Author Archives: ffredpalakon

Isaac Woodard, Officer X, and Orson Welles

(photo of Isaac Woodard and his mother taken from New York Post article, “Ask U.S. to Probe Negro Vet’s Blinding by Carolina Cops”, article by Ted Poston, no photographer identified. The distance of the victim from major press centers and the obscurity of the case has caused Woodard’s name to be consistently mis-spelled, as it is in this New York Post story; the proper spelling is Woodard, no “w” in the middle.)

What follows is a product of laziness and procrastination. While working on something else (which I hope to have done in the next day or two), I thought of breaking away from work to transcribe parts of this startling episode that I came across in Simon Callow’s Orson Welles: Volume 2: Hello Americans. The sad contemporary relevance of the following need not be spoken of, it’s so obvious, nor why it might carry greater immediate urgency, now, than when I read it earlier in the summer. I do not think I am entirely ignorant of history, the life of Orson Welles, or Hollywood of the forties, and yet it was a story I had never heard before. The label “story” feels like a misleading, as if this is something made gentle and constrained, when this story resists all such constraints, and bleeds into our present.

I do not excerpt Callow’s work in any attempt to purloin readers from his book, which stands (to my humble mind) as one of the great achievements in film scholarship. I do not make any attempt to elevate Callow’s account of this moment over others; I give extensive space to Callow’s account because it’s the most extensive I’ve come across and which I had easy access to. As said, this project began out of laziness; only after starting it, did I give myself more work to try and track down additional material, including the radio broadcasts of Orson Welles, which I’ve since uploaded to youtube. I am deeply indebted to archive.org as a resource for this audio, which can be found here: “1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”.

Given the length of excerpts used here from Callow’s book and other sources, for purposes of readability, I’ve avoided using the usual quote tags. Quoted excerpts within Hello Americans are given the quote tags.

After the break Hello Americans begins, with occasional interruptions by me. I have often relied on scans made by Andrew Myers, whose conference paper “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard” is accompanied by an on-line bibliography which is currently the premier source for documents related to the Woodard case, and whose work I’m deeply grateful for. I have transcribed many of these scans, again, not for the purpose of purloining readers from Myers’ site or his conference paper, only that this case and its details be better known.

These events begin in the summer of 1946, five years after the release of Citizen Kane, as Welles is ending an unsuccessful tour of a stage adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days. At the time, Welles had a program on ABC Radio called “Commentary”, and each Sunday he would deliver a fifteen piece on contemporary political or social issues. In this memorable historical episode, Welles would put this program to very good use, and the boy wonder would show that he still had one or two magic tricks left, wielding the power of radio to astonishing effect.


Two days before Welles put up the sign backstage at the Adelphi Theatre giving his Around the World company a week’s notice, he received a letter from Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; they had an urgent matter on which they wanted to communicate with him. The following day White, the executive secretary of the organisation, visited him in his dressing room with Oliver Harrington, famous in the black community as creator of the radical cartoon Bootsie in the Pittsburgh Courier, but now starting his new job as publicity director for the NAACP. The story they brought Welles cannot have been unknown to him, because a fortnight earlier Harrington had secured headlines for it in the left-wing press to which Welles subscribed, and which – not least because of the incessant search to find material for his weekly Commentary programme – he studied assiduously. His old rage the populist New York Post [this is before the paper was taken over by new owners, and became infamous for its hard right reactionary and racist attitudes, examples of which can be found amongst "Bottoms Up! Here's to the End of Sean Delonas" and "Is the New York Post Edited by a Bigoted Drunk Who Fucks Pigs?" by Tom Scocca, "The Post's 'Person of Interest' Is a Local High-School Track Runner" by Max Read, and "A Letter To The New York Post" by Public Enemy] had carried a front-page story, but it was the Daily Worker‘s headline that put the story as succinctly as shockingly as possible: SOUTH CAROLINA COP GOUGED OUT EYES OF NEGRO VET WHO FOUGHT IN PACIFIC; in a boxed inset was the phrase GET THAT COP!

The story had first broken in the Lighthouse and Informer, South Carolina’s leading black paper, after which the NAACP had taken it up, approaching the War Office for redress. It was the rejection of responsibility by the War Office’s legal department on the grounds that Sergeant Isaac Woodard Junior, the veteran in question, had been officially discharged (albeit only five hours earlier) that provoked the NAACP’s release of the material to the major newspapers; and it was the determination of White and Harrington to secure not only justice for Woodard, but also maximum publicity for the cause, that led them to Welles. Welles’s access to the airwaves, however relatively small his listenership, meant the possibility of a nationwide campaign. They, like everyone else, never ceased to think of him as the man who brought America to a standstill with The War of the Worlds – radio’s Barnum and Bailey, its unparalleled showman. They also knew him and profoundly respected him for his absolutely consistent and unwavering support for racial equality, not merely as an ideal, but in professional and personal practice, from as early as the Harlem Macbeth ten years before, through his constant sponsorship of black jazz musicians, his plan to film the life of Duke Ellington, and the rumours of how he had intended in It’s All True to feature the black population in the Rio de Janeiro favelas. He was, in a way that few of even his most liberal colleagues were, genuinely ‘colour-blind’.

Welles had long anticipated the growing demand among black people for equal opportunities and eights and constantly – in speeches, in articles and on radio – warned of the lurking dangers of the continuing privation and humiliation of a large section of the populace. The war, as he frequently observed, had changed everything; black servicemen had seen a world in which racial prejudice was not institutionalized, and had fought side by side with their white companions-in-arms, experiencing a proximity and a parity, almost a camaraderie, that they would never have known at home, especially if they came from the South. Moreover, the particular circumstances of war had given black activists at home a lever with which to extract concessions; the establishment in 1941, under threat of a mass protest in Washington, of the first all-black flying squadron, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, at Tuskegee in Alabama (lyrically celebrated on the Broadway stage the following year in ‘Flying Man’ from Oscar Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones), was a giant first step towards self-respect. Similarly, but more sombrely, the return from war of veterans accustomed to being treated at the very least as human beings – and no longer prepared to tolerate their former servility – had given rise to a series of incidents of which the Isaac Woodard story was not necessarily the worst, but was certainly the most poignant. The NAACP, keenly aware of the historical moment, was understandably eager to make the very most of it, and looked to Welles to fan the flames.

They knew that he was fearless. After a recent Commentary (7 July 1946) in which he had mildly suggested that, on the face of it, there was no reason why a black man and a white woman might not get married [I have searched for this radio broadcast, and been unable to find it] – a broadcast for which he had received the enthusiastic support of Negro organisations – he had received a letter from a young woman in Los Angeles, Mrs. Edna Fraser, which showed something of what he was up against.

My dear Mr Welles

You are not advocating inter-racial marriages between the Whites and Negroes, are you Mr Welles? Your commentary last Sunday, July 7th, would lead me to believe that perhaps you are. It is very difficult for me, who have believed in you so much, to believe that a man possessing the intelligence that I have credited you with possessing, could be swayed by a trend of insidious propaganda, or would lend his time and talents to championing such an unworthy cause. – No, Mr Welles, I am not prejudiced against the Negroes…but the Negro, as a race, is mentally incapable of taking a place alongside the white man. He is not competent to make intelligent decisions for himself.

[Etc.]


The full text of the letter continues on like this in Hello Americans, but for the purposes of this post, the opening paragraph captures its perspective in its entirety.


The emotions inspired by the case that White and Harrington brought to Welles in his dressing room at the Adelphi were of an entirely different order – both in quality and in intensity – from the petty racism of Mrs Fraser and Miss Houston: for one thing, it happened in the South, which was presently in a state of uproar, bellowing and lashing out wildly like some cornered animal. The profound sense that something had indefinably changed, and that the tide of history was, however gradually, flowing irreversibly away from it, its entrenched world-view dissolving in the wake, sent a wave of terror through the Southern states. It was a time of extraordinary ferment: in February of 1946 the riots in Columbia, Tennessee, had rapidly descended into what the black writer and activist, Langston Hughes, described as “a hate-filled orgy”; twenty-eight Negroes were charged with attempted murder in the first degree, and although (thanks to the NAACP) they were all finally acquitted, it was, as Hughes wrote, “a dangerous, costly and heart-breaking process – one hardly calculated to bolster a returning veteran’s faith in democracy.”

The very day before the NAACP delegation’s visit to Welles at the theatre, there had been a particularly brutal quadruple lynching of two men and their wives in Walton County, Georgia, where the governor-elect, Eugene Talmadge, had called for mob action to “keep negroes in their place”. Walter White, that heroically tireless campaigner against lynching, had issued a statement to the Associated Press denouncing the deaths as “the inevitable, inescapable result of Talmadge’s and the Ku Klux Klan’s advocacy of outright violation of the laws of the Federal Government and human decency”. Describing Talmadge as “a man as brazen as Hitler in his racial theories”, White observed that his election made “other such dastardly crimes” inevitable, calling on the Federal government and public opinion to halt it. “Negroes were the victims yesterday,” he said. “Other minorities and eventually democracy itself will be the victims tomorrow.” The Federal government had failed to stop mob violence.


Welles would single out Talmadge in one of his broadcasts, and a FOIA request in 2007 would uncover that the FBI considered the possibility that Talmadge may have given full license to members of Monroe county to pursue justice however they wished, after Roger Malcom, a black man, stabbed Barney Hester, a white farmer. A day after this incident, Talmadge visited the county and allegedly made this promise, and a day afterwards, the state election was held. Eight days after the election, Roger and his wife, Dorothy Malcom, along with another couple, George and Mae Murray Dorsey, were driving home when they were swarmed by a mob, dragged out of their car, and shot dead. This episode and Talmadge’s possible involvement is described in detail in “FBI Investigated Ga. Gov in Old Lynching” by Greg Blustein. Though I’m often hesitant to link to wikipedia, I think the entry “1946 Georgia lynching” gives a good description of the events.


“What other alternative is left to these citizens, many of whom are veterans?” Other NAACP officials linked the outrage in Walton with what they called “the bestial gouging out of the eyes of veteran Isaac Woodard in South Carolina”; while White forwarded a telegram to the Attorney General, Tom Clark, pointing to suspected police complicity in the lynchings and, by implication, sympathy with the Klan. “At a time when our statesmen are demanding democracy and a restoration of morality in Iran, Germany, China, Japan, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, it seems ironic that Americans are dying because of a lack of this same democracy in Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina (the home of our Secretary of State) and other parts of the South.” Welles had been saying the same thing for years: there were atrocities in America’s own back yard that ranked with the atrocities of the Axis powers.

The NAACP was an organisation after Welles’s own heart: radical without being doctrinaire. Few of its members belonged to any other left-wing grouping, and virtually none was communist (though Oliver Harrington was eventually to leave America in disgust, first for Paris and finally East Berlin, as he recounts in his autobiography, Why I Left America). Welles scarcely needed persuading to take up cudgels on Isaac Woodard’s behalf.

When he heard the full story, and read Woodard’s affidavit describing precisely what had happened to him, Welles knew that he could do full justice to it; moreover he knew it was exactly what he was looking for. “It was on Friday night. When I and my associates read it in my backstage dressing room, we knew we must begin the fight immediately.” Just as the NAACP knew that it was an ideal story to make their case, both human and particular – who cannot respond to a story about a blinding? and the blinding of a soldier returning victorious from war at that – so Welles was aware that it would give sharp focus to his radio programme, which was in danger of becoming a catalogue of complaints against non-right-thinking people; a couple of weeks before he had taken on A-bomb tests and the ending of rent and price controls [both of these episodes are part of "1946 Orson Welles Commentaries", "The OPA Is Dead", broadcast date June 23, and "Bikini Atomic Test", broadcast date June 30], and had struggled to make the programme cohere. Woodard’s affidavit (no doubt composed with a little help from his friends at the NAACP) was a clear and credible statement of events, but was shot through with a sense of bitter irony and injustice, its opening paragraph setting the tone: “I, Isaac Woodard Jr. being duly sworn, do depose and state as follows – that I’m 27 years old and a veteran of the United States Army, having served 15 months in the South Pacific and earned one battle star…when they discharged me from Camp Gordon, I’d given four years of my life to my country. I had survived the war and come home to “the land of the free”. I became a casualty five hours later.”


A scan of this affidavit can be found at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”, “Affidavit, April 1946 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 1012-1013)”. A transcript of this document, along with a transcript of Woodard’s deposition to the FBI, the scan “Statement to FBI, September 1946 (NAACP Papers, REel 28, Frame 911)”, is at this footnote1.


As he described it, on the afternoon of 12 February 1946, Sergeant Woodard had been discharged from the army at Camp Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia. That evening he boarded a bus for Winnsboro, South Carolina, where his wife lived. At Aiken, South Carolina, the bus stopped and he asked to be allowed to disembark and use the toilet; the driver was aggressive, accused him of being drunk (which he was not) and told him to sit down. Woodard persisted in asking to use the toilet, which he was finally allowed to do, but when the bus next stopped, he was taken off it by police and arrested. When he protested, he was viciously beaten around the head with a blackjack, a lead-weighted bludgeon, and taken to jail. Next morning, his eyes red and swollen, he found that he was unable to see. Brought to the mayor’s court, he pleaded guilty to being drunk and disorderly, for which he was fined $50; he only had $40 in his wallet, plus another $4 in his watch pocket, which the court accepted. At first they wanted him to cash in the cheque for his army discharge payment, but gave up after ascertaining that he was unable to countersign the cheque because he could no longer see it. From court he was taken to the Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina; three months later, in May, he was discharged, totally blind, the bulb of both eyes having been irremediably ruptured. On leaving the hospital, he was helpfully advised by the doctor to enrol at blind school. After that, he went to New York to be looked after by his sisters. His wife stayed behind; and that was the end of his marriage.

Once in New York, Woodard went to the NAACP, where he met Thurgood Marshall, the chief legal counsel, and his assistants. They approached the War Office which, as we have seen, denied responsibility because Woodard had been discharged – even if only for five hours. After the NAACP broke the story in the Daily Worker, the Post and PM, the FBI finally sent someone to Aiken to investigate, while Woodard himself started to talk publicly about his story, with extraordinary calm and modesty. “Down South they think we are worse than dogs,” he said. “Nobody would treat a dog like they treated me. But the harm’s done now and I’m not near as bitter as my mother and father.” It was the NAACP’s offer of $1,000 for the arrest and conviction of the policeman who beat and blinded Woodard that finally resulted in headlines in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune as well as the Post, which in turn stirred the War Office and the Department of Justice into action at last.

The crucial thing Welles seized on was the fact that no one had yet identified the policeman responsible for the crime, GET THAT COP! the Daily Worker had declared, and that is what Welles set out to do. Working closely with Oliver Harrington, who spent each Saturday night after the show working with him on the broadcasts, and using the latest unpublished on-the-spot reports from the Lighthouse and Informer, Welles wrote what were in effect a series of dramatic monologues, which are among the most deeply felt, revealing and personal utterances he ever made, recklessly outspoken on a subject that, as we have seen, was a matter of deep ambivalence for many (if not most) Americans in 1946. In the broadcasts he plays the role of a kind of omniscient avenger determined to track down the perpetrator of the assault. It is a role – pitched somewhere between The Shadow and Inspector Javert from Les Misérables, with maybe a touch of Captain Ahab thrown in – and yet it is Welles, too, recognisably the same commentator who had been engaged in intense, urgent dialogue with the American public for nearly a year now – passionate, rhetorical, now angry, now lyrical. These weekly fifteen-minute Sunday afternoon programmes had developed a distinct identity, building on the telephonic intimacy of the early programmes (still sponsored by Lear [Les Lear]) to become almost confessional in tone, expounding Welles’s deepest political feelings, communicating his hopes for democracy and his frequent disappointments with it.


The following is the Welles broadcast that is referenced in the text, “Affidavit of Isaac Woodard”, broadcast date July 28, 1946. Transcript for broadcast is at this footnote2.

Times listed in brackets are the sections in the youtube clip where the quote can be found; the link in the starting time in the bracket will take you to the exact point in the broadcast.


From his first words, there can be no question that Welles is deeply and genuinely scandalised by what has happened to Woodard the man, and to Woodard the unwitting representative of his race. Welles starts quietly, evenly, with the affidavit: “I, Isaac Woodard Jr. being duly sworn, do depose and state as follows…” He reads it quickly, almost casually, slowing down only for the doctor’s advice to Woodard to enrol in a school for the blind. Then, leaving Woodard’s statement hanging in the air, he segues, in a characteristic device, into a story – almost a parable – told to him, he says, early that morning when he went for a coffee with Woodard’s affidavit burning a hole in his pocket. The story, told to him as a joke by someone in the coffee shop, concerns a commercial traveller, a white man who stays in a black hotel, sharing his room with a black man. The next day he goes to get on the train, but is refused admission and told to go to the Jim Crow part of the train. He protests, but as he reaches out his hand he realises that he’s turned black, and realises why. “They woke up the wrong man!” [3:05-4:50] Welles then comes back to Woodard [5:55-6:23]:

Now it seems that the officer of the law who blinded the young negro boy has not been named. The boy saw him while he could still see, but of course he had no way of knowing which particular policeman it was who brought the justice of Dachau and Oswiecim to Aiken, South Carolina. He was just another white man with a stick, who wanted to teach him [it's actually "a Negro boy" in the broadcast] a lesson – to show him [again, it's "a Negro boy"] where he belonged: in the darkness. Until we know more about him, for just now, we’ll call the policeman Officer X. He might just be listening to this. I hope so.

He continues, “What does it cost to be a negro? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his eyes. What does it cost to wear over your skeleton the pinkish tint officially described as white? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his soul.” [9:42-9:59]

He returns to the question of price. “What are they quoting for one eye? An eye for an eye? You had eyes to see, but you have never seen. You were born in a pit.” [these are two different sections, with "What are they quoting..." 10:17-10:21 and "You had eyes to see..." at 12:32-12:42] Then suddenly, passionately, he asks: “Where stands the sun of common fellowship? When will it rise in your dark country? When will it be noon in Georgia? I must know, Officer X, because I must know where the rest of us are going with our American experiment.” [11:57-12:05] In this phrase, Welles articulates the despairing, underlying quest of his past few years. He returns to Officer X [Callow's excerpt leaves out a middle section, "a moment from the philosophers", 7:39-11:22]:

We invite you to luxuriate in secrecy. It will be brief. Go on, suckle your anonymous moment while it lasts. You’re going to be uncovered. We will blast out your name, your so-called Christian name. We will give the world your given name, Officer X. If he’s listening to this, let him listen well: Officer X, after I have found you out, I’ll never lose you. If they try you, I’m going to watch the trial. If they jail you, I’m going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won’t be free of me. I want to see who’s waiting for you at the prison gates. I want to know who will acknowledge that they know you. I’m interested in your future. I will take note of all your destinations. Assume another name and I will be careful that the name you would forget is not forgotten. I will find means to remove from you all refuge, Officer X. You can’t get rid of me. We have an appointment, you and I – and only death can cancel it.

The effect is rousing, certainly, but also somewhat disturbing. Who exactly is speaking, one wonders? The tone is personal, vengeful, obsessive, but also melodramatic, stagy. As if to answer the unspoken question – and to puncture the theatricality – Welles asks: “Who am I? A masked avenger from the comic books? No sir. Merely an inquisitive Citizen of America. I admit that nothing on this inhabited earth is capable of your chastisement. I am simply but quite actively, curious to know what will become of you. Your fate cannot affect the boy in the county hospital for the blind. We want a word to lighten his darkness. You’re sorry for him? He rejects your pity. You are ashamed? He doesn’t care. We want to tell him soon that all America is ashamed of you.” [11:25-12:24] The rhetoric resumes, mounts; the sentences become shorter. There is endless play on the idea of eyes and seeing. Woodard will never see, but the lids are merely closed on Officer X’s eyes. One day, Welles hopes, he will learn “to try the wild adventure of looking…then there will be a shouting of trumpets to raise the dead at Gettysburg. A thunder of cannon will declare the tidings of peace and all the bells of liberty will laugh out loud in the streets to celebrate the good will toward all men. The new blind can hear. It would be very good if they could hear the news that the new blind can finally see. Then, Officer X, you’ll find you can wash off what should be washed, and it will be said of you – yes, even you – that they awakened the right man.” [12:58-13:37] He pants, seems to be shaking with emotion. The programme ends with him broken-voiced as he signs off “Obediently yours.” There is nothing obedient about it: the commentator is no one’s servant, except perhaps blind justice’s.

It is a remarkable performance, both in conception and execution, a passionately eloquent affirmation of human values; but – certainly at this distance – there is a quality of hysteria about it that seems curiously solipsistic. In dramatizing the events, the feelings of the pursuer come to seem as important as those of the victim, while the perpetrator of the crime – however loathsome he might be – is elevated under the weight of this onslaught to an almost sacrificial status.


There is the notable fact here that Welles moves the issue here away from the abstractions of race and differences in treatment before the law, to the immediate. This is not an in-depth essay on racial inequality, but a practical detective thriller: there is a monster on the loose and I am going to find him. Despite his question and answer, “A masked avenger from the comic books? No sir,” it is almost not to think of such figures who are there when justice fails, as well as the necessity of there being something like this. The blinding of Isaac Woodard took place because he believed there would be no justice, that no law would come into effect, and Welles countered that a moral force would be there, and this was not embodied in Welles, but a universal justice which would have to be answered, just as Abel had to answer for his crime.

The other final point is how exotic this approach is to us now, and this lies with the difference between television and radio. Welles has an astonishing power here, but I think that power would vanish were he to give the same speech, word for word, on television, a cold medium. Anyone acting outside a narrow range of calm and temperate feeling on television news comes off as a lunatic. Those who claim this area of emotional hysteria are not from the left flank of the aisle, but on the right, the most notable example being Glenn Beck, a long-time enthusiast of Welles’s radio work, and who is no doubt familiar with the Isaac Woodard broadcasts. That we now find this hysteria on the right is in part due to the convergence of religious feeling with the political right, and we see a precursor of this in the movie Network, which, despite being considered a movie about liberal frustration, I have always thought to be about, first and foremost, the conservative anger of the silent majority which elected Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (for more on this, see “Network: Song for the Silent Majority”). Welles is nearly panting by the end of his monologue, while Howard Beale collapses after one of his speeches hit a fevered pitch. The rightward concentration of unrestrained passion is also a consequence of the simple asymmetry that exists with regard to the ideas of the left and right. Liberals must make thoughtful, rational cases for a higher minimum wage or better working conditions, and still these opinions are barely tolerated to hold space in the room. On the other hand, demagogues are allowed to shout out about welfare cheats, mortgage freeloaders, liberal fascists and criminals, and these ideas are always expected to be heard, and they are heard, for the simple reason that these opinions coincide with the interests of whatever large corporation owns that press, while those arguing for better wages and worker treatment are always the enemy.

We return to Hello Americans:


The impact of the broadcast on his listeners was understandably electric. “Orson,” Les Lear, his former sponsor, wrote in a letter after the first Woodard programme, “I can’t begin to express the profound administration you have won on the part of thinking America for the magnificent manner in which you are championing everything and anything that has to do with the American way of life. I am confident that, should you ever elect to head a world-wide movement to further tolerance, your followers would outnumber all other mankind-benefiting societies a million to one.” Another letter of support, more personal, came from the all-Negro Santa Fe Waiters’ Union: “as soon as your broadcast message were reported to all the waiters and bartenders on the Santa Fe Railroad from LA to Chicago, at union meeting we suggested someone should send our appreciation to such a loyal an [sic] liberal white person…the young negro appreciates people like yourself, Mrs Roosevelt and other liberals in America for fighting peaceful for we believe the pen is mightier than the sword – We thank you very very much for ever your loyal friendship from over 1,500 people we remain yours, Al Laster.”

It was not all roses: someone signing himself A FORMER FAN wrote to Welles that Woodard was trying to get away from flight with another Negro; and the flagrantly reactionary Congressman John Rankin sent a copy of the broadcast to J. Edgar Hoover at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

More disturbingly, at the urging of Police Chief Sprawls, Aiken mayor Odell Weeks wrote to Welles: “Since your Sunday night broadcast went out to the nation, and the locale of the story was wholly untrue, I urge that you have the courage and forthrightness to retract the wrong you have done this city in your broadcast next Sunday night, giving to your retraction the same emphasis that you placed upon your original broadcast of the story.” The city of Aiken, a former health resort, prided itself on its southern charm; once a winter colony for the wealthy, it had become an equestrian sporting centre, and its population included a number of well-heeled socialites. Mayor Weeks was genuinely affronted by the slur on the city’s good name, although the county of which it was the seat was rather less fastidious, boasting as it did a sign on its borders that stated: NIGGER, DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOU IN AIKEN COUNTY. But the mayor had a point. No one had been able to trace either the policeman who had assaulted Woodard, or the incident itself: there was no record of it in Aiken’s jail or its courtroom. In fact, both the FBI and the NAACP had good reason to believe that Woodard had mistaken the place where the bus had stopped, but both were biding their time until they had made thorough investigations; they did not let Welles into their suspicions.

He took to the air again the following Sunday (the day after the closing night of Around the World, which may have affected his mood). It was a typical Commentary, starting with Welles musing on the betrayal of Yalta and the Peace. He denounces all the Allies: Stalin, who has reneged on the terms of the treaty a mere week later in Bucharest; Roosevelt’s party, which follows a Republican programme; the Labour Party in Britain, which is dancing the Dance of Death of Tory ignorance and Tory cowardice; it is the eleventh hour for mankind, as people prepare for a Third World War. He brings to his bitter reflections a tone of scathing despair at the post-war world: is this, he asks, what we fought for? The feeling is very personal and hurt – above all, weary – but it is something of a harangue, and listening to it is like being trapped in a bar with a very gloomy fellow on New Year’s Eve; it is almost impossible to believe that the speaker is only thirty years old. After a general survey of the world and the state of democracy, delivered in a listless monotone (even the jokes are weary: “some people feel Mr Truman should stay out of local politics; some people think he should never have left it”), he introduces Woodard, and suddenly becomes lively.


This full broadcast, “The Peacemakers”, broadcast date August 4th, 1946, can be found at “1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”. The following is the segment devoted to Woodard. Transcript for this segment is available at the footnote3.


Quoting from Mayor Weeks’s letter, Welles turns the tables on him, inviting him to join the manhunt. He hopes, he says, to be able to retract the story and be able to apologise to Aiken. “There are thousands of cities where negro soldiers have not been blinded. I hope that it will be my privilege to announce that your city is one of these…I’ve sent investigators to your city who should bring out the truth, unless it is too skilfully hidden…there is an American soldier who believes that it did happen in your city. And I cannot forget that. It is to him, Mr Weeks, that you should address your first and most indignant letters. They will of course have to be transcribed in Braille.” He is on curious ground here, arguing that there are more important things in life than Aiken’s amour-propre; but if you pose as the champion of truth, it doesn’t do to get your facts wrong – far less to hurl around false accusations. The tone is, again, worrying: “I’ve sent investigators to your city.” Who does he think he is? Aiken was certainly not mollified, and duly delivered to the New York Times a packet of evidence exonerating itself from the indictment, securing itself a front-page headline the day after the broadcast: AIKEN IS ANGERED AT WELLES CHARGE. Welles<s answer was to broaden the terms of the debate in the following week's broadcast. His text was drawn largely from the speech he gave at the great Peace Rally in Chicago in 1943, subsequently published in pamphlet form under the title Moral Indebtedness, as he acknowledged: “I’ve said this before: to be born free is to be born in debt; to live in freedom without fighting slavery is to profiteer.”


The broadcast, “To be born free”, broadcast date August 11, 1946:

Transcript is at the footnote4.


It is fine rousing stuff, delivered with the sweeping rhetorical power that was uniquely his, and it produced a passionate response. “Keep up the marvellous work,” said an anonymous correspondent. “We’re all behind you 100%. Too bad you’re not in politics…we need such men as you.” Another note said: “I wonder if anywhere in the world today [a Sunday, of course] was preached a sermon that was comparable to your expression.” Yet another listener wrote: “I can think of nothing nobler expressed by anyone at any time in world history. You deserve the deep gratitude of everyone that has a spark of nobility and I hope you continue to devote your great ability to the same noble purpose.” Quite separately from his work an actor, writer, director, Welles’s impact as an inspirational non-party-political figure was immense; for many people, he was a beacon.

The momentum in the Woodard case was building inexorably. The NAACP arranged a huge rally in the vast Lewisohn Stadium in New York under the sponsorship of the black newspaper Amsterdam News and the Isaac Woodard Benefit Committee; the singer Carol Brice and the great boxer Joe Louis were prominent members. Thirty thousand people heard Louis read a statement by Welles, who was by now in Los Angeles, preparing the film he was to direct for Harry Cohn:

Isaac Woodard is on the conscience of America. – The sin which was committed against him is the sin committed every day against his race – which is the human race. We cannot give him back his eyes. But we can make tough new laws – laws to drive the concentration camps out of our country – we can make laws to stop lynch law. – We can make prejudice illegal, and see to it that our American Nazis are punished for their crimes. – If Woodard had to lose his sight to show us that we need those laws, the least that we can do for him is to make those laws and make them now and make them stick. – If we don’t, we are more blind than he. – The only defence against the mob is the people.

Woodard himself spoke with his characteristic simplicity and dignity, and then – to what he later said was the most tumultuous reception he ever received. Woody Guthrie sang the specially written “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard” [a cover of this song is on youtube, "The Blinding of Isaac Woodard" by Raymond Crooke], sung to the tune of “The Great Dust Storm” [also on youtube, "Woody Guthrie- The Great Dust Storm"].


A fragment of the speech Joe Louis gave here would later appear in a profile of the man in Jet magazine, from the issue of July 13 1978, now on google books, page 55:

In New York, he made one of his rare public speeches, at Lewisohn Stadium inside the City College to protest the beating of Black war veteran Isaac Woodard, whose eyes had been punched blind with billy sticks of some southern policemen.

“Nobody in America should have to go through second class citizenship,” he told the crowd. “Me and a whole lot of Black guys went out fighting for the American cause, now we’re gonna have to get America to give us our civil rights too. We earned them.”

Isaac Woodard flanked by Joe Louis and unidentified man. Photo taken from Blackpast.org, “Woodard, Isaac (1919-1992)”


That afternoon from California Welles broadcast the fourth of his programmes devoted to Woodard, armed with a telegram from the NAACP saying that the attack probably took place in Batesburg, South Carolina, nineteen miles from Aiken. HOSPITAL RECORDS AMAZINGLY BRIEF NO MENTION NAMES POLICEMEN WHO DELIVERED VET TO HOSPITAL NOR PLACE WHERE ATTACK OCCURRED THIS EXTREMELY UNUSUAL FBI REPORTS CONFIRM OUR INVESTIGATORS.

Welles starts the broadcast with Aiken.


The broadcast, “Welles film banned”, broadcast date August 18, 1946. Transcript is at the footnote5:

It was on this broadcast that Welles identified Officer X as Lynwood Shull, of Batesburg, South Carolina:

I have before me…wires and press releases to the effect that a policeman of Batesburg…a man by the name of Shaw, or Shore, or Shull, it is given three different ways here…the flash is just before us…

Chief L.L. Shaw. Pronounce it however you want it. Or want to. Has admitted…that he was the police officer, who blinded Isaac Woodard. Thirty miles from Aiken. In South Carolina. This is in Batesburg.

Back to Callow’s Hello Americans.


He repeats another promise in the identical words with which he ended the first programme: “If Chief Shaw or Shawl or Shull is listening – and I have good reason to think that he is – I say: if they try you, I’m going to watch the trial…we have an appointment, you and I – and only death can cancel it.” And then he moves on to deal with the Texan gubernatorial election.

Chief Lynwood Shull (as opposed to Shaw or Shawl) had indeed been found, and admitted to having struck Woodard with his blackjack when he became unruly, taking the stick from him. “I grabbed it away from him and cracked him across the head. It may have hit his eyes.” Thus vindicated, the NAACP took the case to the Department of Justice, which – purely because it was an election year, in the view of the judge who finally tried the case – finally intervened, filing federal charges.


The best background on Lynwood Shull I’ve found comes from NAACP documents at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”, “Background information collected by local black newspaper editor, September 1946 Part 1 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 893-894)” and “Background information, September 1946 Part 2 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 895-896)”, scans at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”. We are not given the convenience of an all-out villain. He, like many children of the South, was raised by a black woman and he played and socialized with the children of the black farm hands. We are told that many of the farm hands think him considerate, and then abruptly the record stops: “some of them admit hearing of several atrocities against other Negroes attributed to him”. We are faced with the stark truth that this cruelty does not stem from who you do or do not socialize with, but who the law protects and who it does not, and what takes place when you may be cruel without penalty or consequence. The Shulls ran a large farm, and they were a major power in the town. The mayor, H.E. Quarles, was an in-law, and considered part of what the NAACP papers refer to as “Shull’s machine”, with Shull’s position as sheriff a consequence of this machine. Except for sundays, the day of rest, the sheriff would always dress in a uniform of blue serge suit, white shirt, black tie, black shoes, and black hat. No one can remember the names of his deputies anymore, and refers to them always by their nicknames of “High Pocket” and “Dood all”. The sheriff is kind, considerate, and wordless except: when he is accompanied by his deputies, and then he is “a roaring maniac”6. We have all the elements that might make this into a folk tale, with not simply a wound, but a blinding, and a sheriff who is calm and unthreatening, unless near deputies who are nameless except for their nicknames, who exert almost a magical power to render him into a violent animal. These qualities give us the luxury of seeing all this as unreal, a world only of folk tales, when the violence, the cruelty, the lack of ward or protection for the assaulted man was very much our world, then and now.

Back to Hello Americans.


Oliver Harrington had no doubt about Welles’s influence on the outcome: YOUR TRULY GREAT COMMENTARIES IN BEHALF OF ISAAC WOODARD ARE RESPONSIBLE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE FOR THE APPREHENSION OF THE POLICE TORTURER IN BATESBURG COUNTLESS THOUSANDS OF AMERICANS ARE BETTER HUMAN BEINGS FROM HEARING YOUR BROADCASTS AGAINST FASCIST SADISM NOW SWEEPING A LARGE SECTION OF OUR COUNTRY. Samuel Proctor, a black man who fought in the Second World War, wrote: “The crying need of the minorities, particularly, the colored man, is a spokesman. I believe you can fill that job, even though it means being a martyr…I hope you will accept the enclosed check to help defray expenses involved in making America conscious of its duty and its opportunity” – a phrase that must have moved Welles, because that is exactly what he hoped and believed he was doing. Someone else wrote to say that he had fought in the war, but “it seems that I was fighting in the wrong place”, a common reaction. A nameless fan was even more enthusiastic: “Thousands of years ago/ God gave to the world Moses – the great teacher / Then Jesus the Saviour / Then Abraham Lincoln the Emancipator / The Franklin Delano Roosevelt the great Humanitarian / and now Orson Welles – the most wonderful fighter for the rights and freedom of all mankind.”


I am not the only reader, I think, who is made queasy by some of this sentiment. This grateful feeling arises not just from the heroic actions of Orson Welles – and they were very much heroic, and very much against the norm in 1946 – but the powerlessness of the indivudals requiring help. I think people may well see something of white saviorhood here, and I think we see it arising not out of the self-indulgence or arrogance of Welles, but the asymmetry of power itself, the legacy of a vast and cruel history.

Again, back to Hello Americans.


Aiken felt a little differently. “Please don’t come to Georgia,” said one sinister little note, “we don’t think it would be very healthy for your down this way.” The Republican county chairman John Willingham had issued a ghoulish invitation – COME OVER HERE SOMETIME WE ARE ANXIOUS TO ENTERTAIN YOU – followed by a more explicit threat of a libel suit: YOU MUST REALISE THAT AN IRRESPONSIBLE PERSON OF YOUR CHARACTER CANNOT MERELY HAVE ACCESS TO THE WAVE FREQUENCIES AND DEFAME A WHOLE COMMUNITY WITHOUT PROVOCATION. No doubt it was this that put the wind up Adrian Samish, vice-president of ABC, and his colleagues: OUR NEWS DEPARTMENT HAS BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION, he wired Welles, THE PROBLEMS THEY HAVE BEEN HAVING LATELY ABOUT TRYING TO GET YOU TO WRITE A SCRIPT AND TRYING TO GET YOU TO SUBMIT IT IN SUFFICIENT TIME FOR THEIR REGULAR REVIEW OF ALL COMMENTATORS FOR LIBEL, GOOD TASTE AND APPROPRIATE NEWS AUTHORITY. His script, Samish continued, must be submitted at least two hours before broadcast time. Welles will not be permitted to ad lib; if he persists, they will be forced to cut him off the air, explaining that he is broadcasting material he has refused to submit to ABC. WE ARE HAPPY TO GIVE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY OF UTILISING YOUR GREAT TALENT BUT UNDER THE FCC LAW THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF BROADCASTS ARE ABC’S I AM SURE YOU WILL UNDERSTAND OUR POSITION AND I AM TELLING OUR NEWS DEPARTMENT THAT I PERSONALLY KNOW YOU WILL CO-OPERATE. And he added, a little desperately, PLEASE DON’T LET ME DOWN. It was scarcely to be imagined that Welles would be allowed to get away with it for much longer.

Ignoring Samish and with only the merest nod in the direction of Aiken’s offended civic pride, he returned to the fray the following week. “The place was Batesburg,” he says firmly, then recapitulates what happened the week before in Aiken: the banning of the movie, the stripping down and burning of the posters, the hanging in effigy.


The broadcast, “The Place Was Batesburg”, broadcast date August 25, 1946. Transcript is at the footnote7:

It should be noted that Welles here misidentifies the perpetrator as M.L. Shull, when it was L.L. Shull (for Lynwood Lanier Shull), as he properly named the accused in “Welles film banned”.

It is possible, given the testimony we have, to locate where all this took place in Batesburg. Woodard would testify during a later civil suit against the Greyhound bus company, in detail, on where he was arrested and the beating began. An excerpt from this testimony, “Sworn Testimony for Civil Lawsuit, November 1947″ (along with parts two, three, and four), taken from “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”:

I gets up and walks out of the bus and there was two polices standing there when I walked out. He was standing out there talking to the police.

He said, “This soldier has been making a disturbance on the bus,” so I goes to explain to the police that I had not been doing anything for them to arrest me, I was explaining to them what the bus driver said to me and what I said to him, but before I could explain it the police hit me with a billy across my head and told me to shut up. So I hushed, so the bus driver finished talking and after he finished talking the police said to me, “You won’t ride this bus out of here. You will catch the next bus out, otherwise I am going to look you up.” So then he grabbed me by my right wrist and twisted it behind my back and walks me down the street twisting my arm and looking at me just like he wanted to hit me. I don’t know but that is what I was thinking to myself.

So he was not saying anything to me and I was not saying anything to him, and he comes to the corner where one street goes down straight and another goes around a corner this way, and he turned right but instead of him telling me to turn too, he just turned the corner and twisted my arm all at the same time, and so then I lit into him. I still did not say anything, so he asked me, “Have you been discharged?” and I says “Yes,” just like that. So he said, “Don’t say ‘Yes’ to me, say ‘Yes, sir,’ so I begged his pardon and I told him I would say ‘Yes, sir’ to him if he wanted me to, which I did.

So he started beating me all at the same time, just as soon as I said “Yes,” so then I throwed up my left arm and blocked a few licks and he continued to beat me until I had to do something so I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand, and when I did that some other officer throwed a revolver in my back and says, “Drop that billy. If you don’t I will drop you,” so I drops the billy and he picks it up and walked me on up to the jail and started beating me again.

“So he was not saying anything to me and I was not saying anything to him, and he comes to the corner where one street goes down straight and another goes around a corner this way” is the key phrase for the location, the corner of an intersection, at which point Shull jerks Woodard’s arm without warning him of the turn – “he turned right but instead of him telling me to turn too” – and then it begins: “So he started beating me all at the same time”.

We are told what specific corner this is, in the testimony of the bus driver, Alton C. Blackwell, in this same civil suit. From a transcript of this testimony, at “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 1″ and “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 2″ 8:

Q According to this map, at right angles to North Railroad Avenue appears to be Oak Street and Granite Street down here. In which direction did Officer Shull take Woodard, did they go toward Oak or Granite Street?

A Toward Granite Street.

Q You spoke about seeing them approaching, I believe you said a corner when Woodard was apparently trying to jerk away from Chief Shull or the corner, is that right?

A The corner at Granite and North Railroad Avenue, yes, sir.

Q Did they go around that corner in the direction fo Granite Street?

A Yes, sir, around the corner down Granite Street.

Q Did you see them any more?

A No, I did not.

Q State whether at any time in your presence or so far as you saw, Officer Shull struck Woodard with his hands or with any weapon.

A No, sir, I did not see him strike him at all.

“The corner at Granite and North Railroad Avenue, yes, sir.” Woodard alleges the beating began on this corner, and this is the corner identified by Blackwell as the one at which they turn. I was unable to find anything labeled Granite Street on the Google map of Batesburg – but this is because Fulmer Street is also known as Granite Street, and this Fulmer Street intersects with West Railroad Avenue. That Granite Street is also known as Fulmer Street I discovered from the book South Carolina Postcards Volume 4: Lexington County and Lake Murray. This book is on google books, with a 1912 photo of Granite (Fulmer) Street (page 57):

Fulmer was a busy thoroughfare of Batesburg. It was where the cotton was sold. Page 55 of South Carolina Postcards:

This avenue divides in two, a northern strip and a southern strip, and this intersection is with the northern strip of Railroad Avenue, North Railroad Avenue. Oak Street runs parallel to Fulmer alongside it. There appears to something off in the google map of Batesburg – when I try and save the location on North Railroad which is the corner of Fulmer, I end up a block over. This may be due to my inexperience with this app. On Google Street View, this is the corner of Fulmer and North Railroad Avenue.

Here is a screenshot from Google Street View, the intersection of Fulmer and Railroad Avenue.

Many of the buildings in Batesburg are the same structures from a century ago.

This is the corner of Oak Street from 1908, page 58 from South Carolina Postcards:

This is the building today, where we can see the same half moon windows alongside Railroad Avenue. On Google Street View here:

This is what used to be the opera house at the end of Oak Street, South Carolina Postcards page 59:

It’s now a florist’s, and one can see the same windows immediately. On Google Street View here. A screenshot from my Google Street View:

That I locate this event, is not to provoke any violence, for violence sickens me, and I think it often the cowardly fantasy of those who’ve only enjoyed it at a distance, for the simple purpose of memory. What happened to Isaac Woodard was of historic significance, and where it took place is of historic significance as well.

Back to Simon Callow’s Hello Americans:


Welles sums up his own contribution to the story, returning to his Shadow mode [1:31-2:19, for most of the following, after which he reads the letter from an angry listener then reads his response, with the closing moment, "Well, that's enough of that for now..." coming in at 6:22-6:31]:

When I stumbled upon this story several weeks ago…the name of the guilty policeman was unknown and it looked as though it always would be. I promised to get that name. I have it now…we won’t let him go. I promised I’d hunt him down. I have. I gave my word I’d see him unmasked. I have unmasked him. I’m going to haunt Police Chief Shull for the rest of his natural life. Mr Shull is not going to forget me. And what’s more important, I’m not going to let you forget Mr Shull. Well, that’s enough of that for now. We’ll come back to Mr Shull next week. And the week after that. And the week after that.

He moves on to a retelling of the story of the Unknown Soldier, one he had already written up for Free World, to which he bring exactly the same degree of emotion as he brought to Woodard’s story. “The people want world government,” he cries, “standing side by side, when the tools of war are put down forever.”

There is no contradiction in this, no insincerity: but in the end it is rather like being at Hyde Park Corner, with Welles, the radical gun for hire, on his soapbox, ready to sound off on the good causes of the week. In fact, he didn’t return to Woodard, or Chief Shull, until the penultimate Commentary some weeks later; after which Samish, true to his word, cut him off the air, selling his space instead to Chimney Sweep, the latest in a long line of ignominious substitutions that had started with Tarzan at RKO. Samish offered him a lifeline: if Welles was interested in doing a Commentary that completely ignored politics, Samish believed he had “a commercial spot where he can be sold”. It was not a proposition Welles cared to entertain.


For the moment, this penultimate Commentary broadcast I have been unable to find.


Then, with justified pride, he quotes the telegram Oliver Harrington had sent him, informing him that Lynwood Shull had been made the target of a criminal information charge by the Department of Justice for violating the Civil Rights Statute, a seldom-used statute passed by Congress in 1870 giving civil rights to black people: ACTION OF JUSTICE DEPT IS HISTORIC MOVE PROFOUND IMPLICATIONS I PERSONALLY FEEL YOU MORE THAN ANY OTHER RESPONSIBLE PLEASE ACCEPT DEEP GRATITUDE OF THE NAACPS 700,000 MEMBERS.

In a letter to radical Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, Welles said that he had had thousands of letters, almost all of which were commendatory, and hundreds of requests for the script. “You will all be disappointed to know,” he said, alluding to the 1870 statute, “that the penalty is only one year and the fine an extremely nominal one…Attorney General Clark has stated that he will ask for an amplification of the penalties…we must hold him to it…and use the publicity generated by this case to guarantee other minorities’ rights.” It was the single most effective political action of his life, though not in its immediate outcome, because as the trial judge J. Waties Waring feared, Truman and his Attorney General – “alarmed at the increased racial feeling in the country” – were more interested in being seen to have done something about the situation than in actually doing it. Waring was none too impressed by Welles’s involvement, either, directing the jury not to be influenced by “publicity seekers on the radio agitating for the prosecution of this case, or by politicians, mindful of the ballot box”. The prosecution case was at best half-hearted, crucial witnesses were not called, defence witnesses were indulge, and despite Waring’s instruction to the jury that they were trying “only one white police officer, not the South’s racial customs”, the defence attorney declared: “If delivering a verdict against the federal government means that South Carolina will have to secede again, then let’s secede.” The judge had to force the jury to discuss their verdict for at least twenty minutes. The instant they re-entered the courtroom, they returned a “not guilty” verdict. Chief of police Lynwood Lanier Shull resumed his job, ending his days, covered in respect and affection, in a retirement home in Batesburg, South Carolina.


This court case and its aftermath is well-described in the book, A Passion for Justice: J. Waties Waring and Civil Rights by Tinsley E. Yarborough, a biography of judge Waring which is scanned at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”, “Tinsley Yarborough, A Passion for Justice, pp. 48-53″, and whose relevant sections devoted to the trial are transcribed here.


The early case which apparently had the greatest influence on Judge Waring’s growing commitment to civil rights, however, concerned Isaac Woodward, Jr., [sic] a twenty-seven-year-old black [sic] whose wife was then living in Winnsboro. On February 12, 1946, Woodward was discharged from the Army at Camp Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia. That evening, he boarded a bus bound for his wife’s Winnsboro home. At Batesburg, a sleepy village thirty miles from Columbia, he was taken off the bus by police and arrested. The net morning, he pleaded guilty to public drunkenness and disorderly conduct in the Batesburg mayor’s court. Mayor H. E. Quarles imposed a $50 fine, but Woodward only had $44. Quarles collected that and suspended the rest of the fine. Woodward’s eyes were red and swollen. Later that day, he was admitted to the veteran’s hospital in Columbia. Three months later, he was released from the hospital – totally blind.

Civil rights groups soon complained that Batesburg police chief Lynwood Shull had gouged the veteran’s eyes with his blackjack, and by late summer, the Woodward case had become a national cause in the black press. Woodward’s parents lived in the Bronx borough of New York City. In mid-August, 20,000 supporters, including a number of prominent entertainment figures, attended a benefit rally at a New York stadium sponsored by the Amsterdam News and the Isaac Woodward Benefit Committee. In a speech read to the gathering in his absence, New York’s Mayor O’Dwyer, honorary chairman of the benefit, condemned the “brutal treatment” to which Woodward had been subjected and announced that New York police had recently been issued a policy statement forbidding discrimination in the performance of their duties. In an interview with reporters the day before the benefit, Chief Shull readily confirmed that he had hit the veteran with his blackjack when he became “unruly.” “I hit him across the front of the head after he attempted to take away my blackjack,” Shull explained. “I grabbed it away from him and cracked him across the head.”

Through the NAACP, Woodward also told his story to the Department of Justice. Ordinarily, federal officials might have considered the incident a state matter, best left to the discretion of local authorities. But 1946 was a congressional election year. In late September, the Justice Department telephoned U.S. attorney Claude Sapp in Columbia, informing him that charges had been prepared against Shull and were being mailed to South Carolina for filing in the district court. Fearing that a grand jury would be unlikely to indict Batesburg’s constable on felony charges, the Department had decided to bring misdemeanor charges against Shull under an information or affidavit of the U.S. attorney. On September 26, Sapp filed the information in the district court, charging Shull with a violation of Title 18, Section 52, of the U.S. code.

A remnant of the Reconstruction era, Section 52 made it a crime for persons acting “under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation or custom to interfere with rights “secured or protected” by the U.S. Constitution or federal law. Conviction carried a maximum punishment of one year, $1,000 or both. The information charged Shull with violating Woodward’s

right to be secure in his person and to be immune from illegal assault and battery; the right and privilege not to be beaten and tortured by persons exercising the authority to arrest; the right and privilege not to be beaten, tortured, and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because of having committed any offense; the right and privilege not to be denied equal protection of the laws; and the right and privilege not to be subjected to different punishments, pains, and penalties by reason of his race or color.

Following the filing of federal charges, South Carolinians closed ranks behind Chief Shull. In October, the state law enforcement association adopted a resolution protesting the “high-handed” interference of federal authorities in a “purely local matter,” and a movement was begun to raise a defense fund in the constable’s behalf. Three prominent Batesburg citizens, including Mayor Quarles and a former state highway commissioner, posted his bond. Civil rights groups continued to give the case extensive attention.

The trial was set for November 5, election day in Columbia. Shortly before it was to begin, however, Claude Sapp visited Judge Waring’s chambers and told the judge that he had been directed by the Justice Department to file the information against Shull, that the department had furnished him with no witnesses, and that the attorney general was now instructing Sapp to seek a continuance in the case.

Judge Waring now suspected that the filing of charges had been a mere election-year ploy, and that, following the election, the charges would be quietly forgotten. He was shocked and furious. He told Sapp that he would deny any motion for a postponement of the trial. Instead, he would dismiss the charges against Shull and issue an order detailing his reasons.

After Sapp left his chambers, Judge Waring prepared a rough draft of a memorandum order. Nothing that the charges against Shull had been prepared in Washington and forwarded to South Carolina “for immediate filing,” he asked: “Why this haste in [the] start of a prosecution and reticence in trying it?” Then, appearing to answer his own question, he observed:

I am not unmindful of the fact that this matter has attained unpleasant and undesirable publicity. It is probable that agitators for prosecution and agitators against prosecution are not averse to the publicity which they themselves receive from the advocacy of these measures. I am also aware of the fact that a national election is impending.

Such factors, he asserted, should have no influence on the judicial process.

I do not believe that a criminal prosecution in the courts of this country should be influenced one way or the other by the desire of any of such parties for publicity and the resultant benefit to seekers for public exhibitionism or for political preferment. I am of the opinion that justice in the courts should [be] administered irrespective of race or color and that judges and jurors must be color-blind in rendering justice. If this case is based upon facts and the defendant committed the acts as charged, he is guilty of a heinous offense and prompt trial should be had. If these charges cannot be sustained, then he is being subjected to grave injustice to allow the case to continue upon the calendar of the court. I am unwilling that a matter of this kind should be allowed to drag on and perhaps disappear after the national election. And I do not believe that this poor blinded creature should be a football in the contest between box office and ballot box. The case must be tried or dismissed and the government announcing that it is not ready for trial, accordingly it is ordered that the cause be dismissed for want of prosecution. The defendant is hereby discharged and his bail bond exonerated.

It is not known whether Judge Waring shared his draft order with Claude Sapp. After conferring further with the Justice Department, however, the U.S. attorney reported to Waring that a department attorney and several witnesses would be available and that the case would go to trial on schedule. On Monday, November 4, the first day of the term, Judge Waring disposed of near fifty cases including nineteen revenue violations, three cases of automobile theft, and an embezzlement count. On Tuesday, a jury heard the Shull case.

Isaac Woodard was the government’s principal witness. Dressed in a brown suit and wearing sunglasses with green lenses, the slim black veteran testified that a few miles outside Augusta, when the bus made a stop to pick up passengers, he asked the driver to wait while he went to a restroom. The driver, he said, cursed him and told him to return to his seat. “[T]alk to me like I’m talking to you,” Woodard said he retorted. “I’m a man just like you.” Woodward then went to the restroom. When he returned, the driver said nothing. When the bus reached Batesburg, however, the driver summoned Woodward off the bus to meet “someone I want you to see.” Once outside, Woodward encountered Chief Shull and another policeman. Woodward testified that when he attempted to explain his difficulty with the driver, Shull told him to “shut up” and hit him on the head with his blackjack. Then he twisted Woodward’s arm behind his back and led him up a street and around a corner, out of the view of the other bus passengers. Approximately a hundred feet beyond the corner, according to Woodward, Shull asked him whether he had been discharged from the Army. When Woodward indicated that he had, the police chief began beating him with his billy club and shouted, “You don’t say ‘yes’ to me, say ‘yes sir!'” Woodward complied but then struggled with Shull, wresting the blackjack from the officer. Another policeman ran up at this point, Woodward testified, and threatened him with his pistol until Woodward dropped the blackjack. Woodward conceded that he had “a drink or two” but denied that he used profane or abusive language on the bus, or that any passenger had complained to the driver about his behavior. After his appearance in the Batesburg mayor’s court, he added, he had been returned to his jail cell; no physician had examined him until his transfer to the veteran’s hospital.

Two passengers on the bus, a University of South Carolina student and a white veteran, testified that they had not seen Woodward drinking, that he was simply the one among many Army dischargees “jollying around” on the bus who had been singled out for arrest. The testimony of most witnesses, however, differed markedly from Woodward’s version of the events. Bus driver A. C. Blackwell of Columbia testified that Woodward was drinking on the bus and offered a drink to a white soldier. “He was drunk,” Blackwell said, “he was pretty drunk,” and had “caused commotions” at several points along the bus route. “Boy,” Blackwell said he told Woodward at one stop, “I’m going to leave you somewhere.” The black’s language had been so profane, Blackwell added, that an offended white couple had asked that he be removed from the bus.

Lynwood Shull, dressed in a blue suit and appearing clean-cut, pleaded self-defense in the line of duty. Shull conceded that he may have “bumped” Woodward lightly with his nightstick at the bus station but insisted that he had hit the defendant only when Woodward attempted to seize his blackjack.

I kept trying to hush him…The next thing I knew he caught the loose end of my blackjack and pulled me right into him. I didn’t have time to pick a spot. I’m sorry I hit him in the eyes and blinded him. I had no wish to blind anyone. I had no tention of hitting him in the eyes, but I had to hit him in self-defense because he was advancing on me.

Had Woodward “hushed up” his cursing, Shull said, he would not have arrested him. When Woodward first declined the police chief’s offer to seek a physician following his court appearance the next day, moreover, the policeman had bathed the soldier’s swollen eyes with warm water and a cloth.

Other witnesses backed Shull’s position. Another policeman testified that he had not been present when the defendant and Woodward were struggling for the nightstick. But he agreed that the veteran had been cursing. Mayor Quarles reported that Woodward had admitted in his court to being drunk and disorderly. A Batesburg physician, who said that he had examined Woodward at the jail before his transfer to the veteran’s hospital, testified that the injuries to both Woodward’s eyes could have been caused by one blow, as Shull had testified. Under questioning from a government attorney, the doctor did concede that such a blow would have to be “perfectly timed.” Three character witnesses, including the county sheriff and a black Methodist minister, declared that Shull was a man of fine character and reputation.

Throughout the trial, Judge Waring attempted to thwart the appeals to racism of Shull’s counsel. In his charge to the all-white jury, moreover, he observed that the case’s racial elements had attracted “unwanted and undesirable” publicity and urged the jurors to “put aside prejudice and give due justice…You are trying only one police officer,” he warned, not the South’s racial customs or “black against white.” In their summations to the jury, however, Shull’s attorneys used a distinctly different approach. One claimed that Woodward belonged to “an inferior race” and that his “vulgar” talk was “not the talk of a sober South Carolina Negro…If Lynwood Shull is convicted today,” he warned, “you will be saying to the public officers of South Carolina that you no longer want your home, your wife, and your children protected.” Another of Shull’s counsel alluded heavily to the Confederacy and the Civil War. If delivering a verdict against the federal government “means that South Carolina’ll have to secede again,” he told the jurors, “then let’s secede!”

Judge Waring doubted that the jury would deliberate more than a few minutes before returning to the courtroom with a verdict of acquittal, but he wanted to give the proceedings, ” a little more atmosphere of respectability.” “I’m going out for a walk,” he told the bailiff ager discharging the jury, “and I’ll be back in twenty minutes’ time.” “But Judge,” the bailiff responded, “that jury ain’t going to stay [out] for twenty minutes.” “They’re going to stay out twenty minutes,” Waring countered, “because they can’t come in until I come back, and I’m not going to be back here for twenty minutes.” Judge Waring briefly walked the streets of Columbia, then returned to the courtroom. The bailiff met him at the door. “Judge, the jury’s all ready; they’re rapping on the door and say they want to come in.” The case had gone to the jury at 6:30 P.M.; its verdict was delivered at 6:55. That verdict, as Judge Waring expected, was acquittal.

Like other white-owned South Carolina newspapers, the Columbia State applauded the jury’s decision. Evidence presented in the case, The State editorialized, established that “the Negro had caused trouble on the bus all along its route…that he was boisterous and caused offense by unseemly language,” and that Shull had “struck the veteran in discharge of his duty and in self-defense.”

A special prosecutor was sent to Columbia from Washington to try the case. This may have been an implied insinuation that the case would not receive fair and unbiased treatment in the South, but it also removes the possibility of any possible future implications of the sort….

Such intercession on the part of the central government in the affairs of the states can lead only to a renewal of argument over states’ rights. It is therefore an unwholesome influence against unity in the Union, and something to be studiously avoided whenever possible.

While hardly agreeing with The State’s assumption that justice had been served, Judge Waring had no quarrel with the Shull jury’s verdict. “I made no comment,” he later recalled.

I have no comment or criticism of them now. I couldn’t ask them to find [Shull] guilty on the slimness of that case, but I was shocked at the hypocrisy of my government and your government in submitting that disgraceful case before a jury. I was also hurt that I was made a party to it, because I had to be a party to it, however unwilling I was.

Isaac Woodward’s plight, the racial appeals of Shull’s counsel, and the Justice Department’s failure to pursue the prosecution aggressively had a tremendous impact on Judge Waring. The case was also, he would later say, Elizabeth Waring’s “baptism in racial prejudice.” Partly to escape the increasingly chilly atmosphere of Charleston, Elizabeth often accompanied here husband when he heard cases in Columbia and other communities where they were still graciously received by the local bar. A March 1946 society column in the Columbia State noted, for example, “Mrs. J. Waties Waring, attractive wife of Judge Waring, lending a breath of spring to the federal courthouse yesterday with a lovely silk dress and charming straw hat.” Elizabeth heard the Woodward case, then returned to their hotel room in tears. She told Judge Waring that she had “never heard such a terrible thing and had no idea how bad the situation was.” When she confessed her shock to a Columbia matron, her acquaintance wearily responded, “Mrs. Waring, that sort of thing happens all the time. It’s dreadful, but what are we going to do about it?”


We return to Callow’s Hello Americans:


The event nevertheless had a considerable long-term effect. Among other things, it politicised Judge Waring, who became a close associate of the NAACP; he lived to be the first judge of modern times formally to declare segregated schooling unequal. The path to racial integration, the bare minimum for civilised interracial relations, was a long and stony one, and one that has perhaps not ended, but the Woodard case was a valuable step along it. His testimony illustrated as vividly as anything could have done that the issue was, above all, one of the right to respect. The whole incident had begun in the bus when the driver had cursed him for making him stop so that Woodard could use the toilet. “Talk to me like I’m talking to you,” the mild Woodard had said. “I’m a man just like you.” It was for this outrage that the driver reported him to the police. And when he got off the bus at Batesburg to meet “someone I want you to see”, and Shull had hit him on the head with his blackjack, Woodard answered the question as to whether he’d been discharged from the army with the single word “Yes”. “Don’t say yes to me,” Shull had said, “say yes sir.” And then, enraged by Woodard’s impertinence, he laid about him again with renewed vigour.

Welles did not often speak of his involvement in the case, but some years later, in London in 1955, he recounted the story on his television programme Orson Welles’s Scrapbook. And having recounted it, he observed:

We’re told that we should co-operate with the authorities. I’m not an anarchist. I don’t want to overthrow the rule of law, on the contrary, I want to bring the policeman to law. Obviously individual effort won’t do any good. There’s nothing an individual can do about protecting the individual in society. I’d like it very much if somebody would make a great big international organisation for the protection of the individual. It would be very nice to have that sort of an organisation, be nice to have that sort of card. I see the card as fitting into the passport, a little larger than the passport, with a border around it in bright colours, so that it would catch the eyes of the police. And they’d know who they were dealing with…and it might read something as follows. “This is to certify that the bearer is a member of the human race.”

This mellow and rueful tone was not available to Welles in the forties. Too much was at stake.


Callow is a superb and thorough researcher, but here he gets a detail wrong. In his first volume, he eloquently describes the abilities of Welles as a painter and sketcher, able to draw up easily the appearance of a character, with this sketch carrying a succinct essence of the character, and this programme for the BBC was not a memory book, but a tribute to the skills of the director in this area, Orson Welles’s Sketchbook, with each episode featuring Welles sketching various episodes and characters while telling his stories. This episode, along with the rest of the Sketchbook series, is currently on youtube: “Orson Welles Sketchbook – Episode 3: The Police”. The opening of the episode is devoted to the Woodard case, with Welles sketching the man, and his description leaving no doubt of the importance of the case to him. During this opening, he appears to commingle details from the case. The policemen did wish to make Woodard appear drunk, and they offered him something to drink, and they poured water over his head to wash the blood from his wounds, but here they now pour alcohol from a bucket on his head. Full transcript of this program is at the footnote9:

I was, uh, many years, a radio commentator…in America. During that time, of course, I had occasion to speak on a great variety of subjects. *tears paper out of sketchbook* Of all those subjects, one of the most interesting stories, the one that sticks most vividly in memory, had to do with a Negro soldier. Here he is:

Boy had seen service in the South Pacific, he was on his way home. Home was in one of the Southern states…he was on a bus, on the way he felt ill, he asked the bus driver to let him off. Bus driver refused, abusively. There was an argument, at the end of which a policeman was called in, who dragged the boy out of the bus, took him behind a building, and beat him viciously. And when he was unconscious, poured gin over him, put him in jail, charged him with drunkenness and assault. When the boy regained consciousness, he discovered that he was blind. The policeman had literally beaten out his eyes. Now, of course, that sortof policeman is the exception. That’s when a policeman is a criminal in uniform. I had the satisfaction of being instrumental in bringing that particular policeman to justice. Case was brought to my attention, and I brought it to the attention of the radio public, and we did finally manage to locate this man, and bring him into a court of law.

This episode would be an ending for the Welles in the venue which allowed him to make such an extraordinary debut in movies, the medium of radio. The crucial importance of radio for Welles in shaping his sensibility and his movies is often understated, if not ignored entirely, because the medium of episodic radio was moribund – if not extinct – for decades until its revival by This American Life, a revival further sustained by programs like The Moth. These, however, are still a different creature than what Welles was working with, fictional drama in contrast to non-fictional reporting, essays, and memoir. Radio had sustained Welles in between his film work, and though it is now entirely forgotten, one can count the Woodard case among his greatest triumphs, a result of his genius for this medium. That his film career would go into an advancing and steep decline with the end of radio is a possible connection to any reader of Callow’s Hello Americans, yet one seemingly little noted by many. Hello Americans:

The Commentary of 1 September was not only Welles’s last appearance in the series, but his last appearance on American radio, the medium in which he had earned a living for most of his professional life, and which he had loved in so many and various ways – some admittedly not wisely, but too well. He had understood its possibilities from the moment he started to work in it; he had brought what he learned there to the theatre and to film. Latterly, he had seemed to lose his youthful interest in it as a medium per se; he had become captivated rather by its possibilities as the most direct means of conveying his ideas, unmediated by production of any sort, to the American people. It was a very pure form: just his voice and the listener’s ear.

Lynwood Shull would outlive both Woodard and Welles. The legendary film director would die in 1985 (given his celebrity and status, there is no question of the date of October 11 1985, and his New York Times obituary is here: “Orson Welles is Dead at 70; Innovator of Film and Stage”), while Woodard would die at 73, on September 23, 1992, a date which I get from the less reliable wikipedia and the entry, “Isaac Woodard”, which carries no citation for the date of death. Lynwood Shull would die at age ninety-five in 1997, a detail which can be found alongside a description of the Shull descendants in The Grace of Silence: A Family of Memoir. This memoir by NPR correspondent Michele Norris focuses on her own family, and her father being shot by the police during the same era of Isaac Woodard’s blinding. While exploring her own family history, Norris investigates the Woodard case and interviews surviving family members. From Grace of Silence:


The man accused of blinding Isaac Woodard, Police Chief Lynwood Shull, pretty much disappeared from the historical record after his acquittal in November 1946. He stayed in and around Batesburg for most of his life. He had a daughter and worked for a time as the county road commissioner. He died in December 1997, at the age of ninety-five. Eager to know more about him, I called up some of his relatives: not a one had a clue that Lynwood Shull had been a figure in the national news for his involvement in the Woodard case. They had no idea that Shull had been the subject of a series of radio tirades by Orson Welles, the creator of Citizen Kane and The War of the Worlds. Most were dumbfounded to discover that their relative had been accused of a crime so heinous as to prompt executive action by a sitting U.S. president. Some were eager to get me off the phone, but others wanted to hear more.

Patsy Quarles, who married into the family, learned of the story from news clippings she discovered while cleaning out her in-laws’ farmstead. “It was hush-hush,” she said. “I was married thirty years before I even heard it mentioned. At that time a newspaper article turned up and I said what was this about and [my husband] said it is not something the family talks about.” Quarles told me that she wants to know more but is afraid to press the subject.

Hugh Shull, who lives in Lexington, South Carolina, is a nephew of Shull’s. His father, Cothran, was the youngest of six Shull siblings; Lynwood was the oldest. When I asked Hugh if he had ever heard of Isaac Woodard, he said, “Never heard a word of any of this, and I am fifty-seven years old.” In one of the most uncomfortable conversations I’ve been party to, I read Woodard’s affidavit to Hugh Shull on the phone; he gasped time and again at the other end of the line.

“He is my uncle Lynwood,” Hugh Shull said. “It is a shock to me. Yes, ma’am. Not so much a shock that things like that happened in that period. But a shock that he would do that.” I explained that my father was a black veteran also wounded in a police shooting, and that he, too, had kept the story to himself to avoid passing his pain on to his loved ones. Shull told me, “They say that was the greatest generation, the ability to try to protect their family, and I guess that is what they did. They protected their families.” The Shull family had also been burdened, it appears, and in some ways shaped, by the weight of silence. Hugh Shull seemed conflicted about what he’d heard. “It makes me feel ashamed that something like that happened, and I don’t know if I should apologize or what, but I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Davis and Betty Shull live in nearby Aiken County, South Carolina. They were not close to Lynwood Shull; they last saw him at a livestock market years before his death. They, too, were in the dark about Lynwood, but, as they see it, the connection of their family name to the Woodard scandal is no cause for apology. “It does not bother me,” Davis Shull, Lynwood’s cousin, said. “I did not know it. I would assume the man could have been at fault. If he [Shull] was acquitted, [Woodard] probably did something.”

Davis Shull is troubled by the notion that all Shulls – all southerners, for that matter – should be besmirched by any one incident. “We’re all supposed to be haters,” Davis said. “But hey! We have relatives who are black. We know who they are. Goes back to my great-granddaddy. We knew who they are and one of them was even raised up in the same house with my grandmother. In some way we see things clearly.” His wife, Betty, noted that the South’s tortured history vis-a-vis race makes it hard for whites to wade into racial discussions. “Nowadays everything is racist,” she told me. “No matter what you say. You can’t tell the truth without being racist. You can’t say anything.”

Listening to Davis and Betty Shull, I couldn’t help but think of the newsreels from the civil rights era’s most vicious conflicts. Lynwood Shull is dead, but many of the people who threw bricks at college students, or spat at ballplayers, or yelled awful things at schoolchildren are still alive. And if America is as determined as it appears to be to have a frank conversation about race, those very people, who’ve been denounced and derided – demonized – must have a seat at the table, so that they can be a part of the dialogue. For often discussions about race are one-sided, driven only by those who have experienced directly or through family ties the burden of rampant and vicious discrimination. The “success despite oppression” trope is quite common in politics, business, and the media. Less common – more muted, perhaps – are the viewpoints of people who enforced, enjoyed, or evolved past presumed white privilege. Their stories and sentiments, too, must be considered for greater understanding, as all of us try to explore and explain a country that has moved from the legislated marginalization of people of color to their predicted attainment of majority status in less than forty years.


The voice of Isaac Woodard, his own voice, is almost entirely missing from all these accounts. The closest I have come is his testimony as part of a lawsuit against the Greyhound company. He would lose the lawsuit, as described in the contemporary piece, “Greyhound Not Liable For Beating” by A. H. Calloway, and for which I am grateful to “jimgaines” for clipping. What follows is Woodard’s testimony. Nutter is T. Gillis Nutter, attorney for plaintiff, while Morris is Stanley C. Morris, attorney for the defendant. This testimony is transcribed from the scan, “Sworn Testimony for Civil Lawsuit, November 1947″ (along with parts two, three, and four) at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”.


Q I wish you would turn to the jury there on your left and state in your own language what occurred or what happened to you between Augusta, Georgia and Batesburg, South Carolina.

A What occurred after I boarded the bus?

Q Yes.

A Well, a few miles out of town, about an hour’s ride, the bus driver stopped the bus. I asked him did he have time to wait until I go to the rest room, I mean the latrine. He says to me, “Hell, no.” He said, “God damn it, go back and sit down. I ain’t got time to wait.” I says, “God damn it, talk to me like I am talking to you. I am a man just like you.” He said, “Go ahead then and hurry back.”

Well, I goes ahead and hurried back and takes my seat again. That was all of that. So he did not say anything more to me and I did not say anything more to him until we come into Batesburg, South Carolina. He gets in Batesburg and he stops and gets off the bus and I don’t know what he got off the bus for, but he came back to the bus and walks up to me and taps me on the shoulder and says, “Get up, some one outside wants to see you.” He turns around and walks back out of the bus. I gets up and walks out of the bus and there was two polices standing there when I walked out. He was standing out there talking to the police.

He said, “This soldier has been making a disturbance on the bus,” so I goes to explain to the police that I had not been doing anything for them to arrest me, I was explaining to them what the bus driver said to me and what I said to him, but before I could explain it the police hit me with a billy across my head and told me to shut up. So I hushed, so the bus driver finished talking and after he finished talking the police said to me, “You won’t ride this bus out of here. You will catch the next bus out, otherwise I am going to look you up.” So then he grabbed me by my right wrist and twisted it behind my back and walks me down the street twisting my arm and looking at me just like he wanted to hit me. I don’t know but that is what I was thinking to myself.

So he was not saying anything to me and I was not saying anything to him, and he comes to the corner where one street goes down straight and another goes around a corner this way, and he turned right but instead of him telling me to turn too, he just turned the corner and twisted my arm all at the same time, and so then I lit into him. I still did not say anything, so he asked me, “Have you been discharged?” and I says “Yes,” just like that. So he said, “Don’t say ‘Yes’ to me, say ‘Yes, sir,’ so I begged his pardon and I told him I would say ‘Yes, sir’ to him if he wanted me to, which I did.

So he started beating me all at the same time, just as soon as I said “Yes,” so then I throwed up my left arm and blocked a few licks and he continued to beat me until I had to do something so I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand, and when I did that some other officer throwed a revolver in my back and says, “Drop that billy. If you don’t I will drop you,” so I drops the billy and he picks it up and walked me on up to the jail and started beating me again. He hit me and knocked me unconscious and I fell; so when I come to myself he hollered to me to get up, and when I went to get up he knocked me back to the ground. He had the end of his billy driving it into my eyeballs. So when he did that I gets up and he grabbed me by the left shoulder and shoved me inside the cell and shut the door. So I walked over to the bench and leaned up on the bunk there and in a few minutes he come in, opened the door and said “Here’s your wallet,” and passed my wallet in and it fell near my feet, which I could still see a little at that time. So I picks up my wallet and puts it in my pocket, so I scuffled around and lay down on the bunk, so after a while I goes to sleep. The next morning –

Q Let me interrupt you there. How many times did he hit you, if you know, between the bus station and the turn of the corner?

A Well, I can’t say just about how many but my estimate about it is at least six or seven times, I know.

Q That was before you got to the jail?

A That is right.

Q After you turned the corner there facing the jail how many times did he hit you then?

A I wouldn’t know about how many times he hit me then, but it was more than one or two times. I know that.

Q You spoke of him punching you in the eyes. When did he do that?

A That is when I was right in front of the jail.

Q How many times did he punch you in the eyes?

A I don’t know how many times he punched me in the eyes, but I do remember that he was jabbing into my eyes when I come to myself.

Q Did he jab you more than once in the eyes?

A I believe he did.

Q What do you mean by jabbing you in the eyes; what did he do?

A He had the end of his billy longways driving it into my eyes like that (demonstrating).

Q Now, you say you lay down on the bunk. Then what did you do after that?

A So I goes to sleep, so the next morning he came in and said, “All right, come on out. Let’s go up and see what the judge has to say to you.” I says, “I can’t see.” He says, “You can feel, can’t you?” So I did not make no move to come out, so I guess he saw then that I could not see anything, so he walks on back to me and catches me by my left arm and leads me up to the fosset [sic] and tells me to wash my face. So I washed my face. He leads me on up to the judge and he told the judge, he says, “This soldier was making a disturbance on the bus last night, drunk and disorderly.” The judge asked me, “Do you have anything to say?” I says, “Yes, sir.” So I explained to him what I asked the bus driver and what the driver says to me and what I said to him, about him cursing me and me cursing him. When I said that the judge said, “Well, I will tell you, we don’t have such stuff like that down here.”

He says, “I find you fifty dollars and give you thirty days hard labor on the road.” I says, “I will pay the fifty dollars but I don’t have it all at the time.” The Chief of Police says, “You have some money in your wallet though,” so he took my wallet and I had forty dollars in it. He took the forty dollars out and he said, “Is that all the money you have?” I said, “No, I have some more in my watch pocket.” I had four one-dollar bills in my watch pocket and I pulled it out and they took that. So I had a check in my pocket for $694,73 and he pulled that out and he says, “I see you have a check from the Government. Sign your name here.” I said I could not sign my name because I never had tried to sign my name without seeing, so he gave me that check back, so the judge told the police to carry me back and lock me up then.

Q When you were taken for trial there did you have an attorney in the court that morning, a lawyer to represent you?

A No, sir.

Q Did you have any friends there?

A No, sir.

MR. MORRIS: I do not believe that is material, Your Honor.

THE COURT: It is not prejudicial to give the background of the entire affair.

MR. NUTTER: We also allege in our bill of complaint that he was afraid, that he did not resist.

THE COURT: Very well, you may go ahead. The objection is overruled. (Exception)

MR. NUTTER: You say you paid forty-four dollars?

A Yes, sir.

Q Why did you pay it?

A Because I was scared. He had done beat me up so bad I couldn’t see, so I paid it.

MR. NORRIS: We object to that last question and the answer, and move to strike them out.

THE COURT: That is the explanation of why he paid the fine. In your opening statement, Mr. Morris, I believe you said that he pleaded guilty. I think it is proper for the witness to say why he pleaded guilty, if he did so plead, and why he paid the fine. The objection is overruled. (Exception)

MR. NUTTER: After your trial where did you go then?

A I goes back down and in a few minutes, after I am back in the cell and laying down, the Chief of Police he comes in and he says to me, “We have some whiskey upstairs. Here, take a drink,” but I did not accept, so he goes out comes back and says he brought me a hot towel to put across my forehead. He says, “I am going to get a doctor for you.” So he goes out to get the doctor and come back and said, “I did not find no doctor but I have some eye wash,” so he poured that into my eyes, so I lie back down until later on they brought my lunch in and set it down beside the bed and said, “There is your lunch,” so I tasted it but it made me sick, so I did not eat it, I left it there.

Q Then what happened?

A So then about 5 o’clock that evening he come in and he says, “Get up and put your clothes on. I am going to carry you to the hospital.” I asked him what hospital and he said he was going to take me to the Veterans’ Hospital at Columbia, South Carolina, so I gets up and puts my clothes on and he leads me out and puts me in the car. I asked him just as we left the jail house, I says, “What town is this?” He said, “It is Aiken, South Carolina.” He carries me then on to the hospital, so the doctor went in and he lays me down on the bench or a chair or something, anyway I know I lies down. So one of the nurses or a clerk or somebody, anyway, she commenced quizzing me, asking me where I was born and things like that, and I told her. After a while the doctor came in, and the doctor says to the police, “What is the matter with this fellow here, this soldier?” The police says, “He was drunk and disorderly last night on the bus.” so the doctor asked the police where he was from and he told him Batesburg, South Carolina — I mean Aiken, South Carolina, is where he told him he was from. So he asked me was I drunk and I told him no. So he had the nurse take me on into the room and put me to bed. In a few minutes after that the nurse come around and started giving me shots; so I stayed there for two months.

Q You were there two months, you say?

A yes. So when I got ready to leave the doctor told me that I was permanently blind and the best thing to do is to go ahead and join a blind school, and one fellow come in and took out a pension for me for fifty dollars a month, but I never did receive it, I don’t [know] what become of it.


The question of any great issue is always, “What is to be done?” I do not believe that remembering necessarily requires an immediate answer to this question, or that the simple act of remembering is contingent on providing an answer. I believe the first step in any resolution will always, and can only be, remembering.

(Substantial edits, including new material and spellchecking were made on September 3rd, 2014, though no doubt further additions will still be made.)

FOOTNOTES

1 Woodard’s affidavit, transcribed from “Affidavit, April 1946 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 1012-1013)”:

I, ISAAC WOODARD, JR., being duly sworn, do depose and state as follows:

THAT, I reside at 1100 Franklin Avenue, Bronx, New York, Apartment 2. I am 27 years old, and a veteran of the United States Army, having served from the 12th of October, 1952, to the 12th of February, 1946, when I received an honorable discharge from Camp Gordon, Georgia. I served for 15 months in the South Pacific with the 429th Port Battalion. I served in the Philippines and in New Guinea and earned one battle star.

I was discharged about 5:30 P.M. on February 12, 1946, from Camp Gordon, Georgia. At 8:30 P.M. at the Greyhound Terminal in Atlanta, Georgia, while I was in uniform, I purchased a ticket to Winnsboro, South Carolina and took the bus headed there to pick up my wife to come to New York to see my father and mother. About one hour out of Atlanta the bus driver stopped at a small drug store. As he stopped, I asked him if he had time to wait for me until I had a chance to go to the rest room. He cursed and said, “No.” When he cursed me, I cursed him back. After I cursed him, he said, “Go ahead and get off and hurry back,” so I got off, hurrying back as he said.

About half an hour later, when the bus got to Aiken, he stopped again and got off and went and got the police. I did not know what he was doing and thought it was just a regular stop. He came back and came in the bus and came to me and said, “Come outside for a minute,” and I got off the bus. When I walked out, the police were there. As I walked out, the bus driver started telling the police that I was the one that was disturbing the bus. When he said that, I started explaining to the police that I was not raising a disturbance on the bus, but they didn’t give me a chance to explain. The policeman struck me with a billy across my head and told me to “shut up.” After he finished talking he said to me, “You won’t catch this bus out of here, you catch the next bus.”

After that, he grabbed me by my left arm and twisted it behind my back, and walked me down the street, continually twisting my wrist. I figured he was trying to make resist. I did not resist against him. He asked me was I discharged, and I told him, “Yes.” When I said, “Yes,” that is when he started beating me with the billy; hitting me across the top of my head. After that, I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand. He ran behind my back and grabbed my arm again. I had him by his right shoulder. After that another policeman came up and throw [sic] his gun on me and told me to drop the billy or he would drop me, so I dropped the billy.

After I dropped the billy, the second policeman hold his gun on me while the other one was beating me as we were walking down the street. I did not see anyone on the street. When we got to the door of the police station, he struck me again and knocked me unconscious. After I commenced to come to myself, he hollered, “Get up.” When I started to get up, he started punching me in my eyes with the end of his billy. I finally got up, and when I got up, he pushed me inside the jail house and locked me up. I could still see for a few minutes as I can remember, because I was hardly conscious.

A few minutes after he locked me up, he came in and threw me my purse. He went back out and locked the door. I picked out a cot and lied down.

I woke up the next morning and could not see. Someone brought me my breakfast to the bed. After that, a policeman came to the door and opened the door and told me to come out. He said, “Let’s go up here and see what the judge wants.” I told him that I could not see how to come out, I was blind. He said, “Feel your way out.” I did not make any move to come out, so he walked in and led me to a sink and told me to wash my face, and said that I would be all right after I washed my face. He then led me up to the judge, and the judge said to me, “You were raising sand on the last night – – – stubborn.” So I said to him, “No, sir,” and I told him what happened. After I told him what happened, he said, “We don’t have that kind of stuff down here.” After he said that, the policeman spoke and said, “He wrung my billy out of my hand, and I told him that if he did not drop it, I would drop him.” That is how I knew it was the same policeman as had beat my eyes out.

After that, the judge spoke and said, “I fine you $50.00 or 30 days on the road.” I said I would pay the $50.00 but I did not have the $50.00 at the time. So the policeman said “You have some money there in your wallet.” He took my wallet and took all I had out of it, which was a total of $40.00 and took $4.00 form my watch pocket. I had a check for $694.73, which was my mustering out pay and soldiers deposit. He said to me, “Can you see how to sign this check — you have a government check.” I told him, “No, sir”. So he gave it back to me after that.

He took me back and locked me up in jail. I stayed in there for a while and after a few minutes he came in and asked me if I wanted a drink of whiskey — if I took a drink of whiskey I would probably feel better. I told him, “No, sir,” I did not care for any. He went and got some kind of eye medicine and came back and poured it in both my eyes. He went and got a hot towel and spread it across my head. I stayed there for the rest of the day until about 5:30 that evening. I could tell about what time it was because I asked a policeman and he told me it was late. I do not know if that was the same policeman. At that time he came in and get me and told me that “We’re going to take you to the hospital.” I did not hear anyone else in the room.

He took me to the Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, S.C. When I got there, the doctor was not in at the time, so he laid me on a bench. A nurse took my name and asked me where I was from and everything, so I told her I was from Winnsboro, N.C.

The doctor came in and he questioned the policeman and asked him what was the matter. The policeman told him that I was raising a disturbance on the bus and drunk. The doctor asked the policeman was I drunk then, and he said “No.” So the doctor had an attendant carry me in a room, and the attendant undressed me and put me to bed.

About 5 or 10 minutes after I was in the bed, the nurse came around and started giving me shots in my arm.

One of the contact men came around one day and said to me they were going to take out a pension for me. I believe that the doctor who cared for me was named Dr. Clarence. I told him what had happened to me. He made no comment, but told me I should join a blind school.

I stayed in the hospital for two months — I went in on the 13th of February and came out on the 13th of April. My sisters came down to see me, and since they discharged me while they were down there, they brought me back up to New York to my father’s home in the Bronx, where I am still staying.

Sworn to before me
this 23rd day of
April, 1946.

Woodard’s FBI statement, transcribed from “Statement to FBI, September 1946 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frame 911)”:

New York, N.Y.
Sept. 25, 1946

I, ISAAC WOODARD, Jr. make the following voluntary statement to Leon C. Kelmer and Edward F. Stiles whom I know to be Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No threats or promises of any kind have been made to me in connection with this statement. I realise it may be used in a court of law.

