Thursday, March 6, 2014

Is JBS Upper Management More Stalinist than RT News?

Comrade Art: More Communist than the folks running RT News

When Abby Martin condemned Putin's actions in Ukraine, RT didn't fire or reprimand the host. Instead, the network offered her a chance to visit Crimea to do on-the-scene reporting.

"Contrary to the popular opinion, RT doesn’t beat its journalists into submission, and they are free to express their own opinions, not just in private but on the air. This is the case with Abby’s commentary on the Ukraine," the Russian government-subsidized network told Huffington Post.
"We respect her views, and the views of all our journalists, presenters and program hosts, and there will be absolutely no reprimands made against Ms. Martin."

Martin has often been expansively critical of the corruption, authoritarianism, and hypocrisy of the US government. She was similarly unsparing in her criticism of Russia's deployment of military assets to Crimea.

"Just because I work here, for RT, doesn't mean I don't have editorial independence and I can't stress enough how strongly I am against any military intervention in sovereign nations' affairs," Martin declared on-camera. "What Russia did is wrong."

JBS CEO Art Thompson spent three weeks trying -- with no discernible success -- to explain why Americans should see RT News as part of an insidious "Soviet" plot to subvert the Western mind.  He insisted that conservative and libertarian-leaning Americans were being seduced by the network into focusing solely and exclusively on the evils of the US government, while being diverted from Moscow's oh-so-subtle campaign for world domination.

Even truth is a weapon in the strategic arsenal of the incomparably wily "Soviets," according to Art: "When Moscow starts telling the truth, you can bet they have something in mind."

Stipulating to the fact that Putin is a repellent individual, the regime over which he presides -- like nearly every other, Washington's emphatically included -- is a ghastly criminal enterprise, and RT News is a propaganda outlet, it's noteworthy that Abby Martin enjoyed more editorial freedom in her official capacity than I did, while employed by The New American, on my own time. As an employee of people who ultimately answered to the "ex"-KGB officer who now rules Russia, Abby Martin faced no professional reprisals for going "off-message" and biting the hand that wrote her paycheck.

The professional even-handedness displayed by the leadership of RT News makes for an interesting contrast with the behavior of the Politburo in Appleton in their dealings with me. My supposed firing offense was to start a personal blog in August 2006 and publish writings deemed unsuitable by The New American -- including one essay in which I offered a principled dissent regarding the immigration issue.

"You do not understand that once you are a public figure everything that you say or do publicly reflects on the organization you work for, particularly when these things are in opposition to the position and principles of The John Birch Society and Robert Welch," pontificated Art in the letter of termination he sent to me. "Also, you do not understand that once we have rejected an article or nuance, you cannot go around us to post it elsewhere, identifying it as rejected material and publicly criticizing your employer for the rejection.It is not a matter of freedom, or control, it is a matter of responsibility to your employer."

That was written by the same Art Thompson who, in three embarrassingly inept video presentations, attempted to persuade anyone foolish enough to seek wisdom from him that RT News is a Communist propaganda organ.

Abby Martin didn't disagree with the Russian government in a matter of "nuance," nor was her criticism oblique. Yet her "Communist" supervisors didn't fire her for failing to fulfill her "responsibility to [her] employer"; they recognized the principle of editorial freedom and the limits of their legitimate control over her editorial decisions. The network's editor-in-chief has reiterated the organization's commitment to editorial freedom and described how the US media -- which is much more tightly aligned with the nation's power elite -- has been peddling exactly the same line about RT News that Art Thompson was a year ago.

RT News exercised institutional self-restraint with respect to something Martin had said and done on the job, in a program that network produced. My "firing offense" consisted of publishing my views in a personal blog, on my own time.

Not content merely to fire me without cause, the JBS hierarchy has lied to people about my character and professional performance, purged nearly everything I have written or produced from its archives and catalog, blocked me from commenting on articles published at The New American and videos posted to their YouTube channel, and otherwise treated me as if I had become an un-person. 

We are defined by what we do, not who we claim to be. I can testify from personal experience, buttressed with copious documentation, that in some circumstances Art Thompson and his little clique are more Stalinist than the people running RT News.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Appleton's Politburo In Action

Drew Johnson, the former editorial page editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press was fired after publishing an anti-Obama headline that was described as a violation of company policy. The editorial, which ran during a presidential visit to Chattanooga, described the lamentable impact of the administration's corporatist "stimulus" initiatives. Johnson's headline, which certainly resonated with the views of most of the newspaper's readership, was: "Take your jobs plan and shove it, Mr. President: Your policies have harmed Chattanooga enough."

Within a few hours, Johnson's editorial went viral. Shortly thereafter, he was fired. His employers released a statement claiming that he was "terminated after placing a headline on an editorial outside of normal editing procedures." That was a lie: Johnson later explained that the "policy" he had supposedly violated were put into place after he had been fired. This was, Johnson said, essentially a "retroactive firing."

His editor-in-chief claimed that she had received "a lot of complaints from Obama supporters," which is to be expected. However, his editorial was one of the most widely-circulated pieces ever published by the paper. Johnson wryly describes himself as "the first person in the history of newspapers to be fired for writing a paper's most-read article."

Johnson may well own that distinction. However, he was not the first editor to be fired from a publication for violating a policy that didn't exist at the time. In that respect, I have him beat by nearly seven years.

The New American and JBS fired me in October 2006 for maintaining a personal blog and using it to republish a piece they had rejected a few months earlier. Although that essay was not nearly as widely read as Mr. Johnson's editorial, it did receive quite a bit of attention during the two or three hours it was available on the Birch Blog before being taken down. A number of people had asked me what had happened to that essay. As its author, I had sole and exclusive rights to it after TNA decided to take it off their site, so I republished it on Pro Libertate.

In the officious letter I received the day I was fired, Art Thompson, the droning fool who still occupies the position of JBS CEO, claimed that "once we have rejected an article or nuance, you cannot go around us to post it elsewhere, identifying it as rejected material and publicly criticizing your employer for the rejection."

There was no overt criticism of JBS management in the blog entry in which I republished that essay. What Art was saying is that republishing that essay and letting people know it was rejected was an impermissible act of criticism, a form of lese-majeste that simply had to be punished. This was not established policy at the time of my termination. It was something Art extracted from his emunctory aperture to justify the decision to get rid of me.

Just as a skunk becomes inured to its own repellent bouquet, the clique in Appleton has long since lost the ability to notice the stench of their own hypocrisy. Thus it didn't surprise me at all to see TNA run a piece describing the injustice suffered by Drew Johnson at the hands of the craven, opportunistic people running the Times Free Press. The article (written by a former colleague who is a far better and more decent man than anybody in JBS upper management) concluded with a paragraph richly laden with irony:

"Some Free Press readers responded to the firing by logging on to the paper's Facebook page and expressing their own opinions. `Free Press means free to print as long as the Politburo approves it, right?' one reader posted. `You have FREE PRESS in your name but someone get’s fired for their opinion — WOW,' wrote another. A third reader noted that the paper `fired the guy who wrote his opinions against the president? That’s cool. … Free Press? Right.'"

For several years, the bold and valiant defenders of decency in Appleton have used every means at their disposal to block my access to comment threads at TNA, on the JBS YouTube channel, and elsewhere. Shortly after TNA published its piece on Drew Johnson, I was able to circumvent the lockout and post the following comment:

Here's the relevant portion: "Do a search-and-replace substituting `The New American' for "Free Press," and `William Grigg' for `Drew Johnson,' and you could publish this story without any other significant alterations."

As of this writing (circa 2:00 AM August 6), the comment is still available. I'm confident to the point of a moral certainty that Gary Benoit will rectify that oversight sometime later this morning -- after catching up on the latest Mel Gibson-related news, of course.

UPDATE, August 6, 8:30 a.m.

They really are as predictable as a Zimbabwean presidential election, aren't they? Yes, the comment has been deleted, and my newly created account has been blocked. I would wager that the people in charge of policing comment threads for state-run news sites in Communist-ruled China are less zealous about purging evidence of dissenting opinion. In dealing with dissent, the Appleton Politburo consistently displays a Stalinist disposition.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Why Is an Accused Child Molester Still on the JBS's Speakers Bureau?

At about the same time JBS Upper Management decided that I was a liability to the organization, they proudly added Chris Simcox to their Speaker’s Bureau. This happened in late 2006 or 2007, when Appleton was cynically seeking – and failing – to exploit right-wing populist concerns over immigration as a recruitment strategy. 

By the time Simcox co-founded Arizona’s Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in 2005, he had already acquired a great deal of pungent baggage that would have become known through a cursory background check. This included two messy divorces, both of which involved allegations of domestic violence. All of this, and other problems, made him a very large, very easy target for the SPLC and other leftist “watchdog” groups.

 At about the same time Simcox was added to the JBS Speaker’s Bureau, he was immersed in a power struggle within the Minuteman organization that involved allegations of misappropriation of funds. One of Simcox’s close allies at Minuteman during the period he was recruited as a speaker for the JBS was a robustly unpleasant specimen by the name of Shawna Forde, whom he identified as a “rising leader” in the movement

In 2009, Forde and two henchmen murdered 29-year-old Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter Brisenia during a home invasion robbery in Pima, Arizona. This was intended to be the first of several robberies carried out against ethnic Mexican residents of Arizona suspected of involvement in drug trafficking. Forde has been convicted of murder and faces the death penalty. 

It’s important to point out that Simcox was not involved in that hideous crime in any way. His only connection to Forde was a shared fixation on illegal immigration, and the remarkably poor judgment Simcox displayed in promoting her as a leader within the Minuteman organization. Simcox himself, however, has recently found himself in jail on charges that he molested three young girls

Accusations of this kind are notoriously easy to make, and often lead to scandalously implausible convictions. As the cliché informs us, one of the few things worse than being a child molester is to be an innocent man wrongly accused of that hideous crime. 

At present, Chris Simcox is legally innocent of the charges against him. It may be that he is factually innocent as well. It is a certainty that he is, and has long been, a volatile personality and an unsavory public figure. 

JBS Upper Management is so piously fastidious about the organization’s public image that it simply had to terminate me in October 2006 because of a single blog posting in which I wrote some vulgar things about the likes of Sean Hannity and Mark Levin – and because I had dared to offer a public dissent regarding Upper Management’s perspective on the question of immigration. 

"You do not understand that once you are a public figure everything that you say or do publicly reflects on the organization you work for, particularly when these things are in opposition to the position and principles of The John Birch Society and Robert Welch,” pontificated Art Thompson in the letter announcing my termination. In that same letter he specified that my firing offense had been to differ with the inspired personages in Upper Management over a matter of “nuance” (his word) regarding immigration. 

Presumably the same standard applies to those people whom Appleton selected to represent the JBS as members of its Speakers Bureau. By the time Simcox was added to that roster, he was already wreathed in disrepute. As this is being written (June 22, 2013), Chris Simcox is still proudly and prominently listed as part of the JBS Speakers Bureau (although that will soon change, I’ll warrant).
Simcox is a public figure who has been through multiple divorces, numerous accusations of domestic violence, accusations of embezzlement, a close professional association with a convicted child murderer, and now multiple charges of child molestation. By Art Thompson’s standard, all of this reflects on the organization over which Thompson presides. 

By way of contrast, the JBS websites have been sanitized of all references  to the former Senior Editor who was fired on October 3, 2006. 

Sure, Appleton can find room on its marquee for an accused child molester, assuming that he’s an anti-immigration zealot. 

