Silent Soldiers and Sedition

Blackwater/Xe and silent professionals

The Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a pre-emptive statement declaring their refusal to put boots on the street in the event the Commander-in-Chief declares Marshall Law. Even so, President Trump is not left without options. He has other troops, like the stormtroopers who stormed through the Capitol, threatened to hang the Vice President, kill the Speaker of the House, and succeeded in driving Congress into a secure bunker, while their commander-in-chief watched the news coverage and observed an unholy silence.

More dangerous than the motley mob believes the election was stolen are later intelligence reports of the presence and front-line leadership of soldiers well trained in military tactics, whether a random collection of ex-military personnel, or something more organized, like the “silent professionals” of Blackwater/Xe and other privately owned security companies. Click Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army for Jeremy Scahill’s Polk Award book (2007, Nation Books), or take a look at this excerpt from a New York Times Worst Seller List author.

We have a private army on our own soil. Its personnel are built around U.S. military Special Forces personnel who have joined Xe. They are snipers, demolition experts and former intelligence officers, both Army and CIA. Xe has its own intelligence department that hires out to corporations and the CIA, for profit. Does anything bother us about that?

Rev. Godon C. Stewart, “Blackwater/Xe: “How did it happen that the U.S. came to rely on mercenaries,” MinnPost, July 3, 2009

The Minnpost article was written eleven years ago. It bothered me then. It bothers me more now. I have no evidence that Blackwater/Xe or some similar “security” and training center was involved in the planning and execution of the January 6 insurrection. All I have is questions about “silent professionals” and the memory of a question asked in 2019. Within days of the Capitol attack, intelligence sources identified trained professionals as leaders who led those untrained in military equipment and tactics.

Pardons and Shadows

Blackwater/Xe, pictured here in Afghanistan (since re-branded Academi) still operates in the shadows under government contracts with the U.S. Department of State to protect U.S. embassies and with the DOD in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But there are moments — like the presidential pardons of four Blackwater “guards” found guilty of a massacre of 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad — when Blackwater comes into public view. Following Trump’s pardon, the lawyer representing the victims’ families in Baghdad spoke to an NPR reporter.

The Slaughter of Innocents

“This was Baghdad’s Bloody Sunday,” she said. “This was the slaughter of innocent civilians who were merely going about their day when a Blackwater convoy rolled through a traffic circle after having violated orders to stand down and not exit the Green Zone — and began firing indiscriminately into cars that were carrying people going to work.” A member of a victim’s family lamented pardons, calling the Blackwater guards “criminals, murderers and thugs. expressed his shock. “Today we were surprised that the American president issued a decision to pardon these criminals, murderers and thugs. I’m really shocked. … The American judiciary is fair and equitable. I had never imagined that Trump or any other politician would affect American justice.”

Pardoned Felon Gen. Mike Flynn returns as Trump confidante and advisor

Retired General Mike Flynn, the 25th U.S. National Security Advisor, fired, indicted, and convicted felon, later pardoned as a “great patriot,” has the president’s ear again. According to multiple news reports, Flynn and Sidney Powell have advised the president to invoke Marshall Law to order the confiscation of voting machines in the states he claims to have won. Given the president’s state of mind and knowing that he will face multiple criminal indictments and civil suits after vacating the Oval Office, and knowing the nationwide civil unrest his supporters will create this weekend, is it far-fetched to imagine him declaring Marshall Law under the guise of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic?

Paying attention

Such forces, unaccountable to the people, could, if they so chose, operate in black water for purposes that are anything but democratic. The current heated rhetoric of the far right is pouring toxins of fear and hate into the political water table, the poisons of a new McCarthyism with innuendos and bumper stickers that paint a popularly elected president as the nation’s internal public enemy. Our nation’s history of assassinations and assassination attempts requires that we pay attention to what’s happening under our noses right now. A company willing to hire on as trained killers and intelligence experts under the flag of democracy and freedom is also presumably capable of hiring on for insidious purposes.

Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, “Blackwater/Xe: How did it happen that the U.S. came to rely on mercenaries?” MINNPOST, July 3, 2009.

Privatizing the War in Afghanistan

Eight years after selling Blackwater/Xe in 2009, Erik Prince broke the silence of silent professionals in 2017 with an op ed in the Wall Street Journal. “The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan” (May 31, 2017) criticized the DOD’s restrictive Rules of Engagement and proposed appointment of a Viceroy with freedom to privatize the war in Afghanistan as he saw fit. The Viceroy would report directly to the President, thereby by-passing the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

By the time of the WSJ column, Mr. Prince had sold Blackwater/Xe, and founded Project Veritas, a private intelligence company that recruits former British spies and CIA agents to conduct secretive intelligence-gathering and infiltrations of the Democratic Party, Black Lives Matter, liberal movements, groups, and labor unions hostile to the Trump agenda. Among the botched Project Veritas cases targeted was the American Federation of Teachers. Erik Prince is the younger brother of Betsy Prince DeVos, the Trump Administration Secretary of Education until her recent resignation.

Blackwater/Xe and Project Veritas are two among a host of right-of-center “security” companies that hire out trained military, intelligence, and police personnel through public and private contracts.

Days before a second wave of domestic terror hits the US Capitol and state capitols this Martin Luther King Day and the January 20 Inauguration, does any of that bother you?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 13, 2021.

Lock him up NOW! Before Martial Law

George Washington taking the oath of office at first Inauguration

He doesn’t talk like us

Donald Trump’s long-time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen reminded Congress during the first impeachment hearings that his old boss doesn’t talk like us.