I was discharged from Camp Gordon, Georgia, between 6 and 6:30 pm on February 12, 1946. At about that time I boarded a bus for Augusta, Ga. On the bus were about 30 passengers, including about 10 civilians and about 20 soldiers. The soldiers I believe were discharges. The bus was driven by a white civilian. I did not recognize anyone on the bus which was en route to Augusta, Ga. I observed no drinking on the bus. The ride to Augusta, Ga. took about 1 hr. and we arrived there between 7:15-7:30 pm. on February 12, 1946. I went to the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Augusta and purchased my ticket for Winnsboro, South Carolina. I sat down in the terminal for about 5 or 10 minutes and then went to the restaurant next door where I purchased 10 Hot Dogs. I had nothing to eat or drink in the restaurant and took the Hot Dogs out with me. I ate 5 or 5 [sic] of the Hot Dogs and later gave the rest away on the Greyhound bus to some colored soldiers. I did not take any intoxicating beverage while I was waiting for my bus, nor did I take any such beverage at any time that day of Feb. 12 nor later that evening when I rode from the rear, next to a colored soldier, whose name I do not know. I know nothing about this soldier or any other passenger on the bus which could assist in identifying them. About 30 or 40 minutes after the bus left Augusta, a colored girl came on the bus and the soldier who was seated next to me offered her his seat. I do not know this girl’s name or address. On the opposite side of the bus from me 5 or 6 white soldiers were passing a bottle of liquor among themselves. I did not observe any of the colored soldiers on the bus drinking or passing a bottle of whiskey. I was never offered a drink from a bottle of whiskey on the bus nor did I take any such drink. I was absolutely sober on the bus.

I have had the above statement read to me by Special Agent Kelmer in the presence of my brother Saul Woodard and it is true and correct.

(*) ISAAC WOODARD, JR.

Witnessed:
(s) Leon C. Kelmer, FBI, NYC, 9-25-46
(s) Edward F. Stiles, FBI, NYC.
(s) Saul Woodard

2 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: Affidavit of Isaac Woodard”:

Good morning, this is Orson Welles speaking.

I’d like to read to you…an affidavit. I, Isaac Woodard Jr, being duly sworn to depose and state as follows: that I am twenty seven years old and a veteran of the United States Army, having served fifteen months in the South Pacific, and having earned one battle star. I was honorably discharged on February 12, 1946, at Camp Gordon, Georgia, at 8:30 pm at the Greyhound terminal at Atlanta, Georgia. While I was in uniform I purchased a ticket to Winnsboro, South Carolina, and took the bus headed there to pick up my wife to come to New York to see my father and mother. About one hour out of Atlanta, the bus driver stopped at a small drug store, as he stopped I asked if he had time to wait for me until I had the chance to go to the restroom. He cursed and said no. When he cursed me, I cursed him back. When the bus got to Aiken, he got off and went and got the police. They didn’t give me a chance to explain. The policeman struck me across the head with a billy, and told me to shut up. After that, the policeman grabbed me by my left arm and twisted it behind my back. I figured he was trying to make me resist. I did not resist against him. He asked me, “Was I discharged?” and I told him, “Yes”, when I said “Yes”, that was when he started beating me with a billy, hitting me across the top of the head, after that I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand. Another policeman came up and threw his gun on me and told me to drop the billy or he’d drop me, so, I dropped the billy. After I dropped the billy, the second policeman held his gun on me while the other one was beating me. He knocked me unconscious. After I commenced to recover myself, he yelled “Get up!”, I started to get up, he started punching me in my eyes with the end of the billy. When I finally got up he pushed me inside the jailhouse, and locked me up. I woke up next morning, and could not see.

A policeman said, “Let’s go up here and see what the judge says.” I told him that I could not see, or come out, I was blind. He said, “Feel your way out.” He said I’d be alright after I washed my face. He led me to the judge, and after I told the judge what happened, he said, “We don’t have that kind of stuff down here.” Then the policeman said: “He wrung the billy out of my hand, and I told him if he didn’t drop it, I’d drop him.” That’s how I know it was the same policeman that beat my eyes out. After that the judge spoke and said, “I fine you $50 or thirty days in the row.” And I said I’d pay the fifty dollars, but I did not have the fifty dollars at the time, so the policeman said, “You have some money there in your wallet.” He took my wallet and took out all I had, it was a total of forty dollars, and took four dollars from my watch pocket. I had a cheque for six hundred and ninety four dollars and seventy three cents, which was my mustering out soldiers’ deposit. He said to me, “Can you see how to sign this check? You have a government cheque.” I told him, “No, sir.” So, he gave it back to me after that. Took me back, locked me up in the jail, the policeman did, I stayed in there for a while, and after a few minutes, he came and asked me if I wanted a drink of whiskey. If I took a drink of whiskey, I’d feel better. I told him, “No, sir.” I didn’t care for any.

At 5:30 that evening they took me to the veterans’ hospital, in Columbia, South Carolina, one of the contact men came round one day and said to me they were going to take out a pension for me. I believe that the doctor who cared for me was named Dr. Clarence. I told him what had happened to me, he made no comment. But told me I should…join a blind school.

Sworn to me, on this 23rd day of April 1946.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I had that affidavit in my pocket a few hours before dawn when I left off worrying about this broadcast long enough for coffee at an all-night restaurant, I found myself joined at the table by a stranger. A nice, soft-spoken, well-meaning, well-mannered stranger. He told me a joke. He thinks it’s a joke. I’m going to repeat it, but not for your amusement, I earnestly hope that nobody listening will laugh. This is the joke.

Seems there’s a white man who came on business to a southern town, it could be Aiken, South Carolina…and found he couldn’t get a bed in any of the good hotels. He went to the bad hotels and finally the flophouses, but there was no room for him in any of the inns reserved for white folks, in that southern city, so at last, in desperation, he applied to a Negro hotel where he was accepted with the proviso that he would consent to share a double room with another guest. In rueful gratitude, this white man paid his bill left a call for early in the morning, he rested well, quite undisturbed by the proximity of the sleeping colored man beside him, and he was awakened at the hour of his request. After breakfast, he left for the railway station where he boarded his appointed train, but the conductor would not let him into any of the regular coaches. The man was told quite rudely to go where he belonged, the Jim Crow car. The hero of this funny story allowed he hadn’t washed in the morning, and the dust of travel must be responsible for the conductor’s grievous social miscalculation. He went to the washroom, he started to clean his hands.

They were black. An even hued black. Then he looked into the mirror. His face was the same color. He not only looked darker than white, he was quite visibly a Negro. A great oath precedes the final line which is presumed to be the funny part of this little anecdote: “I know what’s happened,” are the next words of the man. “It’s very simple.” “They woke up the wrong man!”

I left the teller of this tale in the coffee shop, but I found I couldn’t leave the tale itself. Like the affidavit I read at the start of the broadcast, it seems to have become a permanent part of my mental luggage. I sketched in my imagination a sequel to the stranger’s funny joke. I saw the man of business who’d gone to bed a white man getting into an argument with a conductor, I saw a policeman boarding a train at the next station, and taking the man of business out on the platform, and beating the eyes out of his head, because the man thought he should be treated with the same respect he’d received the day before when he was white. I saw a man at the police station trying to make him take a drink, so the medical authorities could testify that he was drunk. I saw the man of business bleeding in his cell. Reaching out with sightless hands through unseen bars, gesturing for help that would not, could not ever come. And I heard his explanation echoing down the stone hallways of the jail: “I know what’s happened, it’s very simple.” “They woke up the wrong man.”

Now it seems the officer of the law who blinded the young Negro boy in the affidavit has not been named. The boy saw him while he could still see, but of course he had no way of knowing which particular policeman it was. Who brought the justice of Dachau and Oswiecim to Aiken, South Carolina. He was just another white man with a stick, who wanted to teach a Negro boy a lesson – to show a Negro boy where he belonged: In the darkness. Till we know more about him, for just now, we’ll call the policeman Officer X. He might be listening to this. I hope so. Officer X, I’m talking to you. Officer X, they woke up the wrong man. That somebody else, that man sleeping there, is you. The you that god brought into the world. All innocent of hate, a paid up resident member of the brotherhood of man. Yes. Unbelievably enough, that’s you, Officer X. You. Still asleep. That you could have been anything, it could have gone to the White House when it grew up. It could have gone to heaven when it died. But they woke up the wrong man. They finally came for him in the blank grey of dawn, as in the death house they come for the condemned. But without prayers. They came with instructions. The accumulated ignorance of the feudal south. And with this particular briefing they called Cain, for another day of the devil’s work. While Abel slept. Wash your hands, Officer X. Wash them well. Scrub and scour, you won’t blot out the blood of a blinded war veteran. Nor yet the color of your skin. Your own skin. You’ll never, never change it. Wash your hands, Officer X. Wash a lifetime, you’ll never wash away that leprous lack of pigment. The guilty pallor of the white man.

We invite you to luxuriate in secrecy, it will be brief. Go on. Suckle your anonymous moment while it lasts. You’re going to be uncovered! We will blast out your name! We’ll give the world your given name, Officer X. Yes, and your so-called Christian name. It’s going to rise out of the filthy deep like the dead thing it is. We’re going to make it public with the public scandal you dictated, but failed to sign.

We pause now for a word from the philosophers. A short reminder regarding the matter of payment and cost. Nothing is paid back. That does not happen. Not on earth. A favor cannot be paid back, neither can a wrong. We say a criminal pays for his crime, when we lock him up, a murderer pays for his murder when the state murders him, but really the state is hiding an unsightly object. Society is merely sweeping its dirt under the carpet. We may sometimes manage to cure the thing called “crime”…but the man called a criminal is never punished; he can be inconvenienced, or tormented, or done away with, but he can never pay for what he has done. If the ledger is ever balanced, it is not by him, but by some other man having nothing to do with him. It is balanced by deeds of virtue. By unrelated good works. The evil-doers agony doesn’t show up in the books. Only that fiction known to us as money can be paid back. The true debt, the debt of a friend to a friend, or a foe to a foe outlives the principles involved. So much for payment.

Price. That’s something else. There’s a price for everything. There’s nothing that does not have its cost. Joy and inspiration and mere pleasure have a market value precisely computed in terms of their opposites. The cost of youth is age, the cost of age is death. You want love? The cost of love is independence. You want to be independent, do you? Then pay the price, and know what it is to feel alone. Your mother paid for you with pain. Nothing nothing in this living world is free. The free air costs you the life consuming effort of breath. Freedom itself is priced at the rate of the citizenship it earns and holds. What does it cost to be a Negro? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his eyes. What does it cost to wear over your skeleton a pinkish tint officially described as “white”? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his soul.

Officer X may languish in jail. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible he’ll serve as long a term as a Negro would serve in Aiken, South Carolina, for stealing bread. But Officer X will never pay for the two eyes he beat out of the soldier’s head. How can you assay the gift of sight? What are they quoting today for one eye? An eye for an eye? A literal reading of this Mosaic law spells out again only the blank waste of vengeance. We’ve told Officer X that he’ll be dragged out of hiding. We’ve promised him a most unflattering glare of publicity. We’re going to keep that promise. We’re going to build our own police line-up to line up this reticent policeman, with the killers, the lunatics, the beastmen, all the people of society’s zoo. Where he belongs. If he’s listening to this, let him listen well. Officer X. After I’ve found you out, I’ll never lose you. If they try you, I’m going to watch the trial. If they jail you, I’m going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won’t be free of me. I want to see who’s waiting for you at the prison gates. I want to know who will acknowledge that they know you. I’m interested in your future. I will take careful note of all your destinations. Assume another name and I will be careful that the name you would forget is not forgotten. I will find means to remove from you all refuge, Officer X. You can’t get rid of me. We have an appointment, you and I. And only death can cancel it.

Who am I? A masked avenger from the comic books? No sir, merely an inquisitive citizen of America. I admit that nothing on this inhabited earth is capable of your chastisement. I’m simply but quite actively curious to know what will become of you. Your fate cannot affect the boy in the country hospital for the blind, but your welfare is a measure of the welfare of my country. I cannot call it your country. How long will you get along in these United States? Which of the states will consent to get along with you? Where stands the sun of common fellowship? When will it rise over your dark country? When will it be noon in Georgia? I must know where you go, Officer X, because I must know where the rest of us are going with our American experiment. Into bankruptcy? Or into that serene tomorrow, that plenteous garden that blind soldier hoped for when he had his eyes, and with eyes open, he went to war. We want a world that will lighten his darkness. You’re sorry for him? He rejects your pity. You’re ashamed? He doesn’t care. We want to tell him soon that all America is ashamed of you. If there’s room for pity, you can have it, for you are far more blind than he. He had eyes to see and saw with them, they made out if nothing else, at least part of the shape of human dignity, and this is not a little thing, but you have eyes to see and you have never seen.

He has the memory of light. But you were born in a pit. He cannot grow new eyes to open the world again for his poor bruised ones. Never. No. The only word we can share with the martyr to carry him from the county hospital to the county grave is word concerning your eyes, Officer X. Your eyes, remember, were not gouged away. Only the lids are closed. You might raise the lids, you might just try the wild adventure of looking. You might see something, it might be a simple truth. One of those truths held to be self-evident by our founding fathers and most of us. If we should ever find you bravely blinking at the sun, we’ll know then that the world is young after all. That chaos is behind us and not ahead. Then there will be shouting of trumpets to rouse the dead at Gettysburg. A thunder of cannon will declare the tidings of peace, and all the bells of liberty will laugh out loud in the streets to celebrate goodwill towards all men. The new blind can hear, and it would be very good if they could hear the news that the old blind can finally see them. Officer X, you’ll find that you can wash off what should be washed, and it will be said of you, even you, they awakened the right man.

Now it’s time to say goodbye. Please let me call again. Next week, same time. Until then, I am always…obediently yours.

3 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: The Peacemakers”:

Last week, I read you an affidavit from a Negro soldier named Isaac Woodard. You remember he was taken off a bus in South Carolina by a policeman and beaten until he was blinded in both eyes. I have a formal letter from a Mr. H. Odell Weeks, who, it seems, is the mayor of the city of Aiken in the state of South Carolina. Where, according to the soldier’s affidavit, he was blinded. The mayor encloses affidavits of his own, sworn to by the city recorder, by the city chief of police, by a couple of patrol officers. Now, these gentlemen deny all knowledge of the incident.

“It is indeed unfortunate,” writes Mr. Weeks, and these are his exact words, quote that you did not fully verify this story. Before you broadcasted it. Unquote. The mayor goes on to say that since my broadcast went out to the nation, and since, according to the affidavits, whose accounts are wholly untrue, he the mayor urges that I have the courage and forthrightness to retract the wrong I’ve done his city. Giving to my own retraction the same emphasis that I’ve placed on the original broadcast. Well, Mr. Weeks…I hardly know how to make affidavits of your city recorder and city policeman as emphatic as Mr. Woodard’s in the hospital for the blind. If it turns out to be true that the city of Aiken is blameless of this hideous scandal, it is my duty to make that innocence as public as possible. I hope to be able to. But: I must warn you that denials are never dramatic. And if I’m to say something exciting about Aiken will have to be something better than that a Negro boy was never blinded in its streets.

I look forward to giving the subject of Aiken all the emphasis it deserves. But I am bound to fail without some affirmative material. There are thousands of cities where Negro soldiers have not been blinded. I hope it will be my privilege to announce that your city is one of these. But since the broadcast is going to go out, as you put it, to the nation let’s spice up the retraction with a little good news. I won’t ask you what the city of Aiken has done for Negro soldiers, or for Negroes, or for the blind. I’ll only ask you if you’re willing to join with me in a manhunt. A man dressed as a policeman blinded a discharged veteran. The blinded boy swears that his tormenter told him he came from the Aiken police. It is surely a more urgent matter for you to apprehend this impostor before he commits further outrages in your city’s name, then it is to exact from a commentator the cold comfort of apology.

You’ll get the apology when the facts are clear. Until then you must understand why it must be deferred. After all, Mr. Weeks, I have not only the affidavits of your policemen, I have also the affidavits of the blinded soldier. Working on the meagre clue that there’s also an Aiken county, I’ve sent investigators there and to your city. Who should bring out the truth. Unless it is too skillfully hidden. The soldier might easily have made a mistake, but there’s a man in a policeman’s uniform who made a worse mistake. And all the retractions in the world won’t cleanse the name of Aiken. Till we find that man. I assure you Mr. Weeks, I do not doubt the word of your police chief. Your patrol officers, or your city recorder. But neither do I doubt the word of the blinded Negro boy. His suffering gives his oath a special validity. And I would take it against the Supreme Court and the President of the United States.

Let us say he misunderstood what was said to him. Or let us say he was lied to. But just saying that isn’t enough. Your city’s honor is certainly more important than my pride. But honor and pride are piddling trifles beside a pair of eyes. If it is your point that the boy was lied to, it is my point that we must refuse to rest until we’ve unmasked the liar. If you want me to say that this awful thing did not happen in your city, then there’s an American soldier who believes that it did happen in your city. And I cannot forget that. It is to him, Mr. Weeks, that you should address your first, and most indignant letters. They will of course need to be transcribed in braille.

And now I see my time is just about up. That’s all I have to say to you, for the moment, Mr. Mayor of Aiken. And you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to this part of your dial at this part of a Sunday. Please let me join you next week at this same time and…
let me hear from you. Your letters are much appreciated, I like reading them on this program. Till next week then, same time, same station. I remain as always, obediently yours.

4 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: To be Born Free”:

This is Orson Welles. I’ve spoken these words before, but not on the radio. To be born free, is to be born in debt. To live in freedom without fighting slavery, is to profiteer. By plane last night, I flew over some parts of our Republic where American citizenship is a luxury beyond the means of the majority. I rode comfortably in my plane above a sovereign state or two where fellow countrymen of ours can’t vote without the privilege of cash. I bought my breakfast this morning where Negroes may not come except to serve their white brothers. And there I overheard a member of some master race or other tell all those who listened that something must be done to suppress the Jews.

I have met southerners who expect and fear a Negro insurrection. I see no purpose in withholding this from general discussion. There may be those in that outcast ten percent of the American people who someday will strike back at their oppressors, but to put down that mob, a mob would rise. I’d like to ask please, who will put down that mob? The scaly dinosaurs of reaction, if indeed they notice what I’m speaking here, will say in their newspapers that I’m a communist. Communists know otherwise. I’m an overpaid movie producer with pleasant reasons to rejoice, and I do, in the wholesome practicability of the profit system. But surely my right to having more than enough is cancelled if I don’t use that more to help those who have less.

My subject today is the question of moral indebtedness. So, I’d like to acknowledge here the debt that goes with ownership. I believe, and this has very much to do with my own notion of freedom, I believe I owe the very profit I make to the people I make it from. If this is radicalism, it comes…automatically to most of us in show business, it being generally agreed that any public man owes his position to the public. That’s what I mean when I say I’m your obedient servant. It’s a debt payable in service and the highest efforts of the debtor. The extension of this moral argument insists no man owns anything outright since he owns it rent free. A wedding never bought a wife. And the devotion of his child is no man’s for the mere begetting. We must each day earn what we own. A healthy man owes to the sick all that he can do for them. An educated man owes to the ignorant all that he can do for them. A free man owes to the world’s slaves all that he can do for them. And what is to be done is more, much more, than good works, Christmas baskets, bonuses, and tips, and bread and circuses. There is only one thing to be done with slaves. Free them.

If we can’t die in behalf of progress, we can live for it. Progress, we Americans take to mean, a fuller realization of democracy. The measure of progress, as we understand it, is the measure of equality enjoyed by all men. We can do something about that. The way our fighting brothers and sisters looked at it, some of them dead as I speak these words, the way they looked at it: we’re lucky. And they’re right, we’re lucky. We’re lucky to be alive. But only if our lives make life itself worth dying for. We must be worthy of our luck, or we are damned. Our lives were spared, but this is merely the silliest of accidents. Unless we put the gift of life to the hard employments of justice. If we waste that gift, we won’t have anywhere to hide from the indignation of history.

I wanna say this. The morality of the auction block is out of date. There is no room in the American century for Jim Crow. The times urge new militancy upon the democratic attitude. Tomorrow’s democracy discriminates against discrimination. Its charter won’t include the freedom to end freedom. What is described as a feeling against some races can’t be further respected. Feeling is a ninnyish, mincing way of saying something ugly. But the word is good enough for race hate when we add that it’s a feeling of guilt. Race hate isn’t human nature, race hate is the abandonment of human nature. But this is true: we hate whom we hurt. And we mistrust whom we betray. There are minority problems because minority races are often wronged. Race hate distilled from the suspicions of ignorance takes its welcome from the impotent and the godless. Comforting these with hellish parodies of what they’ve lost. Arrogance to take the place of pride. Contempt to occupy the spirit emptied of love of man. There are alibis for the phenomenon, excuses, economic and social, but the brutal fact is simply this: where the racist lies are acceptable, there is corruption. Where there is hate, there is shame. The human soul receives race hate only in the sickness of guilt.

The Indian, the Red Indian, is on our American conscience. The Negro is on our conscience, the Chinese and the Mexican American are on our conscience. The Jew is on the conscience of Europe. But our neglect gives us communion in that guilt. So that there dances even here the lunatic spectre of anti-semitism. This is deplored. But it must be fought. And the fight must be won. The race haters must be stopped. The lynchings must be stopped. No matter who’s going to be governor of Georgia, the murders in Monroe must be avenged. Gene Talmadge might call it foreign meddling, but the governor-elect who, you remember, campaigned on the Bilbo platform of race-hate needs to be told: that all the states in the Union and all the people in them are concerned. Immediately, personally concerned when a mob forms in the sovereign privacy of Georgia. The mob said it was taking care of things in its own way, well then, we’re going to have to take care of the mob. In our own way.

Those who take the law into their own hands are going to learn about some laws that’ll tie their hands. We’ll write those laws, and we’ll enforce them. To do him justice, old Gene went and issued himself a statement. After the killings in Monroe were public knowledge, he said the killings were regrettable. But old Gene’s made it plenty clear, he doesn’t figure any foreigner has the right to poke around asking embarrassing questions. I am sending old Gene a copy of the dawn sermon of the tolling bell, but I don’t suppose he’ll get the point. The point is, of course, that no man, even Gene Talmadge, is an island entire of itself. Point, of course, is that even Georgia is a piece of the continent. The American continent. And if a clod be washed away by the sea, or if a colored man and his wife are murdered on a dusty country road, America is the less.

And then there’s the soldier in the hospital. The blind soldier. The soldier said he was blinded, and the mayor and the chief of police in the place where the soldier says it happened, are most indignant with me for repeating what he said and swore to. The Times the other day was full of their official protests. Sent under seal all the way up to New York City via the inviolable borders of Aiken county, in South Carolina. My investigators are still hard at work on the case. If the soldier was wrong about the place, I’m going to do something about it. But he isn’t wrong about his eyes. He lost them. I’m going to do something about that. All the affidavits from all the policemen in the world won’t protest his eyes back in his head. Somebody, somebody who called himself an officer of the law, beat that boy with a stick, until he lost his sight. Now, that somebody is nobody. He’s vanished, he’s never been heard of, he hasn’t any name, well…he’s going to be heard of. The blind soldier has my promise of that. That somebody is going to be named. Editorials, and lots of newspapers, and lots of people, are writing me to demand to know what business it is of mine. God judge me if it isn’t the most pressing business I have.

The blind soldier fought for me in this war. The least I can do now is fight for him. I have eyes. He hasn’t. I have a voice on the radio, he hasn’t. I was born a white man. And until a colored man is a full citizen, like me, I haven’t the leisure to enjoy the freedom that colored man risked his life to maintain for me. I don’t own what I have until he owns an equal share of it. Until somebody beats me and blinds me, I am in his debt. And so I come to this microphone not as a radio dramatist, though it pays better, not as a commentator, although it’s safer to be simply that, I come in that boy’s name, and in the name of all who in this land of ours have no voice of their own. I come with a call for action. This is a time for it. I call for action against the cause of riot. I know that to some ears, even the word “action” has a revolutionary twang, and it won’t surprise me if I’m accused in some quarters of inciting to riot. Well, I’m very interested in riots. I’m very interested in avoiding them. And so I call for action against the cause of riots.

Law is the best action, the most decisive. I call for laws prohibiting what moral judgement already counts as lawlessness. American law forbids a man the right to take away another’s right. It must be law that groups of men can’t use the machinery of our republic to limit the rights of other groups. The vote can’t be used to take away the vote. It’s in the people’s power to see to it that what makes lynchings and starts wars is dealt with. Not by well-wishers, but by policemen. And I mean good policemen. Oh, for several generations there may be men who can’t be weaned away from the fascist vices of race hate. But we should deny such men the responsibility in public affairs exactly as we deny responsibility to the wretched victims of the drug habit. There are laws against peddling dope, there can be laws against peddling race hate. But every man has a right to his own opinion as an American boasts, but race hate is not an opinion, it’s a phobia. It isn’t a viewpoint, race hate is a disease. In a people’s world, the incurable racist has no rights. He must be deprived of influence in a people’s government. He must be segregated, as he himself would segregate the colored and semitic peoples. As we now segregate the leprous and the insane.

Anything very big is very simple.¸ If there’s a big race question, there’s a big answer to it. The big answer is simple. Like the word no. This is my proposition: that the sin of race hate be solemnly declared a crime. What makes this difficult is the conservative fear of raising issues. Well, let’s admit that this fear is often no more sinister than an honest dread of going to the dentist, but let’s respect the effectiveness of reactionary manipulations of that fear, which is the fear of anarchy and revolution. It is put to wicked use against the same general welfare conservative opinion seeks to protect. Forced to acknowledge Hitler’s enmity, conservatives are loathe to admit that even as he surrendered in Europe, he succeeded in America. Let conservatives evaluate the impudent candor of fascism in Argentina today. And be reminded that the heroic survival of our liberty is no proof of its immortality. Our liberty every day has to be safe from marauders whose greed is for all things possessed by the people. Care of these possessions is the hope of life on this planet. They are living things, they grow. These fair possessions of democracy. And nothing but death can stop that growth. Let the yearners for the past, the willfully childish, learn now the facts of life.

The first of which is the fact of that growth. In our hemisphere, the growing has begun, but only just begun. America can write her name across this century, and so she will, if we, the people, brown and black and red, rise now to the great occasion of our brotherhood. It will take courage. It calls for the doing of great deeds, which means the dreaming of great dreams. Giving the world back to its inhabitants is too big a job for the merely practical. The architects of freedom are always capable of hope. The lawmakers of true democracy are true believers. They believe quite simply in the people, in all of them. Only the devout deserve the trust of government, for only the devout can face the unimaginable vistas of man’s destiny. God grant them steadfast hope and the rest of us enduring patience. For we must not expect from any leadership a shiny ready made millennium in our time. No one of us will live to see a blameless peace. We must strive and pray and die for what will be here when we’re gone. Our children’s children are the ancestors of a free people. We send our greetings ahead of us to them.

To history yet unmade, our greetings.To the generations, sleeping in our loins.Be of good heart. The fight is worth it.

That just about means that my time is up. When my time’s up, it’s time for me to say goodbye, and to invite you please to join me, the same time, the same station. Next week. Until then. Thank you for your attention. I remain as always…obediently yours.

5 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: Banned Film”:

This is Orson Welles speaking. A motion picture in which I play a part was scheduled for a couple days running last week in Aiken, South Carolina. But the film was banned. Well, I’m used to being banned. I’ve been banned by whole governments. The Nazis in Germany have banned me, and the fascists of Italy and Spain have banned me. Here at home, the merest mention of my name is forbidden by Mr. Hearst to all his subject newspapers. But: to be outlawed by an American city is a new experience.

The movie in question is neither controversial, nor obscene. But I’m in it, and for the taste of Aiken, that makes any movie too offensive to be endured. Not only was the actual celluloid driven out of the city limits, as with a fiery sword, but in defense of civic sensitivities and to protect the impressionable of Aiken’s youth from the shock of my name and likeness, a detachment of police officers working under the direction of the city council itself solemnly tore down such posters as the local theatre manager had been rash enough to put up by way of advertisement. And burnt same, together with all printed matter having reference to me, in a formal bonfire in the public streets.

I’m also informed I’ve been somewhat less officially “hanged” in effigy. And while I have an apology to offer Aiken, it’s been suggested that I would be ill advised to deliver it in person. Since I brought to your attention the case of Isaac Woodard, the case has grown to an issue of the most heated popular concern. It deserves all the national interest it’s getting. Isaac Woodard is the veteran whose eyes were beaten out of his head by a policeman, in the streets of a place in South Carolina, that Isaac Woodard thought was Aiken. He said so in an affidavit, and when I read his affidavit on this program, the mayor of Aiken, the chief of police and others, subsequently preoccupied with the public burning of my name and picture, sent affidavits of their own protesting innocence.

My problem was the choice of affidavits. The boy had been blinded. That was the one clear, brutal fact. And I stuck to that with a promise to Aiken’s officialdom that I would apologize for publishing the veterans’ testimony when and if my investigators could show a decent doubt. The records were amazingly brief. The policeman who delivered Woodard to the hospital was not named. This is most unusual. The place where the attack occurred was not mentioned in the report. This is almost unheard of.

But my investigators, the investigators of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the investigators of the FBI, have together, narrowed down the search to the town of Batesburg, some nineteen miles from Aiken. And this morning comes word that the search has been narrowed still further. I have before me…wires and press releases to the effect that a policeman of Batesburg… a man by the name of Shaw, or Shore, or Shull, it is given three different ways here…the flash is just before us…Chief L.L. Shaw. Pronounce it however you want it. Or want to. Has admitted…that he was the police officer, who blinded Isaac Woodard. Thirty miles from Aiken. In South Carolina. This is in Batesburg.

I give you a few more of the facts. He has corroborated an army statement. Has police chief Shull or Shaw. That ex-serviceman Isaac Woodard was struck on the head with a blackjack. Chief Shull or Shaw says he was called to the bus one night last February to arrest Woodard who, and I’m reading from a Press Association, he said was drunk. Shaw claimed to have hit Woodard across the head when Woodard tried to take away his blackjack. He added that the blow may have landed in the veteran’s eyes. Shull or Shaw, the police chief, described the eyes as swollen the next day when Woodard was fined and the record’s his court, and says he then drove Woodard to a veterans’ hospital, at a doctor’s suggestion. Now, you remember from the affidavit, and from further reports of our investigators, that Woodard said he’d been offered liquor, after he was attacked by the police, which he refused. And investigators at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples, have discovered three other occupants of that bus. All of whom claim, in affidavits, that Woodard was not drunk, nor was he drinking. Woodard, you might remember, appealed for medical aid. And also according to the UP, Shaw, or Shore, or Shull, brands these stories as lies. He has volunteered no information, for this, he was unearthed by investigation. Well, the good citizens of Aiken must be surely so glad to hear this, that my apology tendered here with and as promised, most abjectly, will come as merely incidental comfort.

Batesburg, unlike Aiken, has turned out to be to blame. The search is narrowed down. We’re getting close to the truth, we have the admission of a man that he was the officer, the officer whom I call X. I would like to remind Officer X, otherwise known as Shull or Shaw, of another promise, a promise I made to the blinded Isaac Woodard. If Chief Shull or Shaw is listening to me now and it’s more than possible that he is, it gives me pleasure to repeat that promise. Officer X. We know your name now. Now that we’ve found you out, we’ll never lose you. If they try you for your crime, I am going to watch the trial, Chief Shull. If they jail you, I’m going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won’t be free of me. I want to see who’s waiting for you at the prison gates. I want to know who will acknowledge that they know you. I’m interested in your future, I will take note of all your destinations. Assume another name, and I will be careful that the name you would forget is not forgotten. Officer Shull or Shaw. Police chief of the city of Batesburg. I will find means to remove from you all refuge. You can’t get rid of me. We have an appointment. You and I. Only death can cancel it.

6 From “Background information collected by local black newspaper editor, September 1946 Part 1 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 893-894)” and “Background information, September 1946 Part 2 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 895-896)”, scans at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”. These documents refer to Lynwood as “Leonard”, the only documents to do so – “Leonard” may have been his familiar name, while Lynwood was his formal one.

MEMORANDUM FOR ORSON WELLES’ PROGRAM

From: John H. McCray
10322 Washington Street
Columbia 20, S.C.

LIGHTHOUSE and INFORMER
John H. McCray, Pub.

Leonard L. Shull

SEP 19 1946

Leonard L. Shull, son of Mr. and Mrs. T. H. Shull was born 41 years ago in Lexington county, South Carolina — not more than eight miles from Leesville nor more than 10 miles from Batesburg, where he now serves as chief of police.

Leonard is the oldest of five children and was nursed and cared for by a colored woman, Eunice Summers, who is still in the employ of the elder Shull, who is now 49 years of age and has worked with the Shull family without respite since she was 8.

Leonard Shull grew up under the care and friendship of the colored farm hands about his father’s farm. He played ball, games, hunted, fished and occasionally fought with the young boys of his father’s tenants. And although today he has achieved greater success than they, he visits the few still alive who work for his father, the children of others whom he knew and is most cordial with the tenants who came after he grew up.

The older hands think well of him and his father. They speak of him as being considerate, as having always been good to them, some of them admit hearing of several atrocities against other Negroes attributed to him but react differently. One woman said: “Maybe it’s because some people feel they have to act mean when they’ve got a certain job.” Another, an elderly attendant of cattle and other stock owned by T.H. Shull, said, “He’s always been good to me. I hear how he done that soldier (Isaac Woodard) and some other people but I don’t know for sure. He has been good to me personally but maybe he had a reason for not hurting me”.

Leonard Shull had no “bad habits”. To this day nobody will say that he either drinks or smokes. To this day nobody will say that he either drinks or smokes. This is perhaps accounted for in the rather strict upbringing of T.H. Shull. All of the Shull children had to attend Sunday School and services in the Methodist Church near Leesville. Today, Leonard is a member of the Methodist Church at Batesburg. His father and other members of his family belong to the Methodist Church in Leesville, a town just two miles away. Persons who have been arrested by chief Shull in Batesburg describe him as of two characters. If Shull is alone, he is nice, civil and “hardly says a word to you”. If, on the other hand, either of his two aides is present, he is more often than not a roaring maniac.

It is interesting that none, or at least a negligible few, of the colored residents in Batesburg know the actual names of either of the two officers working under Shull. They have assigned their own names and have used them so long that the real names are forgotten. One of the men is known as “High Pocket” and the other, “Dood all”.

Leonard Shull attended the Batesburg-Leesville high school, at Batesburg, after which he worked on his father’s farm, whiling away his idle time around the train stations, alternately at Batesburg and at Leesville. In this manner he came to learn many of the people in the two towns and laid the groundwork for his present position.

About 16 or 17 years ago he married a young woman he met in Batesburg but who is a native of Charleston county and had moved here with her family. Today, Mamie Shull is about 35 years of age, sort of plump, has brown hair and blue eyes. To this union was born a daughter, Heloine, who is about 14 years of age and attends the Batesburg-Leesville School. Having acquired much of her father’s obesity, she appears older and larger than her actual age.

Leonard Shull, himself, is about 5 feet 9 in height, weighs about 225 pounds; has blue eyes, brown hair which is slightly grey-stroked.

He dresses plainly, come Sundays when he doffs his customary uniform, he dons the only attire he has been known to wear for years: blue serge suit, white shirt and black tie, black shoes and tops it off with a black hat. Last year, the TWIN CITY NEWS, weekly newspaper published for the two towns, listed his weight at 215.

The chief has always loved Ford cars. Presently, his is a 1946 Ford sedan (black) model in which he usually rides Heloine to and from school in, and give the family a Sunday outing in or shuttles back and forth between his father’s present home, located on U.S. Highway No. 1 between Batesburg and Leesville, where he visits his mother and two brothers who live with their parents.

Leonard’s brothers are Shuford and Carson. Both are veterans of World War Two, Carson having been wounded in action in Europe, Carson is also married but Shuford isn’t, Leonard’s two sisters are both married. One married a man by the name of Charles and makes her home with him now in Edgefield county. The other married a man from Orangeburg county, where she now lives.

The older Shull, while credited by his farm hands and house servants as being a “good white man”, doesn’t enjoy a similar reputation from men released from the Leesville camp of the Lexington county chain gang system. For a number of years, T.H. Shull has been superintendent or supervisor Captain of the Louisville camp which enjoys a reputation as unsavory as any other of several camps in the county. His office is located in the county courthouse at Lexington. Officially, he is listed as one of three county commissioners for Lexington county, renominated to the office in July’s democratic primaries.

Leonard’s present position, while probably accentuated by his own elbow rubbing, is attributed to his father’s political influence. It is believed that his father had a direct hand in his appointment. It is known, however, that mayor Quarles of Batesburg, an in-law of Leonard’s is a part of the elder Shull’s machine and owes his office largely to Shull’s interest.

Servants report having heard the elder Shull counsel his son to “be careful” several times after rumors spread that a Negro had been mistreated by Batesburg officers. They quote the younger Shull as saying his men were “too hard”. When news of the Woodard blinding broke, the younger Shull, after conferring with his father, left Batesburg for a “vacation” and stayed away a month, Mayor Quarles also took a sudden vacation but stayed away about fifteen days.

Leonard consulted his father on his return and was told “things have died down but for goodness sake, be more careful the next time”. No serious incidents have been reported at the hands of any Batesburg officer since that time. However, residents still plead with you to “be careful” and “don’t let them (police) know you are here”. These people believe that Batesburg officers operate under an extensive “stool pigeon” system, in which in return for safety to themselves, Negroes “stool” on other Negroes.

NOTE: Please protect identity of Denice Summers mentioned in this memorandum. Others involved, from whom much of the information contained herein came, are A.C. Bernos [maybe - this last is very difficult to read in the original], stockyard attendant for the older Shull who, by the way has extensive land and dairy holdings in the county, Mrs. Archie Beacham, Mrs. Annie Mae Cortmann and Mr. Amos, the town’s undertaker. Some of came also from a filling station attendant, a packer [again, maybe - this last is very difficult to read in the original] a few doors from the Shull home and several other persons.

Leonard Shull and his family live in a beautiful bungalow in front of the Batesburg post office and diagonally across from the Batesburg railroad station.

7 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: The Place Was Batesburg”:

This is Orson Welles speaking. The place was Batesburg. Isaac Woodard thought it happened in Aiken. He was wrong. I’ve repeatedly explained Woodard’s mistake, and repeatedly apologized. But I broadcast his affidavit, and now the city of Aiken having banned my movies burned the posters in the streets, and hanged me in effigy, is threatening to sue me for the sum of two million dollars.

Well, if I had all that money, honestly, I wouldn’t mind owing it to Aiken for the pride of having finally put the blame where it belonged. The blame belongs, as I say, in Batesburg. Batesburg, South Carolina. It was Monday, February 13th, 1946. A minister and several workmen saw the police chief of Batesburg and a highway patrolman, pouring buckets of water over the head and body of a soldier who’d been arrested the night before. What the policemen were washing away was blood. And between each bucket they stopped and asked the soldier, “Can you see yet?” Each time the soldier answered, “No.”

The soldier was a Negro. We know now that his name is Isaac Woodard. And that the police chief had beaten him the day before. And blinded him. With a blackjack. When I stumbled on the story several months later, and brought it to public attention on this program, the name of the guilty policeman was unknown and it looked as if it always would be. I promised to get that name, I have it now. The minister and the workmen provided our investigators with one clue, and there were other clues, all led to a single man.

All clues led to Mr. L. L. Shull. Chief of police in Batesburg, South Carolina. Now we have him. We won’t let him go. I promised to hunt him down. I have. I gave my word I’d see him unmasked. I’ve unmasked him. I’m going to haunt police Chief Shull. For all the rest of his natural life. Mr. Shull is not going to forget me. And what’s more important, I’m not going to let you forget Mr. Shull.

Now, here’s a letter. It goes like this: Well, Mr. Welles. You’ve just lost yourself an ardent fan. That little speech you made on the radio about that Negro got his eyes poked out did it. You don’t know a thing about this case, and I’m quite sure I heard the correct side of the story. Being as I live in the very state in which it happened. And proud of it. But it seems as if the Yankees always have to pick on somebody about something, and especially the South. Well, I’m going to put you wise for once. If the North would let the South alone a while, and not try to bully them, everything would soon turn out just right for everybody concerned. We want the Negro to have a fair chance, we don’t believe the two races should mix. However, it seems as if the North is trying its darndest to make a mulatto nation of the whole South. Well, it isn’t going to work. I believe that we would all die fighting – men and women, side by side. Before we would let a calamity like this happen to the glorious homeland of gallant men and their women, who have certain well-founded beliefs, and never take anything from anybody. Now to get back to that story. I’ve been around associating with the policemen, or round about, and I happen to know the Negro who received the eye injury was extremely insolent, very unruly, tried to make a getaway from a police officer. Seems like you all want to give the Negro a better chance than you would a white man. And my dear man, I shall present a startling fact to you: the policeman in question did not cause the eye injury to the Negro, it was due to a fight the Negro had with another Negro. And he is trying to put the blame on the officer so he will draw a pension. Think that over, Mr. Orson Welles. Doubtless you have lost quite a few fans from that little dramatic speech you made so full of emotion and tragic tears for the man. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Signed, Your former fan.

Well, we’ve been getting a lot of those anonymous letters since we broke the Isaac Woodard case on this program. But this answer answered them all. Dear former fan, You say the north is bullying the south. That if the yankees would stop always picking on somebody for something, everything would turn out just right for everybody concerned. I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Batesburg isn’t another battlefield of the civil war. The sides contending over the scandal of Isaac Woodard, aren’t the blue and the gray. They are the right and the wrong. And on your side of the Mason Dixon line, as on mine, most of the people are on the right side of that argument. Course you’re proud to live in South Carolina, you ought to be. I think you’ll find that most of your neighbours in South Carolina are ashamed of Mr. M. L. Shull, the police chief, who beat out the Negro soldier’s eyes with his blackjack. I’m proud to live in America, but I’m ashamed of Chief Shull and his blackjack. I’d be ashamed of him if I was a citizen of Tibet. Isaac Woodard was not involved in a conspiracy to make a mulatto nation of the South. He was just taking a bus trip to Winnsboro to meet a young woman who belongs to his race and who bears his name. But Isaac Woodard never got to see his wife. He’ll never see her. Never. Isaac Woodard is blind. Why? Because the North is bullying the South? My dear former fan, your startling fact about the eye injury, “eye injury”, those are your words, “eye injury”, being the work of another Negro is meaningless. In the face of Chief Shull’s own confession, he did it himself. And even Chief Shull doesn’t claim he was defending the sanctity of white womanhood. Even Chief Shull doesn’t claim he was keeping Isaac Woodard from marrying his sister. Well, that’s enough of that for now. We’ll come back to Mr. Shull next week. And the week after that. The week after that.

My time remaining is dedicated to a man whose name we’ll never, never know. Before the year now generally called “Munich”, perhaps a season or so earlier, there was a treasure hunt, in Paris. Please visualize the celebrants, not as Parisians, but as notables as they mostly were of a very publicly gay wing of international society. You may know that a treasure hunt proposes a number of unlikely quests. When the list is imaginative, it can be fun. Here was a treasure hunt for the history of the game. There was no limit to the mad invention of it, one item was something unmentionably intimate, and that’s all I know about it, a possession of the mistress of a cabinet minister. Another prize was a legal certificate of marriage binding between a couple who hadn’t considered any such solemnity. There were a dozen more of these treasures, all as extraordinary, and for a climax, nothing less than a cigar still smoking lit at the flame which burns forever, by the tomb of the unknown soldier. Now, decency expects of a tomb that it guard for the lifetime of stone what was once the habitation of the spirit of man. The conscience of the world defends the memorial of those who in the last war, as in this, died for peace. You agree we catch a glimpse here of something worse than mere bad taste, picnicking on an old grave, something…perverse. Wickeder than any casual defilement of god’s image. Only another bad peace could make anyone laugh at a dead soldier again.

‘Course, whoever lit his cigar from that flame may have thought the unknown soldier wasn’t anybody he knew. It’s true there isn’t anyone in particular to mourn for the man who is buried there, so…everybody mourns for him. The marker can’t have known that he profaned his brother’s grave. But how could he forget? The sense of man’s brotherhood is all that can sustain the human spirit for the loss of god. And this man had no god. By what did he live? The loss of faith is the condition of despair and the alternative to despair is the worship of Caesar. What’s sure is the marking of sacrifice cannot survive elsewhere, but in that evil climate of the soul where fascism prepares its subjects. Very probably the man with the cigar was one of these pre-fabricated pagans who rode the joyless carousel of the twenties and thirties, one of those, you know, who doubted if anything is ever really bad or really good. If the man with the cigar is alive then he might have changed his mind, he found something bad enough to fight. He might even think something good is real enough to defend. I think we know these things, but never say them enough. Bad and good have been at war, god knows, since the first morning of the world. Men do the fighting, if they didn’t, this planet would be nothing better than a zoo.

Faith is the tinder of man’s greatness. So long as he shields it from despair, he is going to keep the gift of fire. There is one choice, no more. One choice, and no exemptions. Those who believe this recent war can be the last, are those who won it. Those who lost suppose that war itself breeds without cure in the nature of all people. These are the same who fattened on this war, they’re the same who plan the next one. The slaves doubt their kind’s capacity to learn and change. The slavers curb with doubt the people’s righteous will to abide by its own laws. They are all the same, we have this to be glad of them. These who are of little faith, the blasphemers, experts in chaos, or the sick in spirit, these who can’t or won’t affirm the plain magnificence or decency of human folk, all such on this our brightening world, are rallied in the shadows now, under the banners of despair. Defeat if their profession. And their destination. Victory rises even today. Before the men of faith.

This last war might have been the last war. If it was, and only if it was, we’ll know the world’s first peace. But let’s have an end, to the old stalemates and manipulations. The people want a government of all their nations, the chance to know each other better, to visit neighbors and make friends. They want open borders. They want everything printed in the newspaper, so they know whether they like what’s going on or whether they don’t. They’re tired the people are, of secrets and spies, they’re tired of striped pants. The people want their own diplomats. And all these things, the people are going to have. Unless they’re cheated out of them. Paris notwithstanding. If free men who fought for freedom, aren’t going to be allowed to destroy fascism, if anything that looks like fascism is suffered to sit down among us, the cynics will be right again, an ordered world where everyone is free to prosper and improve is still a far off dream. The fuhrer gave his sway a thousand years. His doom was sure. He lost. But those who fought him know they might not win.

That thousand years of his was a good guess. At least a thousand years waits on the chance of another war, another war means worse than the leveling of all the cities, we know that. It means retreat, a setback longer than the quarter of a century, wasted since the unknown soldier died for us. A thousand years is a long march. We are the ancestors of unknown soldiers who must go that bloody length again. Unless we who are weary of marching, go on marching. Forward is the way, forward, beyond peace, on into the free world which depends on it. A free world means just that, we must refuse all substitutes. A free world depends on that refusal. Liberals have a lot to say these days about the dangers of reaction. Reaction is no danger, it’s a certainty. Maybe it won’t amount to much, maybe it’s going to be a tidal wave, the answer isn’t written in the stars, it’s up to the democratic man. He must stand fast now. This time he daren’t lose, or nothing will be left. Nothing even to start with. And they’ll build a new war monument, not to the unknown soldier, but to the unknown cause.

Maybe they’ll keep an enigmatic flame alive, to show where freedom died. But nobody will start a cigar on that sepulchre. Wouldn’t even be funny. The alternative, of course, is civilization, a bookish and uneasy word, that civilization. Our languages will bare fairer names for it when we’ve struggled closer to what we describe. Peace then will go as unremarked as the free air. Peace after all is no more than the victory of the farm over the wilderness. As probable as that, no more hard earned. But never think our work is over when we’ve won that peace. We’ll know better. And even when the world is free, we’ll know we’ve just begun. Here it is: here is the peace, we’ll say. Standing in the midst of it, like ploughmen, content with the good order of their fields. Standing together, since mankind will be every man’s family. When the tools of war are put away for good. Here is peace. Here is peace, we’ll say to each other. Proudly, undismayed. Nobody will confuse it with the millennium. Then the abundance of the human spirit will be ready for harvest.

And even the children will see the final peace, is merely history’s first important date.

Now I see my time’s up. Thank you for letting me come to call, please make a date for next Sunday at this same time. Until then. I remain as always, obediently yours.

8 Transcript from “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 1″ and “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 2″. T. Gillis Nutter is the attorney for the plaintiff. Stanley C. Morris is the attorney for the defendant:

ALTON C. BLACKWELL, having been first duly sworn as a witness, testified as follows:

DIRECT EXAMINATION

BY MR. MORRIS:

Q What is your name?

A Alton C. Blackwell.

Q Where do you live?

A Columbia, South Carolina.

Q What is your age?

A Thirty-four.

Q What is your occupation?

A Bus driver for the Atlantic Greyhound Corporation.

Q How long have you been a bus driver for the Atlantic Greyhound Corporation?

A Approximately 5 years.

Q Please state whether or not at or about the time you were employed, or early in your employment, you were given a course of training in that work.

A Yes, sir, I was trained.

Q Did you attend one of their drivers’ schools?

A Yes, sir.

Q At what place?

A Charleston, West Virgina.

Q What was the lighting in the bus at that time? Were there some dim lights on?

A A small light across from the emergency door was burning.

Q All right, what happened as you went on toward Edgefield or as you got to Edgefield or after you got there?

A After I got to Edgefield stepped off the bus directly behind me and requested that I wait for him.

Q Did he assign any reason?

A Yes, he said he had to go around the corner and take a piss.

Q Was that the language he used?

A That was the language he used exactly.

Q Did he speak that in confidential tones or loud tones?

A Well, it was loud enough that anybody could hear it in front of the bus, I don<t know whether they could hear it in the back or not, but they could in the front.

Q Did he get off the bus then?

A Yes.

Q Was he back as soon as you were ready to go?

A Just a few minutes later.

Q What happeend then after you left Edgefield?

A I said, "Boy, go on back and sit down and keep quiet and don't be talking out so loud. Everybody can hear you."

Q Did he say why he wanted you to stop?

A Yes.

Q Did he use the same kind of languge?

A He used the same language.

Q What did you say about his opportunity to releive himself at Batesburg or get off later?

MR. NUTTER: Your Honor, I object to all these leading questions.

MR MORRIS: Q Well: did you tell him anything else besides telling him to go back and sit down?

THE COURT: Yes, that question was leading, Mr. Morris.

MR. MORRIS: Very well, Your Honor.

Q Did you tell him anything else other than to go back and sit down, on that occasion?

A I believe I told him he could get out at Batesburg, that it would not be but a few minutes before we got there.


Q According to this map, at right angles to North Railroad Avenue appears to be Oak Street and Granite Street down here. In which direction did Officer Shull take Woodard, did they go toward Oak or Granite Street?

A Toward Granite Street.

Q You spoke about seeing them approaching, I believe you said a corner when Woodard was apparently trying to jerk away from Chief Shull or the corner, is that right?

A The corner at Granite and North Railroad Avenue, yes, sir.

Q Did they go around that corner in the direction fo Granite Street?

A Yes, sir, around the corner down Granite Street.

Q Did you see them any more?

A No, I did not.

Q State whether at any time in your presence or so far as you saw, Officer Shull struck Woodard with his hands or with any weapon.

A No, sir, I did not see him strike him at all.


Q All right, now did you go back to the sidewalk or where did you go from there, you and Officer Long?

A I believe I went back outside the bus to check the bus before leaving.

Q What was happening at that time as between Chief Shull and Woodard?

A They were leaving, I believe, going on to the jail.

Q Going away from the bus?

A That is right, and I could see them rounding the corner down there and he was puling back, resisting arrest.

Q Where was that?

A And he was using loud and boisterous talk. That wasn’t the corner down from the drugstore and the bus station.

Q Have you examined this map sufficiently to identify where the bus stopped there in Batesburg?

A Yes, sir.

9 Transcript from “Orson Welles Sketchbook – Episode 3: The Police”:

I was, uh, many years, a radio commentator…in America. During that time, of course, I had occasion to speak on a great variety of subjects. *tears paper out of sketchbook* Of all those subjects, one of the most interesting stories, the one that sticks most vividly in memory, had to do with a Negro soldier. Here he is:

Boy had seen service in the South Pacific, he was on his way home. Home was in one of the Southern states…he was on a bus, on the way he felt ill, he asked the bus driver to let him off. Bus driver refused, abusively. There was an argument, at the end of which a policeman was called in, who dragged the boy out of the bus, took him behind a building, and beat him viciously. And when he was unconscious, poured gin over him, put him in jail, charged him with drunkenness and assault. When the boy regained consciousness, he discovered that he was blind. The policeman had literally beaten out his eyes. Now, of course, that sortof policeman is the exception. That’s when a policeman is a criminal in uniform. I had the satisfaction of being instrumental in bringing that particular policeman to justice. Case was brought to my attention, and I brought it to the attention of the radio public, and we did finally manage to locate this man, and bring him into a court of law.

But there is, another sort of police abuse. Of which I think we all suffer, more or less. We suffer it at the hands of good policemen. Decent policemen. Policemen doing their duty. These are all the little petty annoyances, that don’t seem very important, but add up to an invasion of our privacy, and assault against our dignity as human beings. I’m brought in mind by all this, because just now I had my passport renewed. That made me think of all the forms, police questionnaires we have to fill out. One of the unpleasant things about your passport, getting a new one of course, is that you have to get a new picture, in which you invariably look older, and sometimes, a little worse than older.

I wonder why it is that so many of us tend to look like criminals in a police line-up when we have our picture taken for our passport. I suppose it’s the unconscious foreknowledge of the…scrutiny to which our likeness will be subjected that gives us the hangdog guilty look. Really, theoretically, a passport is supposed to be issued for our protection. But on how many frontiers, and how many countries I’ve handed over my passport with all the emotions of an apprentice forger trying to fob off a five pound note on the Bank of England. A guilty conscience, I suppose. But, there’s something about being ticketed and numbered, that gives a man the feeling of being a piece of baggage, a convict. You can’t help thinking of our fathers’ day, when the world hadn’t grown so small. You could move about in it without being watched so closely.

Nowadays of course, we are now treated as demented or delinquent children. And the eyes are always on us. In our fathers’ day, of course, there weren’t any passports. The only countries that required an entry visa were Montenegro and Russia.

Here I am in the hands of the police. This is an illustration of a story. It happened in a country that I think had better remain nameless.

Enough trouble in the world as it is. First of all, I better explain that I carry, or at least carried, what Mr. Roosevelt once described when I showed it to him as the cheapest diplomatic passport in the world. In an American passport, I don’t know whether it’s true in an English one, on the front page there’s a place that says: “In case of death or accident, please notify…” and then you usually put the name of some near or dear one. In my case, I put “In case of death or accident please notify Franklin D. Roosevelt, Washington, D.C.” But at the time of this story, when I was stopped by the police, Mr. Roosevelt had died, Mr. Truman was president, and an election was coming up in which Truman was running against Dewey. Now, I made the mistake that a great deal of my fellow countrymen did, that Mr. Dewey was going to win. And because I wasn’t very fond of Mr. Dewey, I had written in my passport, “In case of accident, please notify Thomas Dewey, Washington, D.C.” My thought being, the least I could do to devil Mr. Dewey was to arrive in a coffin some morning. And it was therefore that passport that I handed to the police at eleven o’clock one wintry night in the mountains. And they jumped out of the road which, as I say, is going to be nameless, and with drawn guns, demanded what I had in my baggage.

Now there wasn’t any frontier, there couldn’t be any question of customs, so I asked them cheerfully, by way of conversation, whether this was a raid on dope smugglers, black marketeers, or whatever; they didn’t feel like joking, they said “It is not for you to converse with the police. Open your bag!” And I said, “Well, I’m afraid to, because the bag will blow up.” And they asked me what I meant by that, and I explained I had an atom bomb, a small one, in the bag – so wired to the catch that if you opened the bag, there would be a dreadful explosion. Why? I said I was going to La Scala, that I didn’t like the opera, and I was angry at the management, I was going to make an outrage, and that was what I had in my bag. And they said, you mustn’t joke with the police, the argument went on some time, very unpleasant, it got to be about two in the morning, one of those long drawn out practical jokes that you’ll regret, and finally they got around to looking at my passport. I was, of course, grateful, most grateful that they did, because when they saw the name Thomas Dewey, they said, “Oh! Excuse us Mr. Dewey, please continue!” And I don’t know quite what that story illustrates, except that it shows that a passport does have its purpose.

I don’t want you to think from this story that I’m an anarchist, or that I’m against the police…on the principle that I believe in fighting them with practical jokes, much less by lawlessness, just the contrary.

Now, I know I was wrong to make all that trouble for those police, in the mountains of that…nameless country. But, you see, I do a lot of travelling, I’ve been travelling all my life in fact. I was born in America, raised partly in China, and sent about the world a good bit before the war, and a great deal during it, and more afterwards. An office in one country, a studio in another, the last film, for instance, was made in four countries. So I have a good deal of experience in crossing borders, and coping with the coppers all over the world. And it is true, you know, that we’re invited in the travel posters be tourists, but once we attempt it, we do discover we’re guilty until proven innocent.

That being so, I think a word or two on red tape-ism and bureaucracy, particularly as it applies to freedom of movement, might be in order. Sure that’s true of all of us. Think of all those forms we have to fill out, for example, you know what I mean by police forms, we get them at hotels and frontiers, in every country all over the world. We’re asked, state your sex, male or female, for example. Well, obviously I’m a male, I’m a man, why should I have to answer that? State your race and religion in block letters…well now, why should I have to confide my religion to the police? Frankly, I don’t think anybody’s race is anybody’s business. I’m willing to admit a policeman has a difficult job, a very hard job. But it’s the essence of our society that a policeman’s job should be hard. He’s there to protect…protect the free citizen, not to chase criminals, that’s an incidental part of his job. A free citizen is always more of a nuisance to the policeman than a criminal. He knows what to do about the criminal. I know it’s very nice to look out of our window in our comfortable home and see the policeman protecting our home, we should be grateful to the policeman, but I think we should be grateful too…for the laws which protect us against the policeman. There are those laws, you know, they’re quite different from the police regulations.

But the regulations do pile up. Forms keep coming in. We keep being asked to state our grandmothers, fathers’ name in block letters, and to say whether we propose to overthrow the government, in triplicate, why, that sort of thing, but you see, the bureaucrat, and I’m including the bureaucrat with the police, is part of one great big monstrous thing. The bureaucrat is really like a blackmailer, you can never pay him off, the more you give him, the more he’ll demand. You fill in one form, he’ll give you ten. And what are we going to do about it? Obviously, we can’t go on giving into this thing. Well you say just a minute, why shouldn’t we give into it, why should we make trouble for the policeman? Well, the truth is, why should the policeman make trouble for us? Why should he ask these things that are stated quite clearly enough in our passport? Our passport tells us everything that the policeman doesn’t need to know. Why should we make trouble, well…we don’t, because we don’t want to get into trouble with the police.

We’re told that we should co-operate with the authorities. I’m not an anarchist. I don’t want to overthrow the rule of law, on the contrary, I want to bring the policeman to law. Obviously individual effort won’t do any good. There’s nothing an individual can do about protecting the individual in society. I’d like it very much if somebody would make a great big international organisation for the protection of the individual. That way there could be officers at every frontier. And whenever we presented with something unpleasant, instead of having to fill out one of these idiotic questionnaires, we could say, “I’m sorry, it’s against the rules of our organization to fill out that questionnaire.” And when they say, ah, but it’s the regulations, we could say, “Very well, see our lawyer, because if there are enough of us, our dues would pay for the best lawyers in all the countries of the world.” We could bring to court these invasions against our privacy and test them under law. It would be very nice to have that sort of an organisation, it would be nice to have that sort of card. I see the card as fitting into the passport, a little larger than the passport, with a border around it in bright colours, so that it would catch the eyes of the police. And they’d know who they were dealing with, something like this.

The card should look like a union card, the card of an automobile club, and since its purpose is to impress and control officialdom, well, obviously it should be as official looking as possible, with a lot of seals and things like that on it. And it might read something as follows. “This is to certify that the bearer is a member of the human race. All relevant information is to be found in his passport…and except when there’s good reason for suspecting him of some crime, he will refuse to submit to police interrogation on the grounds that any such interrogation is an intolerable nuisance. And life being as short as it is, a waste of time. Any infringement on his privacy or interference with his liberty, any assault, however petty against his dignity as a human being, will be rigorously prosecuted by the undersigned, I.S.P.I.A.O.,”…and that would be the International Association for the Protection of the Individual Against Officialdom.” If any such organization is ever organized…you could put me down as a charter member.

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Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: A Maze of Death

(What follows is a modified and expanded version of the Disqus comment, “Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: Suicide Mission”. Various errors in that comment, such as the constant mis-spelling of Boxer Santaros’ name, are corrected here. What follows contains spoilers for Southland Tales, Knowing, and End of Days. Though an attempt is made to dis-entangle the plot by writing about the surrounding events of the movie in roughly chronological order, the assumption is made that any reader has seen the movie at least once and is somewhat familiar with its story. The prequel script referred to in this post can be found on scribd, a link I arrived at via the very helpful “The ‘Southland Tales’ That Never End: An Interview With Richard Kelly” by Abraham Riesman.)

The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described… . It was that beauty the great poets dream about but describe most poorly and inadequately. Thirty seconds after, the explosion came first, the air blast pressing hard against the people and things, to be followed almost immediately by the strong, sustained, awesome roar which warned of doomsday and made us feel that we puny things were blasphemous to dare tamper with the forces heretofore reserved to The Almighty.

Kenneth Bainbridge, the supervisor of the test, turned to Oppenheimer and said, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”

From a description of the first A Bomb test, in Eric Schlosser’s essential Command and Control.

A film that plays the apocalypse completely for laughs, and which gave me a great deal of joyful laughter when I first saw it and badly needed such relief. The movie’s strength lies in the fact that its scenes work (or don’t work) as self-contained episodes, with any larger issues of structure or comprehensibility lessened by your focus on the immediate action. Were I to compare it to anything, it would be the strange skits that Saturday Night Live leaves for its very end, a sample of which might be found in “10-to-1 odds: 19 bizarre sketches from Saturday Night Live’s last 10 minutes” by Claire Zulkey, Steve Heisler, Erik Adams, Phil Dyess-Nugent, Ryan McGee and Will Harris, though perhaps the best example comes from Commander Blop in the comments: “How did “Potato Chip” not make it? I think of that as the quintessential example of the last fifteen or so years.” (link) This skit involves a NASA job interviewee stealing a single chip from the interviewer’s precious bowl of thirty five chips. The humor doesn’t really lie with the premise, or any single element, but the combined absurdity of it all: the anachronistic speech and manner of these Southern Country Gentlemen at NASA, Mr. Greenblatt’s petulance over the single missing chip, the baroque anguish of the secretary. “Potato Chip Thief” is on the Yahoo! SNL archive, though an excerpt from a transcript at SNL Transcripts (“Potato Chip Thief”) might convey the tone:

Mr. Greenblatt: Well, I got that space test right…

[ Mr. Greenblatt stops mid sentence and stares at the bowl of chips on the desk. He quickly scuttles towards it and begins thumbing through the bowl counting quickly under his breath. ]

Mr. Greenblatt: Thirty four. (stares at Mr. Aymong as he sits down.) Thirty four! (yells to get Janelley’s attention) JANELLEY! Could you come in here, please!

[ Janelley enters the office and approaches Mr. Greenblatt. ]

Janelley: (In a quivery quiet voice) Yes, Mr. Greenblatt?

Mr. Greenblatt: Janelda, how many potato chips did you put in there today?

Janelley: Thirty five.

Mr. Greenblatt: (with conviction) I thought so. I thought so! Janelley, what would you say if I told you that that man right there is nothing but a common potato chip thief!

Janelley: (In an overdone scream of horror) AHHHHHHH! POTATO CHIP THIIIIIEEEEFFFFF!!!!

The scenes in Southland Tales rarely fall under quotable humor, or things that can be easily summarized to explain why they’re funny. It’s this quicksilver quality which, for me, makes the movie so enjoyable, as the jokes keep coming in unpredictable sizes and shapes. The movie bears the influence of Philip K. Dick, an influence which it openly acknowledges with a witty reference: “Flow my tears,” says a policeman (in other words, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said), while both the prequel script and prequel comics feature a scene with the characters bonding over, respectively, The Man in High Castle and the already mentioned Flow My Tears 1. That its apocalyptic premise is coupled with absurdist dialogue makes Southland Tales feel closer to the books of Dick than adaptations like Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly which keep the vertiginous elements, while dropping the discordant hyperbolic writing that often sounds like an unintentional ten-to-one SNL skit, the beatnik daughter of Ayn Rand hanging out at the space disco. One might pick a few examples from an obvious and near-by choice, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

These excerpts all involve the book’s lead, Jason Taverner (and of course, Seann William Scott’s protagonist in Southland is Roland Taverner), and his ex-girlfriend, Ruth Rae:

That was one factor about Ruth Rae: her obsession with sex. One year that he recalled she had laid sixty men, not including him: he had entered and left earlier, when the stats were not so high.

And she had always liked his music. Ruth Rae liked sexy vocalists, pop ballads and sweet– sickeningly sweet–strings. In her New York apartment at one time she had set up a huge quad system and more or less lived inside it, eating dietetic sandwiches and drinking fake frosty slime drinks made out of nothing. Listening forty-eight hours at a stretch to disc after disc by the Purple People Strings, which he abominated.

“Hi,” she rasped in her bourbon-bounded voice. “Who are you?”

Jason said, “We met a few years ago in New York. I was doing a walk-on in an episode of The Phantom Baller. . . as I recall it, you had charge of costumes.”

“The episode,” Ruth Rae rasped, “where the Phantom Baller was set upon by pirate queers from another time period.” She laughed, smiled up at him. “What’s your name?” she inquired, jiggling her wire-supported exposed boobs.

“I’ll go punch the stove-console.” Ruth Rae skittered barefoot, wearing only a box bangle, from the bathroom into the kitchen. A moment later she returned with a big plastic mug of coffee, marked KEEP ON TRUCKIN’. He accepted it, drank down the steaming coffee.

“I can’t stay,” he said, “any longer. And anyhow, you’re too old.”

She stared at him, ludicrously, like a warped, stomped doll. And then she ran off into the kitchen. Why did I say that? he asked himself. The pressure; my fears. He started after her.

Southland replaces this unintentional absurdity with its own intentional, utterly strange jokes. One of the first scenes, when Zora Charmichaels buys a gun and blanks for the staged shooting from a weapons dealer who works out of an ice cream truck:

ZORA
You know, there would be a lot less violence in the world if everyone got a little more cardio.

WALTER MUNG
Yeah…

ZORA
HEY. Is that a bazooka?

WALTER
What the fuck is this?

ZORA
What…you won’t take a personal cheque?

WALTER
No, I won’t take a personal cheque. Get the fuck out of my ice cream truck, you cro-magnon bitch.

There’s the reunion of Santaros with his in-laws, along with the woman who protected him during his time of exile, porn star Krysta Now:

MADELINE FROST
Cock Chuggers 2? Cock Chuggin? Who the fuck makes this shit? Huh?

BOXER
Hey, hey. She just cut her own pop album.

SENATOR FROST
“Teen horniness is not a crime. Keep an open heart and an open mind.”

KRYSTA does the “love you, too” signal to the Senator.

BOXER
She’s developing her own reality show. Clothing line. Jewelry, perfume, and not to mention, energy drink. Which I tried. And her drink tastes really really good.

KRYSTA mouths thank you.

BOXER
Can I see the Cock Chuggers?

MADELINE FROST
No!

A conversation on Krysta Now’s talk show, which is kind of like The View, except all the table mates are porn stars, and where they discuss the important issues of the day, like teen horniness and quantum teleportation:

SHOSHANNA COX
I have a question…for the Supreme Court. What happens…when a woman has sex on a flight from London to Los Angeles. Then takes the morning after pill. While flying across the time zone.

KRYSTA NOW
I don’t know.

COX
Then it becomes the morning before pill.

DEENA STORM
You are a genius.

NOW
Holy shit.

The Dickisian influence is there in the ways I see the movie: as a satire on the American fascination with the apocalypse, and as the briefly realized dream world of a dying man, Roland Taverner. Dealing with the first gives me an opportunity to lay out the surrounding timeline of the events of the movie, in chronological order, as described in the film, the prequel comics (Southland Tales: The Prequel Saga on Amazon), and the prequel script (Southland Tales: The Prequel Saga on scribd) – though they overlap in many ways, the prequel script and the prequel comics have their differences. Though “Everything you were afraid to ask about “Southland Tales”” by Thomas Rogers is very effective in disentangling the various plot details of the movie, it spends less time on the events leading up to the movie’s plot, which I think are equally important in understanding what takes place.

What should first be noted is that a central part of Southland‘s plot is the idea of various world religions in a competition for apocalypse (a kind of Death Race 2000, I guess), with one winner emerging from these sweepstakes. This is why Boxer has tattoos on his body of so many symbols and words representing various faiths, and when Christ’s head bleeds through at the end, this is the chosen (and expected) winner. This crude competition is very much satirical, and mirrors the religious bigotry of Bobby and Nina Mae Frost who express an opinion that doesn’t make it into the movie, but is very much there in the prequel works – that the war on terror is a war for Christian supremacy. In “The ‘Southland Tales’ That Never End: An Interview With Richard Kelly” by Abraham Riesman, Kelly confirms all this:

In the graphic novels, we learn that boxer’s tattoos represent all the major world religions, and that whichever one bleeds, it means that religion is the one true religion. Jesus ends up bleeding, of course. So, why Christianity? Why does it win?

Why does Jesus win? (Laughs) Well, because it’s Revelation and it is the Second Coming. And the joke is, someone *has* to win, and it’s part of the satire.

Sorta like a parody of the Bush administration’s invocations of god?

Well, I mean, it’s the foundation of that entire administration, was Christianity. And Southland Tales is very much a reflection of that administration and those eight years.

These are the Frosts in the comic, on the intersection of war and religion:

These are the Frosts in the script, on the same subject (page 83):

The screenplay that’s mentioned several times in the movie, The Power, is a script which serves as a prophetic work predicting the events leading up to the apocalypse, and excerpts of the script appear in the prequel comics. Though it will be discussed at greater length later, we might look at the scene in the script where Jericho Cane gets his tattoos, after which Boxer Santaros will get the very same set of tattoos to play the role of Jericho Cane2. This is Jericho Cane getting the “armor of god”, the religious tats:

This is Boxer getting the same set of tattoos, in the script (page 66):

In the comic:

Serpentine: “When da true Messiah returns…da tattoo of the winning religion will bleed da blood of da serpent.” Fortunio: “The winning religion? Is this some sort of competition?” Serpentine: “Of course it is…you fool!” (page 80)

Perhaps the best place to start the chronology is with an exposition scene in the prequel script, where we discover the Defense Department has been funding research into the Book of Revelations for decades. The conversation is between General Teena MacArthur (Janeane Garafolo) and General Simon Theory (Kevin Smith); Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake) is in the scene because he’s participating in a military experiment involving Fluid Karma (page 91):

The primer is Martin Kefauver, the man who fires the rocket launcher at the end, and whose name is deciphered later by Krysta Now.

As we know from the opening scenes of Southland, the expanded war in the Middle East has led the U.S. to research alternative energy resources. Baron Westphalen has solved the problem through Fluid Karma, a mysterious substance that generates electricity when exposed to oxygen. In the Baron’s presentation from the movie’s opening, he seems unable to quite explain how his energy system, powered by the ocean’s waves, quite works – this is because the explanation is a deception. Fluid Karma isn’t produced, but mined from the ocean floor, a place called the Serpent Trench.

By mining this material, they’ve unleashed something unforseen unto the world. The first sign of something gone awry is the incident involving Flight 23, going from Los Angeles to Dallas, where passengers and crew were struck by a massive outbreak of hysteria mid-point in the flight. Everyone on board afterward suffered from amnesia, except for one person – Krysta Kapowski, also known as Krysta Now.

During interview sessions after the event, it’s discovered that Kapowski now has psychic powers. It’s after this discovery that Dr. Katarina Kuntzler has her dictate the script The Power.

The script is supposed to be a kind of modern Book of Revelation, predicting the events leading up to the end of the world. Instead of the porn actress, the script features Krysta Now’s doppelganger, oceanography expert Dr. Muriel Fox, who describes Krysta’s experiences on United 23 as her own. Before the outbreak of hysteria, the passengers fall into a coma in which Krysta is the only one awake. She sees a vision of a multi-headed snake beast ridden by the whore of Babylon, Krysta Now. This perhaps is how Kapowski sees herself, as two selves separated by the transforming incident – Krysta Now and psychic Dr. Muriel Fox. This vision explains exactly what will take place before the apocalypse, events mirrored in the end of the movie:

Simon Theory has come across an anagram of letters that must be deciphered, F R E A K M A N V I R T U E, which also unscramble to Martin Kefauver, the man who’ll fire the rocket launcher at the movie’s end. This is the “trigger” they’re seeking, the man who’ll set off the apocalypse. From the prequel script, when Simon discusses the anagram with Teena MacArthur (page 113):

From The Power script in the comic, when Muriel Fox unscrambles the letters:

Muriel explicitly identifies Kefauver as “the executioner” in The Power script:

Much of Kapowski’s script is excerpted in the comics, and the impression given is of a prophetic document disguised as a juvenile Michael Bay movie. Two cops, Jericho Cane (played by Boxer Santaros) and his partner, Chuck MacPherson (not Roland Taverner, but an older man in his fifties), along with Dr. Muriel Fox, are trying to unravel the mystery behind a baby named Caleb that has mystic qualities and may well be the messiah. It ages at an accelerated rate, and never has a bowel movement, but its farts are so powerful that they shake the earth. Eventually, Jericho Cane takes the baby to a farmhourse where he finds the mysterious sorceress named Serpentine, the very same Serpentine of the world outside the script. Serpentine is surrounded by snakes, and one of them swallows the baby, before the serpent is destroyed by one of the child’s cosmic farts. Serpentine declares the child the messiah. It’s after this point that Serpentine explains the idea of the “armor of god”, the tattoos which must be printed on Jericho Cane’s skin.

Though it’s omitted in the general release cut, there’s a lengthier discussion of the script in one of the ridealong scenes in the Cannes cut. I know that some have accused this movie of pretentiousness, and yet the full cut of the scene gets close to the tone which the movie aims for all the way through, one that has a serious undertone, but is also through and through ridiculous. The recurrent phrase, “nobody rocks the cock like Krysta Now”, is something like an advertising jingle which ends up in the heads of everyone, though for a product more demimonde than we might expect for these infectious mantras.

BOXER
So, I’m fucking her last night…and right before I come, I puke all over her tits.

TAVERNER (impassive, blase, unperturbed)
It happens.

BOXER
No, I’m telling you, nobody and I mean nobody, rocks the cock like Krysta Now. Nobody.

BOXER CONT’D
Nobody.

TAVERNER
I got it.

BOXER
Fucking nobody.

Back to the Neo-Marxist headquarters. DREAM talks into the mic, which TAVERNER hears over the earpiece.

DREAM
Ask him about his wife.

TAVERNER
So what does your wife think about your new girlfriend?

BOXER
My wife?

TAVERNER
Yeah. She cool with the fact that you have a porn star girlfriend on the side?

BOXER
I’m not married.

TAVERNER
You’re not?

BOXER
No, I’m not.

TAVERNER
I could have sworn you were married to the daughter of a Texas senator. Senator Bobby Frost.

BOXER
Well no, I’m not. I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t know who he is. Furthermore, I don’t want to talk about this. Why are you asking me questions? I just want to talk about my movie.

TAVERNER
Okay, let’s talk about your film. What’s it really about?

BOXER now interested, leans closer
It all hinges…on a top secret experiment. Young couple comes home from the hospital. With their new-born baby. A week goes by, and the baby still hasn’t produced a bowel movement.

TAVERNER
Maybe the baby’s just constipated.

BOXER
No no no no no. This is a very special baby. This baby processes energy differently. Every time it farts, it creates a small earthquake. The prophecy of Jericho Cane says there will be one final thermonuclear baby fart which will then trigger the apocalypse.

TAVERNER
I haven’t had a bowel movement in six days. I haven’t taken a piss either.

BOXER looks down at TAVERNER’s pants.

Though it’s never stated explicitly, somehow this baby Caleb is also Roland Taverner. The baby’s growth is so accelerated in the script that we can conceive this baby being of the age and appearance of Taverner when he first shows up. They both share a distinct trait: like Caleb, Taverner cannot have a bowel movement no matter how hard he tries. This is a point made several times in the comic:

The various researchers of the movie – General Simon Theory, Dr. Soberin Ex, Dr. Katarina Kuntzler – pinpoint that the strange incident on board Flight 23 took place over Lake Mead, Nevada, where an unusual structure has come into existence: a vast maze in the shape of Texas. Within the maze is a rift in time and space. Kuntzler believes the maze’s shape to be a reference to the nuclear detonation in Abilene, a communication by a sentient intelligence – the Serpent Trench.

Attempts are made to research this time rift. The best description of what takes place is in Southland when Satoro discovers his own dead body, and Soberin Ex tells him what led up to it:

EX
And what did we do when we discovered a rift in the fourth dimension? We launched monkeys into it.

BOXER
Only a human subject can survive that challenge. The soul of a human monkey can’t survive the dimensional threshold.

KUNTZLER
So we learned. At which point we decided that the first human subejct to travel through the rift would be a movie star.

BOXER
Why me?

KUNTZLER
Your celebrity and your political ties proved an irresistible combination.

EX
At 10:59 AM, and this is sixty-nine minutes before you passed through the rift, a duplicate Boxer Santaross appeared.

SIMON
You traveled sixty nine minutes back in time, sir. At which point your future self…and your past self, confronted one another.

BOXER
So, I’m my future self. And I’m the dude who traveled through the rift.

EX
And this…[nods to the burned out body] is all that’s left of your past self. This body…this artifact. This dual existence of a single human soul could unlock the secret of creation, the secret of humankind.

BOXER
I don’t understand. I’ve never considered committing suicide. I’m a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.

EX
We don’t know what would happen if two human souls were to come into immediate close contact with one another.

This may be a deception as well; Boxer perhaps isn’t taken to the maze because he’s a movie star, but because of the prophecy of The Power script. Boxer is at a campaign event on June 27th where he’s with his in-laws, Vice Presidential nominee Bobby Frost and their family, when he’s kidnapped (page 74):

Afterwards, Boxer Santaros has forgotten everything in his life – except the moment of being in the maze. He comes across the monkey that’s already been sent through the time rift. This monkey’s gone to heaven:

In the prequel script, park rangers searching the area come across the dead monkey as well (page 8):

He wanders the maze and comes across a giant snake which then attacks him. This might be taken as a metaphor for the entire movie, characters wandering a maze ruled by a snake, Serpentine. Boxer escapes by ascending the stairs to a gauzy field marked by an open hand: the time rift. He jumps through and afterwards sees Taverner. When asked his name, he says “Jericho Cane”, even though he hasn’t read Krysta’s screenplay yet.

After Boxer jumps through the time rift, his past self may have gone back into the Treer vehicle where it was destroyed by a remote self-destruct trigger, according to this conversation at the end of Southland:

BOXER
You made sure to have no one go through the time rift with me. Then you hit the SUV self destruct trigger. By remote. Which means I didn’t kill myself.

SERPENTINE
You’re a pimp. Pimps don’t commit suicide.

BOXER
You got that right.

Though Roland Taverner suffers from amnesia as well due to the time rift, he too remembers the maze as a dream, which he tells Boxer about when they sit down to eat during a break from the drivealong. The upbeat “Oh My Angel” by Bertha Tillman plays in the background, making things even more unsettling.

TAVERNER
I’ve had this recurring dream.

BOXER can tell that he wants to tell someone, anyone about this dream.

BOXER
Tell me about it.

TAVERNER
I wake up in this dungeon…the walls are made of sand. As I slowly make my way through this…maze. Approaching a light source at the end. Guess who’s standing there, waiting for me?

BOXER
Who?

TAVERNER
You.

BOXER is now very interested.

BOXER
Do you ever feel there’s a thousand people…locked inside of you?

TAVERNER
Sometimes.

BOXER
But it’s your memory. That keeps them glued together. Keeps all those people from [makes Rock'em Sock'em motions] fighting one another. Maybe in the end that’s all we have. The memory. Gospel.

It’s after this point that Boxer is picked up in the desert by Foruntio Balducci, while Roland Taverner ends up on the houseboat of his parents, along with his double, his past self. They’ve been gone in the maze for three days, since it’s now June 30th:

Whether Tab and Eve Taverner are actually Roland’s parents, or just actors playing a part, I’m not sure. They’re Neo-Marxists, and his father lies to Roland that the other body is his twin brother, and not a copy of himself:

Taverner is transferred by his parents over to the custody of fellow Neo-Marxist Zora Charmichaels, while Balducci drives with Boxer to a strip club where Krysta Now is headlining. The comic’s opening has many of the characters clustered all together on the Taverner houseboat, with Krysta Now and Balducci there for a gambling junket, where high stakes card games are played against, amongst others, U.S. soldiers stationed in Syria. We are told that Tab is on his way to drop off some very important cargo in Los Angeles – Roland Taverner and his copy. Balducci goes off into the desert, with a necessary state travel pass given to him by Krysta. Though it’s never stated explicitly in the comic, I make this assumption: Krysta is psychic, and Krysta knows Balducci will pick up Boxer in the desert, after which she’ll see them at her strip club. In the comic, they simply meet at the club, whereas in the prequel script, Krysta makes a beeline for Boxer. Again in the prequel script, she presents him with the prophecy script, The Power, which carries a co-writing credit for Santaros, while in the comic she enlists Balducci to convince Boxer that The Power is entirely his script. He’ll be playing a part in other people’s games, but it’s important that he thinks it’s all a product of his own imagination, his own creation.

When Krysta meets Boxer in the prequel script (page 17):

Towards the end of the prequel comics, there’s this moment between Krysta and Boxer which suggests she knows exactly what will happen to all of them, that they’re going to bring about the apocalypse:

A contingent point, revealed only at the comic’s ending: Krysta has been doing this all for the Baron. We’re told this in a scene where Krysta tells her friends, Deena Storm and Shoshanna Cox, that they’ve received an invite to dance on the Westphalen zeppelin for their fourth of July party:

Zora is an agent of the Baron as well:

The burnt out body of Boxer Santaros is found by park rangers. After they put the body into storage, mysterious figures come into the ranger station, kill the rangers and retrieve the body. In both the prequel comics and the script, the body then ends up in Westphalen laboratories, but in the prequel script, it’s more explicit that the kill orders come from the Baron:

The park ranger discovers the body in the prequel script (page 10):

Baron gives the order to shoot in the prequel script (page 11):

That Taverner ends up with the Neo-Marxists and Boxer ends up at Krysta’s, is also part of an elaborate plan, chess pieces in their proper place, as it’s made clear in the comic book:

The purpose of it all is to bring about the apocalypse. Janeane Garafolo shows up in Southland only for a few seconds in a mute appearance towards the end, alongside Pilot Abilene in the Utopia 3 Station; she’s there, according to the prequel script, after waiting it out at a remote command center. We have here the obvious irony, that she has to be at a remote location so she’s not destroyed, while waiting out the three days until all of earth is annihilated (page 116):

A compilation of Teena MacArthur’s scenes from the Cannes cut of Southland Tales:

The drive along with a staged shooting and the drive along disrupted by a real shooting are all parts of a larger plan. It’s Balducci who tells Dion and Dream to take the scenario for the faked shooting from a scene in The Power (page 82):

The scene of the couple from The Power:

That various characters are used as instruments shouldn’t imply that they know the full plan. Fortunio thinks the idea of a competition among the religions a ridiculous idea; all he knows is that he’s paid to do certain things, though these very tasks end up being necessary steps towards the apocalypse. One of the last scenes in the prequel comics is Fortunio confronting Krysta about what exactly she knows:

Though he doesn’t know the full plan, Balducci is still very much in the pay of these same shadowy forces. Southland, the movie, opens with Balducci welcoming Taverner as an old friend; he actually doesn’t know the man at all. He has been paid by Serpentine to bring about the meeting of Taverner and Boxer:

The last scene of the comics is Boxer overwhelmed by all the things he’s experienced, and going out to the beach where he collapses after injecting himself with Fluid Karma – which is not only a source of energy, but a potent drug as well. It’s in the morning after this that we see him in the movie’s opening, waking up on the beach. Fluid Karma is used in various military experiments on soldiers, in order to try to endow them with psychic abilities, and among the experimental subjects are Roland Taverner and Pilot Abilene. Those who inject themselves with Fluid Karma tend to experience time breaking down, or “bleeding”, and Boxer runs into this at the house where they first find baby Caleb, with the dead father of Caleb speaking to Boxer through a mirror. It’s this same phenomenon of bleeding that Taverner experiences in his opening scene, where his mirror reflection appears to be a few microseconds behind.

SUICIDE MISSION

This is a movie where the apocalypse does not come about as an unexpected by-product of anything else, or by accident, but out of exact intent. Southland gets at the lunacy of nuclear madman theory and at the madness at the heart of the apocalyptic thinking now so prevalent among evangelicals in the U.S. The movie says the unsayable: that the destruction of the entire earth is actually part of a divine plan. We have it stated very well in the excellent study of the Book of Revelation and its modern misinterpretations, A History of the End of the World by Jonathan Kirsch:

Revelation achieved its first penetration into American politics with the unlikely rise of Ronald Reagan, first as governor of California and later as president of the United States. Raised in a church with roots that reached all the way back to the era of the Second Great Awakening – and reportedly an early reader of The Late Great Planet Earth [a book from 1970 which repurposed the Book of Revelation to predict the apocalypse in contemporary times] – Reagan was perhaps the first national figure outside of fundamentalist circles to openly and unapologetically affirm his belief in the imminent fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

“Apparently never in history have so many of the prophecies come true in such a relatively short time,” said Ronald Reagan, then serving as governor of California, in an interview that appeared in 1968 in Christian Life magazine. And he was even more forthcoming at a political dinner in Sacramento in 1971 when he commented on the significance of a recent coup in Libya: “That’s a sign that the day of Armageddon isn’t far off,” declared Reagan. “Everything’s falling into place. It can’t be long now.”

Reagan, in fact, was able to cite chapter and verse to support his prediction. The incident in Libya apparently put him in mind of a Sunday-school lesson on the apocalyptic prophecies of the Hebrew bible: “For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near,” goes a passage in the book of Ezekiel. “Ethiopia, and Libya, and Lydia, and all the mingled people…shall fall with them by the sword.” And Reagan, apparently inspired by the sight of waiters igniting bowls of cherries jubilee in the darkened dining room, was mindful of God’s vow to bring down on Gog, the biblical enemy of Israel, “great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.” Reagan alluded to these passages during his table talk and concluded: “That must mean they’ll be destroyed by nuclear weapons.”

In Southland Tales, the only caveat to this armageddon being part of some larger divine cosmogony is that this plan seems to be entirely the design of a less than divine figure, the comic book dragon lady Serpentine. It’s a movie that plays like a parody of a conspiracy theory, with almost every character acting as a double agent for someone else, whether it be Zora, Krysta, and Fortunio acting on behalf of the Baron, or the members of U.S. Ident, the NSA subdivision that oversees the internet, that are actually Neo-Marxist moles. Southland ends with the revelation of double dealing at the very tippytop of the hierarchy, with Baron Von Westphalen declaring himself a Neo-Marxist: “Our mission, is to destroy capitalism…dethrone god…” The very same credo uttered by a Neo-Marxist in one of the comics:

The mohawked Neo-Marxist who says this line is the ubiquitous Hermosa, who also applies the religious tattoos to Boxer, and makes a silent and enigmatic appearance in the movie, conferring with Taverner during a break in the ride along:

Baron Von Westphalen is actually a relative of Karl Marx on his wife’s side3, so the fight in this movie which at first appears to be a conflict between the left and the right, the Neo-Marxists against the establishment, is actually between the Neo-Marxists versus the Marxists, or, if we take the Baron’s final words as sincere, between the Neo-Marxists and the Neo-Marxists. This is a massive conflict where both factions are on the same side, where the outcome has already been foretold by Krysta Now’s screenplay, all orchestrated by a single, sinister force behind the scenes. Serpentine has all the qualities of a conspiratorial figure, qualities which approach the level of magic, being able to travel seemingly everywhere and, though she wears an eye-catching outfit, is near invisible to everyone around her, who never notice her ubiquity. This is a movie marked by characters who we assume to have great power, whether it be Boxer Santaros, one of the biggest stars on the planet, Bobby Frost, vice presidential candidate, Nana Mae, deputy director of the NSA, Baron Von Westphalen, said to be the most powerful man in the world (described as the wizard, presumably because his inventions resemble something close to magic), General Simon Theory (nicknamed the Dungeon Master, presumably because he stick to subterranean locations and the sense that he’s the hidden power behind everything) – and yet all their power is for naught in the face of this larger plan. Again, we have another standard feature of conspiracy theory, where the most powerful individuals are apparently helpless pieces in a plot. Though all these figures help bring about apocalypse, the only one who actually gets what they want is Serpentine. Again, we have the destructive paradox involved in the planning of various kinds of warfare: what else did you expect to happen when this plan was put into effect?

Kelly confirms this view of what takes place, of Serpentine orchestrating everything, in Abraham Riesman’s “The ‘Southland Tales’ That Never End: An Interview With Richard Kelly”:

What’s Baron’s endgame?

Well, I mean, that’s part of the ending that I’d like to eventually restore. The Baron has been duped by Serpentine, and Serpentine is aware of the handshake and shutting existence down with the handshake. The Baron has dreams of floating over the apocalyptic landscape in his MegaZeppelin and ruling over humanity, and Bai Ling tricks him and shuts down all existence. That’s why she’s—there’s more of it in the Cannes cut.

Who in the movie wants to bring about the end of the world?

Bai Ling and Zelda Rubenstein. Katarina Kuntsler. Inga von Westphalen is aware of it, somewhat. But basically, Serpentine and Katarina hoodwink the Baron into shutting down all existence because the Baron is drunk with power and intends to destroy humanity and lord over humanity in his MegaZeppelin, so they decide it’s better to shut down all existence.

The cut of Southland that appeared at Cannes has footage which establishes this point strongly. Following the scene where Cyndi Pinziki threatens Vaughn Smallhouse (“Let me tell you something, Terri. When the shit hits the fan, it all smells the same”) and which closes with Krysta’s line, “I don’t know what it is you’ve done…but you have to promise me he won’t get hurt. He’s not the person you think he is”, we have this brief scene at the Vaughn Smallhouse estate between Katarina Kuntzler and Serpentine, about the Baron:

KUNTZLER
The world is merely an object being manipulated by him. Your Baron is drunk with power. The tidal generator is driving everyone mad. And this madness, this religion of chaos will not abate, until the end of all things.

SERPENTINE
Today the world ends.

KUNTZLER nods and mouths a silent “yes”.

After the Baron’s line “Our mission is to destroy capitalism…”, we also have this:

BARON
Our mission is to destroy capitalism…dethrone god…

BOXER
Officer Roland Taverner. That’s who you want.

We cut to the TAVERNERS shaking hands in the ice cream truck, the one in the sweatshirt pointing a gun to his head. We go back to the zeppelin.

KATARINA KUNTZLER
He is the one who can dethrone god.

BARON is puzzled. Though he usually knows everything, he wasn’t notified of something.

BARON
Mother…he wasn’t supposed to go through the rift. The car was supposed to be on auto-pilot!

INGA VON WESTPHALEN is impassive.

BARON (desperately)
Serpentine!

SERPENTINE
This is the way the world ends…not with a whimper, but with a bang.

She places her hands together.

Both of these scenes, as well the other deleted scenes from the Cannes version mentioned here, are in the following compilation of clips on youtube, “Southland Tales Deleted Scenes”:

Southland tips its hat a few times to Philip K. Dick, it shares common obsessions with the late author’s work, and I find some of its DNA in Dick’s novel, A Maze of Death. In that book, (I think the SPOILERS tag needs to go here, if you want to remain unsurprised by Maze‘s final twist) a group of space colonists are trapped on a ship stranded near a dead star, as a result of an accident years ago. They pass their time by creating virtual worlds they can wander about in. The worlds are a consensus effort of the various passengers, the religion a synthesis of their beliefs, consisting of four divinities – the Mentafacturer, the Intercessor, the Walker-on-Earth, and the Form Destroyer. After all these years, the ship passengers despise their fellows, and they end up murdering each other on the virtual world. Inevitably, the world collapses and the Form Destroyer, their death god, overwhelms everything. The passengers are outwardly sane, yet secretly mad, and there is a secret, unacknowledged madness to not just the planning of nuclear war, but all war planning. Southland Tales is often about illusions that are suddenly real, and the anticipation of war is the expectation of both an illusion of heroism and physical genius, as well as a reality so cruel and sordid that it pierces all veils. It is supposedly a baptism, in which you will be re-born into something greater, and it is a secret lake into which you descend, and never come up for air. This is the veiled lunacy at the heart of Southland Tales, and here too, a Form Destroyer prevails.

Dick was obsessed with theology, and his books benefit and suffer from this, with his fascinating plots often metaphors for religious ideas, and these plots in turn trapping their characters like flies in amber, the entire book stiff with reflection on a particular idea, rather than focusing the reader’s interest page by page. We might get some sense of his obsession from the story related in the film Waking Life, told by the Pinball Playing Man (Richard Linklater) to the Main Character (Wiley Wiggins). I am grateful to the transcript from the site Waking Life, which offers transcripts by James Skemp to all the scenes in the complex and in-depth conversations of the movie, including “Trapped in a Dream”:

PINBALL MAN
I’m gonna tell you about a dream I once had. I know that’s, when someone says that, then usually you’re in for a very boring next few minutes, and you might be, but it sounds like, you know, what else are you going to do, right? Anyway, I read this essay by Philip K. Dick ["If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others", I believe, from The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick].

MAIN CHARACTER
What, you read it in your dream?

PINBALL MAN
No, no. I read it before the dream. It was the preamble to the dream. It was about that book, um Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. You know that one?

MAIN CHARACTER
Uh, yeah yeah, he won an award for that one.

PINBALL MAN
Right, right. That’s the one he wrote really fast. It just like flowed right out of him. He felt he was sort of channeling it, or something. But anyway, about four years after it was published, he was at this party, and he met this woman who had the same name as the woman character in the book. And she had a boyfriend with the same name as the boyfriend character in the book, and she was having an affair with this guy, the chief of police, and he had the same name as the chief of police in his book. So she’s telling him all of this stuff from her life, and everything she’s saying is right out of his book. So that’s totally freaking him out, but, what can he do?

And then shortly after that, he was going to mail a letter, and he saw this kind of, um, you know, dangerous, shady looking guy standing by his car, but instead of avoiding him, which he says he would have usually done, he just walked right up to him and said, “Can I help you?” And the guy said, “Yeah. I, I ran out of gas.” So he pulls out his wallet, and he hands him some money, which he says he never would have done, and then he gets home and thinks, wait a second, this guy, you know, he can’t get to a gas station, he’s out of gas. So he gets back in his car, he goes and finds the guy, takes him to the gas station, and as he’s pulling up at the gas station, he realizes, “Hey, this is in my book too. This exact station, this exact guy. Everything.”

So this whole episode is kind of creepy, right? And he’s telling his priest about it, you know, describing how he wrote this book, and then four years later all these things happened to him. And as he’s telling it to him, the priest says, “That’s the Book of Acts. You’re describing the Book of Acts.” And he’s like, “I’ve never read the Book of Acts.” So he, you know, goes home and reads the Book of Acts, and it’s like uncanny. Even the characters’ names are the same as in the Bible. And the Book of Acts takes place in 50 A.D., when it was written, supposedly. So Philip K. Dick had this theory that time was an illusion and that we were all actually in 50 A.D., and the reason he had written this book was that he had somehow momentarily punctured through this illusion, this veil of time, and what he had seen there was what was going on in the Book of Acts.

And he was really into Gnosticism, and this idea that this demiurge, or demon, had created this illusion of time to make us forget that Christ was about to return, and the kingdom of God was about to arrive. And that we’re all in 50 A.D., and there’s someone trying to make us forget that God is imminent. And that’s what time is. That’s what all of history is. It’s just this kind of continuous, you know, daydream, or distraction.

Southland is afflicted with the opposite problem, as the subject is very much religion, but without anything like the depth of knowledge or obsession which Dick brought to his work. The apocalypse feels like an appendage to the often very funny skits, and it’s perhaps relevant that Kelly worked on a script for the apocalyptic fantasy, Knowing, before moving on to Southland. I turn to Eliot Kalan, Dan McCoy, and Stuart Wellington of The Flophouse for a summary of this film. From “Episode #44: Knowing”:

ELIOT KALAN
Nicolas Cage is a single father, widower- [DAN: Just trying to make it in the world.] Yeah. His son acquires from a time capsule a piece of paper buried fifty years ago, with lots of random numbers on it, written by a creepy girl in the 1950s. It soon turns out, however, that Nicolas Cage discovers by applying his eyes and bourbon-

DAN WELLINGTON
By applying whiskey to paper.

ELIOT
That these numbers match up to disasters or catastrophes, or things where lots of people died, where they say the date and the body count.

ELIOT
He finds out that it’s also predicting other disasters, he finds out that the numbers match up to the longitude and the lattitude that he just happens to be on one day and a plane crashes. And people are stumbling out of the plane on fire and he can’t save any of them, because he’s incompetent.

STUART MCCOY
And he can’t dispel CGI flames.

ELIOT
Yeah, exactly. To make a long story short, because the movie was way too long [STUART: Super long.] He meets up with the daughter who wrote these numbers-

DAN
-played by Rose Byrne of 28 Weeks Later, and the hit show Damages.

STUART
She looks like, I think you put it really well, Eliot, when you say she seemed like an achievable Selma Hayek.

ELIOT
Was I the one who said that?

STUART
Or I said it.

ELIOT
One of us said something like that.

STUART
If you were at a bar, and you were hitting on Selma Hayek, and she turned you down, you’d be like, “OK, Rose Byrne’ll do.” It’d be like a cabana bar.

ELIOT
Cabo wabo.

DAN
My wife saw her on the subway once, so she seemed attainable.

STUART
For realz?

ELIOT
I saw Hope Davis on the subway once.

Anyway:

ELIOT
Anyway, he meets up with Rose Byrne, who’s also a single parent with a daughter-

STUART
Oh, that’s convenient, because it’s like puzzle pieces.

ELIOT
-the daughter and the son-

STUART
It’s like Step by Step.

ELIOT
It’s just like Step by Step, except without the wacky older cousin…who lives in a van?

STUART
Or The Brady Bunch, which is more appropriate.

ELIOT
Except less of them.

STUART
Yeah, or more well known.

ELIOT
Well, Step by Step is basically The Brady Bunch. Anyway, I’m glad we made that point. It turns out the son and the daughter have both been hearing whispers, from mysterious beings, and disasters happen and disasters happen, and it turns out there’s going to be a big solar flare that’s going to wipe out all life on earth. Mysterious beings turn out to be alien angels that take the son and the daughter up into the stars, and the earth is destroyed in a fireball.

DAN
The end.

ELIOT
And then we see the son and daughter on an idyllic planet, where there’s also a tree, representing the garden of Eden and Tree of Knowledge.

DAN
Not the ending one would expect at the beginning of the movie, based on the beginning of the movie.

Of some note is that the son of that movie, the only male survivor of humanity is named Caleb; and, of course, the Messiah baby in The Power script who appears to develop into Roland Taverner is also named Caleb. But is Knowing any good?

STUART
I really didn’t like this movie, it was long and boring, it was shot kinda cool, and the music was nuts.

ELIOT
He was stealing from everything.

STUART
Yeah, it was crazy. It was boring, it was way too fucking long, and it was not exciting, so don’t watch it. Although some of the explosions were cool. The CGI flame was awesome.

ELIOT
I agree. This was a bad, bad movie. And I didn’t enjoy it, it was slow and boring and long, with Stuart. Although there were some scenes that looked pretty. That were shot nicely.

STUART
Oh, that moose that was on fire? The CGI moose that was on fire?

Knowing, despite its CGI moose on fire, takes very seriously what Southland plays for laughs, and given the success of Knowing and its barely veiled religious references, the question that might be asked of the audience and its makers is: how seriously do you take this? The apocalypse of Knowing is not presented as a disaster, or a sick joke, but a good, just, and necessary thing. Southland‘s satire of apocalyptic thinking isn’t mockery of straw men and women, but the ribbing of a sensibility that is very much in existence. The counter-argument is that the perspective isn’t actually prevalent, that the belief is unimportant, that politicians who profess such belief don’t actually believe it – and Southland‘s counterargument in turn is, suppose they do?

Though it makes this counterargument, the apocalyptic plotline which comes to the fore in the last hour is Southland‘s weakest aspect. The characters of this movie are broad types, a necessity for the kind of comedy they’re doing, yet broad types should still have details and nuances that make them inextricably part of a profession, time, or region. No such knowledge is displayed of employees of the NSA or the military. Southern politicos are probably the most interesting politicians in the United States, but Bobby Frost is a rote combination of a Texas accent and religious fanaticism. Fanatics, as Flannery O’Connor has taught us over many stories, are not dull, and as Orson Welles said, quoting Renoir, “Everyone has his reasons.”4 This last problem overlaps with the movie’s insufficient depth when it comes to religious thought, a flaw that marks too many movies now, a result of the perhaps commendable development of a less ardently religious culture in the United States. The movies are characterized by knowing religious belief seemingly only from the outside, as a lifelong agnostic. Somehow this sensibility marks the movies of the believers as well the skeptics, whether it be Knowing or 2012: they have the feel of chintzy, sentimental “Yours in Christ” greetings by a printing shop that makes most of its money with dirty postcards.

Southland Tales might be connected with Knowing, but even more with two other movies about the apocalypse, End of Days and Kiss Me Deadly. Jericho Cane is the name of the cop that Boxer Santaros plays in the script, The Power, and though his last name is never dropped in the movie, it’s the credited name for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former cop in End of Days. The ridiculousness of The Power script featured in the comic book is very much the ridiculousness of End of Days, as two streetwise former New York cops go up against Satan himself. In The Power, Serpentine tests whether the baby Caleb is the messiah by having a snake swallow him, while End of Days opens with a woman giving birth, after which it’s determined that the baby is the fated one, the woman who will in turn give birth to Satan, by feeding her snake venom, and seeing that the poison has no effect on her. The finale of End of Days takes place among the roaring crowds and celebrations of the millenium; the finale of Southland Tales is set among the hoopla of the fourth of July. Mysterious figures in The Power come to take the baby Caleb, and mysterious figures (who turn out to be Knights of the Holy See) come to kill the woman who’ll serve as the vessel for the devil’s spawn. Krysta of Southland Tales is a woman who is afflicted with psychic premonitions of the future, and the woman at the center of Days suffers from visions as well, and her name is Christine.

There’s another Christine in Kiss Me Deadly, the woman in the trenchcoat who Mike Hammer picks up, and who starts the case off. Krysta Now wears the same style trenchcoat at the Smallhouse estate, Boxer’s car when he races off from the estate is Mike Hammer’s car, and the backview shots of him racing away are just like the over the backview shots of Hammer in his car at the beginning of Kiss Me. The very beginning of the movie plays at the opening of Southland when Krysta wakes up, and its ending plays on the zepplin’s screens near the movie’s closing. These two moments supplement other appearances in the comics and prequel script. “What are you watching?” Boxer asks Krysta in the script (page 110). “Kiss Me Deadly,” she says. “I think it’s based on the Lita Ford song ["Kiss Me Deadly" by Lita Ford].” In the comic, Boxer asks, “Who does Ralph Meeker play?” Krysta: “He plays Mike Hammer. The hard boiled private eye. This is your favorite film. You based the character of Jericho Cane on Mike Hammer.” The doctor who explains to Boxer what happened in the desert is Soberin Ex, and the chief villain of Deadly is Dr. Soberin. “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot and “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost recur in Southland, whild the center of Deadly‘s mystery is “Remember” by Christina Rossetti, “the darkness and corruption leave”, hinting at the destructive capacity of a new weapon. As Deadly moves towards its end, Hammer’s secretary Velda falls apart. She’s deeply in love with Hammer, who doesn’t return anything like her affection, and this might parallel Starla’s obsession with Jericho, and her erotic hunger for him is like the immediate and fervent hunger every woman in Deadly has for Hammer. That movie ends with a kind of small apocalypse, with a small box containing a strange and devastating energy, an antecedent for the unrestrained apocalypse of Southland. The horrific revelation of Santaros comes in a box as well – the sealed container with his double’s body. There are no martyrs in Deadly, but there are in Southland, with Boxer surrendering himself to whatever comes next, and there’s a martyr in End of Days as well. In the finale, the bodily host of Satan is destroyed, which leads him to take over Jericho Cane, and Cane defeats Satan by sacrificing himself.

Southland Tales is a movie obsessed with movies and pop culture, and where Kelly displays his aptitude, where he shows a real familiarity, is in the area of performers and the entertainment industry, and it’s this world which dominates Southland‘s first half. All the performers have an exaggerated sense of their self-importance, they’re solipsistic, and they see everything in terms of the entertainment world they live in. They may be broad types like every other character in the movie, but Kelly has the speech and manner down pat. Vaughn Smallhouse, the political advisor to Vice Presidential nominee Bobby Frost, asks Krysta Now if she’s the mysterious figure that’s been leaking information against them: “Are you Deep Throat II?” Krysta: “I’m not in that movie.” Smallhouse picks up a tape that might damage their political reputation from the Neo-Marxist porno director Cyndi Pinziki. “Is this the only copy?” Smallhouse asks her. Pinziki: “I’m not in distribution.” All the artists, even the Neo-Marxists, are hustlers. “I write poetry. I’m developing my own pop album, reality television show, clothing line, jewelry line, perfume and energy drink,” Krysta says in the prequel script. “So… you guys are spoken word poets now?” asks Roland of Dion and Dream in the prequel script. “We’ve released four folk albums. We’re publishing a memoir of free associative thought… and we’re in final negotiations to bring our tantric dance revue to Broadway,” Dream answers. “You know, I still don’t see why facial prosthetics are necessary,” says Zora of the disguises that Dion and Dream sport for the faked shooting. “I’ve told you a million times, genius,” says Dream. “Dion and I are cultural icons. We cannot afford to get recognized by the camera.” The movie’s characters cannot see outside themselves, and this is something shared by the protagonists of Maze of Death, as one of them laments: “Everyone in this colony had a dream. Maybe that’s what was wrong with us, he thought. We have been lodged too deeply in our respective dream worlds. We don’t seem able to come out of them; that’s why we can’t function as a group.”

This is a movie about the movies themselves, and the way movies offer a hypervivid imitation of life which derives its power from its hypervivid resemblance to life, but which we end up preferring to life itself. A good example of this might be found in “A Drug Dealer Threatened To Kill Me Because Of A Feature Script” by Molly McAleer5, where McAleer’s association with a name TV network is a kind of magic, though she doesn’t like the work or think it’s any good. She only plays the part of a successful TV writer, and her dealer buys more fully into this image than anyone else, thinking she has the cachet to produce a script written by one of his jailmates:

At the time I was working for a premium cable network that had a comedy website that was supposed to be their answer to Funny Or Die/ Huffington Post. Their vision was v. unclear and we were all getting paid a crazy amount of money for writing shitty sketches then hiring decent comedians to perform them for us. I would be stoned pretty much every day at that office and never treated it like a real job because it was so obvious that the whole thing was going to fall apart soon. But being young and naïve and again, new to the city and life, basically, I’d tell people, “Oh yeah, I work at [insert premium channel’s name here.]” and they’d be all like, “Wow, you’re so impressive,” and I’d be like, “I know.”

During one of our chats, Greenie asked me what I did for a living and I told him what I told everyone. It didn’t even occur to me that I might not want to tell my drug dealer where I work and what I do. As soon as he heard the flashy name, he started to tell me about his friend who was in prison for murder (and how he was totally innocent) who had written a movie about his days as a martial artist. He started to pitch the project, basically. I listened politely because like, why not, and then he told me he was going to get me the script to read and give notes on. I explained that I had limited experience with any kind of screenwriting and absolutely no pull at my company. I wasn’t even in the feature department. I wasn’t even in any department, really.

Boxer Santaros rides along with Roland Taverner to learn how to be a cop, though Taverner isn’t a cop at all, but has learned how to talk and act like a cop from Dion and Dream. The feuding couple are simply a reprise of a scene from Krysta Now’s script. The script is a piece of prophecy by Krysta Now, but it also resembles how movies are self-actualization, the screenplay written and movie made because of characters the actors want to be, and which the audience wants to pretend to be as well. Krysta Fox blends into Dr. Muriel Fox, who is both Krysta and not Krysta, an oceanography expert who moonlights at a strip club. Santaros is going to be playing the part of Jericho Cane, but he’s already started being Jericho Cane. “Who are you?” asks Roland Taverner in the maze, and Boxer gives this as his name. “Are you ready to become Jericho Cane?” asks the tattoo artist before applying the religious tats. Southland is about how movies approach the real, for the frisson of reality, and then pull back into the realm of fantasy – except Southland doesn’t. In what might be the most powerful effect in the comic, a young couple at 1400 Wanito Place are killed in various ways, over and over again in variations of fantasy, hallucination, and reality. In the script, Jericho Cane and his partner show up at a domestic disturbance, Rick and Tawna fighting. Cane, just like Bart Bookman, shoots Rick dead. A bunch of black Suburbans then show up, carrying a security detail acting on behalf of the Baron, and they raze the house with gunfire which kills Tawna. Jericho and Muriel Fox go to a McDonald’s where they meet a cashier, Shawna, who’s Tawna’s identical twin. Again, the black Suburbans show up, and flail the place with gunfire, and Shawna is killed – and it’s as if Tawna dies again. Boxer and Krysta visit the actual Rick and Tawna for research, but Rick is already dead, having overdosed months ago. Boxer goes to the bathroom and sees a vision of Rick from months before, a channel opened up between the past and the present. When Rick discovers he’s dead in the future, he overdoses as Boxer looks on. Dion and Dream reprise the couple’s lives, and they’re shot dead by Bart Bookman. We’re suddenly outside of the world of performance, but we also never leave it; earlier, Dream scolded Zora, “Just because it’s loud doesn’t mean it’s funny,” and now Zora listens in as they’re shot dead, giving the counter-critique: “Now that was loud. And that was funny.”

Dion and Dream are two people playing, while Bart Bookman is very very real, an actual cop whereas Boxer is reproducing an imitation of an imitation. The question of the sincerity of the performance, whether something said is false or actual feeling underlies one of the best scenes in the movie, a moment in the ridealong. The scene is memorable, without any of the flop sweat usually produced through self-importance or attention getting provocation:

We assume that both BOXER and ROLAND start out from prepared parts, prepared by others – BOXER reads his initial questions from index cards, while ROLAND wears a very visible earpiece.

BOXER
Roland, let me ask you…what goes through your head when you sit behind the wheel? Cruising the streets. Digesting humanity. Is it a process of elimination? Each car that passes. The person inside…are they a mere suspect? Or, are we all innocents, our chariots mere chess pieces waiting to be thrown from the gridlock and into the arms of the wolves?

ROLAND
Well, I say we act like concerned citizens. We look at all the people, all the cars. We look for any unusual and erratic behaviour, speed changes and lane changes, see what’s safe.

BOXER
Yeah, but don’t you think emotions come into play? Judgement calls. Affected. By whatever mood you’re in on that particular day. Emotional responses based on your past events.

ROLAND
Well, there is one thing.

BOXER
I knew it. I knew it. Tell me. Be honest.

ROLAND
To be honest…we’re just looking out for the niggers.

There is a very long pause here. BOXER takes off his sunglasses, and gives ROLAND a look of loathing that he’s finding it difficult to suppress.

BOXER
The niggers.

ROLAND
Yeah. They’re everywhere.

ROLAND has turned to BOXER when he says this, and he gives an ugly laugh.

BOXER smiles, and though part of him seems to want to let this go, he’s not quite ready to let this go.

BOXER
You’re joking?

ROLAND
No, I’m not joking.

BOXER’s smile leaves his face.

ROLAND
I’m just fucking with you, man.

ROLAND gives a small laugh, and BOXER gives a laugh that’s obviously false, contemptful in its falseness.

BOXER
That’s a funny joke.

These moments preface the movie’s ending, where we once again wonder: are you for real, or are you playing? This very question was there about Ronald Reagan’s belief in the apocalypse, and again Kirsch’s End of the World addresses it well:

“We may be the generation that sees Armageddon,” he [Reagan] told televangelist Jim Bakker in 1980. “You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about,” he told a Jewish lobbyist in 1983. “I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly described the times we’re going through.”

Such notions were wholly unremarkable in the fundamentalist churches of America – and they reached an even wider audience through the radio and television broadcasts of various apocalyptic preachers, both famous and obscure – but they were deeply unnerving in the mind and mouth of a man who is accompanied wherever he goes by the launch codes of the American nuclear arsenal. If the president of the United States is a true believer who is convinced that “the day of Armageddon isn’t far off,” would he not be tempted to take it upon himself to rain fire and brimstone down on the latest enemy to be seen as the Antichrist?

That troubling question was raised by network correspondent Marvin Kalb during the televised debates of the 1984 presidential campaign, Nancy Reagan could be heard to mutter “Oh no!” in the background, but the president himself was prepared with a reasonable and even statesmanlike answer. Reagan conceded that he had a “philosophical” interest in the biblical prophecies about the battle of Armageddon, and he argued that “a number of theologians” had suggested that “the prophecies are coming together that portend that.” But he concluded that it was impossible to know whether Armageddon “is a thousand years away or day after tomorrow.” And he insisted that he “never seriously warned and said we must plan according to Armageddon.”

We expect Southland Tales to finally veer away from the apocalypse, but no, all these silly games are leading up to an end of the world that won’t be blinked away. The link between the real and the unreal, life and movie life, is there in the relation between Taverner and Santaros. The latter is a movie star, on whom we bestow the qualities of the divine and the sacred6 In the prequel comics, there’s a gathering of Neo-Marxists who wave giant glow sticks powered by Fluid Karma, and the crowd of light forms Jericho’s face – pagan worship and modern idolatry at once. This idolatry surfaces again with Starla’s worship, literal worship, of Jericho Cane. We expect this actor to carry all the qualities of an action movie character, the embodiment of will, but the actor who plays these parts is the exact opposite. Boxer tells us his exact character in a brief confession when he’s first picked up by Balducci in the desert: “I am a pragmatic prevaricator with a propensity for oratorical seniority, which is too pleonastical to be expeditiously assimilated by any of your unequivocal verities.” Boxer is a pragmatic prevaricator – when he’s confronted with a crisis, like the killing of Dion and Dream, he runs away. He’s constantly putting a seemingly random loud emphasis on words – a propensity for oratorical seniority – which he does to give himself authority, but instead conveys the entirely opposite impression, that he has no idea what he’s talking about7. We are given a lead-up to Santaros confronting his secrets in the zeppelin, with some standard motifs of action movies – it’s scored to Beethoven’s Ninth just like Die Hard, Santaros picks out a conveniently located gun – all of which leads up to Santaros drawing his gun on General Simon Theory, only to be easily outdrawn by the general. We’re surprised by this, but only because Boxer plays action heros, and is played by an action star (Dwayne Johnson), while Simon Theory is played by Kevin Smith – in terms of the characters themselves, it’s not surprising at all. Simon Theory is a military veteran with decades of experience, and Boxer Santaros is an actor.

This character calls to my mind Hal Incandenza’s essay in Infinite Jest on contemporary television heroes of the time, Frank Furillo of the police drama Hill Street Blues and Steve McGarrett of Hawaii 5-0 (this section can be found on google books, page 103 – however for this excerpt, I am grateful for the transcript on the tumblr My Infinite Jest: A Record of the Bookmarks I Made While Reading Infinite Jest, “3rd November Y.A.D.U.”):

What kind of hero comes after McGarrett’s Irishized modern cowboy, the lone man of action riding lonely herd in paradise? Furillo’s is a whole different kind of loneliness. The ‘post’-modern here was a heroic part of the herd, responsible for all of what he is part of, responsible to everyone, his lonely face as placid under pressure as a cow’s face. The jut-jawed hero of action (‘Hawaii Five-0’) becomes the mild-eyed hero of reaction (‘Hill Street Blues,’ a decade later).

And, as we have observed thus far in our class, we, as a North American audience, have favored the more Stoic, corporate hero of reactive probity ever since, some might be led to argue ‘trapped’ in the reactive moral ambiguity of ‘post-’ and ‘post-post’-modern culture.

But what comes next? What North American hero can hope to succeed the placid Frank? We await, I predict, the hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulus, carried here and there across sets by burly extras whose blood sings with retrograde amines.

Though Santaros has all the marks of the divine, a figure that is distinct and unique, in the movie’s theology he’s not the messiah, but only the guardian – Taverner is the messiah, though a seemingly powerless one. That Taverner is the messiah of this world makes sense to me, because I think he’s very much its creator, and this world is one entirely of fantasy, the last vision of a man on the verge of death. The movie might be likened to “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce, or “A Torture by Hope” by Villiers De L’Isle-Adam, though the theme has been reprised in countless other movies and stories which cannot be named without spoiling their twists. We have here another similarity to Maze of Death (though this effect is often used in fiction), where the characters do not simply cease consciousness when killed in their virtual world, but persist in imagining an existence:

A terrific _bang_ boomed at her eardrums; deafened, she moved a step back and then she felt great pain in her chest; she felt her lungs die from the great, painful shock of it. The scene around her became dull, the light faded and she saw only darkness. Seth Morley, she tried to say, but no sound came out. And yet she heard noise; she heard something huge and far off, chugging violently into the darkness.

She was alone.

The clear, white light appeared. She yearned toward it, and something helped propel her. Are you angry at me? she thought, meaning the enormous presence that throbbed. She could still hear the throbbing, but it was no longer meant for her; it would throb on throughout eternity because it was beyond time, outside of time, never having been in time. And–there was no space present, either; everything appeared two-dimensional and squeezed together, like robust but crude figures drawn by a child or by some primitive man. Bright colorful figures, but absolutely flat. . . and touching.

“Mors stupebit et natura,” she said aloud. “Cum resurget creatura, judicanti responsura.” Again the throbbing lessened. It has forgiven me, she said to herself. It is letting the Intercessor carry me to the right light.

Toward the clear, white light she floated, still uttering from time to time pious Latin phrases. The pain in her chest had gone now entirely and she felt no weight; her body had ceased to consume both time and space.

Wheee, she thought. This is marvelous.

Throb, throb, went the Central Presence, but no longer for her; it throbbed for others, now.

The Day of the Final Audit had come for her–had come and now had passed. She had been judged and the judgment was favorable. She experienced utter, absolute joy. And continued, like a moth among novas, to flutter upward toward the proper light.

This imaginative experience is described eloquently in a passage which attempts, however, to convey only the sense of the brief life of a literary character ending with the closing of the book, by a writer focused intently on books only as books. The passage would be the very last sentences of Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov:

Rings of blurred colors circled around him, reminding him briefly of a childhood picture in a frightening book about triumphant vegetables whirling faster and faster around a nightshirted boy trying desperately to awake from the iridescent dizziness of dream life. Its ultimate vision was the incandescence of a book or a box grown completely transparent and hollow. This is, I believe, it: not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being to another. Easy, you know, does it, son.

I do not arrive at this possibility capriciously, and I don’t think it’s anything like a kludge, but one that fits well with all the other aspects of the movie. One might observe certain recurrent notes, the way an obsessive thought occurs in variations like a dream. The woman controlling everything is Serpentine. Fluid Karma is mined from the Serpent Trench, which has the shape of a serpent. The secret project where Santaros and Taverner are dropped into the time rift has the peculiar code name Serpentine Dream Theory. There is the strange fact that there is nothing inherent in the project which might make one associate it with dreams, yet the word is there in the title; there is the strange fact that the project title is made up of three character names: Serpentine (the woman who controls it all) Dream (the partner of Dion) Theory (General Simon Theory). The bill which would stop surveillance of the internet is Bill 69, and both Santaros and Taverner are sent sixty nine minutes into the future. The juvenile associations with this number are not accidental. This is a movie filled with dualities, feeding off of each other. The dream consciousness of a man dying from a suicide attempt reacts to that man’s actions: the mirrored selves of Roland Taverner, inextricably bound in a handshake, with which this movie ends. The Neo-Marxists are fighting the Baron, himself a Neo-Marxist. It’s a kind of ouroboros, the classic image of a snake swallowing its own tail.

We are told in the comic that Pilot Abilene and Roland Taverner are best friends who serve together in Iraq. By accident, Taverner throws a grenade, which hits Abilene. It’s an event that has a horrific impact on Abilene, but on Taverner as well. “Fallujah,” Abilene narrates in the comic. “My face haunted his dreams. It was an accident. They call it friendly fire…and Private Taverner could not forgive himself.”

I think Abilene is killed by this, and afterwards, Taverner commits suicide in grief. All the events of the movie – the expanding war, the mining of Fluid Karma as an alternative energy, the creation of the time rift as a result of this mining – are an outgrowth of the event at the movie’s beginning, a nuclear bomb going off in Abilene, Texas. Though Pilot Abilene and Taverner are now stateside, are best friends, and very near each other in Venice Beach, they make no attempt to meet. In the comic, Taverner finds a letter from Abilene, a letter which is also featured in the movie.

What is “the other side”? Both men are now stateside. There is the other curiousity about Pilot Abilene in the movie – though he remains always in one location, the energy depot of Utopia 3, his narration suggests he’s all seeing and all knowing, an omniscient narrator who can travel to whatever point in the world he wishes to. This is intertwined with the other strange point of Abilene, that he doesn’t interact with any of the other characters in the movie, except one, and that’s Martin Kefauver: the trigger, the executioner, the man who’ll bring this dream to an end. In the movie’s most bravura sequence (and its best known), Abilene sings along to The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” while a group of Marilyn Monroesque women in nurse outfits dance alongside him – the clip is, of course, on youtube: “The Killers – I’ve Got Soul But I’m Not A Soldier”. The choice of song is not arbitrary, but the one that Abilene was listening to when hit by the grenade. The women dance with electric happiness, while Abilene moves with sullen anger, his mood becoming more and more grim as the song goes along. The sequence captures better than so many other attempts the contagious happiness of popular music, but also the sense of isolation when one feels outside the audience. Abilene is at the center of the song – he’s singing it – and at the same time he’s apart. This is not the usual rock star pose of indifference at the orgy, but of a man surrounded by the physicality of life who’s already kissed life away.

This is a movie where Taverner has given himself a companion in this dream life, Boxer Santaros, the way some people find comfort in the images of celebrities – yet Santaros, a pragmatic prevaricator, offers no comfort at all. The lives of the men mirror each other: both are together in the desert maze and both enter the rift in time. They come together for the drive along, then are set apart, though their fates are intertwined again by the movie’s end. On the zeppelin, Santaros finally discovers the most horrific secret: his double is actually dead, a burnt out corpse. It’s after this point that the theme of suicide shows up again and again, among different characters. On seeing the body, Boxer’s first response is: “I don’t understand. I’ve never considered committing suicide. I’m a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.” Boxer interrogates Serpentine, and the most crucial point for him is that the dead body is not the result of him committing suicide:

BOXER
You made sure to have no one go through the time rift with me. Then you hit the SUV self destruct trigger. By remote. Which means I didn’t kill myself.

SERPENTINE
You’re a pimp. Pimps don’t commit suicide.

BOXER
You got that right.

There is two very major, very relevant differences here between the Cannes cut and the final release; in that cut, when Boxer discovers his double in the zeppelin, he’s also told that he most definitely committed suicide:

BOXER
I’m a pimp. And pimps: don’t commit suicide.

BOXER gives a wink to Dr. Kuntzler.

EX
We don’t know what would happen if two identical human souls, and the vessels that they traveled in, were to come into immediate close contact with one another. Your quick, decisive decision to commit suicide was a sign to us: that humankind cannot go on with two, identical human souls walking the face of the earth.

KUNTZLER
Humankind owes you a great debt…for your sacrifice.

And in that cut, after all of Boxer’s denials, when we come to the moment where Boxer points a gun to his head, the Baron states explicitly that Santaros did commit suicide:

BOXER fires the gun into the air.

BOXER
EVACUATE THE ATRIUM! MOVE TO THE REAR OF THE MEGAZEPPELIN!

MEGAZEPPELIN COMPUTER VOICE
Evacuate.

BARON
No. Everybody…go back to your seats.

BOXER
Or I’ll kill myself. And I swear to gooooood…I’ll do it.

BARON
Now, Mr. Santaros, put down the gun. You killed yourself once already, there’s no need to be redundant.

Jericho Cane’s initials, as one character points out, are the same as that of a well-known martyr. Jericho Cane wishes to martyr himself, and a suicide that’s the result of Taverner’s kind of grief is a kind of martyrdom. What is the last name of Jericho’s character? Cane, the soundalike for the man who killed his own brother – Taverner killed his best friend and fellow soldier, Pilot Abilene. At the movie’s end, Jericho Cane ends up on the zeppelin’s stage, points a gun at his head, and says the following line: “This is all in my head. And I can pull the trigger now, and this whole nightmare will be over.” We then move to the floating ice cream truck, where the Taverner doubles confront each other. Taverner began the movie looking at his reflection, and the film ends with him looking at his reflection again. One double points a gun at the other, and then at his own head. His left eye is smashed in from the accident, just like the left eye of the double of Santaros. All along, Taverner has suffered from amnesia, and now it stops. “Do you remember Fallujah?” one double asks the other. “I remember everything,” the other answers. Then one double says to the other, the one holding the gun to its head, “I forgive you” several times.

Both TAVERNERS are in the floating ice cream truck, their hands locked tight in a clasp.

TAVERNER #1 (SWEAT SHIRT TAVERNER)
You have to let go!

TAVERNER #2 (UPU2 TAVERNER)
I can’t!

TAVERNER #1
You have to let me go!

TAVERNER #1 picks gun up off floor, points it at TAVERNER #2.

TAVERNER #2
The truck will fall and we’ll both die!

TAVERNER #1 points gun at his own head.

TAVERNER #1
Let me go or I’ll pull the fucking trigger.

TAVERNER #2
No you won’t.

TAVERNER #1
I swear to god, I will!

TAVERNER #2
No, you won’t!

We go outside, to a sweeping shot of Los Angeles, alongside a skyscraper with various apartments on fire. We go back inside the blimp.

BOXER
Officer Roland Taverner, that’s who you want.

We return to inside the ice cream truck.

TAVERNER #1
Don’t you remember, Ronald?

TAVERNER #2 shakes his head, no.

TAVERNER #1
Do you remember Fallujah?

TAVERNER #2
I remember everything.

TAVERNER #1 collapses for a moment in grief.

The zeppelin explodes from the missile, and we return back inside the ice cream truck. TAVERNER #1 is back to pointing a gun at TAVERNER #2.

TAVERNER #2
It wasn’t our fault.

TAVERNER #1 points the gun at his own head.

TAVERNER #2
It wasn’t our fault.

TAVERNER #1
Friendly fire.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you.

TAVERNER #1
Friendly fire.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you.

TAVERNER #1
Friendly fire, friendly fire.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you, I forgive you.

TAVERNER #1 lets the gun fall to the floor.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you, I forgive you.

PILOT ABILENE (V.O.)
Revelation twenty five: and god wiped away the tears, so the new messiah could see out to the new Jerusalem. His name was Officer Roland Taverner, of Hermosa Beach, California. My best friend. He is a pimp. And. Pimps. Don’t. Commit. Suicide.

What exactly is he forgiving him for? I take the scene as a parallel of what happens with Santaros – he is both dead and alive, knows that he is dead, yet some consciousness persists on, and in denial of what took place. The dream life Taverner forgives the Taverner that pulled the trigger and ended it all. In the comic, Rick “bleeds” into the future only to discover he’s dead. We see in his first scene the mirror reflection of Taverner a few microseconds behind the actual Taverner – a side effect of this time bleeding, but also like the microseconds before physical death finally consumes this last bit of consciousness. We even have Taverner point the gun at his own head and watch as the reflection follows suit, with Taverner even firing the gun – though away and into the ground.

Various characters quote T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”, but they also frequently quote “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost; this movie is about a chosen side path before inevitable death. So, this is a vision incited by the destruction of Abilene (the death of Pilot Abilene), which brings about the split of the Taverners (the dying physical Taverner and this dream life Taverner), a split which takes place in a maze shaped like Texas which is believed to be a reference to the destruction of Abilene and a signal from an outside intelligence: again, the death of Abilene shapes all this. Pilot Abilene is given the movie’s last line, and gives Taverner an epitaph: “His name was Officer Roland Taverner of Hermosa Beach, California. My best friend. He is a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.” Though I think the film touches here on a subject that is a more live wire than it suspects, this scene is keenly felt, and it makes the movie about one thing and nothing else. This is Roland Taverner’s apocalypse.

(Illustrations for the Southland Tales prequel trilogy by Brett Weldele; prequel trilogy comic books copyright Graphitti Designs, View Askew, and Darko Entertainment; all images from Southland Tales and End of Days copyright Universal Pictures; all images from Kiss Me Deadly copyright United Artists.)

(Though there are still other things that might be mentioned here, for the moment this post is long enough, and I’ll leave it as is.)

(On August 7, 2014, the notes on the Cannes cut were added. I give grateful thanks to those unnamed persons who let me see it. On August 8, 2014, some additional notes were made on Boxer’s suicide in the Cannes cut and on Taverner’s suicide in the last paragraph. On August 9th, the compilation of several of the deleted scenes from the Cannes version was uploaded to youtube and links to this compilation were added to this post. On August 10, 2014, the dialogue between the Taverners at the end of the movie was added. On August 11th, the following additions were made: the excerpt where Boxer is told by doctors Ex and Kuntzler that he committed suicide; so was the excerpt from Waking Life on Philip K. Dick’s religious obsessions; the excerpt from Roland Taverner telling Boxer about his dream; and the section on the connections between this movie, End of Days, and Kiss Me Deadly. On August 21st, the sections on Jonathan Kirsch’s History of the End of the World and “A Drug Dealer Threatened To Kill Me Because Of A Feature Script” were added. On August 22nd, the introductory excerpt from Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control was added. On August 27th, the section on Hal Incandenza’s essay was added.)

FOOTNOTES

1 From the prequel comic:

From the prequel script:

2 Thanks to “Southland Tales Breakdown & Analysis??” by TheStrangeVerse, an intersting though restricted examination of the movie, I found out that Jericho Cane is a reference to End of Days, where the Schwarzenegger protagonist carries the same name.

3 The lineage is succinctly described in the comic books, accompanied by the irony that this incredibly rich family, seemingly an exemplar of capitalism and repudiation of its name, owes its wealth entirely to military contracts with the state:

4 The following quote is taken from Arena – The Orson Welles Story:

Q: There’s always that, for the viewer anyway, a kind of moral ambiguity about the characters in that, Quinlan…

WELLES: Yes.

Q: -although he’s sort of vile, he’s-

WELLES: Well, you know what Renoir said? He said everyone has his reasons. And that really sums it up. You know, there’s no villain who doesn’t have his reasons. The bigger the villain, the more interesting it becomes, the further you explain his villainy, not psychiatrically, not because mama didn’t love him…but because you humanize him. The more human you make the monster, the more interesting the story must be, it seems to me.

5 Though I cite a story from ThoughtCatalog which I consider to be very good, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up some of the controversy surrounding the service, as described in “Why 53 Writers Have Asked Thought Catalog To Remove Their Work” by Callie Beusman and “Thought Catalog Is Now a White Supremacist Publication” by Rich Juzwiak.

6 A lengthy post which connects fame with the idea of the sacred is “David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: Bad Religion”.

7 This comes out most clearly in the beach house when Taverner and Santoro first meet, a transcript of which can be found at “Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: The Beach House Scenes”.

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“Janet my daughter, your prayers are going straight into my spam filter.”

From “The swift death of ReaganBook, the Facebook for patriots” by Colin Lecher:

The site requires no proof of identity (or semblance to reality) to log in, which becomes immediately obvious: everyone seems to be either using real names, the names of famous conservatives, or the names of famous conservatives paired with sex acts. Some are earnest; some are parody. Neither of these are instructive or valuable. The only worthwhile accounts are the ones that can’t be parsed. Someone with a Captain America avatar invites people to talk about guns; Margaret Thatcher leaves more than 700 comments on an innocuous status. There is an eagle crying, several photos of Jesus. Someone with the user name SATAN! SATAN! SATAN! pokes me. A photo of a monkey in a bubble bath is posted, and no one seems sure what side this person is on. Everyone is confused and angry with everyone else.

Janet Porter, president and founder of conservative group Faith2Action, started ReaganBook. Her posts began as quiet calls to arms for conservative causes, but as the situation spiraled out of control, she became frantic: “MY SINCERE APOLOGIES FOR THE VILE CONTENT. THIS WILL BE REMEDIED IN A MATTER OF MINUTES.” Below her, “Lord God” commented: “JANET MY DAUGHTER, YOUR PRAYERS ARE GOING STRAIGHT INTO MY SPAM FILTER. PLEASE TEXT ME FOR QUICKER RESPONSE.”

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Under the Skin: This Woman’s Work

(What follows contains SPOILERS for the movie and the novel on which it’s based, as well as Jonathan Glazer’s Birth. However, given that this is an in-depth discussion of the movie, no attempt is made to summarize the film’s plot. Some further edits need to be made, and will be done on the 27th of July. While writing this, I found the following to be insightful and helpful: “Under the Skin Takes the Horror Genre in Infectiously Strange New Directions” by David Edelstein, “Under the Skin” by Noel Murray, “Under The Skin’s Alien Seduction Will Get You Where It Hurts” by Charlie Jane Anders, “Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Under the Skin Review” by Tina Hassanmia, and “Under the Skin- Movie discussion including looking at the novel that inspired it”, a reddit thread by dalong75.)

There was a time I was one of a kind
Lost in the world out of me myself and I
Was lonely then like an alien
I tried but I never figured it out
Why I always felt like a stranger in a crowd
Ooh that was then, like an alien

“Alien” by Britney Spears

Jonathan Glazer’s movie is like a fable, like Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête), a children’s fable turned upside down, Cocteau in color. I make this identification, and I immediately hesitate if it’s entirely right. The mix of subject and the approach, a fable told from an adult perspective, but without discarding the surreal imagery of fables, makes me think of Cocteau; the movie itself, with its long takes and frequent stretches without dialogue, make me think of Robert Bresson. The obvious choice not taken here is Stanley Kubrick. The score by Mica Levi reminds one in many places of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Dream of Jacob”, the early part features a breathing effect on the soundtrack that’s like the sound of 2001‘s David Bowman’s breathing in his spacesuit, and the sense of being alone with the movie, as if stranded in the arctic wilderness, suggests Kubrick as well – but his movies tend to hint at the epic, an enigmatic obelisk of larger significance. This story, on the other hand, is relatively straightforward, small in scale, the obvious focus this single character. The lengthy shots allow us the possibility to mine them for nuance, but there is nothing like a riddle we might feel compelled to solve.

We might easily speak of this fable in more traditional (or ancient) terms, to see its connections to the past: this is a story about a witch who lures men to her magical house, where they are transformed into food – just as the witch of Hansel and Gretel would bring in children and cook them into gingerbread. Though she wishes to cease playing the role of a witch, she cannot, and cannot be an ordinary woman either. This witch once held power over men, and now she is vulnerable. She is attacked by a man, loses her human form, and like many witches before her, is burned alive. The images which, for me, most strongly link this fable with those of the past are the witch’s decaying, magical house and the end where she’s destroyed by fire.

The movie opens as an object, entirely dark except for a beacon light, moves to dock with a torus, the vast emptiness lit only by a single nearby star. We hear a voice over the soundtrack, the alien (Scarlett Johansson) learning english – except for a football player named Andy, there are no character names in the movie or the credits, but for ease of writing, I’ll give the alien the name she carries in the book, Isserley1. These objects conjoin while Isserley slowly learns this earth language, and then our perspective shifts. The movement of these objects in space becomes an eye, and we’re left uncertain if these two sets of images are separate or identical. The mechanics of the docking ship might imply the underlying mechanics of sight, or it may be more explicit than that – these objects are not in outer space at all, but the various parts of the mechanical eye in Isserley’s human mask locking into place. This entire sequence, ending with the camera pulling back from a tight focus on the pupil, ends with a smash cut of the title in black on white: UNDER THE SKIN. This is a movie about looking and its underlying mechanics. Seeing is a voyage across a distance, it is a mechanical sequence whose inner workings we are unconscious of, and yet there is an aspect that can be considered imprisoning. The cold darkness of space becomes the darkness of the pupil, and the men are lured to the witch’s haven by her looks, and she in turn traps them in a room of infinite blackness. Given this connecting point, we might see the areas of the eye reflected in the movie itself. Isserley first gets her clothes from a dead woman in a room that’s of endless white, like the eye’s sclera2. She is entirely unmoved by the dead body, her curiousity only roused by an insect’s motion, and we are given a close-up of the crawling ant; Isserley is a worker drone and a predatory insect as well. Isserley then goes out to hunt for men, the colored area that is the iris, and brings them home to the confining darkness, the pupil. Whether or not we see the union of the spaceship with the torus as a metaphor for sexual union, this movie is not just about looking, but the sexual gaze. Isserley slowly comes to grips with the sounds of english – “Ba-Ba- T- T- K- Kuh- Ch- Th- V- Th-” – in order to learn this new language while the ship docks and the camera pulls back from the eye; this movie is about learning to look again as if it were an unfamiliar tongue.

Isserley is now dressed in the other woman’s clothes, and she goes to a mall to pick up a few other things, lipstick and a fur coat. We follow alongside her at waist level as her behind swishes back and forth. We are stalkers, we are hunters, vision is a kind of travel, and now we travel with her; vision is also a trap. She is the one who’ll be doing the hunting. Isserley starts talking up a series of men, and it’s these conversations that make up the overwhelming majority of the movie’s dialogue, and these conversations are entirely superfluous for the traditional purpose of learning something about Isserley or her victim. They are a simple flip of the predatory male who seeks out women for biological release, with the conversation only a tactic for getting to the main action. Isserley talks to a man, and her mouth is a warm and inviting smile; the man walks away, and her face shuts down and goes cold completely.

This is a movie where shots are held and held and held, designed so we might examine its multiplicities. Nothing is given away easily, nothing is given quickly, and any observations you make are perhaps uncertain and unresolved. Isserley’s eyes peek through the dark hair that falls over her eyes, and it’s like a sniper peeking out from a foxhole; she’s shot in the rearview mirror, her mouth blank and her eyes absent; she drives along, and her eyes give away nothing except the focused hunt for game; we catch her in the rearview mirror as light and shadow pass over, and her face conveys something, melancholy, regret, exhaustion, something. Isserley looks at her first victim, and there is something unsure in her come hither look, and it might be something like a girl trying out the unfamiliar, alien customs of adult seduction games. Isserley looks on a happy couple at the beach with loathing, and this could be an exile stranded far from home hating the possibilities she cannot have.

In the forest sequence at the movie’s end, Isserley moves like a woodland animal given human shape, and this sensibility guides her behavior throughout the first half of the film, an animal whose focus is entirely on hunting, and nothing else. Outside the circumstances in which she might engage her prey, she is suddenly fearful. She travels Glasgow at night, unworried of what might befall her, and on these journeys, she engages in conversations with strange men indifferent to what will happen next. Yet when she suddenly finds herself amongst a group of women at night, she is suddenly scared. She doesn’t know how to act in these circumstances, she’s worried as if her true form will be found out. They drag her to a club, and the noise scares her, the man who wants to talk to her frightens her. When she realizes that he’s trying for that thing, she is abruptly at ease. This is familiar territory, she knows how to handle this, she’s handled this many times before.

In moments when we might expect any woman to feel some kind of fear, she is indifferent to threat. This film is often a horror movie in reverse. She meets The Nervous Man (Adam Pearson), who suffers from neurofibromatosis, and she asks him the kind of intimate questions, without feeling or empathy, that we might expect a man to ask a woman, especially a plain or ugly woman, as if no courtesy is owed. Together, they suggest a monster movie, the disfigured creature and the beautiful woman, though the monster in this movie is very much her. Isserley sits in her van and she sees a possible target up the street. We cut close to Isserley in the van and we have what should be a standard horror scare: suddenly another man appears, right by the driver’s side window. We are not, however, fearful for her, but for him. He turns out to be a group of hoodlums who smash at her car, trying to get in, and Isserley coolly starts up her engine and drives away, barely paying them mind; if you’re a woman, you may well envy and wish for her unflinching nerves in such situations. Yet there’s also a frightening absence in this Isserley. A man attempts to rescue a drowning couple, while Isserley stands by. This is the tradition we expect: the man acts, the woman watches. The man fails in his task, and we expect Isserley to give him a comforting hug and reassure him that it’s okay. She brains him with a rock. The next variation is the most horrific, and perhaps the most disturbing scene in the movie. She drags the man’s body, nothing self-conscious in her bent over figure, ignoring entirely the weeping of the baby nearby: this woman is without any maternal feeling whatsoever, and gender makes a definite difference here: we have become accustomed to this inhumanity from men, but not from women.

We are left to read these images however we can for some insight into Isserley, who is an uncompromisingly alien character. When we try to discern what’s there in a look of hers, there’s no possibility of thinking in terms of, say, her relation to her family, the great loves of her life, or her childhood, but exclusively that of an animal struggling to adapt – and yet without the pejorative quality in that word, animal. She has had like experiences, and yet they’re outside our ken, the experiences of alien life, an alien knowledge. She has been placed in a strange landscape of unknown life, and her experience mirrors ours as we watch this movie, lacking any comfort or intimacy we might have come to expect. This character remains distant enough, and this movie remains sufficiently opaque, that we might see them as not just connected to this specific character.

From “Director Jonathan Glazer on Under The Skin’s complex honesty” by Scott Tobias:

The Dissolve: This seems to be self-consciously playing with her [Scarlett Johansson's] image. She’s an icon, like David Bowie is more than just an actor in The Man Who Fell To Earth. She has an otherworldly quality.

Glazer: Well, we use that for sure. We’re using how Scarlett’s objectified, the glamour of her image. And she’s using all of that as well. There’s a deconstruction going on.

In the novel, Isserley attempts to break away from her alien society, and she tries to consume various human foods, often without success. Here, we have Isserley breaking away and the first food she tries is a large slice of chocolate cake, which is given an endless close-up. She spits it out soon after trying the first piece, and this seems not just about Isserley, but a woman’s relationship to cake itself, a toxin that will annihilate her body, that will destroy her entirely. Isserley’s physical appearance is examined from every angle by her supervisor, The Bad Man (Jeremy McWilliams)3, and it’s like a colonel inspecting a recruit’s uniform for dust, or a Pygmalion overlooking his Galatea4. We can place endless Svengalis and Trilbys in these roles, idolmakers and their starlets made of clay. The men are beguiled by Isserley into her dark room, they follow as if in a trance, moving towards her as she undresses, as they sink step by step into a gelatinous liquid that’s like a quicksand. They lust at the sight of her, never actually touching the woman, and this sight entraps them. Isserley walks off, indifferent to their fate. They are kept alive and their bodies prepped and fattened, before their essence is drained, and the husk is left floating behind. We have a variation here on the serial killer who embalms his victims, but we also have a reversal of the starlet industry, where a woman briefly enraptures the world’s imagination, an idealization that is momentarily trapped in amber, and then she’s thrown away.

I add here what might be seen as a predecessor to these entrapments, one incongruous and ridiculous, and that’s Monty Python’s “Seduced Milkmen” sketch. There, a woman lures a milkman into her house, where he finds himself locked in a room with a group of other milkmen, some grown old, and one now dead. A brief description is on wikipedia, “Seduced Milkmen”, and the sketch can be found at the moment on youtube, “Monty Python – Milkman”:

Isserley’s questions which she asks without any interest in the answer, and are simply part of her routine to string the victim along, can be likened to those of any pick-up artist, but they also suggest the endless questions any celebrity is asked, which are given a calculated answer, and which seemingly give no sense or depth to the person. We might take some of the questions Isserley asks, and those asked of Scarlett Johansson at various interviews, and their banality blends together:

“Am I keeping you from something?” “Where are you going?” “Where are you from?” “You have family here?” “Do you have a special connection with your twin?” “So you live alone?” “How are you different now?” “And you love it?” “Where do you call home?” “What do you love about living alone?” “So you all go out in your sneakers?” “What about your friends?” “So you don’t have any friends?” “How about a girlfriend?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “How old were you when you had your first real boyfriend?” “How old are you?” “What is the major difference between men and women?” “So don’t you get lonely then?” “You mean something fungal?” “Have you spoken to any skincare professionals about your interest in dermatology?”5

Isserley begins in the city and, after leaving behind her master, The Bad Man, goes to the country. This, I think, is obvious and necessary because the communion she seeks out is not with humanity, but what might be called the natural world, the untrammelled landscape outside humanity. She is already outside of humanity, for good and for ill: it’s why she walks by the wailing baby entirely indifferent, but it’s also why she doesn’t notice at all the disfigurement of The Nervous Man. She knows that there’s something which places this man outside of humanity as well, but she doesn’t know what exactly it is – the species is an undistinguished blur of strangeness to her. She brings The Nervous Man to her house, and she lets him sink into the pit. One of the aliens without his human covering (not The Bad Man, but one who will be part of the crew that will hunt down Isserley) is there at the pit, looking on. The alien blends with the image of Isserley, grouping her with them, and then she’s not with them at all. She walks down the stairs, and catches sight of herself in the mirror. We might guess she sees her alien surface, but also how alike she is to this man she just imprisoned. A fly buzzes against the glass, trapped, like the man in the pit. We see a close-up of her eye, something changes in her, and then the feet of Isserley and The Nervous Man together; she’s released him. She began in the white room, and now she is re-born in white, a long transitional moment in the fog.

Another man (Krystof Hadek) now gives her comfort and shelter. She leads men into a pit of liquid; when this man and Isserley reach a pool of water, he lifts her up and over it. They are on their way towards a castle, another touchstone of fables. They go back to his house to have sex, but something goes wrong: though Isserley is designed to attract men, she is not designed for actual sex, and her genitalia are for appearances only – there’s something missing. She flees into the forest, and where before we saw the dissolve which paired her with the alien, now an image blends her face with the trees. The Woodsman (Dave Acton) holds her down and starts to rape her, and Isserley looks up and finds consolation in the vast sky. The Woodsman sees the tear in her skin, and runs away. She holds her own head, entirely outside of her physical self, the beauty that is apart from her. This a movie where the human landscape is made alien, which moves further and further outside of human codes and judgements – the nude body of Scarlett Johansson becomes just one more nude body like that of the football player and The Nervous Man. The Woodsman returns and lights Isserley on fire. She began in a white room, was re-born in the white fog, and now she is re-born in the white snow-filled sky. This movie opens with a union, and in the closing moments, Isserley burns into ash, drifts into the sky, and unites with the pastoral world forever.

A HEART THAT’S FULL UP LIKE A LANDFILL

This is a movie that emphasises film’s power outside of language, on creating a world of sound and images where things have nothing of the explicitness that we associate with words. Jonathan Glazer’s movie before this was Birth, and that felt as if it wanted to move towards something closer to this, something smaller, more intimate, more cryptic. That movie opened with an upbeat whimsical theme as a man jogged in a park, then collapsed in death. What followed was a sick twist on the kind of romantic comedy that might accompany such a buoyant piece of music, a boy telling a woman he’s the reincarnation of her dead husband after he finds a pile of their old love letters. The boy later reveals that he lied, that it’s all a hoax, but the woman now believes in the idea obsessively. If the obvious subtext of Under the Skin are images and fantasies of women, then the obvious subtext of Birth is the impossible fantasy of Hollywood romance, and movies in general, where all that is required is for you to belive. Anna (Nicole Kidman), the dead man’s wife, does believe in her movie’s fantasy, more and more fervently, and we see her as a disturbed obsessive, unhinged from reality. That the boy, Sean (Cameron Bright), is from a background that is commonly described as “working class” while Anna and her husband are wealthy lawyers who live in coveted skyscraper apartment, only gives further emphasis to the point: somehow belief in these impossible Hollywood dreams of wealth and happiness is sufficient to bring us into such a life. This is a common part of any get rich pitch in any self-empowerment seminar or infommercial: do you believe in getting rich? Can you see a future where you are massively wealthy? Do you believe enough?

The power of the fantasy is such that it overwhelms both Anna and Sean. By the movie’s end, she runs away from her wedding because of this better possibility, while he, knowing best of all that the story is entirely false, returns to believing in it; we hear his voiceover of a letter he writes her, and it doesn’t suggest someone who no longer believes, but someone who’s had to stop expressing belief out of practicality and under pressure: “I’ve been seeing an expert. They sure talk a lot. They say I’ve been imagining things…They said they still haven’t figured out what was wrong with me, but the good thing is, nothing really happened. Well, I guess I’ll see you in another lifetime.” The voiceover plays as he gets his school photo taken, a smiling pose, a posed artifice like so many movies. The issue is not whether there should be any more school photos or Hollywood movies, but how much we should consider them close to anything like the true essence of life.

As said, Birth seemed too big for what was at its heart, with too many characters (the enviable supporting cast included Ted Levine, Arliss Howard, and Lauren Bacall) hanging on its vital center. The movie felt as if there should have been a culminating third act, when there wasn’t. Under the Skin avoids all this, paring away any superfluous parts of its story, keeping the focus on its lead, and slowing the pace down so that the final act follows naturally from what came before. Under the Skin derives its power from prolonged shots where the audience must simply pause and look, rather than move on to the next event or plot point, and we see this approach already in Birth‘s most bravura moment, when the camera stays on a close up of Anna for a minute and forty five seconds (from 26:15 to 28:00 on my copy) a little while after Sean has revealed that he’s the reincarnation of her dead husband:

Under the Skin, the movie, makes the most of film as a non-verbal medium, something closer to painting or photography, something that too few films do, and making it a very different creature from, Under the Skin, the novel by Michel Faber. The movie appears to take a lesson from Birth, viewing the obligations of narrative itself as an impediment to its effects, by extracting only a fragment of the book’s plot and growing it in a separate plot of soil. I think the book is a separate treasure that gets somewhat discounted in the reviews I’ve read of the movie. “The film is quite a departure from Michel Faber’s novel, which is grisly, chatty, borderline satirical,” is the description in David Edelstein’s Under the Skin Takes the Horror Genre in Infectiously Strange New Directions”, and I wish this gifted writer had included at least one adjective of praise. The book is science fiction and an easy read, so perhaps these things count against it, but its ease stems largely from being cleanly and clearly written, the narrative never weighed down by pretense. Isserley is enraptured by the beauty of the Scottish landscape, and its virtues are conveyed well, without faux lyricism. Where the movie is opaque, the book is explicit, but never head-thuddingly so, and though in other hands we might call the novel didactic, or preachy, the story and characters are never contoured for the message and life is never made simpler than it is for the necessity of a thesis.

We might see the skill of the writing in the very first passages. Isserley appears to be looking for men, but she’s just looking for grades of meat. There’s a paragraph about the road is especially well done – the hitchers are like the forest creatures run over by passing cars, thinking they are in a safe place, when they’re near nothing of the kind. An atmosphere is conveyed well of the Scottish countryside in the last paragraph (she hunts there, while the movie’s Isserley sticks to Glasgow), but it’s also the earth as seen by an alien, a primitive, uncivilized, newly born place:

Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs. Puny, scrawny specimens were no use to her.

At first glance, though, it could be surprisingly difficult to tell the difference. You’d think a lone hitcher on a country road would stand out a mile, like a distant monument or a grain silo; you’d think you would be able to appraise him calmly as you drove, undress him and turn him over in your mind well in advance. But Isserley had found it didn’t happen that way.

Driving through the Highlands of Scotland was an absorbing task in itself; there was always more going on than picture postcards allowed. Even in the nacreous hush of a winter dawn, when the mists were still dossed down in the fields on either side, the A9 could not be trusted to stay empty for long. Furry carcasses of unidentifiable forest creatures littered the asphalt, fresh every morning, each of them a frozen moment in time when some living thing had mistaken the road for its natural habitat.

Isserley, too, often ventured out at hours of such prehistoric stillness that her vehicle might have been the first ever. It was as if she had been set down on a world so newly finished that the mountains might still have some shifting to do and the wooded valleys might yet be recast as seas.

The novel’s Isserley might be one of the best and most memorable fictional characters I’ve come across in a while. Her appearance is very different from that of the movie’s, as well as an example of the book’s expertise at working in several modes at once without abrasion or discomfort. The central idea of the movie remains the same, with Isserley luring men to her car so they might be processed as food for her species. One key difference is that in the book, Isserley’s species is not bipedal, but a furred race which navigates on all fours with a powerful tail. Various surgeries have been made on her so she might walk on two legs and have human form. She is in almost constant pain when upright – the swish swish walk on heels that the movie’s Isserley does in the mall would be impossible for the book’s. This Isserley regards her human form as a horrible, humilating disfigurement. Her appearance features two striking physical details. There are the massive eyes of her species which have not been corrected by surgery, so she must wear glasses several inches thick to make their size appear to be a distortion of the lens. The engineers have also been crude and direct about what might attract men, so her own breasts have been sheared off, and massive human teats been implanted. At the same time, neither she nor anyone else in her species has any astuteness about human fashion sense, so we have oversized glasses, rather dowdy clothes, and a blouse with a plunging neckline. Isserley is both a frightening serial killer and utterly ridiculous in appearance.

The book uses more practical mechanics for the capture of these men, nothing like the magical darkness of Isserley’s house in the movie. After she’s certain from their conversation that the hitcher has no family or mate that might notice they’ve gone missing, she flips a switch and needles in the seat jump up and pierce their body, injecting them with an alien sedative called icpathua, and then she takes them to a farm where others of her species process them into food. We get some sense of Isserley’s comical look from two good descriptions in the book from two different hitchers. Details that might need explaining are that her short legs are, of course, a result of being from a quadrupedal species, that she has to blast the heat in the car because her missing fur makes her feel the cold acutely, and that the bodies of her species sweat far more than ours do, something that Isserley’s always does excessively in her excitement in the moments before she injects her passengers with icpathua. Description one, from the first hitcher:

Fantastic tits on this one, but God, there wasn’t much of her otherwise. Tiny – like a kid peering up over the steering wheel. How tall would she be? Five foot one, maybe, standing up. Funny how a lot of women with the best tits were really really short. This girl obviously knew she had a couple of ripe ones, the way she had them sitting pretty on the scoop of a low-cut top. That’s why this car was heated like an oven, of course: so she could wear a skimpy black top and air her boobs for all to see – for him to see.

The rest of her was a funny shape, though. Long skinny arms with big knobbly elbows – no wonder her top was long sleeved. Knobbly wrists too, and big hands. Still, with tits like that …

They were really odd, actually, those hands. Bigger than you’d think they’d be, to look at the rest of her, but narrow too, like … chicken feet. And tough, like she’d done hard labour with them, maybe worked in a factory. He couldn’t see her legs properly, she was wearing those horrible flared seventies trousers that were back in fashion – shiny green, for Christ’s sake – and what looked like Doc Martens, but there was no disguising how short her legs were. Still, those tits … They were … like … they were like … He didn’t know what to compare them to. They looked pretty fucking good, nestled next to one another there, with the sun shining on them through the windscreen.

Never mind the tits, though: what about the face? Well, he couldn’t see it just now; she had to actually turn towards him for him to see it, because of her haircut. She had thick, fluffy hair, mouse-brown, hanging down straight so he couldn’t even see her cheeks when she was facing front. It was tempting to imagine a beautiful face hidden behind that hair, a face like a pop singer or an actress, but he knew different. In fact, when she’d turned towards him, her face had kind of shocked him. It was small and heart-shaped, like an elf in a kiddie’s book, with a perfect little nose and a fantastic big-lipped curvy mouth like a supermodel. But she had puffy cheeks and was also wearing the thickest glasses he’d seen in his life: they magnified her eyes so much they looked about twice normal size.

She was a weird one all right. Half Baywatch babe, half little old lady.

Description two, from the middle of the book:

Her hair was matted, with streaks of something that looked like axle grease slicked through it, and tufts sticking out at odd angles. Here was a woman who hadn’t looked at herself in a mirror for a while, that was for sure. She smelled – stank, really, if he could be so judgemental – of fermenting sweat and seawater.

Her clothes were filthy with dried mud. She’d fallen, maybe, or had some sort of accident. Should he ask her if she was all right? She might be offended if he commented on the state of her clothing. She might even think he was trying to harass her sexually. It was so hard to be friendly, in any genuinely human way, towards female strangers if you were a male. You could be courteous and pleasant, which wasn’t the same thing at all; it was the way you’d treat the staff at the Job Centre. You couldn’t tell a strange woman that you liked her earrings, or that her hair was beautiful – or ask her how she came to have mud on her clothes.

The more he looked at this girl, the weirder she appeared. Her green velveteen trousers were very seventies retro-chic, if you disregarded the muddy knees, but she definitely didn’t have the legs of a nightclub babe. Trembling slightly under the thin fabric, so short they barely reached the pedals, they might have been the legs of a cerebral palsy sufferer. He turned his head to glance through the space between his seat and hers, half expecting to see a foldable wheelchair wedged into the back. There was only an old anorak, a garment he could well imagine her wearing. Her boots were like Doc Martens, but even chunkier, like Boris Karloff clogs.

Strangest of all, though, was her skin. Every part of her flesh that he could see, except for her pale smooth breasts, had the same peculiar texture to it: a downy look, like the hide of a cat recently spayed, just beginning to grow back the fur. She had scars everywhere: along the edges of her hands, along her collarbones, and especially on her face. He couldn’t see her face now, hidden as it was behind the tangled mane of her hair, but he’d got a pretty good glimpse of it before, and there was scarring along the line of her jaw, her neck, her nose, under her eyes. And then the corrective lenses. They must have the biggest magnification known to optometry, for her eyes to look that big.

We have perhaps here the biggest difference from the movie, one perhaps impossible to transfer over. Each pick up of a hitch-hiker has the same structure, with us first hearing the thoughts in Isserley’s head as she evaluates the new victim and gives him a lift, then we shift to the thoughts of the hitcher. As the conversations go on, some men are allowed to simply get off at their destination because they reveal a wife or girlfriend is waiting for them, and therefore they’ll be noticed when they go missing. There is no justice to this: easily the most sympathetic of the hitchers, the man who makes the observations in the second excerpt, is sedated even though he has a girlfriend – he doesn’t start talking to Isserley because he doesn’t want to cause her any fear. Another hitcher carries a knife with him and attempts to rape her, and this man has more of a chance of escaping than the kind, silent man. She picks up louts, but good men as well, a brutal dog trainer followed by a melancholy figure devoted to his dog; both end up at the farm. The reader is allowed no satisfaction that any rough justice is done.

That Isserley traps and sedates a series of men, often sympathetic, after which they’re held captive in inhuman conditions and eventually killed, should alienate her from the reader, but it doesn’t. One reason is that Faber never attempts to be sentimental, or plead sympathy for this protagonist, but simply presents her as she is. She is placed as part of a larger alien society that is briefly but sufficiently detailed, and the comic aspect is this: though Isserley has contempt for the primitives of earth, her culture mirrors entirely that of contemporary British society, now. On her own world, she was a beauty born to a low caste, and she’s still bitter about all the false promises made to her by higher born men, instead left behind to work deep underground in the abysmal conditions of the oxygen factories of her home planet, her only escape this job for which she had to suffer such disfiguring surgeries:

What about all the men who’d promised to keep her safe as she neared the grading age? ‘The Estates? A beautiful girl like you? Just let them try, Iss, and I’ll have a word with my father.’ Spoilt little poseurs, the lot of them. Fuck them, fuck them all.

But then no linguist would ever have applied for her job, that was for sure. Only desperate people with no prospects except being dumped in the New Estates would have considered it.

And even then, only if they were out of their minds.

She had been totally crazy, looking back on it. Deliriously insane. But it had all turned out for the best, after all. The best decision she’d ever made. A very small personal sacrifice, really, if it avoided a lifetime buried in the Estates – a brutishly short lifetime, by all accounts.

In fact, whenever she found herself grieving over what had been done to her once-beautiful body in order for her to be sent here, she reminded herself what people who’d lived in the New Estates for any length of time looked like. Decay and disfigurement were obviously par for the course down there. Maybe it was the overcrowding, or the bad food or the bad air or the lack of medical care, or just the inevitable result of living underground. But there was an unmistakable ugliness about Estate trash, an almost subhuman taint.

Most crucially, Faber never has Isserley transcend her society’s perspectives. She despises the system she’s in, but she does not question it. She never stops seeing the sentient species of earth as primitives, and in one of the novel’s most insightful touches, Isserley and her species refer to themselves not by some alien name, but as human, and it’s the humans of earth who are given the alien name, vodsels. The following is one excerpt of Isserley’s observations:

The thing about vodsels was, people who knew nothing whatsoever about them were apt to misunderstand them terribly. There was always the tendency to anthropomorphize. A vodsel might do something which resembled a human action; it might make a sound analogous with human distress, or make a gesture analogous with human supplication, and that made the ignorant observer jump to conclusions.

In the end, though, vodsels couldn’t do any of the things that really defined a human being. They couldn’t siuwil, they couldn’t mesnishtil, they had no concept of slan. In their brutishness, they’d never evolved to use hunshur; their communities were so rudimentary that hississins did not exist; nor did these creatures seem to see any need for chail, or even chailsinn6.

The member of her society who has transcended its attitudes, who is able to offer a critical perspective, is Amlis Vess, the son of the head of the corporation that runs the meat processing operation. He visits the Scottish farm where the processing operation takes place, and she is very attracted to him – attracted to his rich fur, his regal stature, all the marks of privilege:

Like all of Isserley’s race (except Isserley and Esswis [a male alien on the farm who's also had surgery in order to appear human], of course) he stood naked on all fours, his limbs exactly equal in length, all of them equally nimble. He also had a prehensile tail, which, if he needed his front hands free, he could use as another limb to balance on, tripod-style. His breast tapered seamlessly into a long neck, on which his head was positioned like a trophy. It came to three points: his long spearhead ears and his vulpine snout. His large eyes were perfectly round, positioned on the front of his face, which was covered in soft fur, like the rest of his body.

In all these things he was a normal, standard-issue human being, no different from the workman standing behind him, watching him nervously.

But he was different.

He was almost freakishly tall, for one thing. His head was at the level of her breast; were he to be surgically made vertical, as she had been, he would tower over her. Wealth and privilege must have excused him from the typically stunted growth of Estate males like the one who was guarding him now; he was like a giant, but slender with it, not massive or lumpish. His colouring was unusually varied (gossips sometimes suggested it wasn’t natural): dark brown on his back, shoulders and flanks, pure black on his face and legs, pure white on his breast. The fur was impossibly lustrous, too, especially on his chest, where it was thicker, almost straggly. In musculature he was lean, with just enough bulk to carry his large frame; his shoulder-blades were startlingly prominent under their satiny layer of fur. But it was his face that was most remarkable: of the males Isserley worked with, there was not one who didn’t have coarse hair, bald patches, discolorations and unsightly scarring on the face. Amlis Vess had a soft down of flawless black from the tips of his ears to the curve of his throat, as if lovingly tooled in black suede by an idealistic craftsman. Deeply set in this perfection of blackness, his tawny eyes shone like illuminated amber. He breathed, preparing to speak.

The book is about the objectification of women7, but it’s also about objectification itself. She is the only woman who is part of the processing operation at the farm and she looks upon the other men and a physical appearance marked by rough and poor living with revulsion, because these are markers of a lower caste, even as she is able to perceive the vast process which brought them all to this place. The vodsels are fodder for this industry, and they are fodder as well:

Isserley’s arrival in the dining hall caused much guttural murmuring among the men. They obviously hadn’t expected her to reappear so soon after her humiliation, but that was because they were stupid and understood nothing. Wouldn’t they just love to have had a bit longer to gossip about her! What a stir her breakdown and her expulsion from the Processing Hall must have made in their stagnant little world! How the legend would have grown if she’d hidden away for days in her cottage, paralysed with shame, until at last she was so weak with hunger she was forced to crawl down to them! Well, she refused to give them the satisfaction. She would tough it out, show them what she was made of.

She cast her eyes disdainfully over the entire herd of them. Compared to Amlis Vess, they were scabrous grotesques, pea-brained savages. She should never have felt shame about her own deformity; she was no uglier than they were, surely, and infinitely better bred.

Isserley looked down at him, as he grinned back at her with decayed teeth and a glisten of gravy on his snout. Yet despite her distaste, she understood all of a sudden that he was harmless, an impotent drudge, a slave, a disposable means to an end. Imprisoned underground, he was living out an existence scarcely better than what he would have known if he’d stayed in the Estates. To be brutally honest, all these men were falling apart, hair by hair and tooth by tooth, like over-used pieces of equipment, like tools bought cheap for a job that would outlast them. While Isserley roamed the airy spaces of her unrestricted domain, they remained trapped below the barns of Ablach, labouring mindlessly, grubbing in tungsten-lit gloom, breathing stale air, eating whatever offal was too gross to be of value to their masters. Amid much fanfare about escape and pioneering, Vess Incorporated had simply dug them out of one hole and buried them in another.

One of her co-workers has a skin condition, “he had some sort of disgusting skin ailment that made half his face look like mouldy fruit,” and Isserley refers to him forever afterwards as the mouldy man, the way a man in another novel might refer to a woman as french smalltits, or some such thing. When Vess suggests the possibility of looking beyond these things, she rejects it, one more opinion of Vess that he’s privileged to have, the way the wealthy can declare that money doesn’t matter:

‘Of course I can see what’s been done to you, but what I’m really interested in is the inner person,’ he pressed on.

‘Oh please, Amlis: spare me this shit,’ groaned Isserley, looking away from him as the tears squirmed out of her eyes and ran down one cheek to disappear inside the ugly stoma of her mutilated ear.

Isserley is drawn to Vess because he is high born, yet she is repelled by the know nothingness of her own life that this high born man has. Vess does not persuade her to take his view, but rather she despises him for having the luxury of this opinion – only a scion from the wealthiest class has the ability to laze around and examine the system. Vess’s opinion is, of course, entirely right, and yet we identify utterly with Isserley and how his righteousness is so connected with a particular pet cause, rather than remedying the immediate realities of a life like hers. He has the privilege of not having to partake in the brutalities of the system, while she must, and she despises the fact that he cannot see that participation in the system has nothing to do with moral choices, and everything to do with practical need. He has the luxury of having the power to change the system, where she feels as if she is only a prisoner within it. “That meat you’re eating,” Amlis Vess says to her of the food they process, “is the body of a creature that lived and breathed just like you and me.”:

With Amlis’s words still ringing in her ears, Isserley took courage, as she had done last time, by focusing on his upper-class accent, his velvety diction groomed by wealth and privilege. Deliberately, she recalled being petted and then discarded by the Elite; she pictured the authorities who’d decided she would be more suited to a life in the Estates, men with accents just like Amlis Vess’s. She invited that accent in, listening to the sharp chord of resentment it struck deep inside her, letting it reverberate.

A few fragments from their conversations together:

‘I had to see for myself what’s going on here,’ he growled.

Isserley tried to raise herself again, and covered her failure with a sigh of condescension.

‘There’s nothing so unusual going on here,’ she said. ‘Just … supply and demand.’ She spoke these last words in a sing-song, as if they were an eternal, inseparable pairing like night and day, male and female.

‘Well, I’ve confirmed my worst fears,’ he went on, disregarding her claim. ‘This whole trade is based on terrible cruelty.’

‘You don’t know what cruelty is,’ she said, feeling all the places on and inside her body where she had been mutilated. How lucky this cosseted young man was, to have a ‘worst fear’ that concerned the welfare of exotic animals rather than any horrors he himself might have to face in the struggle for survival.

‘You know,’ he said, almost dreamily, ‘I sometimes think that the only things really worth talking about are the things people absolutely refuse to discuss.’

‘Yes,’ snapped Isserley, ‘Like why some people are born into a life of lazing around and philosophizing, and others are shoved into a hole and told to fucking get busy.’

The processing of the humans, or vodsels, is exactly like that of any factory farm. The reader is warned that the following passages involve content more disturbing than anything in the movie adaptation. The alien Unser is their butcher:

The Cradle, constructed from pieces of farm equipment, was a masterpiece of specialized design. Its base was the cannibalized mechanism of an earthmover, welded to a stainless-steel drinking trough. Mounted on top, chest-high to a human, was a two-metre segment of a grain chute, artfully beaten into an amended shape so that its sharp edges were curled harmlessly in on themselves. Gleaming and elegant like a giant gravy boat, the chute was being tilted mechanically on its unseen fulcrum, assuming a perfectly horizontal position.