But what about a long-time, dutiful staff member who publicly differs from Upper Management in a matter of  “nuance” on immigration (on constitutional grounds), and who happens to be an American of Mexican ancestry? That fellow needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice, and never spoken of again. After all, the JBS has standards to maintain.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Art Thompson's Silly Little Lie

As I’ve documented on several previous occasions, JBS CEO Art Thompson is consistently inhospitable to the truth.  That trait was displayed to good advantage in a recent video commentary in which Art once again fulminated about the abiding Soviet menace.

About two minutes into the video, as Art weaves a fascinating tale of Cold War-era Soviet deviousness in which Russian submarines decanted Spetsnaz  commandoes into Sweden in order “to start disarming certain military bases.” During those incursions, he insisted, the Soviet Special Forces operators “destroyed a large amount of Sweden’s oil reserves … as a precursor to invading Sweden under Brezhnev.” 

“There was a plan, a very elaborate one, to invade Sweden and another country,” Art insists, going on to explain that is he among the special, chosen few who knew of these developments because  “I got this straight from the head of the National Security Agency that that was what was going on back then.” 

This is a forthright, unambiguous claim, made on the record, that the military official who presides over the most secretive intelligence agency in the US government saw fit to confide these privileged details to the CEO of the John Birch Society – or, at least, the guy who would someday hold that position. 

Art didn’t say if this intelligence was provided to him by the incumbent NSA Director, General Keith B. Alexander, or one of his 14 predecessors (such as Lt. Gen. William Odom, who held that post during the 1980s). But that detail is inconsequential, given that Art’s claim is, on its face, a childish and self-exalting falsehood.

Unless Art can prove this claim, he should either retract it or own up to the fact that he told a lie.

It’s worth pointing out as well that the details of the story Art told don’t really make much sense. 

Why would the Soviets sabotage Sweden’s oil facilities, since the country has never been a significant producer or exporter of oil? Currently, Sweden ranks 95th in national oil production, right below the petro-chemical juggernaut that is Bangladesh. Neighboring Norway, on the other hand, ranks 14th. Similarly, Sweden is 45th among oil-exporting nations, as compared to Norway’s fifth-place rank. 

Did Art have Norway, rather than Sweden, in mind as the target of this campaign of Soviet espionage and subversion? 

Here’s what I suspect happened here: I think Art was describing the plot of a really silly 1980s propaganda film. 

In 1987, the Swedish government produced a civil defense film called “The Premonition” that described Soviet espionage operations – which were plentiful, of course – and sketched out what I’m pretty sure was a fictional scenario in which the Soviets carried out sabotage operations in Sweden as a precursor to an invasion. By that time, Brezhnev had joined Lenin in hell, and the Soviets were beginning to downsize their empire. While Russia can be a restive and dangerous neighbor in any era, by the late 1980s its was becoming clear that neither Sweden nor anybody else had much to fear regarding the prospect of a Soviet invasion. 

I think that Art most likely saw that film, or some portion of it, decades ago, and wove elements of it into his stump speech, which most likely included reference to something that had once been said by the NSA Director – and that those elements ended up being thrown together, Mad Libs-style, in Art’s recent video. 

This would be entirely forgivable – if it weren’t for Art’s emphatic insistence that he had gotten this story “straight from the head of the National Security Agency.” Not from an NSA report, publication, or analysis, mind you, but “straight” from the lips, pen, or keyboard of the NSA Director himself.
As a self-replenishing source of bizarre comedy, Art Thompson is an embarrassment of riches. As someone who is the official spokesman for the John Birch Society, he’s simply an embarrassment.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Interview with the SPLC: Round Four

*Do you ever attend JBS functions? You resigned from the magazine, but are you still a member of JBS? If so, why?

I remain on very cordial terms with members of the JBS here in Idaho and elsewhere, and I'm often invited to attend local functions. Owing to my family's circumstances I rarely do.