“That’s not how he talks. He talks in code.”

The Code of Insurrection

President Trump’s silence in the wake of the cyber attack on America national security seemed to speak as loud as words. He stayed silent, as he had after George Floyd’s murder until clearing a lawful protest from Lafayette Park to hold up and Bible and proclaim himself our law-and-order president. The Capitol on January 6 was not protected, raising the question of how that happened.

“The plan was a failure,” by every account. Was it? The appearance of white supremacist thugs on January 6 was not an accident. It happened by the president’s invitation. It was the president who then told them to march up to the Capitol during the normally ceremonial Congressional vote to approve the Electoral College’s certification. It was Roy Cohn’s apprentice and Michael Cohen’s old boss who spoke by silence when his supporters breached the security of the building where the Constitution is meant to be preserved and protected. The president failed to defend it. He and his closest advisors watched the attack on television, smiling and laughing like guys at a frat beer party.

What was the plan? Was it a failure? Or had “the plan” been a rousing success? Why was the security presence so much less than it was the day the Administration violated the First Amendment-protected peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration in Lafayette Park? Who refused Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s offer of the National Guard to help secure the Capitol, and why was it refused in the midst of a national crisis? Why did some Capitol Police Officers seem to enjoy taking selfies with insurrectionists? Why was there no word from the White House or anyone in the Trump Administration while MAGA marauders rampaged through the Capitol?

Where were the Homeland Security special forces without identification that had mysteriously descended on a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Portland, Oregon? Why did Homeland Security wait until the shards were being swept from the Capitol floor to show up?

Deputy Director of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli touring the U.S. Capitol during clean-up.

A Page from an Old Playbook

“Whether he realizes it or not,” wrote Jeffery C. Billman (Orlando Weekly, September 9, 2020), “Trump has borrowed a page from the fascist playbook.

This is the truth: Whether he realizes it or not, Trump has borrowed a page from the fascist playbook.
I’m not referring to his well-documented authoritarianism or even his willingness to steal the election if he can’t win it legitimately. Nor am I suggesting that Trump is planning a genocide.
I’m talking specifically about inciting violence against leftist protesters.
That’s how fascists claimed power in the 1920s and ’30s.
The Nazis sent Brownshirts to left-wing gatherings to provoke street fights and instigate chaos, most famously the Red Wedding rally in 1927, in which more than 100 people were injured. They then portrayed themselves as victims of leftist anarchy. Sound familiar?

The Memory of a Three-year old

Like Jeffery Billman, Views from the Edge has called attention to the borrowed playbooks, Mein Kampf and The Speeches of Hitler, perhaps too often. But I’m old. I remember. I am still in part the three-year old sitting around the dinner table with my mother and grandparents, listening to the evening radio broadcast. I was my grandson Elijah’s age, fearing my father would not make it home from his air base n the South Pacific. My grandparents were conservative Republicans. They didn’t like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but he was their one and only President pledged to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke complete sentences and paragraphs from his wheelchair. He didn’t give instructions by code and silence. It would not have occurred to them that the president they didn’t like could be Domestic Enemy Number One.

By reason of Insanity and by reason of cowardice

Between now and January 2021 a man who belongs in the hospital for the criminally insane remains the only human being on the planet sworn to defend the U.S. Constitution against himself. More than 100 Members of the House of Representatives and six Senators who cannot plead “Not guilty by reason of insanity” will plead innocent return to their seats in the Capitol they have failed to preserve and protect. Given the opportunity to take action to remove their party’s leader, they will fail again to keep their oaths of office.

January 17, 2021

If January 6, 2021 was unprecedented and horrifying, January 17 may be worse.January 17 is the day the Proud Boys and Trump supporting comrades will return to the nation’s Capitol. The social chaos produced by ramped-up mob attack will become the president’s public reason to save the nation by invoking Marshall Law.

Cabinet Invokes 25th Amendment

What happens next is anybody’s guess. What might have happened appeared in a June, 2018 Views from the Edge commentary. Click Trump Cabinet Invokes 25th Amendment for a tongue-in-cheek description that was, in fact, fake news.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), available in kindle and paperback.

Stop this NOW whether guilty, or not guilty be reason of insanity.

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Today Martin Luther King Jr’s successor was elected to the U.S. Senate. It was also the day Senators and Representatives wore gas masks in their chambers of the nation’s Capitol. Yesterday’s elections of Rafael Warlock and Jon Ossof in Georgia is an historic moment never to be forgotten by historians. Whether it will become a footnote depends in part on the Trump far-right occupation of the Capitol where the work of representative democracy tales place.

“We’re still fighting, and you’re going to see what’s going to happen.”

Donald J. Trump to rally in Dalton, GA, Monday, January 4, 2021.

Today we saw what was going to happen

“Liberate Michigan,” “Stay back and stand by (Proud Boys)”, and get ready for “trial by combat” (Rudy Giuliani today) beg for answers. How and why was the U.S. Capitol security left so insecure?

The President was silent until a tepid text and video that stoked the fire he lit. Where was Homeland Security? Where was the U.S. Attorney General? Where were the federal agents who cleared Lafayette Park so the president could hold up a Bible the book in front of the Saint James Episcopal Church, and return to declare himself “your law-and-order President”?

The violent insurrection that invaded the U.S Capitol today is an act of domestic terrorism orchestrated by domestic enemy #1 and supported by 12 cowardly senators and 100-plus representatives who broke their oaths of office.