The person adjusting the balance of the Cradle was Ensel, smug in his responsibility of personally assisting the Chief Processor; his two cronies were engaged in the less precise task of undressing the vodsel, lying nearby.

Real music, human music, was being piped into the hall by loudspeakers nestled in the walls. Soft singing and the strumming of instruments imparted a reassuring flavour of home, a pervasive smell of melodies half remembered from childhood. They hissed and hummed soothingly.

‘Careful, careful,’ muttered Unser as the men scrabbled clumsily at the vodsel’s ankles to remove tight woollen socks. An animal’s shanks were close to where its faeces would fall once it was in the pens; any lacerations would be liable to fester.

Isserley strained to see, but Unser’s big wrists and the twisting motion of his fingers obscured the view as he carved out the vodsel’s tongue. Blood began to gurgle out onto the vodsel’s cheeks as Unser turned to drop his tools on the tray with a clatter. Unhesitatingly he snatched up an electrical appliance resembling a large star-point screwdriver and, squinting with concentration, guided it into the vodsel’s mouth. Flashes of light glowed through the gaps in Unser’s nimble fingers as he searched out the incontinent blood vessels and fried them shut with a crackling buzz.

He was already busy sluicing out the vodsel’s mouth with a suction pump by the time the smell of burning flesh had permeated the air. The vodsel coughed: the first real evidence that, far from being dead, it was suffering from nothing more serious than icpathuasi.

‘That’saboy,’ murmured Unser, tickling the Adam’s apple to make the creature swallow. ‘Uhr-rhum.’

As soon as he was satisfied with the state of the animal’s mouth, Unser turned his attention to the genitals. Taking up a clean instrument, he sliced open the scrotal sac and, with rapid, delicate, almost trembling incisions of his scalpel, removed the testicles. It was a much more straightforward job than the tongue; it took perhaps thirty seconds. Before Isserley had registered what had happened, Unser had already cauterized the bleeding and was sewing the scrotum closed with an expert hand.

The experiences of Isserley do not make her more sympathetic to the brutal experiences of the vodsels, but less so. She enjoys being superior to them, and the anger she feels towards the system itself and what it’s done to her she channels against the vodsels. When a vodsel has his throat sliced in front of her, a sentimental type might expect Isserley to be aghast or scream in horror, but she cries out in joyful catharsis. That the powerless find the only pleasure they have in dominating those with even less power is not, to say the least, an uncommon theme in history:

So intently was the vodsel striving now to retrieve his memory of Isserley that he seemed not to notice something being lowered towards his forehead that resembled the nozzle of a petrol pump, attached to the base of the Cradle by a long flexible cable. Unser touched the metal tip of the instrument to the unwrinkled flesh of the vodsel’s brow, and squeezed the handle. There was an almost imperceptible dimming of the lights in the building. The vodsel’s eyes blinked just once as the current travelled through his brain and down the filament of his spine. A subtle plume of smoke curled up from a darkening smudge on his brow.

Unser yanked the chin up to expose the neck. With two graceful flicking motions of his wrist, he slashed open the arteries in the vodsel’s neck, then stood back as a jet of blood gushed out, steaming hot and startlingly red against the silvery trough.

‘Yes!’ screamed Isserley involuntarily. ‘Yes!’

That this is pleasure in a violence re-directed, that she wishes violence, unremittingly cruel violence, on those who have power over her, is made explicit in one of the last chapters, when she speaks of her surgeons:

She crawled out of bed, crippled as usual. What heaven it would be to get revenge on the surgeons who’d done this to her! She’d never even seen their faces: she’d been drugged into oblivion by the time they’d stuck their knives in. And now they were probably boasting to Vess Incorporated how much they’d learned from their mistakes, how there was no comparison between the miracles they could perform now and the crude experiments that had been Esswis [a male alien on the farm who's also had surgery in order to appear human] and Isserley. In a fair world, she would be given the opportunity, before she died, to tie those surgeons to a slab and do a bit of experimenting of her own. They could watch, tongueless, as she carved their genitals away. To keep their noise down, she’d give them big chunks of their own severed tails to chew on. Their anuses would clench as she penetrated their spines with iron skewers. Their eyes would blink blood as she sculpted brave new faces for them.

There is no Nervous Man in the book, and it is not Isserley who releases any vodsels, but Amlis. In fact, it is Isserley who helps to hunt down these vodsels and kill them, and she takes pride in her ability to do so. That the gesture of freeing these vulnerable naked vodsels out into the open is an entirely futile one, is to be expected from privileged creatures like Amlis who have no practical sense, and who are enraptured by the virtuousness of their gestures. At the very same time, Isserley knows there is something unnecessarily brutal in this life, one lacking in an essential quality even though her own language may have no word for it. Amlis and Isserley visit the prison in which the various hitchers are kept before they are processed, and one of them writes something in the dirt:

‘Look!’ Amlis urged.

Isserley watched, disturbed, as the vodsel scrawled a five-letter word with great deliberation, even going to the trouble of fashioning each letter upside down, so that it would appear right-way-up for those on the other side of the mesh.

‘No-one told me they had a language,’ marvelled Amlis, too impressed, it seemed, to be angry. ‘My father always describes them as vegetables on legs.’

‘It depends on what you classify as language, I guess,’ said Isserley dismissively. The vodsel had slumped behind his handiwork, head bowed in submission, eyes wet and gleaming.

‘But what does it mean?’ persisted Amlis.

Isserley considered the message, which was M E R C Y. It was a word she’d rarely encountered in her reading, and never on television. For an instant she racked her brains for a translation, then realized that, by sheer chance, the word was untranslatable into her own tongue; it was a concept that just didn’t exist.

Isserley does not want to try to pronounce this word for Amlis, because she feels this act would debase her:

She considered trying to pronounce the strange word with a contortion of her lips and a frown on her brow, as if she were being asked to reproduce a chicken’s cackle or a cow’s moo. Then, if Amlis asked her what it meant, she could honestly say that there was no word for it in the language of human beings. She opened her lips to speak, but realized just in time that this would be a very stupid mistake. For her to speak the word at all dignified it with the status of being a word in the first place; Amlis would no doubt go into ecstasy over the vodsels’ ability to link a pattern of scrawled symbols with a specific sound, however guttural and unintelligible. At a stroke, she would be dignifying the vodsels, in his eyes, with both writing and speech.

Shortly afterwards, in perhaps the book’s most powerful scene, Isserley gives a ride to the hitchhiker who rapes her, and she pleads for this same concept. We have here again the book’s casual, expert use of a variety of tones, none of which undercut the other: the horror of the scene alongside the comic mispronunciation which is also a heartbreaking plea for some relief from not just this moment, but her whole existence:

Without warning, he grabbed her elbow and pulled it upwards. Isserley didn’t have time to tense her muscles into a characteristic vodsel shape, and her arm bent freely at several joints, a zig-zag of unmistakably human angles. The hitcher did not appear to notice. This, more than anything else so far, filled Isserley with nauseous terror.

Once she was standing, the hitcher nudged her further along the car until she was against the bonnet.

‘Turn around,’ he said.

She obeyed, and he immediately grasped her green velvety trousers and tore them down to her knees with a single jolt.

‘Jesus,’ he growled from behind her. ‘You been in a car accident?’

‘Yes,’ she whispered. ‘I’m sorry.’

For a heady moment she thought he was discouraged, but then she felt the flat of his hand on her back, pushing her forward onto the car’s bonnet.

Desperately, she searched for the right word, the word that might make him stop. It was a word she knew, but had only ever seen written – in fact, only this morning, a vodsel had spelled it out. She’d never heard it spoken.

‘Murky,’ she pleaded.

Isserley escapes this by knocking out the man’s eyes through the powerful distorted arms of her race, but there is no happy end for her. She and Amlis never draw close into anything like sexual union or love, and he returns to his home planet. Her work exhausts her, and though she does not acknowledge it, her work is slowly destroying her: again and again in the book, tears fall from her eyes, and she’s unable to account for why. She lives in a morally indifferent universe where the kindest of souls end up trapped in the cages of her farm, and yet the book’s perspective is not itself indifferent to the fates of its characters. We see the juxtaposition of the two in the book’s ending, where a gesture of consideration leads to her destruction. Isserley stops for a hitcher whose wife is pregnant and he urges her to speed up, and she does so, but she is as clumsy at driving as she is at other human behaviors, and the car swerves off the road into a tree. The hitcher is thrown from the wreck and badly injured, while the steering column slices into Isserley, destroying her human bosom:

She looked down. Her green velvet trousers were sprinkled with broken glass and saturated with dark blood, and a twisted wedge of metal was taking up all the space where she would have expected her knees to be. She felt very little pain, and she guessed this must be because her spine was shattered. The crescent of the steering wheel had penetrated her breasts, leaving her torso uninjured. Her neck, though, felt better than it had for years, and this realization jerked a hysterical sob of laughter and grief from her. Something warm and gelatinous, trapped inside her top and Pennington’s pullover, slid down her abdomen and into her lap. She shuddered in revulsion and fear.

The Isserleys of the novel and movie both have a devotion to the earth’s landscape, perhaps the only love they can feel deeply, the only one undamaged by malice or distrust for the book’s protagonist. She joins this world in the movie as her body burns to ash and drifts into the sky, and the book’s Isserley achieves the same transcendence through self-annihilation in what is probably the book’s best moment, an ending for this essay which I cannot improve on:

Isserley removed the spectacles and dropped them into her lap, where they landed with a patter of windscreen glass. She blinked, wondering why things were still out of focus. Tears ran down her cheeks, and her view through the shattered windscreen cleared.

Isserley checked the top of the dashboard, where Yns [an engineer], at the same time as he’d set up the icpathua network, had installed the other little alteration to the car’s original design: the button for the aviir. Unlike the icpathua connections, which involved fragile electrics and hydraulics that had obviously been damaged in the accident, the connection between the dashboard button and the cylinder of aviir was one simple, sturdy tube, waiting only for a squirt of something foreign into the oily liquid.

The aviir would blow her car, herself, and a generous scoop of earth into the smallest conceivable particles. The explosion would leave a crater in the ground as big and deep as if a meteorite had fallen there.

And she? Where would she go?

The atoms that had been herself would mingle with the oxygen and nitrogen in the air. Instead of ending up buried in the ground, she would become part of the sky: that was the way to look at it. Her invisible remains would combine, over time, with all the wonders under the sun. When it snowed, she would be part of it, falling softly to earth, rising up again with the snow’s evaporation. When it rained, she would be there in the spectral arch that spanned from firth to ground. She would help to wreathe the fields in mists, and yet would always be transparent to the stars. She would live forever. All it took was the courage to press one button, and the faith that the connection had not been broken.

She reached forward a trembling hand.

‘Here I come,’ she said.

(All images from Under the Skin copyright A24 Films and associated producers; images from Birth copyright New Line Cinema.)

(On July 27, 2014, some edits for aesthetics, grammar, and clarity were made; footnote #4 was added, as was a new footnote #1, on the name of the film’s protagonist; the section on how Isserley sees her co-workers only in terms of their physicality was added as well. On August 25th, 2014, the section on Monty Python’s “Seduced Milkmen” was added.)

FOOTNOTES

1 Though it’s never said in the movie, a number of sources state the protagonist’s name as “Laura”, such as Grantland‘s “‘Skin’ Deep: Jonathan Glazer, Scarlett Johansson, and the Incurious State of Sci-Fi in Hollywood” by Sean Fennessey – “Glazer’s movie follows Laura, an alien played by a bewigged Scarlett Johansson” – and The Dissolve‘s review, “Under the Skin” by Scott Tobias: “Glazer’s main character—now named “Laura,” and played by Scarlett Johansson—reveals nothing of herself directly.”

2 Though I originally thought this first woman was simply a human The Bad Man had killed so they could use her clothes, I think this observation from SpaceMonkey23101 in “Under the Skin- Movie discussion including looking at the novel that inspired it”, a reddit thread by dalong75, is very solid, and in fact the best interpretation.

SpaceMonkey23101 (link):

I like to think that the first woman (who Scarlett gets her first set of clothes from) is her predecessor, and that she died by committing suicide. This is why she sheds a tear during the scene where Scarlett undresses her. She did it by drowning herself in the ocean, since she had seen so many men go into the black pool, and her limited intellect could only conceive of that as a method of suicide. She was driven to do this by her guilt for what she had done, luring so many innocent men to their deaths. It shows that she achieved the same sense of compassion that Scarlett does during the film. It basically turns the film into a much more optimistic story, since it suggests that the drones always develop empathy. This is what her supervisor (motor bike guy) is checking for when he’s staring at her so intently in her house. He is searching, in a strange alien way, for a sense of empathy or compassion within her. It’s almost as if the drones always fail because maybe living beings always grow towards compassion. It actually kind of suggests an ultimate – almost spiritual – morality and justice behind the film. Just a thought.

dalong75 (link):

Love it.

8th_Dynasty (link):

This is pretty close to my interpretation as well – however, and maybe it was just my eyesight, but I took the first girl to be “the same model Alien”, having the same skin. The Alien of our story that we watched was a sort of replicated replacement to pick up where the first one left off after she ultimately started to feel emotions. Sort of like a defective model that will work for a certain amount of time before breaking down and the Motorcycle Boss was constantly checking for signs of inevitable failure.

I feel like that first female character was also played by Scarlett [though there is a strong resemblance, the girl on the floor of the white room is played by Lynsey Taylor Mackay].

3 McWilliams is actually a “world champion motorcycle ace.” The short profile, “McWilliams is ‘bad man on mission for Scarlett Johansson'” details his background.

The name of this character as well as The Woodsman I got from “Under The Skin: Casting”, an interview with the movie’s casting director, Kathleen Crawford.

4 Again, “Under the Skin- Movie discussion including looking at the novel that inspired it”, a reddit thread by dalong75, contains valuable insights on this matter, from tesla86, EnsignMorituri, and dalong75.

tesla86 (link):

I was thinking about this movie for some time after seeing it, the affect of any momentous movie wether good or bad i might add.

I was particularly drawn to the ‘inspection’ scene, it was as though they (the aliens) are drone-like creatures, with the Motorcyclist as a soldier bee inspecting the worker bee (Johnansson) even the way ‘he’ articulates and postures around her is akin to their behaviour. Just a thought but the motorbikes themselves are quite bee/wasp like; driving handles = antennae , fuel tank = thorax, engine hums like wings etc

EnsignMorituri (link):

Absolutely. I think the closeup of the ant reflects the colony insect theme as well. To use a wasp or bee in that scene would have been too on the nose.

dalong75 (link):

Good point. I liked how mechanical it was. A simple four point inspection of her. Not at all how humans would inspect each other. Also perhaps looking for any breaks in her skin.

5 Questions were taken from “The Scarlett Johansson Interview” by Alex Bilmes, “Scarlett Johansson Interview” by Holly Millea, and “Scarlett Johansson 2.0: Glamour’s May Cover Star on Finally Knowing What She Needs in a Relationship” by Logan Hill.

6 These terms of alien vocabulary are never given an explanation.

7 The book is more explicit about this than the movie, as seen in these excerpts from a conversation Isserley has with one hitcher:

‘You know what gets me?’ he said, slightly more animated now.

‘No, what gets you?’ Isserley was sagging in relief, gratefully feeling the air grow less dense, the molecules moving more calmly.

‘Them supermodels,’ he said.

Isserley thought first of sophisticated automobiles, then thought he must mean the animated drawings which flickered on television early in the mornings: stylized females flying through space wearing elbow-length gloves and thigh-high boots. Just in time, as she opened her mouth to speak, she remembered the true meaning of the term: she’d glimpsed one of these extraordinary creatures on the news once.

‘What mystifies you?’ said Isserley, quite lost.

‘Where’s the tits on ’em, that’s what I want to know!’ he exclaimed, cupping one huge hand in front of his own chest. ‘Supermodels, and they got no tits! How’s that work?’

‘I don’t know who decides these things,’ conceded Isserley miserably, as the atmosphere in the cabin swarmed once more.

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An Attempt to Disconnect From Comcast / OK, Let’s Talk to Hell: A Transcript

The following transcript was made from audio discovered at “Sympathy for the Comcast Rep from Hell” by John Herman:

Above is eight solid minutes of empathic pain. It is a recording of a calm, polite caller, Ryan Block, attempting to cancel his Comcast service. The representative, by the time the recording starts, already sounds angry: He demands, again and again and again, to know why Block is leaving Comcast for a smaller provider, to know what it is that he—that Comcast—can’t supply that this other company, this obviously objectively inferior company, this loser company, can. Just tell him what he did wrong, he says. Just explain to him. Just make him understand this stupid mistake.

COMCAST REP
-eight hundred and five megabits per second internet, Astound will not give you that speed.

RYAN BLOCK
Okay, we’d like to disconnect. We’d like to disconnect. Please.

C.R.
So, why do you think you don’t want the faster speed? Help me understand why you don’t want faster internet.

R.B.
Help me understand why you can’t just disconnect us.

C.R.
Because my job is to have a conversation with you. About having- About dis- About keeping your service. About finding out why it is you’re looking to cancel the service.

R.B.
I don’t understand. Is this for-

C.R.
Okay, if you don’t want to talk to me, you can definitely go into the Comcast store, and disconnect your service there.

R.B.
We’re just asking to-

C.R.
-and kill two birds with one stone. You gotta return that cable card to the store anyways.

R.B.
We’re actually just going to mail the cable card in. But if you can just please cancel our service. That would be great. That’s all-

C.R.
We actually can’t-

R.B.
That’s all we want.

C.R.
We’re actually not able to return…a cable card by mail.

R.B.
Then I will send someone like, a taskrabbit, to go return the cable card for us. I don’t personally intend to go return the cable card. That’s why we’re probably not going to be canceling in store, that’s why I need you to cancel, by phone. So, can you cancel us by phone? The answer is yes, correct?

C.R.
It sounds like you don’t want to go over this information with me, I mean, if you don’t want to go over this information, okay, then that’s the easiest way to get your account disconnected.

R.B.
Uh, I am declining to state why we are leaving Comcast, because I don’t owe you an explanation…so, if you can please just go to-

C.R.
-the number one-

R.B.
Proceed to the next question. If you have to fill out your form, that’s fine. Please proceed to the next question. And we’ll attempt to answer that, if possible.

C.R.
Alright. So. I mean, being that we’re the number one provider of internet and TV service in the entire country…why is it that you’re not wanting to have the number one rated internet service? Number one rated TV service, available?

R.B.
I’m declining to state. We’re switching providers. Can you please go to the next question?

C.R.
Okay. So, what is it about Astound that’s making you want to change to them?

R.B.
I’m declining to state. Can you please go to the next question? So we can cancel our service?

C.R.
Okay. So. Okay. I mean. I’m just trying to figure out here what it is about Comcast services that you’re not liking? That you’re not wanting to keep? Why is it that you don’t want-

R.B.
This-

C.R.
-to keep our service?

R.B.
This phone call, actually, is a really amazing representative example of why I don’t want to stay with Comcast. So, can you please cancel our service?

C.R.
So, from- Okay. But, I’m trying to help you. K. Don’t worry.

R.B.
The way that you can help me, right now-

C.R.
-by declining answer, by doing all this.

R.B.
The way that you can help me is by disconnecting our service. That’s how you can help-

C.R.
But how is that helping you, though? How is that-

R.B.
Because that’s what I want.

C.R.
Remind me how that’s helping you.

R.B.
That’s what I want.

C.R.
Okay, so why is that what you want?

R.B.
Because that’s what I want.

C.R.
Okay, so, I mean, there has to be some sortof reason behind it. That’s what we’re trying to find out. We just want to find out what it is, that’s causing a customer, that’s been with us for a long time, to leave.

R.B.
Because that’s what we want.

C.R.
Okay. I mean, you’ve been with us since…October 2005. Nine years. You’ve been a Comcast customer, k, after a decade, okay? Clearly, the service is working great for you. You weren’t having any problems. But now all of a sudden you’re moving, k, you’ve kept this service at multiple addresses…all of a sudden you’re moving, and it’s making you want to change. What is it that’s making you want to change that?

R.B.
Because that’s what we want to do.

C.R.
K, why is that what you want to do?

R.B.
That’s none of your business. Your business is to disconnect us-

C.R.
As a company that is a cable internet provider. Primarily. K? It is our business. To know why our customers are leaving. Okay? If we don’t know why our customers are leaving, how are we supposed to make it a better experience for you next time? K? When Astound turns out not to-

R.B.
That’s a fantastic question, and something you can hire a firm to go figure out. For right now, I’m just a customer. Calling in. Attempting to disconnect service. That is something you can do, right?

C.R.
Yeah.

R.B.
You said that you can disconnect service…yes?

C.R.
Okay.

R.B.
Yes?

C.R.
I just don’t want to lose you as a customer!

R.B.
Is that something that you can do?

C.R.
-greatly, from transferring your service to your new address-

R.B.
Is that something that you can do?

C.R.
-offers-

R.B.
Can you disconnect us? By phone?

C.R.
-so-

R.B.
Can you disconnect our service? Yes or no?

C.R.
K. What I’m trying to find out-

R.B.
Yes or no?

C.R.
-same offer, or brand new-

R.B.
Can you disconnect our service?

C.R.
-faster internet than anyone can provide you. K? Why don’t you want services?

R.B.
Because I’m not interested in your services any longer. Can you-

C.R.
Okay. So you’re not interested in the fastest internet in the country?

R.B.
Nope. Not interested.

C.R.
K, why is that?

R.B.
Can you disconnect us? By phone? Are you capable, in your system, of disconnecting our service? Yes or no?

C.R.
Well, I’m just trying to get some information to find out why-

R.B.
Please answer my question. Are you capable, by phone, of disconnecting our service?

C.R.
It’s something we can do, I mean- Whether we do it-

R.B.
That’s something you can do, I would appreciate you now doing that.

C.R.
K. So.

R.B.
Please proceed in disconnecting our service.

C.R.
So, what is it about this other internet provider, this other TV provider? That’s making it sound so much better than the number one TV service available?

R.B.
I don’t know. It’s a totally arbitrary decision.

C.R.
K. So why not keep what you know works? When you’ve got a good service?

R.B.
Because. We’re not doing that. So, please proceed-

C.R.
Okay.

R.B.
-to disconnect-

C.R.
So, you’re saying you don’t want this service? You don’t want something that works?

R.B.
No. I guess I don’t want something that works.

C.R.
So, why don’t you want something that’s good service, and something that works?

R.B.
I mean, is this like a joke? Did we call- Is this- Are you punking us right now?

C.R.
I’m trying to get information. Okay? I’m trying to help our company be better. That’s my job.

R.B.
I can guarantee you, right now, you’re doing an incredibly good job at helping your company be worse.

C.R.
Okay. Well, you know what, I’m terribly sorry that it feels like I’m being- It sounds to you like it feels like I’m trying to argue, I’m just trying to help you out and get some information. We’ll just bypass all this information, I’ll go ahead and disconnect this service, okay-

R.B.
Fantastic. Thank you.

C.R.
It’s really a shame to see you go to something that can’t give you what we can.

R.B.
Okay, well if that winds up being the case-

C.R.
-that’s what I’m trying-

R.B.
-then we’ll call you guys back up, and reconnect.

C.R.
I mean, you’re not going to get the hundred thousand free on-demand titles. You’re not going to get hundred and five megabits per second for your internet. Guaranteed. Speed at a hundred and five. Okay. I mean, no one else can guarantee their speed like we can. Okay? So, I mean, we can definitely transfer this over to your new address, get you a lower rate, I can save you almost a hundred, actually, more than a hundred dollars per month. Over a hundred dollars per month. K? Doing that transfer. K? Get you internet that’s…five, six, times faster than anything any other company can provide you.

R.B.
Are you done?

C.R.
Get you the number one T.V. service available, okay? And, I mean, so…what about those savings? Those services, are you not wanting?

R.B.
Are you done?

C.R.
What makes you-

R.B.
-because-

C.R.
-not want that service?

R.B.
You literally, just a moment ago, said that you would go ahead and disconnect our service? And that’s what-

C.R.
Okay.

R.B.
-we’re gonna need to do. Can you go ahead and do that?

C.R.
I’m working on that process!

R.B.
Okay. Great. How much longer is that process going to take?

C.R.
I’m just asking some questions-

R.B.
Can you tell me how much longer-

C.R.
That’s all I’m doing.

R.B.
Can you tell me how much longer it’s gonna take?

C.R.
K, I’m just asking some questions. To do this process.

R.B.
I understand. Can you tell me how much longer-

C.R.
Okay? If you gave me a few more minutes-

R.B.
Can you tell me how much longer-

C.R.
A couple more minutes, here. Okay?

R.B.
Okay. A couple more minutes. K.

C.R.
Okay. So. I mean, what about the service is it, that is causing you to want to change? What is it about-

R.B.
I’m-

C.R.
-the offers that we have available to you-

R.B.
I’m good. I’m just going to wait until you can confirm that we’ve cancelled service. So, I’m just going to hang up here-

C.R.
Okay, you’re all set. You know, it’s disconnected. I’m really sorry to see you go to something that can’t give you what we can, but I’d like to thank you very much, for being a great part of Comcast, have a wonderful day.

R.B.
Uh- Can you give me a confirmation number for the cancellation of service?

C.R.
I- I don’t have a confirmation number.

R.B.
Well, how do I- How do I have confirmation that we-

C.R.
Okay. You’ll receive a final statement in about three weeks.

R.B.
A final statement in three weeks?

C.R.
Yes.

R.B.
Okay.

C.R.
Alright. Again, I want to thank you very much for…being a great part of Comcast, have a wonderful day.

R.B.
Okay, just so I can confirm, you said your name is [REDACTED FROM TAPE]?

C.R.
Correct.

R.B.
Okay. Cool. Thank you.

C.R.
Okay.

R.B.
Alright.

C.R.
You’re very welcome. Have a great day.

R.B.
You too.

A comment from “John Wantland@facebook”, at the original post (link):

Display common sense, lose your job. Try to keep your job, get hated on the Internet, and get punished anyway. Oh, and let’s not forget, not only do you lose your current job by displaying common sense, but hey, for getting fired, that makes you less desirable for any other company to hire you, on top of that. What do you want? What do you expect? Are you so willing to throw your career away because you’d rather be a polite homeless beggar than slightly annoy people and get to keep your house? I’m not saying it’s right, but the world we live in doesn’t allow for that kind of attitude, not really. If you have a job, you’re damn lucky to keep it. Look, I don’t like it any more than you, but I’ll put up with being slightly annoyed by a phone rep if the alternative is he loses his job. It’s not a defense of the system, but you do what you gotta do to survive, and until the day comes when all jobs are about cleaning up rainbow spills and unicorn poops, you just gotta suck it up and deal with the fact that no matter what you’re doing, once in a while you have to do something unpleasant, and maybe something you don’t agree with on a personal level, because it’s far better than sleeping in the gutter with your principles to keep you warm.

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The Secrets of Sibel Edmonds

I SPEAK FROM MY HEART
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART
IT’S YOUR INVISIBLE GOVERNMENT
ITS THE GOVERNMENT YOU CANT CONTROL,
IT’S THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
IT SPEAKS THE TRUTH TO EVERYONE
FROM THE BABY TO THE CRIMINAL
WELCOME YOUR INVISIBLE GOVERNMENT
IT’S THE ONLY ONE THAT’S REAL

“I am the President” by Christopher Judges, via “Terry Richardson’s Prom Night and Punk Youth: Vintage Photos Unearthed” by Jessica Coen

THE INVISIBLE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD

Occasionally, one runs into a character which exerts a force that distorts everything around them, the narrative in which they’re in breaks, or the reader wishes it to break, so they might take a station appropriate to their influence. This post was supposed to continue on the theme of Bruce Fein, further annotations to a podcast transcript (“Bruce Fein Interviewed by Ian Masters: A Transcript, With Interruptions”), but we are now waylaid by a character who commands our full attention. How I’ll get back to the story of Fein, I have no idea, and for the moment it’s not important.

There does, however, need to be some introductory space before we get to our new main character. In 2008, Ohio congresswoman Jean Schmidt would face off against David Krikorian in the Republican primary. During the race, Krikorian would distribute a flier claiming that Schmidt had been bribed with blood money for her opposition to a congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide – Krikorian is of Armenian descent. Schmidt won the primary, won her seat, filed a complaint against Krikorian with the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC), and then a $6.8 million lawsuit. She would win a ruling in her favor from the commission, and after four years of legal wrangling, would finally drop her defamation lawsuit1.

The fight before the OEC brought two old adversaries back against each other. Amongst Krikorian’s counsel was Mark Geragos, and among Schmidt’s was Bruce Fein. In his book Mistrial, Geragos had described Fein as “one of the most repulsive human beings I have ever had the mispleasure of meeting,” and Fein’s denials of the Armenian genocide in a courtroom in 2001 as the moment when he nearly lost faith in the justice system. Given Fein’s supposed antipathy of the Iraq war and the war state, Schmidt stood out as a client. In 2006, as the violent fissures of civil war broke out in Iraq, Schmidt cheerfully continued to believe. “There is enormous potential there,” she said. “the kind of potential that we saw in 1776.”2 On November 18, 2005, when John Murtha voted to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, the following ruckus broke out in the House (“Cowards cut and run, Marines never do”, on youtube):

Mr. Speaker, at this time, I now yield one minute to our newest member, the gentlewoman from Ohio.

JEAN SCHMIDT
Thank you. Yesterday, I stood at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a young marine in my district. He believed in what we were doing [sic] is the right thing and had the courage to lay his life on the line to do it. A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th District in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. (Angry shouting starts) Danny…and the rest…of America… (Angry shouting gets louder) AND THE WORLD… (Angry shouting continues at high volume, gavel starts pounding down) WANT THE ASSURANCE…(“Will the…” drowned out by shouting) FROM THIS BODY…(Angry shouting gets even louder, and stays at high pitch, “The house will…”, pounding gavel) WILL SEE THIS THROUGH. (gavel pounding)

SPEAKER
The house will be in order…(angry shouting) The house will be in order…(angry shouting, lower than before, but intense and sustained) The house will be in order! (someone on the floor: “Mr. Speaker!”) THE HOUSE WILL BE IN ORDER. THE HOUSE WILL BE IN ORDER. THE GENTLELADY WILL SUSPEND…(someone shouting on the floor)…AND THE CLERK WILL REPORT HER WORDS. (quieter now) All members will suspend. The gentleman from Arkansas has demanded that the gentlelady’s words be taken down, theclerkwillreportthegentleladyswords.

Fein worked without legal charge for Schmidt, his fees paid for by the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund. This would result in a complaint being filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) that Schmidt had received legal services valued at over a half a million dollars from a lobby group as a gift. Schmidt would end up being named one of the most corrupt members of Congress in a CREW report, the House Ethics Committee would rule the gift as impermissible and order Schmidt to re-pay it. Fein would be forbidden from further participating in the case3.

It was in August 2009, before the Ohio Election Commission, that our lead makes her appearance. Sibel Edmonds had been called in to testify to the links between the Turkish government and lobby groups such as the Turkish Coalition of America, to make the case that what was said in the Krikorian fliers, that the Turkish government itself had paid for Schmidt’s stance on the Armenian Genocide resolution, had some basis in fact. The reason Edmonds might be able to give relevant testimony in this area was because of her work as an FBI translator from September 2001 to March 2002. From “Deposition of: Sibel Deniz Edmonds”, page 17:

Q
And how did it come to be that you were working for the FBI?

EDMONDS
Okay. I will try to summarize the story so it’s not — it won’t take too long. When I was studying for my Bachelor’s degree, criminal justice/psychology, I had applied for internship position with the FBI, and this would be around ’97, 1997, 1998, and they never responded to me and except that they were interested in my linguistic abilities because I spoke Turkish and Farsi. And then I didn’t hear back from them, and I was contacted around September 11, 2001, and they said they had obtained top secret clearance for me, and they needed my services for translation in Turkish and Farsi, and they wanted me to start immediately, and because I couldn’t work full time, I took the contractor’s position with the FBI for translation of those languages, and to a certain degree Azerbaijani.

Q
All right, and so can you describe what your job was with the FBI aside from translating those languages?

EDMONDS
I assisted Special Agents, both my — the primary supervisory Special Agents in Washington, D.C. field office, but also Special Agents in charge of various counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations around the country, and those were different FBI field offices.

Q
Now, when you refer to counterintelligence operations, can you just tell us what that means?

EDMONDS
Counterintelligence operations in the FBI had to do with collecting information, monitoring — and monitoring particular target foreign entities in the United States.

Edmonds would go on to testify that part of her translation work was of surveillance over a covert Turkish lobby, involved in intelligence operations in the United States, page 30 of the deposition:

Q
Okay. So when you talk about the covert Turkish lobby, what are you referring to there?

EDMONDS
Activities that would involve trying to obtain very sensitive, classified, highly classified U.S. intelligence information, weapons technology information, classified congressional records, recruiting — recruiting key U.S. individuals with access to highly sensitive information, blackmailing, bribery. These are some of the ones that just perhaps — and there are many others that I’m unable to think of.

This covert lobby was involved in numerous activities, including the secret campaign funding of various top level members of Congress, done via donations small enough that they didn’t need to be itemized in public filings. Those she accused of receiving such covert funding included Steve Solarz, congressman from New York, Bob Livingston of Louisiana, Dan Burton of Indiana, and then speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert:

Q
Can you tell me anything about what your concerns are about Mr. Hastert?

EDMONDS
This information has been public. The concerns, again would be several categories. The acceptance of large sums of bribery in forms of cash or laundered cash and laundering is to make it look legal for his campaigns, and also for his personal use, in order to do certain favors and call certain — call for certain actions, make certain things happen for foreign entities and foreign governments’ interests, Turkish government’s interest and Turkish business entities’ interests.

Q
Did you have reason to believe that Mr. Hastert, for example, killed one of the Armenian genocide resolutions in exchange for money —

MR. FEIN:
Leading question.

Q
— money from these Turkish organizations?

EDMONDS
Yes, I do.

Q
So if I were to say that a member of Congress — if I were to just walk out on the street and say, “Gee, I think members of Congress have taken money from these Turkish organizations in exchange for denying the Armenian genocide,” would that be an unreasonable assumption on my part?

MR. FEIN:
That’s pure conjecture. The individual —

THE WITNESS:
No.

MR. FEIN:
— is totally irrelevant.

Q
Are you aware of other members of Congress, other than Mr. Hastert, taking money from Turkish organizations in exchange for denying the Armenian genocide?

EDMONDS
Yes, and not only taking money, but other activities, too, including being blackmailed for various reasons.

Q
Stephen Solarz is on your gallery as well. I believe he’s a Representative from New York. Is that correct? I’m really guessing.

EDMONDS
He used to be.

Q
Was, right?

EDMONDS
Correct. He is a registered lobbyist for the — or was registered lobbyist for the government of Turkey.

Q
And Mr. Hastert is also a registered lobbyist for the government of Turkey now?

EDMONDS
That’s what I have read and it was announced, yes, he is.

Q
And why is Mr. Solarz in your gallery, if you can tell me?

EDMONDS
Mr. Solarz and certain others in the gallery, as lobbyists they also acted as conduits to deliver or launder contribution and other briberies to certain members of Congress, but also in pressuring outside Congress, and including blackmail, in certain members of Congress.

Q
And Mr. Solarz and others would be doing this on behalf of these Turkish organizations?

EDMONDS
And the Turkish government, correct, both.

There was even more. Edmonds would allege that this covert lobby was in alliance with other foreign powers in setting up a network to steal nuclear and technological secrets through the state department, universities, and the RAND Corporation:

Q
One of the things that it indicates in your biographical information is that you’ve made certain allegations. Some of them we’ve talked about a little bit, and I wanted to ask you about some of the others. One of the entries indicates nuclear secrets black market, and it says, “Edmonds alleges that in the course of her work for the government she found evidence that the FBI, State Department and Pentagon had been infiltrated by a Turkish and Israeli run intelligence network that paid high ranking American officials to steal nuclear weapons secrets,” and they have some footnotes for that, some cites. Is that correct that you’ve made those allegations?

EDMONDS
That information is correct, and if ever — you can get, I would say, those government organizations and others. There’s another place missing there. They list the State Department itself, but there is one other place that’s missing.

Q
And what is that place?

EDMONDS
That would be RAND Corporation.

Q
And can you tell me about the — give me some more information about the Turkish and Israeli run intelligence network that is referred to there?

EDMONDS
This information has been public, documenting methods of intelligence gathering. Yes. Through certain U.S. officials, executively appointed officials, foreign entities, not necessarily or not only government related; so if you say Israel and Turkey, not only government but other entities because it has multi-layers.

Q
All right.

EDMONDS
Their operations, and some of these layers sometimes they conduct their operations independently and with the sole purpose of obtaining a profit, and therefore, the information they obtain, let’s say, the nuclear or weapons technology, weapons technology related information doesn’t necessarily only go to Turkey or Israel, but they sell it to the highest bidder. That’s how they operate. They contact their people whether it’s in ISI, in Washington, D.C. part of the military attache for Pakistani intelligence, or the certain Saudi business people in Detroit may be contacted, and they say, okay, and talk about these Turkish entities. This is we have obtained this particular DVD containing this, and this person is willing to pay 500,000. Will you offer more because if you don’t, we will give it to this person. So what I’m trying to say is they do it both for governments, foreign governments, but some of those operatives, they also — they offer it in open market, and they have — they have individuals on their payroll on almost every major nuclear facility in the United States. RAND Corporation and various — in Midwest, various Air Force labs that develop certain weapons technology, which I am not very familiar with the technology itself.

Q
When you refer to the or when the article refers to the paid, high ranking American officials, can you identify who they are?

EDMONDS
That person has been identified by others.

Q
Okay.

EDMONDS
And he has been identified as Mr. Marc Grossman, who used to work for the State Department.

Q
Right, and Mr. Grossman, I think, was also in your gallery, correct?

EDMONDS
Yes.

Q
And I read somewhere that Mr. Grossman had some relationships with a Turkish organization, Turkish diplomats here in the United States.

EDMONDS
Yes. He had very, very close relationship with not only Turkish diplomatic communities and entities, but business and also some of these criminal layer operatives that I told you about. Currently, that he’s nor working; he actually is working for a Turkish company called Ihals Holding.

Q
Okay. Now, was Mr. Grossman the ambassador to Turkey at some

Q
Okay, and then what was his position at the State Department, if you recall?

EDMONDS
He had several different positions. I believe in 1999 or 2000, was European Affairs. That dealt a lot with NATO, and afterwards during early bush administration’s stage, he was the second or the third highest person in the State Department. I’m not sure about the title.

Q
Okay, and during that time — I’m sorry — during that time when he was the second or third highest ranking person in State, I’ve read somewhere that you’ve alleged that he actually warned the Turkish Embassy about a CIA front company that had been set up to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons.

EDMONDS
That would be summer 2001. Whatever title he held at that point, he, Mr. Grossman, informed a certain Turkish diplomatic entity who was also an independent operative of a company called Brewster Jennings because Brewster Jennings was frequenting the American Turkish Council as a consulting or analyst firm, and there were certain nuclear related operatives who wanted to hire Brewster Jennings and have it pose as a front company. So there were talks between those Turkish operatives and Brewster Jennings, and Mr. Grossman wanted those people to be warned that Brewster Jennings was a government front, front for government, and it was a front. It was not a company for the front for government, U.S. government, and for those Turkish individuals to be told to stay away from Brewster Jennings. But the person who received that information, the Turkish diplomatic but also operative, actually contacted the Pakistani military attache and discussed with the person who was there about this fact and also told them, warned them to stay away from Brewster Jennings.

From page 206 of the deposition:

Q
To your knowledge, do you have any information about the Turkish government sponsoring chairs at universities, like Princeton, University of Utah, and other places?

EDMONDS
Georgetown University, and not only that. Some of these academic experts also are recruited agents who actually steal U.S. military and intelligence related information because they have security clearances and they have obtained position in high level institutions, and one good example would be RAND Corporation, and Professor Sabri Sayari in Georgetown University who has stole [sic] tens of millions of dollars worth of secrets by actually recruiting people there that has been identified to him by his superiors, handlers, and he does it currently in — was doing it in 2002 with RAND Corporation, one of the individuals. That’s an example of academic expert that they recruit.

Q
And how do they recruit them? With money and other things?

EDMONDS
Money and in some cases combination of money and sexual related favors and information.

Furthermore, various members of Congress were also being bribed for access to nuclear technology, page 65 of the deposition:

Q
One of the other entries on your Wikipedia entry indicates that you had accused Mr. Hastert and other, quote, high ranking members of U.S. government of — let me make sure I’m reading this correctly. The entry says, “Edmonds also accuses Dennis Hastert of taking bribes.” I think we’ve talked about that; is that correct?

EDMONDS
Yes.

Q
And then it says, “And high ranking members of the U.S. government of selling nuclear secrets to Turkey and Pakistan.” Did you allege that high ranking members in the U.S. government had sold nuclear secrets to Turkey and Pakistan?

EDMONDS
They were involved in operations that were obtaining illegally U.S. weapons and nuclear related technology and sell it to foreign governments and also foreign independent operatives.

Burton, Hastert, Livingston, Solarz, were part of this secret network, but there were other politicians involved as well. Not all of them willingly, she pointed out in the most startling detail of the testimony. There was the possibility that Hastert was being blackmailed with compromising material, and there was a congresswoman who was definitely being blackmailed by the covert lobby, through compromising information of an affair this congresswoman had with one of the lobby’s own agents. From page 68 of the deposition:

EDMONDS
Tom Lantos is one of them.

Q
All right.

EDMONDS
I believe he passed away, and Tom Lantos’ office would be not only with the bribe, but also in disclosing highest level protected U.S. intelligence and weapons technology information both to Israel and to Turkey. His office was also involved with that. It was not only bribery, but it was other very serious criminal conduct. Roy Blunt is there. There have been individuals with a question mark there. The reason there’s a question mark is I lacked — I was terminated by April 2002, but this particular Congresswoman — the Turkish — these Turkish organizations and operatives, if they can’t do it by money, they do by blackmail. So they collect information on sexual lives and other information like that, and with this particular Congresswoman, it being 2000 until I left, they — this individual, this Congresswoman’s married with children, grown children, but she is bisexual. So they have sent Turkish female agents, and that Turkish female agents work for Turkish government, and have sexual relationship with this Congresswoman in her townhouse actually in this area, and the entire episodes of their sexual conduct was being filmed because the entire house, this Congressional woman’s house was bugged. So they have all that documented to be used for certain things that they wanted to request when I left. So I don’t know whether she — that Congresswoman complied and gave. That’s why I couldn’t use her name because I don’t — I meant her face because I don’t know if she did anything illegal afterwards. But she was — there are things; information was being collected for blackmail purposes, and her lesbian relationship, and they, the Turkish entities, wanted both congressional related favoritism from her, but also her husband was in a high position in the area in the state she was elected from, and these Turkish entities ran certain illegal operations, and they wanted her husband’s help. But I don’t know if she provided them with those. I left. I was terminated.

Q
And can you tell me how you know all that, everything you just told me?

EDMONDS
I can’t discuss the intelligence gathering method by the FBI, but in general terms, when foreign targets among themselves discuss how they were going to achieve certain goals, objectives, and if those communications are collected and recorded, not only do you have that communications, but in some cases they involved field office surveillance team to see that actually they completed. For example, if they say — somebody says at five o’clock they’re going to bug his house, the surveillance team would go out and see that he had (unintelligible). So there were various ways that things were collected.

Q
All right. So just to make sure I understand this, the Turkish entities were at least preparing to blackmail this Congresswoman.

EDMONDS
Correct.

Q
And is this Congresswoman still a sitting member of Congress?

EDMONDS
Yes.

Q
And why, if you know, would they want to blackmail this Congresswoman?

EDMONDS
I don’t know what reasons they had, why they just didn’t do money. They needed — I was trained as a language specialist by my agent for — to find personal information, and one of the things that we was taught in the FBI — everyone was taught in the counterintelligence — that the target U.S. persons, whether they are in Congress or executive branch or whatever, first go by foreign entities to what they refer to as hooking period, and it was very common; it’s a very common way of trying to find vulnerability, and that is sexual, financial, any other kinds of greeds, and it was — it was done a lot, was being done a lot, and in some cases certain people from Pentagon would send a list of individuals with access to sensitive data, whether weapons technology or nuclear technology, and this information would include all their sexual preference, how much they owed on their homes, if they have gambling issues, and the State Department, high level State Department person would provide it to these foreign operatives, and those foreign operatives then would go and hook those Pentagon people, whether they were at RAND or some other Air Force base. And then the hooking period would take some times. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes one year. They would ask for small favor, but eventually after they reviewed the targets that the U.S. person — some small favor, then they would go blackmail and that person would give them everything, nuclear related information, weapons related information. It always worked for them. So it was not always money.

Q
If you know, what was it that these Turkish entities wanted from this Congresswoman?

EDMONDS
I know for sure that Armenian genocide was one, but also where she came from, that city or the district where she came from is where certain Turkish operatives, lobby groups run illegal businesses for fund raising for themselves to generate money, and for laundering that money they needed her influence in that district where she is from and also her husband because he husband was also involved, had some high level position, not an elected person, with where she came from, and they had another Representative who was making it possible, but supposedly she at that point was kind of — was an obstacle. That’s all I know.

Q
In your experience, I mean, was this hooking technique used with other members of Congress by Turkish entities?

EDMONDS
Well, when I worked for the FBI, I work on operations that were not only current, but specific period of 1996 till 2000, 2001, December, 2003 January. So there were a lot of things that certain field office had provided me to go over, and some of that I didn’t complete, but one example would be with regard to Mr. Hastert. For example, he used the townhouse that was not his residence for certain not very morally accepted activities. Now, whether that was being used as blackmail I don’t know, but the fact that foreign entities knew about this, in fact, they sometimes participated in some of those not maybe morally well activities in that particular townhouse that was supposed to be an office, not a house, residence at certain hours, certain days, evenings of the week. So I can’t say if that was used as blackmail or not, but certain activities they would share. They were known.

None of this was speculation, all of it was certain, and said under oath, page 99:

Q
I assume that – -well, let me just ask you, and I’m not trying to put you on the spot. If you can’t answer, just tell me. Would you be prepared to tell me who the Congresswoman is that we’ve been talking about?

EDMONDS
I would have, and it wouldn’t be because of classification I don’t believe. I — if in case this congressional person did not bend under the pressure in case. I just don’t want somebody, innocent person’s reputation destroyed because I don’t know if this person complied with whatever she happened to be blackmailed later. I think I –

Q
All right. That’s fair enough. I take it then from what you’ve told me that the people you’ve identified, the people that you’ve talked about today you’re certain about.

EDMONDS
Yes.

Q
And what you’ve told me today about those people is not based on speculation.

EDMONDS
No.

A month later, Edmonds would be interviewed by Philip Giraldi in a cover story for The American Conservative, “Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?”, where she would identify the congresswoman at the center of the blackmail as Jan Schakowsky of Illinois:

GIRALDI: This corruption wasn’t confined to the State Department and the Pentagon-it infected Congress as well. You’ve named people like former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, now a registered agent of the Turkish government. In your deposition, you describe the process of breaking foreign-originated contributions into small units, $200 or less, so that the source didn’t have to be reported. Was this the primary means of influencing congressmen, or did foreign agents exploit vulnerabilities to get what they wanted using something like blackmail?

EDMONDS: In early 1997, because of the information that the FBI was getting on the Turkish diplomatic community, the Justice Department had already started to investigate several Republican congressmen. The number-one congressman involved with the Turkish community, both in terms of providing information and doing favors, was Bob Livingston. Number-two after him was Dan Burton, and then he became number-one until Hastert became the speaker of the House. Bill Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, was briefed on the investigations, and since they were Republicans, she authorized that they be continued.

Well, as the FBI developed more information, Tom Lantos was added to this list, and then they got a lot on Douglas Feith and Richard Perle and Marc Grossman. At this point, the Justice Department said they wanted the FBI to only focus on Congress, leaving the executive branch people out of it. But the FBI agents involved wanted to continue pursuing Perle and Feith because the Israeli Embassy was also connected. Then the Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted, and everything was placed on the back burner.

But some of the agents continued to investigate the congressional connection. In 1999, they wiretapped the congressmen directly. (Prior to that point they were getting all their information secondhand through FISA, as their primary targets were foreigners.) The questionably legal wiretap gave the perfect excuse to the Justice Department. As soon as they found out, they refused permission to monitor the congressmen and Grossman as primary targets. But the inquiry was kept alive in Chicago because the FBI office there was pursuing its own investigation. The epicenter of a lot of the foreign espionage activity was Chicago.

GIRALDI: So the investigation stopped in Washington, but continued in Chicago?

EDMONDS: Yes, and in 2000, another representative was added to the list, Jan Schakowsky, the Democratic congresswoman from Illinois. Turkish agents started gathering information on her, and they found out that she was bisexual. So a Turkish agent struck up a relationship with her. When Jan Schakowsky’s mother died, the Turkish woman went to the funeral, hoping to exploit her vulnerability. They later were intimate in Schakowsky’s townhouse, which had been set up with recording devices and hidden cameras. They needed Schakowsky and her husband Robert Creamer to perform certain illegal operational facilitations for them in Illinois. They already had Hastert, the mayor, and several other Illinois state senators involved. I don’t know if Congresswoman Schakowsky ever was actually blackmailed or did anything for the Turkish woman.

I only came across this story recently, but I was not alone at my astonishment at the charges that Edmonds made here and elsewhere, though they did not travel far beyond the press fringes. “The old lesbian honeypot! Wow!” wrote Gawker‘s “Pareene” (Alex Pareene) in “Did This Congresswoman Have Lesbian Affair With a Turkish Spy?”. “Anyway we can barely follow this insane story,” Pareene wrote, expressing the feelings of the multitude, “so who knows if you should be freaked out about the Turkish spy ring selling nuclear secrets or if their bribery and blackmail has thus far succeeded only in preventing Congress from officially recognizing this mass murder they perpetrated in 1915.” “Turkey’s influence over lawmakers surfaces in Ohio hearing” by Luke Rosiak at The Sunlight Foundation would also give coverage, while “U.S. Nuke Secrets for Sale? And What Was the Deal With that B-52 Stratofortress Again?” by Brian Doherty, in the libertarian magazine Reason, would link to a story in the Sunday Times on Edmonds’ accounts of the theft of nuclear secrets. Last year, Ron Unz, the publisher of The American Conservative would cite the Sibel Edmonds case as one of three major stories that a functioning, healthy press should be investigating, but which appeared to occasion no interest. From “Our American Pravda”:

For most Americans, reality is whatever our media organs tell us, and since these have largely ignored the facts and adverse consequences of our wars in recent years, the American people have similarly forgotten. Recent polls show that only half the public today believes that the Iraq War was a mistake.

Author James Bovard has described our society as an “attention deficit democracy,” and the speed with which important events are forgotten once the media loses interest might surprise George Orwell.

Edmonds had been hired by the FBI to translate wiretapped conversations of a suspected foreign spy ring under surveillance, and she had been disturbed to discover that many of these hundreds of phone calls explicitly discussed the sale of nuclear-weapons secrets to foreign intelligence organizations, including those linked to international terrorism, as well as the placement of agents at key American military research facilities. Most remarkably, some of the individuals involved in these operations were high-ranking government officials; the staffs of several influential members of Congress were also implicated. On one occasion, a senior State Department figure was reportedly recorded making arrangements to pick up a bag containing a large cash bribe from one of his contacts. Very specific details of names, dates, dollar amounts, purchasers, and military secrets were provided.

The investigation had been going on for years with no apparent action, and Edmonds was alarmed to discover that a fellow translator quietly maintained a close relationship with one of the key FBI targets. When she raised these issues, she was personally threatened, and after appealing to her supervisors, eventually fired.

Since that time, she has passed a polygraph test on her claims, testified under oath in a libel lawsuit, expanded her detailed charges in a 2009 TAC cover story also by Giraldi, and most recently published a book recounting her case. Judiciary Committee Senators Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy have publicly backed some of her charges, a Department of Justice inspector general’s report has found her allegations “credible” and “serious,” while various FBI officials have vouched for her reliability and privately confirmed many of her claims. But none of her detailed charges has ever appeared in any of America’s newspapers. According to Edmonds, one of the conspirators routinely made payments to various members of the media, and bragged to his fellow plotters that “We just fax to our people at the New York Times. They print it under their names.”

At times, Congressional Democratic staff members became interested in the scandal, and promised an investigation. But once they learned that senior members of their own party were also implicated, their interest faded.

These three stories-the anthrax evidence, the McCain/POW revelations, and the Sibel Edmonds charges-are the sort of major exposés that would surely be dominating the headlines of any country with a properly-functioning media. But almost no American has ever heard of them. Before the Internet broke the chokehold of our centralized flow of information, I would have remained just as ignorant myself, despite all the major newspapers and magazines I regularly read.

Am I absolutely sure that any or all of these stories are true? Certainly not, though I think they probably are, given their overwhelming weight of supporting evidence. But absent any willingness of our government or major media to properly investigate them, I cannot say more.

However, this material does conclusively establish something else, which has even greater significance. These dramatic, well-documented accounts have been ignored by our national media, rather than widely publicized. Whether this silence has been deliberate or is merely due to incompetence remains unclear, but the silence itself is proven fact.

The Edmonds story first broke in a big way on a 60 Minutes piece, “Lost in Translation” (link goes to video, program transcript is here), which featured a small fragment of her allegations. On that program, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley would famously vouch for her. “She’s credible,” he said. “And the reason I feel she’s very credible is because people within the FBI have corroborated a lot of her story.” Vanity Fair would cover the Edmonds case in 2005 with “An Inconvenient Patriot” by David Rose, giving space to her allegations about Hastert, and portraying her, again, as an honest, credible witness. In 2006, she would win the “PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award” for her attempts to describe what took place in the FBI’s languages division despite gag orders. On a podcast hosted by Scott Horton, Edmonds would appear alongside James Bamford, the man thought to have written the definitive accounts of the NSA (such as Body of Secrets and The Puzzle Palace), and the title of the transcript carried this writer’s approval of her work: “James Bamford: ‘I support Sibel Edmonds. You should too.'” “Any final closing comments from either of you?” asked Horton. “I just want to supply my support to Sibel’s effort here,” replied Bamford. “I think she’s been doing a fantastic job of trying to get this out there, and all the listeners out there, I hope they join in with their support.” Daniel Ellsberg, a hero to millions for his work in publishing the Pentagon Papers, would offer his support as well, with “Covering Up the Coverage – The American Media’s Complicit Failure to Investigate and Report on the Sibel Edmonds Case”. Ellsberg chastised the press for ignoring the bombshell allegations of Sibel Edmonds, a “courageous and highly credible source”4. “Either Sibel Edmonds is one of the great actresses of our time,” said Joe Lauria, who wrote a Sunday Times piece (“For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets”, behind a paywall) on the theft of nuclear secrets with Edmonds as principal source, “or she has her finger on a story of immense proportions that is perhaps so immense that it is scaring the hell out of a lot of people. Either Sibel Edmonds is one of the great actresses of our time, or she has her finger on a story of immense proportions that is perhaps so immense that it is scaring the hell out of a lot of people.”5

What did I feel when I came across this story? I think I am possessed most of all by the storyteller’s ruthlessness, wanting a great, captivating narrative and indifferent to all else. I had come across, without hyperbole, what might potentially be the most important story of the new century. I do not doubt that what I felt was something like the happy captive state of writers like Philip Giraldi and Joe Lauria, where you ignore the small details that break the dream. I felt the kind of enthusiasm where I really might have surpassed any past foolishness by promoting this obscure story like a three alarm blaze. Then, the unsettling details gather in a concentrated point, and something like glass shatters. You are outside the dream, cold and unspelled, your quest now entirely different, to demonstrate how certain flaws in the reflecting light, so numerous as to be no coincidence or accident, make obvious that this is an illusion. If Ms. Edmonds is reading this, this is where she should feel a certain cold sense of dread of what comes next. I’m no Mace Windu, but I think I can call this party over.

THE EMPIRE OF ILLUSION

What I will first do is to compare multiple accounts of the time Sibel Edmonds spent as a translator at the FBI, from September 2001 to February 2002. What we will be focusing on are deviations from these accounts, not on small details but very large ones. I believe Edmonds to be more than a little careless about libel and deception, but I am not, so I am cautious about stating in definite terms what these deviations amount to. My principal sources will be the following: “Deposition of: Sibel Deniz Edmonds”, the declassified Office of the Inspector General’s Report, A Review of the FBI’s Actions in Connection With Allegations Raised By Contract Linguist Sibel Edmonds (this is the non-pdf version), Edmonds’ own memoir Classified Woman, Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives have Penetrated Washington by Paul Sperry, a fearmongering book about the supposed Muslim takeover of the U.S. government for which Edmonds served as a source and in which she is frequently quoted, and David Rose’s “An Inconvenient Patriot” from Vanity Fair. Arguably, all of these tell Edmonds’ story from her perspective or in ways favorable to her. A Review of the FBI’s Actions is often cited as vindicating Edmonds, the memoir is her own, her allegations in the Sperry book are taken almost without qualifier or skepticism, and on a podcast with Brad Friedman (“Guest Hosting ‘Mike Malloy Show’ Scheduled Guests: Sibel Edmonds, David Swanson”), she spoke approvingly of the Vanity Fair piece as thoroughly researched, well-sourced journalism (from 26:00-27:40 on the audio):

FRIEDMAN
When Vanity Fair reported this, and it was an exhaustive exposé, frankly, I can’t remember how many thousands of words it was, but, it went into great detail. After the Vanity Fair story, did the other media, AP, New York Times, Washington Post, did they pick the story up in anyway to advance what he had to say? Just amongst the many remarkable things he had to say.

EDMONDS
Not one. Not one.

FRIEDMAN
And they were alleging that the Speaker of the House, at the time that he was Speaker of the House, and they were alleging that he was accepting tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars, from these Turkish foreign agents. Correct?

EDMONDS
And Brad, this was not based on my testimony, this article was written with really strict conditions on the author, on the investigative journalist, usually they require two to three sources. In this particular case, for this particular case, because the speaker of the House was involved, because of the case being high profile, they required more than four, five, sources. So, that’s what this reporter got. And you know how they usually do fact-checking, after the article is submitted, by the reporter, well in this case they did triple fact checking, they did it three times, going back to every single source. And so, they really did their homework. And again, this is not an alternative media outlet. We are looking at Vanity Fair. They have two million circulation number. And yet, not a single, not one newspaper, or network channel, or cable channel, nobody reported on it. There was this deafening silence.

What follows will focus very much on the details of Edmonds’ story, rather than make any attempt to re-tell her narrative. Those wanting that kind of succinct, well told arc which hews close to how Edmonds presents herself and wishes to be seen – someone who stumbles upon a network of criminality through her translation work and is unjustly punished for it – then I recommend Rose’s “Inconvenient Patriot”, which will also be helpful as a roadmap for the various events discussed here.

There is first the description of how she joins the FBI translation division. Joining this organization will have an extraordinary impact on her, and it was done in the days after September 11, the kind of national tragedy where people’s memories become hypervivid of the exact moments of what took place. These were the first deviations I noticed, and in some ways they’re small, but when I came across them I felt an unsettling, the first cracks in a collapsing structure. A Review of the FBI’s Actions gives a thorough and detailed description of what took place:

Edmonds applied to the FBI on March 10, 1997, for a linguist position. After she took the requisite language tests, by letter dated May 6, 1998, the FBI offered Edmonds a position as a CL [Contract Linguist]. The offer was contingent upon Edmonds receiving a Top Secret security clearance.

Pursuant to instructions in the offer letter, Edmonds completed, on June 4, 1998, an SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions – the standard form used by the federal government to collect information for background investigations of persons applying for positions that require a security clearance. As part of the background investigation, Edmonds was polygraphed on December 4, 1998. The FBI also conducted a Personnel Security Interview (PSI) of Edmonds on December 16, 1998. Her security file does not reflect any activity on her background investigation during 1999. It appears that through a series of oversights and lack of follow through, the FBI did not take action on her background investigation, and therefore Edmonds did not begin work as a CL during this time period.

In February 2000, the FBI asked Edmonds to submit another SF-86. In April 2001, LSS [Languages Services Section] wrote a memorandum requesting that the PSI be updated, and asking that the necessary work be done to complete the background investigation. The FBI conducted supplemental PSIs of Edmonds on May 1, 2001, and July 19, 2001. On September 13, 2001, four years after she first submitted her application, the FBI granted Edmonds a “Top Secret” clearance. No job interview was conducted other than the PSIs.

Edmonds began working for the FBI on September 20, 2001, first as a Contract Monitor (CM), and shortly thereafter as a CL.

So, we have an application in 1997, questionnaire and interview in 1998, oversight in 1999 which led to delayed processing, the FBI asking Edmonds to re-submit in 2000, followed by interviews with Edmonds on May 1, 2001 and July 19, 2001. On September 13, 2001, perhaps in connection with what happened two days earlier, Edmonds gets a top secret clearance. Edmonds did not simply call up the FBI after September 11, and offer help, but had been pursuing work there and had been in touch with the bureau that year for two Personal Security Interviews.

I do not think there is anything wrong, suspect, or shameful in these events, yet Edmonds always omits the details that she was in touch with the FBI that year before September 11, actively pursuing this work.

In Rose’s “Inconvenient Patriot”, she contacts the FBI after September 11 because she is haunted by the fundamentalist takeover of Iran, which she saw up close as a child:

In 1978, when Sibel was eight and the Islamists’ violent prelude to the Iranian revolution was just beginning, a bomb went off in a movie theater next to her elementary school. “I can remember sitting in a car, seeing the rescuers pulling charred bodies and stumps out of the fire. Then, on September 11, to see this thing happening here, across the ocean-it brought it all back. They put out a call for translators, and I thought, Maybe I can help stop this from happening again.”

There is a slightly different take in this interview with David Swanson, “An Interview with Sibel Edmonds”; she applies to the FBI, they lose her files, and then she calls them up after September 11 to offer her help:

Swanson: What made you inclined to take a job with the FBI as a translator?

Edmonds: There needs to be a brief explanation – three years before I took that job, I was doing my studies in forensic science and criminal justice, and I had applied for an internship position with the FBI, not a full time or permanent job position, and at that point they were interested in my language skills, but they basically messed it up. I sent them the application, I took the polygraph test for that internship position for their language department, and somehow in 1999 they lost all that information – not only mine, but from 150 other applicants they had for language specialist positions. These documents, these files were lost within the FBI – or at least that’s the explanation they gave to these applicants.

And then the 911 terrorist event took place and I’d turn on the TV and kept hearing the Director of the FBI pleading for language specialists – especially for the languages that I speak – because they were desperate for language specialists. And at that point it was a duty to go and say “Look – I have these skills, you need these skills for the nation, and I’m offering it to you.” So I took this position as a contract language specialist for those languages and my top secret clearance was issued and I started working five days after 911.

In Classified Woman, Edmonds applies to the FBI in 1997, there is supposed to be follow-up in 1999 but there is none, and she is then contacted by the FBI after September 11. However, she says that she had no contact with the FBI since 2000, when A Review of the FBI’s Actions has her interviewed twice in 2001, and she says that she did not initially apply to be a translator while A Review has her applying for exactly that position. A Review has her completing her proficiency exams in 1998 (“After she took the requisite language tests, by letter dated May 6, 1998″), while Classified has her taking them in 1997, “After reviewing my application, someone at the bureau evidently found my linguistic abilities of interest and asked me to take proficiency tests in those languages and in English…I went ahead and took the intense and excruciating proficiency tests in the summer of 1997.”. From Classified:

I recalled an incident in Iran I had witnessed a few years later, when I was eight years old. I was in a minivan with six other girls, on my way home from school. We’d heard an explosion. Traffic stopped and we saw thick smoke rising in a column only a few yards away. Our driver got out and started talking with other drivers. I rolled down the window to hear one man explain, “… either a big fire or a bomb explosion in a building, probably the movie theater on the circle. I heard there were many people trapped inside …” As we passed the building, I leaned out the window and looked. The rescue teams, together with civilian volunteers, were removing charred bodies and stumps, dropping them on the sidewalk in front of the building. The driver, recovering as though from a trance, turned around and yelled, “Get down on the floor! You shouldn’t be looking at this!”

The 9/11 attack had brought back viscerally all that horror and trauma. Another casualty of that day was my newly shattered sense of security and optimism about a country I believed would never experience such horrors.

As depressing as things felt, we knew that together we would make it in the end. Our marriage, our true partnership for the past ten years, had made it through other difficult times and crises, the last being my father’s sudden death a year earlier; it would also make it through this one, I was sure.

After finishing our comfort soup and ordering our customary Vietnamese coffee, Matthew used his cell to check voice mail at home, jotting down the messages on a napkin. He slid it toward me and pointed to one. Someone from FBI Headquarters had left his number, urging me to call him back as soon as possible.

I wondered what this was about. The only connection I had with the FBI had to do with my application for a temporary part-time intern position I had sent them four years earlier, in 1997. I was interested in their department that dealt with crimes against children, having worked as a trained and certified advocate for the Alexandria Juvenile Court, where I investigated and represented child abuse cases for over two years. I had sent them my application for an internship (summer or a part-time position) relevant to the degree I was pursuing in criminal justice.

After reviewing my application, someone at the bureau evidently found my linguistic abilities of interest and asked me to take proficiency tests in those languages and in English. At first I was put off by the prospect of working as a translator but on second thought decided it could be a stepping-stone to where I wanted to be until I completed my degrees. I went ahead and took the intense and excruciating proficiency tests in the summer of 1997. Afterwards they said that all language specialists, whether full-time or contract, were required to obtain top-secret clearance (TSC), since they would be dealing with sensitive and classified intelligence and documents. The process of background checks and issuance of TSC could take anywhere from nine to fifteen months, I was told. They would then notify me and offer me options, such as contract or full-time employment.

Nine months passed; then another nine, and another. In 2000, I called FBI Headquarters to inquire about the status of the position I had applied for nearly four years earlier. Toward the end of that year I finally received a call from a woman from FBI Headquarters who told me with much sincerity and apologies that in 1999 the bureau had lost my entire information package and test results, together with those of over 150 other applicants. That package contained my bank account information, tax records, Social Security and private medical and family-related information. “What?!” I asked, incredulous. “… Do you realize what people can do with that information?”

She apologized again and said the bureau would conduct expedited background investigations and have the position ready for me in a year. “If you change your mind and decide to go ahead with it,” she told me, “the position will be ready and available for you.” That was the last I’d heard from the FBI-until then.

I grabbed the napkin and stepped outside to make the call. The HQ man came on and thanked me profusely for returning his call. He then went on to explain how badly the bureau was in need of translators in Middle Eastern and certain Asian languages: Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, Pashtun, Urdu, Uzbek, and so on. The bureau had tens of thousands of leads and evidence waiting to be translated into English before the agents could take any further action. They had thousands of pieces of raw intelligence pouring in daily, but they all were in foreign languages and could not be processed or assessed until translated. “Ms. Edmonds,” he concluded his pitch, “we need your skills badly. Your TS clearance came in last week and we would like you to start working for us immediately.”

According to “Lost in Translation” on 60 Minutes, from the very day she begins work, she is repeatedly told to slow down so that the translation department can get more money:

Edmonds says that to her amazement, from the day she started the job, she was told repeatedly by one of her supervisors that there was no urgency,- that she should take longer to translate documents so that the department would appear overworked and understaffed. That way, it would receive a larger budget for the next year.

“We were told by our supervisors that this was the great opportunity for asking for increased budget and asking for more translators,” says Edmonds. “And in order to do that, don’t do the work and let the documents pile up so we can show it and say that we need more translators and expand the department.”

Edmonds’ immediate supervisor was Mike Feghali, and in their first meeting in Classified Woman, she contrasts her sleek stylishness with his runt-like squalor:

That morning I had taken extra time to prepare. I was going to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and my attire had to reflect that-an assumption proven wrong within the first few days. I had chosen a black light wool pantsuit with a long-sleeved parliament blue shirt, black pumps, and a black suede briefcase; classic.

A few minutes later, I noticed a short man bustling toward me. He was bald and overweight by at least fifty pounds and clad in a shiny-gray polyester suit. His dark olive complexion glistened with oil and perspiration. He greeted me with a big forced smile and introduced himself as Mike Feghali. After checking the status of my entry card and ID badge (another two days for both), we took the elevator to the fourth floor, which housed the FBI’s largest and most important Language unit.

In Classified, it is Feghali who brings up the idea of slowing down work so they can get additional funds, but he does not do so on the day that Edmonds starts, or within days of her starting, but in early October:

One day in early October, I received such a call from a New Jersey field agent. I could hear his desperation. He suggested that to save time I should have the results faxed to him over an FBI-secured fax line immediately after I was finished. (Ordinarily, completed assignments from field offices had to be sent to HQ in hard copy; the administrators then would send it via secure mail to the requesting field agents. That slowed everything. Our Language unit could not or would not send anything electronically.)

I worked quickly until I finished the agent’s documents. Since I was not familiar with the secure fax, I went to Feghali’s office and asked him for instructions. He asked me to sit down. Feghali had something to tell me.

“I see you are working very hard and fast. That’s very good but you need to slow down a bit and take breaks during your work. You don’t want to burn out or collapse in exhaustion. We wouldn’t want that for you either; you have already become a very popular translator. Look what I have for you.”

He handed me a two-page document. It was from the special agent from Baltimore who had supervised my interrogation translation. The commendation letter praised my work, professional conduct, and insightful feedback I’d given them.

“He says he will request you in particular for anything else they may have in the future that deals with Farsi or Turkish. You see, you don’t have to kill yourself, work too hard, to be liked and admired.”

I assured him that I knew my limitations and wouldn’t exhaust myself.

Grinning and nodding to show that he understood, Feghali nevertheless went on to emphasize that it is not helpful to work fast; that doing so may in fact “end up hurting the department.”

I was baffled. I had no idea what he was getting at. Had someone complained?

“What do you mean?”

“Look,” he began (never a good sign), “for years and years the bureau, all these agents, treated us, the translators, as second-class citizens…. Now, thanks to the 9/11 terrorist attack, all that has changed; the terrorists and what they did put us translators on the map.” Feghali continued, “That’s why I say sometimes good things come out of bad things. Some may consider what happened on 9/11 terrible, but we, the translators, see it as a cause to celebrate. Look at these date cookies my wife baked yesterday: see, we are still celebrating the attack; this is our customary celebration cookie. Have some.” He extended the cookie bowl toward me.

I was sick to my stomach. I shook my head and refused. Perhaps I misunderstood; could he have possibly meant that the attack finally opened people’s eyes to the threats we all face? Could that have been it?

Yet Feghali continued in this same disgusting vein. “This is the time for us, for our department to flourish…. This November the FBI is going to present its budget request for our department, and to make the case, they have to show this huge backlog of untranslated material: the bigger the backlog, the more money and more translators for this department. Do you get the picture?”

“But we already have a huge backlog; hundreds of thousands of hours and pages, if you count all the languages.”

“I know, I know,” he said dismissively, “but still … for instance, you worked so hard and too fast to translate this agent’s document, and want to go the extra mile … You say this guy is desperate; well, sometimes desperation is a good thing. Better to have this guy complain to and pressure his bosses and HQ for not getting his translated documents than to make him satisfied and happy … and have him forget about it later. All I’m asking you is to be a better friend to your colleagues: accompany them to lunches and coffee breaks, take regular breaks, and do not work this fast, that’s all.”

This was hateful. I had to get out of his office, right away. I started out when he called me back. Now he held the cookie bowl only inches from my face. “Have a cookie. Don’t refuse my wife’s famous cookies.” I grabbed one and left.

As soon as I found my way clear of his office, I dumped the cookie in the nearest trashcan. Not on my life would I ever eat anything baked to celebrate 9/11. My first order of business was to fax this document to the agent in New Jersey. (I did, with Amin’s help [Amin was a fellow translator, in Farsi].) What happened in Feghali’s office was sickening. I well knew this was the second time I had defied him; I prayed it would be the last.

This lengthy excerpt provides, I think, a good sense of Edmonds’ sensibility in this book and why people should perhaps be a little cautious in trusting her accounts. In contrast with what we expect from office life, even the office life of a semi-secret agency, made up of banalities and drudgery, occasionally relieved by moments of intellectual excitement, challenge, and humor – the life of Sibel Edmonds is charged with the heroic and dramatic. She dumps a cookie made by the boss’s wife into the garbage and it’s not an instance of petty rebellion, but one moment in an epic struggle: Not on my life would I ever eat anything baked to celebrate 9/11. This concept of date cookies being eaten to celebrate 9/11, a ritual that she does not take part in and which utterly sickens her, recurs in a different variation in a very disturbing scene in the book Infiltration, a moment that would no doubt have stayed in the mind of anyone who witnessed it, but which is absent in every other account by Edmonds of her time in the language bureau. Infiltration, as said, is a reactionary book about a possible Muslim takeover of the U.S. government from the inside, and I think it can properly be classed in the genre of Paranoid Islamophobia. That this extraordinary scene occurs here, and nowhere else, made me wonder for the first time whether Edmonds manages to intuit what each listener wants to hear, and gives them that version. Paul Sperry wanted to hear about Muslims celebrating the destruction of the two towers, and she gave him exactly that. The celebration takes place on the very day she starts at the office (this section from Infiltration is currently available on Google Books, page 166):

CELEBRATING 9/11

When Edmonds showed up for her first day of work at the Washington field office, a week after the 9/11 attacks, she expected to find a somber atmosphere. Instead, she was offered cookies filled with dates form part bowls set out in the large open room where other Middle Eastern linguists with top-secret security clearance translate terror-related communications. (The highly secure language unit room is walled off from agents, who do not have badge access and must be escorted into the room.)

She knew the dessert is customarily served in the Middle East at weddings, births, and other celebrations and asked what the happy occasion was.

To her shock, she was told the Arabic linguists were celebrating the terrorist attacks on America, as if they were some joyous event. Right in front of a supervisor from the Middle East, one Arabic translator named Osama cheered, “It’s about time they got a taste of what they’ve been giving to the Middle East!”

Edmonds says her co-workers were not shy about making such hostile comments. “These statements were neither rare nor made in a whisper,” she says. “They were open and loud.”

She found out later that it was her supervisor Feghali’s wife – an Arabic linguist on loan from the National Security Agency – who brought the date filled cookies.

Edmonds was taken aback by the blatant display of anti-Americanism that day. But she soon found that it was more the rule than the exception. The language squad was rife with linguists with questionable loyalties, she says, all with top-security clearance.

“There were those who openly divided the fronts as ‘Us’ – the Middle Easterners who shared certain views – and ‘Them’ – the Americans who were the outsiders [bristling] with arrogance that was now ‘leading to their own destruction,'” she says.

Though all translators working for the FBI must be U.S. citizens, “citizenship doesn’t take care of it,” she says referring to loyalty.

“Wherever there’s a conversation about America or Americans, it’s always still ‘They’ or ‘Them,’ and not ‘Us,'” says Edmonds, who is not a practicing Muslim. “Whenever 9/11 is brought up, you know, it happened to Them.” She estimates that the roughly forty Arabic linguists there account for “easily more than 75 percent of the loyalty problems,” and yet they are the most indispensible to investigations of al-Qaida suspects.

A warning in advance of an encore al-Qaida attack more than likely will come in the form of a message or document in Arabic that will have to be translated. That message may go to an Arab or Muslim sympathizer within the language department, and it may never be translated in full, if at all, Edmonds warns.

“The translation of our intelligence is being entrusted to individuals with loyalties to our enemies,” she says. “Important [terrorist] chatter is being intentionally blocked.”

Another translator who worked in the Washington field office before his recent promotion to headquarters agrees with Edmonds up to a point. Middle Eastern translators on the Arabic desk “did express their displeasure with U.S. policy in the Middle East,” he says, ” but they never said they wanted to see the U.S. attacked so far as I heard.” He doubts their objection to U.S. foreign policy affects their loyalty.”

An incidental note about Infiltration: this book, and nowhere else, states that Edmonds has recently earned her Ph.D.6

This is not a case of Edmonds being selectively or manipulatively quoted by the writer of Infiltration. She made these claims in multiple places, according to the Office of the Inspector General’s report, though she somehow did not make those claims with the OIG, again according to the report: “According to some media accounts, Edmonds made additional allegations relating to the September 11 terrorist attacks and the allegedly inappropriate reaction by other FBI linguists to those attacks. However, Edmonds never raised those allegations to the OIG, and we did not investigate them in our review.”

Though A Review of the FBI’s Actions supposedly vindicates Edmonds in every respect, it finds no evidence for her allegations of deliberate work slowdowns:

A. Edmonds’ Initial Allegations

Edmonds alleged that shortly after she began work for the FBI, linguists were directed to slow the pace of their work so that the material to be translated would “pile up” and the FBI would have a basis to request more translators. Edmonds also said that she was reprimanded for working too quickly. Edmonds provided the OIG with the names of several linguists whom she believed had heard these instructions.

The persons supervising Edmonds denied ever telling Edmonds or any other linguist to slow down so that more linguists would be hired. Instructions to slow down, the OIG was told, only were given if a linguist’s pace was adversely affecting the quality of the linguist’s work. The OIG was told that such an instruction was never given to Edmonds because the quality of her work was good.

The OIG interviewed ten linguists who were either named by Edmonds in her allegations or were named by Edmonds as having information relevant to her allegations, including those whom Edmonds specifically stated could corroborate her allegation regarding the alleged instruction to slow down. Only three of these linguists stated that they recalled hearing about the alleged instruction to slow down. Two said they heard the allegation only from Edmonds. The third said that she had heard about the slow down instruction from others in addition to hearing about it from Edmonds, but said she could not recall who those others were. The other seven denied ever hearing about such an instruction.

We found insufficient evidence to substantiate Edmonds’ allegation that such time and attendance abuse was condoned or occurred. Moreover, given the backlog of translation work at the FBI, we do not believe the FBI would need to intentionally slow down the linguists’ work to support hiring additional translators.

Edmonds turns Feghali into a cartoon villain. He is a lazy bureaucratic slob who celebrates 9/11 because it might mean a budget increase, but someone who uses brute force, fraud, and petty litigation to move up in the workplace and who sells out the FBI’s secret informants, who might end up killed as a result. From Classified Woman:

Sarshar [Behrooz Sarshar, another interpreter] added, “Not only that, we’re stuck with the worst guy among the supervisors: Feghali. Do you know how he became supervisor here? Let me tell you …”

He then launched into the sordid history of a sordid man, a bureaucrat who clawed his way into his current position by using and stepping on people, committing fraud, abusing his authority (there were charges of sexual misconduct and other outstanding complaints against him), and threatening those who challenged him with phony discrimination lawsuits. Apparently, this last threat got the FBI’s attention and he was left alone-to continue his abuses. The managers all were wary of him.

I decided to hear Kevin [Kevin Taskesen, another interpreter] out before giving Feghali the memo. When I got to the coffeehouse, Kevin was already there, looking rattled.

“Do you know how only agents are allowed to know and maintain informants’ and assets’ identities, contact information?”

I shook my head no. During my work I had not come across anything that involved procedures concerning FBI informants’ information, and wondered what this had to do with Feghali or Dickerson [Melek Can Dickerson, a co-worker who soon becomes a major player in the story].

“Feghali has found a way to access that information,” Kevin continued. “I don’t know how. Also, according to Sarshar, Feghali has found a way to use and cash in on this information. Again, I don’t know how. I’m telling you what I’ve heard from several sources.” He went on to describe illegal transactions involving nepotism and other illicit activities, all of them disturbing. Kevin sounded afraid. He considered Feghali evil. “I won’t inform Saccher [Dennis Saccher, Edmonds' other supervisor]. I want to stay away from this shit.”

I looked him in the eye and told him he didn’t have a choice, that if we didn’t report this, we would be co-conspirators. “Like it or not, you’ve been exposed to this; you are a witness.” I sighed. “I’ll call Saccher tomorrow morning. This information on informants can be huge. Think about it: he could be selling that information to the targets. Do you know how much he can get for that-for ratting out FBI informants? Do you know that this can get some of these informants killed?!”

As I got up to leave, Kevin said he wanted to wait a few minutes; he didn’t want us to be seen together by Feghali. What a paranoid chicken! I thought. That was then.

Perhaps the most pivotal event to take place in Edmonds’ time at the bureau was when another interpreter, “Helen” Melek Can Dickerson, and her husband, Major Douglas Dickerson, met Edmonds and her husband Matthew at Edmonds’ house for brunch. Edmonds believes that when Helen Dickerson invited her to join the American Turkish Council and the Turkish American Associations, it was in fact an invitation to spy on behalf of the Turkish government, passing them useful information and blocking any investigations into improprieties related to Turkey. Given that the version of the meeting in Classified Woman is doubtless the one closest to Edmonds’ perspective, I give her depiction in full:

On the first Saturday in December, Matthew and I spent the entire day preparing and decorating our house for Christmas. I was doing my best to recreate our traditional holiday mood, despite the sadness and melancholy; this would be the second Christmas without my father.

That evening, while I was busy making dinner, the phone rang. Matthew answered. “It’s for you,” he called from our upstairs office, “Jan Dickerson, from the FBI.” I was surprised. A few days earlier she had asked for my number in case of a work-related emergency. I picked up.

Dickerson apologized for calling us on a Saturday evening and asked us to brunch the following day.

I thought a moment before responding. “I have to check with Matthew. We don’t have any particular plans, but there are tons of things to do around the house and I have five final exams in less than two weeks.”

“Even an hour would do,” she insisted, and mentioned being homesick before breaking the news that she was pregnant. I congratulated her, after which she suggested, “How about this? We can come to your house and take care of the introductions there.” At first I was taken aback but recalled my manners. “Sure … in fact, I’ll prepare some Turkish delicacies and tea; instead of going to brunch, we’ll have something here.” She sounded delighted, and said they would come by our house at eleven the following morning. The Dickersons showed up right on time and Matthew went downstairs to greet them. By the time I came down, the first round of introductions had been made. Douglas Dickerson appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties. He was tall and wiry, with salt and pepper hair neatly cropped, and a pair of steely gray eyes framed by silver-rimmed glasses. He shook my hand and asked me to call him Doug, and his wife gave me an unexpected hug. We moved to the kitchen and I went to pour hot tea while they were being seated.

We sipped our drinks and made small talk for about fifteen minutes. “Doug” briefly talked about his background and current position with the U.S. Air Force and Defense Intelligence Agency, under the procurement logistics division at the Pentagon, which dealt with Turkey and Turkic-speaking Central Asian countries: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. And, he casually added, he was part of a team at the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans overseeing Central Asian policies and operations. I was surprised. His wife had told me he worked for the State Department, and that’s what I’d said to my husband. Without missing a beat, Matthew went ahead and asked, “I thought you were with the State Department?” Dickerson chuckled and said it didn’t make any difference which agency, since his activities involved the Pentagon, State Department, DIA, NATO and others. Well, it made sense.

I started serving the pie and cake while Matthew, always to the point, answered their questions about what kind of work he did. As we ate, the Dickersons talked about their life in Turkey and Germany, and their plan to retire in a few years and move to Turkey permanently, where they owned several properties. I thought Doug looked too young to retire anytime soon but attributed that to his joining the military at a very young age.

Doug asked whether we knew a lot of Turkish people, since so many of them lived in the Washington, DC, area. We didn’t. I told him that except for two brothers I had met in college and their family, we didn’t know any other Turkish people, and added that we visited Turkey at least once a year and that my family visited us here annually. He nodded and exchanged a look with his wife, who nodded back.

He followed that up with another question. “How about Turkish organizations here in the States? There are many of them, some very influential and powerful.”

Matthew shook his head and said no.

“Oh come on, how could you not?” he chided. “Some of these organizations are movers and shakers, both in the U.S. and Turkey. You mean you don’t know the American Turkish Council, ATC? Or the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, ATAA?”

I readjusted myself in my chair uncomfortably; I didn’t want to discuss those organizations. Of course I knew who they were and what they did-too well. They constituted a big chunk of what I worked on and monitored for Saccher’s department.

