Publick Occurrences 2.0 July 2008

July 29, 2008 Tennessee church shooter targets conservative historical fiction It appears that the angry white guy who […]

image_pdfSave to PDFimage_printPrint

July 29, 2008

Tennessee church shooter targets conservative historical fiction

It appears that the angry white guy who shot up a children’s production of “Annie” at a Unitarian-Universalist church in Tennessee thought he was taking revenge on something that is largely a fictional creation of the conservative political media, the “liberal movement.” (As far as I can tell, the only historical group that ever actually called itself the “Liberal Movement” was a minor Australian political party from the 1970s).

A Reuter’s video covers the basics:

More explanation from the Associated Press, via the Philadelphia Daily News:

Church shooter hated ‘the liberal movement’

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – An out-of-work truck driver accused of opening fire at a Unitarian church, killing two people, left behind a note suggesting that he targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal policies, including its acceptance of gays, authorities said yesterday.A four-page letter found in Jim D. Adkisson’s small SUV indicated that he intentionally targeted the Tennessee Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church because, Police Chief Sterling Owen said, “he hated the liberal movement” and was upset with “liberals in general as well as gays.”

Adkisson, 58, a truck driver, had 76 rounds with him when he entered the church and pulled a shotgun from a guitar case during a children’s performance of the musical “Annie.”

Adkisson’s ex-wife once belonged to the church but hadn’t attended in years, said Ted Jones, the congregation’s president. Police investigators described Adkisson as a “stranger” to the congregation, and police spokesman Darrell DeBusk declined to comment on whether investigators think the ex-wife’s link was a factor in the attack.

Adkisson remained jailed yesterday on $1 million bond after being charged with one count of murder. More charges are expected. Four victims were hospitalized in critical condition.

“It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement,” Owen said.

Adkisson was a loner who hates “blacks, gays and anyone different from him,” longtime acquaintance Carol Smallwood, of Alice, Texas, told the Knoxville News Sentinel.


The term “liberal movement” (along with similar ones) is really just a convenient way for conservatives to package together some people’s uneasiness with a wide array of social changes and turn it into a sort of conspiracy theory that can be used against a variety of political opponents. Historically, of course, the radicals who promoted some social causes originating in the 60s and 70s often hated no one worse than the liberals who had helped foster some of the older rights movements. Moreover, as we have discovered in recent Democratic primary campaigns, even moderate politicians vaguely affiliated with rights movements for different groups of people do not form any sort of cohesive unit. If there was a powerful “liberal movement” that could pull itself together, we would not have spent quite so much of the past 40 years under real or virtual GOP rule. (Note that I am not even getting into the 18th-century meaning of “liberal.)

A CNN story makes it even clear that the shooter almost quoted right-wing media talking points when explaining his actions to the police:

According to the affidavit requesting to search Adkisson’s home, the suspect told investigators liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country. Adkisson also blamed Democrats for the country’s decline, according to the affidavit.

“He felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets,” the affidavit said. “Because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement … he would then target those that had voted them into office.”

Killed in the shooting were Linda Kraeger, 61, and Greg McKendry, 60, police said. Witnesses said McKendry, an usher and board member at the church, tried to shield others when he was shot, according to The Associated Press.


I imagine these Tennessee Unitarians thought they were just trying to be tolerant and welcoming to all different kinds of people, being nice and polite we call it where I come from, rather than serving an all-powerful “movement” to oppress the likes of Jim D. Adkisson.


July 28, 2008

“Seems Like Old Times”: Panicky Bankers

It was real nice to learn in today’s New York Times that what I shall choose to call our financial services community, after years of fueling a speculative real estate bubble by handing out giant loans to anyone who could click a dancing Internet advertisement, has now decided to deepen the economic crash they helped cause by refusing loans to real businesses that might actually be able to sell products and pay them back:

Worried Banks Sharply Reduce Business Loans – NYTimes.com
“Before, they wouldn’t verify income and they were loose on the valuations of collateral,” said John W. Kiefer, chief executive of First Capital, a private commercial lender. “Now they’re tightening down on the ability to repay. They go off the reservation, and now they come back to basics. It’s preservation for many of them at this point. It’s survival.”

