Black Life in Retrograde


The morning the news broke about the massacre in Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal, I was driving. Having been unemployed since early April I’d tried to make my money by ridesharing. I found it difficult and I never was able to make the ends solidly meet, but made more than I would have on unemployment. Like most mornings, I did my best to be awake and alert at five a.m. in order to catch rides to the airport. Like most mornings, I made my own coffee and turned on NPR. These activities always made me feel more in control, more put together, better at adulting. I heard the news shortly before my first ride, and I was numb.

I was so numb, that I drove nearly an hour north from my home while listening to James Blake’s “Retrograde” on repeat. Something about the melancholy music that buzzes with such heavy vibrations hypnotized me. These lyrics sunk into me for an hour:

Is this darkness of the dawn?
And your friends are gone
When you friends won’t come
So show me where you fit
So show me where you fit
I’ll wait, so show me why you’re strong
Ignore everybody else,
We’re alone now
We’re alone now
We’re alone now

The song is about finding love, but I clung to the emotion of darkness. I felt like we were truly at war with white supremacy. People are gone and we’re so alone here. If you asked me about that hour, I couldn’t tell you anything. All I remember was feeling cold; totally focused on moving forward with the sky full of blushing peach tones of the rising sun. I felt alert, yet dead, completely hollowed out, filling myself with this song.

I spent the later half of that day and the entire next day inside, crying, on the couch repeatedly asking ‘why’. And: Where are we allowed to be human? Where can we feel safe from slaughter?

I didn’t listen to it again for 11 weeks.

Now it makes me cry. It makes me feel despair. If I can get through a listen without tears I feel strong.

The reaction to the tragic killing of two reporters in Virginia in August truly seared this despair into my being. Read more

Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965 turns 50


Although it didn’t take effect until 1968, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was signed into law on October 3, 1965 — 50 years ago today — by President Lyndon Johnson. It was instrumental in transforming the racist eurocentric immigration quota policies that preceded it into a truly global immigration system focused on worker skills and family reunification.

However, as The Atlantic explained this week, the latter point was almost accidental — and its effect was unanticipated. The White supremacist faction in Congress at the time, disappointed in the abandonment of explicit national quotas, introduced family reunification in the hopes that it would encourage recent European immigrants to bring their extended families over and thus keep the balance of immigration overwhelmingly White and European. Instead, it created a beachhead for so many other countries’ migrants to make a new home in America.

In the subsequent half century, the pattern of U.S. immigration changed dramatically. The share of the U.S. population born outside the country tripled and became far more diverse. Seven out of every eight immigrants in 1960 were from Europe; by 2010, nine out of ten were coming from other parts of the world.
The heightened emphasis on family unification, rather than replicating the existing ethnic structure of the American population, led to the phenomenon of chain migration. The naturalization of a single immigrant from an Asian or African or Hispanic background opened the door to his or her brothers and sisters and their spouses, who in turn could sponsor their own brothers and sisters. Within a few decades, family unification had become the driving force in U.S. immigration, and it favored exactly those nationalities the critics of the 1965 Act had hoped to keep out, because those were the people most determined to move.

The large numbers of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian immigrants and naturalized citizens in the United States today are here thanks in large part to the family reunification provisions passed in 1965.

How we talk about the racists among us

On Saturday morning, Twitter users HenryKrinkle and EMQuangel discovered the website of Dylann Storm Roof, the right-wing domestic terrorist responsible for the murder of 9 people at a historic Black church in Charleston, SC days earlier.

Their discovery of Roof’s website, The Last Rhodesian, was fairly straightforward; it required only the knowledge of how to run a reverse whois look-up for websites registered to a “Dylann Roof” and the wherewithal to pay $49 for the ensuing report. This report lead them to a website which contained a folder of photos of Roof posing menacingly with guns and the Confederate Flag (a flag that flies over the statehouse in Roof’s home state of South Carolina and has since 1962). It also contains a short manifesto (this terminology seems quite generous, but is the prevailing choice) where Roof laments the sorry state of the country and espouses racist rhetoric about the minority groups, most notably “Blacks,” but also “Jews,” “Hispanics,” and “East Asians,” responsible for it.

