Letter to a friend re the Magnum Opus and unbroken transmission

Anyway, I wanted to force on you some more stuff I’ve come across recently which supports the thesis of my Magnum Opus, which is that we are looking at the divisions in our society as epiphenomena, excrescences on the body politic and the society, when in fact they have roots so far back that we may have to do an –ectomy of some sort. The conservative Republican pollster Frank Luntz did a focus group with Trump voters and came away shaken. (https://www.mediaite.com/online/watch-frank-luntzs-focus-group-on-trump-go-totally-off-the-rails-this-just-exploded/)
To me, before we can resolve these divisions, we have to understand them. “Education”, “finding Jesus”, “confrontation”, “presenting the facts”, and so on do not work. IMHO, George Lakoff has the right approach – framing. Hitting these people with arguments, facts, figures, just drives them deeper into their bubble, which, IMHO, is really their roots b/c that bubble has existed for generations. We are facing a potentially very destructive wedge being driven into our society if the Blue Wave hits in 2018 and/or if Trump is drummed out of office. Trump is not the problem. I know you and I both talk to a lot of different people and find attitudes that are shocking, some on the left and some of the right and some sliding all over the place. That helps us understand as does the polling which tells us where support for excluding Muslims from the country, deporting immigrants (legal or illegal, Mexican or not), squelching Black Lives Matter, telling women to just stop whining, and so on is highest, among what populations, regions, etc.
But, as I said before, I often ask myself if I am cherry picking bits and pieces to support my thesis. Nevertheless, I am surprised by the following (and I look forward to discussing this with you when we next get together b/c I value your questions, skepticism, perspective, and knowledge).
Max Boot in Invisible Armies (on guerrilla warfare and terrorism through the ages):
In Max Boot’s Invisible Armies, pp. 224-5, he states that once the first KKK was disbanded, the “work” was kept up by gun clubs founded around the South at that time. As I’ve said before, the KKK is the oldest terrorist organization in the world, as far as I know; and if you discount the hiatus between the disbandment of the first Klan and its resurrection in 1915, it certainly must be the oldest. It is also one of the few terrorist organizations to succeed in its goal, according to Boot, since total segregation was in place by the time the first Klan was disbanded and the terror of these gun clubs assured the goal was tended well.
Going back to my reasoning as laid out in the Magnum Opus, if we go back to these gun clubs, which had the same members as the Klan (see Boot), and see the Klan’s Confederate veteran members as evolving out of the old slave patrols and militias organized to prevent the much-feared slave rebellions, then we can again trace an unbroken line of transmission back from the present day enthusiasm for ad hoc militias and shooting clubs to the militias and slave patrols of old.
The objection to this, it seems to me, is not founded on any evidence that this sort of activity, designed to terrorize Blacks whether slave or not, ever stopped in this country; the objection is founded on the reluctance to see, in the minds of every-day Americans, motives like keeping Blacks in their place or presenting a show of force to remind Blacks of who’s boss. It’s difficult to see such notions in our fellow Americans who belong to organized and armed groups. While no one imagines that every person who enjoys shooting and hunting is a covert Klansman or even that they harbor animosity toward Blacks, Jews, immigrants, etc., it takes little imagination to construct the mind-set of militia members as they rail against the federal government and declare “zones” free from federal intrusion.
Growing up I heard the word “unreconstructed”; who would deny what that goes back to and what that implies? It is a minor example of how the attitude of a mass of White people in this country have refused to commit to the ideals of the Constitution and to reconcile themselves to their defeat in the Civil War and in the Supreme Court. As late as 2016 we could comfortably deny this, but the outpouring of support for Trump and the nature of its expression make clear that this one third of the country, voting over and over for Republican candidates as a White power bloc, carries within it the old patterns I laid out in the Magnum Opus.We can no longer write such people off as a few backwoods bigots in bib overalls.

March 21 More evidence. The NY Review of Books has a review of several books on guns in the U.S. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, in Loaded, writes: “Neither party seems to have any idea what the 2nd Amendment was originally about.” The reviewer, Adam Hochschild, goes on: …. the amendment was written with militias in mind, she says, but, during and after the colonial era, just what were those militias? They were ot merely upstanding citizens protecting themselves against foreign tyrants like King George III. They also search for runaway slaves and seized land from Native Americans, often by slaughter. …. [authorities put] the Appalachian-Allegheny mountain range off-limits to white settlement.