But if the newfound caution of American banks is prudent in the long run, the immediate impact is amplifying the troubles with the economy. The Federal Reserve has been lowering interest rates aggressively to make money flow more loosely and to spur economic activity.

The financial system is not going along: As banks hold on to their dollars, mortgage rates are climbing. So are borrowing costs for corporations.

Some suggest that the banks, spooked by enormous losses, have replaced a disastrously indiscriminate willingness to hand out money with an equally arbitrary aversion to lend — even on industries that continue to grow.

“There’s been a lot of disruption in the credit market, and a lot of traditional lenders have really tightened up,” said Gregory Goldstein, president of Macquarie Equipment Finance, which leases computer gear and other technology to companies. “Before, some of the standards they lent on were weak, but we think they have overshot and gone too far on the other end.”


Upon reading this article, two words immediately popped into my Early Republic-addled brain: “Langdon Cheves.” As I remembered the story, Cheves was the South Carolina lawyer who was put in charge of the Second Bank of the United States after the revived national bank nearly collapsed from the lax lending policies of its previous president, friendly Philadelphia merchant William Jones. (Much of that money also went into failed real estate speculations, in this case on the trans-Appalachian frontier.) Cheves came in and shut the credit spigot off, without much regard for any consequences but his institution’s own finances. While economic historians no longer buy the Jacksonian argument that the B.U.S. caused the catastrophic Panic of 1819, it does seem to be true that Cheves’s overreaction made the subsequent depression much longer and deeper than it could have been.

By the way, I do look this stuff up. Here is financial historian Edwin J. Perkins [from “Langdon Cheves and the Panic of 1819: A Reassessment,” Journal of Economic History 44 (1984): 455-461]:

While the economy languished in the early stages of a recession, Cheves began accumulating a horde of specie, amounting to over $7 million by the end of 1820.10 At least $4 million of that total represented excess reserves, which could have been used to increase the nation’s supply of notes and deposits by up to 17 percent. If Cheves had acted aggressively, yet still prudently, he could have alleviated much hardship, prevented hundreds of failures and bankruptcies, and perhaps led the country out of the recession before it became a depression.


I don’t have a moral for this story, other than it seems we “free enterprise”-loving Americans have to learn every generation or two that private businesses really are only out for themselves after all, and cannot not be depended on to hold society together when the chips are really down. Of course, the moral that millions of Americans drew from the mismanagement of the Second Bank of the United States was that banks were evil, providing one critical ideological basis for a generation of Jacksonian Democratic rule.

July 27, 2008

And we’re back!!!

I really should announce these things in advance, but travel and some WordPress-related maintenance have kept me off here for the past two weeks. With any luck I will ramp the posting level up here as I slowly get out of summer mode. This is the down season for politics anyway, when even history-making presidential candidates and Shiite militias go on vacation. To be honest, things have been going so badly for McCain that I have been afraid to comment. Do you get the feeling that even after all these years of McCain sucking up to him, Shrub still hates his former primary opponent’s guts, for getting better press and being a real fighter pilot and stuff? I am not sure there has ever been anything quite like this past week’s spectacle of the GOP-installed regime in Iraq endorsing the Democratic position on withdrawing the troops and a Republican president changing a longstanding position nearly to suit, leaving only the Republican candidate twisting slowly, slowly in the wind (as the Nixonians used to say.) Given that Tuffness Against Terror had been pretty much McCain’s whole campaign, and his only real advantage over Obama as measured by polls, that had to hurt, at Teddy Roosevelt running against his own less popular former Vice President levels. Even ultra-loyalist Condi Rice won’t deny that she is voting for Obama.

July 14, 2008

New and Really Old Business

NEW: Congratulations to the Common-Place management team for recruiting University of Oklahoma’s Cathy Kelly as the new editor. I can’t think of a better choice and love the idea of a theoretically New England-based publication moving its editorial HQ even farther away than Florida. I am sure there will be more on the site about the coming regime change soon.