Mainstream media picked up on this story within a few hours — and criticism of this story came almost as quickly.

One can break down the criticism into three categories (and rebut each):

1. “We need more verification.”

This is perhaps theoretically the most reasonable of all the criticisms leveled at this story. It suggests that is too early to pin “The Last Rhodesian” on Dylann Roof and that we must wait for more confirmation before attributing these writings to him.

Of course, it ignores the trove of photos of Roof on the website (or ridiculously suggests that there must be forensic confirmation that he is the man pictured in the photos), the photos of him that had already surfaced wearing a patch of White-rule Rhodesia, and that the writings on this website are consistent with the racist views he expressed to a survivor of the massacre and to his friends.

It is also a suspiciously rare call for caution in reporting in the age of the internet where immediacy and scoops on information outweigh getting it exactly right the first time. Most telling, it is a call for restraint in reporting — about a White shooter — at a time when even Black victims are not given this deference.

The media rush to uncover similarly salacious information from the pasts of Black victims like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, to label them as “no angels,” juxtaposed with the soft profiles of Dylann Roof who is described as a “loner,” “quiet,” and “smart” reveals itself to be no more than tidy narrative-building based on racist stereotypes.

The revelation of this website destroys this convenient narrative. Were these voices calling for “responsible journalism” doing so consistently, for both suspects and victims, White and Black, it is possible they would have an argument, but they are not, so they do not. This criticism is merely a derailing tactic and a double-standard.

2. “A journalist did not report this first.”

The second criticism is that Twitter users HenryKrinkle and EMQuangel are not journalists, at least in the traditional sense. Thus, the criticism goes, we must view the information they uncovered with skepticism.

One of the greatest strengths of Twitter is that it allows anyone, especially those previously marginalized from mainstream media outlets, the platform to disseminate information to a large audience. Thus a “professional wrestling fan” who jokes about fiat currency and a communist were able to, on a lark, unearth important information about Dylann Roof which circulated widely enough to grab the attention of mainstream media.

It is the responsibility of this mainstream media to use its power, capital, and access verify this information in a way two people with $50 tweeting can not, before proceeding to publication. Whether they can do so — in light of shrinking budgets and the shuttering of fact checking departments — is a topic for another essay. However, it is undoubtedly not the responsibility of people who are essentially just sources to confirm information in ways that would go beyond their status as sources (e.g. speaking with members of Roof’s circle of friends, family, or Roof himself to confirm that the website is his) because they do not have this access.

That multiple mainstream media outlets published this information suggests that they found it compelling and convincing enough upon review to warrant publication (whether this is a naïve heuristic consumers of information employ to make sense of a confusing and, increasingly information dense world, is the topic for yet another essay). So, this criticism can also be dismissed.

3. “Roof lacks the education/intelligence to write the contents of his alleged website”

The third criticism veers quickly into conspiracy theory territory. Dylann Roof dropped out of school in the 9th grade. After reading his website, some suggest that the contents are too coherent and grammatically correct for a high school dropout to have written it.

There are two different flavors of these conspiracy theorists. The first suggest that both the website and the attack itself are a “false flag” that the government orchestrated to enact stricter gun laws. When we consider the increase in firearm sales in the aftermath of mass shootings and the fact that very little substantive legislation has passed to control the sale and distribution of guns in the aftermath of previous mass shootings it is easy to dismiss those theories.

The second group to suggest conspiratorial authorship appears to be coming from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Like their right-wing counterparts, they suggest the writing level on the Last Rhodesian (such as the author’s ability to use quotation marks correctly) is beyond the capabilities of a ninth grade dropout, thus someone else “must” have written it.

The purpose of such a hypothesized conspiracy is less clear in this variation. The “theory” may suggest that Dylann Roof was acting under the tutelage of a racist, educated individual or group of individuals whose work he took and posted as his own on a website registered in his name. The fact that the photos on his website were not selfies suggests he at least had access to a willing photographer — someone complicitly aware of his extremism. (But we already knew that from his friends and acquaintances.) Following this logic, the conspiracists suggest that Dylann Roof may have also been influenced by this individual or group to plan and carry out his attack on AME Emanuel church.