Stopping it now

May Congress re-convene tonight to finish its constitutional responsibility of approving the Electoral College certification of the 2020 election. But do not stop there. Ask how and why the Capitol was so unprotected, and move now to remove the president before he does worse in the two weeks he will remain at the desk of the Oval Office: Declare Marshal Law as the guardian of law-and-order, a military attack on Iran’s nuclear research sites, and who knows what else.

Who needs foreign enemies when you have a law-and-order domestic terrorist inciting a coup d’etat in the homeland? Do it now. Before it’s too late. Do it, members of the House and Senate, before America becomes the cuckoo’s nest. Impeach him and send the men in white coats before the country loses its soul to Mein Kampf.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 6, 2021.

Meeting Diabolos (the Diabolical)

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Prefatory Note to readers

This commentary has been in process for days. It hasn’t been posted here because I find it impossible to keep up with the news –anything I might say is already passé — or because sources like Heather Richardson’s daily Letters from an American do what I attempt to do better. But this period of social turmoil has led to me to see what should have been obvious. I write from a faith perspective that seeks to writeI from a faith perspective but not to a faith perspective. I write as a public theologian; write for anyone who cares to listen.

Encountering the Diabolical

You don’t have to believe in a Devil with horns and a pitchfork to recognize the diabolical. The Greek word in the New Testament is diabolos. The diabolical is “characteristic of the Devil, or so evil as to be suggestive of a Devil” (Oxford online dictionary). Synonyms include fiendish, heinous, hellish, vicious, vile, cruel, wicked (Thesaurus.com). Like the calls to action from Conservative Direct that confused me for a friend.

December 10, 8:42 A.M.
 
 Friend,

 We will not bend.
 We will not break.
 We will not yield.
 We will never give in.
 We will never give up.
 We will never back down.
 We will NEVER, ever surrender!
 
We are Americans, and our hearts bleed RED, WHITE, AND BLUE.
 
The Left is trying to TAKE the White House from YOUR President, and, for the sake of our Country’s future, I need YOU to step up and help us SECURE THE SENATE!

 THE LEFT WILL TRY TO STEAL THE ELECTION!
 PRESIDENT TRUMP NEEDS YOU TO FIGHT BACK

 [photo of angry DJT]
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 Donald J. Trump
 President of the United States
  
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The gift of Mistaken Identity

I don’t know how Conservative Direct put me on its email list, but I’m glad they did. Now I know. The emails to Donald Trump’s “Friends” and “BEST Supporters” provide a look inside a narrative that helps explain how good people get caught swept up in what the Bible calls the demonic, the diabolical, the satanic twisting that turns goodness into evil.

I meet diabolos every day. in heinous tweets and news clips. The list of the diabolical speech and action is long and endless. (“It’s a hoax. The coronavirus is a Democrat hoax,” he says to the American public while telling Robert Woodward he knew but didn’t want the American people to panic. “I don’t know the woman. I’ve never met the woman. You’ll have to ask Michael.” “I don’t know anything about that. Ask Rudy.” “There’s no quid pro quo.” “I won the election! It was stolen.” Iconic Civil Rights leaders Elijah Cummings and John Lewis go unacknowledged while the First Lady drapes the medal over Rush Limbaugh to loud applause from the Right side and the silence of disbelief from the other. And that’s doesn’t begin to tell the story.

Echoes from Narcissus and Joe McCarthy

The Conservative Direct emails call conscientious patriots to fight against Leftists — people like me — while echoing the desperate cry of a thirsty Narcissus in the snarly tone of Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn whose early ’50s campaign saw Communists like Pete Seeger hiding in the entertainment industry, the U.S. military, and government offices until Army defense counsel Joseph Welch stood up to McCarthy with the rebuke that rang out across the American public in Edward R. Murrow’s nightly news broadcast.

Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Joseph Welch to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, June 9, 1954.
McCarthy Hearing photo of Sen. Joseph McCarty (R) and exasperated Army Counsel Joseph Welsh (L)

Earlier that same day, Welch had challenged Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s staff attorney, to give the FBI and Department of Defense McCarthy’s list of 130 alleged subversives “before the sun goes down.” McCarthy fired back, claiming that Fred Fisher, a young member of Welch’s law firm, had Communist ties. Welch called out McCarthy in words that many American citizens wish we could say to the President and elected representatives of the GOP who fear being on Mr. Trump’s hit list:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.”

Joseph Welch to Senator Joseph McCarthy after McCarthy sullied the character of Fred Fisher.

Roy Cohn later tutored a young Donald Trump and signed on in the capacity later held by Michael Cohn. Like Michael, Roy was thrown under the bus when he was no longer useful.

Diabolos and Democracy

A week ago the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the frivolous lawsuit alleging fraud in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 2020 election. The Court’s unanimous decision without comment was a sharp rebuke by all nine Justices, included Mr. Trump’s three appointments to the Court. Yet the public relations legal charade did not end there. The narrative continued with the Texas Attorney General’s suit against the States of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia. Seventeen other GOP State attorneys general filed amicus briefs and 106 GOP Congressional Representatives put their names on the Trump support list knowing full well that no state has legal standing to challenge another state’s election process, let alone void other States elections.

Tonight the Supreme Court put an end to it. The U.S. Supreme Court — six Justices appointed by Republican presidents and three by Democratic presidents — did its job. They exercised their oath to maintain the rule of law in faithfulness under the U.S. Constitution.

