2 Ways Homophobes Will Cope with Post-Obergefell America

Published: Good Men Project (June 30, 2015), Salon (July 4, 2015), Interview on LeGrande Green (August 4, 2015)

SCOTUS’ decision transformed the country, but don’t expect its opponents to go quietly into that good night

For the sake of argument, let’s take it as self-evident that Obergefell v. Hodges—the Supreme Court case that declared it unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex marriages—will forever change how this country talks about gay rights.

There are obvious comparisons between this ruling and Brown v. Board of Educationthe Supreme Court case that deemed segregation to be unconstitutional. Within a few years of the highest bench in the land requiring all states to integrate, it became socially unacceptable to openly advocate a return to segregation. Hence when George Wallace, one of the most famous segregationists of the era, decided to run for president in 1968, he tapped into racial prejudices through proxy issues, a sort of “code,” that included racialized references to issues ranging from crime to welfare policy (Wallace won almost 13.5% of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes, both extraordinarily high for a third-party candidate).

In this respect, it seems that homophobia in the post-Obergefell era will go the same way as racism did in the post-Brown period. This will mean the following:

1. You are going to see symbolic acts of defiance from the dying fragments of the anti-gay marriage movement.

Remember George Wallace? There is a reason he was one of the most famous segregationists of the 1960s. When President Kennedy sent the National Guard to desegregate the University of Alabama in 1963, Wallace (who was then governor of the state) stood in front of the schoolhouse doors in protest. We’re already seeing signs of similar grandstanding now, such as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announcing that he would defy the Supreme Court and allow state workers to deny same-sex marriage licenses or four Tennessee counties still refusing to give marriage licenses to gay couples. Indeed, despite being targeted by boycotts and outrage for passing a bill allowing businesses to discriminate against gay customers, the Government of Indiana is still planning on implementing its so-called “religious objection” law.

In addition …

2. More than ever, anti-LGBT activists are going to paint themselves as the victims.

Courtesy of an editorial by Frederick M. Hess of the conservative magazine, The National Review:

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that gay-rights advocates believe the decision will ‘help them move on to other issues, such as access to higher education and mental-health concerns for young LGBTQ students of color and transgender students of color.’

To people who don’t possess prejudices against racial minorities and/or the LGBTQ community, this may seem like an innocuous statement, but to Hess it is a harbinger of an impending movement toward mass gay indoctrination. By depicting innocent policies as inherently sinister (such as having schools feature nontraditional families in various contexts), he argues that Obergefell v. Hodges will put America on a slippery slope, one in which militant political correctness will terrorize social conservatives and indoctrinate children in our schools. Of course, in terms of concrete policies, the only thing Hess advocates is not requiring schools to teach tolerance toward LGBT students and their families, but by rewriting the gay rights narrative into one in which “Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy … will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools” (a quote he cited from Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent), he has made suffering stigma for holding intolerant views seem like a form of oppression.

If you find this discouraging, remember: Just as open proponents of segregation eventually became a fringe element in American society, so too are opponents of marriage equality eventually going to fade into political irrelevance. Until that happens, though, this is the show we can expect.

You Don’t Have To Like #MarriageEquality to See That It’s Right

Published: Good Men Project (June 27, 2015)

Matt Rozsa dismisses the top three arguments against #MarriageEquality so everyone can embrace the change.


Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples throughout America have the right to get married, it’s time to confront the inevitable backlash that has already begun to erupt: From homophobes complaining that their civil liberties are being curbed in the media to pseudo-scientists who insist same-sex marriage is bad for children, there are plenty of people out there who refuse to see the light on this issue.
Here is a convenient listicle to deal with them:
1. The so-called “science” opposing gay marriage is bunk.
Back in 2012, a conservative think tank known as the Heritage Foundation paid $785,000 to an anti-LGBT sociologist named Dr. Mark Regnerus. Why? Because, according to their own mission statement, they desperately needed to produce a study that would “back up claims that same-sex marriage is actually bad for the family.”
This reminds me of a quote from the famous Sherlock Holmes story “A Scandal in Bohemia,” reproduced below:
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”
Of course, the difference between the detectives in a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mystery and the propagandists at the Heritage Foundation is that the former were only dealing with innocent errors in judgment; the latter, on the other hand, made a deliberate effort to deprive innocent men and women of their basic rights. Even though the overwhelming majority of research has found that gay parents are no less qualified to raise children than their heterosexual counterparts, the Heritage Foundation decided to validate the prejudices of its supporters by handsomely rewarding any scholar unscrupulous enough to use pseudo-science as a substitute for the actual thing.
The chief lesson here: If you can’t win an argument without cheating, you deserve to lose.
2. It is absurd to claim that same-sex marriage threatens “traditional” unions.
Frankly, I’ve never understood this one. Whenever I discuss the issue of gay marriage with conservative friends, I usually hear some variation of the argument, “If homosexuals are allowed to marry, it will ruin marriage for everyone else!”
Um …. How exactly? How exactly will a marriage in the post-Obergefell v. Hodges era be any different from the unions that occurred before it? The closest equivalent to a straightforward answer has come from the State of Mississippi, which is threatening to pull all state-issued marriage licenses in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision. Their position seems to be that, by taking the state out of the institution of marriage altogether and leaving it entirely to the churches, it will allow Mississippians whose religious beliefs lead them to oppose same-sex unions to avoid having to implicitly support them.
On the one hand, I actually see a little merit in this argument. If we’re going to treat marriage as a fundamentally religious ritual, then it seems fine for the state to stay out of the matter altogether. Of course, this won’t actually prevent gay marriages from happening (plenty of churches and synagogues are willing to wed same-sex couples), but it will comfort those who feel their religious beliefs are being disrespected by the actions of Kennedy et al. Then again, if other conservative states follow in Mississippi’s lead, the traditional state-sponsored institution of marriage will have been changed as a result of their actions, not that of those homosexuals who choose to get married. Throughout American history, marriage has been as much a secular institution as it has been a religious one, which is why any pair of consenting opposite-sex adults have been able to go to local government institutions and declare themselves to be in wedlock. Simply extending that right to same-sex adults doesn’t change the experience of opposite-sex couples; revoking state-sponsored marriages, meanwhile, absolutely does.

Everyone has the right to their prejudices, but they shouldn’t be shielded from the fact that those views are prejudiced, and they definitely shouldn’t be allowed to demean those who are targeted by their prejudiced by denying them the same rights guaranteed to all other citizens.

3. If you believe in freedom, then you have to acknowledge this right.
Much has already been written about Justice Anthony Kennedy’s heroism in breaking from the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples (including by me), so I was reluctant to quote him again for this article. Then again, as I searched for the language to explain how opposing marriage equality is always an intolerant position, I could find no better way of expressing that thought then by returning to the judge’s immortal language:
Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society.
That, as they say, is the bottom line. You can personally believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, choose to only attend churches that refuse to perform that ceremony, and even refuse to endorse it through your business (as Patrick Stewart pointed out when he defended a Christian bakery’s decision to not bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage message). At the same time, when you argue that the American state should actively prevent same-sex couples from getting married, you aren’t simply expressing your personal religious or philosophical opinion; you are demanding that that point-of-view be imposed on those who don’t agree with it. Everyone has the right to their prejudices, but they shouldn’t be shielded from the fact that those views are prejudiced, and they definitely shouldn’t be allowed to demean those who are targeted by their prejudiced by denying them the same rights guaranteed to all other citizens.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why good people support #MarriageEquality.

“#LoveWins on #MarriageEquality Because of One Brave Man: Justice Anthony Kennedy

Published: Good Men Project (June 26, 2015)

The four liberal judges on the Supreme Court were expected to support marriage equality, but the fifth is going to take a lot of flak for it. A doff of the hat to Justice Anthony Kennedy.