Many well-armed settlers, however, thirsted for the land and crossed the mountains to take it. ….. As settlement expanded across the Great Plains, US Army troops took over the job of suppressing the doomed Native American resistance, but militias had long preceded them.

The militias also kept slaves in line. Dunbar-Ortiz quotes a North Carolina legal handbook of 1860 on such duties: “The patrol shall visit the negro houses in their respective districts as often as may be necessary, and may inflict a punishment, not exceeding 165 lashes, on all slaves they may find off their owner’s plantations… [and] shall be diligent in apprehending all runaway negroes.” If a captured slave behaved “insolently” the militia could administer up to 39 lashes. Some militias, such as the Texas Rangers, did double duty , both seizing land and hunting down escaped slaves. After the Civil War, when the South was still awash in guns and ammunition, militias morphed easily into the KKK – and into private rifle clubs; by 1876 South Carolina alone had more than 240. [cf. Boot and later in the review: “The early militias are one strand of ancestry Dunbar-Ortiz identifies for gun enthusiast groups like the NRA.”]

The reviewer Hochschild makes a jump many Americans won’t: in citing a militia group protesting federal control of lands turning a site of Native American artifacts into a latrine, he writes: “It is not hard to see the continuity with militias of 200 years ago.” Hochschild may have been influenced by his visit to gun show; he describes the far Right attitudes he finds there. But those people do not represent the warp and woof of the Right in the US. However, Hochschild notes: “The rural areas of western states are filled with people _ including thousands of county sheriffs’ deputies and other state and local officeholders -who believe no one should tell them where they can’t graze their cattle, hunt game, cut a tree, or dig for gold. And what right do the feds have to own all that land, anyway?”

I’m sure you have run into folks like this or their surrogates in your work. What interests me most in this is the total severance of their connection to their representative government. Those representatives they cast votes for went to Washington – and even to their state and county legislatures and boards – and set up these laws to protect the land of the people protesting the “gummint” has it now.

Here’s a reframing of an iconic act of American culture that certainly gave me an entirely different view of the matter. To me, lynching were simple mobs full of anger and bigotry making a scape-goat out of a person of the other caste, i.e. mobs of Whites lynching Blacks. In the word ‘scape-goat’ was a hint I’d missed. Letha and I went with some friends to hear R. Marie Griffith lecture from her book, Moral Combat, over the religious basis of the divide in our country. Reading her book, I came across the following details about lynchings: (p. 93)

“Undergirded by white Christian visions of purity and sometimes ritualized by the invocational prayers of white ministers, large numbers of these lynchings were what one historian [?] calls “spectacle lynchings,’ with hundreds or even thousands of spectators present – some with cameras to document the occasion – what was essentially a religious rite of purification. Prayer services sometimes preceded such lynchings.”

The religious element was unknown to me. It reminds me of the several scenes in Isabel Allende’s novel, Island Beneath the Sea, where the burning of rebellious slaves offered just such a celebratory and picnic-like occasion accompanied by the appropriate (?) blessings. Griffith adds details for anyone with the stomach to read them.

It occurred to me, thinking back to comments of those opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement – one of which was offered to me personally – that the notion that the reason Black people are shot by the police is that they don’t know how to act around the police. That word ‘act’ recalled to me the above words from Max Boot: If a captured slave behaved “insolently” the militia could administer up to 39 lashes. The role of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin recalls the civilian patrollers aka ‘paddyrollers’ who were enlisted by slave holders to help control the movement of slaves. The acceptance by so many of Zimmerman’s quasi-official status as part of a neighborhood watch patrol was met with stupefaction on the part of many Americans but widely accepted in the South. Connection? The befuddlement of some observers was abetted by Zimmerman’s claim to be part Peruvian, as if he wasn’t part of the local Florida culture steeped in the lore of Andrew Jackson.

The book Loving by Sheryl Cashin is loaded with great info on the intricacies of the history of sex between Blacks and Whites, also part of the religious, police, political, legal and social fabric of us.I do keep my eye out for contradictory information. Let me know if you find any and what you see as flaws in my theory of transmission of current behavior from past behavior.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *