You Might Be Anti-American!

In the wake of the flap the agenda media and the Sorosphere manufactured over Rep. Michele Bachmann’s statements a few weeks ago on Tinglyball with Chris Matthews, I wondered – is it possible to question other peoples’ motivations anymore?

I’m convinced – having not only read the accounts and seen the video of Rep. Bachmann’s appearance, but having talked with Rep. Bachmann about the subject – that Rep. Bachmann meant “people who don’t have the nation’s best interests at heart”, and “people who love America exactly as it isn’t and has never been”, when she said “anti-American”.  And when she said the media should be exposing this, she meant “doing its job, and giving people some means of critically examining candidates’ views”, rather than “witchhunting”. 

Not that facts or context matter, of course.

Are there “anti-Americans” out there?  In the sense that there are people who want America extinguished from the planet?  Probably none in public life that matter, Jeremiah Wright and his invocation of the Sixth Commandment notwithstanding.

But can someone’s commitment to “American” ideals – the things that our founding fathers enshrined, things like “one person, one vote” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, “the rule of law”, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – be criticized?

One of the most popular posts that’s ever appeared on this blog came out four and a half years ago, during a previous spate of demands that nobody question anyone’s motivation (“Don’t you dare question my patriotism!”).  Entitled “You Might Not Be An American If…“, it kinda summed up how I feel about Bachmann’s statement and, yes, the targets:

If You Believe: that America has problems – huge problems – then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that America’s problems make it an inherently rotten concept, then maybe you should think about whether you’re living in the right place. 

If You Believe: …that America’s projection of power around the world is immoral – then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that any projection of American power is inherely unjust because it’s America, then maybe you should be living in, say, Sweden? Just an idea.

If You Believe: …that capitalism is wrong because its inequalities are inherely unjust, then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that the free market is inherently, irrevocably evil, perhaps China would be a better fit? Just suggesting…

If You Believe: …that invading Iraq was wrong, then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that our temporary administration of Iraq is worse than Hussein’s 30 year reighn of horrors, then perhaps you should rot in hell we need to have an attitude adjustment.

At four years’ remove, I might add a few:

If You Believe: …that racism still exists, and that people (or even just White People) inflict it on others, then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that all of America (or just White America) makes its every decision based purely on racism (unless they vote for Barack Obama), then you might be Anti-American.

If You Believe: …the Constitution is a “living document”, then dissent is hunky-dory.
But If You Believe: …that the Constitution is itself a corrupt, vile document that never did anyone any good, then perhaps you should find a different society to live in, just on basic principle.

Wanna swat at Bachmann’s statement?  You gotta bring more game than most of her critics seem to be able to manage.

Square Bullets For The Infidels

I remember reading a book about thirty years ago – The Social History Of The Machine Gun, or something like that.  It was a pseudo-academic treatise, adapted for some shred of popular market appeal, that talked about the social roots of fully-automatic weapons.

In one of the first chapters, they included the plans for an early, rudimentary multi-chambered cannon.  It dated back to the 16th or 17th century, and had five or six chambers attached to a circular plate; the plate could be rotated to push the chambers up against the barrel for firing – sort of the anscestor of the Gatling Gun (or, for serious gun geeks, the multi-chambered Aden gun).

It had one extra feature noted in the plans; it used a traditional round chamber to fire round bullets “for use against Christians”, the plans noted (I’m paraphrasing).  But if the troops were facing Moslem troops, the plate could be swapped out for one with chambers bored for square bullets (and no, I don’t recall any plans for square barrel bores), on the theory that square bullets would cause grislier wounds and do more damage.  Of course, being Mohammedans, the extra cruelty was justified, at least to the inventor.

There’s nothing new, there, of course.  A teacher of mine in high school – a Vietnam-era veteran who served in the US or Germany, if memory serves – recalled that one of the first things that the drill instructors did in basic training in wartime was to dehumanize the enemy; Vietnamese and Japanese and German humans became “Gooks” and “Japs” and “Krauts” and what-have-you.  Because killing humans is hard – but pushing a bayonet into a hateful caricature is easy.

Of course, German society (like much of Europe) had a solid head-start in dehumanizing Jews.  Hitler pushed things over the edge – but when it came to reducing a class of humans to untermenschen, he stood on the shoulders of giants.  Hateful, loathsome giants.

For most people – normal, decent people, at any rate – the first step on the road to unspeakable hatred is the belief that somehow, your opponent is less worthy of the decency most of us afford to actual humans.  And once you get past that, really, it’s a hop skip and jump to any ghastly horror you can imagine.

Emily from X Perspective is, by the way, a normal, decent person.  But a recent posts shows some of the dehumanization that is swallowing the left in re Sarah Palin.

[Not following politics this week? GOP VP Candidate Sarah Palin’s 17-yr old daughter is pregnant. Which we’d ignore if Palin wasn’t adamantly anti-sex-ed and anti-abortion.]

I admit to a small amount of hypocrisy of my own here: in general, I believe we should leave the kids out of this election – it’s not the girl’s fault her mother is running for office. But this was just too spot-on not to share.

“We should leave kids out of politics – unless we really hate what their parents [supposedly] stand for?”

And then, all bets are off?  Because decency is only for people who believe as “we” do?

And where’s Palin’s “hypocrisy?”  She – and, we presume, her daughter and future son-in-law – are pro-life.  And they’re following through on that belief.  Perhaps that’s a form of logic impermeable by conservatives; either way, I’m just not seeing it. 

Leave aside that the Juno analogy is completely off.  It supports Palin’s, and the pro-lifers’, stances; the Juno character had the baby, which, by the way, pissed off the pro-abortion crowd to no end – especially here in the Twin Cities, from whence Juno screenwriter and last year’s Hottest Writer Ever, Diablo Cody, sprang a few years back; local “feminists” were in a aorta-busting froth that Ms. Cody didn’t have young Juno abort her “oops”, more or less as they are with Bristol and, for that matter, Sarah Palin.  On whom, by the way, “feminists” have also bestowed dictatorial power over her daughter and her “reproductive choices”.  But that’s just a sign of a photoshopper with no command of metaphor.

On the other hand, every time the left slags Palin and her family, there’s another struggling middle-class-or-lower family who realizes there’s somebody running for the White House who just plain gets it.  And that translates into votes.

So by all means, photoshoppers; photoshop on!


Go ahead and pick your Heston:

The academy award-winner?

Ben Hur was probably the first “serious” movie I sat through as a kid – the first time I ever got that a movie could be more than simple yuks and scenery, that a story could mean more than what was being put in front of you. Heston won his Oscar almost fifty years ago, before I was born – and the movie still amazes me.

Heston was an amazing actor. Brad Carlson links to an excellent video retrospective of Heston’s film career.

And nobody, anywhere, writes about actors like Sheila O’Malley does:

My brother Brendan and I watched The Ten Commandments on the night before Easter, and expressed amazement, for the 100th time, how incredible Heston is, how inevitable. …even today, lulled to sleep by CGI effects, there is something stunning and terrifying about the Red Sea parting, well done! – but none of it would matter a whit if it weren’t for Heston’s commanding (pun) performance. He had no fear. He embodied courage, and was able to portray it larger than life. This is something NO actors have today – NONE – it is no longer the “style” of acting, and no longer in vogue. And that’s fine. Things don’t have to stay the same forever. But at least we could look back at one of the greats and say, “Ah. There. That is how it was done. That is how it should have been done.”

Absolutely true.

How about the “other” Charlton Heston, the man that stood for his beliefs at every turn – the one who marched on Washington in 1963 with Martin Luther King, at the height of his career…

…at a time when social activism was not the fashion in Hollywood.

Joel Rosenberg:

In 1961, he attended a premier of one of his movies in Oklahoma.  The theater was segregated; he joined the picket line.  At a time when it was by no means politically expedient to do so, he marched with Martin Luther King Jr.  He was, throughout his adult life, a staunch opponent of communism, McCarthyism, and racial segregation.

A quarter-century later, Heston went on to spend the last fifteen years of his working life tirelessly fighting to protect the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans…

…which, for many people who were born too late to see Heston’s glory years on the big screen, was the Heston they knew best.

The Charlton Heston that drove more than a few people over the edge, helping cement the career of at least one polemicist, and assuring that he’d never do lunch in Hollywood again?  That was him.
Gary Miller:

Few did more than Charleston Heston to keep the stinking paws of the damned dirty apes off the firearms of law-abiding Americans.

Just like the patriarch Moses he played in the magnificent 1956 Cecil B. DeMille classic, he did not live to see the promised land. But if an originalist majority on SCOTUS prevails in the soon-to-be-decided Heller case he will have died just short of the River Jordan.

Of course I owe that Charlton Heston – the guy who helped galvanize millions to turn the tide on two issues that mean a lot to me and many like me, civil rights that are seen as two sides of a coin, but should not be – something, too.

Or maybe the guy in a city and business and society full of libertines and faux libertarians, who achieved far beyond anyone’s dreams and ascended to the pinnacle of a career that he’d stumbled into and yet mastered, and devoted a fair chunk of his life to doing what was right and, at the end of the day, stayed married to his high school sweetheart for an entire lifetime?

How do you reconcile all those different Charlton Hestons?

You don’t. You appreciate the entire package on its own terms. Back to Sheila, who comes up with the words I was flailing at trying to find on the show yesterday, to capture an ideal that as usual Sheila nails without effort. I’ll be slathering on the emphasis:

The most stunning tribute of all, it takes my breath away to this day, is Richard Dreyfuss’ tribute. He wrote it for National Review – obviously a publication with political leanings that has nothing to do with who Richard Dreyfuss is, and how he votes. But, as I have said repeatedly on my blog, as I have chased people away from my site who seem constitutionally unable to play by my rules, as I have stated in my comment policy: when you are dealing with art, and the appreciation thereof, politics must take a backseat. At least if you want to have a worthwhile conversation. And then there are those who say, “I liked Charlton Heston BECAUSE of his politics” and that is just as idiotic. His work transcends. He was an actor, first and foremost, a “great pretender”. So talk about his work, please – there is plenty there to keep us chatting for 100 years at least! Nobody “owns” Charlton Heston. Nobody “owns” John Wayne. The most flaming liberal in the world could appreciate and love Red River, and those who put politics at the forefront are completely missing the point. What we are talking about here is love. And these actors who touch us, who get beneath our skins, who create something indelible … transcend all of that. The editors at National Review knew that, and so did Richard Dreyfuss.

I agree – and am awash in profound respect for a man that worked so tirelessly at the love he had for his craft, his country and its principles, and his family. Whose entire life is a monument to his love for all three.

As with Ronald Reagan (an underappreciated actor, albeit nowhere near Heston’s league), the different parts went together to make the whole man. You can – you have to, as Sheila correctly notes – appreciate them separately, and keep your art and your politics in separate silos. As Richard Dreyfus does, in the piece Sheila called out, and that you need to read. Written right after Heston’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s was made public five and a half years ago, it’s almost too full of perfect quotes. I’m going to grab two of them

I believe that films like Ben Hur were conceived because Heston was there to make them. He allowed these stories to be told because he was there to play the parts. …When I saw Charlton Heston as a kid, he took me far, far away, to places few actors could go. The only other American actor so comfortable outside of this era was Wayne, and Heston could time travel farther. Both held the magical alchemy that made me forget the commonplace of here and now completely. John Wayne allowed us into our American past. Heston, because of his perfectly male face, the depth of his voice, the measured almost antique rhythm of his speech, the oddly innocent commitment that allowed him to dive without looking into the role, took me farther, before the common era, as they say.

Somehow he was able to cut the myriad strings that connect us to our current lives, so he could inhabit our imagined past and imagined future so perfectly. So well did he do this that his discomfort was obvious when he played in the Now (actually, make that my discomfort, because he more than likely had a ball in the rare instances when he played something current). If it wasn’t the past it was the future. I could never have gotten to Ancient Rome without him, nor Ape City.


It has become fashionable to characterize his politics; almost as if his politics were a separate thing, like Diana’s popularity. People are either defensive or patronizing (if not contemptuous). I can only say I wish all the liberals and all the conservatives I knew had the class and forbearance he has. Would I be as patient or serene when so many had showed me such contempt, or tried to make me feel stupid or small? I doubt it, truly I do. This is dignity, simply and completely. A much more important quality than political passion at the end of the day, and far more lacking, don’t you think?

That may be the biggest thing to take away from Heston; to love what you do, to fight for what you believe in, to live a life you’re proud of, and to do it all with grace.

In remembering the man, his life, his accomplishments, his impact on this world – and as Dreyfus noted, the man in which they were all wrapped up and and coexisted so famously – you can note them all in parallel, and fondly remember them all.

And so I do.

And rest in peace, great American icon. You will not be forgotten.

I’ll take all of the Charlton Hestons. Thanks.

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Saving Your Soul

Humans have a deep-seated need to belong to something bigger.

And I’m not just talking about the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers, here. Bear with me – Ed and I were talking about this on the show on Saturday, and I’ve got this urge to elaborate. And we know how ugly that can get…


For most of history, that “something bigger” has meant “higher powers” and “eternity” – the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, Valhalla, Nirvana, whatever. Organized religion, for much of human history, has focused (or, depending on the religion and your point of view, exploited) that human need, for good (hope, charity, Haendel and Bach) or ill. Religion is a hot topic, one way or another, for most of the organized world’s people.

And part of being “part of something bigger” also means “being against something bigger and badder and on the other side”; to Christians, it’s evil in its many forms, from Satan to temptation to what-have-you.

After the left claimed God was Dead in the late 19th century, that human impetus didn’t go away, of course. People have exploited that human desire even as they denied the Higher Power that had been its focus.

Marxism replaced God with ineluctible forces of history. Lenin turned that academic notion into a pseud-messianic crusade, an overarching “something bigger” that subsumed all of Russian (and, to his warped little mind, world) society. Stalin, a former Orthodox seminarian with a keen understanding of how people work, expanded his cult of personality to Messianic proportions – lessons the likes of Mao, Castro, Kim Jong-Il, Idi Amin and Pol Pot (himself a former Buddhist monk) exploited. And of course, they replaced Evil with a variety of enemies – class enemies, countries, anti-cults, whomever.
Hitler learned from Lenin’s mistakes, and did him one better; rather than banning God and the thousands of years of communal tradition His worship brings along, he co-opted it. An atheist, he wrapped himself and his party in the traditions of German Lutheranism and the mythology of German Catholicism, and – more importantly – the overarching German notion of Volk. This concept is a hard one to explain to Americans – I minored in German, and I’m only familiar with its outer edges – but it’s an idea at the nexus of the German land, language and history; Blut und Boden (“Blood and Territory”) is a phrase as familiar to students of Volk as “Domini et filii et spiritus sanctus is to Catholics, something with a meaning far beyond the literal to the adherent. Volk goes well beyond folklore and tradition, and was a sort of meta-religious link to Germany’s pagan past, underpinning German life and faith and culture the way paganism is just behind the surface of Latin, African and Caribbean Catholicism.

And so rather than having to spend time and energy vanquishing thousands of years of folk tradition and religious teaching, all Hitler had to do was take advantage of it.

Volk aided Hitler in putting a Big Evil – Judaism – in front of the people, as well; the Volk tradition viewed life on the land as inherently more noble and valuable than life in the towns; it viewed town and city life as corrupt and ignoble. And it associated Jews with city life, and at its extremes blamed them for its ills and corruption. The Lutheran Church in Germany drew heavily on Volk tradition and mythology, while the Catholic Church of the day added its own level of anti-Semitism which, again, was ripe for Hitler’s picking in Germany and especially Poland.

But in all cases, in the USSR and Red China and Nazi Germany and to similar extents in fascist countries everywhere, there were Big Enemies to replace the ones they’d abolished.


Ed and I talked about Michelle Obama’s “Save the Nation’s Soul” speech on the Northern Alliance show last weekend (the podcast should be up soon). We called out this statement of Mrs. Obama’s:

And things have gotten progressively worse throughout my lifetime, through Democratic and Republican administrations, it hasn’t gotten better for regular folks. ….

We have lost the understanding that in a democracy, we have a mutual obligation to one another — that we cannot measure the greatness of our society by the strongest and richest of us, but we have to measure our greatness by the least of these. That we have to compromise and sacrifice for one another in order to get things done. That is why I am here, because Barack Obama is the only person in this who understands that. That before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation.

Ed’s response on the show was similar to what he wrote on his blog:

But it’s the notion that only Barack Obama can save our souls that is the most offensive part of the speech, by far. Government doesn’t exist to save souls; it exists to ensure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense. If I feel my soul needs saving, the very last place I’d look (in the US) for a savior would be Washington DC or Capitol Hill. I’ll trust God and Jesus Christ with my soul, and I’m not going to mistake Barack Obama for either one.

And my first reaction was similar; “Step off, ‘Chel.  My soul is between Christ and I”.

But it’s really a lot worse than rude presumption.  It’s not just that government is a lousy place to go for moral repair.  It’s that when govenrment tries to serve as a national soul, things break and people get hurt.
Fortunately, Jonah Goldberg just wrote an entire book on the subject, and the reaction to the book sparked a really great blog,  on which he writes;

Many of the tropes of a political religion/liberal fascism are evident. He exalts unity as it’s own reward. His talk of starting new and starting over often sounds like more than merely “turning the page” on the Bush-Clinton years. It sounds a bit like starting at Year Zero.

Which was the hallmark of Lenin and Mao; the past had to be wiped away (and its practitioners, real or imagined, sent to gulags) before the future could really get underway.

But what I find most intriguing is his rhetoric of destiny and “choseness.” He often makes it sound like he has been selected by forces of providence or God or simply history for this moment. He is, in Oprah’s words, “The One.” But even more interesting, he tells voters they are the ones. “This is it,” Obama proclaimed on Super Tuesday. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, we are the change that we seek.” That’s pretty oracular stuff.


Such a vision is comforting because it plays upon man’s inherent desire to belong, to be protected by his fellow man and his community. “Strength in numbers” is the narcotic of all populists, the logic of all “people powered movements” as leftwing bloggers like to say (though for reasons that defy easy analysis, the left has mastered the art of casting itself as the voice of the dissidents against the oppressive, stultifying “herd mentality” even as it places the group at the top of its hierarchy of political aesthetics). This is the motivating passion behind the fascist quest for order.

Sometimes it sounds like Obama wants to talk about God’s plan when he’s talking about his own campaign for a New Order. But most times, you can see that he wants to stay on the secular side of the divide — where his white base resides — but without giving up the prophetic vision. He wants to persuade his followers, and perhaps himself, that he is elect, but he cannot do so without religious language.

There’s much more, and you should just go read it.

I get leery of the likes of Mike Huckabee (note: not “Huckajesus”.  Just…no.  Don’t) and his rhetoric – but invoking ones’ personal, transparently-visible, well-known faith (anyone who thinks Christianity has a secret agenda has been sleeping for the past 2000 years) into the White House is both limted by the Constitution and mediated by the fact that it is completely open and transparent.  Most importantly, it’s a very different thing than turning the state into its own pseudo-religion.

The Harvest Home

I was a 20 year old college kid working a grindingly-boring Sunday afternoon shift at KQDJ Radio in Jamestown, ND on February 13, 1983.

I was doing what I usually did on those boring Sunday shifts; playing records, doing homework, taking transmitter readings.

Then, the police scanner in the “newsroom” next door, which normally burbled with the desultory reports of DWIs and bar fights and traffic stops that make up the lives of most small town cops, suddenly erupted.  There’d been a shootout; officers were down; cops and sheriff’s deputies were being dispatched to Medina, a town of about 400 people about 35 miles west of Jamestown on I94.

It took hours to untangle the story, which became perhaps the most famous crime in North Dakota history, the Medina Shootout.

Two US Marshals, dispatched from Fargo to try to arrest a group of tax-protesters affiliated with the neo-Nazi-sympathetic “Posse Comitatus”, had been killed in the shootout that ensued.  Their leader, Gordon Kahl, and several others fled the scene.  The scanner reported ambulances on their way to the hospital in Jamestown bringing the wounded, which included Yorie Kahl, criticially injured by a gunshot; in one of the many ironies that day, Kahl’s life was saved by the doctor on duty in the Emergency Room that day, Dr. Evan Kostick, father of my high school pal David (himself a doctor today), and one of Jamestown’s tiny Jewish community.

News organizations in North Dakota today are remembering the 25th anniversary of the shootout – the Fargo Forum led and leads the coverage; others from the Bismark Trib pitched in; former Forum staffer James Corcoran wrote “Bitter Harvest”, the definitive book on the event, relating not only the shootout and the apocalyptic trial of the survivors, but the social sturm und drang that the event caused on the Northern Plains.


Times were brutally tough in the Dakotas in the early ’80s.  The rest of the US was slowly recovering from a recession; it’d be hard to call what happened on the Plains anything less than a depression.  What the foreclosure crisis is to the inner city today, the farm crisis of the ’80s was to the Great Plains.

Some farmers – and some of the workers whose livelihoods depended on agriculture, which in North Dakota back then accounted for pretty much every job in the place – did what human nature naturally bids some people to do; blame someone else.  And for some – like Kahl and a thin film of like-minded people – it wasn’t a big leap from “losing your farm to the bank” and “losing your farm to Jewish Bankers”.  The Times’ review of “Bitter Harvest” notes:

The book that turned his head at an early age was ”The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem,” and it was written by Henry Ford.

It is based on a 1918 treatise called ”The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which purported to be the minutes of a cabal of Russian Jews plotting to destroy Christianity and the white race and take over the world. Ford wrote ”The International Jew” in 1920, and it was not until 1929 that he finally conceded that ”The Protocols” was a fabrication concocted by czarist Russian anti-Semites.

Even so, as a young man in the 1940’s, Mr. Kahl believed it totally. He had considerable encouragement. He came of age at a time when the velvet voice of the Rev. Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest who reached into almost as many homes with his weekly radio show as Fred Allen, broadcast some of the nastiest anti-Semitic propaganda ever heard on the airwaves; when Gerald L. K. Smith established the Jew-baiting Christian Nationalist Crusade in Arkansas and gained a national following, and when Gerald Winrod, an apocalyptic fundamentalist preacher in central Kansas gained tens of thousands of adherents to a movement that came to be known as the Jayhawk Nazis.

Winrod’s son, George Gordon Winrod, kept the ministry alive.  I remember his followers leaving corrosively anti-semitic leaflets under the windshield wipers of cars in the church parking lot when I was in ninth grade.

Nobody in my circle bought into it, of course – but we all knew people for whom it rang true.  There was an audience, out there.

And they – like Kahl – weren’t necessarily easily identifiable:

When Mr. Kahl came home from World War II, he was 25 years old, and he was regarded as a hero. He had shot down 10 enemy planes as a turret gunner on B-25’s, and he had won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, two air medals, a Presidential unit citation and two Purple Hearts. That was not all the metal he brought home. Surgeons never did get out all the shrapnel he took in the jaw, chest and hip.

So the combination of hard times and ready scapegoats found some adherents.


Kahl escaped that day; with two federal agents dead, the federal law-enforcement machinery sprung into place.  Two blocks from the house where my father still lives in Jamestown, in Stutsman County’s then-brand-new courthouse, the FBI and an alphabet soup of other federal law-enforcement agencies set up their command post; local hotels were jammed with brusque men and women in sharp suits and/or, occasionally, battledress utilities.

And they were not happy.  Rumors began to circulate; the Feds were tramping about the prairie with big, nasty boots; they were conducting no-knock raids, presuming the locals guilty until proven innocent, acting like a hostile occupying power – or so said the rumors.

The previous summer, I’d worked at KDAK, a little station in Carrington, a town of about 2,000 about 40 miles north of Jamestown.   The station had also just hired a new “News Director”, a pretty mid-20-something named Peggy Polreis who’d just come from Carrington’s newspaper.  One of my jobs had been to make her broadcast-worthy.  I did a good job.

One day, a few days after the shootout, Peggy got a tip from a source that the Feds were going to search a farmhouse near nearby Fessenden.  She arrived on the scene to find that the press were being cordoned away from a farmhouse located a solid half-mile up the road, behind a shelter belt.

Peggy slipped away from the group, and crawled – so the story went – a quarter of a mile along the shelter belt, keeping out of sight of the cops.  She was, apparently, the only non-cop to see what happened.

The police – and, as I recall, a North Dakota National Guard armored personnel carrier – had surrounded the farmhouse.  A dog darted from an outbuilding; a policeman shot the dog dead.  The gunshot sparked more gunfire, and before long the farmhouse was completely riddled with bullet holes.  Finally, the police moved in…

…to discover the farmhouse empty.

It was one of many incidents that angered, and occasionally alienated, the locals from the Feds.


How you look at the events of that winter (and the ensuing spring and summer, when the manhunt for Kahl led to a final shootout in Arkansas that left Kahl and another Christian Identity supporter dead) depends on who, and where, you were back then.

If you were a local, you knew that North Dakotans tend to be good, law-abiding people; they’ve voted Republican in pretty much every Presidential election since statehood, making them marginally less conservative than Utah.  And yet the Posse, and Christian Identity, found recruits and adherents – and it was no mystery why.  Radical fringes were no stranger to the plains; the Non-Partisan League, the Grangers, the Bund and other fevered activists had gestated in the area in response to other crises since the 1890’s.

So we weren’t surprised that some of the locals were sympathetic.  It was a minority – a small one – but it drew attention.  One of them even wrote and recorded – on a home cassette player, I think – a song praising and rooting for Kahl, during the manhunt and before the final fatal shootout in Arkansas.  It got a little play – mostly from news organizations who were reporting on the acceptance Kahl, the Posse and other extremists got from the area.

If you weren’t from the area, and didn’t understand it, it must have seemed odd.  And maybe a little scary.


Hollywood certainly knows nothing of the area, and understands less about it.  But that didn’t stop it from making a made-for-TV movie, based rather loosely on Bitter Harvest, in 1991.  Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas starred Rod Steiger as Kahl, and Michael “Family Ties” Gross as an FBI agent from New York who flew to the state to help solve the crime.

The show got the basic facts right; the names, the places (most of the show was putatively set in Jamestown), the timeline (sort of).

But the Hollywood take on the area, and the locals, was bemusingly warped.  Part of it was the Central Casting version of small-town people; although North Dakota is a place where you can hear the Fargo accent (“Yah, sure, you betcha”) in a hundred little main street cafes and bars, the show had the local farmers speaking with cornpone Arklahoma drawls.  The locals, to Hollywood, were out of Gomer Pyle or, given the sinistry of the subject matter, maybe Deliverance.

Worse?  While there was support for Kahl (and even more criticism of the Feds’ heavy-handedness, arrogance, and occasional contempt for due process in the way they carried out the manhunt in the immediate wake of the shootout), Manhunt in the Dakotas showed something that was almost an active guerilla movement, with rocks and shots aimed at passing police cars, threats, Gross (and Larry Hunt as “Chief Walters”, a composite and sympathetic Jamestown police chief) being harrassed while driving in the countryside, and – in the movie’s climactic scene – the two walking, nervous, down “Jamestown”‘s main street as the “local radio station” played the pro-Kahl song (with a cheery intro from the DJ), both of them keenly aware of the hateful gazes of the locals (by now all of them seemingly Kahl-sympathizers) boring through them both, as if they were fully-bedsheeted Klansmen scurrying through Compton.