From a strictly political standpoint, it is a truly remarkable thing that homosexuals throughout America will be allowed to marry. In these hyper-partisan times, we shouldn’t be surprised that the four liberal judges cast their lot with the right side of history. That said, they were joined by a courageous conservative, and every supporter of marriage equality needs to know his name:

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Spoiler alert: I’m going to close this article with the final paragraph of Kennedy’s brief, which he wrote on behalf of the majority that upheld marriage equality rights. It’s so beautiful that it’s gone viral (a rare thing indeed for Supreme Court prose). But first…

Anyone who follows American politics knows that the Supreme Court today contains two wings: The conservatives (Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia) and the liberals (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor). Few would disagree that this is one of the most fiercely and rigidly partisan courts in recent history. “For the first time, the Supreme Court is closely divided along party lines,” wrote Adam Liptak of The New York Times last year. “The partisan polarization on the court reflects similarly deep divisions in Congress, the electorate and the elite circles in which the justices move.” Even on those notable occasions when a judge has crossed party lines – such as Justice Roberts in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebeliuswhich upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act – he or she has usually done so by resorting to opaque legalese, so as to not offend their base of supporters.

“On the Roberts Court, for the first time, the party identity of the justices seems to be the single most important determinant of their votes,” writes Garrett Epps of The Atlantic. “The five Republican justices sometimes divide in cases (such as the scope of the federal Treaty Power or the validity of ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics) that spawn purely ideological debate. But they are united and relentless in pushing for victory in cases that have a partisan valence.” This has decided the shape of decisions ranging from women’s reproductive rights and campaign finance reform to Second Amendment rights and business regulation, proving as much a thorn in the side of the progressive movement as the Republican congress that has obstructed most of President Obama’s domestic agenda since 2011.

And then there has been Anthony Kennedy and the issue of gay rights.

Experts on the modern Supreme Court have written extensively about how Justice Kennedy’s stances on gay rights, abortion, and the separation between church and state have earned him the hatred of conservatives who normally laud his decisions. Although he is undeniably right-wing in most of his judicial thinking, he has established himself as the most independent-minded of the nine judges – and, surprising for a lifelong Republican, has always seemed ahead of his time on gay rights. Indeed, when President Ronald Reagan decided to appoint Kennedy to the court in 1987, Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe testified in advance that Kennedy could help in mollifying at least one constituency turned off by Reagan’s anti-LGBT reputation:

“Tony Kennedy was entirely comfortable with gay friends. He said he never regarded them as inferior in any way or as people who should be ostracized, and I did think that was a good signal of where he was on these matters.”

The gay movement may now be hailing Kennedy as a gay rights icon, but make no mistake about it, he is going to pay a steep price among his conservative friends. Justice Scalia has already attacked Kennedy on grounds ranging from hypocrisy to the quality of his writing, he is receiving the predictable support from homophobes on message boards and social media, and legal reporter Jan Crawford Greenburg has commented on the intensely “bitter” quality toward Kennedy that has existed in conservative circles for years because of his reputation on gay rights. If nothing else, the fact that 2015 saw a wave of discriminatory legislation directed against the LGBT community precisely because conservative state legislatures are threatened by the strides made by the gay community.

To this, and speaking for the 57 percent of Americans who wanted the Supreme Court to effectively legalize gay marriage throughout the country, Kennedy wrote the following:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

When you write about American politics, so much of your job involves pumping out negativity – criticizing politicians, pointing out the fallacies in popular opinions, etc. On this historic day, as America’s gay community for the first time ever is no longer locked out of a central institution of the nation’s society (paraphasing Kennedy’s decision), it is my pleasure to finally have the opportunity to write something unabashedly positive… dare I say it, even hopeful.

And I owe it all to Justice Kennedy

Confessions of a (Diet) Cokehead

Published: Good Men Project (June 25, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa discusses his love of soft drinks… and how he was tricked into believing they were safe.

Until recently I’d never seen Coca-Cola’s iconic “Hilltop” ad… but then again, I didn’t need to. I’ve always considered the sensation of having an ice cold drink slide down your throat to be one of life’s greatest simple pleasures, and among the numerous beverages out there, my preference has always been for 20 oz. bottle of Diet Coke. Some may gravitate to it because it claims to contain zero calories (although if this were true, wouldn’t Coke Zero be superfluous?) but for me the appeal has more to do with the taste than any dubious health benefits. A Diet Coke has just the right combination of sweetness and bitterness to please my palate,  particularly on humid summer days (such as the one captured in the picture above).

That said, I’ve never been entirely oblivious to the dangers of soft drink consumption. Now, thanks to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), whatever shred of denial I may have clung to about my love affair with Diet Coke has dissipated.