Matthew, oblivious to my evident discomfort and sudden silence, began by answering, “I know what ATC is, but they’re involved with companies and people who do business with Turkey or Turkish businesses that export to or work with the U.S.” Then he turned to me. “Honey, isn’t that right? In fact, when we had our business, we checked them out as a possible advertising venue for our IT services.”

I specifically avoided answering and asked if anyone wanted more tea. My transparent attempt to change the subject was ignored. Doug pressed harder. “Matthew, ATC is one of the most powerful organizations in the States. They have several hotshot lobbying firms working for them: the Livingston Group, run by the former Speaker of the House, Bob Livingston; the Cohen Group, headed by the former secretary of defense, and others. They deal with the highest-level people in the Pentagon, State Department and the White House. They’re able to secure hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. government contracts for Turkish companies every year, many of them for stuff in Central Asia; they rule Congress. Turkish companies, through ATC and ATAA, get most of the contract grants reserved for Central Asian countries and do tons of work for us; Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and the rest of them, those countries are our future bases and energy sources. Where have you been?”

Now it was Matthew’s turn to feel baffled and confused. “Okay, right, but as I said, they deal with those companies that are involved in those particular business areas. They don’t invite individuals, people like Sibel or me, to join. It’s a membership-based organization for Turkish and American businesses.” Doug smiled and said, almost as though he were spelling out each word, “Of course they will accept you, Matthew. In fact, they would love to have you join them. They will take care of setting up a business for you.” He extended his left arm forward and pointed his finger at me while he kept his eyes on Matthew. “All you have to do is tell them where Sibel works: what she does and who she listens to. You’ll get in “-he snapped his fingers-“just like that. They’ll make sure you’re set; you can retire in a few years and settle in Turkey. They’ll take care of everything. I can assure you. How do you think I’m retiring, my friend? I’m already set, ready to live the good life over there.”

I felt as if I’d been hit by a truck. Initially I was unable to move my body, even my head. I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t sort out what was swirling so horribly inside me. When I finally managed to move, I turned around to look at Jan Dickerson. Was it possible that her husband, Doug, had no idea what she and I were doing at the bureau? Could that be? Or was this some sort of test, to see how the enemy camp might recruit me? Were these people sent by the bureau?

Jan locked eyes with me and smiled-no, it was a smirk: a lopsided, crooked grin. I realized then; they were trying to recruit me! They were here in my house, trying to purchase us. I thought, My God, this can’t be happening. How can this be? Matthew continued to listen to Doug’s pitch without a clue as to what was taking place.

Doug now pointed to his wife. “My wife worked for them, you know. Jan worked for ATAA and ATC. Before we came to the States, while in Germany, she worked for their sister organization in Germany. There are several Turkish-German organizations like that over there. I am very active with them and their Pentagon arm.”

I was seized by a panic attack. My heart was pounding; my hands were sweating and my mouth had gone dry. This was surreal. It couldn’t be real; maybe I was hallucinating. In fact, this was impossible. Melek Can Dickerson had been hired by the FBI and granted Top Secret Clearance after a thorough background check. No way in hell the bureau would hire her and give her clearance knowing that she worked for those organizations: they were our targets, housing high-level operatives and criminals.

Doug looked me in the eye. “Sibel, I’ll introduce you to our two best friends, our Turkish friends. One of them lives in McLean, Virginia. In fact, later today we’ll visit them. We visit their house at least once a week. Do you know the Mediterranean Bakery on Van Dorn? Jan shops for them there. We get them bread and Middle Eastern baked goods from there.” He paused and named the individual. “He is one of the key operators for the ATC, Colonel ______.” Doug named one of the FBI’s top counterintelligence targets; in fact, one of our top, primary targets.

He continued. “When Jan worked at ATAA and ATC, she was liaisoned to his office since we knew him from way back when, in Turkey and later in Germany. You guys would like him; we’ll introduce you to him. Also…” He went on to name others, detailing where they lived and what they did-two out of three being the FBI’s primary counterintelligence investigation targets. The names he dropped kept on, from Douglas Feith to Marc Grossman, from a division in the Pentagon to a special unit in the State Department.

I sprang to my feet and grabbed Matthew’s teacup, my hands badly shaking. Jan extended her cup to me. “More tea for me also. Aren’t you glad we finally got together?” I looked at her in disbelief and grabbed the teacup. I brought the refilled cups back to the table, and before sitting down said, “I have two term papers waiting for me. Sorry to cut this short.” Doug looked down at his watch. “Oh, I can’t believe we’ve been here for almost two hours.” Then to his wife, “Honey, we need to go also.” Jan dropped two sugar cubes into her cup and said, “I know; on the way we have to stop at the Mediterranean Bakery.”

I started clearing the table. Matthew shot me a quizzical look, sensing something was wrong-he just had no idea how wrong. A few minutes later, Matthew walked them to the door. I mumbled a cool good-bye and stayed in the kitchen, not bothering to see them out.

Matthew rushed into the kitchen as soon as he shut the door. “What the heck was that all about?”

I continued to empty plates, without looking up. “I know he gave you his number, but I don’t want you to ever call him, OK? If he calls, just hang up-OK? Let me know, but do not talk with either of them. They are dangerous; extremely dangerous.”

What is astonishing here is the way a malevolence is assumed of these organizations, as if they are well-known terrorist groups, rather than ethnic or national associations: “Of course I knew who they were and what they did-too well. They constituted a big chunk of what I worked on and monitored for Saccher’s department.” She later tells us explicitly why she thinks these organizations are so fearsome, though it’s a claim she never gives any proof for in the book, and which I’ve never seen any evidence of anywhere:

Melek Can Dickerson had worked for ATC, ATAA, and before that, with these organizations’ counterpart in Germany. Individuals and entities within these organizations, including certain Americans, were directly involved in global criminal activities: nuclear black market, narcotics, and military and industrial espionage. These organizations and their players are not driven by any ideology or nationalistic objectives. To them this is business, and the highest bidder, regardless of nationality or ideology, gets the goods.

This paranoid vision, never given any actual evidence or specifics, continues on at another moment in Classified Woman:

When it comes to criminal and shady global networks, most of us tend to envision either the Mafia, with its own rules and culture of omertà, knife-wielding, semiautomatic-toting Colombian or Mexican drug cartels, or ordinary street-level gangsters with guns. Contrary to these stereotypes, Turkish criminal networks consist mainly of respectable-looking businessmen (some of whom are among the top international CEOs), high-ranking military officers, diplomats, politicians and scholars. Their U.S. counterparts are equally respected and recognized: high-level bureaucrats within the State Department and Pentagon, elected officials, or combination of the two, who now have set up their own companies, NGOs and lobbying groups. When asked, people here in the States generally don’t name Turkey as threatening our national security in the fight against terrorism, nuclear proliferation, or international drug trafficking.

Curiously, despite highly publicized reports and acknowledgments of Turkey’s role in narcotics, the nuclear black market, terrorism and money laundering, Turkey continues to receive billions in aid and assistance annually from the United States. With its highly placed co-conspirators and connections within the Pentagon, the State Department and NATO, Turkey need never fear sanctions or meaningful scrutiny. The criminal Turkish networks continue their global activities right under the nose of their protector, the United States-and neither the 9/11 catastrophe nor their direct and indirect ties to this attack diminish their participation in the shady worlds of narcotics, money laundering and illegal arms transfers.

The “respectable” Turkish companies have bases in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and other former Soviet states. Many of these front companies and nonprofit organizations, disguised as construction and tourism entities and Islamic charter schools and mosques, receive millions in grants from the U.S. government to establish and operate criminal networks throughout the region. Among their networking partners are the mujahedeen and the Albanian Mafia. Clearly, having in their pocket high-level congressional representatives on the appropriate committees goes a long way to guarantee the flow of these grants. While the U.S. government painted Islamic charity organizations as the main financial source for Al Qaeda, they were hard at work covering up the terrorists’ true financial source: narcotics and illegal arms sales. Why?

Western Europe, followed by the United States, is the principal target of this massive trafficking operation. Yet most of these governments, including that of the United States, prefer to maintain a disturbing and perplexing silence on Turkey’s role and dealings in processing and distributing illegal drugs. Why is that the case?

There is also a strange difference between how this meeting comes about in Classified Woman and “Inconvenient Patriot”, the article which Edmonds tells us was thoroughly fact checked and sourced. I quote again how this meeting happens in Classified Woman; perhaps one of the most important meetings in Edmonds’ life, one where we might expect all the surrounding details to remain seared into her memory:

On the first Saturday in December, Matthew and I spent the entire day preparing and decorating our house for Christmas. I was doing my best to recreate our traditional holiday mood, despite the sadness and melancholy; this would be the second Christmas without my father.

That evening, while I was busy making dinner, the phone rang. Matthew answered. “It’s for you,” he called from our upstairs office, “Jan Dickerson, from the FBI.” I was surprised. A few days earlier she had asked for my number in case of a work-related emergency. I picked up.

Dickerson apologized for calling us on a Saturday evening and asked us to brunch the following day.

I thought a moment before responding. “I have to check with Matthew. We don’t have any particular plans, but there are tons of things to do around the house and I have five final exams in less than two weeks.”

“Even an hour would do,” she insisted, and mentioned being homesick before breaking the news that she was pregnant. I congratulated her, after which she suggested, “How about this? We can come to your house and take care of the introductions there.” At first I was taken aback but recalled my manners. “Sure … in fact, I’ll prepare some Turkish delicacies and tea; instead of going to brunch, we’ll have something here.” She sounded delighted, and said they would come by our house at eleven the following morning.

The call for the meeting takes place on a Saturday evening. She distinctly remembers decorating the house for Christmas. She is cooking dinner when the call comes. It’s understandable that all these distinct details would stay with her so many years later, given the importance of the call. Classified Woman was published in 2012; what follows is how the meeting comes about in Rose’s “Inconvenient Patriot” published in 2005:

In Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, December 2, 2001, was fine but cool, the start of the slide into winter after a spell of unseasonable warmth. At 10 o’clock that morning, Sibel and Matthew Edmonds were still in their pajamas, sipping coffee in the kitchen of their waterfront town house in Alexandria, Virginia, and looking forward to a well-deserved lazy Sunday.

Since mid-September, nine days after the 9/11 attacks, Sibel had been exploiting her fluency in Turkish, Farsi, and Azerbaijani as a translator at the F.B.I. It was arduous, demanding work, and Edmonds-who had two bachelor’s degrees, was about to begin studying for a master’s, and had plans for a doctorate-could have been considered overqualified. But as a naturalized Turkish-American, she saw the job as her patriotic duty.

The Edmondses’ thoughts were turning to brunch when Matthew answered the telephone. The caller was a woman he barely knew-Melek Can Dickerson, who worked with Sibel at the F.B.I. “I’m in the area with my husband and I’d love you to meet him,” Dickerson said. “Is it O.K. if we come by?” Taken by surprise, Sibel and Matthew hurried to shower and dress. Their guests arrived 30 minutes later. Matthew, a big man with a fuzz of gray beard, who at 60 was nearly twice the age of his petite, vivacious wife, showed them into the kitchen. They sat at a round, faux-marble table while Sibel brewed tea.

Now, the phone call takes place on Sunday morning, the same morning as the brunch. Sibel and her husband are in their kitchen, in their pajamas, sipping coffee. Now the Dickersons arrive only a half hour later after the call. Again, the vividly recalled details suggest something that has never left Sibel’s memory – yet how could this be if the phone call in which Dickinson invites herself over takes place at such two distinctly different times? Again, this is Edmonds speaking to Friedman about the Rose article: “And you know how they usually do fact-checking, after the article is submitted, by the reporter, well in this case they did triple fact checking, they did it three times, going back to every single source. And so, they really did their homework.”

After this meeting, the next crisis point involves a meeting with Dennis Saccher, the F.B.I.’s special agent in charge of Turkish counter-intelligence, where it’s discovered that Melek Can Dickerson has been labeling conversations affecting counter-intelligence targets, such as the Colonel mentioned at the brunch meeting, as “not pertinent”. There are three depictions of this meeting and what leads up to it – Rose’s “Inconvenient Patriot”, Infiltration (page 162 in Google Books), Classified Woman – and they all adhere closely in the crucial details. Before this meeting, Dickerson had arranged that each Turkish translator – Dickerson, Edmonds, Kevin Taskesen – would translate material from a specific set of sources. The Colonel mentioned at brunch and other counterintelligence targets Dickerson reserved for herself, according to “Inconvenient Patriot”:

To monitor every call on every line at a large institution such as the Turkish Embassy in Washington would not be feasible. Inevitably, the F.B.I. listens more carefully to the phones used by its targets, such as the Dickersons’ purported friend. In the past, the assignment of lines to each translator had always been random: Edmonds might have found herself listening to a potentially significant conversation by a counter-intelligence target one minute and an innocuous discussion about some diplomatic party the next. Now, however, according to Edmonds, Dickerson suggested changing this system, so that each Turkish speaker would be permanently responsible for certain lines. She produced a list of names and numbers, together with her proposals for dividing them up. As Edmonds would later tell her F.B.I. bosses and congressional investigators, Dickerson had assigned the American-Turkish Council and three other “high-value” diplomatic targets, including her friend, to herself.

This is the description of the meeting with Saccher, again from Rose:

On the morning of January 14, Sibel says, Saccher asked Edmonds into his cramped cubicle on the fifth floor. On his desk were printouts from the F.B.I. language-department database. They showed that on numerous occasions Dickerson had marked calls involving her friend and other counter-intelligence targets as “not pertinent,” or had submitted only brief summaries stating that they contained nothing of interest. Some of these calls had a duration of more than 15 minutes. Saccher asked Edmonds why she was no longer working on these targets’ conversations. She explained the new division of labor, and went on to tell him about the Dickersons’ visit the previous month. Saccher was appalled, Edmonds says, telling her, “It sounds like espionage to me.”

There is one key difference between “Inconvenient Patriot” and Classified Woman. In “Patriot”, the meeting takes place on January 14. Classified requires us to deduce the meeting’s date. We are told that the day of the meeting on which Dickerson divides up the conversations between the three translators is January 3 – the bold is my own:

On the third day of January I was hard at work when Dickerson stopped by my desk holding a legal-size sheet of paper.

“I’ve been thinking,” she began. “We-the three of us, you and I and Kevin-have been randomly reviewing and translating the incoming intelligence related to these targets.” She placed the paper in front of me. “This is not the most efficient way. Instead of doing it this way, we should divide these targets into three groups, and have each group of targets assigned to one of us. This way we will each have a group of targets we regularly monitor and translate.”

Two pages later, it’s evening of the same day, January 3:

That evening, Kevin called. He had waited until 6:30, he said, but Feghali was still in his office with Dickerson when he left. “I even wiggled the doorknob; he had the door locked. I could hear them whispering inside…. What time will you be in tomorrow?” I told him I would be there by ten. The situation was getting out of control; I decided to contact Saccher if this continued.

In the next passage, it’s now the next morning, January 4:

The next morning I arrived at ten o’clock sharp. I always started off the day by going through my e-mails and phone messages. Almost immediately, Kevin appeared at my desk, with dark circles under his eyes. He looked as though he hadn’t slept at all.

As we talked, I glanced at my screen and scanned e-mails. There was one from Feghali, sent the previous evening at 6:41 p.m., addressed to Kevin, Dickerson and me. “After reviewing your workload and projects under Saccher’s Counterintelligence division,” it began, “I’ve decided to divide the targets among the three of you, permanently. This will increase the efficiency of processing these lines.” Beneath this he listed the target ID numbers and the name of the translators assigned to them. I unlocked my drawer and pulled out Dickerson’s handwritten instruction: Feghali’s division scheme was identical to it. As a postscript, Feghali added, “Please do NOT discuss this with Special Agent Dennis Saccher. This decision does not concern him and I forbid you to discuss this with anyone but me. Also, from this point on you shall not meet with SA Saccher without notifying me first.”

The same day, still January 4:

When I got to my desk, my phone light was blinking: voice mail. As if connected telepathically, Saccher had left a message, asking me to meet him about something urgent the following morning at nine sharp. Now that was Karma! I thought about Feghali’s warning, You are not allowed to meet with your case agent, Saccher, without notifying me first. I shrugged and mumbled to myself, “Screw you, Feghali; you and the Dickersons are about to be exposed.”

The page after, the next day, January 5:

The following morning, only one day after Feghali’s e-mail and before signing in, I stopped by to meet Saccher at his cubicle. He’d left a message that he wanted to see me on some urgent matter. I had no idea what it was about.

This is the same meeting mentioned in Rose, where Saccher and Edmonds discover that Helen Dickerson is shielding certain clients by classifying their conversations as “Not Pertinent”, and Saccher calls it espionage:

With every passing minute Saccher’s face grew darker; his pupils dilated and he was breathing hard. When I finished, he jumped to his feet. “Come on; let’s go upstairs to the security department. Let’s go and check if Feghali ever reported this shit. I also want to check Dickerson’s personnel file. Let’s go …”

We hastened to the eighth floor, which houses the FBI-WFO Personnel Security Division. Saccher had me wait in reception while he went inside.

About ten minutes later he came back extremely agitated, nearly yelling. “There is not a single damn thing in her entire file, Sibel! No report, no memo, no notice-nada! Feghali never reported this. Do you know what this is, Sibel? This is espionage. It smells like it, it sounds like it, and now it sure looks like espionage. This should have been reported to me right away. Oh Sibel, how could you be that stupid? You should have come to me a month ago!”

So, this meeting corresponds in almost all the details as that of “Inconvenient Patriot”, except that it somehow takes place ten days earlier, on January 5 instead of January 14. There’s also something unusual about this date – January 5, 2002 is a Saturday (taken from What Day of the Week for January 5, 2002).

After this meeting with Saccher in “Patriot”, Saccher arranges for Edmonds and the other Turkish translator, Kevin Taskasen, to go back over Dickerson’s work and meet on February 1:

Saccher asked Edmonds and a colleague, Kevin Taskasen, to go back into the F.B.I.’s digital wiretap archive and listen to some of the calls that Dickerson had marked “not pertinent,” and to re-translate as many as they could. Saccher suggested that they all meet with Feghali in a conference room on Friday, February 1. First, however, Edmonds and Taskasen should go to Saccher’s office for a short pre-meeting-to review their findings and to discuss how to handle Feghali.

In Classified Woman, it’s arranged that they meet on the Monday following this January 5, after which Edmonds works on translations for four days until the meeting on Friday. The Monday meeting, then, is on January 7, and the Friday meeting should be very far from February 1, on January 11.

I took the elevator back down to the fourth floor and noticed I was shaking. I went straight to Kevin’s station and told him to meet me in the coatroom in three minutes. When he got there, I quickly explained what happened. He was to meet me in Saccher’s office the following Monday at eight without raising any suspicions. Feghali and Dickerson specifically were not to know. Poor Kevin looked devastated.

The following Monday I got to Saccher’s unit a few minutes before eight. Kevin arrived moments later and the meeting began. Saccher had met with his boss and the unit chief for counterintelligence. He then explained briefly their decision to collect more evidence before transferring the Dickerson case to the FBI Counterespionage division. He had confirmed, via his sources and informants, that Dickerson indeed had worked for and with certain target entities; and that she and her husband appeared to be part of a larger operation, a global network. The players included U.S. officials-both elected and appointed-and certain Pakistani, Saudi and Israeli elements.

Dickerson’s success in penetrating our unit meant that all of the targets already had been tipped off and would no longer be of value. More important, though, was that Saccher’s unit had lost any chance of pursuing the U.S. officials under parallel criminal and espionage investigations. Nearly everything Dickerson had blocked dated back to 2000 and early 2001-before she had gotten inside.

Edmonds then tells us what she discovered over the course of four working days, between Monday and the Friday morning meeting. As stated already, this meeting should fall on the eleventh of January, given where we are on the calendar, yet somehow this meeting is also on February 1:

During my next four working days, I spent time going over Dickerson’s blocked communications. Among hundreds of pieces, in every ten or fifteen checked, I would come across a mother lode of hot intel that no translator, no matter how incompetent, would or could ever miss.

We were looking at people involved in sophisticated networks and operations geared to penetrate our nuclear and military technologies and intelligence-that were then sold to the highest bidder in the global black market. This could be a government entity, another network, a front organization, or individuals connected with a known terrorist group. This was not about any one ideology or nationalism; this was about power and money.

We were also dealing with a list of dirty joint CIA and Turkish operatives in Central Asia, Caucasus and the Balkans. As the FBI pursues foreign terrorists who target our nation, other agencies carry out equally bad or worse attacks overseas. Stunningly, some of these black operations employ the same groups accused of carrying out attacks against us.

Within a week I had identified four explosive pieces of communication blocked by Dickerson and was almost finished translating them verbatim. There were hundreds more, but I knew these four were enough for Saccher’s planned “blast” interrogation.

Meanwhile, Saccher called to let us know that he had set up the meeting with Feghali for the following Friday, February 1, at 9:30 a.m. I stayed off Feghali’s radar until then. I knew how easily he could be provoked; and now Feghali couldn’t stand the sight of me.

Kevin too, despite his linguistic shortcomings, discovered three important pieces of intelligence blocked by Dickerson, one of which dealt with the Pentagon’s own network of moles. Between the two of us, we were ready for the upcoming meeting.

The discoveries here dealing with nuclear technology, terrorism, and drug dealing that are made in these four days would become part of the secrets that Edmonds would reveal in her deposition and elsewhere. There are a number of striking things about this passage. For instance, that her discoveries accord entirely with her earlier assumptions of the secret activities of the ATC and the ATAA. There is also the extraordinarily short amount of time in which the discoveries are made. Apparently, the suspects are speaking openly on their phones with codes that are easily deciphered, or no codes at all, thus allowing this vast secretive network to be picked out in less than a week. That people were supposedly using codes in these surveilled calls, and expected their calls to be surveilled, is stated explicitly by Edmonds in Infiltration. This inspires the obvious question: given that Edmonds was simply a translator, without access to the higher level deciphering of people who’d spent considerable time on these investigations, how was she able to determine what these various code words meant on her own? From Infiltration (on googe books, page 173):

Bad guys planning an attack do not come right out and say it, even in Arabic. In fact, terrorist targets know the FBI is listening in now more than ever, and they “make fun of it on the phone,” Edmonds says. They throw out terms such as “melon” or “wedding” when they mean something else to try to throw off agents. They also invoke dates and events of special Islamic significance. Unfortunately, very few agents and even analysts in the bureau understand the culture and history of Islam and the Middle East to catch the hidden meanings behind certain words and phrases. They rely almost exclusively on the interpretation of the Arabic linguist from that region, whose loyalties are often suspect.

The other striking point is the incredible non-specificity of the source of these revelations. Most people who do investigative work will be able to pick out a moment when after days, weeks, months, years of digging (most of us are lacking in the luck and skill of Sibel Edmonds) we have a fortunate point of eureka, a criss-cross connecting disparate areas or excluding a possibility, and which remains distinct in memory. Edmonds has nothing of the kind in what may well be the unveiling of the single biggest trove of secrets in U.S. history. The reader might contrast this with an earlier moment, when Edmonds discovers a conversation which might relate to the planning of September 11. One may well question Edmonds’ interpretation here, but she does refer to an actual specific conversation whose content might be interpreted, whereas the cluster of conversations that are the motherlode of secrets are never given a discernible presence. From Classified Woman:

One afternoon toward the end of October 2001, slightly over a month after I began working for the bureau, Mike Feghali stopped by my desk to hand me a box containing tapes and a thin file of paper documents. He said an agent from one of the Nevada field offices had sent them. The operation dated back to July and August 2001, and the contents initially had been translated by a language specialist in summary format.

In light of the events of September eleven, on a hunch the agent decided to send it to us for review: he believed something had been overlooked or not translated correctly, and if true, he wanted to be informed immediately and have everything translated verbatim. The agent also included in the package information obtained post-9/11, up to October 1, 2001.

“I’m sure everything was OK the first time around,” Feghali commented. “Just go over these and see if anything significant was missed.” With that he dropped the file and the accompanying tapes on my desk and walked away.

After a short lunch break, I switched gears. I put aside what I had been working on and started the new assignment. I decided to give a quick listen to the tapes and skim the package before typing, to see if anything grabbed me. Later, I would go back and start over again, if necessary, the tedious, slow translation.

For the first few minutes I was having a hard time staying focused; boredom had set in. The target was in jail, talking to someone in a remote and underdeveloped border region of Pakistan and Iran (I knew from the accent and dialect where they were from). They chatted about some real estate and bridge projects; all the requirements they had to meet and the schedule they had to maintain. The very short, less than three-sentence-long original translation basically said that the subject discussed inconsequential matters and talked about some real estate development. I thought it more or less sufficient and accurate. Feghali’s observation seemed to be right-so far.

A few minutes passed before something made me sit up at once, with the force of an electric jolt. I thought I had heard something that didn’t fit, something that was out of place. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I felt spooked.

I rewound the tape and this time listened carefully. Oh my God-there it was! The target was going to send the blueprints and building composites for the project: those buildings had to be skyscrapers, a hundred floors or higher, to fit the specifications. I looked at the date: late July, 2001. The region to which these blueprints, building composites and bridge specifications were to be sent was as primitive as could be; they barely had mud huts. How could they be discussing the construction of skyscrapers in a nomadic village with huts? They specifically mentioned skyscrapers. Also, the blueprints and building composites were to be sent via human courier, not by mail, FedEx, or fax. Why would someone go to that much trouble to send simple blueprints, building and bridge plans and composites? Why was a “trusted source” to travel around the world to deliver it?

I believed the agent’s hunch was right on target. September eleven attacks and skyscrapers; blueprints and building composites of skyscrapers hand delivered to Iran; the date preceding the attacks by approximately two months.

Now I was awake and alert. I decided to go over a little bit more before notifying Feghali and the agent who’d sent the assignment. I fast-forwarded the tape to the first recorded date after September 11, 2001, to 11 a.m. September 12, 2001. I pushed the Start button and went over it. Bingo! First, the target and recipient congratulated themselves for this precious Eid. (Eid is a religious holiday in the Muslim world.) I knew all the dates for Eid that year: there were no religious holidays in September. These congratulations were given one day after the 9/11 attacks. Were they celebrating a successful operation? I jotted that down too.

Within the same communication, on September 12, the target warned that “using men would be dangerous, not wise, after this. The next round had to be women, young women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four.” There also was a brief discussion of “channels to obtain visas in return for money,” most of them in the United Arab Emirates. Their network included people with connections and contacts in U.S. embassies there.

At this meeting on the morning of February 1, Saccher is supposed to be there, but ends up canceling at the last minute. Instead, Edmonds and Taskasen meet with Feghali and Feghali’s colleague, translation-department supervisor Stephanie Bryan. In “Patriot”, this meeting has Bryan recommend that Edmonds write up a confidential memo, which she submits to Bryan on February 11. The following day, February 12, Edmonds is called to a meeting with Bryan, Feghali and Dickerson. Near the end of this meeting on February 12, Dickerson threatens her family in Turkey:

Instead, Edmonds was ushered into the windowless office of Feghali’s colleague, translation-department supervisor Stephanie Bryan. Investigating possible espionage was not a task for which Bryan had been trained or equipped.

Bryan heard Edmonds out and told her to set down her allegations in a confidential memo. Edmonds says that Bryan approved of her writing it at home. Edmonds gave the document to Bryan on Monday, February 11. Early the following afternoon, the supervisor summoned Edmonds. Waiting in a nearby office were two other people, Feghali and Melek Can Dickerson. In front of them were Edmonds’s translations of the wiretaps and her memo.

“Stephanie said that she’d taken my memo to the supervisory special agent, Tom Frields,” Edmonds says. “He apparently wouldn’t even look at it until Mike Feghali and Dickerson had seen it and been given a chance to comment. Stephanie said that, working for the government, there were certain things you didn’t do, and criticizing your colleagues’ work was one of them. She told me, ‘Do you realize what this means? If you were right, the people who did the background checks would have to be investigated. The whole translation department could be shaken up!’ Meanwhile, I was going to be investigated for a possible security breach-for putting classified information onto my home computer. I was told to go to the security department at three p.m.”

Before Edmonds left, Dickerson had time to sidle over to her desk. According to Edmonds, she made what sounded like a threat: “Why are you doing this, Sibel? Why don’t you just drop it? You know there could be serious consequences. Why put your family in Turkey in danger over this?”

In Classified Woman, Bryan and Feghali are at this February morning meeting – but so is Dickerson:

As we entered the conference room, the first thing I saw was Melek Can Dickerson seated at the table. At one end sat Bryan, and at the other end, Feghali. Kevin and I sat together facing Dickerson, with our notepads before us.

Stephanie spoke first. “I understand there are some personal problems between the Turkish translators, Sibel, Kevin, and Jan. This is normal. Whenever you have people, you’ll have conflicts, misunderstandings and problems. These issues can be resolved through open communication; through dialogue. That’s why we’re gathered here today …”

I could tell she had no idea what this meeting was about. After all, she’d been asked to participate only minutes earlier. I remained silent. With Dickerson present I was not about to say a word.

In “Patriot”, we are given one explanation why Saccher is not at the meeting he himself called:

Later, Edmonds says, she called Saccher on the internal phone. “Why the hell did you cancel?” she asked. Bewildered, he told her that immediately after she and Taskasen had left his office Feghali phoned him, saying that the conference room was already in use, and that the meeting would have to be postponed.

Edmonds says Saccher also told her that he had been ordered not to touch the case by his own superiors, who called it a “can of worms.” Despite his role as special agent in charge of Turkish counter-intelligence, he had even been forbidden to obtain copies of her translations. Saccher had two small children and a settled life in Washington. If he dared to complain, Edmonds says, he risked being assigned “to some fucked-up office in the land of tornadoes.”

In Classified Woman, we are given another. The following takes place right after Edmonds returns from the meeting:

As soon as I got to my desk, I dialed Saccher’s extension. He answered on the second ring.

“What in the world happened to you?” I asked.

“What do you mean? Feghali called me as soon as you and Kevin left and said that he had to cancel the meeting and reschedule it for the following week. He had something important on a counterterrorism case involving one of his translators.”

This was unbelievable. I told Saccher what Feghali told us: that he, Saccher, had canceled the meeting for a supposedly unexpected field operation.

Before I could even finish recounting, Saccher cut me off. “This is friggin’ nuts!” He was yelling. “That bastard … that sonuvabitch! I’m going to see him in jail. Meet me at the fire exit-the secondary stairway, on the sixth floor landing.”

“What? Why there?”

“We need to talk,” he said. “I’ll see you there in three minutes sharp.” He hung up. Why there? I thought, baffled. I started toward the unit exit; then took the stairs two at a time, and when I got there, Saccher was waiting.

He asked me to go over the entire episode, including Dickerson’s reactions and body language during the meeting, and tell him word for word what Stephanie had instructed me to do.

“I don’t know Stephanie Bryan well,” Saccher went on to explain. “I don’t know if she’s trustworthy or competent. This is not her area. She’s only an administrator; she doesn’t know a damn thing about this area, about counterespionage investigations. She can ruin the entire case. Don’t submit the translations to her,” he added. “Drag your feet; bring it to our unit by the end of the day.”

I was exhausted, confused, and getting exasperated. “Dennis, I cannot take this anymore. As of today, she is my admin supervisor. She specifically instructed me not to submit the translation to you. She ordered me to prepare a long memo containing everything that occurred and everything I reported to Feghali in writing and verbally.”

“Okay, let’s go.” Saccher, angry now, grabbed my arm and pulled me with him inside. “We’re taking this to my boss. I’ll ask him to issue a direct order to Stephanie and whoever else in there. I’m going to tell him about this nonsense she’s pulling.”

Outside the office, Saccher motioned me to wait. “Let me go first. I’ll go talk to him; then I’ll bring you in, OK?”

I rolled my eyes, but did as I was told. I could hear shouting, a heated exchange; fifteen minutes later, I was face to face with the head of Counterintelligence for the FBI, a man in his early thirties who introduced himself as “John.”

This boss then tells Edmonds directly that she should stay out of this case, and tells her directly that it’s a can of worms.

“Dennis told me what went on there, downstairs. Ms. Edmonds, I have no tolerance for twisted game playing by your administrative supervisors. For years, that department, the translation division, has caused us trouble and headache.”

“Sibel is caught in the middle of this shit,” Saccher broke in. “Come on, John, it’s Feghali and Bryan you should be saying this to-“

His boss didn’t let him finish. “It’s not only that, Dennis, you know that … Ms. Edmonds, the bureau is already under pressure regarding the Turkish operations. The targets, as you are now aware, are connected to people in high places: State Department, Pentagon, White House, Congress … The activities have too many beneficiaries in this country-the CIA, weapons companies, military, lobbying firms, Congress, you name it. Now,” he continued, “on top of this pressure, we appear to have a ‘real spy’ problem, the Dickersons.

I don’t think HQ executives want to know about this; they don’t want this to explode. They have made it very clear. Saccher and I tried, but we’re being prevented from pursuing this espionage case. They didn’t say it in so many words, but I know the lingo. They want this to go away …”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even understand the meaning-the implications-of everything he was telling me.

“This is ridiculous!” Saccher was almost yelling now. “HQ’s attitude about this, the bullshit happening downstairs, Bryan asking her to keep translations out of our reach-“

“Drop it, Dennis,” John said sharply. “I have a bad feeling on this one, man; my gut feeling says this is going to be bad for all. On top of everything, I don’t want you to get dragged in the middle of the war zone in the translation department, you hear me?” He looked straight at me. “Ms. Edmonds, this is going to be a can of worms-a major disaster. I don’t want my good men, my agents, my unit caught in the middle of this shit storm.”

“Then what do you want me to do?” I meekly mumbled. “I’m being bombarded with instructions; which way do you want me to turn?”

“This is going to be a can of worms,” he repeated. “We’ll let HQ and the security division handle most of it. I’m willing to bring in Dickerson and put her under a ‘blast interrogation.’ That’s it. OK?”

I nodded, confused. Saccher looked like a bomb about to explode, jaw twitching, his face deep purple red. He shot John an angry look before escorting me out.

This is still February 1st in Classified Woman. The next chapter opens in the following week, on Thursday, with Edmonds dropping off the memo for Bryan. It’s the Thursday following the Friday February 1st meeting, so this takes place on February 7th, rather than Monday, February 11th in “Patriot” – “Edmonds gave the document to Bryan on Monday, February 11.” After submitting the memo, Bryan calls her in for a meeting:

The following week, on a bitter cold Thursday, I grabbed a yellow envelope that contained a small disc and two printed copies of the three-page memo and headed out. At work, I stopped by Bryan’s office to hand it over. She was on the phone; she nodded, took the package and waved. What a relief. They now had the facts, including incidents of intentional blocking of highly important intelligence and Dickerson’s role.

I turned on my computer and got to work. I had a lot to do: in addition to several counterterrorism investigations there was my ongoing Turkish counterintelligence project from Chicago and, of course, my ongoing Turkish Counterintelligence translation tasks involving DC. I put on my headset and began.

My desk phone rang about two hours later. It was Bryan, asking me to come to her office right away.

I turned off my computer, placed my folders inside the drawer and headed to her office. She pointed to a chair. Scattered across her desk was my three-page memo. Next to it was the pile I had turned over to her the previous week, containing selected translations of the top-secret intelligence blocked by Dickerson.

Bryan cleared her throat. “I read the memo. Thorough job, very disturbing; it’s worse than I expected. Great job. Thank you.”

I got straight to the point. “So, are you taking it to Frields today-right away? Have you sent the copies of the five translated documents to Saccher and his boss? They’ve been waiting.”

She cleared her throat again. “Sibel, you have never worked for the federal government before this job, is that right?”

I was at loss. “No, why?”

“Because things work differently in government. While private companies are concerned with efficiency, security and productivity, the government couldn’t care less. Of course, the jobs here come with other pluses: less work, more benefits, retirement …”

Bryan discourages her from pursuing any complaint. This is followed by an afternoon meeting with Bryan. She sees Feghali and Melek Can Dickerson in another office looking at her memo and various translations. Bryan says she will launch an investigation against Edmonds for producing the memo on her home computer:

After a long lunch, it was almost three by the time I got back to my desk. Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. I picked up, hoping it was Saccher, but no such luck. It was Bryan. I was to report directly to her office. Now what?

On the way over I had to pass by Feghali’s office. His door was wide open. I stopped. There were Feghali, Dickerson, and Feghali’s daughter-a special agent in the white-collar crime division and an attorney-seated around the table. On top of it was the yellow manila envelope next to the stack of translated intelligence intentionally blocked by Dickerson. What the hell was going on? Saccher and his boss were supposed to set up a surprise interrogation of Dickerson in order to send the case to the counterespionage division. So now the suspect, Dickerson-the person under investigation-is given access to the entire case, the memo and translations?

Feghali saw me and nudged Dickerson. She turned and gave me a lopsided smile. I made tracks to Bryan’s office and pointed toward the meeting down the hall. “What the hell is that, Stephanie? What are they doing with my memo and the translated evidence?”

Bryan shrugged. “Oh, that. I took the stuff to Frields per your request. He said that since Feghali and Dickerson are involved and accused, to go ahead and give them the documents and have them review them. They have the right to review any allegations made against them, and respond. He will review the stuff, together with Dickerson’s response and also Feghali’s, all at one time. So … I gave them to Feghali and he’s reviewing them with Dickerson. His daughter is here because she’s an attorney. She will advise both Dickerson and her dad. I’m sure you understand their need for solid legal advice.”

This felt like “The Twilight Zone.” “Have you told Saccher? Have you notified him or his boss? This is their area. This is not how the counterespionage investigation is supposed to go. They specifically requested-both from you and me-that this be kept completely away from Dickerson. And what do you mean by his daughter being present as an attorney advising Dickerson and Feghali? This is not a court case, for God’s sake!”

Bryan waved her hand dismissively. “Anyway, I asked you to come here for a totally different matter. We have decided that by producing the memo, the one you gave me today, at home, on your home computer, you have violated the security rules of the FBI. The content of your memo involves top secret topics, names and issues. Your conduct needs to be investigated; it may be determined that it is a criminal act. I had to report you and your conduct involving a breach of security to the personnel security investigations office on the eighth floor. The agent investigating you is Melinda Tilton. She wants to interrogate you immediately, today.” She then jotted a few numbers on a yellow Post-It and handed it to me. “Call her immediately-right now. This is a very serious matter and cannot wait. As of this moment you are under investigation, Sibel.”

All of this takes place in “Patriot”, but rather than happening all on a Thursday, February 7th, it’s split between two days, February 11th and 12th:

Bryan heard Edmonds out and told her to set down her allegations in a confidential memo. Edmonds says that Bryan approved of her writing it at home. Edmonds gave the document to Bryan on Monday, February 11. Early the following afternoon, the supervisor summoned Edmonds. Waiting in a nearby office were two other people, Feghali and Melek Can Dickerson. In front of them were Edmonds’s translations of the wiretaps and her memo.

“Stephanie said that she’d taken my memo to the supervisory special agent, Tom Frields,” Edmonds says. “He apparently wouldn’t even look at it until Mike Feghali and Dickerson had seen it and been given a chance to comment. Stephanie said that, working for the government, there were certain things you didn’t do, and criticizing your colleagues’ work was one of them. She told me, ‘Do you realize what this means? If you were right, the people who did the background checks would have to be investigated. The whole translation department could be shaken up!’ Meanwhile, I was going to be investigated for a possible security breach-for putting classified information onto my home computer. I was told to go to the security department at three p.m.”

Before Edmonds left, Dickerson had time to sidle over to her desk. According to Edmonds, she made what sounded like a threat: “Why are you doing this, Sibel? Why don’t you just drop it? You know there could be serious consequences. Why put your family in Turkey in danger over this?”

This same threat also takes place in Classified Woman:

From the corner of my eye I spotted Dickerson, heading in my direction. She came straight up to me and hissed, “You asked for it. What did I tell you about the FBI not giving a damn about it, huh? This is nothing. The worst is yet to come-for your family in Turkey. You can blame yourself for what’s to come for them.” She then named both my sisters and the neighborhood in Turkey in which the middle one lived.

After receiving this threat in Classified Woman, Edmonds declares that she will from now on document all her office conversations, which makes the major discrepancy in dates here surprising:

Back at my computer, I opened a new file and word document noting the date, time and conversation; I also noted the name of the translator who witnessed the event and what she said she’d heard. I saved it; then I e-mailed both Bryan and Feghali an account of what had occurred with Dickerson. I clicked Send and off it went: I was on record. From that day on, from that moment, I made sure all my communications-everything that occurred at work-were documented and witnessed. This was a battle.

What happens next is one of the most astonishing discrepancies between “Patriot” and Classified Woman. Here is the passage describing what happens after Dickerson’s threat in “Patriot”. I bold what’s the crucial part in the text:

As soon as she had returned home from the February meeting where Dickerson allegedly cautioned her not to endanger her family in Turkey, Sibel called her mother and sister in Istanbul, even though it was the middle of the night there. Sibel is the oldest of three sisters. The youngest was studying in America and living with the Edmondses in Alexandria, but the middle sister-whose name Edmonds wishes to protect-was enjoying a successful career at an international travel company based in Istanbul. The 29-year-old was also engaged to be married. Within days of receiving Sibel’s call, she flew with her mother to Washington.

This is what takes place in Classified Woman. I bold what I think is the astonishing point:

That night, after dinner, I sat down with Matthew and told him everything-omitting only classified details related to names and specific criminal activities. I unloaded nonstop, barely taking time for breath. I’d bottled up so much that now it all came pouring out in a flood. By the time I finished I was exhausted.

Matthew listened intently without interrupting. Although he knew some of the issues, he was stunned by the extent of what had gone on and horrified at the implications. He started to pace. “I think you had better call your sister in Turkey and have her pack her stuff and come here immediately.”

“How can she? She has a job, a career! She is engaged to be married next year. What am I going to tell her? Pack and leave everything behind and come over here? What will she do here? How long will she stay? I-“

He cut me off, explaining the stark facts. My sister in Turkey had been named. “At least your other sister is here,” he pointed out, “and I’m glad you persuaded your mother not to go back…. You know what they can do to you over there; you know there are no laws and no protections over there for either you or your family.”

Infiltration gives us something closer to “Patriot”. Again, I bold the most crucial text (page 162 on Google Books):

THINLY VEILED THREAT

Edmonds says Dickerson had instructed her not to translate certain FBI wiretaps involving the Turkish subject, explaining that she knew him personally and was confident that there would be nothing important to translate concerning him. When Edmonds refused, she says Dickerson managed to get ahold of translations meant for Edmonds and forged her signature and initials, rendering the communications useless to the case agent.

Edmonds says in documents filed in federal court that “extremely sensitive and material information was deliberately withheld from translations,” and that her supervisor barred her from alerting the case agent about the serious matter. Ferghali decided not to send the retranslated information to Sacher who requested it, she says. Instead, Ferghali sent him a note stating that the translation was reviewed and the original translation was accurate. He explained to Edmonds that sending the revised translation would only hurt Dickerson and cause problems for the FBI language department.

Here the story takes a bizarre turn.

When Dickerson heard about her tea companion complaining about her translations, she made a thinly veiled threat for her to stop. “Why would you put your life and your family’s life in danger?” she allegedly told Edmonds, a petite brunette. Not long afterward, plainclothes agents with Turkish intelligence showed up at her younger sister’s apartment in Istanbul with an interrogation and arrest warrant. Luckily, Edmonds had already brought her sister, employed by a major airline, and mother to Washington in anticipation of such reprisals.

When this threat is made by Dickerson, is the mother of Sibel Edmonds in Turkey or the United States? In “Patriot”, she’s in Turkey with the sister. In Classified Woman, she’s already in the U.S. With Infiltration, she appears to have flown separately or together with Edmonds’ sister because of the harm that Dickerson might bring about.

As part of their investigation into Edmonds, the FBI would seize their computer. This takes places February 13 in “Patriot”:

On February 13, the day after her interview with the bureau security office, three agents came to her home and seized the computer she shared with her husband. “I hadn’t had time to back up the data, and I told them that most of my business was on that computer,” Matthew Edmonds says.

A Review has the incident take place on February 13 as well:

On February 13, with Edmonds’ consent, the FBI seized her home computer. That same day, Edmonds also wrote to a higher-level FBI official about her allegations and requested to meet with him regarding her concerns.

However, it takes place on February 14 in Classified Woman:

The lull ended the following week, on February 14, Valentine’s Day, with a phone call around noon. It was Agent Tilton [Melinda Tilton, the agent heading up the investigation of Edmonds]; she wanted me to go up and see her.

“Sibel,” she greeted me cordially. “I did my best to persuade headquarters and Bryan. They still insist on a full-blown investigation of you.”

“Actually you do. They want us to examine your computer-your PC.”

“My home computer?” I asked, incredulous.

She nodded. “Of course, you can demand a court-issued subpoena, but I recommend highly against that. We, the security department, know there will be nothing there, but others, as you know, insist.”

“That computer is not mine alone, my husband and I share it. He has his and his clients’ data on it. After I typed the memo, I put it on a disc and erased the file from the PC, just as Bryan instructed. I gave you guys the disc and the only printed copy.”

“I know,” she said. “It will take us only a few hours to check the PC and confirm that there is nothing there, then report to headquarters. Let’s get this over with ASAP. You don’t want this ridiculous investigation hovering over your head. Forcing us to get a subpoena will only aggravate everyone more, and will drag this out longer for you.”

I had to think. “When?”

“Today. In a couple of hours.”

That her computer was examined is without question. What is significant here is the sincere insistence that it took place a day later and a very specific day, on Valentine’s Day, a vision as real as what is in the other accounts.

Edmonds would make various appeals over the next month. No description of her actually working is given in Classified Woman until her very last day, on March 22:

On Friday, March 22, I started my work at ten in the morning. I spent the day working mainly on Chicago files. Of the counterintelligence cases I’d worked on, this was by far the most intriguing and contained the most explosive elements: well-known Chicago political figures-including certain Illinois representatives in Congress-who were directly involved with targeted Turkish operatives, some of whom were among Interpol’s most wanted fugitives. I had placed most of my focus on files dating from mid-1996 to January 2002, as well as ongoing DC counterintelligence-part of which I was still going through, auditing those that had been reviewed by Dickerson. Since no one specifically asked me to stop going over those documents, I chose to press on-assuming I was still under the same order.

I went through and documented each thoroughly. On this day too I spent a couple of hours going over Dickerson’s cover-up, in the middle of which I hit a new mother lode. Five or six pieces of additional audio communications-all stamped as not pertinent by Dickerson-contained information so volatile that I had to bite the bullet and report it to Saccher’s unit. The information included specific U.S. persons, facilities and payments, all involving U.S. nuclear secrets being passed to foreign entities who then offered them to the highest bidder. In one case, the highest bidder who purchased one of these illegally obtained, highly classified information sets happened to be a non-state group with highly likely ties to a Middle Eastern terrorist organization. The players involved high-profile Pentagon and State Department figures, congressional staff, academic and think-tank-based individuals. The penetration went as deep as top nuclear labs, U.S. Air Force nuclear weapons labs and research facilities, and the RAND Corporation.

We might note again the lack of specificity here, and once again her astonishing luck, uncovering an astonishing payload in an even shorter time period before. Then, she discovered a nuclear secret theft ring over the course of four days; now she finds a network connected to the State Department, the Pentagon, and various prestige universities in six hours of work, from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon.

A Review of the FBI’s Actions has Sibel allegedly working very little after February 22:

On March 8, Edmonds complained that work she had been asked to translate had not been loaded properly onto her computer, and that FBI Special Agents had been waiting for the translations for three weeks. The Language Supervisor [Mike Ferghali] responded that since February 22, 2002, Edmonds had only worked one day, on March 8, 2002.

Again, according to A Review, linguistic resources had been reallocated away from Edmonds. She’d received no new assignments, and no temporary assignments:

On March 15, the relationship between the Language Supervisor and Edmonds became even more tense. Edmonds asked the Language Supervisor why the Special Agent who she assisted had not been in contact with her in over a month. Edmonds also inquired about her work assignments. The Language Supervisor responded that he did not know why the Special Agent had not met with Edmonds and that, due to Edmonds’ limited work hours and the need to have certain work assignments completed, he had requested that linguistic resources be reallocated. In response, Edmonds stated that in the past few weeks, “coincidental” to her reports of wrongdoing, she had received no new assignment and no offers of temporary duty (TDY) assignments.

Having looked in detail at Edmonds’ own varied accounts of her brief period at the FBI, one might question whether she is as credible and honest a witness as others claim her to be. That her account has not received greater skepticism is due in part to the very power of secret information. In Hillaire Belloc’s “On a lost manuscript” (from On Nothing and Kindred Subjects), he invests a missing text with powers that are almost mystical, its very non-existence allowing it to claim such virtues: “Much depended upon it; it would have led you to a great and to a rapidly acquired fortune; but you must not ask for it. You must turn your mind away. It cannot be re-written, and all that can take its place is a sort of dirge for departed and irrecoverable things.” We might speak of the hidden information of Edmonds in the same manner. Because it is unknown, it must truly be something like a vast map of secret corruption, and because of misunderstandings, willful or otherwise, various writers and interviewers seem to think she is restricted from letting us know all.

There have been two restrictions that Edmonds has had to deal with since her case became public. The first has been the State Secrets privilege, which can be exercised by the executive to prevent someone from introducing into evidence, in court, any information that might have a secret classification. It was the state secrets privilege that halted her suit against the FBI for terminating her. However, it was not used when she testified at detailed length at the Ohio Election Commission hearing on Jean Schmidt’s complaint. The other constraint was an order by the Attorney General which reclassified some material that had been made public by the FBI in a Senate Judiciary hearing on Edmonds’ case. This re-classification was reversed in February 20057. There are no obstacles to Edmonds speaking in public about whatever she wants, as freely as she wants. She would admit as much in “An Interview with Sibel Edmonds”, her interview with David Swanson. I bold the most relevant part:

Swanson: So I should ask, I guess, before I start, are you under any gag order? Are there things that you can and cannot talk about?

Edmonds: Well – that’s a very interesting question, David, because when the government invoked the State Secrets Privilege, it was specifically for the court procedures, so there won’t be any court hearings, and as far as the courts are concerned, my case is gagged and classified.

Separately, they invoked the retroactive classification order on Congress and this was for the Senate Judiciary committee in May 2004 – and the way the imposed this gag order – and I have to emphasize that this gag order was illegal, because in order for them to retroactively classify congressional investigations, the Attorney General for the Justice Department had to meet three criteria and he did not. But even though the gag order was illegal, at that time in May 2004, the Senate Judiciary committee complied with it, they complied with an illegal gag order.

But I’ve never had a gag order placed on me as far as the public statements, or any other investigative procedures are concerned, but as you know they have declared everything in my case, including my languages, and what I did for the FBI, classified. Now the question is whether this classification that they’re using is even legal, or justified. As you know the executive branch has complete control over the classification.

We might see the way this classification is cited as a reason why she cannot tell her full story, and then just as easily ignored in a pair of interviews. From May 8, 2009, on a podcast hosted by Scott Horton (transcript taken from “Sibel Edmonds ” Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton”):

SH: Can you not get with your ACLU lawyers and just sit down and write a book and tell us every single incriminating thing you learned, classified or otherwise to whatever degree, and damn-the-consequences and bring-it-on? Come on, Sibel.

SE: Scott, believe me or not, I would do that whether the question of can-you-or can’t-you is answered or not. But you’ve got to find one organization, and find one mainstream media, and that includes a publishing house, who is willing to do it. Just find one for me and I tell you what, I’m going on the record right now here, I will do it.

SH: All I’ve got to do is find you a publishing house? I mean, that doesn’t seem impossible.

SE: Well, it’s not only a publishing house, because what happens is, regardless of the State Secrets Privilege, all these people who have worked for the FBI, anyone, the agents, the attorneys, the language specialists, as part of getting that job, you sign documents saying that in the future, if you ever write anything, whether there is the State Secrets Privilege or classification, you have to submit your work for pre-publication review.

I need to do that, OK, I have already gone through several law firms and said ‘Here it is, and they looked at it and said ‘Even the most innocent stuff there, you are facing 60-70% of this manuscript – which is ready! It has been ready for quite a while – which will be blacked out. Now once you get the blacked out version not a single person will publish it. What are you going to publish?’ Look at my Inspector General report – 90% of it is blacked out. Nobody is going to publish a blacked-out book! Then, you are in this position of going to court, and start fighting, line-by-line, everything that has been blacked out, saying this was not correct, this is not truly classification, and challenging it.

That’s why I’m telling you, find any organization that would be willing to represent this because they look at me and say ‘Sibel, this is impossible. Especially with your case, this is impossible. It is a fight that you won’t win.’

Now we have Sibel Edmonds in 2012, promoting Classified Woman, in an interview on RT with Abby Martin. She now can seemingly submit a book to the justice department, ignore the fact that they never give their approval, and publish it unredacted. From “US government needs to keep the fear factor alive” (0:55-2:26):

ABBY MARTIN
Sibel, there’s been a gag order on you for years, and you’ve decided to come out now, why?

EDMONDS
Well, it took several years. To be exact, five years. To fight this case, or try to fight this case, in courts. And through Congress. And through executive agencies such as the Inspector General’s office. And basically, at every turn, I was further classified, in fact, the government, and this is during the Bush Administration, the Attorney General at the time, John Ashcroft, ended up invoking a gag order on Congress. They retroactively classified everything Congress had investigated in my case. So, after those six years, I was exhausted. I went away for two years, came back in 2009, thinking that we were going to have a new administration, and that we were going to see hopefully, come kind of a change, and that didn’t take place, but I started writing this book. And I abided by the justice department’s own regulations, the law, I submitted it to them, they had thirty days to redact it and give it back to me, and they didn’t. And they kept sending letters for a year to my attorneys saying I cannot publish a single word in this book, but they would not give us a redacted version. We fulfilled our obligations, I have, I have constitution on my side, so I went ahead and finally published this book, so it’s out.

Despite this, her book gives us only generalities about the vast network which has its tentacles in the Pentagon, the State Department, Congress, and various universities.

Edmonds is equally arbitrary in what she can and cannot reveal with regards to the Jan Schakowsky case. In her deposition, there are things she cannot reveal because she supposedly doesn’t want an innocent person’s reputation destroyed. The “classification I don’t believe”, I guess refers to the re-classification that had been repealed four years before this deposition:

Q
I assume that – -well, let me just ask you, and I’m not trying to put you on the spot. If you can’t answer, just tell me. Would you be prepared to tell me who the Congresswoman is that we’ve been talking about?

EDMONDS
I would have, and it wouldn’t be because of classification I don’t believe. I — if in case this congressional person did not bend under the pressure in case. I just don’t want somebody, innocent person’s reputation destroyed because I don’t know if this person complied with whatever she happened to be blackmailed later. I think I –

Why exactly would a classification that had been repealed in 2005 affect her in 2009? That she was utterly indifferent to an innocent person’s reputation being destroyed is obvious because only a month later she would freely name this congresswoman as Jan Schakowsky in “Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?”, her interview with Philip Giraldi:

GIRALDI: So the investigation stopped in Washington, but continued in Chicago?

EDMONDS: Yes, and in 2000, another representative was added to the list, Jan Schakowsky, the Democratic congresswoman from Illinois. Turkish agents started gathering information on her, and they found out that she was bisexual. So a Turkish agent struck up a relationship with her. When Jan Schakowsky’s mother died, the Turkish woman went to the funeral, hoping to exploit her vulnerability. They later were intimate in Schakowsky’s townhouse, which had been set up with recording devices and hidden cameras. They needed Schakowsky and her husband Robert Creamer to perform certain illegal operational facilitations for them in Illinois. They already had Hastert, the mayor, and several other Illinois state senators involved. I don’t know if Congresswoman Schakowsky ever was actually blackmailed or did anything for the Turkish woman.

Only a month earlier, in a podcast for her website Boiling Frogs, “Podcast Show #3″, Edmonds had said she could not get into the specifics of the Schakowsky case (32:55-34:20 in the podcast audio):

EDMONDS
You’re right, and you mentioned something else, you mentioned this process of hooking, and that’s exactly what they do. Now, the hooking can be via getting first some innocent information and then making that information level go higher and higher, money, and in some cases, just sexual stuff. In what case I had, I can’t talk about the specifics, it was this particular congresswoman, and she’s still a congresswoman, that this ATC and AIPAC related individuals, got dirt on her. They found out that even though she was married and she still is, and has a grown-up kid, she is also, she is bisexual. She also has interest in other women. And they use that. They actually provided a Turkish lady to go and have an affair with her, and they tape-recorded the entire relationship. Okay? Because in their initial attempt to hook this congresswoman for a particular objective they had, it did not work, had not worked, so they went to the next level, and said, okay, this is how we hook. So, there are various ways they go and hook people.

COLLINS
Any comment, Phil Giraldi?

GIRALDI
Well, no. That’s an interesting story.

Edmonds was able to get away with all this for so long because her eager listeners and supporters never considered any mistake or inconsistency to be a reason to question the whole edifice. After publicly naming Jan Schakowsky as the target of this blackmail plot, Schakowsky hit back hard, and made Edmonds look ridiculous. In “Schakowsky Responds to Edmonds Claim, Vehemently Denies Lesbian Tryst With Turkish Agent” by Brad Friedman, the Congresswoman would deny the allegations, writing that “A simple review of the facts would lead any responsible person to conclude that there is not a shred of truth to any aspect of this story.” Furthermore:

From the start, the fantasy is riddled with factual errors. It claims that an “intimate” relationship between a fictional female Turkish spy and the congresswoman began at the funeral of the congresswoman’s mother after 2000, however, Rep. Schakowsky’s mother died thirteen years earlier in 1987.

Furthermore, it is alleged that the “relationship” occurred in the congresswoman’s bugged town house even though she has never owned or lived in a town house in her life. Congresswoman Schakowsky shares a small apartment with her husband in a busy Washington, DC apartment building and owns a single-family home in Illinois.

You would think that such humiliating mistakes might cause Edmonds to reconsider her accusations, but this would be to underestimate Edmonds. That Edmonds’ allegations were horribly wrong was not the fault of Edmonds, but of Schakowsky. Edmonds’ letter of reply was quoted in full in “Edmonds Issues Formal Response to Schakowsky’s Denial of Lesbian Affair with Turkish Operative” by Brad Friedman. “It is an age-old tactic, when one cannot refute statements with facts,” wrote back Edmonds, “to attempt to discredit the witness.” This letter was titled, without irony, “In Pursuit of the Facts: Inviting Ms. Schakowsky to Join…” Edmonds’ letter suggested a child who carried a vast wealth of incriminating files in their head, which might be rendered real through sheer will – and Schakowsky’s rebuke was a rebuke of the power of imagination itself. It suggested as well a holy saint who had a choice of over a hundred ensembles picked out for her martyrdom.

A year later, when Friedman wrote “Sibel Edmonds: The Traitors Among Us” for Hustler Magazine (NSFW due to small ads on the side of the text), a plea for greater mainstream coverage of the revelations of Edmonds, you might think that he would mention Edmonds’ egregious failures in her knowledge of the most obvious facts of Schakowsky’s life, such as when her mother died or whether she ever owned a town house. This was to underestimate Brad Friedman as well. “Schakowsky’s office has vehemently denied the allegations,” Friedman wrote. “She has also refused Edmonds’s challenge to take a polygraph test and has not yet sued her for libel, as the whistleblower has challenged her to do.” If you don’t sue, and don’t take a polygraph, you could already be assumed guilty.

Edmonds was allowed to move her claims from the hazy intangible of possibility to firm certainty, through a lack of anything like a firm discipline of what was proven and unproven. A Review of the FBI’s Actions in Connection With Allegations Raised By Contract Linguist Sibel Edmonds, we are told, vindicates her completely, when it doesn’t. It finds a basis for the hiring of an unqualified translator (this is Kevin Taskesen) and a basis for one instance of abuse of travel voucher fraud. For other travel abuse allegations, charges of improper gifts, or an intentional work slowdown, it found no basis. The OIG report, it’s often implied, endorsed her most outlandish claims, when the scope of the report was very limited, as the report explicitly states: “Our review focused on the allegations made by Edmonds to the OIG, particularly Edmonds’ allegations regarding the FBI’s handling of the concerns about the co-worker, her allegations about inappropriate practices in the language program, and her allegation that the FBI retaliated against her for raising those allegations.” What the report has to say about the allegations against this co-worker, Melek Can Dickerson, is where there is a most conveniently selective reading. “With regard to some of Edmonds’ allegations,” the report says about Edmonds’ charges against Dickerson, “the OIG did not find evidence to support her allegation or the inferences that she drew from certain facts.” The report does stress that “Edmonds’ assertions regarding the co-worker, when viewed as a whole, raised substantial questions and were supported by various pieces of evidence. While there are potentially innocuous explanations for the co-worker’s conduct, other explanations were not innocuous.” The conclusion made by Edmonds and her adherents, but never made by the report itself, is that the explanations cannot be innocuous. The review would conclude that “many – although not all – of Edmonds’ allegations about the co-worker had some basis in fact.” This is the line that gives life to all of Edmonds’ later accusations, and it ignores the sentence which immediately follows it: “This evidence does not prove, and we are not suggesting, that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that espionage or any improper disclosures of FBI information occurred.”

There was the claim, heavily qualified, about Dennis Hastert based on Edmonds’ allegations of what she heard, which appeared in David Rose’s “Inconvenient Patriot”:

Some of the calls reportedly contained what sounded like references to large-scale drug shipments and other crimes. To a person who knew nothing about their context, the details were confusing, and it wasn’t always clear what might be significant. One name, however, apparently stood out-a man the Turkish callers often referred to by the nickname “Denny boy.” It was the Republican congressman from Illinois and Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. According to some of the wiretaps, the F.B.I.’s targets had arranged for tens of thousands of dollars to be paid to Hastert’s campaign funds in small checks. Under Federal Election Commission rules, donations of less than $200 are not required to be itemized in public filings.

Hastert himself was never heard in the recordings, Edmonds told investigators, and it is possible that the claims of covert payments were hollow boasts. Nevertheless, an examination of Hastert’s federal filings shows that the level of un-itemized payments his campaigns received over many years was relatively high. Between April 1996 and December 2002, un-itemized personal donations to the Hastert for Congress Committee amounted to $483,000. In contrast, un-itemized contributions in the same period to the committee run on behalf of the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, were only $99,000.

Edmonds reportedly added that the recordings also contained repeated references to Hastert’s flip-flop, in the fall of 2000, over an issue which remains of intense concern to the Turkish government-the continuing campaign to have Congress designate the killings of Armenians in Turkey between 1915 and 1923 a genocide. For many years, attempts had been made to get the House to pass a genocide resolution, but they never got anywhere until August 2000, when Hastert, as Speaker, announced that he would give it his backing and see that it received a full House vote. He had a clear political reason, as analysts noted at the time: a California Republican incumbent, locked in a tight congressional race, was looking to win over his district’s large Armenian community. Thanks to Hastert, the resolution, vehemently opposed by the Turks, passed the International Relations Committee by a large majority. Then, on October 19, minutes before the full House vote, Hastert withdrew it.

At the time, he explained his decision by saying that he had received a letter from President Clinton arguing that the genocide resolution, if passed, would harm U.S. interests8. Again, the reported content of the Chicago wiretaps may well have been sheer bravado, and there is no evidence that any payment was ever made to Hastert or his campaign. Nevertheless, a senior official at the Turkish Consulate is said to have claimed in one recording that the price for Hastert to withdraw the resolution would have been at least $500,000.

Hastert’s spokesman says the congressman withdrew the genocide resolution only because of the approach from Clinton, “and to insinuate anything else just doesn’t make any sense.” He adds that Hastert has no affiliation with the A.T.C. or other groups reportedly mentioned in the wiretaps: “He does not know these organizations.” Hastert is “unaware of Turkish interests making donations,” the spokesman says, and his staff has “not seen any pattern of donors with foreign names.”

Again, this is only based on what Edmonds alleges that she heard, and at no point does she even allege hearing Hastert. Yet when Edmonds was with Friedman on the Mike Malloy show, we had suddenly moved to unqualified certainty: “several FBI agents and DOJ officials, as sources, and some congressional people, confirmed to this reporter, David Rose, that at the time, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was a recipient of various briberies, and other illegal conduct.” There is no confirmation of any such kind in Rose’s “Inconvenient Patriot”. From “Guest Hosting ‘Mike Malloy Show’ (Wednesday)”, Part One (24:20-25:34):

FRIEDMAN
Yeah, and one of those folks is Dennis Hastert. The former speaker of the House, who has now gone to work for the Turkish government.

EDMONDS
Isn’t that amazing. Because as you know, in 2005, August 2005, Vanity Fair had a seven, six seven page article on this issue, and the fact that several FBI agents and DOJ officials, as sources, and some congressional people, confirmed to this reporter, David Rose, that at the time, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was a recipient of various briberies, and other illegal conduct. Let’s put it that way. And this came out. And Dennis Hastert didn’t do anything. He didn’t go and sue Vanity Fair. In fact, they didn’t really issue a real denial, and, as you know, he resigned a year later, and now he works actually for the Turkish lobby, that the Vanity Fair article named, as the place, one of the entities giving Mr. Hastert his bribes.

On a podcast on August 13, 2009, for Edmonds’ own site, Boiling Frogs, host Peter Collins and guest Philip Giraldi would also speak of the Hastert case in terms of certainties. “And some investigations have shown, that those small contributions that added up to a fairly significant amount of money were linked to Turkish interests,” says Collins, though no such links were established in the Rose article. “The fact is, it seems clear that Hastert was receiving large sums of money, in small bits, as you correctly describe it, from groups that were linked to the Turks,” says Giraldi, though no such thing had been made clear in the Rose piece or anywhere else. From “Podcast Show #3″ (27:40-29:40):

COLLINS
Phil, next I’d like to ask you what you know about former Republican speaker Dennis Hastert. He was a congressman from Illinois, and after Newt Gingrich resigned, and then his replacement Livingston, had a short-lived speakership, because of a sex scandal of his own in the South, then Hastert was this compromise candidate. He ended up as speaker for a pretty long time, I think, seven or eight years, and something surfaced in his last re-election campaign, which is, that he received large amounts of money, but in very small, individual contributions that fell below the federal threshold requiring full disclosure on who the donors were. And some investigations have shown, that those small contributions that added up to a fairly significant amount of money were linked to Turkish interests. What more can you tell us about Dennis Hastert, and his relationships with both the American Turkish Council, the Turkish Government, and with AIPAC and Israel?

GIRALDI
Well certainly I’d defer to Sibel on this issue, because she’s really the expert on it. The fact is, it seems clear that Hastert was receiving large sums of money, in small bits, as you correctly describe it, from groups that were linked to the Turks. Hastert is now working for a lobbying firm in Washington, where he represents Turkish interests. So, basically this is the revolving door in Washington, where you engage in practices that are pretty shady while you’re a congressman and then you get out of Congress, and you sign up with a lobbying group, and you work for the same interest, but it’s all up front now, and you make a lot more money.

Giraldi would also seemingly try to reconcile Edmonds’ shifting claims, even when they were in sharp contrast with each other. In Rose’s “Inconvenient Patriot”, we have this passage about the American Turkish Council (ATC) and Brent Scowcroft:

Sibel also recalled hearing wiretaps indicating that Turkish Embassy targets frequently spoke to staff members at the A.T.C., one of the organizations the Dickersons allegedly wanted her and her husband to join. Sibel later told the O.I.G. she assumed that the A.T.C.’s board-which is chaired by Brent Scowcroft, President George H. W. Bush’s national-security adviser-knew nothing of the use to which it was being put. But the wiretaps suggested to her that the Washington office of the A.T.C. was being used as a front for criminal activity.

“Inconvenient Patriot” was published in 2005, and here Scowcroft is portrayed as a figure untouched by this vast scandal, an unwitting cover for the ATC. In “Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?”, the interview with Philip Giraldi, Edmonds now claims that Scowcroft was working together with Turkish interests to wage war with Iraq before September 11, and split the country apart:

GIRALDI: So they were doing favors for other reasons. Both Feith and Perle were lobbyists for Turkey and also were involved with Israel on defense contracts, including some for Northrop Grumman, which Feith represented in Israel.

EDMONDS: They had arrangements with various companies, some of them members of the American Turkish Council. They had arrangements with Kissinger’s group, with Northrop Grumman, with former secretary of state James Baker’s group, and also with former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.

The monitoring of the Turks picked up contacts with Feith, Wolfowitz, and Perle in the summer of 2001, four months before 9/11. They were discussing with the Turkish ambassador in Washington an arrangement whereby the U.S. would invade Iraq and divide the country. The UK would take the south, the rest would go to the U.S. They were negotiating what Turkey required in exchange for allowing an attack from Turkish soil. The Turks were very supportive, but wanted a three-part division of Iraq to include their own occupation of the Kurdish region. The three Defense Department officials said that would be more than they could agree to, but they continued daily communications to the ambassador and his defense attaché in an attempt to convince them to help.

Meanwhile Scowcroft, who was also the chairman of the American Turkish Council, Baker, Richard Armitage, and Grossman began negotiating separately for a possible Turkish protectorate. Nothing was decided, and then 9/11 took place.

Scowcroft was all for invading Iraq in 2001 and even wrote a paper for the Pentagon explaining why the Turkish northern front would be essential. I know Scowcroft came off as a hero to some for saying he was against the war, but he was very much for it until his client’s conditions were not met by the Bush administration.

Giraldi is then asked about this astonishing contradiction on Peter Horton’s podcast (the following is taken from “Gigantic Scandal!: The Sibel Edmonds Story”), and he cannot seem to answer it, so he dodges the question:

Horton: Now when it comes to Brent Scowcroft, this ties in I think with Greg Palast’s reporting that James Baker and them had a plan for what he called “a coup disguised as an invasion,” but basically: get rid of Hussein and his sons and replace them with the next “Ba’athist Mustache in line” I think is the way that Palast said it, and that then the neocons got more prominence and did their Iraq plan instead after September 11th. But on the issue of Scowcroft being tied with Baker and that kind of thing, that seems very plausible to me, but I reread David Rose’s piece from Vanity Fair in September, 2005, about Sibel last night, and he mentions there in context of Scowcroft, at least as Rose puts it in the article, that Sibel said that she assumed that Scowcroft didn’t have anything to do with this stuff, as far as all this criminality and espionage and so forth – that he was the Chair, or on the board or something like that, but that all this stuff was going on at the American Turkish Council on a much lower level, something like that. I wonder, Phil, do you think that her opinion has changed about that or that these discussions that Scowcroft had about Iraq and Turkey didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the low-level criminality stuff?

Giraldi: Well I think that we are talking about two different things here. I’m reading a little bit into the story but the fact is that what Scowcroft and Baker – being former Secretary of State – and these people were doing, is that they were negotiating at a very high level: nation to nation essentially, they were representing in a sense the U.S., even though they had no legal authority to do so. The other stuff, the basic level criminality, yeah I would be awfully surprised if Scowcroft and people like that would get their hands dirty with that sort of thing, so I think that we are looking at two different levels. There are a lot of people in ATC that were involved in this process who were implementers and who were kind of spear carriers, the Marc Grossmans, the people at the Pentagon, and then there were people like Scowcroft who were kind of above the fray.

In “For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets” (paywall) by Chris Gourlay, Jonathan Calvert, and Joe Lauria, Edmonds gives us the name of one member of the nuclear secrets ring who was actually indicted and convicted:

Edmonds says packages containing nuclear secrets were delivered by Turkish operatives, using their cover as members of the diplomatic and military community, to contacts at the Pakistani embassy in Washington.

Edmonds also claims that a number of senior officials in the Pentagon had helped Israeli and Turkish agents.

“The people provided lists of potential moles from Pentagon-related institutions who had access to databases concerning this information,” she said.

“The handlers, who were part of the diplomatic community, would then try to recruit those people to become moles for the network. The lists contained all their ‘hooking points’, which could be financial or sexual pressure points, their exact job in the Pentagon and what stuff they had access to.”

One of the Pentagon figures under investigation was Lawrence Franklin, a former Pentagon analyst, who was jailed in 2006 for passing US defence information to lobbyists and sharing classified information with an Israeli diplomat.

“He was one of the top people providing information and packages during 2000 and 2001,” she said.

Franklin is an interesting citation of someone who was passing nuclear secrets. Franklin was a Catholic and a slightly ridiculous man who apparently wanted the U.S. to focus on regime change in Iran, rather than Iraq, and decided to try to reach the head of the National Security Council, Elliot Abrams, via AIPAC. Franklin gave his account in Foreign Policy, with “My Secret Plan to Overthrow the Mullahs” and he would be profiled after prison in Forward, “Once Labeled An AIPAC Spy, Larry Franklin Tells His Story” by Nathan Guttman. He was not working in concert with Feith, but in opposition to his policy of a war with Iraq. That Franklin was trying to shift policy away from Iraq and towards Iran is stated in two stories before Franklin’s sentencing, “Pentagon Analyst Gets 12 Years for Disclosing Data” by David Johnston and “Pentagon Analyst Admits Sharing Secret Data” by Eric Lichtblau. If Franklin were a spy, he appears to be an incredibly incompetent one, who received no lavish compensation for his troubles, instead cleaning bathrooms in Roy Rodgers and parking cars after his prison stint. When Franklin showed the secret document to the AIPAC lobbyists (they read it, spoke to others about it, but were careful enough not to actually take it), it was part of an FBI sting of these lobbyists, and the document was a synthetic one, dealing not with nuclear secrets, but “a fake classified document alleging there was clear life-threatening danger posed to Israelis secretly operating in Iraq’s Kurdish region”, according to Guttman’s “Once Labeled An AIPAC Spy”. The information which the two lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, were charged with disclosing had nothing to do with nuclear technology. “The indictment said,” according to “Disclosing Data”, that “the two men had disclosed classified information about a number of subjects, including American policy in Iran, terrorism in central Asia, Al Qaeda and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers apartment in Saudi Arabia, which killed 23 Americans, mainly members of the military.” There is no issue with disagreeing with Franklin or any of this reporting, but nothing in Lauria’s “West’s deadly nuclear secrets” even attempts to reconcile this image of a powerful nuclear secrets ring with the actual incompetent leaker Larry Franklin, supposedly “one of the top people providing information and packages during 2000 and 2001″ according to Edmonds, who doesn’t even pass nuclear secrets.

When I write of a “network” which Sibel Edmonds uncovered, I do not think it does justice to the vastness of the entity that she unveiled, an entity which appeared to grow more and more vast with each year. In 2010, Edmonds would criticize Wikileaks in a post on her blog, “On Wikileaks Strategy: Too Many Hors D’oeuvres?” for not sharing their best material first: “Based on the well-established and well-known mainstream media attention curve, isn’t it self-defeating and damaging to begin the cables release with a jumble of highly inconsequential and insignificant documents with little or no implications? Why not use the peak media attention period for the most significant and highly explosive information with even greater implications?” One might ask the same question of Edmonds. Why did she not use her time on 60 Minutes – note that this was in 2002, before the Iraq war and before the re-classification order – to share the astonishing bombshell that in the summer of 2001 there were plans to invade Iraq? That Dennis Hastert was selling nuclear secrets? That Jan Schakowsky was the target of a blackmail attempt involving an affair with a female agent? Because, what, 60 Minutes would have no interest in a sex scandal?

What follows is a list of all the details of this octopus which Edmonds has so far revealed, alongside the source in which they were mentioned:

  • Mark Grossman, ambassador to Turkey (1994-1997), Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (1997-2001), Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (2001-2002) did favors for the Turkish government and criminal groups while at the State Department, and was once paid off with $14,000 in cash for one of these favors. Grossman also helped maintain a network of moles in government labs and defense installations such as Los Alamos, in order to steal nuclear technology and nuclear material. Grossman also was a conduit for money and defense secrets between congress members and agents of foreign governments – Israel, Turkey, and Pakistan. Air Force Major Douglas Dickcerson (husband of Melek Can Dickerson) worked alongside Grossman in many of his ventures and had to leave Turkey due to the Susurluk scandal (an entry in wikipedia on the subject: “Susurluk scandal”), which had to do with government involvement in the heroin trade. Though she never gives the exact reason why, presumably Grossman and Dickerson had to leave Turkey due to their being active players in this controversy. (“Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?” and “For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets” where the unnamed official who set up a network of moles is Grossman)
  • that Marc Grossman told Turkish diplomats that Brewster Jennings was a CIA front used to entrap those trying to buy nuclear secrets, and warned them away from any dealings with the company. Brewster Jennings was in fact used by Valerie Plame as part of her non-official cover. Though Jennings had revealed the identity of Brewster Jennings in the summer of 2001, Edmonds would make this revelation only years after Valerie Plame’s cover was broken and knowledge of Brewster Jennings was public. (Brewster Jennings and Marc Grossman are brought up on page 60 of “Deposition of: Sibel Deniz Edmonds”, the exposure of Brewtser Jennings is discussed in “Leak of Agent’s Name Causes Exposure of CIA Front Firm” by Walter Pincus and Mike Allen, in pdf format as part of the inquiry into Scooter Libby)
  • that Marc Grossman led an operation where mujahideen fighters from East Turkestan were moved into Chechnya. This was done with the help of the Saudis, the Pakistanis, and the Bin Laden family. The other half of the operation involved moving drugs from Turkey into Belgium via NATO planes. Drugs were also flown into the United States from Belgium via military planes, and some drugs were transported in through Turkish diplomats carrying suitcases full of heroin. (“Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?”)
  • “We have been funding terrorist groups like Chechens. Any kind of activities that have been carried out, major ones, between 1996 and 2001, let’s say be major Chechen terrorists, were directly under our order, our funding, our arming, and our direction.” — Sibel Edmonds, on “US government needs to keep the fear factor alive” (6:25-6:43)
  • that Marc Grossman knew a journalist at the New York Times who would publish stories exactly according to what he and Turkey wanted. He would fax over a story and he would print it. An example was given of a story published in 2000 on helicopter sales to Turkey. I have found no such story. The closest that I was able to find was “U.S. Helicopter Sale to Turkey Hits Snag” by Raymond Bonner, from 1996. Bonner is an interesting choice for such a conduit, since he is not exactly a sycophantic lackey for U.S. foreign policy, having written Weakness & Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador, which is highly critical of the savage government the U.S. supported in that country. (“Gigantic Scandal!: The Sibel Edmonds Story”, an interview with Joe Lauria and Philip Giraldi, conducted by Scott Horton)
  • that the State Department blocked investigations into individuals and entities connected with Israel, Pakistan, and Turkey (“Interview with Sibel Edmonds by David Swanson”)
  • that Dennis Hastert got covert campaign funding via the American Turkish Council and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, made through small donations that would not have to be itemized in public filings. In return, Hastert agreed to withdraw a resolution which designated the killing of Armenians in turkey between 1915 and 1923 as genocide. (“An Inconvenient Patriot”)
  • Tom Lantos, the late congressman from California was part of a circle in congress which passed on defense secrets, with Lantos giving away the most. Lantos would pass the information to Israeli agents, who would in turn pass it on to Turkey, which would pass on the leftovers to Pakistan. (“Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?”)
  • Dan Burton, Bob Livingston, Steve Solarz, along with Dennis Hastert, were also part of this circle. They received illegal campaign contributions from the Turkish lobby, they received bribes in return for favors, and they laundered money. (“Deposition of: Sibel Deniz Edmonds”)
  • that Richard Perle and Douglas Feith would pass on information about employees in the Pentagon and the state department so these individuals might be manipulated or blackmailed for classified information. (“Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?”)
  • that there was a potential arrangement made in 2001 where the U.S. would invade Iraq and divide the country, with the U.K. taking the South and the U.S. getting the rest. Turkey was supportive, but wanted to be able to take over the Kurdish region. Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle had these discussions with the Turkish ambassador, while Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Richard Armitage, and Mark Grossman negotiated the possibility of a Turkish protectorate. (“Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?”)
  • that Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky was seduced and blackmailed by a female Turkish spy. The seduction took place at the funeral for Schakowsky’s mother. (“Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?”)
  • that professor Sabri Sayari of Georgetown University has a network of recruits who provide him classified secrets. Sayari set up a similar network at the RAND Corporation. “Professor Sabri Sayari in Georgetown University who has stole[n] tens of millions of dollars worth of secrets by actually recruiting people there” (page 206 of “Deposition of: Sibel Deniz Edmonds”)
  • that the FBI received in-depth information and advance warning of the 9/11 attacks from French intelligence, but chose to do nothing9. The FBI also received a warning from a reliable Iranian source, who in turn had source in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who passed on the information that Bin Laden was planning to attack American cities very soon, and using planes as weapons. Again, the FBI ignored this information10. (Classified Woman)
  • she would eventually explicitly state that she believed that 9/11 was allowed to happen by the federal government, for their own purposes. Q: “Do you think that the government purposefully ignored intelligence because they wanted 9/11 to happen?” Edmonds: “Absolutely. I would say certain elements within our government absolutely, intentionally, purposefully ignored and let it happen.”11
  • that her supervisor at the FBI, Mike Feghali, obtained his position through bullying and litigation, and sold the identities of FBI informants for cash (Classified Woman)

My intemperate reaction to these accusations, especially after seeing all the massive inconsistencies and discrepancies in the accounts of Sibel Edmonds of her time at the FBI, was astonishment, disgust, and a cold kind of anger. Do you realize, Ms. Edmonds, that if anyone had believed you that any one of these people had given away nuclear secrets that they might have gone to jail for about a century or so? That they would have faced a criminal prosecution that would make what you dealt with look like a lazy Sunday morning? That if anyone in the mainstream media had given credence to your charges that several lives would have been destroyed? Do you have any conscience at all?

At a more analytical remove, what we are seeing here is an undiluted paranoid vision, the paranoid sensibility animating all things. I write at a time when it is reasonable to think that Jews and Muslims will despise each other for all eternity, yet they found a happy elysium of co-operation in the imagination of Sibel Edmonds. In the book Infiltration, when Muslims aren’t enthusiastically celebrating September 11th, they’re secretly taking over the government. “Is Israel the Sole Determinant of US Presidential Elections?”, Edmonds asked on April 2011, and this piece was about how the other half of the pair was secretly taking over the country, referred to, without apology, as an usurping alien other:

It is pretty straightforward: Mr. President if you do A, we won’t let you get reelected, but if you do B, we will; yes, we have that much power and influence. The condition put on this one way negotiation has nothing to do with the topic I am discussing here. Period. In this case it is about Jonathan Pollard, the convicted Israeli spy who betrayed his nation and endangered lives. It could very well be about Iran: Mr. Obama you either attack or advocate for an attack on country X, and we’ll ensure you get reelected, or, stand against it, and lose your chance of getting reelected. Why? Because ‘we‘ have that power. Because ‘we‘ perceive country X as a threat to ‘us,’, and ‘we‘ want you to put your nation at war for ‘us.’ Now you may say, ‘hey, that’s a ludicrous empty threat! Give or take two percent of the voting population can’t carry that level of influence over a United States President!‘ And, you will be wrong; flat out wrong. It is true that the population of American adherents of Judaism was around 5 million, 1.7% of the total US population in 2007, and including those who identify themselves culturally as Jewish (but not necessarily religiously), around 2.2% as of 2008. But who ever claimed that these things are all about size, and that only size matters?!!! If you don’t have the size you go about compensating for it; don’t you? Well, that’s exactly what ‘they‘ have been doing, and doing successfully.

Good for them. Terrible for us whom I am directing this article to. This is about us, the American voters. You may say, ‘hey, I ain’t got the money, and I ain’t got the position or means necessary to influence the media. So I can neither buy politicians nor use the media marketing platform!

And my response to you is:  I am not asking you to. All I am doing here is letting you see what I see, and letting you know what is out there in front of us; that is, if you haven’t already seen and don’t already know. Then, I’ll let you decide for yourself: Do I sit back, buy the things the media is marketing and selling, and let ‘them‘ shape my vote easily? Or do I treat the media’s marketing campaign as I do Nike’s super performance ads when it comes to deciding on the candidate who will be getting my vote? Do I become enamored of the candidates with the glitziest and fanciest campaigns, or, do I direct my attention to the ones’ whose pockets have been left empty by foreign and special interests?

After all, it is your vote, and I am not going to spend more words or time trying to shape it, so please don’t let ‘them‘ either.

