in Montana by the IRS for refusing to pay taxes. He now resides in southwestern Washington State.

“[John]Weaver, of Fitzgerald, Georgia, has a sprawling set of connections to neo-Confederates and those preaching the so-called Christian Identity doctrine. He is the former Chaplain in Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He has spoken at “Christian Identity” gatherings in Branson, Missouri in 1998 and 1999.  According to this particular theology, Jews are considered a satanic force (or the incarnation of Satan himself), and people of color are considered less than fully human.”

“The list of out-front anti-Semites on Tea Party platforms includes an event in July 2009. One thousand people gathered in Upper Senate Park for a rally in D.C. A full line-up of speakers included representatives from several tax reform groups, FreedomWorks, and talk show hosts. Also on the platform that day was the band Poker Face, playing music, providing technical back up, and receiving nothing but plaudits from the crowd. 208 The band, from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, already had a reputation for anti-Semitism. Lead singer Paul Topete was on the public record calling the Holocaust a hoax, and writing and performing for American Free Press—a periodical published by Willis Carto, the godfather of Holocaust denial in the United States.

“One of the most zealous white nationalists visible in Tea party circles has been Billy Joe Roper, Jr. A former Russellville, Arkansas high school teacher, Roper was an enrolled member of the ResistNet Tea Party. He is also running a write-in campaign for Arkansas Governor. Roper’s views are unabashed. A one-time leader of the National Alliance, an organization dedicated to the creation of an all-white country and the requisite expulsion and/or murder of Jews and people of color, he continues to idolize its founder, William Pierce. Pierce authored ‘The Turner Diaries,’ a race-war terror novel carried around by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.”

And so with people with such backgrounds playing a prominent role in the Tea Party, where does Matt Bai in the Sunday Times, Oct. 31, 2010, get off comparing the T-Shirts with Move On? Has anybody from Move On ever stomped somebody in the head? Or threaten to set up a white separate nation by force?

Or Lee Seigel comparing the T Shirts with the Beats? Did Allen Ginsberg ever handcuff a journalist? What is it with this cowardly media, so scared that they’re going to be Swift Boated like Dan Rather, posing such bizarre equivalencies like Stewart/Colbert comparing Keith Olbermann and Ed Shultz with Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, whose ravings have inspired people to murder 3 Pittsburgh policemen and a doctor who provided women with abortions and. After the Civil War Frederick Douglass complained about a consensus that said both sides, the South and the North, fought for just causes.

Apparently Sam Hitchmough writing in CounterPunch and Lee Siegel, of The New York Observer, writing in The New York Times Book Review weren’t aware of what was crawling beneath the T-Shirt rock. And why are Siegel and David Brooks so comfortable with the T-Shirts among whose prominent members are Holocaust deniers? Does this come under the heading of the Fatal Embrace, from the brilliant book by the same name by Benjamin Ginsburg?

Finally, at CounterPunch, Patrick Brennan defended the T-Shirts against Matt Taibbi’s article in The Rolling Stone, but I think that I’ll go with Taibbi, Burghart and Zeskind’s view of the T-Shirts. They say that they’re against Socialism but none of the spokespersons for the Tea Party factions who withered before Lawrence O’Donnell’s unsparing questioning on his MSNBC show on Oct. 28 seem to know what it meant. Representatives of Tea Party Nation, Freedom Works, Fed Up U.S.A. and The Tea Party Express answered no when asked by Lawrence O’Donnell whether they would end Social Security and Medicare. Ending Medicare would prevent some of the T-Shirts from getting to rallies using scooters paid for by the government.

Yet, Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation said that a hatred for socialism was what glued the different party factions. No it’s not Socialism, but the president’s black face that has gotten them energized and some progressives refuse to see that because they’re high on the post-race opiate. They see class, gender or sexual orientation as the “restrictive factors” in American life.

No, T-Shirts are not against big government and calling them the silent majority is a stretch and another example of the media’s boosting the T-Shirts beyond their influence because people acting crazy is good copy. And when faced with some tough questioning by O’Donnell, their pretenses collapsed.

So I’m not taking the word on T-Shirts from liberals and progressives and responsible conservative’s opinion.

I’m suggesting that blacks and Hispanics wear hardhats when they go vote so that when the T-Shirt’s “voter integrity squads” invade our neighborhoods to monitor us, we won’t suffer brain damage when they stomp us on our heads.

ISHMAEL REED is the publisher of Konch. His new novel, Juice!, illustrated by him, is available for pre-order at Amazon. He can be reached at:

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Ishmael Reed is the author of The Complete Muhammad Ali.

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