In a parody of the aforementioned “Hilltop” ad, CSPI shows actors singing about the joys of drinking cola – followed swiftly by the obesity, diabetes, and other major health issues that have resulted from their habit. In a press release explaining the video, CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson explained that “for the past 45 years, Coca-Cola and other makers of sugar drinks have used the most sophisticated and manipulative advertising techniques to convince children and adults alike that a disease-promoting drink will make them feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s a multi-billion-dollar brainwashing campaign designed to distract us away from our diabetes with happy thoughts. We thought it was time to change the tune.”

I’ve never been entirely oblivious to the dangers of soft drink consumption. Now, thanks to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), whatever shred of denial I may have clung to about my love affair with Diet Coke has dissipated.

The medical community certainly sees eye-to-eye with CSPI on this one. According to Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, people who consume more than 1 to 2 cans of sugary drinks on a daily basis are 26% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, while even drinking one such beverage every day increased their likelihood of having a heart attack by 20%. WebMD notes that soft drink consumption can also be linked to kidney damage, elevated blood pressure, and various forms of cancer, while oral hygiene advocates from the National Center for Biotechnology Information to the Wisconsin Dental Association have drawn attention to the ways soft drinks erode tooth enamel and cause decay. There is even a controversial study by Hannah Gardener, ScD, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, which found that individuals who drank diet soda regularly were 48% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. And that doesn’t even begin to mention the alleged dangers of aspartame.

In short, the parody of the “Hilltop” ad is far more truthful than the actual commercial itself. That fact shouldn’t surprise anyone who already has a healthy suspicion of corporate America, of course, but the question still needs to be asked:

Why don’t we view soft drink consumption as a public health epidemic, akin to smoking cigarettes or eating fast food?

My guess is that, at a time when every enjoyable diversion gets roundly condemned as a health hazard, many of us have decided to tune out the negative information. Even when we concede that our health advocates are right (and many choose denial over accepting the unpleasant truth), there is a temptation to succumb to hedonistic fatalism. If everything good is going to kill me, the reasoning goes, then why bother changing my habits at all? If life is short anyway, why not choose quality over quantity?

There is no easy rebuttal to this point-of-view. Everything worth having in life comes with considerable risk – sometimes to your physical health, sometimes to your psychological or emotional well-being, sometimes financial or social. A life spent avoiding all risky behavior would indeed be quite bland, to say nothing of neurotic. That said, most of us navigate our way through these various hazards by picking our battles, avoiding the dangers that seem too acute to be worthwhile while accepting the price when our love for X outweighs our awareness of its detrimental consequences.

If we are to make progress in spreading awareness of soft drinks, we need to begin by letting people know that the risks associated with them aren’t mild ones. Videos like CSPI’s “Hilltop” parody are a great way to start, but to be truly effective we need to change the way we look at our sodas. When you buy a can of Coca-Cola or a bottle of Mountain Dew, you are taking no less of a risk than if you were purchasing a pack of cigarettes or a baggie of actual cocaine. The specific health hazards may differ, but the net risk is the same – and since I personally avoid cigarettes and cocaine because of the health risks, it stands to reason that I should do likewise with my beloved Diet Cokes.

For this realization, I have to thank CSPI. After all, if it wasn’t for their video pointing out the dishonesty of how soda companies advertise their product, I wouldn’t have thought to do the research on this subject.

Solitary confinement is torture

Published: Daily Dot (June 24, 2015)

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution may not have as much political cachet as the First or Second, but it’s a safe bet you’re familiar with one of its most important phrases (italics added for emphasis): “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

This brings us to Barrett Brown, a self-described “mild-mannered freelance journalist, activist, and satirist” who was sentenced to 63 months in prison last January on a number of charges related to his work with the controversial hacktivist group Anonymous. His incarceration is troubling enough in its own right (Reporters Without Borders cited it as a main reason for downgrading America’s ranking on freedom in the press), but now his social media followers are reporting that prison officials have moved him to solitary confinement.

That last detail is particularly important, since the United Nations has clearly stated that holding a prisoner in solitary confinement for longer than 15 days constitutes torture. Then again, the United Nations has also called for abolishing solitary confinement except in the most extreme cases, while our own Supreme Court has established an “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” standard for determining if conditions of confinement violate the Eighth Amendment.