It was crap, of course, factually (no station in the state played the song, except as news) as well as socially (Jamestown is a college town of 16,000 that hosts a state hospital, and a school for the profoundly disabled, where Kahl had little traction; Kahl’s base of support was out on the isolated drift prairie).  But it was interesting, seeing how inscrutable “flyover land” was to the people who actually produce these things, and the almost-superstitious fear the place engenders.


That part of North Dakota is a huge place in terms of the land and the sky; the human geography is much smaller.  In the 22-odd years since I left the place, whenever I meet other expats, it’s hard to go more than thirty seconds without finding a common acquaintance.

It’s the same with events.  Besides Dr. Kostick, and Peggy Polreis, I knew Darrell Graf – Medina’s police chief at the time (and Graf has actually turned up on this blog) and people in his family.  Scott Kopp was another – a guy I remember as a Stutsman County deputy who lost a finger from a Kahl shot that could have done much worse.  Another guy – a Medina cop who was on the periphery of the action – was my friend’s sister’s boyfriend (and, the last I checked, husband of about twenty years).

The internet can make you acquainted with even more people.  Scott Faul – one of the Posse members who was arrested, tried and did prison time for his role in the shootout – has a blog.

Twenty five years is a long time, even out there.  But memories are longer still.

How Many Fetuses Fit On The Head Of A Pin?

While I think my parents thought I might grow up to be an academic, I turned off that track bright and early. One of the things that sparked that swerve was the notion that you could – and many would-be professors do – slave away for years and years, and are still not really considered professors until they get “tenure”. Until they got tenure, life was an endless parade of crummy jobs, moving constantly, being treated like (by academic standards) crap.

I preferred the much more stable world of radio.

The point, of course, was that life on the academic track was nasty, brutish, and tenuous – until one achieved that magical state of tenure.

Which was, if nothing else (in theory) a fairly objective state. Either one had it, or one did not, and one usually knew what was required to get it. It was pretty black or white.

Some of life’s issues break out like that – with a black or white answer. Others, not so much.

And with still others, it really depends on how you come to the issue.


Abortion’s never been my biggest topic. The way I figure, if we lose the war on terror, the Planned Parenthood staff and the Pro-Life Minnesota staff are both pretty well screwed. If this nation isn’t secure, none of us will be protesting at abortion clinics; if the nation is prosperous (ergo Republican), people will be either financially secure enough to want the babies, or working too hard to have sex enough to make it an issue.

Make no mistake about it, I’m pro-life. I think abortion is wrong. A pro-“choice” dogmatist will try to read some big pathology about “wanting to control women” into that. It’s garbage, of course; with two teenagers, I realize that my odds of “controlling” anyone are slim to nil.

No, it’s because I value human life and because being pro-“choice” involves a leap of faith that I can’t justify.

That’s right. The “anti-religious” stance on abortion requires the leap.

Bear with me here.

Last week, I was reading Jeff Fecke,writing over at “Shakespeare’s Sister”, your one-stop shop for shrill, skin-deep “feminism”. Now, I’ll admit – I’ve given Fecke a hard time this last year or so; partly due to things like this, sometimes for things like this, and largely for his nonpareil skills as a single-A-league Atrios impersonator.  Sometimes I read, sometimes I ignore.

But since he refers to me (later on), I figured it was worth a read.

My memory was tripped by this Monday quote from Mark Steyn. Ordinarily you’d expect he’d be saying something about how the Muslims have taken Oberammergau,

Given the influence of John Stewart on the left’s sense of humor, in a generation no liberal will be able to dismiss an opposing idea without some sort of labored exaggeration. I may hold a telethon.

But I digress:

but on Monday, he decided to take a break, and instead defend the stalking of a 12-year-old boy and his family:

Michelle Malkin reports that the blogospheric lefties are all steamed about the wingnuts’ Swiftboating of sick kids, etc.

Sorry, no sale. The Democrats chose to outsource their airtime to a Seventh Grader. If a political party is desperate enough to send a boy to do a man’s job, then the boy is fair game. [Emphasis mine]

“Fair game.” Now where had I heard that before?

I’m tempted to answer “the same place the writer learned – or didn’t learn – about context”.

But never mind; we’re about to find out!

Back in May, my friend and then-editor at Minnesota Monitor, Robin Marty, announced she was expecting a child. It was great news for Robin and her husband Steve, and obviously those of us who know them were happy for them.Now, Robin was and is a longtime supporter of abortion rights. Something about women having the right to determine what happens in their own bodies.

Well, let’s cut the euphemism; abortion rights is the ability for women to (depending on your point of view) destroy an inconvenient (or, rarely, dangerous) tissue mass, or destroy a human that can’t quite exist outside the womb yet.

Everyone can “control what happens to their own bodies”; it’s called “wearing a rubber”, “taking precautions”, “being aware that sex has consequences”, or – heaven/goddess/physiology forfend – keeping your clothes on.

The usual response is “sex shouldn’t be tied to having kids”. And it’s there that pro-life and pro-“choice” people split.

We’ll get back to that very shortly.

Anyhow, like many pro-choice women, Robin was still able to enjoy her pregnancy, knowing that even though it was early in her term, the fetus that she carried was going, eventually, to grow into her child.This is, of course, something those of us who are pro-choice get.

I remember that moment back when my daughter was in about her 25th week, when I was almost certain she was going to be a Crock Pot. The funny part was, I felt the same thing about my son!

I’m not quite sure what Fecke means by this; as a pro-life father of two, I most definitely knew my kids were – God or physiology or blind capricious fate willing – going to grow into the vexing, voracious teenagers they are today. Does he really think that there’s something about being OK with abortion that grants some special perspective on rearing children?

I’m willing to chalk it all up to sloppy writing – Fecke is nothing if not reliably imprecise. If, on the other hand, that is what he (or any other pro-“choice” person) believes – well, I’d love to hear more.

Let’s chalk it up to “sloppy writing” and ignore the digression and move on:

I knew that at one month, two months, even four months, my daughter really didn’t exist yet.

Let’s stop right here – since it does, in fact, illuminate the entire difference between the sides in this “debate”.  The overarching question is “when does life begin”; the empirical answer is “we don’t know yet”.  To the pro-life person, the response is “err on the side of life, since life is absolutely sacred”.  To the pro-choice person, it is…

…whatever it takes to support the fundamentally political thesis that undergirds the pro-“choice” movement.  In other words, a leap of faith.

Let’s start at the beginning.

A fertilized egg – without the aid of any medical intervention, either either caring for it or “terminating” it – will spontaneously abort itself, or “miscarry”, about 1/4 of the time.

And in places with no medical care whatsoever – including Minnesota, not much over 100 years ago, during our great-great-grandparents’ lifetimes – a child was 1/3 likely to die in childbirth, or within the first year thereafter.

Thus – without any aid (or assault) from medicine – a conceived egg left to its’ own devices has a 50-50 chance of becoming a living, breathing, independent human being, through a process that exists for no other reason than to create human beings, using physiology that – pleasurable and species-reinforcing side-effects aside – exists purely to create more human beings. Human beings that need some help getting started – a place to quickly evolve, we hope, from zygote to fetus to baby.