Such a scenario is also convenient in the sense that it would partially absolve Roof of those nine lives he took because it paints him, somewhat sympathetically, as a crazy, ignorant, dullard who was manipulated by “the real racist(s)” (still unidentified) into carrying out a heinous crime. The notion of a “crazy” shooter who fell in with an unspecified “bad crowd” that took advantage of him is a common trope used to excuse or explain mass murders in a vague and nominally comforting way. This is a less political explanation. It doesn’t force us to confront the reality that an ordinary individual walking among us could research and develop a personal ideology that would motivate him to kill multiple unarmed people without being in the throes of some clinical psychosis.

Bill wrote at Arsenal For Democracy about our society’s frequent assumption that such an individual is “crazy,” in the aftermath of the UC Santa Babara shooting 13 months ago: Read more

Charleston: I’m out of new things to say

Today I felt, for one of the few times in my life, like I finally had nothing left to say on a huge story in the news. The Charleston AME church shooting in this case.

I’ve written post after post after post on White America’s violence against Black America. I’ve written post after post on violent ideologies versus mental illness. I’ve written post after post on gun control and mass shootings. I’ve written post after post on Confederate apologism. I literally don’t know what else to say at this point. This happens so often — even just in the last couple years — and the facts are so similar that there’s no new ground to cover. Whatever I’d write on it would be hollow and a waste of space.

This isn’t a mysterious and inexplicable tragedy. It’s just the latest act of terrorism in a vast pattern that seems like it won’t end.

At this point I’ll direct everyone to Black authors and social media commentators. Anything they have to say is almost certainly going to be more worth hearing than anything new I could come up with. If you don’t know where to start, I’ll point you toward our columnist De Ana. Beyond her own tweets, her Twitter stream will give you a jumping off point to other voices you should hear.

January 7, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 112


Topics: Rep. Steve Scalise, US policy on Cuba and North Korea, Islamophobia in Sweden and Germany. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: January 5th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Why House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is at least a White supremacist sympathizer, despite his sketchy denials — and what that means for the Republican Party now.
– What does the US policy change on Cuba mean for both countries? Should the US also adjust policies on North Korea?
– Why are Germany and Sweden witnessing a surge of anti-Muslim public actions?

Episode 112 (55 min)
AFD 112

Related links
Segment 1

Cen Lamar: House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was reportedly an honored guest at 2002 international white supremacist convention
Washington Post: House Majority Whip Scalise confirms he spoke to white nationalists in 2002
NYT: Much of David Duke’s ’91 Campaign Is Now in Louisiana Mainstream

Segment 2

NYT: Obama Announces U.S. and Cuba Will Resume Relations
AFD: Hip-Hop Invasion! (and other stupid covert Cuba projects)

Segment 3

The Globalist: Political Courage: Merkel Vs. Cameron
BBC: Anti-Islam ‘Pegida’ rally in Dresden sees record turnout
BBC: Three mosque fires in one week (Sweden)
AFD: Sweden’s budget deal is American-style extortion


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Globalist Paper: The U.S. Torture Report and White Supremacy

This essay originally appeared at The Globalist, where I am a Senior Editor. It was also republished at Salon.


The United States already decided decades ago that no human deserved to be subjected to the treatment after September 11th described in the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogations. Such torture – which included sexual assault and partial drowning – was not to be employed by the United States (or any) government.

The United States suddenly restored these horrific tactics in 2001. It did so not just for known terrorists, but also for people mistakenly detained. This decision would supposedly “protect the American people.”

Many in Washington and beyond have continued to insist that the methods employed were effective at promoting national security (and thus self-justifying), despite the report’s findings — and centuries of evidence — to the contrary.

Asking a morally wrong question

But the very debate on the “effectiveness” of immoral methods is itself immoral. Ignoring the taboo on torturing captives necessarily implies that some people are worth so little – when they might possibly pose a threat – that they do not count as humans.

The moment one asks of an immoral action “Did it work?”, the asker has rejected the humanity of those whom it was used upon. And the matter of whose humanity “counts” or is arbitrarily conditional is a major factor behind this efficacy debate’s existence at all.