In the world described by Sibel Edmonds, there is an all powerful, near invisible octopus, which exists behind every facade, that is god-like in its power and god-like in its connection with belief. Tom Lantos was well known for his constant work to have Congress recognize the Armenian Genocide, yet somehow he is in the pay of the Turkish government – and though this very government is supposedly bribing other members of Congress to stop the Armenian Genocide resolution, they are indifferent on this matter with Lantos. To ask why is like asking in a theocracy why the planetary orbit calculations make no sense in a geocentric universe – in a theocracy, they must be made to make sense. If our prayers do not bring about rain or stop the flooding, the issue is not that prayer has no connection with these events, but that we have not prayed in the proper fashion. If Edmonds’ description of a blackmail plot involving Jan Schakowsky gets certain details laughably wrong, the problem is not that Sibel Edmonds has no idea of what she’s talking about, but that Schakowsky refuses to admit her complicity. That Edmonds continued to have listeners and believers after these mis-steps can be likened to a cult leader whose adherents find excuses and justifications for all the miracles that fail. Ron Unz wanted an investigation into the allegations of Sibel Edmonds. Well, Mr. Unz, you now have your answer. Sibel Edmonds appears to be a sociopathic fabulist. Did you ask because it was an answer, whatever the answer might be, you wanted, or did you ask because you wanted a specific one?

Sibel Edmonds told a fascinating story where agents were constantly detecting vulnerabilities in order to hook their prey. The essential vulnerability of the mark, as any conman – or conwoman – knows, is an obvious and powerful one. The essential vulnerability is their desire to believe, and keep believing. And the best conmen – and conwomen – are those who actually believe in their own lunatic schemes.

(Header image features stills copyright CBS Corporation.)

(Originally, this post said that Edmonds worked eight hours on her last day; this was edited on July 10, 2014, to make clear that she worked six hours, from ten to four, as she states in Classified Woman. In footnote #6, a link to a Times article on the original re-classification of material related to the Edmonds case was also added on July 10, 2014. The bullet point on Marc Grossman and Raymond Bonner was added on July 10, 2014 as well. On July 11, 2014, the following changes were made: the detail on the OIG report’s limited scope was added, as was the fact that Edmonds made the allegation that Muslim translators celebrated September 11 to multiple media sources, but not to the OIG; the point was added on the significance of Edmonds remembering February 14 as the date on which her computer was examined; the mention in Infiltration of Edmonds earning her Ph.D. along with supporting footnote #7; material from “Inconvenient Patriot” was added on the vote on the Armenian Genocide resolution, along with accompanying footnote #8; the section on surveilled targets using codes, according to Edmonds from the book Infiltration, was added; various spelling fixes were made. On July 12th, the bullet point on Edmonds’ statement that 9/11 involved a government cover-up, along with the accompanying footnote, was added.)

FOOTNOTES

1 These details on the Schmidt lawsuit are taken from “Jean Schmidt defamation suit in 3rd year” by Alex Isenstadt in Politico and “Schmidt Drops Lawsuit” by Kevin Osborne in Citybeat Cincinnati.

2 This quote is taken from “Ohio’s not-so-mean Jean Schmidt” by Walter Shapiro.

3 From “Jean Schmidt defamation suit in 3rd year” by Alex Isenstadt.

4 From “Covering Up the Coverage – The American Media’s Complicit Failure to Investigate and Report on the Sibel Edmonds Case” by Daniel Ellsberg:

For the last two weeks — one could say, for years — the major American media have been guilty of ignoring entirely the allegations of the courageous and highly credible source Sibel Edmonds, quoted in the London Times on January 6, 2008 in a front-page story that was front-page news in much of the rest of the world but was not reported in a single American newspaper or network. It is up to readers to demand that this culpable silent treatment end.

5 From “Gigantic Scandal!: The Sibel Edmonds Story”, a transcript of an interview with Joe Lauria and Philip Giraldi, conducted by Scott Horton:

Lauria: Well this is obviously the biggest question in this entire story: is this believable or not? And it wasn’t easy to corroborate that, it is very difficult to corroborate this, and this is probably one of the reasons the large publications – and I applaud the American Conservative for running this piece, and I think Phil did a terrific job in the editing of it is very tight, and I’ll talk a little more about that later – but I think one of the difficulties is corroborating what she is talking about. Either Sibel Edmonds is one of the great actresses of our time, or she has her finger on a story of immense proportions that is perhaps so immense that it is scaring the hell out of a lot of people. Not only the people involved, but people who might be dependent on people who are involved, or are, in all sorts of ways, tied to this activity, and lots of things that we may not even know about, that Sibel doesn’t even know about. This is one corner of perhaps a wide… who knows?… activities, similar activities that go on in our country.

6 From Infiltration, here is the mention of a recently earned Ph.D. (page 165):

Though her tale may sound like something out of a spy thriller, there’s nothing fictional about it, U.S. officials say. Grassley, a leading member of the Judiciary Committee and noted FBI watchdog calls Edmonds, who recently earned a Ph.D. and holds degrees in both criminal justice and public policy, “very credible…And the reason I feel she’s very credible is because the people in the FBI have corroborated a lot of her story” during closed-session hearings on the Hill.

From Rose’s “Inconvenient Patriot”:

Sibel enrolled at a college in Maryland, where she studied English and hotel management; later, she received bachelor’s degrees at George Washington University in criminal justice and psychology, and worked with juvenile offenders. In 1992, at age 22, she had married Matthew Edmonds, a divorced retail-technology consultant who had lived in Virginia all his life.

From the “About” page of her Boiling Frogs website:

Ms. Edmonds has a MA in Public Policy and International Commerce from George Mason University, a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology from George Washington University, and AA degree in Science from NVCC. She is certified as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and as an instructor for the Women’s Domestic Violence Program. She is fluent in Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani.

7 From “Administration Blinks; Admits Retroactively Classified Information Not Harmful to National Security”, a press release from the ACLU:

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department admitted today that information it had retroactively classified could be released to the public and did not pose a threat to national security. The American Civil Liberties Union said the revelation could aid government whistleblowers in their efforts to fight unlawful dismissals.

“The Justice Department’s long-overdue admission goes to the core of the ACLU’s allegations that the government is going all out to silence whistleblowers to protect itself from political embarrassment,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson, who is representing former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds in a lawsuit challenging her termination. “This is hardly an isolated case, as numerous national security whistleblowers can attest. The government is taking extreme steps to shield itself while gambling with our safety.”

A piece on the original re-classification of the material is “Material Given to Congress in 2002 Is Now Classified” by Eric Lichtblau.

8 If anything this understates this explicit overt pressure against this resolution. Elizabeth Kolbert conveys this pressure well in the opening paragraph of “Dead Reckoning”:

On September 14, 2000, Representatives George Radanovich, Republican of California, and David Bonior, Democrat of Michigan, introduced a House resolution-later to be known as H.R. 596-on the slaughter of the Armenians. The measure urged the President, in dealing with the matter, to demonstrate “appropriate understanding and sensitivity.” It further instructed him on how to phrase his annual message on the Armenian Day of Remembrance: the President should refer to the atrocities as “genocide.” The bill was sent to the International Relations Committee and immediately came under attack. State Department officials reminded the committee that it was U.S. policy to “respect the Turkish government’s assertions that, although many ethnic Armenians died during World War I, no genocide took place.” Expanding on this theme, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, in a letter to Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House, wrote that while he in no way wanted to “downplay the Armenian tragedy . . . passing judgment on this history through legislation could have a negative impact on Turkish-Armenian relations and on our security interests in the region.” After committee members voted, on October 3rd, to send H.R. 596 to the floor, Turkish officials warned that negotiations with an American defense contractor, Bell Textron, over four and a half billion dollars’ worth of attack helicopters were in jeopardy. On October 5th, the leaders of all five parties in the Turkish parliament issued a joint statement threatening to deny the U.S. access to an airbase in Incirlik, which it was using to patrol northern Iraq. Finally, on October 19th, just a few hours before H.R. 596 was scheduled to be debated in the House, Hastert pulled it from the agenda. He had, he said, been informed by President Clinton that passage of the resolution could “risk the lives of Americans.”

The letters from Bill Cohen and others from the state department can be found in “106-933 Affirmation Of The United States Record On The Armenian Genocide Resolution”:

Hon. J. DENNIS HASTERT,
Speaker, House of Representatives
Washington, DC.

DEAR MR. SPEAKER: I appreciated the opportunity to speak with you on H. Res. 398, the United States Training on and Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Resolution. As we discussed, I am concerned with the unintended harm passage of this Resolution could have on our efforts to build peace and stability in the region.

In no way do I mean to downplay the Armenian tragedy. In recognition of that suffering, the U.S. Government has a tradition of commemorating Armenian Remembrance Day each April 24, mourning the loss of innumerable Armenian lives and challenging all Americans to recommit themselves to ensuring that such events never again happen.

However, passing judgment on this history through legislation could have a negative impact on Turkish-Armenian relations and on our security interests in the region, H. Res. 398 would complicate our efforts to protect our interests in the region and sustain our positive relationship with Turkey; a strong and strategic ally.

Again, I appreciated the opportunity to talk with you about this important issue. Please let me know if I can provide any further information to you on this manner.

Sincerely,

BILL COHEN.

The letter from Bill Clinton can be found at the Armenian National Committee of America:

Dear Mr. Speaker:

I am writing to express my deep concern about H. Res. 596, dealing with the tragic events in eastern Anatolia under Ottoman rule in the years 1915-1923.

Every year on April 24, I have commemorated Armenian Remembrance Day, mourning the deportations and massacres of innocent Armenians during that era. And every year, I have challenged all Americans to recommit themselves to ensuring that such horrors never occur again.

However, I am deeply concerned that consideration of H. Res. 596 at this time could have far-reaching negative consequences for the United States.

We have significant interests in this troubled region of the world: containing the threat posed by East and Central Asia, stabilizing the Balkans, and developing new sources of energy. Consideration of the resolution at this sensitive time will negatively affect those interests and could undermine efforts to encourage improved relations between Armenia and Turkey — the very goal the sponsors of this Resolution seek to advance.

I fully understand how strongly both Turkey and Armenia feel about this issue. Ultimately, this painful matter can only be resolved by both sides examining the past together.

I urge you in the strongest terms not to bring this Resolution to the floor at this time.

Sincerely,

[signed]

Bill Clinton

9 From Classified Woman:

About half an hour later, Sarshar, Amin, and Mariana, a French translator in her early thirties, stopped by my desk. “Mariana here also has an interesting nine eleven story, a major case,” Sarshar began. “Come on, Marie, tell Sibel.”

Mariana didn’t seem too happy to be dragged into this. She rolled her eyes. “In late June-two thousand one, that is-the French Intelligence contacted us, the FBI, with a warning of upcoming attacks. They had intercepted intelligence that showed planning for attacks in the U.S. via airplanes. They also provided us with some names: suspects.” She sighed. “The FBI took it seriously; they sent me to France with a couple of CT [counterterrorism] and CI [counterintelligence] agents … The French were sharing everything; they gave us everything they had. Trust me, this was specific information. Later, somehow, FBI HQ chose to do nothing about it. As far as I know, it went up to the White House. It made it into one of their national security advisor’s briefings, but … nothing.”

I looked at her, then to Sarshar and Amin. “So … what you are going to do about this? We need to do something!”

Mariana shrugged. “It’s none of our business. I’m sorry I even talked about this case, I shouldn’t have. Nine eleven freaked me out. I couldn’t stop thinking about this.” She turned around and mumbled, “Just leave me out of this. The bureau may have its own reasons to close this case permanently.” Then she walked away.

These two major incidents were my first experiences with the FBI’s intentional cover-up and blocking of 9/11-related information, evidence and cases. During the next four months, I would stumble on other cases that involved similar blockings and cover-ups.

One such case involved a foreign network-from a so-called allied country-in the United States that was under FBI counterintelligence surveillance. Those communications I translated involved the selling of U.S. nuclear information, obtained by extortion and bribery, to two foreign individuals from another ally country. I knew, from a previous case, that the two individuals purchasing this information and material had connections to a particular terrorist financial institution with direct ties to 9/11 and certain Saudis. As the translator in both cases, I knew something that the agents in each separate case couldn’t possibly have seen. There was a connection they didn’t know about.

Despite my attempt to notify the two FBI field offices and the agents involved in both operations, the bureau, under pressure from the Department of State, prevented this or any such notification from taking place. Furthermore, they shut down one of the two operations to protect the so-called ally country.

10 From Classified Woman:

Sarshar [Behrooz Sarshar, a Farsi translator] got up and grabbed a file from his desk drawer, then came back and sat down. “Sit tight. What you will hear and see will blow your mind.”

Sarshar then began to tell me about the Iranian informant.

The story began in the early 1990s. The bureau hired an Iranian man who had been the head of SAVAK (Iran’s main intelligence agency) as a reliable source on its criminal, counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations and investigations. The man was very good at what he did and had established a large number of sources and informants in strategically important areas within Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Notably, he managed intelligence-gathering operations in Sistan and Baluchistan, two semi-independent regions on the border with Afghanistan.

Once on the payroll, he began providing extremely useful and reliable information. The bureau was so pleased with his performance that it began using him both as an informant and as an asset. On a regular basis, almost monthly, agents from the FBI HQ and WFO would meet with him in a location outside the bureau to obtain information and intel on various ongoing operations and investigations.

The agents needed an interpreter for these regular monthly meetings, Sarshar explained, which is where he and Amin came in. “Around the end of April, two thousand one,” he told me, “I was asked to accompany two special agents from the FBI-WFO … to a meeting arranged with this informant … We met in a park and spent nearly an hour discussing the case, asking detailed questions, and of course, with me translating back and forth. Once we were finished with the session and ready to head back to the WFO, the informant urged us to stay for a few minutes and listen to something very important and alarming he had recently received from his sources.”

According to Sarshar, the informant then proceeded to tell them, “Listen, I was recently contacted by two extremely reliable and long-term sources, one in Afghanistan, the other in Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan. In the past, these guys had provided me with inside information and intelligence that was extremely hard to come by, considering the tightly based networks and groups they were able to enter and penetrate. They notified me that an active mujahideen group led by Bin Laden had issued an order to attack certain targets in the United States, and were planning the attack as we spoke.” Here, Sarshar explained, the agents seemed very alarmed, since their main unit of operation was under the WFO Counterterrorism division. All of them took notes.

The informant continued, “According to my guys, Bin Laden’s group is planning a massive terrorist attack in the United States. The order has been issued. They are targeting major cities, big metropolitan cities; they think four or five cities: New York City, Chicago, Washington, DC, and San Francisco; possibly Los Angeles or Las Vegas. They will use airplanes to carry out the attacks. They said that some of the individuals involved in carrying this out are already in the United States. They are here in the U.S., living among us, and I believe some in U.S. government already know about all of this.”

The informant was asked about specific dates, and whether they would use airplanes, bombs or hijacking; did he know?

“No specific dates,” came the reply, “not any that they were aware of. However, they said the general time frame was characterized as ‘very soon.’ They think within the next two or three months…. As far as how they are going to use the planes to attack, your guess is as good as mine. My bet, it will be bombs: planting bombs inside these planes, maybe the cargo, then have them blown up over the populated cities.”

Sarshar took notes in Farsi and later translated them verbatim. The informant urged them to report and act on this immediately, adding that Bin Laden had backing and experts. “If I were you guys, I’d take this extremely seriously. If I had the same position I had in SAVAK, I’d put all my men on this around the clock. I can vouch for my sources, their reliability. Make sure you put this in the hands of the top guys in Counterterrorism.”

The agents discussed the best person to whom they should submit this warning and decided on Special Agent in Charge Thomas Frields, who was in charge of the WFO Counterterrorism division.

Once back at the office, Sarshar completed his translation and the agents filled out the necessary 302 forms for their formal report. (The 302 forms are used to report information gathered from assets and informants.) Two sets of 302 forms were filed: one for the ongoing criminal case and the other on the warning, as information related to counterterrorism operations. Sarshar coordinated with the agents for the final report and kept his own set of records. They submitted the warning report to SAC Frields with a note on the top reading VERY URGENT.

Nobody heard back from Frields or the Counterterrorism division. No one asked for any follow-ups or additional information. Two months went by. Around the end of June 2001, Sarshar met with the agents and the Iranian informant again. When they had completed their business, the Iranian asked about the warning he had passed along to them, now two months old, whether it had been reported to the higher-ups. He was told it had been. The informant, now animated, explained that he’d heard back from his source, who “swore the attack was on its way; any time now, a month or two, max” and asked point-blank, “Are they going to do something about it?”

The agent’s response was, “I know, I hear what you’re saying, man, but doing something about this won’t be up to us. Plus, we don’t have enough information to take any action here. We don’t know when, how, or exactly where. The only thing we have is: Bin Laden, five cities, and airplanes. That ain’t enough.”

The informant went on, “I’ve been thinking about this, trying to make more sense out of it myself. The source mumbled something about tall buildings. Maybe they will blow up the plane over some tall buildings? I don’t know…. Maybe the FBI can get more specifics from the Pakistanis, ISI. Have they tried? After all, they are your guys; and they know all about this.”

The agents, exasperated and impatient, told him they reported it and now it would be up to those in charge. When they were leaving, the informant yelled in Farsi, “Why don’t you tell the CIA? Tell the White House! Don’t let them sit on this until it is too late …”

Sarshar asked one of the agents if he thought sharing this with other agencies might be a good idea. As Sarshar described it, the agent rolled his eyes. “Not up to us, Behrooz. As far as the White House goes, the HQ guys will include it in their briefings; I’m sure they’ve already done so. Frields is obligated to submit what he got, everything he gets under Counterterrorism, to the HQ guys in charge of White House national security briefings. He always does. So, the White House and other agencies have already heard about this. Let’s drop this, man, will ya?”

He told me, “That was the last time we ever discussed this case before the nine eleven attacks took place. The only other person I told this to and showed the 302 forms and the translation report to, before September eleven, was Amin here. Then, on that Tuesday morning on September eleven, everything came back to me and hit me on the head like several tons of bricks … we were warned about this. We were told, very specifically.”

A very different version of this source and what information he gave in “As U.S. steps up investigation, Iran denies assisting Al Qaeda” by John Crewdson, specific page three:

The interview followed the standard FBI format. The agents posed their questions in English, which were then translated into Farsi. The Asset’s replies were translated back into English as the agents took notes.

According to the law enforcement official, “there was talk about terrorists and planes,” but no mention of when or where the attacks might take place.

It was the FBI agents’ impression, the official said, that the target of the attacks could be “possibly here, but more probably overseas.” The Asset also reported having heard a rumor that a plane would be hijacked to Afghanistan, the official said.

The FBI’s translator, a former Iranian police colonel named Behrooz Sarshar, does not recall any mention of a hijacking to Afghanistan. But Sarshar, then a career FBI employee assigned to the translation section of the bureau’s Washington field office, does remember the Asset saying the attacks might take place in the U.S. or Europe, and also that the terrorist-pilots were “under training.”

After checking his notes from the interview, Sarshar said that, in addition to sources in Iran, the Asset had mentioned picking up information from Afghanistan and Hamburg.

Sarshar describes the Asset as part of an informal worldwide network of former Iranian intelligence officers who have remained in close touch after abandoning their homeland for Europe, Asia and the U.S., where many found work with Western police and intelligence services.

Some members of the network still travel back and forth to Iran, Sarshar said, or maintain contact with colleagues there via telephone and e-mail while waiting for the revolutionary Iranian government to fall.

According to Sarshar, the two FBI agents who interviewed the Asset were not visibly surprised by his report. It was his impression, Sarshar said, that the agents weren’t sure whether to believe their informant, and that even the Asset wasn’t convinced his information was true.

A few weeks after the initial interview, however, the agents and Sarshar paid a second visit to the Asset, who Sarshar said repeated essentially the same story.

11 From “Government Allowed 9/11 | Interview with Sibel Edmonds” (5:17-6:46):

INTERVIEWER
Do you think that the government purposefully ignored intelligence because they wanted 9/11 to happen?

EDMONDS
Absolutely. I would say certain elements within our government absolutely, intentionally, purposefully ignored and let it happen. And they haven’t been held accountable, and what we have had, all the shenanigans from the 9/11 Commission, or the Congressional inquiries, none of them went into these topics, in these established cases. If you look at the number of high level national security whistleblowers who were censured out of congressional, so-called, investigations or the so-called 9/11 hearings, that includes people like the FBI, retired FBI agent Colleen Rawley, you’re looking at Anthony Schaeffer, you’re looking at dozens of people, who have come forward, they came forward, they went to Congress, they went to the 9/11 Commission, they went to the media, and they were simply ignored. And a lot of these reported cases have been established over the years, in bits and pieces, and that’s exactly what the establishment, and what the media intended in the first place. Not to cover it all up, purposefully and forever, to just let it get out in little bits and pieces, so you won’t get that needed outrage from the public, to demand accountability, to demand answers.

This answer from a 2012 book tour interview was a contrast to 2009, when she was on a podcast hosted by Brad Friedman, and she was far more cautious in her analysis. From “Guest Hosting ‘Mike Malloy Show’ (Wednesday)”, Part Two (1:50-5:32):

CALLER
Knowing the criminals that we had in the Bush-Cheney administration, or we had, in the Bush-Cheney administration, and many Americans questioning 9-11, I gotta ask the question, does Sibel…what are her thoughts on 9-11 possibly being an inside job?

FRIEDMAN
Thank you, Christina, I won’t tell your bosses that you’re listening to K-TALK instead of your own station. Thanks Christine. [CHRISTINE: Thank you.] Alright Sibel, that’s a question that comes up for me the most, 9/11 was an inside job. What do you think?

EDMONDS
Well, as I have done, for the past seven, eight, years, I have basically stopped with what I know firsthand directly. My own knowledge, based on my own experience, based on what I obtained, which is not a lot, but: it’s extremely important. And to answer the question, was it an inside job?, it would be first of all preposterous for me to make that call. But what I can tell you, is based on what we know already, and these are the confirmed cases, you’re going to have Colleen Rowley on your show [FRIEDMAN: Yes, coming up tomorrow.], well exactly, you look at her, her case, and then you look at the Phoenix memo, the other FBI agent in Phoenix office, the Phoenix field office, and then you look at the FBI agent Wright, in Chicago, and you look at that case, and I don’t know if you read James Bamford’s latest book, what we obtained from Yemen, and I say “obtained” before September 11, because we were following two of these hijackers in- are you there? [FRIEDMAN: Yes.] Yemen, you put all this information that came from various agencies in one place, and you look at it, and you say, wow, you know it’s very easy to write things off when you have one or two slip-ups, you know, attribute certain things to bureaucratic bungling, but it goes beyond that. Now, what is that? Now, I wouldn’t be able to answer that question, but what I did answer is, we had that 9/11 Commission that was formed, and first we had Henry Kissinger appointed chairman of it [laughs], which tells you what they had in mind, what kind of commission they had in mind, which was going to be cosmetic, it was pretty obvious. And then we had the final commission, a bunch of people with conflict of interests, and we didn’t get anything, as you see, people have been gagged, a lot of things have been classified, and you would think, why would people go so far to cover up bureaucratic bungling? Again, this doesn’t mean, hey, this was an inside job, but what it tells you is there are a lot of things that we don’t know, there are a lot of things that they, the government, our government, the establishment, don’t want us to know. I mean, the recent thing that just came out, with the case against Saudi Arabia, with the 9/11 family members, well, today or yesterday, it made it to the front page of the New York Times, with Eric Lichtblau, okay, so now the government, our government, the justice department under Obama, is going again and saying “no, you can’t get this information,” because he wants to protect Saudi Arabia. Well, protect against what? So, those are the questions that have not been answered and those questions that have been answered, nothing has been done about it, and no explanation has been given to us, so we have all these issues, and there is no simple answer, but one simple answer is, yes, we are facing a lot of cover-up. And I want to know why, and I’m sure you want to know why too.

FRIEDMAN
Nah, I don’t really care. [they both laugh]

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Bruce Fein Interviewed by Ian Masters: A Transcript, With Interruptions

(Once again, something is written here that is far too long. What follows is missing one last insert that – how can one avoid being melodramatic? – contains the most astonishing material. It will only arrive by July 2nd – this post will no doubt have to be broken in two, as there is just so much additional material. This second, last, part will arrive only by July 4th at the earliest, due to additional accompanying research.)

What follows is the result of one of many idle moments while researching a very long piece, when one delves into banalities in an attempt to escape your work and expend as little energy as possible. I looked, as I often do, at the search terms by which people get to this site. There was the ever present question, “whatever happened to helena kallionotes?” (the post which mentions and praises her, “Nicholas Roeg’s Eureka”, provides no answer), the perennial “morgue female corpse” and its dutiful companion, “beautiful dead woman morgue” (both of which end up not at the inevitable fate of us all, but at “Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story Part Three”, which features a distorted picture of the mortal beloved), “andy kaufman wrestling orgies” (“Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers: The Future of Advertising”, those whores), the intriguing “women masturbate in the dark and scary places” most likely leads to “Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan: Traumanovelle” and the practical minded but melancholy “how to know if hymen has been broken” no doubt ends up there as well.

It was the search for “mahtaub lolavar” which incited all that happened next, as I immediately wondered what had prompted interest in this fascinating, marginal character I’d once written about. Her path had crossed with that figure of shadowy and over-rated menace, political operative and troublemaker Roger Stone. This post in the ten part series, “Roger Stone: Pretty Reckless is Going Straight to Hell Part Six”, described the brief period when Stone was part of the lobby shop Ikon Public Affairs. Her name then wasn’t quite Mahtaub Lolavar, but Mattie Fein, and her consulting firm, Triumph Communications, were brought in for work on two contracts. And then she was dropped. And then she sued them: Lolavar v. de Santibañes, a lawsuit eventually dismissed on grounds of jurisdiction. The Santibañes at the heart of the suit was Fernando de Santibañes, the Secretary of Intelligence of Argentina, who was the man at the center of the second contract. Lolavar alleged that Ikon had asked that she obtain from SIDE, the Argentine intelligence agency, a list of journalists known to have taken bribes and then disseminate the information, all in order to counteract a bribery scandal involving the country’s president, Fernando de la Rua, and Santibañes. She was also supposed to make payments in order to obtain information from Israeli intelligence, which she would then alter to appear as coming from SIDE, information which would be used in some of Rua’s fights with his political rival, Dr. Carlos Menem – again, allegedly1. She would go on to start the Institute for Persian Studies, which was a think tank designed to shape the government of Iran following internal regime change. This institute was founded by Mattie Fein, but when she was interviewed by Spencer Ackerman about the project, “New Iran Regime-Change Think Tank Opens in DC”, she was now Mahtaub Hojjati. The think tank would fold, and in 2010, Mahtaub Hojjati would go on to run, and lose, against Jane Harman in California’s 36th congressional district – though she was now running under the name Mattie Fein. The race would produce this memorable ad, where she accused Harman of being the boyfriend of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, though she refrained from saying Harman had cooties:

Mattie Fein would end her appearance on this site with the kind of exit that is my weakness, the enigmatic baroque. Her ex-husband was Bruce Fein, a lawyer who would achieve his greatest prominence working on Rand Paul’s lawsuit against the NSA – though a large chunk of this was unwanted. It came about after his wife accused Ken Cuccinelli, another lawyer in the suit, of stealing her husband’s material. “I am aghast and shocked by Ken Cuccinelli’s behavior and his absolute knowledge that this entire complaint was the work product, intellectual property and legal genius of Bruce Fein,” Mattie Fein would tell Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank. “Ken Cuccinelli stole the suit,” she’d add. And: that Rand Paul “already has one plagiarism issue, now has a lawyer who just takes another lawyer’s work product.” Cuccinelli was the former attorney general and hardline pro-lifer who’d just lost the governor’s race in Virginia. Cuccinelli isn’t a member of the D.C. bar, and has never even argued a case in its District Court. Milbank would cite uncanny similarities between the Fein and Cuccinelli drafts of the complaint, ones that couldn’t be explained away by coincidence, only willed migration from one text to the other. Ken Cuccinelli, Mattie Fein wrote, is “dumb as a box of rocks.”2

Mattie Fein was a mysterious figure, and Bruce Fein was as well. “GOP lawyer drafts Obama impeachment” by Ben Smith, about Fein’s efforts to impeach the president over the war in Libya, described him as “a prominent libertarian constitutional lawyer and civil libertarian”, a “small-government conservative”, and someone whose “work doesn’t represent the Republican Party line.” All this gave a distorted, if not utterly wrong, picture of Fein, and it was left to the fringes to correct it: “Libertarian Bum Fights (paywall)” by Mark Ames, depicted someone who often had no problem with violations of civil liberties or the big government war state. This profile helpfully pointed the reader in the direction of several past editorials by Fein. When Time magazine reporter Marc Cooper and “Meet the Press” host balked at the possibility of revealing sources to justice officials in relation to the Valerie Plame leak, Fein had no sympathy. “The free press defense to the subpoenas advanced by Messrs. Cooper and Russert was that confidential sources are indispensable to investigative journalism,” he wrote in “Losing sight of free press aims”. “But the assertion is dubious, and in any event should bow in a narrow category of cases where the sources themselves are government officials implicated in national security crimes.” In “AIDS in the workplace; The Administration’s impeccable logic”, he argued against workplace protections which would protect those suffering from AIDS and HIV from being dismissed because of their illness. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, he treated the revulsion as a hysterical reaction to a small and isolated instance of maltreatment. From “Abuse Hype”: “Wartime medals celebrate killing and capturing the enemy, not spotless records of compliance with the Geneva Convention or requests from the International Committee of the Red Cross,” he writes. “These contextual facts should make the microscopic number of detainee abuses a source of satisfaction with a stimulus for improvement, not a provocation for self-righteous sermonizing.” It was “Terrorism’s murky origins” in June 21, 2004 which gave his blunt force attitude towards the war on terror: “At present, little is known of the circumstances which give birth to terrorists,” he wrote. “Until this dearth of knowledge is overcome, the best way to handcuff terrorism is by killing, capturing and punishing terrorists period, with no commas, semicolons or question marks.”

“Bum Fights” would list a number of disreputable clients of Fein, including Sudan and the tobacco lobby. His firm, the Lichfield Group, once listed its work with the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security, and boasted of its high level connections with the CIA on its website. After transforming himself into a Ron Paul libertarian who worked as a consultant on his campaign in 2008 and 2012, these sections of his site would be scrubbed3. Bruce Fein was a former executive editor of “The World Intelligence Review”, an intelligence publication whose purpose was to boast the image of the CIA. In “Roger Stone: Pretty Reckless Is Going Straight To Hell Part Nine”, I touched on the fact that political consultant Roger Stone appeared to be playing a double role, outwardly a born again libertarian, inwardly perhaps trying to use the libertarian party in 2012 to effect a vote split and thereby pull off a win for Mitt Romney, a strange episode to which “Roger Stone: Pretty Reckless Is Going Straight To Hell Part Eight” is devoted. At the time, I thought I saw some of this same duality in Bruce Fein:

That he often appears to have no connection to any position, except his own practical interest, makes one wonder if perhaps Stone might not have been playing a true role as a consultant for the Gary Johnson campaign, but rather, attempting to achieve the very opposite, a split vote to bring about a victory for Mitt Romney. There is the equal question of Bruce Fein, who took a very hard right position with regards to war and foreign intervention, a commaless approach to capturing and killing terrorists, before suddenly changing position and demanding that Dick Cheney be brought to trial. He works as a consultant for Ron Paul, a lawyer for Lon Snowdon, Edward’s father, and works on Rand Paul’s lawsuit against the NSA – though at two crucial points, there are outbursts that seemingly sabotage the proceedings. He expresses suspicion that Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange may be exploiting Snowden. He and his wife accuse Rand Paul of plagiarism. His wife, Mattie Fein (also known as Mattie Lolavar), has an equally strange history, heading up a think tank whose purpose was setting up a government in Iran after a regime change, and who was allegedly part of a political operation with Roger Stone’s consulting firm, IKON, which involved obtaining information from Israeli intelligence, while at the same time making sure never to attribute the information from this source. We might ask if Bruce Fein is also playing a dual role, a man who is a mole within the anti-surveillance community, attempting to cripple it from within. This question does not arise, I think, out of paranoia, but a secrecy as plentiful and ever present as oxygen, placing all characters under suspicion – is this person’s outward intent in fact obscuring the actual intent, an intent that is entirely its inverse?

“The obscurity surrounding Roger Stone is the vast force of secret money now ever present in elections,” I added. “The secrecy that surrounds Bruce Fein is that of the defense industry and the surveillance state.” These contexts rendered all characters within mysterious. So, this is what had taken place before I casually searched for “mahtaub lolavar”, wondering why someone was interested in her now, and one of the first results was Bruce Fein’s twitter feed (@BruceFeinEsq), where he brings her name up constantly, and always calls her a slut4:

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/482132989972074497

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/481928736359477249

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/481615932021047296

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/481383993292902400

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/481065322544238592

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/481036879698345984

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/480524980183396352

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/480513630195445760

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/479599517520908288

The feed also features various maxims and lessons, with this one standing out a little incongruously amongst the various attacks on his wife5:

What exactly had incited all this was unknown. “What’s with all the slut shaming, Bruce?,” tweeted one of his followers. “Seems beneath you…has someone hijacked your Twitter account?”5 His account hadn’t been hijacked – these tweets went on and on, for several days. In a 2013 Washington Post profile, “In the Snowden case, Bruce Fein finds the apex of a long Washington legal career” by T.R. Goldman, Mattie Fein is referred to as his wife in name only. In another place, there was evidence that she was not even his wife in name only, that they had divorced years ago, and that he despised her then. From an October 5, 2010 post in a thread on a Ron Paul board, “Bruce Fein is awesome”, the awesome Bruce Fein’s now extinct Facebook page is quoted: “Today, I am celebrating the anniversary of my divorce from Mattie Lolavar, which lifted an incubus and removed gangrene from my daily matrimonial torture and torment.” The plagiarism scandal now looked more like it was a business partnership gone awry than anything else, the squalor of petty squabbling. Maybe Bruce Fein was willing to eat shit and take a lower rung on the ladder while his ex-wife felt they should have a place higher up in the totem pole. “Mattie Lolavar was not speaking for me,” Fein wrote after the scandal broke. “Her quotes were her own and did not represent my views. I was working on a legal team, and have been paid for my work.”6 Maybe Mattie Fein wanted to spoil her husband’s big moment. If there was one tweet which evoked the humiliations of marriage and divorce, and annihilated the nimbus of secret malevolent power it was this one. There was a comfortable familiarity to this – despite a well-known phrase that is often read without irony, unhappy marriages are often startlingly alike7:

It was during these searches that I came across a recent interview with Ian Masters for his excellent program, Background Briefing. What follows is taken from the episode “April 27 – Putin’s Hidden Fortune; The 20th Anniversary of the End of Apartheid – South Africa’s Freedom Day; The Rise of Rand Paul and Libertarian Activism on American Campuses”, a transcript of Fein’s segment dealing with libertarian activism, broken by my own occasional inconvenient interruptions:

MASTERS
Welcome back. I’m Ian Masters, and this is Background Briefing. And joining me in the studio is Bruce Fein, who’s a constitutional lawyer and formerly served as associate deputy attorney general under the Reagan Administration, general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission, research director for the Joint Congressional Committee on Covert Arms Sales to Iran, and a member of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements. He has authored several volumes on the United States Supreme Court, the United States Constitution and International Law, and helped write the articles of impeachment for President Nixon and President Clinton. Bruce Fein is the author of Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle of Our Constitution and Democracy, and his latest book is American Empire: Before The Fall. He has been a senior policy advisor to the Ron Paul 2012 campaign and was up to recently the lawyer for Edward Snowden’s father, Lon. Welcome to Background Briefing, Bruce Fein.

FEIN
Thank you for inviting me, Ian.

MASTERS
And let’s start with Edward Snowden. I know that you were the lawyer for his father, and the father was trying, in effect, save the son from himself. In the sense that, he wanted to work out some kind of deal to protect his son from the fact that he’s obviously something of an international pariah, and effectively wanted by the United States government, and living under the protection of Vladimir Putin, with whom he shared the stage the other day at a very staged event that Putin does every year, a phone-in show where the giddy announcer says “Vladimir! Vladimirovitch! We have a surprise guest for you!” And then it was Edward Snowden, and they had a very softball conversation-

FEIN
I don’t think there’s anything surprising that happens under Vladimir Putin’s watch. It’s all scripted. I think, Ian, it may be an overstatement to say that Edward Snowden is an international pariah, I think he’s achieved kudos in many countries, certainly Germany and the European Union, he’s received nominations even as the Nobel Prize winner. So I think the attitude is quite mixed.

MASTERS
Oh it is. I didn’t mean to suggest- I didn’t mean to suggest that he’s a pariah in the sense that he’d done something wrong. He’s just a- He’s stateless in effect. He’s wanted by the U.S.

FEIN
Yes. And I believe that’s really because only China and Russia are able with economic and military power, to resist the United States leverage that would come over every other country based on military-economic ties and even the ability to orchestrate overthrow of governments in Chili, as in Guatemala. As in Latin America, as in Iran in 1953, so…it’s a tough decision, because obviously China and Russia are testaments to the kinds of surveillance that Ed Snowden deplores in his public statements.

MASTERS
So…what happened with your attempts, or the father’s attempts, to make some kind of a deal to get Edward Snowden out of Russia and back to the United States-

FEIN
Well, there weren’t so much a deal, we did make overtures, Ian, to the Department of Justice, to try to insure if there was any return that the trial would be fair and not compromised by a frenzy of press statements by the Department, and other leaders in the Congress and the Executive branch, who have already convicted him of treason, even though he’s not charged with treason, without any trial whatsoever. And moreover, there was worry that he would receive Bradley Manning, or Chelsea Manning pre-trial treatment, those gruesome [sic] if not verging on torture. And, in substance, end up having a kangaroo court, rather than a due-process court. Those were ignored by the Department of Justice, the most the Attorney General Eric Holder was willing to say, and this was to the ministry of justice in Russia, was that Mr. Snowden would not be tortured if he was returned, because we are a signatory to the torture convention. Not convincing anyway, because despite the signatory status of the torture convention, it seems quite clear our waterboarding of detainees connected, allegedly connected with terrorism, violated our own criminal prohibitions on torture as well as the convention itself. So, I think that the department probably does not want Ed Snowden to return. I think they believe it could embarrass the government after all. After the disclosures, President Obama himself has narrowed the scope of the NSA surveillance program, we’ve got activity in Congress, and really, all of this is attributable to Edward Snowden. If he didn’t have his revelation, this program would still be secret. And it would be embarrassing, in my judgement, for the Department to actually be forced to tell a jury, “You’re looking at a defendant who’s protecting your privacy more than we were.”

I’ll note that Fein now speaks of waterboarding as criminal, a violation of the Geneva Convention, when in 2004 he had given full throated support to the idea of going to the dark side. This is Fein in 2004, the opening paragraph of “Terrorism’s murky origins”:

At present, little is known of the circumstances which give birth to terrorists. The periodic reports issued by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (National Commission), for instance, are bereft of clues for diminishing terrorist recruits. Until this dearth of knowledge is overcome, the best way to handcuff terrorism is by killing, capturing and punishing terrorists period, with no commas, semicolons or question marks.

This might be contrasted with Fein’s statements on a radio show hosted by Rand Paul’s former aide, Jack Hunter, a man also known as the “Southern Avenger”8:

Let’s recount what happened in a New York courtroom, just about a week ago, this was Faisal Shahzad, he was a so-called New York Times Square auto bomber, who plants a bomb there and explodes, and he was saying “We’re at war. That’s why I’m entitled to do that. The United States is fighting in Iraq, and fighting in Afghanistan,” and the judge said, “What about the women and children?”, and he retorted, “Well, your drones don’t stop at our women and children, they kill them anyway, so why should we be playing by Queensberry rules when you are indiscriminate in killing us?” And he was not someone who got up and said, “I hate freedom!”- He was actually a U.S. citizen. It’s not the freedom in the United States, the fact that our women aren’t wearing burqas that caused them to undertake this act. It’s the same way we responded to the predations and some of the atrocities the British inflicted upon us, prior to the revolutionary war and during the war. We didn’t take that stand falling down and through sit-ins. We fought back with muskets. And we can’t expect just because they’re asian and have a different religion, they’re less human beings and going to feel that way.

It seems Bruce Fein had finally discovered the root causes of terrorism.

However, the most important point in Masters’ introduction is when he cites Fein’s credential as “research director for the Joint Congressional Committee on Covert Arms Sales to Iran”. This committee was tasked with investigating a major scandal of the Reagan administration, Iran-contra, one which may well have lead to impeachment. The administration had sold weapons to Iran, a country the president had referred to as “Murder Incorporated”, and used those funds to buy weapons for an anti-communist rebel group in Nicaragua, which congress had barred from further funding. One might assume, given the various portrayals of Fein as a passionate adherent to the constitution that he worked here against Reagan in his work on Iran-contra, where the constitution was arguably violated by keeping two arms deals secret and without approval from congress, a sale of weapons to the contras and a sale of weapons to Iran, then considered by many America’s secondmost enemy after the Soviet Union.

This would be a very serious misunderstanding. Fein worked as research director for the minority report, not the majority report. It was the latter, authored by the Democrats, which found the conduct of the Reagan behavior illegal and unconstitutional. It was the minority report which countenanced these actions – found it justified, legal, and constitutional. The minority report argued that this kind of outsize executive power was part of a tradition which began with Washington, where the executive’s foreign policy was to be given free rein from the encumbering and meddlesome legislative, and featured multiple historical precedents that are no doubt there as a result of the hard work of research consultant Bruce Fein.

I give noteworthy excerpts from the publicly available Iran Contra report, the Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, with links to the exact pages from which the excerpts are taken. These should help give a sense of the intellectual approach of the minority view.

Page 450:

The Constitution created the Presidency to be a separate branch of government whose occupant would have substantial discretionary power to act. He was not given the power of an 18th century monarch, but neither was he meant to be a creature of Congress. The country needs a President who can exercise the powers the Framers intended. As long as any President has those powers, there will be mistakes. It would be disastrous to respond to the possibility of error by further restraining and limiting the powers of the office. Then, instead of seeing occasional actions turn out to be wrong, we would be increasing the probability that future Presidents would be unable to act decisively, thus guaranteeing ourselves a perpetually paralyzed, reactive, and unclear foreign policy in which mistake by inaction would be the order of the day.

The supply of weapons to the Nicaraguan contras was not what was illegal, but the very laws by Congress prohibiting the President from doing so which violated the constitution. Pages 450 and 451:

The Constitution protects the power of the President, either acting himself or through agents of his choice, to engage in whatever diplomatic communications with other countries he may wish. It also protects the ability of the President and his agents to persuade U.S. citizens to engage voluntarily in otherwise legal activity to serve what they consider to be the national interest. That includes trying to persuade other countries to contribute their own funds for causes both countries support. To whatever extent the Boland Amendments tried to prohibit such activity, they were clearly unconstitutional.

The President can withhold notice from whatever covert actions he wants, page 452:

Similarly, the President has the constitutional and statutory authority to withhold notifying Congress of covert activities under very rare conditions. President Reagan’s decision to withhold notification was essentially equivalent to President Carter’s decisions in 1979-1980 to withhold notice for between 3 and 6 months in parallel Iran hostage operations. We do not agree with President Reagan’s decision to withhold notification for as long as he did. The decision was legal, however, and we think the Constitution mandates that it should remain so. If a President withholds notification for too long and then cannot adequately justify the decision to Congress, that President can expect to pay a stiff political price, as President Reagan has certainly found out.

Page 457, it is not the president’s actions that were unconstitutional, but those of Congress:

Judgments about the Iran-Contra Affair ultimately must rest upon one’s views about the proper roles of Congress and the President in foreign policy. There were many statements during the public hearings, for example, about the rule of law. But the fundamental law of the land is the Constitution. Unconstitutional statutes violate the rule of law every bit as much as do willful violations of constitutional statutes. It is essential, therefore, to frame any discussion of what happened with a proper analysis of the Constitutional allocation of legislative and executive power in foreign affairs.

One point stands out from the historical record: the Constitution’s Framers expected the President to be much more than a minister or clerk. The President was supposed to execute the laws, but that was only the beginning. He also was given important powers, independent of the legislature’s, and these substantively were focused on foreign policy.

Taken together, the three chapters [of the minority report on the constitutional powers of the president which justify his actions] will show that much of what President Reagan did in his actions toward Nicaragua and Iran were constitutionally protected exercises of inherent Presidential powers. However unwise some of those actions may have been, the rule of law cannot permit Congress to usurp judgments that constitutionally are not its to make. It is true that the Constitution also gives substantial foreign policy powers to Congress, including the power of the purse. But the power of the purse-which forms the core of the majority argument-is not and was never intended to be a license for Congress to usurp Presidential powers and functions.

That Congress should have any involvement or information on foreign policy matters is not something that can be traced back to the nation’s birth, but only a recent development. Pages 457 and 458:

The boundless view of Congressional power began to take hold in the 1970’s, in the wake of the Vietnam War. The 1972 Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s report recommending the War Powers Act, and the 1974 report of the Select Committee on Intelligence Activities (chaired by Senator Frank Church and known as the Church Committee), both tried to support an all but unlimited Congressional power by invoking the “Necessary and Proper” clause. That clause says Congress may “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing [legislative] Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” The argument of these two prominent committees was that by granting Congress the power to make rules for the other departments, the Constitution meant to enshrine legislative supremacy except for those few activities explicitly reserved for the other branches.

One must ignore 200 years of constitutional history to suggest that Congress has a vast reservoir of implied power whose only limits are the powers explicitlyreserved to the other branches. It seems clear, for example, that Congress could not legislate away the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review, even though judicial review is not mentioned explicitly in Article III. The same applies to the Presidency. The Necessary and Proper clause does not permit Congress to pass a law usurping Presidential power. A law negating Presidential power cannot be treated as if it were “necessary and proper for carrying” Presidential powers “into Execution.” To suggest otherwise would smack of Orwellian Doublespeak.

Justice Louis D. Brandeis, for example, wrote that the “doctrine of separation of powers was adopted by the Convention of 1787, not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power.” His statement has been accepted in some Congressional quarters as if it holds the force of conventional wisdom,* but it misses half of the historical truth.

The fallacy of Brandeis’ statement becomes apparent when one considers the defects of the U. S. Government before the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention, among other things, was taking the executive from being under the legislature’s thumb, not the legislature from being under the executive’s. After suffering through the Articles of Confederation (and various state constitutions) that had overcompensated for monarchy, the 1787 delegates wanted to empower a government, not enfeeble it. Brandeis was partly right to point out that the Framers did not want power to be used arbitrarily, and that checks and balances were among the means used to guard against arbitrariness. But the principles underlying separation had to do with increasing the Government’s power as much as with checking it.

Strong, unfettered executive power in foreign policy can be traced to the republic’s beginning, page 459 and 460:

The need for an effective foreign policy, it turned out, was one of the main reasons the country needs an “energetic government,” according to Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Nos. 22 and 23. Madison madethe same point in No. 37: “Energy in Government is essential to that security against external and internal danger, and to that prompt and salutary execution of the laws, which enter into the very definition of good Government.” The relevance of these observations about the government‘s power is that the Framers saw energy as being primarily an executive branch characteristic.

Energy is the main theme of Federalist No. 70(“energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government.”) It is said to be important primarily when “decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch” were needed. These features are “essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks.” “In the conduct of war … the energy of the executive is the bulwark of national security.”

But war was not the only aspect of foreign policy described as being more appropriate for the executive than legislative branch. “The actual conduct of foreign negotiations, . . . the arrangement of the army and navy, the direction of the operations of war; these and other matters of a like nature constitute what seems to be most properly understood by the administration of government.” On negotiations, Hamilton went further to say that the Executive is “the most fitagent” for “foreign negotiations.”

To involve Congress in such decisions would be less democratic, not more so, page 460:

So far, our discussion has concentrated on the first: the need for energy in the Executive. No government, democratic or otherwise, could long survive unless its Executive could respond to the uncertainties of international relations. But energy in the Executive seemed frightening to some people. To them, the Federalists made two responses. The first was that the Executive could not maintain a standing army, equip a navy, or engage in a large-scale use of force, without spending appropriated funds provided and controlled by the Congress.”

The second was that an independent, single Executive-in addition to being more energetic-would also be more responsible politically. It would be much easier to hold one person accountable than a committee. In other words, giving the President some independent, inherent power was not seen as being undemocratic. The President and Congress both were considered to be representatives of the people. The Congress produced a more fitting result when the primary need was to moderate internal factional demands through discussion and deliberation before producing general rules. But foreign policy is dominated by case-by-case decisions, not general rules, and the aim is not to moderate internal pressures through deliberation, but to respond to external ones quickly and decisively. For these kinds of situations, multiple bodies-like Congress-are inherently unable to accept blame or responsibility for mistakes. Thus, despite the majority’s contentions to the contrary, putting such decisions in the hands of the Congress wasconsidered to be less democratic than giving them tothe President, because there would be no way for thepeople to hold any one person accountable for a legislative decision.

The basis for which Congress can be ignored by the Executive in foreign policy matters can be found in the precedent of Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana, page 465:

One constitutional dispute early in the Jefferson Administration was over the Louisiana Purchase. What would the party whose adherents had insisted on a Senate role in negotiating the Jay Treaty say about the President’s power to negotiate the Purchase? Jefferson’s Secretary of State Albert Gallatin supported the Louisiana Purchase by saying that the purchase eventually would have to be ratified by treaty and that its negotiation therefore belonged to the President under the Constitution. Jefferson did not embrace Gallatin’s constitutional argument. Instead, the President decided to go through with the Purchase, without abandoning his view that the Constitution severely limited the President, by asserting an inherent, extraconstitutional prerogative power for the Executive that was more sweeping than anything Hamilton had ever put forward. Jefferson justified his decision this way:

A strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself . . . absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.

One of the remarkable aspects of Jefferson’s assertion is the stark way in which it poses a fundamental constitutional issue. Chief Executives are given the responsibility for acting to respond to crises or emergencies. To the extent that the Constitution and laws are read narrowly, as Jefferson wished, the Chief Executive will on occasion feel duty bound to assert monarchical notions of prerogative that will permit him to exceed the law. Paradoxically, the broader Hamiltonian ideas about executive power-by being more attuned to the realistic dangers of foreign policy-seem more likely to produce an Executive who is able and willing to live within legal boundaries. Thus, the constitutional construction that on the surface looks more dangerous seems on reflection to be safer in the long run.

The conclusion arrived at by the research of Bruce Fein is obvious, and there in the closing of the minority report’s historical overview, page 469:

Presidents asserted their constitutional independence from Congress early. They engaged in secret diplomacy and intelligence activities, and refused to share the results with Congress if they saw fit. They unilaterally established U.S. military and diplomatic policy with respect to foreign belligerent states, in quarrels involving the United States, and in quarrels involving only third parties. They enforced this policy abroad, using force if necessary. They engaged U.S. troops abroad to serve American interests without congressional approval, and in a number of cases apparently against explicit directions from Congress. They also had agents engage in what would commonly be referred to as covert actions, again without Congressional approval. In short, Presidents exercised a broad range of foreign policy powers for which they neither sought nor received Congressional sanction through statute.

This history speaks volumes about the Constitution’s allocation of powers between the branches. It leaves little, if any, doubt that the President was expected to have the primary role of conducting the foreign policy of the United States. Congressional actions to limit the President in this area therefore should be reviewed with a considerable degree of skepticism. If they interfere with core presidential foreign policy functions, they should be struck down. Moreover, the lesson of our constitutional history is that doubtful cases should be decided in favor of the President.

I think it can be confirmed that this report was not some radical, unexpected twisting of Fein’s research because he wrote an editorial at the time of the scandal, “A Tight Plug on Intelligence Leaks”, which very much takes the position of the minority report: the problem is not executive overreach but too many people in Congress having access to information about covert foreign policy, which they then leak to the press. “A joint committee would sharply slash the number of legislators and staff members involved in overseeing intelligence agencies. The reduction would animate each overseer with a larger sense of responsibility and perhaps devotion to the tasks of preventing abuses of power while strengthening America’s intelligence capabilities.”

Having read this, one might look now back at the profile of Fein, “In the Snowden case, Bruce Fein finds the apex of a long Washington legal career”, which describes his approach: “Fein is an originalist, a believer in a well-established though decidedly minority interpretation of American legal thought that essentially says: Let’s keep our eye on the original values and intentions of our founding fathers.” It seems what constitutes the original values and intentions of the founding fathers somehow varies between the Reagan administration and the present time. The executive is now no longer the sole organ of foreign policy, and he does not have the privilege of conducting such policy without congressional approval, as we find in the articles of impeachment quoted in Ben Smith’s “GOP lawyer drafts Obama impeachment”: “Barack Hussein Obama, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States…has usurped the exclusive power of Congress to initiate war.”

The minority view of the Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair is not an unknown, unconnected island, but something that very much has influence on us now. A congressional assistant by the name of David Addington would also work on the report, and Addington would become Dick Cheney’s lieutenant in the White House, where he was heavily involved in what executive actions were legal and why. The attitude expressed in that White House, and in the report, is that the executive has a license to do almost anything without congressional interference. From “Cheney’s Cheney”, an interview with Jane Mayer by Blake Eskin on Addington and Cheney; Mayer’s The Dark Side is the definitive account of the formation of Bush White House policy on torture and detention:

How did David Addington get to know Vice-President Cheney, and how long have they worked together?

They met on Capitol Hill in the mid-eighties, when Cheney was a Republican congressman from Wyoming and Addington was a young staff lawyer working for the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees. So they have worked together for about two decades. Their partnership was cemented when they worked together on the Minority Report on the Iran-Contra affair. Both Addington and Cheney took the idiosyncratic position that it was Congress, not President Reagan, that was in the wrong. This view reflected the opinion, held by both men, that the executive branch should run foreign policy, to a great extent unimpeded by Congress. It’s a recurring theme-pushing the limits of executive power and sidestepping Congress-in their partnership. One example is their position that the President, as Commander-in-Chief in times of war, had the inherent authority to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Congress passed in an effort to make sure that Presidents don’t violate citizens’ right to privacy by spying on them without warrants.

We are given an even more direct sense of the impact from this quote out of “Mr. Cheney’s Minority Report”, an excellent piece connecting the ideas of the minority report with Bush White House policy, by Sean Wilentz:

Asked by a reporter in 2005 to explain his expansive views about presidential power, Mr. Cheney replied, “If you want reference to an obscure text, go look at the minority views that were filed with the Iran-contra committee.”

“Nobody has ever read them,” he said, but they “are very good in laying out a robust view of the president’s prerogatives with respect to the conduct of especially foreign policy and national security matters.”

We have the unusual, and completely unnoted, phenomena of Bruce Fein apparently arguing against not only principles he once agreed with, but ones for which he laid the foundation.

This interruption came in the middle of a conversation between Masters and Fein over Edward Snowden.

MASTERS
So, what’s his fate, then? I know that you were dealing with Wikileaks, right, and-

FEIN
Well, Julian Assange, and then there was also Anatoly Kucharino, who was Edward’s lawyer appointed by Vladimir Putin. I think Vladimir Putin will decide, unilaterally, what happens to Ed Snowden. The rule of law is a joke in Russia. And, if it’s convenient, internationally, for Mr. Putin to permit past the one year of his asylum, it’ll happen, and if he wants to do a trade, it’ll be a trade. And in that sense, I believe Edward Snowden’s situation there is precarious. I think Vladimir Putin wouldn’t have any reluctance at all, if the United States is willing to do a deal, over Crimea, or Russian influence over eastern Ukraine, he’d swap him in half of a second. There’s no intellectual, philosophical sympathy between Mr. Putin and Mr. Snowden.

MASTERS
So. This is a, I guess, in many ways, on a personal level, it must have been hard for the father then to-

FEIN
I think it was not just the father, Ian. I think the whole family was undergoing great stress and mortification, and what the United States officials were saying about Mr. Snowden. There was very great difficulty about having any communication whatsoever. I still think that it’s something that needs to sort itself out. Ed Snowden has stated, he would like at some time to return, but I don’t think right now, the conditions would be satisfactory for what he wants to accomplish.

MASTERS
But I’d love to get an interview with him. And it doesn’t seem like anybody who’s ever going to challenge anything will ever get an interview with him. He’s pretty much- you know, they allow softball interviews, but I don’t know if there’s- Has anybody really had any real access to him?

FEIN
I don’t know, and it probably wouldn’t be publicized anyway, Ian. I think, however, your judgement may be somewhat premature. He’s only thirty years old, time changes a lot of things. Sometimes it doesn’t change things. I wouldn’t rule out interviews in different circumstances, at an appropriate occasion. It may well be Rand Paul is elected president in 2016, there’s a different administration, and the environment changes, the tenor of communications and candor may be different.

MASTERS
So, let’s talk about Rand Paul and- He seems to be- Here he is a junior senator, freshman senator, getting more headlines than Ted Cruz, who’s basically a headline generating machine. So, what’s happening with this guy? You know the father…Rand, I take it, his name comes from Ayn Rand, right?

FEIN
Your description of Rand Paul probably fits then Senator Barack Obama like a glove, in 2008. First term senator running for president. I think that Rand Paul clearly is someone who is willing to take risks, unlike others, go into environments and audiences that you wouldn’t expect, the NAACP, Berkley California. He doesn’t shy from, I don’t know what they’d call it, confrontation? The need to engage in conversation, and to share ideas. So I think there’s no doubt that he appeals to young audiences and crowds. I was speaking yesterday at USC to the Young Americans for Liberty. There were over one hundred and sixty there.

MASTERS
That’s a libertarian campus group?

FEIN
That is correct. It’s not just a single campus group, it’s a nation-wide collection of students, probably the fastest growing in all of the United States. An enormous amount of what I would call, kinetic energy. And eagerness to support a candidate that will roll back the surveillance state, the warfare state, that encroaches on our liberty more and more every day.

Since this is where Fein reaches the crescendo in his idealistic call, one might mention here some of Fein’s past clients. Perhaps the only piece to devote extensive space to this is “Defending Dictators, Counseling Killers” by the excellent journalist Ken Silverstein, but it should be sufficient to provide some sense of a cruel and anti-democratic bunch:

After leaving government, Fein linked up with right-wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. He also cashed in on his government experience by lobbying for foreign clients. Though Fein was a strong critic of leftist governments, like Nicaragua’s Sandinistas, he had no qualms about taking money from peace-loving nations such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Fein hit the jackpot in 1991 when he signed on to represent Mozambique’s notorious guerrilla army, RENAMO, which was seeking to overthrow its country’s leftist government. When Fein came on board, RENAMO’s reputation has hit bottom. This was just a few years after the State Department had issued a report denouncing the guerrillas for the wholesale slaughter of civilians, using such methods as “shooting executions, knife/axe/bayonet killings, burning alive, beating to death, forced asphyxiation, forced starvation, forced drownings and random shootings.”

Even the Reagan and Bush administrations kept their distance from RENAMO, despite their anti-Communist rhetoric. So reviled was the group and its president, Afonso Dhlakama, that Reagan held several face-to-face meetings with Mozambiques’s president to demonstrate his support for his Marxist government!

Fein, however, eagerly signed up to flack for Dhlakama’s terror army. Like most foreign lobbyists, he bilked his client for huge sums of money while performing virtually no work. Fein’s chief endeavor was writing The Dhlakama Papers, a collection of the wise leader’s theoretical musings, and RENAMO’s constitution. The latter document is a loose plagiarism of the U.S. constitution with a few pet projects of Fein’s — the death penalty and privatization — thrown in for good measure.

This article, if anything, understates RENAMO’s malevolence. It began as the creation of the white regime of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), for the sole purpose of destabilizing the government of Mozambique, then went on to receive the support of another white apartheid regime, that of South Africa. RENAMO used several methods in their war: forced famines, mutilation, and recruitment of child soldiers. One of the best overviews of the civil war in Mozambique between RENAMO, the rebels, and FRELIMO, the ruling party, is Conspicuous Destruction: War, Famine and the Reform Process in Mozambique by Africa Watch (bulk of the research and writing by Karl Maier). What follows are excerpts on the use of mutilation by RENAMO to intimidate the population:

Reports of mutilations of civilians by RENAMO have been routine since the rebels began operating in Mozambique in the mid-1970s. Cases of guerrillas hacking off ears, noses, lips, and sexual organs have been common in the central and southern provinces. Evidence gathered by Africa Watch suggests that RENAMO was guilty of the majority of such mutilations, but that government forces too have been guilty of the practice.

Ken Flower, who as Director of the Rhodesian CIO played an important role in setting up the movement, said in an April 1987 interview that RENAMO fighters had used such tactics in an effort to intimidate the civilian population. “There were reports of atrocities, the intimidatory processes, especially the cutting off of ears and noses, and this did happen in the fairly early days. But I am referring here to 1975.”

However, mutilations of the dead and living have continued to occur at regular intervals up until the present.

In a 1987 interview, Fambinsani Chenje, then fifty-nine, told of attacks in 1986 by rebel gunmen on his village of Mushenge in southern Tete province.

The first time they came was in 1986. They were looking for food. It was a small group of about fifteen men. They took cattle, chickens and goats. A lot of villagers started fleeing to Tete [town] then because the war had come to Mushenge. But most of us stayed in the village. It was our home. Then, in June 1986, the Matsanga [RENAMO] came again in the early morning hours. It was still dark. This time they came right into the village. They called for everyone to come out of their houses. Then they killed ten people and mutilated ten others, including myself. Two soldiers cut off my ears with knives. They said we were working for FRELIMO. After they did that they left, without saying anything more. The next day, most of the villagers packed their things and walked to Tete [town].

RENAMO of Mozambique was one client of Bruce Fein’s, the state of Sudan was another.

Now, Fein has returned to lobbying and is working for a client that has the dubious distinction of making RENAMO look good: The Sudan. That country’s government is barred from receiving U.S. foreign aid because of its support for terrorism and because of its revolting human rights record. Amnesty International reports that the Sudanese government not only assassinates and tortures its “enemies,” but that paramilitary forces have kidnapped scores of children, who are believed to be held in domestic slavery by their abductors or taken to camps in remote rural areas, where they are trained for military service.

Another common practice of the Sudanese government is to flog “criminals.” According to Amnesty, many of the victims are women convicted of brewing alcohol and convicted by rubber stamp Public Order Courts.

Explaining away a record like that is a delicate task indeed, which is where Fein comes in. Having already billed his client $20,000 for “legal and historical research,” Fein has now begun lobbying — he plans to meet with Congress, the Executive Branch, newspaper editorial boards and think tanks — on the Sudan’s behalf for a monthly fee of $10,000.

Fein’s contract, on file at the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Unit, says he will offer the Sudan “advisory and advocacy services” with the goal of fostering “warming relations” with the U.S. He’ll also seek to have the country delisted as a supporter of terrorism and urge the U.S. government to lift all sanctions against the Sudan, including prohibitions on military aid.

Some of Fein’s latest work is for the Turkish Coalition of America, where he is a resident scholar, and for whom he writes opinion pieces denying the existence of an Armenian Genocide. These include “Tawdry genocide tale”, “Armenian crime amnesia?”, and “Lies, Damn Lies, and Armenian Deaths”. Some excerpts from this last one should provide a sense of the direction of his arguments:

When their quest for statehood shipwrecked on the Treaty of Lausanne and annexation by the Soviet Union in 1921, Armenians revised their soundtrack to endorse a contrived genocide thesis. It seeks a “pound of flesh” from the Republic of Turkey in the form of recognition, reparations, and boundary changes. To make their case more convincing, Armenians hiked the number of deaths. They also altered their story line from having died as belligerents against the Turks to having perished like unarmed helpless lambs.

Vahan Vardapet, an Armenian cleric, estimated a prewar Ottoman Armenian population of 1.26 million. At the Peace Conference, Armenian leader Nubar stated that 280,000 remained in the Empire and 700,000 had emigrated elsewhere. Accepting those Armenian figures, the number of dead would be 280,000. George Montgomery of the Armenia-American Society estimated a prewar Armenian population of 1.4-1.6 million, and a casualty figure of 500,000 or less. Armenian Van Cardashian, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1919, placed the number of Armenian dead at 750,000, i.e., a prewar population of 1.5 million and a post-war figure of 750,000.

From 280,000-750,000, Armenians initially raised their death count to 800,000 to test the credibility waters. It passed muster with uninformed politicians easily influenced by campaign contributions and voting clout. Armenians then jumped the number to 1.5 million, and then 1.8 million by Armenian historian Kevork Aslan. For the last decades, an Armenian majority seems to have settled on the 1.5 million death plateau–which still exceeds their contemporary estimates by 200 to 500 percent. They are now testing the waters at 2.5-3 million killed as their chances for a congressional genocide resolution recede. It speaks volumes that champions of the inflated death figures have no explanation for why Armenians on the scene would have erred. Think of the absurdity of discarding the current death count of Afghan civilians in the United States-Afghan war in favor of a number deduced in the year 2109!

Fein would not confine his denials to editorial pages, but would make the same claim in courtrooms whenever the issue came up, allegedly on the dime of the Turkish government. In Mistrial: An Inside Look at How the Criminal Justice System Works…And Sometimes Doesn’t, a memoir of courtroom life by two attorneys, Mark Geragos and Pat Harris, Geragos cites Fein’s appearance in a courtroom as one of those moments where nearly lost faith in the justice system. He also refers to Fein as “one of the most repulsive human beings I have ever had the mispleasure of meeting.” That I think the defendant, Mourad Topalian, may well have been guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted, is separate and apart from attempts to deny the Armenian genocide. I give full excerpt to this episode in the book, so there is no sense that I am attempting to distort or slant it in any way:

From the first day a young lawyer enters a courtroom until the day that lawyer’s retirement party is held, the one phrase the lawyer will hear at least one thousand times is “We may not have a perfect system, but it is still the best system in the world.” This concept is so ingrained in American lawyers that it is not even debated. The law is in many ways like a religion to attorneys, and the belief that we have the best system in the world is our chief article of faith. But like ministers who have had a crisis of faith, both of us have had seminal moments in which we have questioned whether our legal system is truly the best or even one of the best in the world.

Mark: I began to have serious doubts about the system on a snowy, wintry day in Cleveland, Ohio in 2001. We were representing a prominent member of the local community at his sentencing hearing in federal court. He had pled guilty to keeping a storage unit that contained decades-old explosives near his suburban home in Cleveland, where he had been vice president of Cuyahoga, Community College. The FBI believed that some of the explosives had been used in an attack by Armenian freedom fighters on the Turkish Mission in New York in the eighties, and that the remaining explosives were being stored for future use. The former college vice president was never implicated in any attacks, but the storage unit had his name on it, and it was asserted by the FBI that he had at least agreed to store th remaining explosives.

My client was a much admired figure in the Armenian community, a charismatic speaker and a forceful lobbyist who had spent time as the head of one of the prominent Armenian activist organizations. For his sentencing hearing, Armenian supporters from all over the country flew in to pack the courtroom, with an overflow group having to wait out in the hall. Virtually every person in that room had either been an eyewitness to the Armenian Genocide or had had a close relative who had perished at the hands of the Turks.

There was a palpable tension hanging in the air because the judge in the case was allowing a representative from the Turkish government to speak during the sentencing hearing, and the government had flown in its top lobbyist and spokesman, Bruce Fein. Fein is one of the most repulsive human beings I have ever had the mispleasure of meeting. Whenever the Turkish government wants to deny the Genocide, it sticks Fein out in front and lets him spew a bunch of denialist trash about how the Genocide was nothing more than a civil war provoked by the Armenians. I knew what was about to happen and pleaded with the judge to not let him speak. I tried to explain that this would be no different from having a Jewish person being sentenced and letting some nut job get up and deny the Holocaust ever happened. There is no way that would ever occur in today’s society. But therein lies the problem for Armenians – the Armenian Genocide has been largely ignored in this country because Turkey is supposedly an important ally. In recent years, even though forty-three states have recognized the Genocide and Congress twice passed an Armenian Genocide Resolution decades ago, the last several administrations have become tongue-tied every time the resolution is brought up. Despite almost every presidential candidate since Reagan saying he or she will recognize the Genocide, nothing happens once the president takes office.

Sure enough, Fein got up, and in front of a courtroom that included several Genocide survivors, he denied its existence. It was a hateful and mean-spirited speech, made even worse by the fact that the audience was filled with people who had never met their grandparents or aunts and uncles because of the Genocide Fein was now denying. There have been few instances in which I have been filled with such rage, and I came very close that day to doing something that would have lost me my bar card forever. I looked over at Pat [Pat Harris, Geragos' fellow attorney and co-writer of Mistrial], who hadn’t even met an Armenian until he was in his thirties, and he was shaking with anger. You could hear sobbing from all across the room, but in a testament to the dignity of the Armenian people, Fein was allowed to spread this trash without interruption.

When it was over, I gathered with the Genocide survivors at the back of the courtroom and swore to them that I would do everything I could as a lawyer to make sure they were not forgotten. But as I walked out of that courthouse, I felt unsure that I even wanted to participate in a system that would allow something like this to happen. On this trip back to Los Angeles I seriously thought about whether I wanted to continue as a lawyer.

Fein’s denial of the Armenian genocide intersects with another plot that will be dealt with later on.

That Fein was an ardent supporter of Rand Paul is obvious. We see here an aura of xenophobia that seems drawn to this senator like a magnet. There is Fein denying the Armenian genocide. There is the senator’s father who once published a newsletter that explained how to kill black men and get away with it9. After Rand Paul’s first plagiarism scandal, where he appeared to lifted material multiple times and put it down under his own name, he was dropped from the Washington Times as a columnist, and brought into the fold of the Breitbart news site. This news site’s namesake appears to have lifted material about a Jewish cabal running America from an old Lyndon Larouche publication and placed it into his own book10. One of Rand Paul’s longtime staffers was Jack Hunter, who also worked as a radio host under the nom de guerre, “Southern Avenger”, who annually toasted the birthday of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and once declared that “a non-white majority America would simply cease to be America.”11 As noted, Fein would appear on Hunter’s radio show on July 10, 2010. This kind of inevitable nexus would be mocked by Jonathan Chait in “Libertarian Hero Cliven Bundy Shockingly Turns Out to Be Gigantic Racist”: “Why do all these people with strong antipathy toward the federal government turn out to be racists? Why do all these homosexuals keep sucking my cock?

MASTERS
So…what’s happening now on campuses? In the sixties and seventies, the activism was on the political left. How much do you detect? You were speaking at UCLA, USC, Yale-

FEIN
Yale, Harvard, Charlottesville. There’s no doubt there’s a huge intensity, that I don’t see on the left, if you will, people coming out and supporting Barack Obama. I think in part it’s because the young people are able to see the encroachments given the electronic exposure they already provide every day. The encroachments on their lives, and their personal privacy. They do, clearly, recognize, that they’re living in a post-Orwellian phase of the United States of America. And youth does have that kinetic energy, it reminds me of some words by William Wordworth about the American and French revolution: “Blissed was, to be alive at that dawn / And to be young, very heaven”. And these youth need sortof guidance, they don’t know exactly how the political process works, but they certainly have the energy and the instinct that are sympathetic to Rand Paul’s objectives.

MASTERS
Well, there’s obviously some confluence between libertarian philosophy and the left, although the democratic party is pretty centrist. There really isn’t a left-wing party, perhaps peace and freedom, the greens, but they are barely one or two percent of the electorate. The confluence, of course, is there’s an agreement to smoke marijuana, there’s agreement over objection to foreign wars, there’s agreement over the surveillance state. But there is also a divergence, is there not.

FEIN
I think there clearly is a divergence. If you want to talk about the government dependency, or the welfare dependency state, if you will, Obamacare, and government programs that seek to develop industrial policies, and put money into what many would believe be subsidizing endeavours people take with their own skill, foresight, and industry. There’s divergence on the debt, the size of the federal government, the size of the federal regulatory state. But I think those are less important, if you will, Ian, than the fundamental issues of liberty and the rule of law that are at stake with regard to the surveillance state, the warfare state. Most people don’t recognize and would be horrified if they reflected every day that at present, as we speak, the president of the United States claims authority to kill any American citizen, on his say-so alone, if he decrees they’re an imminent danger to the United States. It’s been done on four occasions, there may be a fifth in the cross-hairs. Just think about that. That’s vastly more power than was ever considered by King George the Third. His just general writs of assistance provoked the American Revolution, believing he could search our homes and businesses, without probable cause. Now, we have a president who basically claims and exercises the most awesome power in the history of mankind? The American people and Congress are rather complacent with that. And that oughta spur people to political action to try and re-gain the rule of law, and our protections under the Constitution, that basically have been eroded over the last many years, under Democrats and Republicans.

MASTERS
Right, you know, but you have some very powerful libertarians, I think the Koch brothers are fairly libertarian.

FEIN
Yes they are.

Fein speaks here of a president who has suddenly appeared, who “claims and exercises the most awesome power in the history of mankind”, the ability to sign an order and kill at a distance, as if this is a surprising or new development. That American citizens have been assassinated before Al-Awlaki is a point often forgotten, but Ames forces us to remember it: “The first American-born citizen assassinated by a targeted drone attack was Kemal Derwish, blown up by a Predator in Yemen in 2002.”12 And: “The second American targeted for assassination that we know of was Ruben Shumpert of Seattle, killed by a US missile strike in Somalia in 2008.” Note that Kemal Derwish was killed in 2002; Fein’s editorial, “Terrorism’s murky origins” where he wrote “the best way to handcuff terrorism is by killing, capturing and punishing terrorists period, with no commas, semicolons or question marks”, came out in 2004.

Fein worked in the justice department of a president whose over-reaching executive power unhindered by congress he justified in his research for the Iran-contra report, a president who also issued an executive order allowing assassinations. Both “American Assassination History for Dummies” by Mark Ames and “Holder Dances the Assassination Tango” by Scott Horton, make this point explicit. Executive Order 13222, signed off by Reagan, which supposedly banned assassinations, actually did something entirely different:

[Attorney General Eric] Holder was referring specifically to Executive Order 13222, issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, which says, “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” But as with so much U.S. national-security legislation, this order turns out to be far less than meets the eye. Simplified, the present law of EO 13222 could be summarized this way: “No one shall be assassinated-unless the president authorizes it, in which case we will refrain from calling it an assassination.”

That assassination was part of Reagan era foreign policy, though it could not be referred to by name, is there in George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War:

Later, when Avrakotos [Gus Avrakotos, then acting chief of the South Asia Operations Group] took over the Afghan program, he dealt with this problem by introducing an Orwellian change in the language he directed his staff to adopt whenever describing weapons or operations in the Afghan program. “These aren’t terrorist devices or assassination techniques,” he would inform his staff. “Henceforth these are individual defensive devices.” Sniper rifles were finally shipped out to the mujahideen , but only after Gust renamed them: “long-range, night-vision devices with scopes.” Once, when the Islamabad station sent a cable describing a lethal tactic being introduced, Avrakotos shot back a return communiqué saying that the cable had been garbled and adding, “Please do not send anything more on this subject ever again.”

Another passage from Wilson’s War, on the training of the mujahideen in Pakistan:

Given what was already being done, it was a perverse twisting of reality. That fall, the mujahideen in the Pakistani training camps were not only receiving a flood of lethal weapons, they were also being trained to wage a war of urban terror, with instruction in car bombings, bicycle bombings, camel bombings, and assassination.

Just how vicious a campaign the CIA was sponsoring is suggested by the Pakistan brigadier Mohammed Yousaf, who directed the training with and distribution of CIA weapons at that time. In a matter-of-fact passage in his memoirs, he describes the range of assassination tactics and targets he was preparing the mujahideen to take on in Kabul. They ranged from your everyday “knife between the shoulder blades of a Soviet soldier shopping in the bazaar” to “the placing of a briefcase bomb in a senior official’s office.” Educational institutions were considered fair game, he explains, since they were staffed by “Communists indoctrinating their students with Marxist dogma.”

This executive order would itself be re-interpreted during the subsequent Bush administration, as reported at the time in a piece quoted in the invaluable “Dummies”. From “Administration Redefines Ban on Foreign Assassinations”:

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Bush administration, without changing an executive order banning assassinations of foreign leaders, has chosen to legally interpret ”assassination” as referring only to premeditated political murder, according to a published report.

A new legal ruling, drafted by the Office of the Army Judge Advocate General, would permit clandestine operations even if they threaten the lives of foreign figures, The Los Angeles Times reported in its Saturday editions.

Unidentified administration officials quoted by the Times said the ruling would significantly expand the scope of military operations the United States could legally launch against terrorists, drug lords or fugitives abroad, the newspaper reported.

The ruling means, for example, that the accidental death of Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega during an extradition or future coup attempt in which U.S. forces played a direct role would not constitute assassination, the Times reported.

Noriega, who is under federal indictment in the United States on drug trafficking charges, quashed a coup attempt last week.

In 2001, “Dummies” tells us that House Bill “H.R.19 — Terrorist Elimination Act of 2001″ was introduced. The purpose of this bill was to “nullify the effect of certain provisions of various Executive orders.” Which provisions? Well, among them, “Section 2.11 of Executive Order 12333.” What is this section 2.11 of Executive Order 12333? It’s right there in the text of the bill (national archives link): “2.11 Prohibition on Assassination. No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Who introduced this bill? Bob Barr. And who is Bob Barr? Well, he was the subject of Spy magazine’s “D.C. Eunuchs: America’s Least Influential Politician?”, which listed a career of pandering, inconsequential, symbolic legislation. An endorsement of Siskel & Ebert’s positive review of WACO: The Rules of Engagement. A hard stand against air quality standards. May 1, 1997: “Mr. Speaker,” announced Barr, “I would like to have the following poem inserted into the Congressional Record…’What My Flag Means to Me’ was written by William Watkins, a fifth grader at Alto Park Elementary School in Rome, GA.” And not entirely inconsequential: Barr wrote and sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act, he was a firebrand who beat down cancer victims who sued tobacco companies, and he fought hard against any attempts to legalize marijuana or even research its medical benefits13.

After losing his congressional seat, he perhaps achieved his highest profile by running for president in 2008 on the libertarian party ticket; this episode is described in two very good pieces, “Freedom Freaks” by Michael Idov and “The Third Man” by Raffi Khatchadourian. Barr would then leave the Libertarian party – but not before stiffing James Bovard, his presidential ghostwriter, out of a $47,000 fee14 – and turn back to the Republican party fold. The party was now closer to where he was, ideologically. “The party has moved, though I don’t take credit for it,” he says in David Weigel’s “The Third Coming of Bob Barr”. “It has to do to some extent with Ron Paul’s runs for the presidency, with Ted Cruz raising these issues. All of these things combined have brought the Republican Party back to its Reagan roots.” The Reagan roots, as we have seen, are those of near unrestricted executive power in foreign policy and support for assassinations. Who was endorsing Bob Barr in his congressional run? A certain lawyer who denied the Armenian genocide, who had Sudan as a client, who researched how Washington and Jefferson laid the basis for said unrestricted executive power. “If you are a conservative who supports limited government and the Constitution, then join me in supporting Bob Barr for Congress,” says Fein on Barr’s campaign website, “Constitutional Leader Bruce Fein Endorses Bob Barr for Congress”. “I welcome the endorsement of my good friend, Bruce Fein, a constitutional scholar with whom I have been proud to work with for many years,” says Barr in thanks15.

This is the messy background of assassination policy, one which those supposedly against the war power state, such as Barr and Fein, have happily endorsed. Fein is more intertwined with the program than he might wish to admit, and he is more intertwined with the Koch Brothers than comes through in this interview.

Fein would focus several of his Washington Times editorials against the possibility of a Hawaiian native identity, something like that of the various indian nations of the United States: “A race-based drift?”, “New racism in new bottles”, “Race separation ratified”, “Resurgent racism”. Though Fein is often presented as an enlightened, dispassionate scholar, we see an old, primal ugliness in the opening of “Race based drift”: “The nation’s mindless celebration of multiculturalism and denigration of the American creed has reached a new plateau of destructiveness.” The pros and cons of Doe v. Kamehameha and bill S.344, the subjects of these editorials, I am unfamiliar with and will not debate here. What I found fascinating was Fein’s interest in this seemingly esoteric issue, an interest that perhaps can be explained by a detail in the credit for “New racism in new bottles” (none of the other editorials feature it): “Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein and Associates and the Lichfield Group and a consultant to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.” Fein would also write a legal analysis condemning the Alaska bill, S.344, which would be entered into the record by John Kyl (“Against Race-Based Government in Hawaii — (Senate – June 14, 2005)”, “Against Race-Based Government in Hawaii, Part II — (Senate – June 15, 2005)”, “Against Race-Based Government in Hawaii, Part III — (Senate – June 16, 2005)”), and that too would carry the imprimatur of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii – Grassroot singular, there is no s.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would be an entity name unknown to many; it was a think tank that was part of something called the State Policy Network (SPN), there on their website, in the directory list of SPN members 16, and again, the SPN was an entity mostly unknown to the general public. It was all easily explained in Exposed: The State Policy Network by the Center for Media and Democracy, all this information reached by the invaluable SourceWatch, and their entries on the “State Policy Network” and the “Grassroot Institute of Hawaii”. The SPN received millions from corporate donors, including corporations such as Microsoft, Comcast, Time Warner, as well as Joseph Coors, and yes, the Koch brothers17. This money was then funneled into various state based think tanks, like the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which crafted position papers and attempted to affect legislation in ways favorable to its corporate donors – fighting against a minimum wage, ending collective bargaining, a “fair” tax system which always involves lower corporate taxes. One cannot help but think that Fein’s passion on this particular issue is motivated entirely by the interests of the SPN. For instance, in his editorial “A race based drift?”, he argues against “a race-based government for Native Hawaiians unconstrained by the restrictions of the U.S. Constitution” and that passage of the bill “would mark the beginning of the end of the United States, akin to the sack of Rome by Alaric the Great in 410 A.D.” Whether the bill warrants such a hysterical reaction, I offer no judgement, but I think we might contrast it with his attitude towards indian nations who are sovereign and apart from federal regulations on their banking. In “The Last Enclaves of Banking Freedom”, such sovereignty is praised and very much a good thing:

The sole enclaves of banking choice are Native American tribes endowed with sovereign powers pursuant to treaties or otherwise. They offer sovereign lending to the spiraling number of the unbanked or under-banked who have been priced out of services offered by traditional lenders because of heavy-handed and costly Obama regulation.

Like mercy, sovereign lending is twice-blessed. Borrowers’ needs for immediate funds are satisfied. And jobs and wealth are created for Native American tribes. Sovereign lending has the potential to create thousands of jobs, and generate millions in revenue annually for economically challenged Native Americans.

This was not a one-time caprice. The man who warned that Hawaiian sovereignty would mean the end of the United States, went back several times to the mat to preserve Indian sovereignty, exclusively from commerce regulation, in the HuffPo editorials, “Regulatory Impartiality for Native American Tribal Lenders” and “Misconceived New York Attack on Tribal Sovereignty”.

This piece began with the possibility that Fein was something mysterious, a double agent infiltrating the community of whistleblowers and dissidents, when he actually seems to be something much simpler: an opportunist. After 2004, The state war machine gravy train looks like it’s starting to run to ground. “Nobody has ever read them,” Dick Cheney said of the volumes that make up the Iran-contra minority report, but they “are very good in laying out a robust view of the president’s prerogatives with respect to the conduct of especially foreign policy and national security matters.” At some point after 2004, the man who gave the historical foundation for that view of the president’s prerogatives instead started writing stuff like “Impeach Cheney” for Slate. Stuff like “Shaky Steps” for the Washington Times: “President George W. Bush’s sophomoric plan for Iraqi democracy and freedom announced last Monday discredits his ability to lead the nation.” Was this abrupt one hundred and eighty degree shift ever mentioned or explained in his writings? Of course not. Why should genius have to answer to mortals like we.

The man who took on clients that starved and mutilated their opponents now chastises the Obama administration for its brutality. The man who thinks Hawaiian sovereignty will be the end of the Republic praises the virtues of the sovereignty of indian tribes. The man who provided the historical research for a report backing near independence for executive foreign policy from congressional oversight now seeks to impeach a president for the same practice. The man who bemoans the possibility of an american president ordering assassinations, heartily endorses a candidate who put forward a bill making such killings legal. And he is able to take such multiple and contradictory positions without repercussion or question for the simple reason that the D.C. press is as blind and self-impressed as a masturbating mole rat.

The conversation continues on the subject of the Koch brothers.