To the pro-“life” person, the implication is that one of sex’s consequences is that, if the right sperm meets the right egg, the couple – fella and dame – are entering into something that transcends either of their own lives, much less their own bodies; the creating of another human being, who will – physiology or God or remorseless chance willing – will one day be just like us, only maybe a little better. Because sex has such far-reaching, legitimately life-altering consequences, we alter our behavior accordingly – we abstain (even to the point of abjuring sex outside of marriage), or we are extra-cautious, believing as we do that a “fetus” is something that might not be “viable”, per se, but that is intended to be viable (knowing also that no “fetus” is “viable” until it can hold a job and pay its rent), and which is imbued with a moral significance by the very fact that it is intended to be human one day. Something we have no more right to extinguish for being inconvenient than a hospital has to euthanize intensive care patients (who, indeed, are often no more capable of living outside the ICU than a 18 week old fetus is of living outside the womb.
To a pro-“choice” person, the zygote is a mass of tissue until – at some hard-to-determine point that nonetheless seems to usually swerve to the side of convenience, including up to the moments before birth in all-too-many cases – it isn’t.

In summation: cohesive view about the role of reproduction in life and the ethical and place of the “fetus” in that process, versus belief in a mystical change in state from “tissue mass” to “human” that takes place…when? When the head comes out? When the “fetus” gets past the earliest point medical science has been able to sheperd a preemie to life? When government, in the infinite wisdom of a body of people who eschew studying either science of philosophy for the here-and-now noodling of the law, says it turns into a human?

Given that, wouldn’t it be much more fair to say that “given my attachment to the notion of this mystical unknown threshold, I believed she didn’t really exist yet”. Because you have no objective, empirical measurement – nothing analogous to, say, “it exists”. Such a belief is, objectively, no more grounded in fact than belief in a flat earth or Ron Paul.

And – since this post moves on to talk about thresholds for taking offense at satire – Fecke should be aware that the notion that a fetus “doesn’t exist” is no less objectionable than saying a profoundly handicapped child or a comatose person “doesn’t exist”.

Had my ex-wife suffered a miscarriage, we would have been sad, of course, but I know in my bones that we would not grieve the way we would…well, let me put it this way. I can type “if my ex-wife suffered a miscarriage.” I can’t even bring myself to type out the hypothetical that would apply to my daughter now. The mere thought makes me sick to my stomach. If anything happened to my daughter, a part of me would die, forever. I would never be the same, and I would never want to be. Had my ex suffered a miscarriage? It would have been sad, and we would have grieved for the idea of the child we’d expected.

Which is true, as far as it goes; every day of my then-wife’s pregnancy, I hoped and prayed for her health, and theirs – just as I hope God or blind cruel fate keeps the drunk drivers and diseases and random tragedies at bay for them. I hoped for this before they were born, and as they’ve grown and turned into people with personalities with whom I have three combined decades of history, it’s only grown.

But – this is rather important – that’s a matter of human nature, a sign that you are a fairly normal parent.  One has developed attachments and history with a seven year old; with a “fetus”, there are only hopes.
It’s not an objective metric about the beginning of life.

This is a roundabout way of saying that one can believe a fetus is not yet a person, and still be excited about pregnancy.

Abortion is, obviously, one of the most contentious issues there is. Like many such issues, there is a hard core of 10% on the right that wants it banned and criminalized, and 10% on the far left that wants to make it a civil sacrament. In between, there are an awful lot of shades of belief, including many – myself included – who are fundamentally libertarian, but believe personally that life begins at conception and that a “fetus” – given the fate that God or physiology or remorseless fate has in mind for at least half of them if you leave them alone – is attended with a little more moral gravity than a toenail or a plantar’s wart, and that just because God or evolution or what-have-you has set things up so that that incipient life form needs a female uterus for a few months isn’t a sign of its lack of ethical and moral weight, but a sign of how much weight the whole idea of physiology, sex, pregnancy, reproduction and men and women themselves have in the great scheme of things.

Is it a belief? Yes. Not much different than “a fetus is a blob of tissue until we really want it not to be.

Which ties us, at long last, into the real subject of this post – something that was even more contentious than the abortion issue itself, at least among regional bloggers, few months back:

And Robin was. So like any good blogger, she posted an image of the first ultrasound.

At this point, enter Tom Swift, crazy Minnesota blogger and erstwhile GOP candidate for school board in St. Paul. (I won’t link to him, and if he finds his way back here, Melissa, terminate him with extreme prejudice.) [As good a symbol of gutlessness as I’ve seen, really – Ed] He blogs under the name Swiftee, and he created an image to welcome Robin and Steve’s child into the world:

You get it? Because Robin was pro-choice, she might decide to abort the child she wrote about, so let’s get it some protection.

Not to speak for Tom Swift – a person who truly needs nobody to speak for him – but that is the most overdramatic possible reading of his point.

What was his point? Maybe that any “fetus” – not Robin’s, in particular, or not just hers – might have reason to be nervous, since the same consciousness that decides he or she is important enough to carry to birth can change his or her mind. Or maybe – given the number of people who don’t credit a fetus with “existence” until the umbilical is cut – that given the existence of partial birth abortion the “fetus” is never really safe. Maybe that a mythical, cognitive “fetus”, lacking an objective, hard-wired standard like “Tenure” that’d cause his/her parents (in general, not Rew and Smartie) to consider him/her a real person, isn’t any safer than that non-tenured professor – except the fetus isn’t going to wind up teaching freshman literature at Normandale if he/she doesn’t make the convenience cut.

Caustic, tactless and very, very pointed? Sure. Not that that’s ever really stopped anyone from ripping on commentators before.
But we’ll come back to that.

That’s not the interesting part of the story, though. Swiftee’s image got those of us on the left seething, but we let it go, primarily because we don’t want to give him the traffic. But that seething got back to local blogger Mitch Berg, who styles himself as a “reasonable conservative,” someone who believes in hitting his opponents hard, but fairly. And Mitch’s response to Swiftee was what I remembered:

Is Robin and Smarty’s baby “fair game” for satirists, given that

1. she put the ultrasound out on her public website, and
2. she and her colleagues from the “Minnesota Monitor” rentablog she “edits” have stumped for abortion on demand and partial birth abortion, and fumed and phumphered when the SCOTUS shot the procedure down?

Well, I’d say “I hope not” – but of course, in the world of internet “cartoonists”[…]pretty much everything is fair game. If there’s an unflattering or embarassing pic of yourself out there somewhere online, it’s going to pop up sooner or later, intended to dink at some belief of yours or another.

So – did Swiftee “cross a line” with his cartoon? What line? Where? In the coarse thrum of the political blogging interchange, I’m not sure there’s a line left anymore; any line one person draws is someone else’s sport to cross, and ones’ best bet is to strictly separate the personal and the public (as, indeed, I do). The one that civil people try to observe when dealing with one another…

Very Pilate-like, Mitch was. But it was that line — “fair game” — that caught my memory. Mitch styles himself as reasonable, but if you cross out the official hemming and hawing, [I’m official? Who knew? Did anyone catch my title? – Ed] Mitch’s meaning is clear: heck yes, the child of Robin and Steve is fair game. If you can make a political point by attacking the Martys, then by all means, go for it.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

Here’s something else I wrote about the whole flap last spring – something that reveals a lot more about my side of this flap than the bit Fecke chose to quote:

A fetus baby with a helmet. It’s kinda funny, if you don’t know the people involved. Still funny when you do, but it makes me a little uneasy. I generally prefer to keep politics impersonal. And yet it’s hard to look at, say, this (not safe for work or queasy stomachs; it’s the end-result of a “partial birth abortion”, and it’s horrific) and not want to make it very personal and not-abstract-at-all for those who support it.

One thing that most of us who favor free speech accept as a given is that nobody has a right not to be offended. Many of us – myself included, and the orthodox Catholic Tom Swift even more so – are offended by the existence of abortion, especially the partial-birth variety, via which parents not a whole lot different than Rew or Smartie could decide that the baby, as Fecke noted at the beginning of this post, “didn’t exist yet”.

Did it bother me that Swift took a photo from someone I actually know, like and respect? Of course it did. I like the Martys. I wish ’em the best; I’d be pleased as punch to bring a basket of garf rags (cloth diapers), A’nD and Desenex to the baby shower. I also think that, as people who’ve assumed the role of public figures (when Rew took on the job of editing the local sorosblog “Minnesota Monitor”) they were nuts to put any part of themselves or family life out in public. I’ve been a “public figure” of one sort or another since I started in radio when I was 16; I’ve had anti-semitic death threats (I’m not Jewish), I’ve had stalkers (and still do, although they’re really not very smart ones) – and so I keep my kids, my job, my girlfriends (when I have one) and their kids religiously out of this blog and everything else I write. Partly because anything you do put out there is “fair game”; partly because the concept of “fair game” is unfair.

Tom Swift is also a friend, someone I know and respect – but to call him a “bull in a china shop” is to underestimate a bull’s tact, as least on the blog. He’s the kind of person every pro-“choice” activist wishes would just shut up and go away.

And while I wish that the world – and its agent, in this case, Tom Swift – had left Rew and Smartie’s ultrasound pictures alone, and that this flap wouldn’t have involved two sets of friends of mine (and that puppies didn’t die, for that matter), the fact is that Swiftee was right. It was perfectly-aimed satire – and for left-leaning public figures (as Fecke is) to barber that it’s “tasteless” opens us all up to an endless dissertation about “tasteless” satire that the left defends even more blythely on principle, and with even less consideration, with counterexamples and counter-counterexamples, ad infinitum.

It sucks that it involved people I know.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Fecke post without the jump from out-of-context to unsupportable:

What is happening to the Frosts is not unusual, and not unique. It happened to Melissa and Amanda when they had the temerity to be women with opinions who wanted to work in politics

Who had made a blogging career out of saying some things that were every bit as objectionable as Fecke finds Swiftee, and which a bunch of unpaid conservative bloggers had the “temerity” to point out to people. That’s what we do. To paint Melissa Macewan and Amanda Marcotte as hapless victims is both a crime against context and, oddly, intensely anti-feminist.

It happened to John Murtha, who had the unmitigated gall to be an anti-war ex-Marine. It’s happened over and over, and will happen over and over again.

Just ask Gennifer Flowers!

Mitch was right: there is no line anymore, at least for the right. Everyone is “fair game.”… If they can attack a woman using her own ultrasound records for the sin of being both pro-choice and an excited expectant mother, they will do it.

Leave aside Fecke’s sloppy use of the omnipresent “they”, as if right wing bloggers are part of some monolithic medusa controlled by some central brain, and the irritating victim-mongering. Let’s shoot for honesty, here (on the off-chance that any of Fecke’s audience read this) – nobody “attacked” Robin.

And if the “fetus” “doesn’t exist” as a person yet – that was Fecke’s line, remember – then where’s the attack?

I’ll ignore all criticism, by the way – I think I’ll adopt Jeff’s “I know you’re not really a person” as a defense…

Continue reading

The Real Victims?

It was eight years ago last Saturday that the FBI ended its 24 year manhunt for Kathleen Soliah, who’d been living in Saint Paul as Sarah Jane Olson for a couple of decades.  Married to a local doctor who professed unawareness (successfully, even though he’d been a student radical in the sixties as well) that he’d been harboring a fugitive involved in a a murder and conspiracy to blow up police cars with the cops still in them.

She was arrested in leafy, “Leave It To Beaver”-esque Highland Park, where she’d lived for most of two decades.

The incident uncovered an old, fermenting rift in Twin Cities’ society; people who believed that since Olson/Soliah had spent two decades working as a politically-correct, ultraliberal DFL pseudo-radical, active in pro-“choice” and gun control and getting out the vote for far-left DFL candidates, that she’d more than paid her penance for her role in a conspiracy that, after all, had been back in the seventies when everyone was doing it, or wanted to, versus people who believed laws were for everyone.

On the first side; many of the Saint Paul DFL’s leading lights, who pitched in hundreds of thousands of dollars for Olson/Soliah’s legal defense fund and insisted loudly, sometimes shrilly, that Olson had more than paid her debt to society by just plain being her.

Tara McKelvey interviews Fred Peterson and Sophia Peterson, Olson/Soliah’s husband and daughter, in Marie Claire.

 I am prepared for some version of radical when I walk into the Highland Grill, a diner in downtown St. Paul, where I am meeting Fred Peterson for the first time. Instead, I get Middle America academic: Sitting patiently in a booth, Fred is wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a long-sleeved, black shirt. His gray-speckled beard matches his shaggy gray-brown hair, which is casually brushed off his forehead. I am surprised that daughter Emily has come with him. Slender, with long eyelashes, heavy mascara, and thick hair reaching past her shoulders, Emily maintains a defensive posture. On the subject of the SLA’s radicalism, she says, “Back then, everyone was.”

At 26, Emily is almost the same age as her mother was during the raid in ’74. “She lived in Berkeley,” Emily says, trying to explain her mother’s affiliation with the SLA. “It was kind of normal.”

I’m starting to see the problem here; it won’t be the last time.

Dr. and Sophia Peterson on the shootout that killed six SLA members:

 “That became Sara’s private business,” says Fred. “The LAPD massacre of the SLA was a bellwether event-the first televised SWAT team -” “Team murder,” Emily interrupts.

On harboring a fugitive – knowingly or not – for 20 years, former SDS member Peterson:

“You know, The Fugitive Becomes a Soccer Mom. They’re all stereotypical images of deceit. None of that applies when you’re just living a life and raising kids. People would say to me, ‘How could you accommodate such a depraved criminal mind? How can you live with the knowledge of what happened in the past?’ It captures the American psychodrama. But it was not real.”