The president refuses to acknowledge his defeat. He is delusional. So is his party. Every member of the U.S. Congress — every Senator and Representative — owes it to the American people to fulfill their oaths to uphold the Constitution — not to seditious Commander-in-Chief or his party. To stay silent while the president eviscerates the institutions on which democracy depends, firing competent public servants and replacing them with incompetent sycophants loyal to him is to be guilty of aiding and abetting treason.

A Leech and a Wrecking Ball

Every day that passes is another day we hear the clanging of the wrecking ball. Every day we wonder whether you, the members of Congress, hear it too. We hope against hope that you stand up for us, for democracy, and for yourselves, that you have the courage to remove Diabolos, the leech that is sucking America dry. That you will do what the president has failed or refused to do: “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies foreign and domestic.” You will be on the list, but you will stand tall as a patriot. No foreign country has the power to incite violence on American soil or to invoke Marshall Law to restore law and order to void an election. Only a domestic enemy can do that.

It’s not over til it’s over

The Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, Wolverine Watchman, Aryan Brotherhood, other well-armed white supremacist, and, God forbid it should become so, Blackwater Xi, the private for-hire mercenary “security” operation whose employees former U.S. special forces personnel — click here for Views from the Edge’s previous Minnpost commentary on Blackwater Xi — are staying back and standing down, waiting for the whistle to take the streets.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (Wipf and Stock, 2017) and host of Views from the Edge.

ADDENDUM: PRIORITY ACCESS TO MILANIA TRUMP’S 2020 CALENDAR

Dec. 10 9:00 P.M. SPECIAL INVITATION

Friend,

 I have something special for you.

 Our incredible First Lady, Melania Trump, handpicked the beautiful photos for our BRAND NEW 2021 Trump Calendar. She said to me, “Darling, I want all of your BEST supporters to have PRIORITY-ACCESS to get the calendar FIRST.”
  That's right - YOU are one of my strongest allies, so I'm saving one of our ICONIC calendars for you. All you have to do is contribute $30 RIGHT NOW to claim yours.
  I can only hold your 2021 Trump Calendar for a short time before I give it to the next Patriot in line. Get yours now before it's too late.
  Contribute $30 or more NOW to get your Official 2021 Trump Calendar. >>
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My country, ’tis of thee I [Still] Sing

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Letters from an American

American historian Heather Cox Richardson summarizes the latest political developments. Each morning she draws from multiple news sources, but she speaks only for herself. She has no need to shout. No need to draw attention to herself. Like a neurosurgeon in an operating room, she speaks softly while opening the patient’s skull in hopes of healing. What she finds in America today is life-threatening. She also offers hope. We re-post her reflections from last Monday. Click the link below to read it online.

Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson, September 6, 2020

Letters from an American
September 6, 2020
Heather Cox Richardson

Earlier this week, New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo warned that American democracy is ending. He pointed to political violence on the streets, the pandemic, unemployment, racial polarization, and natural disasters, all of which are destabilizing the country, and noted that Republicans appear to have abandoned democracy in favor of a cult-like support for Donald Trump. They are wedded to a narrative based in lies, as the president dismantles our non-partisan civil service and replaces it with a gang of cronies loyal only to him.

He is right to be worried.

Just the past few days have demonstrated that key aspects of democracy are under attack.

Democracy depends on the rule of law. Today, we learned that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who rose to become a Cabinet official thanks to his prolific fundraising for the Republican Party, apparently managed to raise as much money as he did because he pressured employees at his business, New Breed Logistics, to make campaign contributions that he later reimbursed through bonuses. Such a scheme is illegal. A spokesman said that Dejoy “believes that he has always followed campaign fundraising laws and regulations,” but records show that many of DeJoy’s employees only contributed money to political campaigns when they worked for him.

Democracy depends on equality before the law. But Black and brown people seem to receive summary justice at the hands of certain law enforcement officers, rather than being accorded the right to a trial before a jury of their peers. In a democracy, voters elect representatives who make laws that express the will of the community. “Law enforcement officers” stop people who are breaking those laws, and deliver them to our court system, where they can tell their side of the story and either be convicted of breaking the law, or acquitted. When police can kill people without that process, justice becomes arbitrary, depending on who holds power.

Democracy depends on reality-based policy. Increasingly it is clear that the Trump administration is more concerned about creating a narrative to hold power than it is in facts. Today, Trump tweeted that “Our Economy and Jobs are doing really well,” when we are in a recession (defined as two quarters of negative growth) and unemployment remains at 8.4%.
This weekend, the drive to create a narrative led to a new low as the government launched an attempt to control how we understand our history. On Friday, the administration instructed federal agencies to end training on “critical race theory,” which is a scary-sounding term for the idea that, over time, our laws have discriminated against Black and brown people, and that we should work to get rid of that discriminatory pattern.

Today, Trump tweeted that the U.S. Department of Education will investigate whether California schools are using curriculum based on the 1619 Project from the New York Times, which argues that American history should center on the date of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Chesapeake shores. Anyone using such curriculum, he said, would lose funding. Government interference in teaching our history echoes the techniques of dictatorships. It is unprecedented in America.

Democracy depends on free and fair suffrage. The White House is trying to undermine our trust in the electoral system by claiming that mail-in ballots can be manipulated and will usher in fraud. While Trump has been arguing this for a while, last week Attorney General William Barr, a Trump loyalist, also chimed in, offering a false story that the Justice Department had indicted a Texas man for filling out 1700 absentee ballots. In fact, in 2017, one man was convicted of forging one woman’s signature on a mail-in ballot in a Dallas City Council race. Because mail-in ballots have security barcodes and require signatures to be matched to a registration form, the rate of ballot fraud is vanishingly small: there have been 491 prosecutions in all U.S. nationwide elections from 2000 to 2012, when billions of ballots were cast.