I must point out that I was fired by the JBS; I didn't resign. Prior to October 2006 I was a life member of the JBS. By early 2007, Appleton stopped sending me the monthly JBS Bulletin, which suggests to me that I've been formally purged from membership in the Society.

*You mention attending protests against the Patriot Act and the Iraq War sponsored by left-leaning organizations. How did your bosses at JBS feel about that?

I neither asked their permission nor made a point of letting them know about my involvement, but I have reason to believe that this (along with the fact that I was involved in a local rock band in my free time) left me in bad odor with JBS management. One candlelight vigil against the war we attended in Appleton was covered by several local TV stations, and my oldest daughter, Katrina, was shown on the evening news holding a candle, so I have little doubt that upper management was aware of our anti-war activism.

*When you attended, how did the left leaning folks receive you?

There was some initial suspicion -- right-wingers are hardly the only people inclined to demonize their political opponents, after all -- which would usually dissipate pretty quickly.
During one Labor Day event sponsored in Milwaukee by an anti-war veterans' group, I explained to the organizers that we were "right-wing Christians who oppose the war."
"Oh -- you mean that you voted for Bush?" one of them inquired.
"Oh, heavens no; I actually work for the John Birch Society."
As I recall, this piqued a great deal of friendly curiosity. Several of the organizers went out of their way to treat our children (who were very young at the time) with special kindness. It made a lasting impression on them. For all of my abundant shortcomings as a parent, I am gratified to know that our children all understand that war is an unalloyed evil, and aren't afraid to say as much when the subject comes up.

*You also mentioned a former Coordinator who had a lot of success doing the same thing. Can you introduce us?

I would love to arrange an introduction, but he's now working overseas and I've lost track of him.

*Are there any upcoming large JBS events that would be good for me to attend to get a feel for JBS?

I can't be of any help in this respect. Have you tried to contact Bill Hahn, who is in charge of public relations for the JBS?

*JBS has been accused of being racist. Is it? I know there are black members, such as Rev. Jesse L. Peterson in LA, but how many more African Americans belong?

Robert Welch was not a racist in any sense. Nor was John Birch, for that matter. In my experience it was practically impossible to find a volunteer member or staffer who could honestly be described as a "racist" (I say this as someone who doesn't presume to have a window into the souls of others, of course).
At one speech I gave in San Diego back in 1997, the chapter leader who acted as MC was a black female ex-Marine, the invocation was given by a local African-American pastor, and the Mexican/Irish speaker was introduced by another chapter leader of "Native American" ancestry. Granted, this wasn't a typical meeting of its kind, but I had more than a few experiences that were quite similar.

It wasn't difficult to find other Latinos in the JBS, and it wasn't all that uncommon to find African-Americans as well. I rarely encountered Birchers who were obsessed about melanin content.

The JBS has an official policy forbidding members to be involved in racist or anti-Semitic groups or activism, and it takes this policy VERY seriously. This is why Jack McManus's extra-curricular activities prior to 2000 became such a scandal: A JBS member or a chapter leader who did what Jack had been doing would have been expelled immediately.

I should point out that my initial interest in the JBS was prompted by the organization's opposition to the first Gulf War back in 1991. I was also impressed with a TNA cover story from that era that examined the abominable treatment of the American Indians; in fact,it was that cover story that inspired me to contact Appleton and inquire about submitting some freelance work.

*How was life in the JBS for a half Irish, half Mexican writer?

Until the very unpleasant events that occurred between September 2005 and October 2006, my time in the JBS was very rewarding. The rank and file membership consists of some of the most decent and generous people I've ever met. The same is true of the people who are employed in the field staff. It remains an enduring source of perplexity to me that an organization with so many capable and principled people consistently generates "leadership" of the kind that presently afflicts it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

More Q&A with the SPLC

 This is another installment in my e-mail interview with a reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

*Are the Council Dinners a kind of JBS recruiting tool? How often are they held?