Of course, because our nation’s top bench has yet to officially recognize that solitary confinement itself inflicts unnecessary pain, last year more than 80,000 Americans experienced some form of mandatory isolation. This practice must end.

“Solitary confinement involves isolating inmates in cells that are barely larger than a king-sized bed for 22 to 24 hours per day,” explained crime journalist Laura Dimon in the Atlantic. “It wreaks profound neurological and psychological damage, causing depression, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, anxiety, and anger.”

Because our nation’s top bench has yet to officially recognize that solitary confinement itself inflicts unnecessary pain, last year more than 80,000 Americans experienced some form of mandatory isolation.

Not surprisingly, studies of prisons in America’s three most populated states (California, Texas, and New York) have found that suicide rates are significantly higher among inmates who have been held in solitary confinement than within the general prison population.

In fact, the psychological harm caused by forced isolation is so devastating that scientific researchers rarely study its effects on civilians, although when McGill University attempted to pay graduate students to live in comparable conditions for six weeks in 1951 (for an experiment on the effects of sensory deprivation), none of them lasted more than seven days.

If you believe this is acceptable because only the most vile criminals are subjected to it, think again.

“You might assume all inmates sent to solitary are the ‘worst of the worst’—rapists and murderers who continue their violent ways even behind bars,” wrote Scientific American in a 2013 report. “But in fact, many are placed in solitary for nonviolent offenses, and some are not even criminals, having been arrested on immigration charges. Others are thrown into isolation cells ‘for their own protection’ because they are homosexual or transgender or have been raped by other inmates.”

This is why someone like Kalief Browder, a New York City teenager who spent more than three years in prison despite never being convicted of a crime, ended up spending so much time in solitary confinement while behind bars, despite posing little threat to those around him.

New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm told the International Business Times about the appalling conditions he was subjected to. “It was claustrophobic. It smelled like urine. There was graffiti on the walls and the paint was peeling,” said Dromm. “The bed was filled with dirt, grease, grime, and the blanket was covered with mildew and mold.”

Browder took his own life this June.

And Barrett Brown? “Someone made hooch (alcohol) and a bunch of inmates had been drinking it. Officials came and gave them all breathalyzers, and they all passed,” claims a campaign to “Free Barrett Brown” on TwitLonger. “Then they searched Barrett’s locker (his only) and found a glass he had hidden in there.”

Along with the accusation that Brown was “singled out” because of his political activities, the site claims that he was “not allowed to bring belongings, including his file of legal papers and his prescription” and that he has not been told how long he will be kept in isolation.

If there is a sliver of good news in all of this, it’s that many American political and judicial leaders have started speaking out against and working to abolish this practice. Last year Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) co-sponsored a prison reform bill that, among other things, would prohibit the use of solitary confinement at juvenile prisons except when necessary to protect the safety of others at the facility.

Studies of prisons in America’s three most populated states have found that suicide rates are significantly higher among inmates who have been held in solitary confinement than within the general prison population.

More recently, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy testified before a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in March that “total incarceration just isn’t working” and that “solitary confinement literally drives men mad.”

Kennedy is right, and it certainly doesn’t help that our prison-industrial complex is already a disgrace to the rest of the world. We have more prisoners than any other country (with more than 1.5 million people sitting behind bars as of December 31, 2013), racial minorities are disproportionately more likely to spend time in jail than their white criminal counterparts, and recent statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigations reveal that one out of three Americans is forced to go through life with the burden of a criminal record.

Even in the context of so much damning information about American prisons as a whole, however, our rampant use of solitary confinement stands out as particularly heinous: It is practically impossible to reconcile America’s use of solitary confinement with the civil liberties protected by our Bill of Rights. We shouldn’t need legislators or judges to tell us that it is cruel and unusual to punish nonviolent criminals in a way that will permanently damage their mental health.

Unfortunately, because the public continues to ignore the plight of its inmates, thousands of Americans continue to languish under mental torture every day. Some of them are political prisoners like Barrett Brown, others are wrongfully imprisoned innocents like Kalief Browder, and many are actually guilty of offenses that warrant incarceration.

