Blinded by the Light: at the Portland Trump Rally

On Saturday September 26, 2020, I attended the Trump Rally miles in Portland, Oregon. The rally was held in Delta Park, which is located off of Interstate 5, about two miles from the bridge that crosses over to Vancouver, Washington. A Far Right group, The Proud Boys, which is a national organization of about 20,000 members, were the organizers of the gathering. The Oregonian Newspaper mentioned in a article that day, that possibly 10,000 people might be in attendance. The attendance was later estimated at about 500 plus people. I think many people did not show up, because the mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, and Governor Kate Brown had put the word out that they would not tolerate any violence from that group, because there was a counter protest being held at Peninsula Park, about three miles away. The Proud Boys had a reputation of being heavily armed with rifles and pistols that fired live ammunition. I had been to a couple of previous demonstrations by this group, and they were certainly armed with  these weapons, to include paintball guns, baseball bats, and bear mace. All of the members had a vigilante swagger. Three weeks prior to this event, one of their members, Jay Danielson, had been shot and killed by a member of Antifa.

There was a mood among the group, that they wanted revenge for this killing.  The rally was to start at High Noon, as I got there about 11:30AM. When I first got to the rally, I noticed there was a heavy police presence on the fringes of the park. I could hear loud music coming from a large rented stage that was attached to a pickup truck. On the stage was a movie screen size American flag, and a lot of other American flags and Trump flags were attached to many pickup trucks in the immediate area. There were many in attendance who were also carrying American and Trump re-election flags. The energy and excitement was very festive. There were all kinds of Trump T-shirts being sold with patriotic messages on them. One had the immediate feeling that Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, was someone who everyone idolized.

At High Noon, the rally started with a very loud rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner being played by a very good lead guitarist. It sounded very much like the version that Jimi Hendrix  played at Woodstock in 1969. Following that, a minister stepped on the stage and led people in a long prayer, asking everyone to pray for the city of Portland, and to give them the strength to overcome their radical and liberal thinking. The minister requested that the days activities be peaceful. Following the prayer, everyone said the Pledge of Allegiance. After that, there were  speakers who gave informative speeches of how important this up and coming November election was for saving the heart and soul of American Democracy. There was one speaker who emphasized that this presidential election meant the difference between life or death in the future of America.

As I walked around and took pictures, the underline theme was God, Guns, and Patriotism at any cost. I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt with ” Jesus Matters ” on the front. I saw many men with open carry rifles, and pistols strapped to their legs. There was always a heavy fervor of unquenchable patriotic love for God and Country. They all believed that America was the greatest country that ever existed on the face of the Earth. None of them realized that while America prays for peace, our economy worships war. None of them realize that the United States Government is a Global Empire. The word, Fascism, means absolutely nothing to them.  On a couple of occasions, the chant: “Fuck Antifa ” could be heard loud andclear. Another chant was: “Build That Wall.” Or, ” 4 More Years.”

I am 75-years-old, as I was born in 1945, six weeks before the Atomic Bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My father was a career Army officer. In 1947, our family arrived in Tokyo. My father had a high security clearance, as his unit was involved in the early stages of preparing for the  Korean War. My parents remember Japanese eating out of our trash cans, because people were so desperate. The last six months of that war, the United States military barbarically fire bombed countless Japanese cities from a low altitude with B-29 Bombers– they scorched to death over a million civilians. These were all war crimes.

During the Viet Nam War, the U.S. Military was responsible for over 20 million bomb craters throughout Viet Nam, Laos,and Cambodia. The United States Government committed atrocities in Viet Nam every single day. I am aware of many of those atrocities, because I have known many Viet Nam veterans who were involved in atrocities. Since the end of World War II,the United States Government has bombed 30 countries. Just Google: “History of U.S. Military Interventions Around The World.”