MASTERS
And they give a lot of money. And my sense is, that you’re attributing enormous amount of powers to the president, and to this imperial presidency, and this surveillance state, et cetera. All of which I think is true, but on the other side of the coin, in many ways it feels that the president is powerless. That Wall Street is more powerful than Washington, and that one of these great promises, of course, was net neutrality, and that is about to go out the window, because of the power of Comcast, and Time Warner, and these powerful lobbyists that are getting their way. So, I don’t think this country…it seems like the industrialists have as much, if not more power than the president.

FEIN
Well, I think that’s an overstatement. The greatest power you have is to extinguish somebody else’s life…and choose between predator drones and moneyed interests, the predator drones will prevail. But I wanna make a larger observation: these interests prevail simply because there’s lack of courage, it exists not because the president doesn’t have the power, he clearly does have the power, the authority of the government to prevent the murders is there. The authority of the government to impose net neutrality, if you will, is there. It’s simply that president Obama, like most of the Republicans, have been bought off and compromised by the moneyed interests. You can go back to Sam Adams, which really expressed the heart and soul of the United States, and he was preaching similar if you will to those who wanted money and trade privileges with Britain more than independence. And he said, “If ye love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude more than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace, and may posterity forget that ye were ever out countrymen. And so I don’t believe it means there’s less actual authority in the office of the White House or in Congress. It’s simply that they’ve lost the moral and philosophical spirit to stand up and say, “No, we are not a country that bows to mammon. We believe in liberty and, no, you’re not going to get what you’re clamouring for. We want openness and fairness in competition, and you’re not going to manipulate the organs of government to enrich yourself.”

Fein here pins down the federal government as the chief cause of inequality, one that moves into supposedly free markets and plays favorites, thus entrenching our privileged hierarchy. This is the approach taken by all libertarians when dealing with the issue of pervasive inequality. After the publication of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” which gave a basis in data for the obvious fact that legislation favored by oligarchs has a possibility of passage that laws favored by a majority of citizens in a lower economic caste never have, Tim Worstall’s solution in “New shocking research proves that rich people control American politics” was to argue for less government for the wealthy to manipulate. This was the same answer offered by fellows libertarian James Poulos in reaction to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, “Today’s Wonky Elite Is in Love With the Wrong French Intellectual”: “Since the power of the fleeting aristocracy of wealth depends on the much greater and more durable power of the state, the key to weakening the influence of the super-rich is not by handing the government their money but by…sharply limiting the scope of centralized government.” This received a reprimand from the book’s translator, Arthur Goldhammer, “Poulos Gets Piketty—and Tocqueville—Wrong”, that was striking in its dismissal of the Poulos’s lack of knowledge and intellectual discipline: “His column is such a mishmash of assertion and non-sequitur that it’s hard to fasten on an argument.”

So, Fein’s approach in his answer is not unique or notable given his political company. What is surprising, given Fein’s history, is this phrase about why this economic inequality has come about: “It’s simply that president Obama, like most of the Republicans, have been bought off and compromised by the moneyed interests.” This really does stand out in my mind because of a letter I came across, again thanks to Ames’ “Libertarian Bum Fights”, where Fein discusses strategy for dealing with S.1883: Tobacco Product Education and Health Protection Act of 1990. Oh, yes: in addition to Sudan and RENAMO, Bruce Fein worked for the tobacco companies. S.1883 would have researched the addictiveness of tobacco products, enforced the restriction on sales to minors, and forced companies to disclose health risks of tobacco products to consumers. In this letter, Fein writes about marshalling opposition to the bill, and attempts to deflect this legislation by having a bone thrown to two private companies, Turner Cable Network and Whittle Communications, which would get health warnings paid for by Philip Morris on their in-school educational broadcasts.

The cast of charactes in this letter: Cary Sherman is a lawyer with Arnold & Porter, longtime counsel for Philip Morris. The PM is the Philip Morris company. Thurmond is Strom Thurmond, the late and unlamented Senator from South Carolina. Hatch is Orrin Hatch, the Senator still serving from Utah. Kennedy is the late Edward Kennedy, sponsor of the bill. The letter can be found at the Legacy Tobacco Documents, “Re: S.1988″ – the title is obviously wrong, and most likely the result of a scanning error, as the letter is entirely devoted to S.1883; it is transcribed here, with accompanying screenshots of the original letter should this database be lost:

To: Cary Sherman
From: Bruce Fein
Re: S. 1883

Last Tuesday, I met with Senator Thurmond’s legislative captain for S. 1883, Craig Metz. I communicated some major flaws PM perceived in the bill, with the Kennedy substitute amendment: convert government suasion of broadcasters and programmers to portray smoking as unflattering and ugsome; unequal free speech over the airwaves by forbidding promotion of smoking while subsidizing its denunciation; the specious effort to advertise the bill as a states’ rights measure when it denies states power to regulate the authority over advertising of its municipalities; the illegitimate purpose of balkanizing the advertising of cigarettes to squelch commercial speech in a national market; the unfair authorization of states to saddle tobacco producers with potential billions in tort liability for inadequate health warnings despite scrupulous compliance with warnings that Congress has found adequate; the anti-blue collar overtones of the bill because the royalty of Senator Kennedy’s ilk who engage in saturnalia on Cape Cod partake of other pleasure to gratify their sensual desires; and, the dangerous precedent S. 1883 would set for government gambits on other products that may be insalubrious like pork, sugar, or hot dogs.

Metz received all the arguments openly, but was guarded as to how Thurmond might vote. He stated the Senator desired a low profile, and, at present, was uncommitted. I deduced that Thurmond may be willing to trade his vote on S. 1883 for a Kennedy vote on a bill he champions. Tobacco farmers, however, are a significant electoral constituency in South Carolina. How Thurmond’s support for alcohol warning labels may affect his posture on S. 1883 is uncertain.

(Bob Cable sat in the meeting with Metz).

I met alone last Thursday with George Lewis, Senator Hatch’s chrieftan [sic] for S. 1883. Bob Cable was occupied on other matters.

I reiterated PM’s concerns regarding S. 1883 that I had previously elaborated to Craig Metz.

Lewis seemed more openly receptive to the arguments than Metz, and scornful of the bill. He stated that a consensus in the Labor and Human Resources Committee agreed S. 1883 needed major revamping, and that the Kennedy substitute was seriously flawed. He seemed to think only the proposals for enhanced anti-smoking campaigns directed at youth enjoyed widespread committee support. He further opined – and on this count he echoed Metz – that S. 1883 would never reach a floor vote this session because of the crowded Senate calendar. Lewis did not display enthusiasm for Hatch playing a so-called “broker” role to crown S. 1883 with at least incomplete success.

It seems to me that one option that PM might explore to demonstrate its strong devotion to shielding minors from smoking is participation in the Whittle Communications and Turner Cable Network public school daily news briefs (8-10 minutes) that now penetrate up to 8,000 school districts. Whittle and Turner deliver their programming by satellite to TVRO dishes on school sites. PM might consider sponsoring health warnings at some point in the news briefs as a public service announcement.

Fein tobacco letter p1 cropped Fein tobacco letter p2 cropped

Fein tobacco letter p3 cropped Fein tobacco letter p4 cropped

We return to the conversation, still on the subject of inequality.

MASTERS
But surely Bruce Fein, you detect, it’s in the political zeitgeist now, the issues of inequality are growing, growing inequality of wealth, it’s going to be clearly a campaign issue, the number one best seller if Thomas Piketty’s new book, I think it’s Capital in the 21st Century, that is about how the rich are getting richer, and the middle class is floundering, and the poorer are getting poorer. I just interviewed a scholar at Princeton the other day who’s done a study that indicates…he doesn’t use the word oligarchy, but the word oligarchy is out there, and that is what seems to me to be the big question. And our politics at the moment is the extent, have we become an oligarchy, or are we still a democracy? That seems to be the main question. One of the things that he discovered in his research, which was pretty thorough, going on several decades, is that the powerful special interests in this country…if they want a policy, they have a 50-50 chance of getting it enacted. The middle class have very little influence, and the poor have no influence ever at politics. But the wealthy elite, they do not refer to them in this study as oligarchs, but I think he calls them the wealthy elite…they have a 50-50 chance of getting their policies through, and conversely, if they don’t want something to happen, it’s only got an eighteen percent chance of succeeding. So, in effect, the wealthy have veto power over our government. That is a portrait of current issues. So, which is the more important, economic fairness, or-

FEIN
Well, economic fairness, I think, won’t matter if we don’t have any liberty anymore. We can have bread and circuses, and be a little complacent, but we would destroy ourselves as a free people. Cicero described freedom as participation in power, and that’s what we’ve lost. All the power that is serious, has migrated to the executive, which frequently bows, if you will, to moneyed interests, but not exclusively. It doesn’t do that. But in my judgement, if we’re looking at two concerns: one, the manipulation of government to enrich the rich. As opposed to the use of government to run an empire, where it crushes liberty and freedom. And we have surveillance everywhere, and no due process, and we kill people, even our own citizens, based on the president’s say-so alone. We will crumble as an empire, and then all the economic issues will be out of the equation, because there’ll be no country to defend. And that, in my judgement, is where we will be in thirty years. We’ve got an eighteen trillion dollar debt that’s just not sustainable. And continuing to project ourselves everywhere under the sun, now we’re going to war with Japan over five uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, with China, I mean, this is just madness. And now, we go everywhere else in the world, where anybody who says they’re a terrorist, stands up and says they don’t like the United States. Now, I don’t want at all to downplay the issue of inequality, I think that’s exactly what James Madison feared when he said, “We do not want people to profit off speculating off public measures.” And that’s what’s happened here. They’ve manipulated and changed government, from an institution to seek justice, and seek equal opportunity, to one that creates special privileges for the rich to become even richer. The bailout of the banks is a characteristic example of that. And in some sense, it has the earmarks of the eve of the French revolution. Ultimately, there was a storming of the Bastille. But surely, the economic inequality of that time was equally acute.

MASTERS
Well, my sense though, is that one of the reasons why government has these powers is that there’s an enormous amount of alienation in this country, against government. You see people on the right, the militia movements and stuff, they invent all kinds of evils of the government, and they want to arm themselves against this government, there’s a face-off now going on, down in Nevada, over a rancher who, by the way-

FEIN
But he’s not alienating- he’s pouting- he’s mooching off of government.

MASTERS
Exactly.

FEIN
He’s a sponge. He wants to graze on government land and not pay for it.

MASTERS
I know, but your candidate, Rand Paul, supported him before-

FEIN
Well, he renounced him.

MASTERS
Till this-

FEIN
Racist scumbag.

MASTERS
-the only worse racist is this Donald Sterling, which is our shame here in Los Angeles. But the point I was wanting to make, Bruce, is that, I sense even more on the left than the right, but on both the far left and the far right, in this country, an enormous alienation, a belief that the government is just a remote, malignant force that they have no control over. That leads to all kinds of weird conspiracy theories about what the government is up to. I don’t see in this country, given that only fifty percent of the people vote, a real sense, that we, the people, own this damn government, and we should make this government work for us, and not work for itself. Where is that spirit going to come from?

FEIN
No, and that’s what part of the task of leadership is, Ian. And we have, as I say, an acephalous political culture: there is no leadership. But that’s the purpose of being a political leader, to arouse and awaken the American people. We the people are sovereign, and that’s the highest office in the land, and you have a duty, not an option, but a duty to participate in government. A duty to have your eyes and ears alert to government abuses, a duty to participate in the dialogue, so your ideas can enrich the debate. And that’s unfortunately absent at present. Now, I don’t think the democracy is quite as decrepit as you’ve described. I think one example, which was quite refreshing, was the public outcry against another war in Syria. If it wasn’t for that public consensus, President Obama was ready to fire eight hundred cruise missiles into Syria, and we’d be engaged in another futile fool’s errand, making us complicit in further moral evils and stupidities. And so it showed, that the President and the Congress did wake up when the shouting was sufficiently loud. But we need to have that regularly and constant, and it has to be an unwritten rule of American life. That’s what you buy into when you’re an American citizen. And that’s gotta be preached around the dinner table, the breakfast table, the classroom, and social engagements, and otherwise. That’s what makes us Americans.

MASTERS
Well, Bruce Fein, I appreciate you joining us here today. And I thank you.

FEIN
Thank you, Ian. It’s been delightful.

(On July 1st, the following changes were made: footnote #8, listing the interview of Bruce Fein by Jack Hunter was added; footnote #15, a supplemental screenshot of the SPN list featuring the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii was added; an overall clarifying edit, without chaning any meaning, was made; spells were checked; the D.C. press were no longer referred to as a blind and lazy mole rat, but a blind masturbating mole rat. On July 2nd, some links for footnotes #11 through #14 were fixed; some additional material in the “war machine gravy train” paragraph was added, including the links to Fein’s pieces in the Washington Times and Slate. On July 3rd, a new footnote #11 was added – all footnotes following it were incremented by one – for the soure of the information on Jack Hunter’s past. On July 4, 2014, excerpts were added to footnote #2 from the Dana Milbank article, “E-mails back claim that Sen. Rand Paul ‘stole’ NSA lawsuit”, which providing additional support to the allegation that Rand Paul’s NSA lawsuit was very much plagiarized from Fein’s work.)

FOOTNOTES

1 From Lolavar v. de Santibanes:

Pursuant to this second contract, Miss Lolavar went to Argentina in August 2000 to assist de Santibañes with preparations for his testimony in Argentine congressional hearings inquiring into allegations that he and the Argentine intelligence agency, known as SIDE, were responsible for bribing various Argentine senators in exchange for political support.

Morris and Stone assigned other tasks to Miss Lolavar while she was in Argentina. Among other acts, they instructed her to contact SIDE and obtain a list of journalists who accepted bribes from that organization in order to harm the credibility of those same journalists in reporting on a bribery scandal surrounding de Santibañes and President de la Rua, as well as requiring her to spread false information to the press concerning de la Rua’s political opponent, Dr. Carlos Menem.

A request that occasioned controversy between Miss Lolavar and the defendants was Morris and Stone’s request that she serve as an intermediary in an anonymous wire transfer of funds to an official in Israel. These funds were to be paid to secure intelligence files from the Israeli government to assist de la Rua’s political domestic disputes with Menem, and to imply a corrupt relationship between Menem and George W. Bush, who was then running against Albert Gore for the United States presidency. These files were to be altered by Miss Lolavar to appear to be SIDE documents.

When the defendants became concerned that this plot would be discovered and traced back to them, they ordered Miss Lolavar to orchestrate a press response to blame Vice President Gore for the dissemination of the documents, since it was known to them that the Gore campaign had been attempting to connect Menem with the Bush campaign.

When Miss Lolavar refused to cooperate with these demands, the defendants undertook a series of reprisals. First, they refused to pay her fees under the contract until she executed the wire transfers. Additionally, they made a number of false defamatory statements concerning her, including that she was anti-Semitic, that her efforts to disclose these transactions were the result of a political bribe by Menem’s Peronist Party, and that she forged the correspondence that was evidence of the defendants’ wrongdoing.

2 From “Rand Paul and Ken Cuccinelli accused of stealing NSA lawsuit” by Dana Milbank, on the similarities between the two drafts:

But a Jan. 15 draft of the complaint written by Fein has long passages that are nearly identical to those in the complaint Cuccinelli filed Wednesday. Except for some cuts and minor wording changes, they are clearly the same documents.

For example, Fein’s version said, “When the MATP was disclosed by Edward Snowden, public opinion polls showed widespread opposition to the dragnet collection, storage, retention, and search of telephony metadata collected on every domestic or international phone call made or received by citizens or permanent resident aliens in the United States.”

Cuccinelli’s version said, “Since the MATP was publicly disclosed, public opinion polls showed widespread opposition to the dragnet collection, storage, retention, and search of telephone metadata collected on every domestic or international phone call made or received by citizens or permanent resident aliens in the United States.”

Fein wrote: “On information and belief, Defendants’ Mass Associational Tracking Program since its commencement in May 2006 has not stopped or been instrumental in stopping even one imminent international terrorist attack or has otherwise assisted Defendants in achieving any time-sensitive objective.”

Cuccinelli’s version: “Upon information and belief, since its commencement in May 2006, Defendants’ Mass Associational Tracking Program has not stopped or been instrumental in stopping even one imminent international terrorist attack or otherwise assisted Defendants in achieving any time-sensitive objective.”

A follow-up article by Milbank (reached via “‘My marginalization was thoroughly unfair’” by Steve Benen), “E-mails back claim that Sen. Rand Paul ‘stole’ NSA lawsuit”, gives further support that Bruce Fein initiated the allegations that the NSA suit was plagiarised from his initial draft, with the first complaint being sent from Bruce Fein’s email address, not his ex-wife’s:

Here is the first email Fein wrote, which he sent to Doug Stafford, Paul’s top political advisor.

On Feb 12, 2014, at 1:56 PM, “Bruce Fein” b*****@thelichfieldgroup.com wrote:

Dear Doug,

The protocols for preparing and filing the class action complaint today were hugely suboptimal.

My name was not on the complaint despite the fact that it was predominantly my work product over several weeks and two hundred hours of research, meetings, and drafting. Ken never showed me the final complaint before submission. My name could not be on the complaint under DC Bar Rules because I could not prepare a timely engagement letter. I was never informed until yesterday by Ken of the details of the collaborative arrangement between FreedomWorks and Rand for litigating and paying for the lawsuit. I promptly revised the engagement letter when the information was received, and it has been forwarded via Ken to Rand and FreedomWorks.

I did not learn of the date for filing except by inadvertence from Ken a few days ago.

I was not included in any briefing of Rand about the complaint before filing and press conference today despite the fact that I know vastly more about the Fourth Amendment issue and the history of NSA surveillance than anyone else on the team.

My outstanding invoice for work indispensable to the lawsuit should be paid no later than Friday, February 14, an expectation which is completely justified in light of all the circumstances. Please alert me if the work description on the invoice needs alteration.

Thanks for your attention to these matters.

Bruce Fein

Cuccinelli’s limited experience in the venue, from Milbank’s “Rand Paul and Ken Cuccinelli accused of stealing NSA lawsuit”:

But when Paul filed his suit at the U.S. District Court in Washington on Wednesday morning, Fein’s name had been replaced with that of Ken Cuccinelli, the failed Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia who until last month had been the state’s attorney general. Cuccinelli has never argued a case in that courthouse, and he isn’t even a member of the D.C. bar (he also filed a motion Wednesday seeking an exception to allow him to argue this case in D.C.). But he is, like Paul, a tea party darling.

Mattie Fein on Cuccinelli, from Milbank’s “Rand Paul and Ken Cuccinelli accused of stealing NSA lawsuit”:

Fein, who has not been paid in full for his legal work by Paul’s political action committee, was furious that he had been omitted from the filing he wrote. “I am aghast and shocked by Ken Cuccinelli’s behavior and his absolute knowledge that this entire complaint was the work product, intellectual property and legal genius of Bruce Fein,” Mattie Fein, his ex-wife and spokeswoman, told me Wednesday. “Ken Cuccinelli stole the suit,” she said, adding that Paul, who “already has one plagiarism issue, now has a lawyer who just takes another lawyer’s work product.”

Again from Milbank’s “Rand Paul and Ken Cuccinelli accused of stealing NSA lawsuit”, how dumb is Ken Cuccinelli?:

When Mattie Fein responded in an e-mail to Cuccinelli calling him “dumb as a box of rocks,” Cuccinelli wrote another e-mail to Bruce Fein saying, “I think this relationship is untenable.”

3 From “Libertarian Bum Fights” by Mark Ames:

Fein runs a Washington DC lobbying outfit called The Lichfield Group. His lobby group’s website is currently “under construction,” but before it was deleted, Fein used to boast about his excellent connections to the same government agencies that he, as a Ron Paul libertarian, opposes. A scrubbed “Expertise” page on the Lichfield Group’s website boasted:

The Lichfield Group features unrivalled government, media, and business experience. Exemplary is the Group’s high level connections with the Department of Justice, the Department of State, and the Central Intelligence Agency, on the one hand, to The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal, and nationwide broadcast or cable networks on the other.

The Group’s unsurpassed combination of legal, business, media, political, and government savvy enables it to handle crisis management, tactical, or strategic positioning with unexcelled deftness. Whether a client is a giant corporation handcuffed by ill-conceived United States government policies or a foreign government anxious to influence the decisions of Congress, the President, agencies, the judiciary, or State governments, The Lichfield Group is armed with the skills and contacts indispensable for success.

4 Should these tweets be deleted, these screenshots will show what this page looked like when they were extant:

bruce fein tweets at ityb p1 cropped bruce fein tweets at ityb p2 cropped

bruce fein tweets at ityb p3 cropped bruce fein tweets at ityb p4 cropped

5 The tweets:

https://twitter.com/BruceFeinEsq/status/481383993292902400

Should this tweet be deleted, this screenshot will show them when they were extant:

whats with all the slut shaming cropped

6 From “Rand Paul didn’t plagiarize his NSA lawsuit” by Adam Serwer; it seems this headline is a little too absolute and unqualified. Based on the examples given by Dana Milbank, there are uncanny similarities between the two drafts, and all that has taken place is that Fein does not make such plagiarism charges, though his ex-wife does:

A spokesperson for RANDPAC forwarded an email from Fein denying Mattie Fein’s allegations. “Mattie Lolavar was not speaking for me,” Fein said in the email. “Her quotes were her own and did not represent my views. I was working on a legal team, and have been paid for my work.” Bruce Fein confirmed to msnbc that the email was from him.

7 Should this tweet be deleted, this screenshot will show what this page looked like when they were extant:

bruce fein tweets at ityb p5 cropped

8 This interview with Jack Hunter, conducted on July 6, 2010, can be found in four parts on youtube: “SA@TAC – Bruce Fein on “American Empire” 7/6/10 Part 1″, “SA@TAC – Bruce Fein on “American Empire” 7/6/10 Part 2″, “SA@TAC – Bruce Fein on “American Empire” 7/6/10 Part 3″, “SA@TAC – Bruce Fein on “American Empire” 7/6/10 Part 4″.

The excerpt is taken from part one.

9 This story is covered in several places, including this site: “The Ron Paul Newsletter Story That I Found The Most Disturbing: “Blast ‘Em?””.

10 This story seems to have ignored by just about every news outlet, though it is covered in-depth on this site: “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part One”.

11 “Rand Paul aide slammed after report” by Katie Glueck in Politico (ugh) gives a good overview of the various things Hunter has said in the past.

12 From “U.S. military teams, intelligence deeply involved in aiding Yemen on strikes” by Dana Priest, via “Bum Fights” by Mark Ames:

The Obama administration’s deepening of bilateral intelligence relations builds on ties forged during George J. Tenet’s tenure as CIA director.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Tenet coaxed Saleh [Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh] into a partnership that would give the CIA and U.S. military units the means to attack terrorist training camps and al-Qaeda targets. Saleh agreed, in part, because he believed that his country, the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, was next on the U.S. invasion list, according to an adviser to the Yemeni president.

Tenet provided Saleh’s forces with helicopters, eavesdropping equipment and 100 Army Special Forces members to train an antiterrorism unit. He also won Saleh’s approval to fly Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles over the country. In November 2002, a CIA missile strike killed six al-Qaeda operatives driving through the desert. The target was Abu Ali al-Harithi, organizer of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Killed with him was a U.S. citizen, Kamal Derwish, who the CIA knew was in the car.

Word that the CIA had purposefully killed Derwish drew attention to the unconventional nature of the new conflict and to the secret legal deliberations over whether killing a U.S. citizen was legal and ethical.

13 From “The Third Man”, on Barr’s involvement with DOMA:

His departure from the G.O.P. was notable because Barr didn’t just work in Congress; he often lived there, sleeping on his office couch. And when the Republican leaders wanted to be sure the far-right wing would support a measure they frequently went to him first. Barr didn’t just advocate Second Amendment rights; he held a seat on the board of the National Rifle Association. Although he voted in favor of some civil-liberties and small-government measures, he was also an ardent supporter of the war on drugs. He repeatedly sponsored legislation to undermine ballot initiatives legalizing medical marijuana-“bogus witchcraft,” he called it-in Washington, D.C. Barr vehemently opposed abortion, and once argued that even if his wife were raped he would do what he could to prevent her from having one. He wrote the Defense of Marriage Act, voted for a constitutional amendment outlawing flag desecration, and even tried to legislate against Wiccan soldiers who wanted to practice their faith while in the service. A churchgoing Methodist, Barr rarely invoked religion when discussing policy with his aides, but he told constituents that “God’s hand” was guiding his votes. In 1998, he traversed the country, trying to persuade people that President Clinton was leading America into amorality. “You can lie, cheat, steal, shoot someone,” Barr said in Iowa, at an event attended by Republican Presidential hopefuls. “You can do whatever you want and it doesn’t matter-it’s a cartoon world.” In 1999, Congressional Quarterly labelled Barr a “Conservative True Believer.”

Perhaps the best source on the passage of the destructive drug laws of the 1980s and 1990s is Eric Schlosser’s Reefer Madness, and it makes clear Barr’s full and enthusiastic involvement:

In 1981, Congressman Newt Gingrich introduced a bill to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. Fifteen years later, as Speaker of the House, Gingrich sponsored legislation demanding a life sentence or the death penalty for anyone who brought more than two ounces of marijuana into the United States. Although the Clinton Administration opposed that bill, it accepted the basic premises of marijuana prohibition, allowing the heirs of the Reagan revolution to set America’s policy on the drug. Senator Mitch McConnell and Congressman Bob Barr emerged as two of pot’s fiercest and most outspoken critics. McConnell tried without success to make federal penalties for selling or possessing marijuana equivalent to those for selling or possessing cocaine and heroin. Barr fought hard to prevent any research into the “so-called medicinal use of marijuana” and claimed such attempts were part of a vast conspiracy. “All civilized countries in the world,” he said, “are under assault by drug proponents seeking to enslave citizens.” He called the effort to reform the nation’s marijuana laws a “subversive criminal movement.” McConnell and Barr were deeply concerned about the potential harms caused by smoking marijuana; but smoking cigarettes was a different story. Barr opposed lawsuits against tobacco companies, arguing that such efforts were reminiscent of “Soviet rule” and that the product in question was “legal, widely used, profitable, disfavored by the ruling intelligentsia…and subject to some colorable claim that it harmed someone, somehow, somewhere.” In 2002 McConnell accepted more money from tobacco lobbyists than any other member of Congress. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, responsible for an estimated 440,000 deaths every year.

14 This episode is described in many places, including “Presidential also-rans stiff small businesses” by Dave Levinthal and Robin Bravender:

Maryland-based author James Bovard sued 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr for $47,000 he’s owed after ghostwriting a book for the former congressman. Barr, who once called [link does not go to the proper text in the original, so it's been fixed] for “a surge in federal fiscal responsibility,” this month reported still owing a dozen different vendors an aggregate $157,450.

“I suppose when you deal with politicians, you shouldn’t have high expectations,” Bovard said. “He thinks he can walk away from paying his debt, but he is mistaken.”

15 What follows is the full text from Bruce Fein’s endorsement of Barr:

June 20, 2013

Fein – “Only Bob Barr Can Protect and Advance the Constitution in Congress.”

Bruce Fein, one of the leading Constitutional experts in the United States, is proud to endorse Bob Barr for Congress.

“It is vital to all who care about the Constitution, and who seek to have a Member of Congress who not only supports limited constitutional government but understands it, that Bob Barr return to Congress in GA 11,” Fein said in a statement today.

Fein said also:

“America is at a crossroads. There is a real battle in Washington between those who support a more oppressive federal government and those who support the Constitution. This is not a time for well-meaning but inexperienced people in Congress. We need Bob Barr, who brings his experience, seniority, and constitutional expertise with him and who will, on Day One, lead the movement, at a national level, for limited constitutional governance in Washington.”

“If you are a conservative who supports limited government and the Constitution, then join me in supporting Bob Barr for Congress,” concluded Fein. Bob understands that the final end of the state is to make men and women free to develop their faculties and to be morally accountable for their destines, not to create a Leviathan regulating and scrutinizing every nook and cranny of our lives.”

“I welcome the endorsement of my good friend, Bruce Fein, a constitutional scholar with whom I have been proud to work with for many years, said Barr; who continued: “It is an honor to have Bruce on our team as we work to restore and reaffirm the concept of limited government in Washington and respect for the Constitution.”

Bruce Fein is Chairman of the American Freedom Agenda, founder of Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc., and The Lichfield Group; author of Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy; and a columnist for The Washington Times. Mr. Fein graduated with honors from Harvard Law School in 1972, clerked for a prestigious federal court, served as special assistant to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel and the Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, Assistant Director for the Office of Legal Policy, Associate Deputy Attorney General, General Counsel to the Federal Communications Commission, Counsel to the Joint Congressional Committee on Covert Arms Sales to Iran, Visiting Fellow for Constitutional Studies at the Heritage Foundation, Adjunct Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Guest Lecturer at the Brookings Institute. Mr. Fein specializes in constitutional and international law, is a frequent witness before Congress, and is a regular guest on national television and radio.

Since everything related to a political campaign is ephemeral, I’ve uploaded screenshots of this page in the campaign website should it be down.

bruce fein campaign website p1 bruce fein campaign website p2

16 Should this site list go down, or should this entry be deleted, the following is a screenshot from the page on June 30, 2014:

grassroot instiute of hawaii on spn list

17 From Exposed: The State Policy Network, specific page 5:

While it has become an $83 million dollar right-wing empire, SPN and most of its affiliates do not post their major donors on their websites. The identities of the donors we have discovered reveal that SPN is largely funded by global corporations – such as Reynolds American, Altria, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods, Express Scripts, Comcast, Time Warner, and the Koch- and Tea Party-connected DCI Group lobbying and PR firm – that stand to benefit from SPN’s destructive agenda, as well as out-of-state special interests like the billionaire Koch brothers, the Waltons, the Bradley Foundation, the Roe Foundation, and the Coors family – that are underwriting an extreme legislative agenda that undermines the traditional rights of modern Americans. Corporations like Facebook and the for-profit online education company K12 Inc., as well as the e-cigarette company NJOY, also fund SPN, as demonstrated at its most recent annual meeting.

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David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: Bad Religion

“She kissed his cheek, and the flesh against her lips felt as cold as the snowflakes at the window.”
–“Mojave” by Truman Capote, from Music for Chameleons

“And so it is “I,” the person among other persons, alone yet inseparable from the community of others, who sees as if for the first time and who reflectively comes to know the meanings that awaken in my consciousness.” – Clark Moustakas, Phenomological Research Methods, quote taken from “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomology of Fame” by Donna Rockwell and David C. Giles

(This contains spoilers for Videodrome, though it is very much written for those who have seen and are familiar with the movie. Given this, no attempt at a plot summary is made. There are spoilers for Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch as well. Script excerpts are taken from on-line transcripts at Script-o-rama, for Videodrome and Naked Lunch. I am indebted to The Rule of Metaphor by Paul Ricoeur, as a helpful, though often difficult, guide on the subject.)

One of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen. Some do not wish to attempt to examine the mysteries of why a certain film works, especially if it has this kind of memorable power, disturbing or otherwise; that this is like sealing beautiful flowing smoke in a glass. The hyptnotizing, electric flow ends with the entrapment, and there is perhaps something unfeeling as well – this kind of examination can sometimes be close to trapping insects in jars, and sometimes like plucking their wings off. I know all this, and I look closer anyway. What follows are my brief explorations of Videodrome. As with all explorations, they are unfinished.

The first thing to be looked at might be the quality so often remarked about this movie, its prescience. That it features a man who becomes obsessed with a virtual reality, to the point that he can no longer distinguish between the real and his hallucinations, this all is taken as an anticipation of our internet dominated lives, now. Properly placed, Videodrome is not a prediction, but simply a reiteration of past themes. Cronenberg himself would dismiss the idea of a conscious, intentional attempt at augury in many places, among them his introduction to a showing of the film in 2009, “Cronenberg Videodrome Intro” (from 1:30-3:00 in the clip):

The movie has been seen as being quite prophetic, as you mentioned, of everything from the internet to virtual reality, to interactive television and so on, I suppose you could say, “Did I anticipate all of that stuff?” and I suppose I could say, “Yeah.” But so what? Because nothing happens as a result of that. I wasn’t really trying to be prophetic. I was trying to…when you, if you’re an artist, all you’ve got, that might be unique, are the antenna that you have, that are sensitive to things that are in the air, that are around, that perhaps other people are not sensitive, as sensitive to, for whatever reason. And so I think that was what I was really doing then. Because there is a character in this movie [Brian O'Blivion] who is modeled after Marshall McLuhan, and he was certainly around the University of Toronto when I was there. And his thoughts, and his presence, and his prophecies, which were quite astonishingly accurate, I must say, so for me to…I was really trying to…to distill something of the zeitgeist of the time, I suppose, and also make something that was entertaining and sexy and perverse, I think. And you’ll let me know if I did that or not.

The director would again dismiss the possibility, as well as explain the genesis of the movie in “Cronenberg on Cronenberg” (15:55-17:42 in the clip):

CRONENBERG
Videodrome really came from the limitations of television at the time. Which was, I remember as a child, we had an antenna that would rotate, to pick up, each station needed the antenna to rotate to get the best image. So, you’d be watching your TV set, rotating the image, and seeing it come into focus in a way. And sometimes, when the major…this is something else that people don’t think of. It wasn’t twenty four hour a day television. It was…at eleven o’clock, eleven thirty, television was finished. Until the morning. You didn’t go all night. After all the television stations had shut down, you could sometimes pick up some strange signals, from…now, in Toronto it would be mostly from America, maybe Buffalo. Maybe from New York. Maybe from Detroit. And those signals were very weak, but you could pick them up late at night. And you would see things, but it would never be clear. And you wouldn’t know what you were watching. And it was very mysterious. And sometimes very disturbing. And very intriguing. And so I used that experience with Videodrome. In other words, old technology at the time. I even have scenes of a satellite dish, and so on, but of course when I was doing it, it was an antenna, not a satellite dish. There were no satellites. And it was just that idea of picking up a mysterious, forbidden signal. That somehow you had access to, via accident. And that’s really what it had to do with. Videodrome.

INTERVIEWER
This idea of a hidden channel, is something very relevant, powerful, even today. [CRONENBERG: Yes.] When you think of the internet [CRONENBERG: Yes.], this darknet, there always seems to be a place where people are hoping to find something forbidden, or…

CRONENBERG
Yes. That’s actually true, and it’s why people sometimes think Videodrome is anticipating the internet, of course I wasn’t really thinking about it, but it’s true that some of the things that I was playing with, which is to say interactive television, television that would respond directly to you, was, is, in a sense, an anticipation of something…that has become the internet. Really. So, it hasn’t changed, and yes, there are some very forbidden…imagery and videos on the internet which….I mean, it’s quite extraordinary that the police could come to your house and discover that you had downloaded some images and arrest you and put you in jail for a long time. Mostly, child pornography and so on. But…that’s an extraordinary thought. That the images condemn you, immediately. And that, even though you just sat in your room and clicked to access them. But you were condemned by doing that. That’s extraordinary.

One should note the key element in the TV signals picked up from across the border, and that is the lack of control. The TV signal is described as “mysterious, forbidden”, a transmission where “you wouldn’t know what you were watching”. We have perhaps the exact inverse of the contemporary internet, which is defined by the search engine google, along with content filters like facebook and twitter, whose orderly and authoritative results arguably disciplined a wild and unruly place. Whereas the Videodrome signal is something like an unnamed ghostland, unknown and invisible to all atlases. It exists as a result of technology, and yet it also has the qualities of a hallucinatory vision which might seize a character, and whose meaning they must decipher, whether it has an implication for the here and now, or a portent of the future. This, of course, is a near exact description of the visions of another movie, which resemble old TV transmissions, the transmitted warnings of Prince of Darkness.

Given that Videodrome is seen as a prescient vision, it might be useful to look at someone else from the very same time whose work is seen as predicting the internet, though that was not his intent, either. This would be the writer William Gibson, and his book Neuromancer, published only a year after Videodrome‘s release. I do not link the two out of any intent to make kleptic accusations; I think Gibson himself properly answers why you might have a similar focus in the movies and books of the time in “William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211″:

There’s an idea in the science-fiction community called steam-engine time, which is what people call it when suddenly twenty or thirty different writers produce stories about the same idea. It’s called steam-engine time ­because nobody knows why the steam engine happened when it did. Ptolemy demonstrated the mechanics of the steam engine, and there was nothing technically stopping the Romans from building big steam engines. They had little toy steam engines, and they had enough metalworking skill to build big steam tractors. It just never occurred to them to do it. When I came up with my cyberspace idea, I thought, I bet it’s steam-engine time for this one, because I can’t be the only person noticing these various things. And I wasn’t. I was just the first person who put it together in that particular way, and I had a logo for it, I had my neologism.

The neologism, the one Gibson put together, was cyberspace, before there was anything substantial outside of his fictional world that the name could be applied to. In this same interview, Gibson mentions his strongest influences: “William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon.” He gives special mention to Burroughs and Naked Lunch, describing it as a kind of science fiction without being hidebound to the traditions of the genre1. Lunch has been named by Cronenberg as his favorite book, and he, of course, took on the Sissyphean task of making it into a movie. Again, however, we are not speaking of A simply leading to B. “One of the reasons Burroughs excited me when I read him was that I recognized my own imagery in his work,” says Cronenberg at the time of the Lunch movie’s release. “It sounds only defensive to say, ‘I was already thinking of a virus when I read that!’ But there is a recognition factor. That’s why I think you start to feel like you’re vibrating in harmony with someone else. It’s the recognition, not that they introduced you to something that was completely unthought of by you.”2 Our thoughts slowly congeal into a metaphor, and we see elsewhere the public expression of someone else’s thoughts in similar metaphors. Lunch‘s Interzone is the unruly mix of many peoples where fantasy is unleashed; Neuromancer separates these two worlds with the vast crowd of the Sprawl, several interconnected North American cities – and the unrestricted virtual life of its cyberspace, the Matrix (a term native to this book and not the later movie series)3; Videodrome takes place in the interethnic mix of Toronto with a hero whose business is buying and selling pornography, and where its virtual fantasyland shares the movie’s title.

This is how I see Videodrome: as a partial expression of the themes of Naked Lunch, but one that is ultimately truer to the book than the actual movie adaptation. Though Lunch is often taken as surreal nonsense, with no connection to the actual, I think it is very obviously an attempt to express the author’s life experience, specifically his drug experience and his queer life, and the truest method of expression would be through often hallucinatory imagery. Burroughs had little involvement with hallucinogens, and the images of Lunch do not feel like any attempt at reproducing the experiences of such drugs, but at conveying a specific physical and emotional sense. A gay man, a drug user of the time must have felt like a hunted man, and so the protagonist of Lunch is someone literally hunted: a man wanted by cops and an undercover spy. The images are unreal, but not without purpose. The repulsive figure of the Mugwumps and Reptiles are visions of the addict himself, his flesh in a state of accelerated decay, his body deforming into something others consider monstrous, and about which he is indifferent:

On stools covered in white satin sit naked Mugwumps sucking translucent, colored syrups through alabaster straws. Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. (In fact all longevity agents have proved addicting in exact ratio to their effectiveness in prolonging life.) Addicts of Mugwump fluid are known as Reptiles. A number of these flow over chairs with their flexible bones and black-pink flesh. A fan of green cartilage covered with hollow, erectile hairs through which the Reptiles absorb the fluid sprouts from behind each ear. The fans, which move from time to time touched by invisible currents, serve also some form of communication known only to Reptiles.

During the biennial Panics when the raw, peeled Dream Police storm the City the Mugwumps take refuge in the deepest crevices of the wall, sealing themselves in clay cubicles, and remain for weeks in biostasis. In those days of grey terror the Reptiles dart about faster and faster, scream past each other at supersonic speed, their flexible skulls flapping in black winds of insect agony.

The Dream Police disintegrate in globs of rotten ectoplasm swept away by an old junky, coughing and spitting in the sick morning. The Mugwump Man comes with alabaster jars of fluid and the Reptiles get smoothed out.

The air is once again still and clear as glycerine.

The Sailor spotted his Reptile. He drifted over and ordered a green syrup. The Reptile had a little, round disk mouth of brown gristle, expressionless green eyes almost covered by a thin membrane of eyelid. The Sailor waited an hour before the creature picked up his presence.

It is perhaps helpful to look at this imagery next to that of the excellent memoir of addiction, White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, by Michael Clune. Though the book goes through the expected arc of such experience – introduction, addiction, descent, and many attempts at recovery of a pre-addicted life – it never falls into the monotony of detailing the endless days of addiction as if such dull accounting is charged with interest to the outsider, but effectively conveys this difficult life through often surreal images. This imagery never suggests an affect, an attempt at novelty, or simple writing games, but an honest relating of the addict’s inner life, so involved in inner twistings as to often break from reality. We have it in early description of a dealer:

In that bare front room at Dominic’s there is a trembling joy in the air. The thick sun of June gets trapped, pools, and grows cloudy. Proto-organisms form in the cloud of wood-color, heat, and sheet-light. I’m full of angels who fasten their lips and wings and hands to Dominic’s body, until he looks like a beach a thick flock of seagulls has landed on. By the time we get to the kitchen he doesn’t even look human.

We have it in this monologue about invisible spirits and creatures as a junkie injects, as intricate and solid a world as that imagined in Lunch:

He held the syringe before all of us. I could never have afforded a shot like that. It should have been in a museum. “Inducing the creature,” he said softly. He felt expertly along his neck till he found the pulsing vein. There was a black tattoo of a cross running down his neck and the vein pulsed along the cross. He slid in the needle and pressed down on the syringe.

“The creature is induced to crawl. Induced to walk. Induced to beg. To soil itself or not to soil itself. The sin is not the inducement. That’s what those old Christians in the joint never understood.”

“The sin is not the inducement,” Fathead continued. “That He may raise up the Lord casts down. Even unto the pit. This shit we think we’re doing here.” He laughed. “Another eye burns in our eye, another hand reaches through our hand. This,” he held up his thick, needle-scarred hand, “this is a glove.” He gazed thickly on it. “An abode for any spirit of the air. Every unrighteous and unclean spirit.”

“And that’s what God is,” Fathead said. “When the creature is induced to crawl out of the creature. I’ve seen it myself. The whatever leaving his eyes, ‘dying.’ Crawling into the invisible world. A thousand spirits curled up in a spoon. You should see the spirit leaving a man’s face; you can feel the room get thicker. I’ve done it myself. I’ll do it again.”

It is there in the sequence where Clune creates for himself a fictional refuge as he tries to stop using, a refuge which cannot contain the piercing cold, and this imagined sanctuary conveys better than any simple physical details the deeply frightening sense of naked vulnerability when trying to kick the drug:

That first night of kicking, I imagined I was living in a castle. A blizzard was raging outside. I’d been trudging though the blizzard, carrying my sword and shield, fleeing the enemy. I knocked on the massive oak door of the castle. I heard the slow sound of the bar being raised and the door swinging open. The friendly warmth rushed out, strong friendly hands pulled me, fainting, inside.

“You must be exhausted,” said a tall, handsome man in chain mail. “Well, everything is going to be fine. We have everything you need in this castle. The walls are strong; the enemy will never get in. And we have enough supplies to last for years in here.” I nodded and tried to smile.

They showed me to a room high in the walls. A big fire roared in the fireplace. A clean, white bed piled deep with cushions lay in the corner. I stood for several minutes gazing at it. I repeated the contents of this room in the castle over and over to myself. I was shivering terribly.

“They have hundreds of soldiers to protect me in this castle. The blizzard rages outside. It is warm and safe and deep inside the castle. I’ll fall asleep now.” But the shivering cold came through the thick castle walls. They had to move me deeper inside the castle, where I’d be warm.

They had to move me again. Deep in the castle’s heart, to a windowless room, with an ancient glowing furnace and a fire burning in the fireplace. They’d never heard of drugs. I heard hundreds of soldiers rushing in the corridors.

“They’re going to their battle stations.” I invented the name of the enemy. The history of the country. The names of the people in the castle army. “Henry Abelove, Lieutenant.” I counted their weapons. Lieutenant Abelove led me on a tour of their supplies and armaments.

But something was missing. Despite the plentiful stores of food, everyone in the castle looked starved and crazy. Despite the vast fires, the huge furnaces, the halls piled high with entire felled forests, I could not stop shivering.

“There is no sleep in this castle,” Lieutenant Abelove said sadly.

“But,” I said, “I thought that one first enters the castle, and then passes through into sleep.” He shook his head.

“This entire structure is built along the wall of sleep, but at no point does it penetrate it.” I tried to follow his words.

“Can’t we use some of these weapons, some of this fuel to break through?” He shook his head sadly. I tried to stop thinking about the castle.

Naked Lunch is a book that is unremitting in its nihilism, though at the same time full of cheerful laughter. We are lecherous, we are wicked, we are cruel; virtue and good works will not save us from suffering and painful death, both of which can be very funny to a passerby. The outlook might be that of someone fallen to the bottom of a barrel, at a dead end bar, laughing at the fellow cripples alongside him. The humor is not that of a superior type looking down, or the cheerless kind of someone pining for some lost paradise and wanting to bring it back, but of a writer deep in muck who has no inclination to leave it. The landscape is unsettling, though not a Nowhereland, but very much America. New York City is life-like, and so is the book’s Missouri, filled with American types:

He stands up screaming and black blood spurts solid from his last erection, a pale white statue standing there, as if he had stepped whole across the Great Fence, climbed it innocent and calm as a boy climbs the fence to fish in the forbidden pond-in a few seconds he catches a huge catfish-The Old Man will rush out of a little black hut cursing, with a pitchfork, and the boy runs laughing across the Missouri field-he finds a beautiful pink arrowhead and snatches it up as he runs with a flowing swoop of young bone and muscle-(his bones blend into the field, he lies dead by the wooden fence a shotgun by his side, blood on frozen red clay seeps into the winter stubble of Georgia) . . . The catfish billows out behind him . . . He comes to the fence and throws the catfish over into blood-streaked grass . . . the fish lies squirming and squawking-vaults the fence. He snatches up the catfish and disappears up a flint-studded red clay road between oaks and persimmons dropping red-brown leaves in a windy fall sunset, green and dripping in summer dawn, black against a clear winter day . . . the Old Man screams curses after him . . . his teeth fly from his mouth and whistle over the boy’s head, he strains forward, his neck-cords tight as steel hoops, black blood spurts in one solid piece over the fence and he falls a fleshless mummy by the fever grass. Thorns grow through his ribs, the windows break in his hut, dusty glass-slivers in black putty-rats run over the floor and boys jack off in the dark musty bedroom on summer afternoons and eat the berries that grow from his body and bones, mouths smeared with purple-red juices . . .

By rooting the book so solidly in the United States, rather than create a separate new universe of obscenity, it makes clear that its world – of drugs, queerness, and nihilism – is a part of America and always has been. “American humor is a really angry rube humor,” a point made by Michael O’Donoghue, insightful observer and comedy legend. “Very mean and aggressive. I’ve always liked American jokes.”4

The movie adaptation junks this nihilism, and junks the mean-spirited laughter. One example: a story about becoming consumed by one’s own asshole, which might be about the junkie’s physical sense of self-destruction, but is most definitely a nasty joke, is given in the movie a portentous setting of a dark highway, as if there were some deep meaning at its heart, and the deep meaning were its purpose. We might look at the original story in the novel, told there by Dr. Benway, and immediately hear the distinction in the lively patter which might remind one of Lenny Bruce, or other comedians of the time:

BENWAY: “Why not one all-purpose blob? Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down you dig farting out the words. It was unlike anything I ever heard.

“This ass talk had a sort of gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose? Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell.

“This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventriloquist act. Real funny, too, at first. He had a number he called ‘The Better ‘Ole’ that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it but it was clever. Like, ‘Oh I say, are you still down there, old thing?’

“‘Nah! I had to go relieve myself.’

“After a while the ass started talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time.

“Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy incurving hooks and started eating. He thought this was cute at first and built an act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth. Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him: ‘It’s you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we don’t need you around here any more. I can talk and eat and shit.’

“After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpole’s tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call un-D.T., Undifferentiated Tissue, which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body. He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly and grow there, grow anywhere on him a glob of it fell. So finally his mouth sealed over, and the whole head would have amputated spontaneous-(did you know there is a condition occurs in parts of Africa and only among Negroes where the little toe amputates spontaneously?)-except for the eyes, you dig. That’s one thing the asshole couldn’t do was see. It needed the eyes. But nerve connections were blocked and infiltrated and atrophied so the brain couldn’t give orders any more. It was trapped in the skull, sealed off. For a while you could see the silent, helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes went out, and there was no more feeling in them than a crab’s eye on the end of a stalk.”

The movie has a tragedy in its first act, and this tragedy is its narrative heart, a re-play of Burroughs killing his own wife when he tried to shoot a glass on top of her head, and missed. This is all played sincerely, the protagonist even shedding tears, whereas an event like this in Naked Lunch, the book, would be played as a Buster Keaton pratfall. The tragedy pushes Bill Lee (Burroughs himself, for all intents and purposes) from New York City (a very ersatz one, compared to the very real one of the book) and his fellow writers (a barely disguised Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg) to the mysterious Interzone. The book’s Interzone is very obviously the Tangier that Burroughs stayed in, full of spies, thieves, and disreputable characters; the paranoid scenes of the book are an attempt at capturing the paranoid setting5. The movie’s Interzone has vague references to the middle east, but is another place entirely of the imagination, the prevalent spies a seemingly arbitrary feature. There, Bill Lee meets a couple who are Paul and Jane Bowles, but given the names Paul and Joan Frost. This Joan is somehow a reborn version of the other Joan, Joan Lee, the dead wife. There is the suggestion that somehow Bill Lee must overcome his inhibitions about his own queerness, and that this will lead to finally becoming an accomplished writer. The movie hints that Bill killing Joan was an unconscious expression of a desire to rid himself of his female mate, in a conversation with the gay Paul Frost: “They say you murdered your wife,” says Paul Frost. “It wasn’t murder. It was an accident,” replies Bill Lee. “There are no accidents. For example…I’ve been killing my own wife slowly, over a period of years,” Frost replies. “Well, not intentionally. I mean, on the level of conscious intention, it’s insane, monstrous,” Frost adds. “We appreciate,” says a typewriter agent, “that you might find the thought of engaging in, uh, homosexual acts, morally and, uh, possibly even…physically repulsive.” Bill Lee himself speaks of the dread he feels about his own identity: “I shall never forget the unspeakable horror that froze the lymph in my glands, when the baneful word seared my reeling brain. I…was a homosexual. I thought of the painted, simpering female impersonators I had seen in a Baltimore nightclub. Could it be possible I was one of those subhuman things?” This also shows up as an unfinished phrase in his typewriter, with one word made ominous through its absence: queer.

(“Hank”, also known as Jack Kerouac, and “Martin”, also known as Allen Ginsberg)

(“Paul and Joan Frost”, also known as Paul and Jane Bowles)

(from the real life adventures of William and Joan)

“Are you a faggot?”, asks a young man who wants to pick up Bill. “Not by nature, no. I’m not. I wouldn’t say…faggot. No.” The young man wears a centipede on a chain, and when Lee picks up a centipede body at the marktet, he has a slow realization of dramatic revulsion. “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” says the young man. “He specializes in sexual ambivalence.” Lee is introduced to the Mugwump, whose head, covered in phallic tubes that spit jism, also changes into a typewriter. Both with the various typewriters and elsewhere, we have a theme of hermaphrodite sex, Lee’s aversion to queerness ovecome as the male blends into the female. Bill carresses with powder the sensual orifice of a typewriter. Bill sits with Joan as she types away, the typewriter transforming into a mixed gendered beast turned on by the erotic story Joan is typing. Bill and Joan have sex, and this same mixed gender beast joins in. Joan’s domineering female housekeeper, Fadela, is also her lover, a woman who actually turns out to be a man underneath, Dr. Benway. Bill first accepts, and is then repulsed anew by his own sexual identity: he finally sleeps with an Interzone double of the young man who propositioned him, and right after he is given a nightmare vision of queer life, a monstrous decadent piercing the same boy like a captured animal. In this movie with such a heavy debt to Burroughs own life, that Lee ends in a state of revulsion at queer sex is perhaps supposed to explain the frightening, malevolent sex of Burroughs’ books. Bill Lee gets Joan Frost back, ransoming her with the Mugwump’s head, the creature of sexual ambivalence. Lee leaves Interzone for Annexia with this new Joan Lee, who must die again before he can cross over to the new country. Her death is unavoidable, an experience that the writer will annex for his own books, and the moment she dies, Lee is given entrance. All this – the idea of the tragic, the necessity of confronting the tragic in your writing, along with the idea of queer life as an issue – is alien to the wiseacre universe of Naked Lunch, the novel.

Videodrome lacks the humor of Lunch, the novel, but it does have the book’s nihilism. At no point does it seem that there ever was a right choice for Max Renn to make, to avoid this increasingly strange and dangerous world. The two factions of Videodrome, headed by Barry Convex and Bianca O’Blivion, seem equally unsympathetic – though Convex takes a slight lead in malice. Neither offer salvation or safety from the bleakness. Where Lunch the movie is set in a phantom New York City, Videodrome takes place in a very real, squalid, unpolished Toronto, and placing the exotic horror in a specific place makes its fearsome effects more acute: this is really happening. “Toronto. I was terrified to come to Toronto,” said Roberto Benigni to Cronenberg, several years after Videodrome‘s release. “Because all I knew of it was from your films.”6

There are several points in Videodrome where, if we’re looking, we might see similarities to Naked Lunch, the book, but these are in terms of broad concept, rather than anything borrowed for the movie’s distinct and memorable imagery. The book tells us of the Senders, who are able to practice a kind of devastating mind control comparable to the way Max is manipulated by the rival parties of Videodrome. Overusing this form of telepathic control transforms the Sender into a centipede7 and there is a brief moment in Lunch when a man’s flesh drips away as green ooze, revealing a massive centipede underneath; Barry Convex is shot, and it’s as if something primordial emerges from within his dying body8. A character pulls a black furred egg from inside a boy, an alien object taken out, just like Barry Convex inserting a videotape into Max9. Lunch‘s Interzone is a place of unrestrained sadomasochistic fantasy, just like the virtual torture chamber of Videodrome10. The book ends with Bill Lee shooting two detectives that are hunting him, and then escaping off into the unknown, somewhere outside time and space. This might bear a passing resemblance to the killing spree of Renn, which climaxes in his leaving for a different kind of unknown11.

Were I to begin to try and get at the source of this movie’s power, I would say that it lies with the movie’s visual metaphors lacking anything like a structure, didactic or otherwise, which defines them. The context of Naked Lunch, the movie, gives a strong definition to its own metaphors. The creature of mixed genitalia that entangles itself with Bill Lee and Joan Frost, the typewriters with sensual openings, the jism spitting creature of sexual ambivalence, the Mugwump, are all part of the theme of a man unwilling to admit some aspect of his sexual identity, who is unable to admit to his complicity in his wife’s death, and who must try to admit to both in order to become a great writer. The metaphors of Videodrome may well be equally didactic, but lacking anything like the rigid surrounding organization, their power and mystery is enhanced.

For example, the metaphor, “my love for you is a rose bush in flames,” whatever its many flaws, is ambiguous in meaning without setting. Is this love like a holy one, a holy love profaned, a great love destroyed, or one so intense that it must be ephemeral? If this line is placed in the context of a short story about a man discovering his wife having an affair, the line is reduced to a singular meaning: our great sacred love is now destroyed. The metaphors of Videodrome may well lend themselves to didactic readings, but the story offers no direction one way or the other. I find this sense of stepping into something etheral, uncertain, is there at the movie’s very beginning when Bridey James wakes Renn from sleep:

ANNOUNCER
Civic TV, the one you take to bed with you.

BRIDEY JAMES
Max, it’s that time again. Time to slowly, painfully ease yourself back into consciousness. No, I’m not a dream, although I’ve been told I’m a vision of loveliness. I’m your faithful girl Friday, Bridey James, here with your wake-up call of today, Wednesday the 23rd. You got that? Wednesday the 23rd.

I always hear ease yourself back into consciousness as having a slight air of menace, as if Bridey knows of the dreamworld that is soon to come, and you can wonder to what extent she’s a conspirator with the other players in what comes next. Bridey has this ambiguity because like all the other characters in the movie, there really is no character there. They do what’s necessary for the plot and provide exposition, but do not have much more substance than that. Nicki Brand is an enigma of unreconciled elements. She hosts the “Emotional Rescue Show” (“You want help. You need help.”), and she’s clear that she thinks Renn’s movies are dangerous, “We always want more, whether it’s tactile, emotional or sexual. And I think that’s bad” Yet her first words at Max’s are, “Got any pornos?” She always wants more as well, a needle through the ear, a cigarette burned in her breast, and finally giving it all up to live her dream: to be on Videodrome. An actual character might give an intuitive coherence to these polarities, but she does not. Brian and Bianca O’Blivion are the movie’s only guides to the hallucinatory technology, and they may be villains as well – but that is left entirely to us. There is nothing in their character that implies one thing or the other, and we might read what we want.

The metaphors of the movie, as said, could be read in the simplest terms, of movies transforming men and women into the ideals of their gender. The identification with these ideals, our approaching these ideals, gives us a sense of power, yet ultimately we are submissives, submitting to media, whose ability to reproduce and distribute images throughout the world can be thought of as a near divine power. Nicki is submissive, longs to play a role where she’s constantly submissive, and she disappears to be an image, though it’s as an image she becomes dominant. We see her choke O’Blivion to death, and we see her take over Renn’s video system, where she entices Max to bury himself within her. This last, where he sticks his head inside the tumescent screen of her lips, doesn’t suggest male penetration so much as male surrender. Max becomes the movie ideal of his own gender, a man with a gun, and yet it’s also a position without power or choice. The gun seals itself to his hand, and he becomes only one thing, an assassin, just as Nicki becomes only one thing, an image. He kills at the command of others, for their reasons, first his work associates and then Barry Convex. The gun should be a symbol of dominance, and yet he’s only submitting to the commands of someone else. Before the gun melds to his hand, it first sinks into the genital crevasse of his stomach, the same place where the tapes are inserted that give him his kill orders. “When I first got on this picture, I was an actor. Now I feel like I’m just the bearer of the slit,” James Woods would say to Debbie Harry during production. “Now you know what it feels like,” she replied12.

(The newspaper story featured in the corner of this still is its own separate epic, detailing the adventures of rogue CIA agent Ed Wilson, who would sell weapons to Qaddafi in 1981. The Times story featured here is “Records show Wilson made millions on C.I.A. Experience”; this site early on reviewed Peter Maas’s excellent book on the subject in the post “A Libyan Footnote, The Sorry Tale of Edwin Paul Wilson, or: Manhunt – The Incredible Pursuit of a CIA Agent Turned Terrorist (Peter Maas)”.)

This, I think, is a credible reading, but one without certainty. There is nothing in the surrounding plot or characters to push us towards this reading, only our own experience and the suggestibility of the metaphors themselves. There is something of the unconscious in the movie – “the film drifts along like a dream from one disturbing episode to another,” Keith Phipps wrote in an excellent discussion of the film13. We might compare it to another movie of the unconscious, seemingly untainted by rule-making or restriction, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Here, we are also given images in which a great deal can be read, whether it’s Sandy staring at Jeffrey with newfound fear on the way to Dorothy’s, the sensual mouth of Dorothy open with pleasure and holding a chipped tooth, a crippled mute father, a woman commanding a boy for sex, an abusive man dominating a woman who call each other mommy and daddy, etc. There is something beguiling in what is unseen in Velvet, that we’re never given the full truth of the conspiracy between the Booth gang and the police department, and that there’s something to the characters of Sandy and Dorothy that remains unknown.

This makes sense as part of the movie’s perspective, of an adolescent boy who has just touched on the world’s secrets, and will only know more of them much later. The characters of Dorothy and Sandy may not be fully seen, but they are full characters, with what we do see hinting at what’s beneath. Though Blue Velvet may be dream-like, it at least gives us some context for these images, connecting them to sex and sexual roles. The father’s physical decline pushes the son into the role of an adult, at the same time that he moves into the frightening and alluring world of sex beneath happy domesticity. Sandy is drawn to Jeffrey, and she might be drawn to him because he’s a detective, because he’s a pervert, or because he’s both. He wants to play the role of a hero and help Dorothy, but he wants to play the role of Frank as well, and hurt her. He wants to be with Sandy the way he’s with Dorothy, and Sandy wants that as well. The movie gives us this context for these images, so they undulate around a specific possible meaning, without ever becoming head smackingly specific: the secret revelation of Blue Velvet is not that Jeffrey’s father abuses his mother, or anything else of tangible fact. There are no secret revelations, only endless dreams.

We are given a context, in the characters and story of Blue Velvet, through which we might see these images, where we are given nothing comparable in Videodrome. There is nothing equal to those characters, which are not hidden, but seemingly not there at all, letting us, say, read as much mystery as we want in Bridey’s opening lines. Velvet allows us to reduce its images to a possible haze of meaning, while Videodrome gives us no such net. We are left with only the limits inherent in the images themselves, a vaginal gulf erupting in a man’s stomach, a gun falling within, and the gun grafting itself to his hand. The metaphors imply ideas that are not foreign to us, though the images themselves are alien. In a book with a realistic setting, these images would be acceptable similes, with obvious meanings of longing and violence. You are like the lips on the TV screen in which I bury myself. I am like the gun from which a man extends. I feel like TV is killing me. In Videodrome, these similes become metaphors that the characters inhabit. You are the lips on the TV screen in which I bury myself. I am the gun from which a man extends. TV is killing me.

I have attempted to use Naked Lunch as a helpful prism through which to see Videodrome, as images that are not unprecedented or some discrete island, but a set of metaphors kindred to Lunch, both of which find more felicitous expression in the fantastic than the literal. The other helpful perspective, which I don’t think is mentioned often enough, is to see Videodrome through the lens of faith. Max Renn lives in a squalid, decaying city trafficing in a product that has value but no substance, and little or no utility. Capitalism is decadent, his city is in decline, like Rome’s, and here we have an interesting setting for his introduction to the mysteries of Videodrome. It is Masha who leads Renn to the O’Blivions, and in her first scene, she sells him a video of a roman orgy, Apollo And Dionysus (the gods are greek, but it looks very much like a roman bacchanal), and the second opens with a dancer and a restaurant, both clearly in a faux oriental style14. We might see here references to the two capitals of a past empire, Rome and Byzantium, before the arrival of a new creed. Where do we find the O’Blivions? At The Cathode Ray Mission, where they evangelize the poor and abandoned, just as any church might. Max: “You think TV can help them?” Bianca: “Watching TV will help patch them back into the world’s mixing board.”

A book I found very useful for looking at this movie in this light is Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, an attempt to find the essential underlying forms of religion by investigating the religious life of the tribes of Austrlia and North America. How much of its scholarship has been superceded by later efforts I am uncertain; I have found it a valuable source of insight whatever was published afterwards. The book’s description of how the concept of a soul may have come about is especially striking:

In order to find the elementary form of the religious life in these animistic beliefs and practices, three desiderata must be satisfied: first, since according to this hypothesis, the idea of the soul is the cardinal idea of religion, it must be shown how this is formed without taking any of its elements from an anterior religion; secondly, it must be made clear how souls become the object of a cult and are transformed into spirits; and thirdly and finally, since the cult of these spirits is not all of any religion, it remains to be explained how the cult of nature is derived from it.

According to this theory, the idea of the soul was first suggested to men by the badly understood spectacle of the double life they ordinarily lead, on the one hand, when awake, on the other, when asleep. In fact, for the savage, the mental representations which he has while awake and those of his dreams are said to be of the same value: he objectifies the second like the first, that is to say, that he sees in them the images of external objects whose appearance they more or less accurately reproduce. So when he dreams that he has visited a distant country, he believes that he really was there. But he could not have gone there, unless two beings exist within him: the one, his body, which has remained lying on the ground and which he finds in the same position on awakening; the other, during this time, has travelled through space. Similarly, if he seems to talk with one of his companions who he knows was really at a distance, he concludes that the other also is composed of two beings: one which sleeps at a distance, and another which has come to manifest himself by means of the dream. From these repeated experiences, he little by little arrives at the idea that each of us has a double, another self, which in determined conditions has the power of leaving the organism where it resides and of going roaming at a distance.

Of course, this double reproduces all the essential traits of the perceptible being which serves it as external covering; but at the same time it is distinguished from this by many characteristics. It is more active, since it can cover vast distances in an instant. It is more malleable and plastic; for, to leave the body, it must pass out by its apertures, especially the mouth and nose. It is represented as made of matter, undoubtedly, but of a matter much more subtile and etherial than any which we know empirically. This double is the soul. In fact, it cannot be doubted that in numerous societies the soul has been conceived in the image of the body; it is believed that it reproduces even the accidental deformities such as those resulting from wounds or mutilations.

This idea of a double, exactly like us but enhanced in some traits, comes to us from a century old book, and yet it describes well the avatars people have in videogames, and the proxies they seek out in movies and TV. The ability for men or women to identify with a particular actor is often considered essential to their success, for the audience to be able to see themselves as this person and live vicariously through them, on-screen and off. Hollywood is called the dream factory, and celebrity life is often thought of as dream-like, with the on-going question of how “real” it is. In one disturbing moment, Max slaps Bridey, but he’s actually slapping Nicki, but no – he’s not slapping anybody at all. Here, and elsewhere, we have something not unlike when we find ourselves in a very real-like dream, only to act, and to find ourselves awake. We also have the worry that long precedes any concerns about violence in videogames and movies, about whether the subconscious brutality and sex that emerges in our dreams is something dangerous.

We might also find something insightful in its description of the ways in which animist beliefs arose, which might apply to the imagery of the movie:

Since the first beings of which the child commences to have an idea are men, that is, himself and those around him, it is upon this model of human nature that he tends to think of everything. The toys with which he plays, or the objects of every sort which affect his senses, he regards as living beings like himself. Now the primitive thinks like a child. Consequently, he also is inclined to endow all things, even inanimate ones, with a nature analogous to his own.

The world of Max Renn is one where objects take on a kindred human sensibility; he is transformed by the Videodrome signal, and these objects are as well. He imagines himself slapping Nicki, whipping a TV carrying her image, he is moved to sexual ecstasy by the masochism of Nicki and the idea of sexual violence. The tape’s pockets stick out like teeth, eager to bite, with the same appetite for violence as Max, his TV swells with a veined tumescence, turned on by the image of Nicki. The child transposes his feelings on his toys, and Max sees his essence animating his objects as well.

Brian O’Blivion is a leader in this new faith, and his explanation of how he acquired his gift of sight suggest something like the paradox of god and the first cause. The universe requires a first cause, which is god, and that in turn brings up what was the first cause of god, where we might say the divine is its own first cause, or that cause and effect breaks down in the field of the divine, or some other solution. Brian O’Blivion, we are told, helped create Videodrome, after which he was killed by his fellow creators:

BIANCA
My father helped to create Videodrome. He saw it as part of the evolution of man as a technological animal. When he realised what his partners were going to use it for, he tried to take it away from them and they killed him, quietly.

Yet at the same time, the very hallucinations of Videodrome create it:

BRIAN
I had a brain tumour. And I had visions. I believe the visions caused the tumour, and not the reverse. I could feel the visions coalesce and become flesh, uncontrollable flesh. But when they removed the tumour, it was called Videodrome.

We have a phenomenon, that like the divine, is its own first cause, and where orderly cause and effect disappear. Brian O’Blivion is dead, but his words continue to guide the living. “This is him. This is all that’s left,” Bianca says, pointing to shelves and shelves of tapes. He is seemingly dead, but he isn’t. Max: “But he was on that panel show.” Bianca: “On tape. He made thousands of them, sometimes three or four a day. I keep him alive as best I can. He had so much to offer.” Again, this might be seen as something strange and new, when it is simply a transposition of a tradition common to any religious faith, where adherents consult the words of beings of the past, no longer on earth, but who have prescription, guidance, or wisdom for every occasion, whether they be Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, or another.

The conflict between the O’Blivions and Barry Convex might be seen as that between different schisms of the same faith, with the O’Blivions wanting to achieve transcendence through the creed, while Convex wishes to use the creed for practical ends, as a force to shape a hard nationalist ethos.

HARLAN
North America is getting soft, patrón, and the rest of the world is getting tough. Very, very tough. We’re entering savage new times and we’re going to have to be pure and direct… and strong…if we’re going to survive them. Now, you and this…cesspool you call a television station…and your people who wallow around in it and your viewers… who watch you do it…you’re rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot.

This is a movie where the villain runs Spectacular Optical, a business that sells glasses, a villain named Barry Convex, and a convex lens is one that focues light to a particular point. He wishes to use this new religion as a directed force, while the goals of the O’Blivions are separate from any state or any earthly purpose. Convex is killed during the presentation of his new Medici line, and perhaps the name is not idly chosen. The Medicis, as most know, would come into conflict with the fanatic Savonarola, who wished to reform the catholic church which had close ties to the merchant family. We might see the fight between Convex, who wishes to use the creed for secular objectives, and the O’Blivions, who see the faith as an end in itsself, as echoing this old division between the Medicis and the zealot.

The O’Blivions genuinely wish that people achieve a final stage, the new flesh, which Max attempts in the movie’s ending. We have here another similarity with religion, where the apotheosis of faith is considered the abandonment of flesh itself. Durkheim touches on this phenomenon as well, when discussing the shared trait of all religions of keeping separate the profane and sacred worlds. The most dedicated of the faith attempt to avoid the profane as much as possible, with the most extreme answer the avoidance of all profanities of the flesh by forsaking it completely through suicide:

The two worlds are not only conceived of as separate, but as even hostile and jealous rivals of each other. Since men cannot fully belong to one except on condition of leaving the other completely, they are exhorted to withdraw themselves completely from the profane world, in order to lead an exclusively religious life. Hence comes the monasticism which is artificially organized outside of and apart from the natural environment in which the ordinary man leads the life of this world, in a different one, closed to the first, and nearly its contrary. Hence comes the mystic asceticism whose object is to root out from man all the attachment for the profane world that remains in him. From that come all the forms of religious suicide, the logical working-out of this asceticism; for the only manner of fully escaping the profane life is, after all, to forsake all life.

There are many examples of this, but I turn to one of the more well-known of recent ones, when thirty nine members of the Heaven’s Gate cult peacefully committed suicide. This was not considered by them a rejection of life, but an attempt at a kind of space travel, which required them to leave their physical bodies. “We are all choosing of our own free will to go to the next level,” says one of the women who died15. The “next level” was one way they referred to it; “Evolutionary Level Above Human” was another. The process of leaving their bodies was called “exiting the vehicles” or “disengaging from the body or vehicle”. This exodus was initiated by the return of the Hale-Bopp comet, after which they were to return to their homeworld of Sirius. Before death, they recorded messages of calm happiness: “I’ve been looking forward to this for so long” or, “I couldn’t have made a better choice.”16 Ten years after the event, the L.A. Weekly piece “Heaven’s Gate: The Sequel” by Joshuah Bearman, would describe the belief system and place it as part of a long tradition: “Updating esoteric, early Christianity by way of science fiction, their millennial paradise could be found only by renouncing terrestrial attachments and shedding one’s “container” or “vehicle” to ascend into space and live eternally with the Chief of Chiefs, or God.” In the context of such events, the movie’s final moment where Max Renn says “Long live the new flesh”, then shoots himself, does not seem alien at all, but part of a larger tradition as well.

A LIQUID PRISONER PENT IN WALLS OF GLASS17

That the O’Blivions are equally malicious as the Convex faction is strongly hinted at, I think, in this final scene. Only a little while earlier, after Max’s failed attempt to kill Bianca O’Blivion, we have this dialogue:

BIANCA O’BLIVION
They killed her, Max. They killed Nicki Brand. She died on Videodrome. They used her image to seduce you but she was already dead.

Given that the image of Nicki Brand was used before to seduce and manipulate Max, and given that Barry Convex and Harlan are now dead, the only source for the movie’s closing image of Nicki must be Bianca. Since this is an image that has been used in the past to manipulate Max, it might be asked if it’s being used here for the same purpose, this time by Bianca, in order to dispose of an inconvenient leftover assassin. Even the same line said earlier, “Come to Nicki”, and the same seductive tone, is now used again:

NICKI
I want you, Max. You. Come on. Come on. Come to me now. Come to Nicki.

NICKI
Don’t be afraid to let your body die. Just come to me, Max. Come to Nicki.

So, Max Renn is perhaps being lured by another kind of illusion, the possibility of a transcendent afterlife. We might also note the non-specificity of the devastating phrase, “They used her image to seduce you but she was already dead.” What seduction is Bianca speaking of, and from when on was Nicki already dead? It’s right after Max Renn is exposed to the videodrome signal that he meets Nicki on the talk show, and I’ve always felt the dialogue in that scene to be unnatural. I try to think of what their banter reminds me of, and then I remember: the strange, uncomfortable talk in between the action of old soft-core porn.

RENA KING
What about it, Nicki? Is it socially positive?

NICKI
We live in overstimulated times. We crave stimulation. We gorge ourselves on it. We always want more, whether it’s tactile, emotional or sexual. And I think that’s bad.

MAX
Then why did you wear that dress?

NICKI
Sorry?

MAX
That dress. It’s very stimulating. And it’s red. You know what Freud would say about it?

NICKI
And he would have been right. I admit it. I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.

MAX
Listen, I’d really like to take you out to dinner tonight.

RENA KING
Nicki…is Max Renn a menace to society?

NICKI
I’m not sure. He’s certainly a menace to me.

Is this lack of versimilitude an unintentional effect, or a very intended one, of a man who isn’t meeting a live woman at all, but only the image of a dead one? I hear “they used her image to seduce you”, and I think that there can be only one possible meaning, because Renn is first seduced by Nicki on the talk show. From which it naturally follows: Nicki is already dead, only an image, throughout the movie.

The idea of an image superceding the life that inspired it, is one more exotic idea not native to Videodrome, but a commonplace of our world, where the living are often an impediment to the power of the icon’s image. We might return briefly to the work of William Gibson, to see him touch on the idea of the supremacy of the image in Idoru, where a living singer marries another singer, one who is only a hologram. This, however, is only the use of the near future as a metaphor for the ever present. To take one of the more obvious examples, the image of Marilyn Monroe is eternally that of a woman who never reaches forty, without anything alive to grow old, anything to remind one of Monroe as anything human, anything other than an icon. One anecdote told in Goddess by Anthony Summers, is of Monroe’s interest in Juliette Récamier, who commissioned a nude statue of herself. As Récamier aged, and her figure started to go, she had the breasts of the statue smashed. When Monroe began to age, she smashed herself18. The cruelest thing that can be said of Elvis Presley’s death is: good career move. The cruelest thing that can be said of Marilyn Monroe’s death is: good timing.

This kind of image, an icon that persists and supercedes the actual performer’s existence, derives its power from being an engima whose questions are never answered – who exactly was Marilyn Monroe? – which is intertwined with its second quality, someone intimate yet always at a great distance as if we are seeing them as part of a massive crowd. There is an exact moment in Monroe’s life which captures this, when she appears before thousands of troops in South Korea, and it was this moment that made obvious how big a star she would become. From The Genius and the Goddess by Jeffrey Meyers:

Performing for the first time before a live, rapturous audience, Marilyn did ten shows in four days and entertained 100,000 troops. The soldiers were muffled up in fur hats with ear flaps, heavy winter jackets and thick combat boots, while she gamely appeared, outdoors and in the extremely cold Korean winter, in high heels and a tight, strapless, low-cut dress. She enlivened the show with some suggestive jokes, and asked, when describing sweater girls, “take away their sweaters and what have you got?”

She sang four songs: “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Bye Bye Baby,””Somebody Loves Me” and “Do It Again.”The refrain in the last song – “Come and get it, you won’t regret it” – was considered too provocative for the sexually starved troops and had to be dropped from the repertory. She excited the audience, who screamed with delight and craved what she was offering, and brought the shows to a frenzied climax.

This allows us to move easily into the life of another woman who became focused on the ecstasy of the crowd’s reaction, and wanted something likewise in her own life. From Sinner Takes All by adult performer Tera Patrick with Carrie Borzillo:

How bad do you want what you want? I wanted to be famous and adored so bad it nearly killed me. Well, in all honestly, I nearly killed me. But before we get to that, let me start at the beginning….

In 1986 I was ten years old and my mother had already left us. It was just me, Linda Ann Hopkins, and my dad, David Hopkins, a carefree hippie of English, Dutch, and Irish descent. I was born in Great Falls, Montana, but was living with my dad in Fresno. On a rare father-daughter day out, he took me to a thrift store in town to do some shopping. We were on a budget. As we made our way though the tiny, cramped shop, I saw her hanging on the dusty wall behind some cracked vases and rusty candelabras. It was a beautiful black-and-white photograph of Marilyn Monroe from the Korean USO tour she did in 1954. She was beaming as she posed for hundreds of handsome men in uniform, who in turn were ogling her in all her blond-haired, blueeyed glory.

Something lit up inside me when I saw that photograph. I thought, “Someday, men are going to look at me that way.”

I couldn’t stop staring at this photo, thinking how much I wanted to be that girl. The girl everyone adores. The girl whom fame made so happy (little did I know what a sad wreck she really was). All I knew about Marilyn at the time was how much I wanted to exude the power that she did. I wanted to be famous like that. I just didn’t know what for yet. I never thought it would be for porn.

That what Patrick wished for, what she wanted fulfilled, was fame more than anything else, is stressed in two other places in the memoir:

She [photographer Suze Randall] followed through. We shot that Friday for Penthouse. It was just a few days before my scheduled Monday meeting with Playboy. I couldn’t believe it was happening so fast. All I could think was, “I’m going to be in Playboy and Penthouse, make tons of money, and be famous!”

When I entered the adult industry, it was not my goal to become a mainstream actress or star. If that’s what I wanted to do, I would’ve gone the typical route of taking acting lessons, going in for auditions, and trying to get bit parts like every Hollywood hopeful does. But that wasn’t my quest. I’ll be honest, I just wanted to be famous and I liked to model and to be nude.

Patrick would eventually achieve her goal, and she gives us a scene in her memoir comparable to Monroe’s, of a crowd infatuated with her presence. She herself states that “it’s easier to perform for a larger audience than a more intimate one,” and it might be argued that this is what the fan wants, not intimacy, but intimacy combined with distance, the woman nude on-stage amongst a crowd of thousands. The meet and greet afterwards does not involve meeting a person separate and apart from the image, which the image reproduces, but rather, meeting a person who is a live reproduction of the image, and so the distance on the stage and the brief meet do not impede the wanted effect, but are necessary for it to take place.

One of the biggest conventions I ever did was the Sexpo in Sydney, Australia, in 2004. I appeared at the convention for a whopping fee of $20,000 (and first-class airfare and accommodations, no less!), but where we really made bank was when they booked me to dance at a venue that normally hosts big rock bands and seats eight thousand people. I had eight nearly sold-out shows in four days there.

Before we knew how big the venue really was and that it was sold out, Evan [Evan Seinfeld, her husband] gave me this pep talk: “Don’t worry if there’s only two hundred people there. You’re new to the market. Don’t worry.” And then we show up and there were thousands of people there. Once again there wasn’t a stripper pole on the stage because it wasn’t a strip club, so we decided to improvise a bit and use a chair in the center of the stage as a prop. But that didn’t help much. The huge stage made our tiny chair look like Stonehenge from the movie This Is Spinal Tap. We were cracking up over that. Evan decided to just treat it like a rock show and use the video monitors at the venue to show my performance. That did the trick.

The large crowd didn’t freak me out at all. In fact, it’s easier to perform for a larger audience than a more intimate one. It’s easy to be great when you have thousands of people screaming for you. The intensity of the crowd really got me going, and I killed!

The line for photos and merchandise afterward was the longest line I’d ever had in my entire career. It was so long and so slow that Evan got a megaphone and was walking down the line telling people, “Due to the large volume of fans, we are selling one thing. It’s a package with a DVD, a Polaroid with Tera, and an autographed eight-by-ten photo for fifty Australian dollars.” He was embarrassing me. He’d stand up on the table and shout out: “Cash only!”

The relationship of the audience to the famous individual here, which also transfers over to the image of the famous individual, is expressed well in dialogue from one of Patrick’s films, Tera Patrick Filthy Whore 2. Whatever happens after this dialogue is of no importance here. I bold the most important point:

BELLA DIAMOND
The fans are out there by the thousands.

RUDY PARADISE
You know I had it with those damn premieres, all those screaming people. Those great unwashed.

DIAMOND
We’re royalty to them, honey. Dollar Diamond and Ruby Paradise. The great screen lovers. They support us in grand style. The least we could do is let them worship us once in a while. What’s that?

PARADISE
Oh, honey that’s not you think, it’s-

DIAMOND
IN MY DRESSING ROOM!

PARADISE
No, no-

DIAMOND
YOU SCREWED ANOTHER WOMAN IN MY DRESSING ROOM!

PARADISE
It’s not what you think. It’s a present for the premiere. C’mon.

DIAMOND
Are you telling me the truth?

PARADISE
Would I lie?

DIAMOND
Glamour puss?

PARADISE
You’re my glamour puss, sweetie. C’mon, you’re the glamour puss of the century.

DIAMOND
It is beautiful. You have great taste, Rudy. Where did you find it?

PARADISE
Oh, from a guy down in de Vandeville. I put a little money on layaway, just for the right time.

DIAMOND
Pay her the rest, darling, because this baby has found a home.

PARADISE
Oh come on, that’s not a kiss.

DIAMOND
You can fuck me darling, but you can’t mess up my make-up.

This idea of worship is not so remarkable or noteworthy to stand out at all in this movie or anywhere. I think it’s only by looking at the connections between this kind of idolatry and the religious form that we might have a sense as to why it’s so important for Tera Patrick to be famous, that she “wanted to be famous and adored so bad it nearly killed me”, a feeling which is not some isolated pathology but considered a common desire. We might find some insight by returning to Durkheim, who pinpoints something called mana as being central to the religion of various melanesian tribes:

Now among these peoples, we find, under the name of mana, an idea which is the exact equivalent of the wakan of the Sioux19 and the orenda of the Iroquois20. The definition given by Codrington [The Melanesians : Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore by Robert Henry Codrington, link is to the full text on archive.org] is as follows: “There is a belief in a force altogether distinct from physical power, which acts in all ways for good and evil; and which it is of the greatest advantage to possess or control. This is Mana. I think I know what our people mean by it…It is a power or influence, not physical and in a way supernatural; but it shows itself in physical force, or in any kind of power or excellence which a man possesses. This mana is not fixed in anything, and can be conveyed in almost anything. . . . All Melanesian religion consists, in fact, in getting this mana for one’s self, or getting it used for one’s benefit.”

This idea of mana, and the related concepts of wakan and orenda, are not parochial concerns, but arguably underlie all the religions which follow:

This is the original matter out of which have been constructed those beings of every sort which the religions of all times have consecrated and adored. The spirits, demons, genii and gods of every sort are only the concrete forms taken by this energy, or “potentiality,” as Hewitt calls it, in individualizing itself, in fixing itself upon a certain determined object or point in space, or in centring around an ideal and legendary being, though one conceived as real by the popular imagination. A Dakota questioned by Miss Fletcher expressed this essential consubstantiability of all sacred things in language that is full of relief.” Every thing as it moves, now and then, here and there, makes stops. The bird as it flies stops in one place to make its nest, and in another to rest in its flight. A man when he goes forth stops when he wills. So the god has stopped. The sun, which is so bright and beautiful, is one place where he has stopped. The trees, the animals, are where he has stopped, and the Indian thinks of these places and sends his prayers to reach the place where the god has stopped and to win help and a blessing.” In other words, the wakan (for this is what he was talking about) comes and goes through the world, and sacred things are the points upon which it alights.

We are now in a better condition to understand why it has been impossible to define religion by the idea of mythical personalities, gods or spirits; it is because this way of representing religious things is in no way inherent in their nature. What we find at the origin and basis of religious thought are not determined and distinct objects and beings possessing a sacred character of themselves; they are indefinite powers, anonymous forces, more or less numerous in different societies, and sometimes even reduced to a unity, and whose impersonality is strictly comparable to that of the physical forces whose manifestations the sciences of nature study.