Interestingly, an intelligence briefing from the Department of Homeland Security released Friday says that Russia is spreading false statements identical to those Trump and Barr are spreading. The bulletin says that Russian actors “are likely to promote allegations of corruption, system failure, and foreign malign interference to sow distrust in Democratic institutions and election outcomes.” They are spreading these claims through state-controlled media, fake websites, and social media trolls.
At the same time, we know that the Republicans are launching attempts to suppress Democratic votes. Last Wednesday, we learned that Georgia has likely removed 200,000 voters from the rolls for no reason. In December 2019, the Georgia Secretary of State said officials had removed 313,243 names from the rolls in an act of routine maintenance because they were inactive and the voters had moved, but nonpartisan experts found that 63.3% of those voters had not, in fact, moved. They were purged from the rolls in error.

And, in what was perhaps an accident, in South Carolina, voters’ sample ballots did not include Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, although they did include the candidates for the Green, Alliance, and Libertarian parties. When The Post and Courier newspaper called their attention to the oversight, the State Election Commission, which is a Republican-majority body appointed by a staunch Trump supporter, updated the ballots.

Democracy depends on the legitimacy of (at least) two political parties. Opposition parties enable voters unhappy with whichever group of leaders is in power to articulate their positions without undermining the government itself. They also watch leaders carefully, forcing them to combat corruption within their ranks.

This administration has sought to delegitimize Democrats as “socialists” and “radicals” who are not legitimate political players. Just today, Trump tweeted: “The Democrats, together with the corrupt Fake News Media, have launched a massive Disinformation Campaign the likes of which has never been seen before.”

For its part, the Republican Party has essentially become the Trump Party, not only in ideology and loyalty but in finances. Yesterday we learned that Trump and the Republican National Committee have spent close to $60 million from campaign contributors on Trump’s legal bills. Matthew Sanderson, a campaign finance lawyer for Republican presidential candidates, told the New York Times, “Vindicating President Trump’s personal interests is now so intertwined with the interests of the Republican Party they are one and the same — and that includes the legal fights the party is paying for now.”

The administration has refused to answer to Democrats in Congress, ignoring subpoenas with the argument that Congress has no power to investigate the executive branch, despite precedent for such oversight going all the way back to George Washington’s administration. Just last week, a federal appeals court said that Congress has no power to enforce a subpoena because there is no law that gives it the authority to do so. This essentially voids a subpoena the House issued last year to former White House counsel Don McGahn, demanding he testify about his dealings with Trump over the investigation into the ties of the Trump campaign to Russia. (The decision will likely be challenged.)

On September 4, U.S. Postal Service police officers refused Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) entry to one USPS facility in Opa-Locka, Florida and another in Miami. Although she followed the procedures she had followed in the past, this time the local officials told her that the national USPS leadership had told them to bar her entry. “Ensuring only authorized parties enter nonpublic areas of USPS facilities is part of a Postal Police officer’s normal duties, said Postal Inspector Eric Manuel. Wasserman Schultz is a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

And finally, democracy depends on the peaceful transition of power. Trump has repeatedly suggested that he will not leave office because the Democrats are going to cheat.

So we should definitely worry.

But should we despair? Absolutely not.

Convincing people the game is over is one of the key ways dictators take power. Scholars warn never to consent in advance to what you anticipate an autocrat will demand. If democracy were already gone, there would be no need for Trump and his people to lie and cheat and try to steal this election.

And I would certainly not be writing this letter.

Americans are coming together from all different political positions to fight this attack on our democracy, and we have been in similar positions before. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln spoke under similar circumstances, and noted that Americans who disagreed on almost everything else could still agree to defend their country, just as we are now. Ordinary Americans “rose each fighting, grasping whatever he could first reach---a scythe---a pitchfork-- a chopping axe, or a butcher's cleaver,” he said. And “when the storm shall be past,” the world “shall find us still Americans; no less devoted to the continued Union and prosperity of the country than heretofore.”

Click HERE and scroll down to review the sources for this issue or to SUBSCRIBE to Letters from an American.

Some might call it treason and mistreason to do and to ignore what they cannot help but know: the strategic sabotage of a constitutional democratic republic some “losers and suckers” (DJT) still serve and some of us still pray and sing.

With thanks to Heather Cox Richarrdson,

Gordon C. Stewart, Views from the Edge, Chaska, MN, September 9, 2020.

The Incendiary President

Good cartoons pack a wallop. They go to the heart of the matter. They squeeze book into a small picture frame. Steve Sack’s “GOT A LIGHT?” in Saturday’s Star Tribune does that. As we enter the home-stretch toward Election Day 2020, “Got a light?” cuts through the smoke and mirrors to issue a warning: “Don’t be stupid!”

Don’t strike the match that fuels the Trump campaign. Don’t be stupid!

Steve Sack cartoon showing a person a man in black standing in the rubble left from a riot, holding a torch, and broadly grinning Donald Trump offering the rioter the fuse that that will ignite the fuel for his "Trump Campaign" rocket.
Steve Sack, Star Tribune, August 29, 20

White Supremacy dressed in Black: “Umbrella Man”

The backdrop for “Got a Light?” is the moment alleged to have turned a lawful citizen protest following George Floyd’s murder into a lawless scene of window-breaking, looting, and torching of the Third Precinct headquarters of the Minneapolis Police Department. A cell phone video preserved the provocative behavior of an unidentified white man dressed in black, wearing a gas mask, and holding an open umbrella on a sunny day. The video went viral.