None of them, however, should have to forfeit their basic constitutional or human rights. When that happens, we not only violate their rights, but desecrate our own most important ideals.

This Is What the Confederate Flag Actually Looks Like

Published: Question of the Day (June 23, 2015)

As the debate rages on over the Confederate flag’s appearance on government land in South Carolina, it’s important to remember one thing: For all the talk of honoring the Palmetto State’s rich history, that flag isn’t the one they fought under during the Civil War.In fact, there is no single flag that consistently united the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865. The three national flag patterns included the Stars and Bars (adopted March 4, 1861), which contained a circle of eight white stars in a blue square on the upper-left corner, surrounded by two red stripes with a white one in the center; the Stainless Banner (adopted May 1, 1863), which used the Army of Northern Virginia’s battle flag (what we commonly think of as “the” Confederate flag today) in the upper left surrounded by white; and the Blood Stained Banner (adopted March 4, 1865), which slightly modified the Stainless Banner by adding a red stripe down the right side.

Flag of the Confederate States of America (1861-1863).svg
Flag of the Confederate States of America (1861-1863)“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Flag of the Confederate States of America (1863-1865).svg
Flag of the Confederate States of America (1863-1865)“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Flag of the Confederate States of America (1865).svg
Flag of the Confederate States of America (1865)“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Nor were these flags alone. Each state and regiment had their own various flags, and for a long time the most popular was the South Carolina Secessionist Flag (seen below), which was flown when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union in December 1860.

South Carolina Sovereignty-Secession Flag.svg
South Carolina Sovereignty-Secession Flag” by EmokOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This isn’t mere historical trivia. The prevalence of the so-called Confederate flag (as we know it today) can be traced back not to the Civil War itself, but to an orchestrated campaign within the late-19th century South to glorify what came to be known as “the Lost Cause.” To quote the historian David W. Blight from “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory”:

“The Lost cause took root in a Southern culture awash in an admixture of physical destruction, the psychological trauma of defeat, a Democratic Party resisting Reconstruction, racial violence, and with time, an abiding sentimentalism… Throughout the spread of the Lost Cause, at least three elements attained overriding significance: the movement’s effort to write and control the history of the war and its aftermath; its use of white supremacy as both means and ends; and the place of women in its development.”

The Stars and Bars isn’t what you think it is

Gettyimages 79147738
The flag that flies at South Carolina’s state house is not the original flag of the confederacy. What we know as “the” Confederate flag is actually a banner popularized by white supremacists in the aftermath of the Civil War.


South Carolina Is Actually Flying The Wrong Confederate Flag

Although the individual states in the Confederacy never unified around a single standard, the South that mourned and wished to mythologize its “Lost Cause” recognized the utility of using one particular symbol to galvanize its followers. If this was a normal manifestation of regional pride (such as one might see in New England or California), it would be harmless enough. However, because it is specifically associated with reactionary racial belief systems — to say nothing of the most horrific attempt at treason in American history — it seems downright un-American to fly it over land that represents every taxpaying citizen.This is not the same as saying that the Confederate symbol should be censored (I have argued for the First Amendment rights of Confederate pride movements in the past). That said, it is misleading to characterize the current controversy over the Confederate flag as that of honoring the state’s brief history as a sovereign nation. That flag is being flown because South Carolina, like the rest of the would-be Confederacy, wants to whitewash its history while covertly validating its hideous underbelly. That is all there is to it.

Dylann Roof isn’t mentally ill – he’s a terrorist

Published: Daily Dot (June 22, 2015)

Why do we insist on claiming that Dylann Roof was mentally ill? In a recent segment on Fox News, the outlet blamed Roof’s actions on a “troubled past,” arguing that mental illness tends to be “swept under the rug” in these cases, but the exact true is opposite: We tend to use mental illness in place of a more troubling reality—Dylann Roof was a terrorist.

“We do have statistics showing that the vast majority of people who commit acts of violence do not have a diagnosis of mental illness,” writes Arthur Chu of Salon, “and, conversely, people who have mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.” Although we know very little about Roof, all existing information points to him being a militant racist who believed a high-profile act of violence would terrorize others into respecting his white supremacist agenda.