The wakan is the cause of all the movements which take place in the universe. We have even seen that the orenda of the Iroquois is “the efficient cause of all the phenomena and all the activities which are manifested around men.” It is a power “inherent in all bodies and all things.” It is the orenda which makes the wind blow, the sun lighten and heat the earth, or animals reproduce and which makes men strong, clever and intelligent. When the Iroquois says that the life of all nature is the product of the conflicts aroused between the unequally intense orenda of the different beings, he only expresses, in his own language, this modern idea that the world is a system of forces limiting and containing each other and making an equihbrium.

The Melanesian attributes this same general efficacy to his mana. It is owing to his mana that a man succeeds in hunting or fighting, that gardens give a good return or that flocks prosper. If an arrow strikes its mark, it is because it is charged with mana; it is the same cause which makes a net catch fish well, or a canoe ride well on the sea, etc. It is true that if certain phrases of Codrington [The Melanesians : Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore by Robert Henry Codrington, link is to the full text on archive.org] are taken literally, mana should be the cause to which is attributed “everything which is beyond the ordinary power of men, outside the common processes of nature.” But from the very examples which he cites, it is quite evident that the sphere of the mana is really much more extended. In reality, it serves to explain usual and everyday phenomena; there is nothing superhuman or supernatural in the fact that a ship sails or a hunter catches game, etc.

This idea of mana, a universal, ubiquitous force, is already well-known to us as an abstraction in a fictional universe, so well-known that I can quote a monologue devoted to it, and I have no need to identify the source movie as most readers will know immediately from where it comes:

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.

We might take the divine as something like an infinitely dense cluster of a quantity like mana. At the same time, it is not something outside of society, but contained within and dependent on the society itself:

But a god is not merely an authority upon whom we depend; it’s a force upon which our strength relies. The man who has obeyed his god and who, for this reason, believes the god is with him, approaches the world with confidence and with the feeling of an increased energy. Likewise, social action does not confine itself to demanding sacrifices, privations and efforts from us. For the collective force is not entirely outside of us; it does not act upon us wholly from without; but rather, since society cannot exist except in and through individual consciousnesses, this force must also penetrate us and organize itself within us; it thus becomes an integral part of our being and by that very fact this is elevated and magnified.

That the veneration of those in society overlaps with this idea of someone having great mana, great divine power, is obvious to Durkheim as well:

Also, in the present day just as much as in the past, we see society constantly creating sacred things out of ordinary ones. If it happens to fall in love with a man and if it thinks it has found in him the principal aspirations that move it, as well as the means of satisfying them, this man will be raised above the others and, as it were, deified. Opinion will invest him with a majesty exactly analogous to that protecting the gods. This is what has happened to so many sovereigns in whom their age had faith: if they were not made gods, they were at least regarded as direct representatives of the deity. And the fact that it is society alone which is the author of these varieties of apotheosis, is evident since it frequently chances to consecrate men thus who have no right to it from their own merit. The simple deference inspired by men invested with high social functions is not different in nature from religious respect. It is expressed by the same movements: a man keeps at a distance from a high personage; he approaches him only with precautions; in conversing with him, he uses other gestures and language than those used with ordinary mortals. The sentiment felt on these occasions is so closely related to the religious sentiment that many peoples have confounded the two. In order to explain the consideration accorded to princes, nobles and political chiefs, a sacred character has been attributed to them. In Melanesia and Polynesia, for example, it is said that an influential man has mana, and that his influence is due to this mana. However, it is evident that his situation is due solely to the importance attributed to him by public opinion. Thus the moral power conferred by opinion and that with which sacred beings are invested are at bottom of a single origin and made up of the same elements. That is why a single word is able to designate the two.

Thus, we can explain the desire of Tera Patrick and others to be famous. They wish to be touched by mana, they wish to become sacred objects. The sense of a sacredness mentioned here, the necessary “distance from a high personage”, is something recognizably intertwined with celebrity, where the famous are seemingly kept excluded and away, in private planes, high class restaurants, the VIP room of the club, a secret society outside of sight. For the famous to be seen in our world, in public and without make-up, seemingly ordinary, is treated as a revelation. The only moments when the sacred and the profane are officially to meet, when the profaned might gaze on the sacred is during tightly organized ceremonies, as carefully planned and supervised as anicent religious rituals, such as red carpet events and the Oscars. Durkheim’s passage here on the prohibition of the profane touching the sacred, the negative cult as one organized around such contact, is helpful when we consider celebrities and their environs as the sacred, prohibited objects:

There are religious interdictions whose object is to separate two sacred things of different species from each other. For example, it will be remembered that among the Wakelbura the scaffold upon which the corpse is exposed must be made exclusively of materials belonging to the phratry of the dead man; this is as much as to say that all contact between the corpse, which is sacred, and the things of the other phratry, which are also sacred, but differently, is forbidden. Elsewhere, the arms which one uses to hunt an animal with cannot be made out of a kind of wood that is classed in the same social group as the animal itself. But the most important of these interdictions are the ones which we shall study in the next chapter; they are intended to prevent all communication between the purely sacred and the impurely sacred, between the sacredly auspicious and the sacredly inauspicious. All these interdictions have one common characteristic; they come, not from the fact that some things are sacred while others are not, but from the fact that there are inequalities and incompatibilities between sacred things. So they do not touch what is essential in the idea of sacredness. The observance of these prohibitions can give place only to isolated rites which are particular and almost exceptional; but it could not make a real cult, for before all, a cult is made by regular relations between the profane and the sacred as such. But there is another system of religious interdictions which is much more extended and important; this is the one which separates, not different species of sacred things, but all that is sacred from all that is profane. So it is derived immediately from the notion of sacredness itself, and it limits itself to expressing and realizing this. Thus it furnishes the material for a veritable cult, and even of a cult which is at the basis of all the others; for the attitude which it prescribes is one from which the worshipper must never depart in all his relations with the sacred. It is what we call the negative cult. We may say that its interdicts are the religious interdicts par excellence.

The sacred ultimately resides exclusively in images, with the actual encounter with the celebrity behind the image often a disappointment, not due to their own inherent failings, but simply because they are not an image. When the celebrity dies, any such impediment to the process dies, and if they die at thirty-six like Marilyn Monroe, any evidence of a life of aging, disease, or physical deterioration which might imply the limits of the image, this dies as well. The image divests itself of all connections with life, like Max Renn in Videodrome or any other devotee to a religious ideal, and becomes even more sacred. The image, even and especially the sexual image, is only that, without the element of the tactile or the tangible. Something of this is gotten at in this discussion from 1991 with Norman Mailer, on the idea of people who become objects of desire. I pay no attention to the digressions into feminism. From “Norman Mailer on Bookworm, Part Two [1991]“ (15:20-17:28 in the clip):

MICHAEL SILVERBLATT [program host]
I don’t think I’ve heard anybody say this…there’s an enormous fear…on people’s part…to be the object of desire. To cause desire.

MAILER
Well, there you may have something. Certain people, not all. [SILVERBLATT: Not all people.] You gave me an idea. I think it’s people who have set their course in life, and they’re what I would call uni-souls…that is, they do not really want to have a deep relation with anyone else. Because that’ll deter them from their objective. It’s as if the navigator in them has lined up their sights, and said to them, “You are a torpedo. And if nothing deters you, you will be a huge success. You will blow up that huge target that is the very end of your ambition, and you will be immortal. And so, don’t let anything get in your way, just be a torpedo.” Well, people like that, sexual harassment’s absolutely outrageous. And it’s interesting that women who are leading feminism very often are that way. That is, they are singleminded in their goals. Feminism is their life. They see nothing to the left or the right of feminism. It’s not like, let’s improve men and women together, or: let’s try to rise to a higher level of human relations. It’s: feminism is the most important single thing in their lives, and they work for it twenty-four hours a day. They’re devoted to it. And they too are torpoedoes. You know, they got one goal.

SILVERBLATT
I don’t know if it’s even characteristic of feminism. What I notice, living here in Los Angeles, which people call nowadays, “the least sexy city in America.” The most beautiful looking people, and the least sexually in kind people. Very low libido levels. The look is meant to create attraction, but there’s a strong “do not touch”. Because of exactly that torpedo factor you are talking about. People wanting to spring themselves into the future, and land at the center of the bullseye, and along that trajectory, attraction and dalliance can only be an interruption.

The place that Marilyn Monroe and other dead icons hold in our culture might be found in Durkheim’s distinction between ghosts and spirits, with Monroe very much a spirit:

[A] ghost is not a real spirit. In the first place, it generally has only a limited power of action; also, it does not have a definite province. It is a vagabond, upon whom no determined task is incumbent, for the effect of death has been to put it outside of all regular forms; as regards the living, it is a sort of a exile. A spirit, on the other hand, always has a power of a certain sort and it is by this that it is defined; it is set over a certain order of cosmic or social phenomena; it has a more or less precise function to fulfil in the system of the universe.

But there are some souls which satisfy this double condition and which are consequently spirits, in the proper sense of the word. These are the souls of the mythical personages whom popular imagination has placed at the beginning of time, the Altjirangamitjina or the men of the Alcheringa among the Arunta; the Mura-mura among the tribes of Lake Eyre; the Muk-Kurnai among the Kurnai, etc. In one sense, they are still souls, for they are believed to have formerly animated bodies from which they separated themselves at a certain moment. But even when they led a terrestrial life, they already had, as we have seen, exceptional powers; they had a mana superior to that of ordinary men, and they have kept it. Also, they are charged with definite functions.

That there is this kinship between ancient mana and fame, that we might speak of wanting mana when we say we want fame (and vice versa), is perhaps why there is a constant necessity to see some benevolent order in celebrityhood. Mana is divine material, god is inherently and eternally good, and therefore mana and fame are distributed according to virtue. The most famous are supposed to do good work, adopt children, and otherwise make obvious that this organization has the quality of divine sanction. This, of course, is utterly false. We might see the gulf in the life of Jenna Jameson, as described in her memoir How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale. Patrick and Jameson were engaged for a while in a not entirely friendly rivalry, and I make no attempt to weigh favor in that larger dispute when I say that Cautionary Tale is my preferred book of their memoirs, whether because of Jameson’s ghostwriter Neil Strauss (who played the same role for the memorable Long Road out of Hell by Marilyn Manson), or the raw materials of the life described. I do not elevate Jameson’s book out of any attempt to be a provocateur, only the virtue of the book itself, and only for that reason I think it serves as an honest and invaluable document in capturing what life was like now, more insightful than many books more distinguished and higher browed.

That I speak of a divine order of fame that would include pornography is perhaps unexpected, but not without basis. We might speak of a system of organization and distribution, in the manufacture and sale of products whose power is so great as to suggest the divine. This system might be called capitalism, whatever its actual qualities, a system which transmits the images of any beauty throughout the world, that produces powerful computer technology, that gives you access to affordable food and shoes. Pornography is part of this system’s god-like power, because it is through this vast system that beauty, the beauty of Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick, a beguiling surface that might be called something like a divine ideal, is exposed and unveiled for the billions. It is an order of divine power, with an underside that hints at the infernal. The disgusting conditions of the Amazon warehouses, the workers who are poisoned while making iPads, the children who make my shoes. There is the literally infernal as well, the hundreds who burned to death last year in the clothing factories of Bangladesh. The life of Jenna Jameson is the raw amoral anarchy that lies underneath, a godless world where there are only the strong above and the weak below, of contempt and control.

There is nothing here like the humble submission and divine benevolence as that between the worshipper and say, the Holy Virgin. Jameson is a picture of blonde innocence, a ruthless survivor, and a proud cash machine. “I was in control-of myself, and the men around me,” she writes of her first time dancing in a strip club. “And I loved it: I loved the attention and the confidence it gave me.”21 The strip club is a classroom, and the class is social dynamics. Once geeky and asocial, she learns how to talk. She learns how to act. She learns how to lie. While the customer mumbles on, she pretends to be open and caring. “Everything that came out of my mouth was complete bullshit. I could tell by looking at each person what he wanted to hear.” She is soon someone else. “Within weeks at the club, I began to transform from a geeky teenage girl into a money-crazed psycho. And I loved it.” Her look of innocence becomes even more innocent. “Since most of the men were into me because I looked so young and innocent, I decided to amplify that…I put my hair up in pony-tails, wore little pink shoes, and carried a plastic Barbie purse, which further contrasted me from the hardened girls.”22 She gets two lessons from another girl. Number One: “Be personable. Make him like you. Talk to him. Ask about his job. Act like you are interested.” Number Two: do shots with the customer, and make sure his are extra strong and yours complete water. “Get him as drunk as possible,” the other girl says, “and rack those songs up.”23

This is about money, but it is more about control. “It was a high to get the upper hand over a customer. They were dumb, they were drunk, and they deserved it.” The woman is naked, the woman is powerless, the woman has more power than the customer ever will. “The mentality is that if these guys are going to victimize us, we’re going to totally victimize them right back.”24 A local politician was into her and liked to be dominated. She pees in his beer and forces him to drink it. He buys her a corvette. “If you can walk into a room, lead on a bunch of guys, and then leave with thousands of dollars in cash in your pocket and no obligation to anyone…life is good.”25 She dances for celebrities, and she doesn’t care. Those assholes were Pantera? That old weirdo was Jack Nicholson? “Did you know you were just dancing for Whitesnake?” “Really, like I give a crap.”26 She moves on to photo work, and she has to contort herself into an aching pose that has nothing to do with the ecstatic state she appears to have in the picture. She looks over her shouldeer, nude, at the camera. “I had to arch so hard that my lower back cramped,” she writes. “When I see those photos now, it seems obvious that the sexy pout I thought I was giving the camera was just a poorly disguised grimace of pain.”27

She gets into porn as an act of revenge when a boyfriend cheats on her28. She stays in for the money. She starts out girl-girl, then shoots her first boy-girl scene when she’s eighteen with Randy West, who she describes as a decent guy, but a little old (forty six or forty seven), with the fashion sense of a homeless wrestler29.

Randy: So, are you interested in coming out to L.A. to shoot a video?
Me: Absolutely not. I only want to do high-end stuff.
Randy: The pay is three thousand dollars for one scene.
Me: What day you want me there?

Randy: How about doing a shoot with just me tomorrow?
Me: How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t really want to do that.
Randy: How about I pay you two thousand dollars more?
Me: Two thousand more than today?
Randy: Yes.
Me: Is tomorrow good for you?

Chris Nieratko, from a 2013 interview (“Jenna Jameson Interview”): Did you feel any of that when you were eighteen, really grossed out by these greasy men?
Jameson: Absolutely. Oh my god, you have no idea. I hate to throw him under the bus, but Randy West, god bless him, but he creeped me out so bad. I was just watching a documentary, I was on NetFlix, and they did this documentary called After Porn [After Porn Ends]…and I was, like, okay I wanna watch this. It’ll be interesting, it’s kinda my generation. So, he’s talking about this, there’s this little blonde girl, they called me and asked me if she can do a movie, and when I saw her, I saw dollar signs in my eyes, and I was like, okay, that’s creepy. I had just turned eighteen years old, and he had to have been at least fifty [the scene is from Up And Cummers 11 (link is relatively SFW, contains no pictures) which was released in 1994, and West was born in 1947, according to the same database, so he was either 46 or 47.]. And he was just so gross. And he totally lied about everything that happened that day. But I’ll just give it to him though. You know, whatever, he can have his little fantasy.
Nieratko: How do you get a girl boner to make a scene with a guy who’s fifty when you’re eighteen?
Jameson: You don’t. You’re just a good actress.

Randy West, from After Porn Ends: I used to say it’s like borrowing somebody’s body to masturbate with. “Excuse me, if you’re not busy, do you mind if I jerk off in your pussy, with my dick?” It’s kinda like that, which is not bad…you know, better than real jerking off. Right after I started producing Up And Cummers, I get this letter in the mail, I opened it up, and I see this unbelievably good looking, very young looking blonde girl…with beautiful natural boobs, little baby face, and she wants to know if I can help her get into the porn biz. The girl’s name was Jenna Jameson. I remember saying to someone, “Holy christ, if I get this girl to shoot for me, we’re going to sell some tapes.” I said, “Well, if you don’t wanna do guys, I’ll let you pick whatever girl you want to do that. She liked girls, so she picked this girl that I happened to be working with that day, who was doing her first movie, Kylie Ireland, so Kylie and Jenna were doing their thing together, and everything was going good, and they took a little break, and I said something like, “Man, Jenna, that’s a tasty looking pussy you got there.” And I believe she said, “Why don’t you come in and taste it?” And I went, *taken aback motion* “Okay!” I was doing the camera, but I handed it to my assistant, “Bob, hold on to this, start shooting.” So I get in there, and I start going down on her, and she starts squealing that squeal that she had…I’m guessing she’s kinda liking it, she seems like she’s getting off, and everything is good, I said, “Man, I am so fucking horny now, you guys mind giving me a double blow job or something?” She said, “Sure, we can do that.” *makes a prayer of thanks motion* “Oh thank you.” And they did, and it went well, and a week later, she kinda called me back, and said “You know what? You weren’t so bad, I could probably do a boy-girl scene with you,” the rest is kinda history after that.

A summary of the scene can be found in a review on an old mailing list, “Dunbar Reviews: Up and Cummers #11″:

Jenna Jameson. A sweet-looking, young little blonde. Nice natural tits, cute ass. I’ve heard told that she has since destroyed her body with fake tits (which she definitly did not need) and tattoos? Why do they do that? They do missionary and cowgirl shot from both the front and the back, and finally doggie. Randy finishes by coming inside her. It looks like he manages a decent load as she squirts it out of her cunt and it oozes into a puddle on the bed spread. Kind of gross if you ask me, but definitely out of the ordinary.

Jenna Jameson starts doing meth, then becomes entranced as she watches her boyfriend take apart a lightbulb, cook the meth in the glass, and inhale the smoke from the open base. She takes her turn, and the air comes in glassy smooth against her lungs. She lets out a three foot column of smoke from her lips. “Everything seemed to move in slow motion, and then someone pressed fast forward. My heart felt like a woodpecker was inside, hammering hard enough to burst through my chest at any moment.”30 She starts smoking every day. She organizes and re-organizes her bathroom a thousand times. She endlessly builds artwork with a gluegun. She plays so much handheld poker that her fingers bleed. In photo shoots, her bones stick out of her body and she starts clenching her jaw hard. “Jenna, relax,” the photographer says. “Let the tension out of your face.”31 The drug nearly kills her, then she comes back to life and has an even bigger career. She goes to Cannes with two other porn stars, Kaylan Nicole and Juli Ashton. “They had realized that with their beauty, boobs, and status, the rules that applied to the rest of the world didn’t apply to them,” she writes of Nicole and Ashton. “They had the attitude that they could do absolutely anything they wanted.” 32 She emerges from the plane into another world, the one she’s always wanted to be in, the one that Tera Patrick also longed to join. “It was one I’d dreamed about since I was a little girl, imagining what it would be like to be an international jet-setting model. In fact, it was wilder than my dreams. Flashbulbs went off everywhere.” The photographers have no idea who she is, only that she is a kind of sacred object, which their flashbulbs make more sacred. “The paparazzi screamed and fought to take pictures of me, even though they had no idea who I was. It was so overwhelming and disorienting being pushed through the admiring crowd toward a waiting limo. I knew, for the first time, what an actual celebrity must feel like.”33

She becomes a big star, and does some reporting for the E! Channel. “So you’re the reporter from the E! Channel,” says Wesley Snipes. “Why don’t you join us?” She accepts the invite. “So,” Wesley Snipes asks. “do you like it up the ass?” Anal sex, she writes, “is an exchange of power. And every man I’ve ever met loves the idea of dominating a woman by pushing his massive dick into her tight sphincter so that she loses control.”34 There are few people she’ll trust with anal. And she doesn’t like the closeness after sex. She sleeps with a waiter at Cannes. “When it was all over, he wrapped his naked body around mine. Instantly I stiffened. I hate cuddling.”35 She starts hooking up with the Anti-Christ Superstar, Marilyn Manson. They sleep together. “Why don’t you just stay and cuddle?” he asks. “Did you just say the c-word?!” she asks. “I don’t cuddle, but I lay with him for a little while longer and listened to him talk about religion.”36 Marilyn Manson likes to cuddle, and he’s a little too into anal. “Every time we were naked, he’d be going for my butt like a rat to cheese.”37 This is an act of power, of control, and you only do it with those you absolutely trust. “I’ve been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to do anal,” she writes, explaining why she’d only done it with three men up until then, and never on camera. “Doing it on camera would be compromising myself.”38

Anal is about control, porno is about control, though the power isn’t always where you think. “It’s time to meet the man you thought you envied,” we’re told about the boyfriends and husbands of porn stars who also act as their managers, “the suitcase pimps.” We’re given an overview of a manipulative wretch burdened by an emasculating fanny pack, which carries the porn star’s baby wipes, her lighters, and all other conveniences. These men are filled with get rich plans that never work, who buy the porn star dinner with her money while insisting she only eat salads, and is hooked on oxycontin, cocaine, steroids, or many other possibilities. The last instruction on playing this role: “Finally, when she is addicted to drugs, aged beyond her years, and can’t work anymore, help start the career of a fresh girl.”39 As Jameson’s own marriage fell apart, her director husband would wreak vengeance through the roles given. She does a scene where she gets hosed down surrounded by electric wires, one where she rides half naked on a blind horse, another where she plays a firewoman in balloon pants and a defective oxygen tank. In this last one, she has sex near a wall of actual flame while wearing a long blonde wig. “Will her flesh fry? Watch and find out!”40 A brief interlude featuring questions and answers with a male perfomer includes the most obvious query: “A lot of guys want to get into porn to get laid. What are your thoughts on that?” Answer: “Getting into porn is a death sentence. As a male performer you are doomed to be single for the rest of your life.” Why? “A guy performs seven to ten scenes per week at least. The number one performers do fifteen scenes per week. So what girl is going to go out with a guy who’s pounding fifteen other girls every week? No one. The guys don’t have any social life, because they are on set so much. And when they do go out, they are like lepers. Girls won’t touch them.”41

Jenna Jameson’s most frightening dream, the one that always recurs, is that there is someone nearby who can hurt her and she gives herself away.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the same nightmare. I am being chased through a large dilapidated house. There is someone directly behind me, but I can’t see him. I hide in the closet. I’m terrified. My heart is heaving in my chest. I know he’s right outside. I try to hold my breath so he can’t hear me. But I can’t stop gasping. It’s deafening. I know if he hears me, he’s going to open the door and get me. But there’s nothing I can do to quiet my fear. He’s coming closer. He can hear me now. It’s over. I’m going to die.

And then I wake up. To this day, I’ve never seen that person. Knowing that someone who wants to hurt me is so close by and that I am giving myself away is the worst feeling in the world.

The book ends with Jameson at the height of her powers. She tours as a feature dancer, and each night in each city she tells the crowd it’s her birthday. Instead of celebrating it on her own, she’s decided to spend it with them. “So I’m here, happy birthday to me,” I thought. The grateful crowd always throws in extra cash. “That’s right, fuckers. Cough it up.”42 She knew who had the power:

So if I caught a guy saying something obnoxious to his friends, I’d knock his hat off or spill a drink on his pants. At one show, when a guy threw a penny at me, I kicked him in the throat with my heel. I got in constant fights with local dancers-I even hocked a loogie in one girl’s face-and had guys thrown out of the club on a nightly basis. If some asshole dared to touch me, I’d reward him with a backhand to the skull. I was out of control. It was awesome.

She goes out on another feature tour with a dancer who’s an occasional girlfriend, Nikki Tyler, and a man known as Mr. 187, after California’s code for murder, and who’s a sergeant-at-arms with the Hell’s Angels. “Mr. 187 was a badass motherfucker who was angry at the world and enjoyed nothing more than snapping a guy’s arm for looking at him wrong. So naturally, we took him on tour with us.”43 A few years later, Mr. 187 was charged with murder for killing a club patron, then acquitted, on grounds of self-defense. A few years after that, he was killed at the funeral for another member of the Hell’s Angels44. But back then he was still alive, and they were a three person wrecking crew. “They had realized that with their beauty, boobs, and status, the rules that applied to the rest of the world didn’t apply to them,” she said of Kaylan Nicole and Juli Ashton, when they were veterans and she was a newcomer. She knew now what they knew then. She and Nikki would demand $5000 a night, and they would get it. With merchandise and tips, they’d get $100,000 for a three night booking, plus limos, plus security, plus a five star hotel with room service, and a rider complicated enough to make sure that people got their shit right45. And they were an utter wrecking crew:

Nikki and I were angry at the world in our own way, and Mr. 187’s function was to justify and enable it. He’d fan the flames of our Vicodin-and-vodka-fueled rage to the point where we got so out of control that even he couldn’t handle us. I’d smash out mirrors in dressing rooms; Nikki would clamp guys in leglocks until their heads turned purple; we’d kick drinks in guys’ faces; and we’d pass out on top of each other onstage.

There may be a habit of thought which sees Jameson as the chaotic exception, the intruder into elysium, distinct in an otherwise placid landscape. One reads the account of her childhood, and she is re-seen as something else, one more point in a mass that is raw, violent, savage. The movie Naked Lunch has nothing to do with the nihilist tumult of the book, but How to Make Love Like a Porn Star very much does. We are given excerpts of Jameson’s diary, before her stage name, when she was Jenna Massoli, and the girl there is bright eyed, tender, vulnerable. She is an unhappy iterant, moving from Vegas, to Florida, then Colorado, back to Vegas, then Montana, then Vegas again.

January 1, 1983

Dear Diaree,

I’m 8 years old.

I watched funny car racing. And I took tinsel off the Christmas tree. “real exciting,” My dads off tomoro. I watched a new show “Battle of the Beat.” I have a dog named “Ming.” My Grandma came over. My brother keeps on singing “You don’t want me anymore.” We had a good Christmas. I got a canopy. And my brother got a gun.

I watched the Black stallion.

April 1, 1983

Dear Diaree,

I broke my arm about 5 weeks ago. I just got my cast off. While I’m talking about hospitals my dads getting a chin augmentation. Hes getting it tomoro at 10:00. He’s nervous. He wants it to come in two minutes. I played a joke on my mommy Marjorie. I pretended to see a giant spider. She was scared, then I said APRIL FOOLS! She said you dirty rat. I laughed so hard. She was really mad. It was funny. Then we played Lego’s. It was fun. Were going to paint easter eggs.

Its going to be fun.

Bye Diaree

tomorrow
tomorrow
tommorow

June 24, 1984

Dear Diarree Diary,

Sorry it’s been so long. I’ve had a lot on my mind. Well I’ll tell you all what’s happened. We moved in with grandma. We live on 7th & Franklin. I go to John S. Park school. I past into 5th grade. I turned 10 April 9th. My brother’s thirteen’s. Weve been having bad troubles. My mom and dad are getting separated. These last few days have been awful. Its been really hard on me a lot more than Tony cause he hates her.

I’ve had her as a mother since I was 2. My poor dad is feeling awful. She’s moving out today or tomorrow.

My heart is so broken I could just cry.

July 30, 1984

We moved to Boulder City and I’m doing fine. Today I saw my old friend beth. She does toe. She had an extra pair and let me have them. I can do toe at ballet class now.

There black. It’s about 10:07 at night. My dads home late at about 12:00. I can’t wait till then. I feel safer. We called into MTV Friday night video.

Duran Duran won. Ming’s sitting right beside me watching me write.

My Most Treasured Things

Diary
toe shoes
canopy bed
white dress
Real mothers neckless
dad
beth
Unicorn Collection

December 21, 1986

Dear Diary,

This is Jenna reporting from the cold region of Elko Nevada. I really like it down here. I have a lot of friends such as Natalie Glass, Kristine Poljak, and Ginny Richey. We got a new puppy. He’s a black Labrador. His name is Digby & he’s two months old. Welp, it’s almost Christmas & I don’t know a thing I’m getting! I’m in the bath writing this! Well I’ve finally gotten hair and I’m starting to get some boobs.

Well I better wash my hair.

Bye,

Jen

November 24, 1987

Hello. I’m in Las Vegas now. We moved back. Vivian [her father's ex-girlfriend] is history. Oh well. I will probably look back on my childhood and laugh. I laugh at it already. I have a lot of friends but I never go anywhere. It’s very depressing.

I went to State and I won young Miss Modeling Queen. And then I went to Nationals Recently and I got top ten in the country in my pageant.

I had a lot of fun.

September 20, 1989

Hi there! Well I moved to Montana and I’m not really very happy here. I miss Owen. He was my latest boyfriend in L.V. [Las Vegas] before I left.

Well here is whats been happening since I got to this place. Well, I am very popular but some fo the girls at school don’t like me.

October 1, 1990

Dear Diary,

The WORST thing in the WORLD happened today.
It’s so horrible I can’t even write it down or tell my dad or my brother anything.

I HATE Montana. I WANT to KILL MYSELF.

But that wouldn’t be fair to my dad. I am not going to write anything down anymore. I am going to get out of here and forget all about this place.

I am so sad and torn apart and confused. I don’t understand people. How could this happen to me? I don’t know what to do. Life sucks.

Goodbye Forever Diary,

Jenna

From a series of family interviews in the book, with Jenna, her father Larry Massoli, and her brother, Tony:

Larry: I’d like to know what happened in Montana.

Jenna: I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to talk about it.

Larry Massoli, Jenna’s father and easily the most interesting character in the book, worked as a police officer when they were first in Vegas, and where he got caught in a war between two rival borellos. Mobsters tried to kidnap his children, Jenna and Tony, they put out a contract on him, they come to kill his family. The Massolis move to Florida. “I guess Florida was awful,” says Larry. “Ugh, Florida was ghetto,” agrees Jenna. Her school had a barbed wire fence and the kids’ tricycles were chained down together because otherwise they’d get stolen46. Someone tries to break into their house, but it’s okay: Tony has a gun. Tony slept with guns since he was six years old47. When they are back in Vegas, Jenna and her brother act like utter hellions. They steal fire extinguishers and spray passers-by. “We would go down to cracktown and see the crack hos on the corner and we’d fog ‘em up!,” she remembers. “I remember one time we got this kid on a skateboard and there was a cop that saw us. We were in this total car chase, and we got away.”48 They would build giant sculptures in people’s yards, Jenna would light them up, and then-

Jenna: Finally, boom! Everything would explode in flames. People would be coming out of their houses freaking out. And then a couple days later on the news, “There’s been a rash of arsons across the Las Vegas valley.” And we’re all like, “Yaaaayyy!” Our dad had no clue.

Her father moves them again to Montana, to raise cattle and try to keep Jenna out of trouble. At school, the boys liked her and the other girls didn’t. They would chase her, throw her down, and punch her in the stomach. “One girl would get me by the back, and one would punch me in the stomach. They didn’t really hurt me, but Jesus Christ I got the wind knocked out of me. Or they would rip out my hair.”49 Before finally leaving Montana, Jenna saw the girl who picked on her the most getting something from her locker. She goes up and smashes the locker door so hard, it splits the girl’s head wide open50. This last act takes place after the worst thing in the world happened to her, after she’s stopped going to school because of it, after she’s decided she wants to get as far away as possible from Montana. She finally reveals in her memoir what it is, when writing about her first time on “The Howard Stern Show”:

He kept saying that something didn’t compute. He asked if I had a screwed-up childhood, and I said no. He asked if my parents had been strict, and I said no. He asked if my dad and I still talked, and I said we did. He asked if my mom minded what I was doing, and I said no. I had decided in advance that it was better not to discuss her death on the air. I didn’t think I could handle it.

But then Howard asked me if I’d ever been molested or abused. It was the one question I wasn’t prepared for.

This is the moment on the show, “Jenna Jameson first appearance on Howard Stern (1995) Part 1″ (3:25-4:24):

STERN
You know what, sometimes I look at porno movies, and I go, man, that girl is so good looking. How could she be in porno movies? And I can’t figure it out. You know what I mean?

JAMESON
Right.

STERN
Listen. I have a lot of porno stars in here, but a lot of them I reject, because it’s like, how many times can you have a porno star? But then when I saw your pictures, you were such a piece of ass, I mean, look at this, is that a modeling ad, or what?

QUIVERS
I thought that was some Sports Illustrated model.

STERN
Look at that. So then I said, she’s gotta have a screwed up story, she’s so damned beautiful. I see beautiful women in these pornos, and I go: how the hell do they get them to have-

QUIVERS
Why are they in there.

STERN
-wild monkey sex in these pornos. You have to have had a screwed up childhood, right?

JAMESON
No. Actually-

STERN
Oh, come on. Something happened-

JAMESON
My dad was a cop.

STERN
And he never molested you?

JAMESON
Maybe it’s a rebellious thing.

QUIVERS
Were they strict or what?

JAMESON
No. Not at all. I ran wild.

STERN
What happened? You just ran wild.

QUIVERS
You had no supervision whatsoever.

JAMESON
Not really.

QUIVERS
There you go.

STERN
They weren’t strict at all?

JAMESON
No.

STERN
They let you do whatever you want?

JAMESON
I was out of control.

What happened was simple: she was beaten and gang raped by four boys after a football game. We are not allowed the comfort that these boys were something alien or obviously monstrous: she describes them as funny, good-looking guys. They raped her anyway. The family moved back to Las Vegas, and there, she was raped by her boyfriend’s uncle, a man named Preacher. “I’ve never told anyone about either the Montana experience or the one with Preacher because I don’t want to be thought of as a victim,” she writes. “I want to be judged by who I am as a person, not by what happened to me.”

This is someone who appears to live in a society without the protection of laws or social codes. Gangsters try to kidnap her, attempt to kill her family, indifferent to her father being a policeman. No taboo, restriction, or moral perimeter keeps women from punching her in the stomach, men from misusing her, men from raping her. The only guaranteed protection against home invasion are your own guns, the only thing that keeps other people from hurting you is your own spine. That the image of this woman is known to billions is a result of the most advanced technology, and yet the world she lives in appears to be lawless, modern America and pre-modern America, the west described in Orwell’s “Mark Twain: The Licensed Jester”: “The State hardly existed, the churches were weak and spoke with many voices, and land was to be had for the taking.” However, the law that Orwell emphasizes as absent, economic pressure, is overwhelming in Massoli’s life, is the only law that seemingly exists. It is because of money that she is able to act with fuller freedom than ever before – “I was out of control. It was awesome” – she has the license to be out of control because she’s pulling down five grand in three nights. This might be one of the few books where a woman speaks of sleeping with other women without any mention of it being a perceived transgression, a rebellion, or a violation of society’s rules. “As I was talking, she suddenly reached across the table, put her hand under my chin, pulled my face into hers, and kissed me,” she writes of another stripper she’s tutoring in necessary work skills, when the student makes a move on her.

It wasn’t a peck on the lips, or one of those fake sexy kisses that girls do with other girls to turn men on. It was a full-on tongue-exploring-mouth soul kiss. My breath quickened, and my mind raced. I was in shock. But, at the same time, I wasn’t. This was why I had really come up to her. I didn’t want to help her become a better stripper at all. I wanted to run my hands through her hair, feel her cheek against mine, and hold her in my arms. I had to make a split-second decision. And that decision was yes. Yes, I wanted to throw down with this girl.

She released my mouth and looked softly into my eyes. I wrapped my right hand behind her head, and she pressed her lips once more against mine. She kissed with the confidence and passion of a man.

Scenes such as this are not written for the appetites of men, but only as a blunt description of events that took place. From an account of times with another girl: “She could come fifteen times in a single session, and always wanted to eat me out when I was on my period. She called it war paint.” There is no mention of a contrast with what other women do, or what society expects of a woman to act, or any larger gay culture. These women and this society doesn’t exist in her life, and may as well be on a distant planet. If society does not exist to protect you from rape, robbery, and kidnapping, why should it even be acknowledged for such humble acts as this? In the review of the book by Charles Taylor, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson”, this often insightful critic writes of Massoli as part of a larger group of sex workers in opposition and outside the values of the middle class:

What could seem a better way to flout middle-class values than going into stripping or nude modeling or adult movies (even though, for some of the people who go into them, they are the quickest route to middle-class stability)? But though sex workers have often been looked down on in the name of middle-class propriety, it’s interesting to think about what they share with the middle class.

Taylor re-assures us that these people are finally us as well: “Often those people wind up living traditional middle-class lives — they get married, have kids, buy a home.” This overlooks that Massoli was never middle class at her most successful, she was a multi-millionaire and part of the one percent, and it makes the mistake of placing Massoli as part of a larger group. Her life is the most extreme expression of unrestrained independence that might be found, without reliance on the government or solidarity with anyone, her career born in the ruthless desert state whose lack of gambling laws allowed its foremost industry to exist. “Fuck Gloria Steinem,” she writes51. You are alone in this world, so you’d better figure out how to handle it quick. There is no ethos or philosophy that can be connected to this life, except for one thing: Jenna Massoli has been able to survive a great deal.

That there is something lost in existing like this, in having to live like this, is suggested in one of Jenna Massoli’s longer diary entries. She expresses something that might be called innocence, and to find it appealing might seem like a longing for a pristine state that cannot exist in harsh life, like orchids that cannot survive outside the hothouse, but I think it is only for a person who can allow themselves to be vulnerable, for the possibility of giving themselves away, without feeling unsafe. Those who’ve read this book will find one sentence especially striking: “The next day I found myself alone in his room, him holding my body close to him.” Jenna Massoli had no issue with snuggling then.

June 9, 1988

Victor,

A boy or should I say a man moved into our apartment yesterday or the day before. Amy and I were walking & we encountered one of her classmates. We talked awhile out at the swimming pool. He spoak to me about an attractive friend of his named Victor. He described him as blonde buff & tan. And of course he sounded attractive to me. I secretly inside wanted to meet this mystery man. But I was very timid about meeting strange men. But Amy said to just come and sit in the grass in front of his so called apartment. So I did.

We sat and had a few meaningless conversations, until I saw 2 dark figures moving at a somewhat fast pace. All at once they sat down in our huddle in the grass. One was dark haired and very old looking, sitting on his motorcycle helmet. The other, he was hard to take my eyes off. He struck me as the wild type, someoe who could release my secret desire to be wanted in a seductive manner & to be treated & looked at as an attractive woman. And to throw away peoples tendency to look at me as a cute pretty but young girl. As time went on, he became more and more sexy. But I couldn’t show my secret desire to touch him. I think he realized how much I wanted him & he came and made himself comfortable unusually close to my warm body. He made me feel like no other boy or man ever made me feel. It was getting quite late so I got up and started to leave-thinking to myself it was silly of me to even think of being able to satisfy his needs.

But as soon as the thought ended and I was within two arms lengths away from him, a phrase I was secretly wishing he would say left his mouth, “When will I see you again.” My heart filled with joy and passion. “Tomorrow,” I said. The next day I couldn’t see him at all. But at about 11:30 p.m. I peered through my window and there he was. No, he wasn’t a figment of my imagination. He was real. He was standing beneath my open window, staring up at me. We greeted each other and I yearned to hold him close to me, like I so often thought about. He gave me his telephone number and he disappeared into the darkness. The next day I found myself alone in his room, him holding my body close to him.

He gave me a few playful pecks on my arms and my face. Then he gave me the most passionate and deep kiss I have ever even assumed there could be. My god. I wanted to stay here in his arms and make love to him over and over again until my body was so tired it had to stop. But I had to leave. He is the one that I want to be with day & night. But I don’t think you know that. Try to understand how much I want & need to be with you. Sorry for making it so long but I couldn’t tell you in any other way.

I will never ever stop wanting you.

There is the interesting contrast that Jenna Jameson has said in several places that she’s submissive when having sex with men (she is dominant with women), so the mass of images is of herself submitting to men, when she has a very different attitude in actual life, outside the bedroom: of being very strong, of someone giving orders, someone who never wishes to be vulnerable52. We have something similar with Tera Patrick, who gives her sexual likes as “rough sex, hair pulling, mild choking, getting tied up, playing the submissive, strong, tough, tattooed men”, yet this also is not to be taken for emotional fragility. Her attitude when she first entered this industry, and one that fit so well with it: “I was enjoying life. I was free. And I was horny. My motto was: ‘Get it up. Get it in. Get it off. Get it out.'” The obvious question is to what extent we are in control of this role. Are we playing at dominating, or are we actually dominating? Are we playing at submitting, or are we actually submitting? At various points in Patrick’s Sinner Take All, her then husband Evan Seinfeld, takes over the narrative and gives his perspective:

Tera and I went back at it. We did everything. We were being silly, taking these photos of each other. We were having a lot of fun. I was trying to take a P.O.V. picture of myself peeing on her. Some people don’t understand what peeing is all about. Peeing on each other isn’t about the pee. It’s about domination and submission. It’s when she lays down on the floor of the shower and gives herself fully and says, “Go ahead do whatever you want. I’m yours.” We are a perfect match because I am so overdominant and she is super-submissive All of her friends’ worst fears came true: I made her my cock puppet. But she loved it.

Tera agrees: “I never let a man pee on me, but I let Evan. It’s about submission, trust, and giving yourself freely to someone, and that’s a turn-on.” Patrick’s memoir, which appears to be reaching the crescendo of a happy marriage to Seinfeld, a man she deeply loves, instead twists to an unexpected halt. We are put abruptly in an entirely different space in the book’s last chapter, with Patrick fallen out of love with Seinfeld and the two divorced. Patrick suspects that her husband always wanted to be in porn, and used her to achieve this fantasy:

Evan achieved his goal, but in the end I suffered. He was the dominating male who ran my life, and in that I lost a lot of myself. He was living the dream–he was going to bed with Tera Patrick at night and going to work in the morning and fucking another girl. I wanted a husband for life who only loved and wanted me. I wasn’t living my dream.

Again: are we just playing a role when we submit, or are we actually submitting?

This is all there in Nicki Brand, who is a submissive throughout the movie, yet who gives the orders to Max Renn, commands which he always obeys, including the final one to destroy himself. Again, we have the question of whether the power is truly our own. The image of Nicki Brand gives these orders, yet this image is manipulated first by Barry Convex, and later, presumably, by Bianca O’Blivion. Bianca is the other powerful woman in the story, yet she sees herself as only exercising her father’s will – “I am my father’s screen.”

If we might see Jenna Massoli’s life as part of a broken symmetry, the unsheltered life in the wake of a collapsed universe, then her own father’s life might be its mirroring arc. As said, Larry Massoli, Jenna’s father, is easily the most interesting character in the book. Where she lives seemingly outside of any state, he worked as its servant, a military advisor in Vietnam before the United States had officially entered the war53. Later, his job is to organize and train fighters to suppress the Simba rebellion in the Congo. Something there changes him. “It’s interesting because when you first go over you try to be so righteous,” he says in one of the book’s interviews with the Massoli family. “I grew up with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and they never shot anybody in the back. It was the white hats against the black hats. You have to do everything fair.” I’m very sympathetic to this man, and I’m not sure what I would see if I were to look closely at what took place where he was in Vietnam, or more importantly, what he says took place in Simba in response to his own side suffering massacres: “I would come up to a village and, instead of going house to house, I would level the whole place…We went from village to village killing them all. We just didn’t care. We didn’t care.” One is struck by this entire passage, gone somehow unnoticed, perhaps since this is a book about pornography and therefore nothing it says about war or America is to be given thoughtful consideration. This phrase, especially: “When I got to Africa I still had some humanity left.”54 When Larry Massoli returns, it takes him a decade to fit back into society. Like Freddie Quell in The Master, he turns to Scientology for structure and comfort; they get him a job at a Las Vegas TV station55. His dear wife dies of cancer when Jenna is two, the woman Jenna’s memoirs is dedicated to, and who continued to dominate their lives, in memory. Afterwards, Larry Massoli decides to do “what I had always wanted to do. I became this big crusader asshole. Because I couldn’t save your mother, I was going to save the world.” It’s when he refuses to look the other way or take a bribe during a war between two bordellos in Vegas that there are the kidnapping threats and a contract is put out on his life. Most important business in Jameson’s book is handled unofficially, and Larry Massoli settles this unofficially as well. He goes out to the brothel owned by those who threatened his family and put out a hit on his life, drives his patrol car through the front door, and empties two clips of a Thompson submachine gun into their bar. “I want you fuckers to stop fucking with my family.” Problem solved56.

After this, he enters a descent, a dark mirrored image of his previous life. He ends up on the run with his son, Tony, and out of contact with Jenna after another contract is put out on their lives, having to do with some other Vegas business that goes awry. He does acid with his kids. He does coke with Jenna and Tony. When they all do coke together, Jenna looks over at Tony and says, “Go, Dad.” Larry: “I completely reversed myself from being the self-righteous stupid ass that I was to a psycho.” Jenna: “Get down with your bad self, Dad.”57 He ends up dating a stripper, running a strip club with his brother where his daughter is a feature dancer, and smoking meth. Larry: “You know what? I don’t miss any drug. But the only drug I ever liked was crank. It’s the best drug on the planet, but smoking it. Not sniffing it.”58 He had left the world of heroic duty, whatever might be underneath, for his daughter’s world, a place of raw anarchy.

Tony: …it’s always been us against the world…

Jenna: That’s right.

Larry: …and it always will be.

That I write of these women, Tera Patrick and Jenna Jameson, as being something like sacred objects to be kept away from the profane, when they are in an inherently profane medium, pornography, is not a contradiction. There remains an elevation, a creation of distance, an abstract image to be worshipped, though the profaning of these sacred objects is different than it might be for other celebrities. What profanes the sacred for this kind of performer is anything that erases the distance between themselves and the general population, and these are tied almost entirely to their beauty: age, bad surgery, drugs, desperation, humilation. These all affect other celebrities as well, though they can be humiliated, or profaned, in ways that Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick cannot, through nabbed nude selfies and sex tapes.

That we might liken fame to this religious phenomenon of mana, and that it should be so prevalent in a secular society, perhaps explains why there are the constant countervailing impulses of making people famous, creating these sacred objects, and profaning these same sacred objects, humiliating the famous. An example of this might be seen in the career of Britney Spears, who was especially suited for the kind of sacred image making that resembles Marilyn Monroe’s. She was seemingly innocent, by which we mean sexually innocent, somehow unconscious of the electric sexuality of her poses, and so we have, literally, the sacred vessel unprofaned, as well as the cryptic quality of her image. This is perhaps best expressed in Chuck Klosterman’s “Bending Spoons with Britney Spears”:

Over the next ninety minutes, I will sit next to a purportedly fully clothed Britney and ask her questions. She will not really answer any of them. Interviewing Britney Spears is like deposing Bill Clinton: Regardless of the evidence, she does not waver. “Why do you dress so provocatively?” I ask. She says she doesn’t dress provocatively. “But look what you’re wearing right now,” I say, while looking at three inches of her inner thigh, her entire abdomen, and enough cleavage to choke a musk ox. “This is just a skirt and a top,” she responds. It is not that Britney Spears denies that she is a sexual icon, or that she disputes that American men are fascinated with the concept of the wet-hot virgin, or that she feels her success says nothing about what our society fantasizes about. She doesn’t disagree with any of that stuff, because she swears she has never even thought about it. Not even once.

“That’s just a weird question,” she says. “I don’t even want to think about that. That’s strange, and I don’t think about things like that, and I don’t want to think about things like that. Why should I? I don’t have to deal with those people. I’m concerned with the kids out there. I’m concerned with the next generation of people. I’m not worried about some guy who’s a perv and wants to meet a freaking virgin.”

And suddenly, something becomes painfully clear: Either Britney Spears is the least self-aware person I’ve ever met, or she’s way, way savvier than any of us realize.

Or maybe both.

A blunt contrast to this attitude can be found in Tera Patrick’s Sinner Take All:

Is it weird to think that people you know and people you meet have seen your porn and masturbate to you?
–MIKE, 23, VAN NUYS

Yeah, it’s a little weird to know that someone talking to me has seen my innermost parts and I haven’t seen theirs. But it’s not weird that they masturbate to me. They also masturbate to Cameron Diaz and Carmen Electra and Jessica Alba and the girl at the grocery store. Men are just visual. I’m no different, except they have a little bit more to masturbate to, they see a little bit more of me. It’s just humbling.

When we speak of this unprofaned innocence, we end up speaking almost exclusively about her image, one that allows the viewer to project a multiplicity of things that may not be there. Such a phenomenon takes place in a recent article on her Vegas show, “Miss American Dream”, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. It is a very good article, one where the author never actually interviews Spears, but discusses her image alone, in the preparation time up to this premiere. She speaks to one woman who became a fan when Spears shaved her head. “She was just saying fuck you to the world over and over. This was who I knew she was,” says the fan. “In the early 2000s, she was a phony. This was really her.”59 The obvious question is: are you sure? Is it not possible that she simply had a nervous breakdown? That perhaps whatever we see of her, the public, is always phony, always false out of emotional necessity. “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomology of Fame” by Donna Rockwell and David C. Giles (I came across this study via the Alice Robb piece, “The Four Stages of Fame: How Celebrities Learn to Accept — and Regret — Their Popularity”), describes one survival strategy: “The celebrity copes with intense public scrutiny through character-splitting. He or she divides into two identities by contriving a celebrity entity, a new self presentation in the “public sphere.” Arguably, there are people whose private personality works extraordinarily well as a public one, an enigma never to be resolved, a riddle that cannot be answered, under which there is nothing. Spears is asked over and over again, “What do people not know about you?”, and “Miss American Dream” treats the answer, “Really that I’m pretty boring,” as a defensive gesture when it perhaps is not60. The image alone implies that this cannot be the full answer, that the enigma cannot be unending, when it may well be61.

The metaphors of Videodrome have such a variety of meanings because there is so little to restrict any and almost all interpretations. The character of Nicki Brand is a blank, and that’s what makes her image so beguiling, and the public character of Britney Spears is a blank as well, making her image equally powerful. We are left to guess at whether shaving her head is a nervous breakdown or an expression of strength, whether the song “Work, Bitch” embodies the sadistic grinding of life now, or it’s a subtle rebellion against all these forces. The video of “Work, Bitch” features Britney dominating a group of dancers in leather and gimp masks, holding them fast in leashes, whipping one like Max Renn whipped a TV. We might read whatever we wish into either image, with nothing in the characters to guide us. This image might be provocation for laughs, it might be ironic, it might be sincere. Britney Spears was a sacred object and everything was done to try to profane her, to humiliate her, yet she has remained sacred anyway. She has kept her power, and now she’ll exercise it. She’s in control. It’s awesome.

The fan in “Miss American Dream” who loved her post-breakdown is the only one who ends up not liking the Vegas show. The fan, a dominatrix, compared it to the time she threw a party where she had to hire a prostitute who clearly didn’t want to be there. She had a vacant look in her eyes that killed the whole vibe, and Britney had the same look62. Again, I wonder: what is the difference between Britney’s enigmatic look and her vacant one? We might see whatever we wish, just as we might read life or death in the eyes of Nicki Brand. The apotheosis of being able to read whatever we wish is when anything human no longer exists, and the image remains as a riddle to be puzzled over infinitely, something like Marilyn Monroe. One tradition described in Durkheim is the use of tattoos to mark someone as being affiliated with a totem worshipped by their clan; another is the idea of a mythic ancestor who is a protecting genius, a protecting spirit63. Megan Fox used to carry a tattoo of what might be thought of a mythic ancestor, giving an explanation in “The Self-Manufacture of Megan Fox” by Lynn Hirschberg, which coheres well with these ideas:

On her right forearm, Fox has an intricate tattoo of Marilyn Monroe. Although she has read biographies of Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and other movie-star icons, Fox is particularly fascinated by Monroe. While Gardner led a wild life, her work is forgotten. Monroe created a legacy: her persona is instantly recognizable. It’s not a character she played in a particular movie like, say, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.” Monroe was her own brand before branding existed.

One might note that word which perfectly matches a character’s last name, suggesting it’s not arbitrary: Nicki Brand. Yet Fox does not keep this tattoo, perhaps because this spirit does not protect at all, it’s an image whose eternality is connected with its own creator’s early self-annihilation. It’s almost entirely gone in the infamous piece, “Megan Fox Saves Herself” by Steve Marche: “All that remains of Marilyn is a few drops of black against skin that is the color the moon possesses in the thin air of northern winters,” and [Fox] says why: “I started reading about her and realized that her life was incredibly difficult. It’s like when you visualize something for your future. I didn’t want to visualize something so negative.” Marche took a great deal of flack for invoking the idea of Aztec sacrifices in connection with celebrity (say, “Esquire’s Interview with Megan Fox Is the Worst Thing Ever Written” by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete), yet I don’t think there’s anything flawed or foolish in finding connections between our idol worship and that of the past, that the similarities compel you to look in such areas.

After she erased the tattoo, Fox would compare Monroe to one of her contemporaries. “She wasn’t powerful at the time. She was sort of like Lindsay. She was an actress who wasn’t reliable, who almost wasn’t insurable…. She had all the potential in the world, and it was squandered.” Despite being a sound assessment, in a conflict averse industry, even this mild claim required self-censure64. In a recent story, “Bungalow 89″ by James Franco, describes an actress who very much resembles Lindsay Lohan, and even carries the name “Lindsay Lohan”. The same countervailing factors mentioned earlier took place in this woman’s life. We want you famous. We want you sacred. We want you wasted. We want you naked. We want you humiliated. We want you destroyed. The sacred is profaned, it ceases to be sacred, and the interest ends. That this “Lindsay Lohan” has none of the magnetism of the central character of the well-known piece, “Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie” by Stephen Rodrick, is because it’s not enough for fiction to evoke the real-life character, but must re-create the essence of their potent beguiling qualities. In this case, it is the th mixture of the actress’s incredible talents and her self-destructiveness, and this, the story does not convey, giving only a few squalid details that would make the story go completely unnoted if the author and his subject were untouched by our modern mana. There is one line, however, that contains great insight, of especial value here, a piece of direction given by Nicolas Winding Refn to Franco. “Less is more; nothing is everything.”

(Images from Videodrome and Prince of Darkness copyright Universal Pictures, images from Naked Lunch copyright 20th Century Fox, images from Blue Velvet copyright De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. Artwork from How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Bernard Chang.)

(On July 15th, some small edits were made: the section about Tera Patrick and submission, and moving the Chuck Klosterman excerpt from a footnote to the main text. On July 16th, some further very small clarifying edits were made, mainly to the paragraph dealing with control and Nicki Brand.)

FOOTNOTES

1 From “William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211″:

INTERVIEWER
When did you encounter the Beats?

GIBSON
More or less the same time I found science fiction, because I found the Beats when the idea of them had been made sufficiently mainstream that there were paperback anthologies on the same wire rack at the bus station. I remember being totally baffled by one Beat paperback, an anthology of short bits and excerpts from novels. I sort of understood what little bits of Kerouac were in this thing-I could read him-but then there was William S. Burroughs and excerpts from Naked Lunch I thought, What the heck is that? I could tell that there was science fiction, somehow, in Naked Lunch. Burroughs had cut up a lot of pulp-noir detective fiction, and he got part of his tonality from science fiction of the forties and the fifties. I could tell it was kind of like science fiction, but that I didn’t understand it.

2 From “Which Is the Fly and Which Is the Human?” by Lynn Snowden, hosted on Reality Studio: A William S. Burroughs Community:

“It’s a limited kingdom,” Cronenberg says with a proud smile, “but it’s mine. One of the reasons Burroughs excited me when I read him was that I recognized my own imagery in his work,” he says. “It sounds only defensive to say, ‘I was already thinking of a virus when I read that!’ But there is a recognition factor. That’s why I think you start to feel like you’re vibrating in harmony with someone else. It’s the recognition, not that they introduced you to something that was completely unthought of by you.

3 From Neuromancer, the witty point made in the description of the Sprawl is to liken this physical entity to an electronic one, so that even though the Sprawl and the Matrix are separate, they merge in their likenesses.

The Matrix:

A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void … The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy.

The Sprawl:

Home was BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.

Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta . . .

4 From “Mr. Mike’s America: A Comic’s Trek with SNL’s First Head Writer” by Paul Slansky:

O’Donoghue counters with one that Belushi used to tell about Adam and Eve. He doesn’t remember the setup, but the punch line has Eve washing her private parts in the river and God shouting down, “You asshole! Now all the fish are gonna smell like that!”

“American humor is a really angry rube humor,” O’Donoghue says. “Very mean and aggressive. I’ve always liked American jokes.”

5 Some sense of the place can be found in the very good biography of the author, Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs by Ted Morgan:

Tangier being by definition a place where everything was freely bought and sold, it gained a reputation for wickedness. In his widely syndicated column, “As I Was Saying,” Robert Ruark wrote in 1950 that “Sodom was a church picnic and Gomorrah a convention of Girl Scouts” compared to Tangier, which “contained more thieves, black marketeers, spies, thugs, phonies, beachcombers, expatriates, degenerates, characters, operators, bandits, bums, tramps, politicians, and charlatans” than any place he’d ever visited.

In 1955, Burroughs began to see that Tangier could serve as a model for the setting of his novel, which he called “Interzone.” Tangier was as much an imaginative construct as a geographical location, a metaphor for limbo, for a dead-end place, a place where everyone could act out his most extreme fantasies. On one level, Tangier was a reconstruction of the world in a small place.

6 From “Cronenberg Videodrome Intro” (from 3:23-4:00 in the clip):

Speaking of Toronto, by the way, Roberto Benigni, who did the movie Life is Beautiful, italian film-maker…when he came to Toronto, and I met him…of course, this is when he won his Oscar for Life is Beautiful…he immediately got on his knees and started to kiss my feet, my shoes. “Great, Roberto.” Then he got up, and he said: “Toronto. I was terrified to come to Toronto. Because all I knew of it was from your films.”

7 From Naked Lunch:

Techniques of Sending were crude at first. Fadeout to the National Electronic Conference in Chicago. The Conferents are putting on their overcoats . . . The speaker talks in a flat shopgirl voice:

“In closing I want to sound a word of warning . . . The logical extension of encephalographic research is biocontrol; that is, control of physical movement, mental processes, emotional reactions and apparent sensory impressions by means of bioelectric signals injected into the nervous system of the subject.”

“Louder and funnier!” The Conferents are trooping out in clouds of dust.

“Shortly after birth a surgeon could install connections in the brain. A miniature radio receiver could be plugged in and the subject controlled from State-controlled transmitters.”

Dust settles through the windless air of a vast empty hall-smell of hot iron and steam; a radiator sings in the distance . . . The Speaker shuffles his notes and blows dust off them . . .

“The biocontrol apparatus is prototype of one-way telepathic control. The subject could be rendered susceptible to the transmitter by drugs or other processing without installing any apparatus. Ultimately the Senders will use telepathic transmitting exclusively . . . Ever dig the Mayan codices? I figure it like this: the priests-about one percent of population-made with one-way telepathic broadcasts instructing the workers what to feel and when . . . A telepathic sender has to send all the time. He can never receive, because if he receives that means someone else has feelings of his own could louse up his continuity. The Sender has to send all the time, but he can’t ever recharge himself by contact. Sooner or later he’s got no feelings to send. You can’t have feelings alone. Not alone like the Sender is alone-and you dig there can only be one Sender at one place-time . . . Finally the screen goes dead . . . The Sender has turned into a huge centipede . . . So the workers come in on the beam and burn the centipede and elect a new Sender by consensus of the general will . . . The Mayans were limited by isolation . . . Now one Sender could control the planet . . . You see control can never be a means to any practical end . . . It can never be a means to anything but more control . . . Like junk . . .”

8 From Naked Lunch:

Blast of trumpets: The Man is carried in naked by two Negro Bearers who drop him on the platform with bestial, sneering brutality . . . The Man wriggles . . . His flesh turns to viscid, transparent jelly that drifts away in green mist, unveiling a monster black centipede. Waves of unknown stench fill the room, searing the lungs, grabbing the stomach . . .

The death of Barry Convex in Videodrome:

9 From Naked Lunch:

The boy felt a silent black clunk fall through his flesh. The Sailor put a hand to the boy’s eyes and pulled out a pink scrotal egg with one closed, pulsing eye. Black fur boiled inside translucent flesh of the egg.

The Sailor caressed the egg with nakedly inhuman hands-black-pink, thick, fibrous, long white tendrils sprouting from abbreviated finger tips.

Death fear and Death weakness hit the boy, shutting off his breath, stopping his blood. He leaned against a wall that seemed to give slightly. He clicked back into junk focus.

10 An excerpt from Naked Lunch, when a woman has sex with a character who’s just been killed in a hanging:

She locks her hands behind Johnny’s buttocks, puts her forehead against him, smiling into his eyes she moves back, pulling him off the platform into space . . . His face swells with blood . . . Mark reaches up with one lithe movement and snaps Johnny’s neck . . . sound like a stick broken in wet towels. A shudder runs down Johnny’s body . . . one foot flutters like a trapped bird . . . Mark has draped himself over a swing and mimics Johnny’s twitches, closes his eyes and sticks his tongue out . . . Johnny’s cock springs up and Mary guides it up her cunt, writhing against him in a fluid belly dance, groaning and shrieking with delight . . . sweat pours down her body, hair hangs over her face in wet strands. “Cut him down, Mark,” she screams. Mark reaches over with a snap knife and cuts the rope, catching Johnny as he falls, easing him onto his back with Mary still impaled and writhing . . . She bites away Johnny’s lips and nose and sucks out his eyes with a pop . . . She tears off great hunks of cheek . . . Now she lunches on his prick . . . Mark walks over to her and she looks up from Johnny’s half-eaten genitals, her face covered with blood, eyes phosphorescent . . . Mark puts his foot on her shoulder and kicks her over on her back . . . He leaps on her, fucking her insanely . . . they roll from one end of the room to the other, pinwheel end-over-end and leap high in the air like great hooked fish.

“Let me hang you, Mark . . . Let me hang you . . . Please, Mark, let me hang you!”

11 From Naked Lunch, Bill Lee killing Hauser and O’Brien:

I squirted a thin jet of alcohol, whipping it across his eyes with a sideways shake of the syringe. He let out a bellow of pain. I could see him pawing at his eyes with the left hand like he was tearing off an invisible bandage as I dropped to the floor on one knee, reaching for my suitcase. I pushed the suitcase open, and my left hand closed over the gun butt-I am right-handed but I shoot with my left hand. I felt the concussion of Hauser’s shot before I heard it. His slug slammed into the wall behind me. Shooting from the floor, I snapped two quick shots into Hauser’s belly where his vest had pulled up showing an inch of white shirt. He grunted in a way I could feel and doubled forward. Stiff with panic, O’Brien’s hand was tearing at the gun in his shoulder holster. I clamped my other hand around my gun wrist to steady it for the long pull-this gun has the hammer filed off round so you can only use it double action-and shot him in the middle of his red forehead about two inches below the silver hairline. His hair had been grey the last time I saw him. That was about 15 years ago. My first arrest. His eyes went out. He fell off the chair onto his face. My hands were already reaching for what I needed, sweeping my notebooks into a briefcase with my works, junk, and a box of shells. I stuck the gun into my belt, and stepped out into the corridor putting on my coat.

The narrator’s exit:

I hung up and took a taxi out of the area . . . In the cab I realized what had happened . . . I had been occluded from space-time like an eel’s ass occludes when he stops eating on the way to Sargasso . . . Locked out . . . Never again would I have a Key, a Point of Intersection . . . The Heat was off me from here on out . . . relegated with Hauser and O’Brien to a landlocked junk past where heroin is always twenty-eight dollars an ounce and you can score for yen pox in the Chink laundry of Sioux Falls . . . Far side of the world’s mirror, moving into the past with Hauser and O’Brien . . . clawing at a not-yet of Telepathic Bureaucracies, Time Monopolies, Control Drugs, Heavy Fluid Addicts:

“I thought of that three hundred years ago.”

12 From “Which Is the Fly and Which Is the Human?” by Lynn Snowden, hosted on Reality Studio: A William S. Burroughs Community:

And in which scene, Cronenberg wants to know, does he actually show a horror of female genitalia? I point to Videodrome when James Woods looks on in fear as he grows an enormous vaginalike slit in his abdomen. “He seems to like it!” Cronenberg laughs. “It’s almost like he’s proud of it and happy to have it!” Yeah, and then he loses a gun in it? Isn’t that highly symbolic of a well-known male fear? “Well, I’ve known some women who thought they lost their Tampax and were just as freaked out as anybody else.”

He tells a story from the making of Videodrome, when Woods is forced to spend days with rubber appliances glued to his chest to attain the previously mentioned orifice. “And he turns to Debbie Harry and says, ‘When I first got on this picture, I was an actor. Now I feel like I’m just the bearer of the slit.’ And she said, ‘Now you know what it feels like.’ So I’m forcing him to be the bearer of the slit! Reality is what he perceives it to be.”

13 From “The sex, violence, and new flesh of Videodrome by Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, and Scott Tobias:

Keith: Videodrome fits snugly between the films Cronenberg made before and the films he made later, but it still feels like a leap forward. I think his early films are terrific, and value them in part because of their crude directness, like the way Shivers literalizes every sexual anxiety drifting around in the midst of the sexual revolution. There’s an elegance to Videodrome that’s absent in the earlier films, though, which I know is a weird thing to say about a movie most famous for putting a sexualized, videotape-hungry orifice in its protagonist’s belly. Yet the film drifts along like a dream from one disturbing episode to another.

The note of unconscious creation is souned in an earlier post from a series on The Dissolve (other than the two listed here, there is the third in the series, “Kill your television (before it kills you)” by Keith Phipps) devoted to this movie, “The prescient analog nightmare of Videodrome” by Scott Tobias:

But the key to Videodrome‘s prescience is that Cronenberg isn’t interested in being prescient at all. He’s simply turning the present into a nightmare, and that nightmare is what the dark side of progress looks like. At the height of the VHS era, when the illicit pleasures of the movies-and the outlands of cable television-could be indulged, without shame, from the privacy of one’s own home, Cronenberg starts with that desire and watches it grow. Here, that means following one man’s quest to find the limits of what’s possible and go beyond it, to where the television isn’t just transmitting a signal, but is an active partner and biological component, “the retina of the mind’s eye.” As brainy as Videodrome is-like Cronenberg’s work in general-the film has an intuitive, id-driven quality, one that transcends logic by creating its own.

14 Although the sentence refers to it as a “roman orgy”, I now think its fairer to say that both meetings with Masha have references to the cultures which would influence the separate capitals of the Roman empire. So, we have the eastern “oriental” restaurant, and all the greek elements of the movie – the togas, the laurels, the columns – that would end up in Roman culture. Of course, there is the well known allegation that the roman empire simply took greek culture (art, philosophy, mathematics, etc.), and gave it practical application without any further intellectual development.

15 From “Families Learning of 39 Cultists Who Died Willingly” by B. Drummond Ayres Jr.:

The farewell tape, broadcast by ABC television, was especially strikingly for its upbeat tone, considering what lay ahead for those speaking and peering into the camera. On it, one cult member — none identified themselves — said his death would bring him “just the happiest day of my life.” and added, “I’ve been looking forward for this for so long.”

A woman who appeared to be in her 20’s looked intently into the camera and said, grinning broadly, “We are all choosing of our own free will to go to the next level.”

16 From “Heaven’s Gate: The Sequel” by Joshuah Bearman:

A secretive, itinerant group of self-described monks following the teachings of their leader, who was known simply as DO, they’d recently moved into a 9,000-square-foot mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, which they called “the Monastery” and “the Craft,” and was paid for by members doing Web design and other technical services. The group had many names over the years but by that time had settled on Heaven’s Gate. They’d waited patiently for a sign, and DO thought the sky was now speaking. When another amateur astronomer announced on Art Bell’s conspiracy-minded radio show that he’d taken a picture of Hale-Bopp showing an elongated fuzzy brightness lurking in the tail, word quickly spread in UFO circles that there was an alien spacecraft accompanying the comet. Remote-sensing practitioner Courtney Brown collected clairvoyant “data” that also suggested an extraterrestrial presence. DO’s followers went out and bought a telescope. They couldn’t see the ship themselves, but that wasn’t important. When Hale-Bopp passed too close to Jupiter, and the giant planet’s gravitational pull altered the comet’s orbit so that it would return every 2,000 years, DO became certain: This was their long-awaited “indicator,” perhaps even the star Wormwood described in The Revelation. The group updated its Web site. “RED ALERT” flashed across the top; below came the announcement “HALE-BOPP BRINGS CLOSURE TO HEAVEN’S GATE.”

For years, they’d been hoping to return to the Kingdom of Heaven, which they called “Evolutionary Level Above Human,” or the “Next Level.” Day in, day out, the group – which they always said was not a cult but a “classroom for growing a soul” – had learned to transcend human existence through rigorous discipline. In preparation for the final step of leaving their human bodies, or “exiting their vehicles,” the group assembled uniforms: matching black Nikes and homemade black pants and shirts, each adorned with a custom-made triangular patch that said “HEAVEN’S GATE AWAY TEAM.”

The Exit Videos are so important to Rio that he includes full transcripts in his book. The videos are short; each of the 38 statements (one member chose to say nothing) is less than five minutes long. I watched them all. Instantly noticeable was how similar everyone looks. In preparation for their future lives as immortal, androgynous beings in space, the men and women of Heaven’s Gate were all required to wear matching bowl cuts and baggy, unflattering jump suits.

Equally striking is their uniform serenity. Seated outside, with San Diego’s pleasant spring dawning in the background, every single member calmly explained their enthusiasm for the wondrous existence awaiting them: “I’ve been looking forward to this for so long”; “I couldn’t have made a better choice”; “Thirty-nine to beam up!” Thomas Nichols, who had been a member since 1976 (and was the brother of Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek), said: “I’m the happiest person in the world.”

17 This subhead is taken from How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, which in turn gets it from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet #5″:

Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel;
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter, and confounds him there;
Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness every where:
Then were not summer’s distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.

18 From Goddess by Anthony Summers:

The Greenes watched bemused as Marilyn plunged into their library. She started reading about Napoelon, discovered Josephine, and scooped up every book she could find about her. Supper conversation in the Greene household was dominated for a while by Marilyn enthusing about Josephine and her entourage.

“She was fascinated,” says Amy Greene, “by women who had made it.” Marilyn especially enjoyed learning how Josephine’s friend, Juliette Récamier, who was renowned for her figure, treated a specially commissioned nude statue of herself. As she aged, and her breasts started to droop, she had the marble breasts smashed.

19 This concept is explained earlier in Durkheim:

Now among these peoples, above all the particular deities to whom men render a cult, there is a pre-eminent power to which all the others have the relation of derived forms, and which is called wakan. Owing to the preponderating place thus assigned to this principle in the Siouan pantheon, it is sometimes regarded as a sort of sovereign god, or a Jupiter or Jahveh, and travellers have frequently translated wakan by ” great spirit.” This is misrepresenting its real nature gravely. The wakan is in no way a personal being ; the natives do not represent it in a determined form. According to an observer cited by Dorsey, ” they say that they have never seen the wakanda, so they cannot pretend to personify it.” It is not even possible to define it by determined attributes and characteristics. ” No word,” says Riggs,” can explain the meaning of this term among the Dakota. It embraces all mystery, all secret power, all divinity.” All the beings which the Dakota reveres,” the earth, the four winds, the sun, the moon and the stars, are manifestations of this mysterious life and power” which enters into all. Sometimes it is represented in the form of a wind, as a breath having its seat in the four cardinal points and moving everything : sometimes it is a voice heard in the crashing of the thunder, the sun, moon and stars are wakan. But no enumeration could exhaust this infinitely complex idea.

20 This concept is explained earlier in Durkheim:

Among the Iroquois, whose social organization has an even more pronouncedly totemic character, this, same idea is found again; the word orenda which expresses it is the exact equivalent of the wakan of the Sioux. “The savage man,” says Hewitt, “conceived the diverse bodies collectively constituting his environment to possess inherently mystic potence . . . (whether they be) the rocks, the waters, the tides, the plants and the trees, the animals and man, the wind and the storms, the clouds and the thunders and the lightnings,” etc. “This potence is held to be the property of all things . . . and by the inchoate mentation of man is regarded as the efficient cause of all phenomena, all the activities of his environment.”

21 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

I was in control-of myself, and the men around me. And I loved it: I loved the attention and the confidence it gave me. Even though I had no idea how to hustle guys for lap dances, I was the new girl, and they all wanted me.

By my last dance of the night, men were crowding around the stage and throwing money at me. It was then that I knew not only could I make it as a stripper, but I could get each and every one of those other girls back for laughing at me.

22 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The Crazy Horse Too was the best high-school class I ever took. The subject was social dynamics. It was amazing how the incentive of cash made it so easy to talk to people; before, I’d had no motivation to learn to be polite or carry on a conversation with a guy. They all wanted the same thing anyway. Within weeks at the club, I began to transform from a geeky teenage girl into a money-crazed psycho. And I loved it.

It wasn’t that I discovered some dormant ability to be a natural conversationalist. Instead, I learned to be an actress, because I was still not outgoing naturally. My job was simply to put up with the poor conversational skills of the customers, to seem open and caring while they talked about themselves. When my turn came to talk, I learned to lie. Everything that came out of my mouth was complete bullshit. I could tell by looking at each person what he wanted to hear. I’d tell him I was studying to be a real-estate agent, a lifeguard, a construction worker. Anything to steer them away from what was really going on in my life.

Since most of the men were into me because I looked so young and innocent, I decided to amplify that. As my grandmother always said, “What you can’t fix, you feature.” So one night I put my hair up in pony-tails, wore little pink shoes, and carried a plastic Barbie purse, which further contrasted me from the hardened girls.

23 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

“When a guy comes into a club, most girls come up to him and say, ‘Do you want a dance?'” she told me. “That’s the last thing you should do. Be personable. Make him like you. Talk to him. Ask about his job. Act like you are interested.”

That was lesson one-the basics. Lesson two was to prearrange a deal with the waitress to put water in my shot and extra alcohol in the guy’s, and then order a round of drinks as soon as I sat with him.

“Get him as drunk as possible,” she said, “and rack those songs up.”

24 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

For us, these schemes weren’t only about the money; they were also for the adrenaline rush. It was a high to get the upper hand over a customer. They were dumb, they were drunk, and they deserved it. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Strippers can be vicious. The mentality is that if these guys are going to victimize us, we’re going to totally victimize them right back. It seemed like a fair exchange. And it was character building: I was finally learning to take control of people instead of being so passive in social situations.

25 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

They say that money can’t buy happiness, but that is an oversimplification. It actually depends on how you earn your money. If you’re juggling high-stress investments or managing scores of employees or deluged with phone calls or hiding something from the authorities, life is no fun. But if you can walk into a room, lead on a bunch of guys, and then leave with thousands of dollars in cash in your pocket and no obligation to anyone-not even an obligation to show up to work the next day-life is good. If I wanted to I would splurge on six bottles of Cristal champagne for my friends without a second thought. I wasn’t concerned about the future. My main objective was making money, and I met that objective night after night.

One local politician liked to be dominated and, although I had such a submissive personality naturally, one night I took his beer into the bathroom, peed into it, and then made him drink it. He loved it. The next night, he tipped me with a pink slip: for a brand-new Corvette.

26 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

“Did you know you were just dancing for Pantera?”

“Really, those assholes were Pantera?”

“Did you know you were just dancing for Jack Nicholson?”

“Really, that old weirdo was Jack Nicholson?”

“Did you know you were just dancing for Whitesnake?”

“Really, like I give a crap.”

“Did you know you were just dancing for David Lee Roth?”

“Yeah, what a letdown. I used to have wet dreams over him. But he was rude, irritating, and babbled incoherently the whole time. And my friend Carrie just left the club with him. I’ve lost all respect for both of them.”

27 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Next, she put me on all fours for a butt shot and asked me to turn my head back to look at the camera. But since my head looked teeny in comparison to my ass in that position, she asked me to bend my body so that my face and my ass were the same distance from the camera and both in focus. I had no idea what she was talking about.

It was such a challenge to look sexy and relaxed while manipulating my body into the various uncomfortable contortions Julia was running me through. Even for what Julia considered the simplest pose, like looking over my shoulder with my back to the camera, I had to arch so hard that my lower back cramped. When I see those photos now, it seems obvious that the sexy pout I thought I was giving the camera was just a poorly disguised grimace of pain.

28 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

STEP THREE

Teenager becomes a stripper.

REASON

Work, money, and approval of boyfriend.

STEP FIVE

Teenager starts acting in soft-core all-female adult movies.

REASON

Revenge.

29 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

Randy, who of course volunteered to be the man in the shoot, was a decent guy. He was a little old and had the fashion sense of a homeless wrestler, but I didn’t have to touch him if I didn’t want to.

30 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

Usually, he just ripped a strip of foil off a cigarette pack, and inhaled the smoke through a sliced-up straw. But one night around 4 A.M., Jack and some of his friends came over and none of them had any cigarettes. So someone came up with the bright idea of unscrewing a lightbulb in the kitchen. They heated the base of the lightbulb until the glue on it melted, then they pulled off the metal base. After emptying the bulb, they drilled a hole in the top and stuffed a little meth inside. They heated the side of the bulb with a lighter and smoked out of the hole where the metal used to be. I just stood and watched the whole thing. It was a beautiful process, and the smoke smelled so sweet. When Jack offered me a hit, I decided to try it. It couldn’t hurt to do it just one time.

I inhaled a little, and the smoke filled my lungs. Unlike pot or even cigarettes, it was so smooth I could hardly feel it. When I exhaled, a thin three-foot-long column of smoke escaped from my lips. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, and then someone pressed fast forward. My heart felt like a woodpecker was inside, hammering hard enough to burst through my chest at any moment.

After that, I never wanted to snort meth again. Smoking it was amazing. At first, I only smoked it when Jack was around because he was the only one who knew the mechanics of the whole foil and straw contraption. But since I had no other challenges in my life at the moment, I set my mind to figuring out how to do it for myself. And once I did, smoking meth became a daily pastime. The high was more dreamy and intense, but it didn’t last as long. Every ten minutes I wanted another hit, so I constantly asked Jack for more.

31 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

Throughout the photo shoot, they told me, “Jenna, relax. Let the tension out of your face.” I was clenching my teeth so hard from the crystal. Even more embarrassing, in certain poses my bones were sticking out so badly that they had to artfully drape my clothes over them so that I wouldn’t repulse readers. There were no magazines for guys with fetishes for anorexic meth freaks at the time.

I vacuumed so much that the carpets were actually disintegrating. The house looked perfect, but if it seemed too perfect, then I had to rearrange all the furniture to make the place seem more natural. I must have organized the frigging bathroom cupboards a thousand times, sorting each item according to size or function or owner or frequency of use-all in the same night.

Some girls who get high pick at their skin all night. I was not a picker. I was a maker. I was constantly amazed by the innovative and profound avant-garde artwork I could bring to life with a glue gun. My pieces should have been hanging somewhere, like a mental institution. Though I was infamous amongst Jack’s friends for making papier-mâché dragons in the closet all night, my greatest creations were my self-collages. I would go through adult magazines and cut my pictures from the phone-sex ads in the back. Then I’d glue them to a piece of paper and stick funny little phrases from Cosmopolitan below them, like, “Is it a do or a don’t?” “What procedures have you had done?” or “7 ways to make him beg for more.” Then I’d pick up my little handheld poker video game and play it all night, until my hands literally bled.

32 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Afterward, I spent twenty-four hours packing ten suitcases, because I knew Cannes was a big deal and I wanted to be prepared for anything. They were bringing over two other girls, Juli Ashton (a former high school Spanish teacher) and Kaylan Nicole (the reigning queen of anal at the time), both of whom were more experienced and popular than I was. As catty as it sounds, I wanted nothing more than to prove myself over these chicks. But it was going to be hard, because I was trying to learn from them at the same time. They had realized that with their beauty, boobs, and status, the rules that applied to the rest of the world didn’t apply to them. They had the attitude that they could do absolutely anything they wanted.

33 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The minute we got off the plane, we were in another world. It was one I’d dreamed about since I was a little girl, imagining what it would be like to be an international jet-setting model. In fact, it was wilder than my dreams. Flashbulbs went off everywhere. The paparazzi screamed and fought to take pictures of me, even though they had no idea who I was. It was so overwhelming and disorienting being pushed through the admiring crowd toward a waiting limo. I knew, for the first time, what an actual celebrity must feel like. I had only been playing at being one, but I now felt it was within my grasp.

34 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

I walked past a table full of beautiful girls, with Wesley Snipes sitting smack in the middle of them all. He waved me over.

“So you’re the reporter from the E! Channel.” He smiled. “Why don’t you join us?”

Hesitantly, I sat down next to him, and all the other girls at the table shot me dagger looks. He was trying to get in their pants; they were trying to get in his pants; and I was confused. “So,” he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “do you like it up the ass?”

Being a porn star, I was used to such questions. But Wesley had no idea I was a porn star. Either way, I was offended.

Anal sex is an exchange of power. And every man I’ve ever met loves the idea of dominating a woman by pushing his massive dick into her tight sphincter so that she loses control.

For me to allow a man to have anal sex with me, I must have trust first. Because to be on the receiving end of anal sex is to give yourself completely to your partner. And that’s why, despite the fact that it is practically an industry standard to have anal sex in every sex scene, I’ve never done it in a film.

35 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

When it was all over, he wrapped his naked body around mine. Instantly I stiffened. I hate cuddling. When I’m hot and sweaty and sticky, the last thing I want to do is be pressed up against something else that’s hot and sweaty and sticky. I pulled away, and he looked hurt.

36 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

“Why don’t you just stay and cuddle?” he asked.

“Did you just say the c-word?!”

I don’t cuddle, but I lay with him for a little while longer and listened to him talk about religion. Then I made my escape. Rod was still waiting in my room for me.

37 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

And he wanted to fuck me in the ass a little too often for my comfort. Every time we were naked, he’d be going for my butt like a rat to cheese.

38 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

It has become a constant issue for me. I’ve been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to do anal. But even if I walked away with $300,000 for having done it, I would also be taking away the feeling that I gave up something that was really important to me. This is almost embarrassing for a porn star to admit, but I’ve only given that up to three men, all of whom I really loved. Doing it on camera would be compromising myself. Sex, on the other hand, is something I’m comfortable giving up-albeit not often-to a stranger in a one-night stand. The fact is, I’ve only had about fifteen different male partners on camera.

39 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, artwork by Bernard Chang:

40 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, artwork by Bernard Chang:

41 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

A lot of guys want to get into porn to get laid. What are your thoughts on that?

Getting into porn is a death sentence. As a male performer you are doomed to be single for the rest of your life. A contract girl does eight to ten scenes per year. A guy performs seven to ten scenes per week at least. The number one performers do fifteen scenes per week. So what girl is going to go out with a guy who’s pounding fifteen other girls every week? No one. The guys don’t have any social life, because they are on set so much. And when they do go out, they are like lepers. Girls won’t touch them. Even girls in the industry avoid them, because it’s bad for their career to get stuck having sex with just one guy on camera.

42 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Every night became my birthday. I realized I could pull in more money if I told them that I blew off the chance to celebrate my birthday because it was so important to me to be there dancing for them instead. “So I’m here, happy birthday to me,” I thought. “That’s right, fuckers. Cough it up.”

43 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The Pink Poodle was a wild place, an all-nude strip theater that was always at the epicenter of some major scandal. The girls there were among the raunchiest performers I’ve seen onstage in this country. Nikki and I weren’t willing to do much more than get fucked-up and fall all over each other onstage, so our tips suffered accordingly.

The only thing that redeemed the night was meeting Mr. 187-a former marine, an erstwhile middleweight boxer, and the sergeant-at-arms for the West Coast chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Mr. 187 was a badass motherfucker who was angry at the world and enjoyed nothing more than snapping a guy’s arm for looking at him wrong. So naturally, we took him on tour with us.

44 “Anatomy of a Murder” by Will Harper, describes the killing at The Pink Poodle. “Hells Angels member gunned down at San Jose funeral” by Sam Webby and Tracey Kaplan is about the killing of Steve Tausan aka Mr. 187 at a funeral.

45 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

We were as destructive-and self-destructive-as a rock band. With both of us at the top of our game as porn stars, it was our greatest-hits tour. Most guys will watch a favorite porn clip more than they watch Star Wars or Zoolander, so when they saw us standing three inches from their faces, they went insane. Hundreds of people would chant our names before each show and fight to get close to the stage.

We brought feature dancing to a new level: Where some girls were getting $250 a show, we were getting $5,000, simply because we had the balls to demand it. Add to that Polaroids, tips, and merchandise, and we were pulling in over $100,000 for a three-night engagement. We insisted on five-star hotels with room service, limos to and from the club, and at least two security guards accompanying us at all times.

46 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Larry: You always lived in great houses. You always had swimming pools. You alwa