You will come up with a list of countries that will choke a horse. On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said this in a speech he gave at Riverside Church in NYC: ” The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.” In that same speech he also said: ” A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs ofsocial uplift is approaching spiritual death.” The Iraq War that started in 2003, it was launched on a complete fabricated LIE! Saddam Hussein never had weapons of mass destruction. All of these wars are about making unbelievable profits for American corporations. W A R —>  stands for: Wealthy Are Richer. Lying is the most powerful weapon in war. More Viet Nam veterans have committed suicide than were killed ( 58,000 ) in Viet Nam. And then, there is this emotionally riveting quote by Rev. James M. Lawson Jr.,who spoke at John Lewis’ funeral on July 30, 2020. He said this with three former presidents in the church. These are his words: ” We will not be quiet as long as our nation continues to be the most violent culture in the history of humankind.”

Absolutely none of the things I have mentioned is critical information that Trump supporters are cognitively aware of. In all sense of reality, they are a blank slate. The Proud Boys are absolutely clueless. I saw one of their leaders wearing a baseball cap that had, “The War Boys” written on it. They are wannabe tough guys who never grew up. When I came back from Viet Nam as an Army medic, my core belief system was completely dismantled. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I was raised in a very patriotic military family, and I was emotionally wasted from all the lies I experienced in Viet Nam. I have spent the last 50 years recovering from what I call, “Political Incest.” It is a deep wound of betrayal by the Fatherland. I did not serve in Viet Nam for the cause of freedom and democracy, I served Big Business in America for the cause of profit. American Corporations Can’t Make A Killing Off Of Peace.

For many years after I came back from Viet Nam, I tried very hard to convince people that the entire Viet Nam War was  staged madness. I told anyone who would listen that the United States, the richest country in the world, with the most powerful military force ever known to mankind, bombed the holy hell out of Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia. What is wrong with this picture? After awhile people quit listening, often changing the subject, or dismissing themselves from the conversation. I kept asking myself, why did they do that? And then eventually, I realized what was going on. Whenever the truth threatens one’s core belief system, there is an urgent need to deny its reality. That was it, you can’t feed a steak dinner to a newborn. In order for them to believe me, they would have to redefine their own core belief system. And, that was way to painful. We are our core belief system. When I came back from Viet Nam, I entered another world. Shortly before I left Viet Nam, I remember helping take an American soldier off of a Medevac helicopter who was dead from being shot in the head. On another occasion I unzipped a body bag and looked at a teenage American soldier who had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a pistol. On another occasion, I went into a tent and tried to save the life of another teenage American soldier who committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with his M-16 rifle. After a few minutes, I had blood all over me. There was a Medical Evacuation helicopter in my unit, where the flight crew had taken white paint, and painted in large letters on the nose of that helicopter one word: “WHY.” That was the Viet Nam War in a nutshell. Again, all of these  experiences are events that the ” love it or leave it ” Proud Boys have absolutely no idea ever happened. They are a blank slate, the history blackboard has been erased for them. Anyone who does not love America unconditionally is a traitor. They cannot absorb the unspeakable truth, because they would not be able to survive the unfathomable betrayal by their own government. Therefore, they will  forever remain emotionally immature. As a Viet Nam veteran, I am not allowed this mindset. I had to politically grow up, or perish. The make believe world no longer existed for me. I was filled with rage over the people who were running this country. When politicians and the rich start sending their kids to war, I’ll start believing in noble causes. My lie detector became my high power.

When I started writing this article a couple of hours ago, I had no idea how I would end it. Now I know. I am going to end it with an atrocity story. I have a very close Viet Nam veteran friend, by the name of Brian Willson. He wrote a memoir called, “Blood on the Tracks.” He has been a prolific writer about the history of the Viet Nam War. He has written at least four other books. You can Google his story on the Internet. Brian was an Air Force 2nd Lt., stationed in the Delta area of Viet Nam in 1969. He was a security officer on a small Air Force Base in Binh Thuy. On April 14, he was ordered to drive a jeep and evaluate the bombing damage that occurred a couple of hours before by American jets that came from his air base.