Of course, one could argue that it is inherently irrational to hold such a view, but that wouldn’t separate Roof from anyone else who would decide to “engage in the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” This is also known as the definition of terrorism—a word that, strangely, is not being consistently applied to Roof and others like him.

By “others like him,” I’m referring to the long list of right-wing Caucasian males who have used violence to draw attention to their goals. Since the start of Barack Obama’s presidency, America has seen white supremacist James von Brunn shoot up the Holocaust Museum in Washington because he blamed his personal problems on Obama and the Jews, militant Christian Scott Roeder assassinate an abortion doctor (and threaten another one from prison) in Kansas, another white supremacist named Wade Michael Page massacre Sikh worshippers at a temple in Wisconsin, and a men’s rights activist named Elliot Rodger go on a shooting rampage at a college in California.

Between these four examples and Dylann Roof, we have a clear pattern of white men who dominate the news with violent rampages. However, we seem unwilling to draw the obvious conclusion—namely, that America has a domestic terrorism problem. Instead we have seen that, over and over and over and over and over again, pundits continue to scapegoat mental illness for America’s gun violence epidemic.

There are three problems with this.

The first is that it involves a glaring double-standard. Of all the Islamic terrorists who have made headlines—from the September 11th hijackers to the Boston Marathon bombers—the only one whose actions seemed to spark rampant speculation about his mental health was Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter whose deeds were attributed to PTSD.

Hasan was born in Virginia, and when Americans assume that homegrown terrorists are simply suffering from mental illness, they are doing so in part to reinforce the idea that terrorism is an “Other” problem: one that exists within the hearts of hatemongers half a globe away, not right here in our own backyard. The last major domestic terrorist to be widely labelled as a coldblooded killer without claims of mental illness was Timothy McVeigh, better known as the Oklahoma City bomber. However, that was in 1995, before the election of Barack Obama and the doubling-down of this notion that America has moved past its baser hatreds.

This brings us to the second problem with attributing domestic terrorism to mental illness. When we reflexively search for indications that domestic perpetrators of terrorist violence were somehow not of sound mind, we distance ourselves from the true meaning of their actions. By arguing that, for instance, Dylann Roof was simply a “crazy person,” we make it possible to ignore the fact that hate groups have exploded in number since Obama took office.

Similarly, it allows us to ignore the sickening rise of men’s rights activism online or the persistence of prejudices against religious minorities like Jews and Sikhs. The implication is that violent prejudices are only ingrained in the fabric of other societies; we simply cannot assume that those same elements of prejudice lurk within ourselves.

The final issue is that blaming Roof’s actions on mental illness—particularly when no solid evidence of such actually exists—stigmatizes those who struggle with mental health issues in this country. As the American Psychological Association reported, “In a study of crimes committed by people with serious mental disorders, only 7.5 percent were directly related to symptoms of mental illness.”

When the Internet joins the mainstream media in assuming that mental illness is a legitimate go-to explanation for incidents like the Charleston shooting, it perpetuates the assumption that we should be afraid of those who struggle with mental health problems. Ironically, instead of learning from racial violence, we simply reinforce a different type of prejudice.

Make no mistake about it: Dylann Roof is a terrorist, just like James von Brunn, Nidal Malik Hasan, Scott Roeder, Wade Michael Page, and Elliot Rodger before him. All of these men used violence to make a statement about their various extreme worldviews. Roof, von Brunn, and Page did so for the cause of white supremacism; Roeder for a militant Christian worldview; and Rodger out of misogyny, but all of them killed innocent men and women.

If we are to effectively address the problem of violent hate in America, we must first acknowledge that we are a society which has produced a series of high-profile terrorists within the last few years. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. It will only guarantee that it gets worse.

The Charleston Shooter and the History of True Believers

Published: Good Men Project (June 20, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa explains how terrorists justify their horrific actions and what we need to do to stop them.


I will only mention the name of the Charleston shooter once: Dylann Roof. And although I shall provide you with a few details about his biography, his identity can be aptly summed up with a single word: Terrorist. That is because a terrorist is, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, someone who “uses violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.”