Like most organizations of its kind, the JBS uses all of its public functions for outreach and recruitment. This includes Council Dinners, which include private business sessions for members of the Council and the Executive Committee. Council Dinners are generally held twice a year.

*You said your older brother was briefly a member of JBS. Why did he quit?

My brother didn't formally quit the JBS. He joined as a teenager and eventually got involved in other activities.

*Where did you grow up?

Some people contend I managed to pass from adolescence to middle age without actually growing up. I was born in Burley, Idaho, spent part of my childhood in Vale, Oregon (which is near the border with Idaho), and went to High School in Rexburg, Idaho.

*Why didn't your parents ever join JBS? After all they voted for Schmitz. Wasn't he a JBS heavyweight?

My parents, who have always been very immersed in church activities, generally didn't have time for political activism. They've also been commendably suspicious of political organizations of any kind. Their vote for Schmitz was an act of protest: They were mortally disgusted with Nixon (what decent person wouldn't be?), but couldn't support McGovern.

*What did the leadership struggle in 2005 do to JBS in terms of morale of the staff and membership?

Any time there's a schism of this kind in any organization, morale is going to suffer. During the two weeks in which the conflict came to a head, the atmosphere at the home office was positively Gothic. After the leadership change, I left Appleton for Idaho, as I had planned to do, and I was fired before I ever returned, so I didn't directly experience the atmosphere under the new regime.

*Did other people quit JBS, as you did, because of the tactics used?

I'm not aware of anybody who did so.

I'll take the next four questions in a group:

*Wasn't there a power struggle over control of Robert Welch University going on at the same time? Vance Smith and Tom Gow won control of RWU, right? I think I found RWU in Colorado Springs. Is it still operating? When Smith and Gow left JBS they eventually started Freedom First Society. Does Freedom First have any influence at all?

Vance Smith and Tow Gow, along with two members of the Executive Committee, took control of RWU. Thompson and McManus filed suit to take back the institution, and lost. RWU, as far as I know, was dissolved after it had served as a temporary institutional refuge for Smith and Gow until the Freedom First Society (FFS) was started. I don't think the instrument has been invented that can measure the influence of the FFS.

*You say that there are "younger, more perceptive, and more capable people who could and should be at the head of JBS.'' Who are those people?

The corporate culture of the JBS is one in which upper management takes careful note of young, capable people -- and identifies them as potential threats to be neutralized. In that respect I suppose it's indistinguishable from most corporations. I wouldn't be helping the people to whom I'm alluding by identifying them.

*Speaking of younger people, what is JBS doing to recruit them? What was JBS doing when you were there to recruit younger people?

The answer to the first question is, "Nothing -- or at least, nothing that will work." While I was on staff the JBS ran a summer youth camp program that did have some benefits for recruitment, but that was discontinued shortly after I was fired. There is an educational affiliate called the Freedom Project that focuses on homeschoolers. I don't know what success they've had, if any. Until recently there was a college affiliate called the Campus Liberty Alliance, but it appears to have been shut down.

Right now, the JBS is ruled by an authoritarian gerontocracy who seem to believe that they can repeal the Rock Era by decree. Interestingly, they are the same age as Ron Paul, who has tremendous appeal to youth precisely because he is a principled and consistent defender of individual liberty, and can make common cause with left-leaning people of good will without acting as if such contact will contaminate him.

The Society remains a monolithic, top-down organization in an age of social media. At a time when most politically aware students and young adults are worried about the economy and the accelerating erosion of civil liberties, the JBS management remains obsessed with the supposed strategic threat posed by Russia.

During my last year on staff, I repeatedly urged Appleton to reach out to other organizations -- of whatever ideological provenance -- who were fighting on behalf of the Bill of Rights. In fact, before I left Appleton I took part, along with my family, in protests against the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq War that were sponsored by left-leaning organizations. At least one former Coordinator had a lot of success doing the same thing in the mid-south region. Both of us left the staff under less-than-favorable conditions.