Accompanying him was a South Vietnamese lieutenant. He and Brian were to evaluate four different areas that had been targeted. I will quote Brian Willson’s words from his most recent book, “Don’t Thank Me For My Service,” that was published in 2018 by Clarity Press. Before he begins to talk, it is important for me to state that Brian was raised in a very conservative Christian family. Brian, you may speak:

“As the jeep approaches a tall grassy area on the left side of the road, we find ourselves suddenly close to a couple of columns of dark smoke and I notice a strong, acrid smell. I step out of the jeep and accompany the Vietnamese Lt. Bo on a short path that leads through the tall grass into a clearing. There I confront a massive scene of utter destruction. Immediately to my right, a water buffalo lies on its right side, bellowing shrilly in pain. I notice it has a piece of skull missing and a  huge, three-foot-long gash in its belly and I feel a sudden urge to vomit. When I turn the other way, I see countless human bodies scattered across the ground, some grouped together in bunches amidst the smoke from what appears to be the burning vestiges of small thatched homes. I watch a small  girl attempt to get up with the aid of a stick, then fall down, crying in pain. For a moment, I stagger around aimlessly, in shock. I place a handkerchief over my mouth and nose to block out the awful smell–a combination of acrid burning flesh and chemicals: lingering air droplets of napalm, and what I surmise is the residue of exploded bombs. I gag and cough up a bit of bile. Then I find I can walk no further because there  are bodies lying at my feet.

I look down at the open eyes of what appears to be a young woman. She is clutching three very young, blackened and bloodied children, probably hers. Looking closer, I realize she has no eyelids and that they were probably burned off by napalm. I find myself captivated, intoxicated almost, by her open eyes. Her face is partially melted. Oh, my God! Oh my God! Jesus Christ! I want to lift her into my arms. It’s like she is my sister or something. I am shaking, overwhelmed with tears as I gag out more vomit. I knew in an instant that we are all connected, a truth that had up to then eluded me in my well-conditioned, protected Western mind. Another thought comes to me, clear as a lightening bolt: This war is a fucking evil lie! My family is lying  all around me! I roughly estimate over a hundred bodies, perhaps as many as one hundred fifty, lying in an area the size of a small baseball field. I recognize the bodies as mostly young women and small children and a few elderly. These villagers were struck quickly with little chance to flee, hit first with 500 pound bombs followed by napalm bombs as evidenced by their charred skin. I see no weapons. These are farmers and fishing villagers.

Beside their simple tools, I believe they are unarmed and undefended. I just witnessed the death of my family. As soon as I speak these words, I think, where did that come from? But it rings true. At that moment I feel more related to these dead Vietnamese villagers than to anyone involved in the military establishment I am part of. I pulled no triggers. I dropped no bombs. But I am part of a massive murder machine. I just can’t believe it!”

A couple of years after I met Brian Willson, he told me this story. It was very difficult for him to tell it. He said something to me I will never forget.

When he looked down at that dead young Vietnamese woman, holding her three small dead children, he made eye contact with that mother.

This is what Brian said to me: ” In that moment, and it only took a second, I got it.” At that moment, he realized, HE was the enemy in Viet Nam.

That was of course the very feeling I had when I came back from Viet Nam. I have made three trips back to Viet Nam since 1994. I have focused those trips on going to the My Lai Massacre site in Quang Ngai Province. On March 16, 1968, American soldiers went into the village of My Lai, and  over the course of four hours, they murdered 504 innocent Vietnamese civilians. I was at the 50th Anniversary of the massacre on March 16, 2018.

I met and photographed several of the survivors, and heard their stories. The emotional pain I felt that day was agonizing. I took several photographs  of a Vietnamese woman who was crying at a drainage ditch where American soldiers slaughtered 170 of her countrymen, five of them were her relatives.

When I returned to Portland, Oregon, I realized I was born in America, but my heart is Vietnamese.

Mike Hastie served as an Army Medic in Vietnam.