We have yet to receive any evidence that the Charleston terrorist was mentally ill, despite rampant speculation to that effect. Not all the information is in, but from what we do know (including from the terrorist himself), we can reasonably conclude that this was a desperate youth who found a sense of greater life purpose by subscribing to a racist ideology. He is a 21-year-old white man from Lexington, SC who attended White Knoll High School for less than two years before dropping out. Before then, he moved between at least three different school districts within a span of five years. He had already amassed a criminal record before the shooting in Charleston, and as Time Magazine reports, “in the picture featured on the Facebook page [attributed to the terrorist], he is wearing a jacket bearing images of the flags of apartheid-era South African and the Republic of Rhodesia, the name for Zimbabwe when it was run by a postcolonial white minority in the 1970s.”

That last detail is crucial if you want to provide meaningful context to its predecessors. The white supremacist belief system displayed by the Charleston terrorist revealed a lack of security not only in his own sense of self-worth, but even in the fundamental precepts underlying his sense of identity. He was the quintessential “true believer,” as defined by the philosopher Eric Hoffer in his classic sociological monograph of the same name. In his book, Hoffer notes that men and women who become extremists often have certain similar personality traits. They tend to view themselves as victims of some form of oppression, believe that they lack power within the existing social/cultural/political structure with which to improve their lives, and are thus likely to be converted to ideologies that offer simple solutions to the daunting problems which they face. This ideology can be rooted in economics, racial theory, or warped notions of individualism; it can take the form of religious, gender-based, or national chauvinism. The content matters far less than the personality type that is drawn to it—desiring attention, utterly irrational, filled with hate, and willing to sacrifice its own life so long as it can take innocents with it. More than anything else, this personality type is insecure – and that insecurity, though laughable when lampooned by the likes of South Park or Sacha Baron Cohen, can in a moment become deadly serious.

Like most white supremacists, the Charleston terrorist found comfort in the notion that his shortcomings were somehow the fault of a scapegoat (in this case, African Americans) rather than his own character. Had his hatred been limited to inner turmoil and the occasional message board outburst, he would have been as pathetic and harmless as the millions of other silent bigots who share his views (and occasionally his choice of target). Because he chose to lash out in an act of historic and terrible violence, he revealed himself to be something quite harmful (though no less pathetic).

Like most white supremacists, the Charleston shooter found comfort in the notion that his shortcomings were somehow the fault of a scapegoat (in this case, African Americans) rather than his own character. Had his hatred been limited to inner turmoil and the occasional message board outburst, he would have been as pathetic and harmless as the millions of other silent bigots who share his views (and occasionally his choice of target).

Think about it: Adolf Hitler, the ultimate example of a true believer, was riddled with insecurities stemming in no small part from having been rejected by a prestigious Austrian art school in favor of Jewish students. While the roots of Hitler’s anti-Semitism can be traced back long before that specific incident, the reality remains that his own sense of failure and inadequacy combined with an external culture of bigotry to breed the irrational hatred that wound up defining his legacy. If Hitler had been a responsible man, he would have recognized that the demons he believed could be found in the world really lurked within his own mind. A good man doesn’t simply have opinions – he makes sure to take responsibility for those opinions. This starts with openly associating his name with his views (something the Charleston terrorist was admittedly willing to do, although many of his online admirers are not), and continues with checking his own insecurities before allowing them to become the basis of a  hate-based philosophy. Because Roof was unable to take responsibility for his actions—because he refused to be a good man—he became a true believer, and the rest is history.

A good man doesn’t simply have opinions – he makes sure to take responsibility for those opinions. This starts with openly associating his name with his views (something the Charleston terrorist was admittedly willing to do, although many of his online admirers are not), and continues with checking his own insecurities before allowing them to become the basis of a hate-based philosophy.

Unfortunately it is a history that we are doomed to repeat, at least until we develop the courage to call our haters out. While most of us already know that Eric Hoffer is right, few are willing to endure the social discomfort of openly declaring that the Charleston terrorist and his milquetoast ilk are as transparent as a window. The latest little Fuhrer may have chosen the symbols of apartheid South Africa, but it would have made no difference if he had instead donned the Confederate Stars and Bars or the Nazi swastika or the Red Pill logo. For all intents and purposes, he was telling the world that he had given up on looking inward in an effort to better his own life. In lieu of wisdom, he found a “righteous” cause—and the world must yet again mourn the consequences.