The StarTribune reported that, before he smashed the store windows on Lake Street with a 4-pound sledge-hammer, “Umbrella Man” had spray-painted “free [expletive] for everyone” on the doors of AutoZone. Who was the white provocateur who lit the match that turned a peaceful protest into a riot? Why was he there so conspicuously?

"Investigators finally caught a break when a tipster e-mailed the MPD identifying him as a member of the Hells Angels biker gang who 'wanted to sow discord and racial unrest by breaking out the windows and writing what he did on the double doors.'

“Subsequent Investigation claims his association with the Aryan Cowboys Brotherhood, ‘a small white supremacist prison and street gang based primarily in Minneapolis and Kentucky.'”

Agent Provocateur

Whether or not those claims are true, one thing is certain. The white man dressed in black holding an open umbrella on a sunny day appeared suddenly, shattered windows, and casually slipped away. He came from somewhere. He returned to somewhere. Umbrella Man was not a demonstrator. He did not come to protest the killing of George Floyd. He was a provocateur.

Both “agent provocateur” and the shortened “provocateur” can refer to someone (such as an undercover police officer or a political operative) whose job is to incite people to break the law so that they can be arrested, but only “provocateur” is used in English with the more general sense of “one who provokes.”

Synonyms: agitator, demagogue (also demagog), exciter, firebrand, fomenter, incendiary, inciter, instigator, kindler, rabble-rouser

“provocateur,” Miriam-Wester.com Dictionary, Accessed 9/1/2020

American White Alt-Right nationalist provocateurs like Umbrella Man may seem strange, but they are not new. The difference is they longer wear white hoods, carry torches, or burn crosses on the lawns of Black houses. They have no need to work under cover of darkness. The occupant of the White House permits encourages them to light matches in broad daylight to provoke the civil unrest that will rally an electorate to heed his call to establish law and order.

During the press conference the eve before his visit Kenosha, a President of the United States of America again refused to denounce the lawless abuse of power that killed Jacob Blake. Today, defying the expressed request of the grieving family, the mayor, the Governor and other Wisconsin elected officials, the president made his appearance, praising the police and adding further insult by answering a journalist’s question directed to the grieving parents of Jake Blake. The president again stoked the fires of white supremacist lawlessness, encouraging white men holding umbrellas on a bright sunny day to create the civil turmoil that will get him re-elected. “I am your law-and-order President!” “Russia, if you’re listening . . .

Provocateurs and the Rise to Power

The Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler rode to power on the civil unrest created by the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi Party’s paramilitary, whose acts of violence they blamed on Leftists, anarchists, traitors, and non-Aryans created a climate that would welcome the Strong Man.

Once in office, Hitler no longer needed the SA or their commander, Ernst Röhm, whose loyalty he had come to doubt. When Herman Göring and Heinrich Himmler alleged that Röhm was organizing a coup, Hitler authorized and led the covert operation that became known as the Night of the Long Knives, the murder of SA leaders, including Röhm, whom Hitler had ordered to gather at a hotel in Bad Wiessee, a small town far from public notice. Eighty-five SA officers were murdered on the spot, or, like Röhm, taken to Berlin to be executed.

Cruelty Does Not Stay Masked Forever

Some things cannot be kept quiet. When the press began to learn of the purge, Reich “Minister Without Portfolio” Joseph Göring ordered newspapers not to publish the names of the dead, and ordered police stations to burn “all documents concerning the action of the past two days.” Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Hermann Goebbels went on the radio to announce to the nation that Hitler had prevented traitors from overthrowing the government and throwing the country into turmoil. Eleven days later (July 13, 1934) Hitler gave the nationally broadcast speech to the Reichstag (the German equivalent of the U.S. Congress) in which he conflated the nation and himself. The strong man who has promises to make Germany great again proclaimed himself “the Supreme Judge of the German people” and called those who opposed him traitors.

If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this. In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason, and I further gave the order to cauterise down to the raw flesh the ulcers of this poisoning of the wells in our domestic life. Let the nation know that its existence—which depends on its internal order and security—cannot be threatened with impunity by anyone! And let it be known for all time to come that if anyone raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.

Adolf Hitler, broadcast speech to the Reichstag, July 13, 1934.

Concerned with the potential resistance of the Reichstag and the courts, Hitler’s cabinet pasted a veneer of legality over the purge: “The measures taken on June 30, July 1 and 2 to suppress treasonous assaults are legal as acts of self-defense by the State.”

Germany Then and America Now

There is no official equivalent of the SA in the USA. But neither the president nor his storm troopers need a command structure to carry out the mission they share. Provocateurs like Umbrella Man need the the Commander-in-Chief to stay silent and shift the blame to the non-Aryans among us.

Is it unreasonable to suppose a president with no moral compass, fearful of losing his bid for re-election, at risk of losing his fight to keep his tax returns from public scrutiny, and facing multiple felony indictments after leaving office would use the provocateur’s playbooks his first ex-wife and the co-author allege to have been only books in his bedroom, Mein Kampf and The Speeches of Hitler?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 29, 2020.

A Burglar’s Narrative on the White House Lawn

A Singular Achievement

During 3+ years in the Oval Office, Donald Trump has succeeded in doing what no president before him had accomplished. He’s told more lies than the cumulative lies of all his predecessors, an accomplishment that history will remember as his singular achievement.

Burglar Narratives

The stories we tell about ourselves shape our reality. Facts may or may not matter. Objective reality may or may not matter. The trustworthiness of the story-teller may or may not matter. It’s the narrative that matters. Even the best convictions are vulnerable to burglary.

Chart of Donald Trump’s “False or misleading claims” (The Washington Post) and “False claims” by Daniel Dale (Toronto Star, later CNN)

Burglars rob houses that belong to other people. They don’t claim to own the houses they’ve burgled. They don’t occupy the houses they burgle. They don’t break tradition by making nationally televised speeches on the lawn of the house they’ve burgled.

The 2020 Campaign Speech — a Burglar’s Narrative on the People’s Lawn

Last night some owners of the burgled house on Pennsylvania Avenue heard the “law-and-order” candidate for re-election sound the alarms against “violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals” who threaten to occupy the house he thinks he owns.*

– Gordon C. Stewart, author of a different narrative — Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock) — Chaska, Minnesota, August 28, 2020.

Missing from the Narrated Crown

*There were no chairs on the South Lawn for former National Security Advisors Michael Flynn, H.R. McMaster, and John Bolton, Defense Secretary “Mad Dog” Maddox, long-time attorney-fixer Michael Cohen, old friends Jeffery Epstein (RIP) and Ghislaine Maxwell, family members Mary Trump (niece) and older sister Maryanne, grieving relatives of police shootings and of the 175,000 Covid-19 dead, or Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The Lure of Splendor

Cliff Notes on Being Human

Some stories never happened but are always happening. Like the Matthew and Luke stories of the 40 day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. If everything in Christian scripture should become lost, except for the narratives of the wilderness temptation, we would still have the story that succinctly describes what it means, and does not mean, to be human.

The narratives of Jesus in the wilderness are a kind of Cliff Notes on the ways mortal life gets twisted. They condense the challenges of all of us. The Devil (Diabolos) is a Trickster, the Liar, twisting the good out of shape. We live with the diabolical.

Is it about power? Or is it about splendor?

As many times as I have read and preached about them, the word “splendor” seemed incidental to the temptation of power. Or so I thought until this life in 2020 drew my attention to splendor.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if . . . .”

Gospel according to Matthew 4:8-9 NRSV

The genius of scripture is that it brings fresh things to light that speak to new socio-reliigious-political circumstances. Perhaps it is the dark and darkening skies of 2020 that drew my eye to the “splendor” of the kingdoms (nations). The Greek word is δόξαν (appearance, glory, splendor) is the same as the church’s song of praise, the Doxology: “Praise God from Whom all blessing flow; Praise God all creatures here below….”

Power is not an end, but a means to the end: self-glorification. The Gospel writers knew what the privileged often remember only after it has vanished into nothing. “Glory is like a circle in the water/ which never ceaseth to enlarge itself/ till by broad spreading it disperse to naught.” — William Shakespeare, Henry VI.

The Lure of Splendor

The lure of power is reserved for the privileged. No such illusion is found among the separated mothers, fathers, and children sweltering in crammed detention camps at our southern border. They are reminded hour by hour of their powerlessness. Nor is it a temptation among the suffering and dying patients or the doctors, RNs, LPNs, and orderlies in senior health care centers, homeless shelters, and hospitals overwhelmed by the new covid virus pandemic. Nor among the suddenly unemployed waiting in the miles-long food distribution center lines, holding fast to whatever shreds of hope and dignity remain while those with power and control, absorbed in themselves. discount their reality,

It is no accident that ‘splendor’ caught my attention last winter when powerful privileged man addicted to splendor trampled on the public trust with daily updates from the White House. I was watching the Third Temptation unfold with an altogether different ending than the one Matthew’s and Luke’s narratives described.

“All these [kingdoms] I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him

Gospel of Matthew 4:9-11 NRSV

Prayer for Public Officials

Walter Rauschenbusch’s “Prayer for Public Officials” is preserved by Prayers of the Social Awakening, published in 1909.

We give the thanks that by the free institutions our country the tyrannous instincts of the strong may be curbed to the patient service to the commonwealth.

Strengthen the sense of duty in our political life. Grant that the servants of the state will feel ever more deeply that any diversion of their public powers for private ends is a betrayal of their country. Purge our cities and states and nation of the deep causes of corruption which have so often made sin profitable and uprightness hard. Bring to an end the stale days of party cunning.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, “For Public Officers,” Prayers of the Social Awakening, 1909.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, First Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2020.

Christianity Today Yesterday

EVANGELICAL REBELLION OR A HICCUP?

Christianity Today, the flagship journal of conservative evangelicals in the U.S.A., has called for Donald Trump’s removal from office.

[T]he facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

Mark Galli, Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

The New York Times saw Mr. Galli’s criticism of the president as a crack in the evangelical voting bloc’s foundation, but not the beginning of the end of evangelical support.

Barring the unforeseen, Mr. Trump will be the first American president to face voters after being charged with high crimes and misdemeanors. One voting bloc voicing criticism this week: evangelicals. But the critics remain a minority in a political movement that Mr. Trump has reshaped in his own mold.

NYT, Dec. 20, 2019

DISCLAIMER

I am a Christian. I don’t read Christianity Today. I don’t even read The Christian Century, the progressive counterpoint to Christianity Today. I’m too old and ornery for flagships. Any sort of flag-waving, especially when done in the name of Jesus, turns me into what I don’t want to be: just another noisy name-caller. What do I know? I could be dead wrong in my understanding of faith and public life. But I still would vainly hope that what Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote about Thomas Hobbes might be said of me. “Greater than the horror his strange kerygma arouses is the praise he deserves for not being blind and stupid . . . and for his vision and knowledge. It should be part of Christian vigilance to see and know what [Hobbes] saw and knew.” — Karl Barth, The Christian Life.

I’ve never attended a Billy Graham crusade. I always found it ironic that evangelicals who believe that everything boils down to an individual decision rely on mass rallies.

TRUMP RALLIES AND MINDS WITHOUT COMPASSION

Watching Mr. Trump’s facial expression and body language, listening to speech that dehumanizes, humiliates, treats his critics as enemies of the nation itself makes my skin crawl. Only the knowledge that some in the crowd claim to follow Jesus is more disturbing. How can people hoot and holler on cue from a man with orange hair who makes fun of disabled people, lies so often no one keeps count anymore, throws away women, lawyers and fixers like bubble gum, builds a wall against Central American refugees and takes children from their mothers’ and fathers’ arms at the border, fattens the rich and sends the needy away, and alienates America’s traditional democratic allies with insults with the swagger of Vladimir Putin?

How can people who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior applaud a well-coifed billionaire madman dressed in a starched white shirt with gold cuff links, a silk tie, and a suit that costs more than the people standing behind him make in a month? How will they sing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” this Christmas Eve when a poor woman doesn’t get to gently lay her child lowly in a manger because the nation to which she had fled for safety has taken her child away?

Crowds have always been a refuge for people driven by demagogues into the arms of fear, which may explain why in the Christmas story the angel says to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10), and why, centuries later, the early Italian Renaissance scholar and poet Petrarch answered the question how and why such a thing as a rally happens.

In the hateful, hostile mob (O strange vagary!)
 My only port and refuge can I find,
 Such is my fear to find myself alone.
 
- Petrarch, “Laura Living,” Conzanier 

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 23, 2019

Boris Trump and Donald Johnson

INTRODUCING THE GUEST COMMENTATOR

Views from the Edge occasionally publishes a guest commentary that speaks with a different voice. John Miller begins most every morning reading through newspapers that represent diverse perspectives, left, right, and center. John’s readers respect his astute social criticism, and enjoy John’s unexpected turns of phrase, quick wit, and inveterate habit of going where angels fear to tread . . . all in the name of the LORD, of course! Views from the Edge added the photograph to the original commentary.

“BORIS TRUMP AND DONALD JOHNSON”

by John D. Miller

The British people have had three elections thrust upon them in the past year. After two of those elections, the new prime minister turned out to be Boris Johnson.

Mr. Johnson has had a long, colorful, and unpredictable career as a politician. To Americans, he was best known as the Mayor of London. After that he was elected to Parliament, where he was appointed foreign minister by Theresa May. Having Boris Johnson as foreign minister would be like making Bernie Madoff the Secretary of the Treasury. Neither man would be naturally well suited to the office.

When Mrs. May was rejected by her fellow Conservatives in Parliament, Mr. Johnson rose to the pinnacle of British political power. He was unable to keep the natives from becoming overly restless, however. In an attempt to solidify his position, he called the third election of 2019, which he won, predictably, on December 11, because his opponent as leader of the Labour Party was even more odious, or ineffective, than he. Jeremy Corbyn would probably be an horrendous PM.

When Donald Trump became President of the United States in early 2017, he had never held a political office, unlike Boris Johnson, who had been in politics for many years. Trump was a billionaire real estate developer and television reality show host. Both men were very popular populists, each attaining his popularity in his own singular, inscrutable ways.

Despite the differences in their backgrounds, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are so much alike in most ways that their names could be transposed. Donald Trump could be Boris Trump or Donald Johnson, and Boris Johnson could be Donald Johnson or Boris Trump. I have chosen to call them Boris Trump and Donald Johnson.

Both men look alike. They think alike. They act alike. They speak alike.

Photograph of Boris Trump and Donald Johnson at 2019 G7 Summit.
Aug. 26, 2019, in Biarritz, France, site of the G7 Summit. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Obviously they are not exactly alike. For example, Donald Trump has his own hair, and lots of it, and he combs it into a unique coif. Boris Johnson also has his own hair, but it looks like he never combs it. It appears to be a jostled nest in which several birds have recently roosted.

Nevertheless, both men are highly narcissistic. (Anyone who chooses to call that much attention to himself is a classic narcissist.) They are astoundingly unpredictable in what they say, except that they both have said so many unpredictable things their pronouncements have become quite predictable in their unpredictability. That is no way to govern reasonably or well.

Boris Johnson will lead the United Kingdom into disaster when shortly he promotes the Brexit vote, urging his zealous lemming followers to leap into the sea. Almost certainly the vote shall pass, and Britain will be catapulted into its worst crisis since World War II. British voters knew all this when they elected him. But they did it anyway.

Welcome to our world, British voters! Now you will know in your churned innards how half of your electorate feels. You chose someone you knew was a lethal wild card, also knowing exactly what he would do to undermine your political system and your economy. But you went ahead and elected him, because you thought the other choice was worse, which he probably was.

Fortunately, American voters still have eleven months closely to observe Boris Trump before our election is held. The UK will not be prevented from their plunge, which is already a tragically foregone conclusion. However, the USA still has a chance to come to its senses.

John D. Miller is Pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC. More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwalls.org.