I wonder if it was real for Myrna Opsahl’s?  Opsahl, whose death at the hands of those who became “unreal” fugitives, including Fred Peterson’s wife, was fobbed off by the SLA’s Emily Harris (as quoted by Patty Hearst) with the following statement:

Oh, she’s dead, but it really doesn’t matter. She was a bourgeois pig anyway. Her husband is a doctor. He was at the hospital where they brought her.”

Maybe Sophia Peterson never read that statement:

“I always tell people she wasn’t a terrorist. She was an urban guerrilla,” says Emily, smearing Blistex on her lips while waiting for the waitress to return. Like her mother, Emily has long hair and pale skin-a classic beauty. Today, she’s wearing a pink blouse that’s peeking out from beneath a worn, black leather jacket.

Along with her looks, she’s inherited her mother’s passion for social issues, working as a Head Start teacher with homeless 3- and 4-year-olds from a Minneapolis shelter to help them prepare for kindergarten. “It’s hard,” she says. “A lot of these kids don’t even have coats or boots.”

But on the other hand, most of their mothers weren’t slaughtered by ideologues, either.

 Let me digress here; I remember seeing the photos of the Peterson girls – and Dr. Peterson, for that matter – around the time of the arrest.  I figured there’s no way Dr. Peterson didn’t know she was a fugitive, especially when I heard about his background in the SDS.  But my heart went out to the kids, who were in their early and late teens at the time.  They didn’t ask for any of this.  Did they?

Well, not at the time.  But it seems to be a family legacy; a second generation of children of immense privilege wrapping themselves in phony “revolution” and…


“In the end,” she says of Olson’s sentencing, “we had to watch our mother be pulled away by two big cops. The aftereffects have been debilitating. I don’t know if people can understand that.” …Sophia comes back downstairs and tells me no one can understand the suffering her family has experienced. She has a flair for drama: Describing her mother’s reaction to the second World Trade Center tower collapsing, Sophia places her hand over her heart and slouches toward the ground: “She said, ‘I’m screwed.'”

On the one hand, I can’t imagine the trauma. 

On the other hand, I know one family who can.  Perhaps young Sophia needs to talk to these people – the family of Myrna Opsahl, the woman that their mother was convicted of murdering.  Click on the link and read the entire site – including all the damning evidence against Soliah/Olson – before you go assigning too much sympathy.

As to Sophie Peterson’s 9/11 tableau – perhaps that was one “good” side-affect of the terrorist attacks; never again, G-d willing, would middle America look at terrorists with the same gauzy, soft focus that Soliah’s generation handed down to us.

I don’t know where Nick Coleman stood on Soliah/Olson eight years ago – I was busy with other things, and not reading him regularly in those pre-blog days – but he makes an appearance:

“She betrayed the people who befriended her by having lived this secret life. Her family and her friends have suffered incredibly,” he says. “At some point, you have to face these charges. And even though she had a family, the only honorable way out of this dilemma was to turn herself in. I’m kind of mad about it, to be honest.”

But as all of us who live in St. Paul remember, it was the smug moral equivocation of Soliah/Olson’s fellow Highland Park DFL cronies that set the tone of the day.  Prominent DFL politicians led the fund-raising and the demands that justice be set aside for one of their own who’d proved herself, if not repentant for murdering Myrna Opsahl and plotting to kill Los Angeles cops with firebombs, at least a good DFLer.  A pre-Powerline John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson wrote a seminal excoriation of this crew, “Kathy’s Clowns“, in the American Enterprise back in the winter of ’99:

The local response to her arrest was a vast outpouring of support. Democratic state legislators and former St. Paul mayoral candidates Andy Dawkins and Sandy Pappas were her most outspoken and visible defenders. Pappas, for whom Soliah had raised campaign funds, attacked the FBI for tracking her down and wondered aloud, “Don’t they have any real crimes to fight?” It is difficult to imagine what crimes Ms. Pappas considers more “real” than murder, bank robbery, and attempted murder. Welfare reform, perhaps.Dawkins’ comments on the case were equally bizarre. He has invoked events from Selma, Alabama to Kent State in defense of Ms. Soliah, as though they could somehow explain why it was reasonable to rob banks, assault bank customers, kill Myrna Opsahl, and attempt to murder war veterans and policemen. Dawkins says that the allegations against Soliah, if true, represent “a momentary lapse in judgment.”It is perhaps not surprising that Soliah would receive support from Democratic officeholders of the flakier sort. What is more surprising is the undeniable grass-roots movement that has emerged on her behalf. Soliah’s friends and allies have produced a cookbook containing her favorite recipes, held benefits to demonstrate their support, and raised $1 million to bail her out of jail. Local church groups and the “theater community,” in which Soliah was active, have rallied to her defense.

No less interesting than the magnitude of Soliah’s support are the virtues with which her advocates credit her. She is described as a “Democratic activist,” “a true humanitarian,” a “social activist, marathon runner, volunteer and soccer mom,” an actress who hosts fund raisers for Democratic candidates, a gourmet cook who “is involved in every peace and justice issue that comes along.” Peace and justice. Soliah’s brother encapsulated her defense in these words: “There’s not this dichotomy between what Kathy was and what she is now. She was doing the same things in the early ’70’s.” Terrorist or soccer mom; there’s not much difference, from a leftist point of view, as long as you’re devoted to “peace and justice.”

But eight years later, some of the neighbors – the “clowns” – still haven’t gotten the word (emphasis added):

Olson was a “spectacular artist,” says a friend and member of their church.  [A community theater colleague] recalls how Olson used to appear in local theater productions. “That woman does have charisma. To this day, it doesn’t really make sense to me. She’s a very gentle person. I think what Sara is guilty of is having made a bad choice of friends.”

Not a woman who needs redeeming, then?

“Redemption?” she shakes her head. “For Sara, I don’t see any – she was already rehabilitated, if that needed to be done. She’s [in prison] to be punished.”

 “If that needed to be done”.

McKelvey closes the piece:

It’s 11 o’clock at night, hours after my visit with Sophia at the family home. In my hotel room, I log on to my computer. I’m surprised to find an e-mail from her. In a heated, 17-line message, she says she wants nothing more to do with the article. It’s an emotional outpouring, and she sounds angry and paranoid-convinced I will distort her version of events…I wonder why she has decided to tell me this now. She’d known for weeks about the story; my business card was tacked up on her bulletin board.

Fred, too, retreated after our meeting in the diner, though in less explosive terms, expressing mixed feelings about the “tough questions” I’d asked. “Sara would express caution for sure-if not be outright chagrined,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Thanks for dinner?”

Via e-mail, I ask Emily if I can see her again. She wrote back this: “We, as a family, have experienced a deep hardship and sadness with our mother being away from us. About meeting with you on Sunday, I will have to see if I feel up to it on that day. I have your cell phone.”

She never called.

Kudos to McKelvey, who left the big questions – “do these people really believe all this everyone was doing it crap?” – for us to answer for ourselves.

(Thanks to commenter for the pointer)