Crusade: Racial and religious exclusivism in George Bush’s America

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“. . . this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.”

 

President George W. Bush, September 16, 2001

 

On a recent Friday, American flags and red, white, and blue streamers waved proudly in the breeze in Vidor, Texas, as hundreds of East Texans turned out for a “Support our Troops” rally at the Vidor High School football stadium.

 

Whether the Vidor rally was one of many across the USA reportedly arranged by managers of radio stations owned by San Antonio-based media giant Clear Channel Communications, Inc., which has strong ties to the Bush administration and the Republican Party, is unclear.  Clear Channel Vice Chair Thomas Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1998 in a lucrative deal that made then-Texas governor and Rangers part owner George W. Bush a multi-millionaire.  Clear Channel, which operates some 1,225 radio and 40 television stations in the United States and advertises itself as “a leading promoter, producer and marketer of live entertainment events,” owns at least two radio stations in nearby Beaumont, Texas.

 

According to the Enterprise, Beaumont’s daily newspaper, Vidor rally organizers said they didn’t intend to make a statement about the war, but “many of those attending the afternoon rally denounced anti-war demonstrators for being unpatriotic.”

 

Clear Channel has denied ordering its station managers to organize the rallies, but one thing is certain: whoever chose Vidor as a rally site had a finger on the pulse of George Bush’s crusade and the xenophobic ignorance and racial and religious exclusivism that drive it.

 

A Ku Klux Klan stronghold for nearly a century, Vidor is still home to members of active Klan organizations today.  One of them, the White Camelia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, espouses a Christian Identity racial ideology and a theology based on interpretations of selected Old and New Testament passages used to support claims that the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, and Scandinavian peoples are “God’s chosen people, Israel.”  The White Camelia Knights’ periodic fundraising and recruiting drives in Vidor typically include the sale of peanut brittle at literature tables set up outside the doors of the local Wal-Mart, evidence that such Klan groups and the attitudes they represent enjoy significant popular support in George Bush’s Texas.

 

Located near the Louisiana border, Vidor has long been proud of its well-earned national reputation for overt hostility toward African Americans and other people of color.  Well into the 1960s, crude hand-lettered signs posted on local highways in Vidor informed travelers: NIGGER DON’T LET THE SUN SET ON YOU HERE.  The signs were a reminder that hooded Klansmen still roamed the night when they felt the need to do so.  Vidor’s racist history dates back to the turn of the previous century when the town was founded and named after C.S. Vidor, a local lumber magnate and, in a somewhat ironic twist, father of Hollywood film director King Vidor, whose anti-war classic, The Big Parade (1925), was MGM’s most successful film prior to Gone With the Wind.

 

Overt discrimination against people of color has long been and remains an accepted facet of everyday life in Vidor.  In 1994, then-U.S. Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Henry Cisneros called on federal marshals, FBI agents, and police to force compliance with public housing laws in Vidor.  HUD housing in Vidor had never been opened to African-Americans because of Klan intimidation, the inaction of the local public housing authority, and the community’s long history of violence against Blacks.  With the assistance of federal law enforcement authorities, Cisneros personally led the effort to move some Black families into Vidor’s federally-funded public housing, but the integration effort, only marginally successful, came at a high cost.  One African-American male, harassed and driven out of his HUD apartment in Vidor, was later found murdered in Beaumont.  Speculation surrounding the murder said the Klan or Klan sympathizers were involved.  In April 1994, White supremacist Edith Marie Johnson was sentenced to 40 hours of community service after pleading guilty to threatening to shoot any Black who moved into Vidor’s all-white public housing facility.

 

More recently, Jasper, Texas, a county seat an hour or so north of Vidor, came to the world’s attention after three White supremacists chained a Black man, James Byrd Jr., to the back of a pick-up truck and dragged him to dismemberment and death.  The macabre 1998 murder and the resulting trial, which galvanized the nation’s attention for a time and resulted in two sentences of death and one of life imprisonment, led directly to political efforts to enact a hate crimes law in Texas.  When the Texas House of Representatives passed the bill, 83-61, it seemed that something good might come of the racist murder.  Then-governor George Bush promised to consider the bill if the state Senate passed it, but Bush and his Republican colleagues managed to keep the bill tied up in committee in the Senate.  Bush, who was preparing to run for president, could not afford to be viewed as friendly to hate crimes legislation by his political base in Texas and across the South.  When Byrd’s daughter, Renee Mullins, traveled to Austin to plead for passage of the bill, Bush initially refused to meet with her.  U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson was eventually able to arrange a meeting, and Bush is reported to have reacted to Mullins’ personal plea awkwardly, with icy disdain.  Her meeting with Bush left Mullins in tears.  Texas Republicans eventually voted to kill the James Byrd Jr. Memorial Hate Crimes Bill, but during the presidential campaign Bush spoke publicly about Texas’s hate crimes law taking credit for a strong and effective law that, in fact, does not exist because he himself prevented its passage.

 

The Ku Klux Klan is not the only group promoting xenophobia, racism, and religious bigotry in Texas and beyond.  The bedrock of the Republican Party in Texas and the core of former Governor and now President Bush’s support is the Christian Right.  Dallas, home to Senator Hutchinson, is the sentimental home of Christian Zionism, the primary theological and ideological force behind Christian fundamentalism in the USA.  The socially and politically influential Christian doomsday cult’s founder was an alcoholic Confederate Civil War veteran named Cyrus Schofield.  Schofield, who wrote his own or someone else’s chiliastic or millennialist views into the margins of what has come to be known as the Schofield Reference Bible, became pastor of Dallas’ First Congregational Church in 1882.  The increasing popularity of the Schofield Reference Bible, first published in 1908 by the Oxford University Press despite Schofield’s having no legitimate academic or theological training, is perhaps the single most influential and disturbing development in Christian theology in the modern era.  It is disturbing because many of today’s ageing Christian Zionist leaders are convinced that a world-ending nuclear conflagration called Armageddon is destined to take place in the Holy Land in their lifetimes.  According to Christian Zionism’s exclusivist doctrines, only 144,000 Jews who convert to Christianity and a larger number of non-Jewish believing Christians will be ruptured and spared the fate of eternal damnation and destruction in a lake of fire at the end of the world.  Now that Christian Zionist leaders wield substantial influence in the Republican Party and over George Bush’s Middle East foreign policy, their militant religious exclusivism is no longer merely a bizarre theological curiosity.  It is a real and gathering threat to the continued progress of human civilization.

 

Some who track the activities of hate groups have attributed the increasing popularity of Christian Zionism to the cult’s celebrity leaders’ ability to tap into overt and latent racial animus once commonly directed at African-Americans and Jews and redirect it toward Arabs and Muslims.  Anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment, long fueled by flagrant anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias in television and motion picture industry programming, has been called the only remaining politically correct expression of racism in America.  Since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and other celebrity Christian fundamentalist leaders have publicly characterized Islam as a religion of hate and smeared the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a terrorist.  Falwell appears frequently on nationally broadcast television programs to voice opinions supportive of Israel.  Looking for inspiration in Israel’s victories over its Arab neighbors, Falwell became a supporter of Israel soon after the U.S. military’s ignominious defeat in Vietnam.  In the decades since the Vietnam War, conservative ideologues enthralled by Christian Zionism’s exclusivist and violent theology have increasingly found fulfillment and taken vicarious pleasure in Israel’s wars against Palestinian civilians and its other Arab neighbors.  The Bush crusade, the war on terrorism, and the war in Iraq provide avenues for more immediate and direct expression of Christian Zionism’s animosity toward any and all non-Christian foreigners (except Israelis) who stand between the militant doomsday cultists and their dreams of and desire for rapture, heavenly release.

 

The racial and religious exclusivism of the White Camelia Knights, which relegates all other racial groups and all non-Christians to an inferior status, and the religious exclusivism of Christian Zionism, which consigns all non-Christians to a nuclear holocaust at the end of the world, find a parallel in the ideology/theology of Jewish fundamentalist groups known as Hasidim.  Hasidim base their racial and religious exclusivism and the modern political agenda that flows from it on the teachings of the 16th-century Lurianic Cabala.  The late Israeli professor, author, and human and civil rights advocate Israel Shahak and his co-author Central Connecticut State University professor Norton Mezvinsky, writing in their 1999 book Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel,exposed the basis of Jewish fundamentalism’s racism and bigotry: “a Lurianic doctrine that non-Jews have Satanic souls: ‘Souls of non-Jews come entirely from the female part of the Satanic sphere.  For this reason, the souls of non-Jews are called evil, not good, and are created without [divine] knowledge.’”  In the United States, the most noteworthy Hasidic group is composed of followers of the Lubovitcher Rebbe, among them White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer.  With the rise of the religious Right, the Republican Party has become a haven for well-heeled, media savvy professional proponents of racial and religious exclusivism.  It is difficult to imagine that Abraham Lincoln would recognize today’s GOP, much less feel at home in it.

 

Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims in the United States have increased dramatically since September 11, 2001.  In addition to several murders and numerous assaults and beatings, many attacks on mosques and Muslim and Arab owned-businesses have been reported and investigated by local, state, and federal authorities.  But thus far, the worst outrages may have been prevented.  In August 2002, Florida podiatrist Robert Goldstein was arrested after police found some 40 weapons including semi-automatic pistols and assault rifles and a .50 caliber sniper rifle, 15 homemade explosive devices, and material to manufacture 30 to 40 more bombs in his home, along with a list of 50 Islamic sites in Florida and plans to blow up an Islamic education center.  In December 2001 in California, Jewish Defense League (JDL) leader Irv Rubin and JDL member Earl Krugel were arrested after an FBI undercover informant handed over to the pair an explosive powder they allegedly planned to use to bomb a Southern California mosque and the office of Rep. Darrell E. Issa, R-Vista, who is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants.  Rubin, who claimed to have been arrested 40 times, died in November 2002 after he apparently attempted suicide in jail.  Continuing U.S. military actions in the Middle East and the mainstream media propaganda blitzkrieg that supports the Bush crusade are certain to further inflame anti-Arab racism and anti-Muslim bigotry in the USA.

 

Round the clock television coverage of the so-called war on terrorism and the war in Iraq is an alarming departure from anything ever seen before in the USA.  In a continuous display of jingoistic nationalism presented as patriotism, cable and satellite TV news organizations broadcast sanitized versions of U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan for its entertainment and propaganda value.  Coverage by Fox News and MSNBC is particularly noxious.  On Wednesday, March 28, as U.S. troops pushed toward Baghdad, MSNBC presenter Lester Holt interviewed retired U.S. Army general Montgomery Meigs, one of dozens of retired U.S. military officers serving as analysts in media coverage of the Bush administration’s crusade.  Meigs described a combat firefight as “a fascinating and exhilarating event.”  In a positively Orwellian juxtaposition, Holt then segued to an excerpt from a video taped interview with Colin Powell in which the U.S. Secretary of State and former General opined that, “One day the Iraqi people will understand that we came in peace.”  Holt closed the segment by observing that, “Tomorrow will be a very fascinating day.”  The message is unmistakable: Americans are expected not only to heartily approve of this war, they are instructed to enjoy it, and anything less would be unpatriotic.

 

Every pack of racist thugs who ever obstinately and impatiently insisted upon an unfair fight in which they enjoyed enormous advantage, has, whether openly or secretly, reveled in the violence of the slaughter.  The Bush cabal, hell-bent on employing overwhelmingly superior military force in yet another predominantly Muslim country already devastated by war and economic sanctions, has that much, at least, in common with the three Texas white supremacists who tied a chain around the ankles of James Byrd, Jr. and dragged him behind their pick-up truck until his head separated from his body.  Bush, his astonishingly arrogant Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Defense Policy Board chair and recently exposed war-profiteer Richard Perle made little effort to hide their determination and obvious impatience in the run-up to war.  They could hardly wait to unleash the U.S. military’s devastating airpower, smart-munitions technologies, and other high-tech military firepower to wreak vengeance, havoc, death, and destruction upon a much weaker if not utterly defenseless foe.  The U.S. propaganda machine works tirelessly to obscure both the mutilating putrefying horror of mechanized, industrialized, high-tech warfare and the religious and racial exclusivism that undergird Bush’s crusade.  Front line troops may talk of “taking out a couple of rag-heads” and aircraft support crews may decorate smart bombs and missiles with graffiti about “sand niggers,” but the Pentagon’s media machine and its operatives in broadcast media can be counted on never to let any hint of racism and bigotry or any disturbing images of gory carnage slip through to viewers back home.  The three Texas racists who murdered James Byrd Jr. pretended congeniality and concealed their tell-tale White supremacist tattoos when they offered Byrd a ride home and, after they dragged him to pieces on a rural road, hosed off their truck and their chain.