NEW, BUT ACTUALLY REALLY OLD: I learn from Ralph Luker at History News Network that I made some list of the “The Top 100 Liberal Arts Professor Blogs.” Excellent! Unfortunately, the rush to get that kudo on my c.v. screeched to a halt when the list in question turned one to be done by someone or something that did not even follow the links. The blog mentioned was my old one at HNN, last updated in 2003! Thanks to Ralph for flagging the mistake.

DEEP THOUGHT ON THE FOREGOING ITEM: Time and the Internet turn out to have a very complex relationship, up-to-the-second and rapidly changing on one hand, but weirdly timeless on the other. You have to check those dates and temporal clues very carefully. Decade-old items are already coming up on Google, often surrounded by a site’s present-day headlines and ads in a way that can be quite confusing. Of course, my old HNN blog is clearly labeled as “Inactive” but, as Ralph points out, the creator of the list just assumed that “Inactive Notes of a Left-Wing Cub Scout” was an extra-cute title.

July 13, 2008

My Folksinger Has a First Name, It’s O-S-C-A-R

One of the advantages (?) of having an Internet Presence is the ability to constantly maintain your past work, kind of like a worldwide electronic errata sheet. It so happens that I recently had to go back through my article on the Mammoth Cheese of Cheshire, Massachusetts and found an error I apparently persisted in making through multiple renditions of that piece. Citing the CD Presidential Campaign Songs, 1789-1996, I listed the recording artist as “Carl Brand” when in fact it was venerable folksinger Oscar Brand, whose work I subsequently became familiar enough with to regard that as a really stupid mistake. Oh well, at least I didn’t go with Max Brand or Neville Brand, though I might have noticed those.

By the way, the Oscar Brand links go to Emusic.com, a sight I highly recommend for anyone interested in unusual music. Historical Americana seems to be one of the service’s strong points, with a big chunk of the Smithsonian Folkways catalog available for download along with much much else. For fans of tunes that rocked the Early Republic, there are currently no less than eight different versions “Jefferson and Liberty” available, including the one from Janet Reno’s double-album of historic covers, Song of America. That sentence was a bit misleading, but definitely not a mistake.

July 10, 2008

Unwelcome Interventions

In honor of the detestable former Reaganaut and current McCain campaign co-chair Phil Gramm’s too-revealing remark about the country being only in a “mental recession” invented by a “nation of whiners,” I thought I would throw in some links to a couple of other disastrous presidential campaign interventions by political luminaries who had fallen a little out of touch. These are from the early American republic, of course, and come courtesy of Google Books:

  • 1796: Thomas Paine, A Letter to George Washington, in which Paine, writing from Paris and having just published The Age of Reason, managed to cement the Federalist linkage of the Democratic-Republicans with the sort of atheistic French wankery that few Americans of any politics much liked. Criticizing George Washington for his foreign policy was edgy enough without bringing Paine’s notorious religious views into the mix.
  • 1800: A Letter from Alexander Hamilton, in which the Federalists’ preeminent figure unloaded the full measure of his jealousy and arrogance on the head of a Federalist president (John Adams) battling for re-election, and helped put his two other worst enemies (Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr) in power.

Not that Phil Gramm deserves to be put on the same plane as Paine or Hamilton, except for being uncontrollable, associated with a former regime, and having a little too much to say. However, John McCain did not need any more public reminders of just how far GOP leaders’ real concerns are from those of suburban and rural voters whose lives are rapidly becoming unfeasible thanks to high gas prices and job losses. The media always needs reminders, however, so tell us more, Phil, tell us more.

Postscript on Google Books: On the one hand, as a lover of physically browseable libraries, I imagine I should not approve of Google Books. On the other hand, as a back pain sufferer and a resident of mid-Missouri, Google Books is life-changingly awesome. It especially tickles me that many of Google’s scanned volumes on the Early Republic come from the Harvard Libraries and thus were quite likely once lugged home in 25-pound bags — on the #77 bus — by yours truly. Don’t knock it until you have carried a pile of tomes such as Wharton’s State Trials of the United States Under the Administrations of Washington and Adams and Scharf and Westcott’s History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 (in 3 elephantine volumes) up several flights of stairs yourself.