When effectiveness is considered instead of the morality of abusing or killing fellow humans, such crimes can and will reoccur.

The question Americans must ask themselves and each other is not “Did it work?” – of course it did not, but that is beside the point. It was known full well at the time that they would not. And so the real question is: “Why did we illegally and deliberately decide to perpetrate ineffective war crimes, including torture, in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001?”

When one considers specifically who was subjected to these war crimes, the path to the answer inevitably turns in one direction: racial supremacy and the prioritization of White America’s safety above all else.

Dehumanization abroad

In short, the Torture Report is really about how the United States chose once again, as official post-9/11 policy, to debate the efficacy (not the morality) of doing harm to those bodies deemed sub-human, specifically non-white bodies, in a drive to protect White America.

As it stands, the “efficacy” question itself appears to mask an inexcusably primal desire to seek revenge against the non-White communities from which the terrorists happened (that time) to have come.

The suspension of full human status – and the legal protections that go along with that – for Muslims suspected of terrorism after 9/11/01 is at the core of the CIA’s actions. Sadly, it fits into a broader pattern in American history. It is the same logic that allowed early U.S. leaders to count enslaved Black laborers as constitutionally 60% human.

Nineteen attackers and their supporting network were made to represent an entire people, whose humanity was then stripped away as official policy. Such a broad-brush response did not occur six and a half years earlier when two White Christian extremists with ties to various shadowy anti-government networks destroyed a federal building in Oklahoma City.

The former was an attack by the “Other,” the latter was deemed an in-group attack. The fact that those received two entirely different treatments is a testament that the reaction was a matter of race. It is a primordial fear-response befitting a skirmish between prehistoric clans crossing paths, not a 21st century global superpower encountering an aggressive band of malcontents.

Such “Us vs. Them” taxonomies are dangerous. To protect the innocent lives of some, the innocent lives of so many others become purely expendable.

The argument simply boils down to asserting in stark terms: “Our lives are worth ending or abusing yours, even by mistake, just to be 100% sure ours remain safe.”

This is about race

But perhaps this division is just a case of misguided hyper-nationalism or ultra-patriotism by the United States? Perhaps the “Us vs. Them” division is not racially, ethnically or religiously motivated, as I have suggested?

Unfortunately, that does not seem to hold up to scrutiny. For one thing, the United States has acted much more leniently toward terrorists and mass murderers who are White and/or Christian, both at home and abroad.

Instead of being summarily killed or tortured by law enforcement, White mass shooters (in Tucson, Aurora, etc.) and White anti-government bombers (Oklahoma City, Unabomber, Weather Underground, etc.) are often arrested and tried normally.

For another, consider the current “targeted airstrikes” that keep raining down on Arab and Muslim populations, from Africa to South Asia, as encapsulated so neatly in Akbar Ahmed’s parable of “The Thistle and the Drone.” The logic of illegal torture of detainees – from the same populations – was framed in the same terms as the ongoing drones debate: “Does it work?” – instead of “Is it wrong?”

Drones instead of torture?

Indeed, it seems quite possible that drone strikes, with an extreme level of remove from the situation, have replaced torture fairly directly in the counterterrorism toolbox.

According to The Atlantic, the “CIA began moving away from capturing and detaining suspected terrorists in favor of killing them via drone strikes.” There have been around 490 targeted drone strikes, which have been mostly performed by the CIA.

President Obama is not relieved from responsibility simply because he banned (already illegal) torture, since those interrogations had already been replaced by the terminal actions of drone strikes. In fact, 90% of U.S. “targeted strikes” have occurred under the Obama Administration, not the Bush Administration.

Finding oneself accidentally in the wrong place can lead to execution by drone. (Previously the result was extraordinary rendition and torture.)

And that victim will not even be counted as a mistake. According to a New York Times investigation in 2012, under official U.S. policy, “all military-age males in a strike zone [count] as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

Read that last half-sentence again – and again. Their lives are devalued until they are not even dignified with the status of accidental death. Instead, they are chalked up as a win.