 

A huge majority of Christian leaders, including Pope John Paul II, have resolutely voiced their opposition to what they view as an unjust, un-Christian, and potentially catastrophic U.S. war against Iraq, and those same leaders have led or actively supported peacemaking efforts in the Holy Land and the Middle East.  They have also worked to improve and strengthen relations between Christians, Muslims, and Jews.  George Bush, who presents himself as a devoutly religious man, has stubbornly refused to meet with American Christian leaders who are opposed to the war in Iraq, even the leaders of the United Methodist Church, of which both he and Vice President Dick Cheney are members.  But why should that have surprised anyone?  His background strongly suggests that Bush, a child of wealth and privilege, is insensitive to the pain of the poor and people of color and remarkably careless regarding other moral and ethical matters.

 

His critics say Bush has never had a job that he got on the strength of his own abilities, that he avoided military service in Vietnam, scored two points above “too dumb to fly” on his flight school test, and later went AWOL from his Texas Air Guard unit for an entire year.  It is widely reported that Bush, a “C” student, drank and drugged his way through his studies at Yale and Harvard, that he profited handsomely from shady deals in the oil business depending on his father’s influence and using his father’s cronies’ money.  While governor of Texas, Bush parlayed his borrowed-money stake in the Texas Rangers baseball team into a multi-million dollar bonanza.  In addition to snuffing the state’s chance at meaningful hate crimes legislation, Bush introduced largely ineffective voluntary environmental protection standards, kept the state dead last in teacher salary rankings, and authorized the execution of 152 Texas Prison System death row inmates, more than any other U.S. governor ever.  Minority groups are grossly over-represented in prisons and death rows across the nation, and a U.S. Justice Department review in 2000 found that prosecutors were twice as likely to seek capital punishment for Black and Hispanic defendants.  Though he received fewer votes than Democratic Party candidate Al Gore, Bush was effectively appointed to the highest office in the land by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court after his brother Jeb’s minions rigged the election in Florida for him by illegally removing African American voters from polling lists.  Soon after becoming president, Bush, a staunch death penalty advocate, became the first president in 40 years to preside over federal executions.  Early this year Bush addressed the nation to declare that his administration would urge the Supreme Court to strike down affirmative action admission policies at the University of Michigan in favor of a Texas plan that in practice admits a lower percentage of minority students.  Now, his critics say, this arrogant and corrupt son of wealth, power, and privilege who would have us believe he is compassionate and deeply religious has taken the country into a crusade and a war that most religious leaders believe is unjust.

 

Apparently incapable of doing otherwise, the incorrigible racist bigot, blinded by ignorance, fear, hate, and pseudo-religious fervor and driven by his insatiable appetite for power, invariably overreaches.  Saddam Hussein is by all accounts an evil tyrant and his regime a crew of despicable criminals, but Bush’s crusade, his so-called war on terrorism and his war of conquest in Iraq, find their strongest support among those pathologically obsessed by racial and religious exclusivity and hate: Israeli and American supporters of Israel’s Likud Party, which champions illegal occupation, brutal oppression, and ethnic cleansing in Palestine; Christian Zionist leaders and their followers who long for rapture and a heavenly box-seat view of the violent destruction of human civilization here below; and Ku Klux Klansmen like those peddling peanut brittle and hate at the Wal-Mart in Vidor, Texas.

 

The worst of it is this: The vast majority of the thousands upon thousands on both sides who will die in the Bush crusade wars are good and decent human beings.  They are ordinary men, women, and children who love their families, who enjoy and respect their friends and neighbors, who appreciate or at least tolerate other races, religions, and cultures.  They have no interest in anybody’s crusade, no desire to be caught up in anyone’s war.

 

The new American century begins now, with a descent into military, political, moral, spiritual, and economic disaster courtesy of the 43rdpresident of the United States of America, George W. Bush.

Freelance Investigative Journalist and Commentator Michael Gillespie writes about Politics and Media for Media Monitors Network (MMN). His work also appears frequently in the popular Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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