July 4, 2008

When Americans Really Knew How to Celebrate Liberty

A new holiday tradition here on the blog — hard-hitting Fourth of July toasts from back in the days when Americans enjoyed detailed political expression along with their picnicking and partying. These are from the Elizabeth (then Elizabethtown) New-Jersey Journal, 15 July 1795. Remember that each one of these sentiments would have been followed by a stiff drink, and not of Bud Lite either. Be sure to check out number 8, saluting the guillotine. Good times!


July 3, 2008

Manchurian Candidates . . . for a job at Gitmo


You just can’t make this stuff up. I have long thought of the Iraq Wars and the GWOT as Cold War phantom pains, the result of Cold War institutions and Cold War thought carrying forward without an appropriate object like a competing superpower. (This is why the U.S. spends so much more time and effort going after “state sponsors of terror” than actual terrorists.) But now we discover that the military literally brought out the Cold War playbook, the Red Chinese Cold War playbook, for interrogating prisoners at Gitmo. From the New York Times:


An Expert Reveals Chinese Origins of Interrogation Techniques at Guantánamo

WASHINGTON — The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency. [Read the rest]

While it was astonishingly moronic to deploy techniques designed to produce false confessions in an effort to ferret out real terrorist plots, the strategy was unfortunately quite consistent with the long-time predilections of the American Right and the U.S. government. There seems to be a part of the right-wing brain that is deeply attracted to the sort of “brutalitarian” (Joe McCarthy’s word) excesses it likes to detect and denounce in its enemies. During the Cold War, U.S. officials across the political spectrum repeatedly concluded that they needed to “fight fire with fire” and employ tactics as or nearly as harsh and devious as a Communist enemy that was seen as colossally evil. satanically ruthless, and unnaturally effective.

The article correctly relates the Air Force study to the “brainwashing” controversy of the 1950s, during which the government and the larger culture gave itself a panic attack over the apparent conversion of captive Korean War soldiers to Communism. In true fire with fire spirit, the CIA and other entities paid for both propaganda about the horrors of Communist brainwashing techniques and also for secret research that tried to duplicate those techniques for American use. The nature of the techniques was a subject regarding which a host of pulpy mind-control fantasies were spun and researched, involving hypnotism, telepathy, and most of all drugs. [Click the images at the bottom for an example of the propaganda. The brainwashing expert whose speeches are being advertised, Edward Hunter, worked for the CIA.] It was in pursuit of such a magic elixir that the CIA did things like try to corner the world market on LSD and then hand out supplies of it to secretly-funded university laboratories. You can read all about it in John Marks’s jaw-dropping book, The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate.” What I was most shocked by was how little actually came of the CIA’s mind-control research. According to Marks, they never figured out how to make anybody do anything other than by sheer coercion or blackmail. Truth serum and zombie-like sleeper agents and hypnotic programming are such well-developed concepts that people tend to believe there must be something to them that the movies just exaggerate, but it seems that vampires and werewolves might actually be on about the same level of factuality.

What the NYT article does not quite explain is that the Albert Biderman study the Gitmo trainers drew on came from a more level-headed social scientific approach to the “brainwashing” issue that essentially debunked it, explaining that the confessions and conversions that the Chinese and Soviets got were achieved not through drugs or hypnotism but good old-fashioned police brutality and bureaucratic manipulation. I guess this lesson must have hung around in some military intelligence and right-wing circles ever since. Biderman also may have supplied the idea that, while brutal and deplorable, the methods he described were used by Communist governments specifically as alternatives to more traditional forms of torture. So, when today’s lefties and libertarians complain about the Bush administration creating its own gulag, we now know that that it is almost literally true.


This article originally appeared in issue 8.4 (July, 2008).

Jeffrey L. Pasley is associate professor of history at the University of Missouri and the author of “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic (2001), along with numerous articles and book chapters, most recently the entry on Philip Freneau in Greil Marcus’s forthcoming New Literary History of America. He is currently completing a book on the presidential election of 1796 for the University Press of Kansas and also writes the blog Publick Occurrences 2.0 for some Website called Common-place.

image_pdfSave to PDFimage_printPrint