The bigger picture

But this trouble made in the U.S.A. does not end with torture and drones. It also includes – closer to home – police brutality and excessive use of deadly force by law enforcement or Stand-Your-Ground vigilantes. What unites all of these tactics is that they have that “Does it work?” calculus in common when deployed by the United States. Morality is out of the picture.

The so-called “post-9/11 environment” – so often touted as a justification for torture and other hysterical overreactions of the era – existed within a wider, darker context.

On a micro level, we hear the same justifications from police and vigilantes who use lethal force by mistake on an unarmed person: I was afraid, and therefore I am not responsible for my actions. In 51% of police shootings, that unarmed victim is Black or Latino, despite those combined groups representing just 29% of the total population.

In truth, that environment beginning in late 2001 was simply American racial and ethnic paranoia writ large, the same as it as always been.

The high toll of White supremacy

In the pursuit of extreme counterterrorism methods, and in police/vigilante shootings, U.S. leaders and their most aggressive defenders have endorsed a view that at its core insists the bodies of (White) Americans must be so priceless that everyone else’s bodies are expendable in the effort to protect the first group.

There is no other way to explain writing off so many innocent lives because someone looked like a threat. There is no other way to explain applying a different set of rules for treatment of White attackers and non-White attackers.

Whether or not that is consciously intended, it is the effect. And it is the most reduced and unadorned version of the arguments offered to justify such policies.
Read more

I have solution to all our ills, says Russian white supremacist

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a lunatic elected white supremacist Russian politician (born in often race-troubled Kazakhstan) has identified the source of all Russia’s global image problems as that goddam Mongol letter (“ы”) being in the alphabet, goshdarnit!

“Only animals make this sound, ‘ы- ы,'” he said, adding that the regular ‘и’ (‘i’) is enough for the Russian alphabet. ‘Ы’ doesn’t exist in any other European language, argued Zhirinovsky. “This primitive, Asiatic sound is the reason people don’t like us in Europe,” he told lawmakers.

Yep, nailed it. THAT is why “people don’t like” Russia “in Europe” these days. Nothing to do with invading Crimea.

The politician seemed to have a longstanding issue with the “guttural” letter, which he claimed his son wasn’t able to pronounce as a child. “He once told me, ‘Dad, dad, look, there’s a ‘мишка’,” the Russian word for ‘bear.’ “I thought ‘What ‘мишка’? A bear? But he meant ‘мышка’,” the word for “mouse.”

Curiously, the same man just last month called for Russia to annex back its Central Asian republics as “subject” states. Because nothing gets rid of “nasty Asiatic” influences in your culture like re-occupying your imperial-era Asiatic conquests.

Then again, as he is also famous for advocating that people only kiss one another on the forehead, I guess he’s not one for embracing bulletproof logic. Not that racists typically are, really, I suppose.

Such irredentist rhetoric — advocating for seizing territories formerly held by one’s country, to reunite with ethnic populations abroad — is swirling around Russia’s political class in full fury right now to justify the Crimea invasion. He’s far from alone on that point. Small wonder then that many non-Russian folks in Central Asian countries with large Russian populations, such as Kyrgyzstan, are starting to worry that they are next.

And Kyrgyz and Kazakh speakers are definitely not nostalgic for the idea of returning to direct rule by those who see their languages as inferior and “primitive,” as Zhirinovsky labeled them.

Beside the Russian and Belarussian Cyrillic alphabets, the letter ‘ы’ also exists in most of the Turkic languages spoken in former Soviet republics, including Kazakh and Kyrgyz, which use the same alphabet.

The vowel is widely used in Kazakh and Kyrgyz, sometimes several times in the same word. “Ырыс алды—ынтымақ,” (“Yrys aldy—yntymaq”) reads a Kazakh proverb, which translates as “There is no abundance without solidarity.” The letter ‘ы’ also makes up most of the vowels of a well-known Kyrgyz saying— “ырысы жоктун ырымы күч” (“yrysy zhoktun yrymy kuch”)—that means “a person with no confidence believes in superstition.”

The history of Russian rule over Central Asia is largely one of Russian white-euro supremacy being inflicted on the local populations to try to stamp out their languages and cultures.