Monthly Archives: February 2013

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

(SPOILERS: what follows gives away plot details of Django, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, Death Proof, Blade Runner, and The 25th Hour.)

A movie about slavery, and business transactions gone awry. It’s a movie I avoided seeing for a while because I expected my reaction to be closest to Roxane Gay’s “Surviving ‘Django'”. I think Quentin Tarantino sometimes plays with images as if they have no context, thinking that they can be placed anywhere. This is both connected with, and apart, from his dealing in history’s tragedies. When Kill Bill opens with the Bride covered in blood, begging for the life of herself and her child, I think it is too potent, too wrenching for a simple revenge film, and this suffering overwhelms it. What might give us emotional distance in a giallo with such a scene – the incompetence of the crew, the poor ability of the actress – are absent here with an excellent actress and a skilled director able to bring out the best of his collaborators. The scene is the opening of a simple tale of vengeance, when it calls for something deeper, along the lines of Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War. This same issue is in effect in Inglourious Basterds where the transformation of an extermination into a winnable fight is, I think, an obscenity.

That this doesn’t take place in Django is due to a difference in approach taken from Basterds and the Kill Bill movies. We are constantly given devices which distance the movie from the real, establishing that we are in a fantastic, constructed place. When the slaves march during the opening, there is a series of quick, attention-calling zooms. But more importantly, the forest they march through, with its icicle thick trees and where the lantern light is the only gleam in the shot, suggest a fairy tale forest – we do not truly feel the cold these men suffer1. When Schultz is killed, his body flies across the room; when Lara Lee is killed, it’s as if she’s yanked from the stage by the old burlesque cane. What reality is let into the shootout scenes, is solely for the movie’s own benefit – such as Django having to move from body to body while under fire to retrieve guns, because these six shooters actually do carry only six bullets. The movie is often shot like a civil war-era ambrotype photo, black and white photos where one color tint was added by hand. Often there seems to be no color at all in the frame, except for the golden light of flame or beer. Before Candieland explodes, Broomhilda (I’m unsure if she gets the cartoon witch’s name or the Norse myth name, so I give her the witch’s name listed in the IMDB) puts her fingers to her ears to keep out the sound, the kind of gesture you associate with cartoons and broad comedies. The movie ends in the fairy tale tone with which it began, Django and Broomhilda lit with moonly light, and the verdant green behind them. Where Basterds is a simple, obvious lie, Django is deliberately a myth, a myth possibly kept hidden by plantation owners and their successors2.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

The approach makes the movie feel like something out of an alternative history, where Reconstruction may have taken place a little differently, a great racial inequality did not persist, and slavery ended up an out in the open topic, finally becoming fodder, just like World War II and everything else, for TV shows, and what we see here are clips from a 1970s show of this alternate universe, “The Bounty Hunters”: two men, one a former slave, encounter various adventures in the pre-Civil War south as they search for the freed man’s captive wife. The final episode culminates in the striking events of such series finales: the death of the german bounty hunter and the rescue of the enchained woman. Abuse of slavery’s most powerful images is avoided by treating them as things that are already out in the open, and do not need explicit reference. The most upsetting sequence, for me, is when D’Artagnan is torn apart by the dogs: though Tarantino has a reputation for dwelling on violence, when the event takes place, we are only given a brief shot, at an overhead distance, and then another from D’Artagnan’s perspective. The rest is entirely the reactions of the trackers, Schultz, and the slaves to this horror, with the explicit moments of the event only seen in the microsecond memories of Schultz at the plantation. We are similarly given only the briefest shots of Broomhilda emerging from the hot box – as if we live in a world where a hot box is as well known as a gas chamber, and only a passing reference is needed. This approach avoids the double quality of such images, where a sequence of a man torn apart by dogs ostensibly has been designed to repel us, when it may also end up sating our appetite for torture. It also avoids a repulsive self-serving piety that takes place when showing such things, explicitly: this movie is good, its makers are good people, because they have shown such horrors unembellished.

This is a deliberate approach, not arbitrary, and it works for much of the movie, but not all. There are some things that are too strong, that the movie cannot contain, and demand a different movie, just as the opening of Kill Bill summons a different slant. Only one of these is an image, and it’s of Broomhilda branded as a runaway. It is brief, and yet it is still too long, and shot too close. The pain is too great, the submission too much, and it requires the movie to somehow explore this, and it does not. The other times when Django dives into too deep waters have nothing to do with explicit horror, but a limiting of life that cannot simply be touched on, then walked away from, but this is what happens: it does walk away. There is Django stumbling over the simple english of the “Wanted” poster, and there is pliant Bettina unable to understand, as if this were magic or anti-gravity, what a free black man is. In this alternate universe, such issues may have been explored in-depth, and a passing reference is sufficient, but that universe is not our own.

The serious flaw of Django has to do with its character approach, and this is both related and unrelated to its dealings with its historical subject. E.M. Forster distinguished between round and flat characters, with round characters demonstrating gradual change throughout the course of a story, while those that are flat appearing entirely unchanged, with the same attitude throughout. Michael Corleone is a round character: he moves steadily and quietly from the cheerful boy, outside his father’s business, to the cold-souled tactician of the first movie’s end and its sequel. Sitcom characters are flat: Homer will always be stupid, Marge practical, Lisa bookish, and Bart a juvie. Deviations from this type are temporary or for comic effect: Homer will have a life-changing experience where he ceases to be so insensitive to others, but by the next episode he has returned to being the same man. The roles of Pulp Fiction – kingpin, moll, boxer, hitmen – stay immutably the same; Jules Winfield may have a crisis of conscience, but his overall character remains indistinguishable from what it was before. It is a change that compels his exit from the movie, just as an abrupt change in a sitcom character compels their exit: the Fonz falls in love and decides to finally get married.

That Tarantino’s characters are flat often goes unnoticed, because their dialogue is so colorful3. Where, however, what is said, and unsaid, by a character in another movie or book might open itself up to a large forking path of possibilities – Tarantino’s writing is usually only a very ornate and intricate expression of a simple idea. This gold watch is of great value to your family, and much was done to preserve it. If you don’t throw the fight, we will kill you. I say you have african ancestry, and this upsets you. This is not unique to Tarantino, and it is not an indictment of him. I quote at length from Orwell describing a similar gift on the part of Dickens (from “Charles Dickens”):

Dickens is a writer who can be imitated, up to a certain point. In genuinely popular literature – for instance, the Elephant and Castle version of Sweeny Todd – he has been plagiarized quite shamelessly. What has been imitated, however, is simply a tradition that Dickens himself took from earlier novelists and developed, the cult of ‘character’, i.e. eccentricity. The thing that cannot be imitated is his fertility of invention, which is invention not so much of characters, still less of ‘situations’, as of turns of phrase and concrete details. The outstanding, unmistakable mark of Dickens’s writing is the unnecessary detail. Here is an example of what I mean. The story given below is not particularly funny, but there is one phrase in it that is as individual as a fingerprint. Mr. Jack Hopkins, at Bob Sawyer’s party, is telling the story of the child who swallowed its sister’s necklace:

Next day, child swallowed two beads; the day after that, he treated himself to three, and so on, till in a week’s time he had got through the necklace – five-and-twenty beads in all. The sister, who was an industrious girl and seldom treated herself to a bit of finery, cried her eyes out at the loss of the necklace; looked high and low for it; but I needn’t say, didn’t find it. A few days afterwards, the family were at dinner – baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes under it – the child, who wasn’t hungry, was playing about the room, when suddenly there was the devil of a noise, like a small hailstorm. ‘Don’t do that, my boy’, says the father. ‘I ain’t a-doin’ nothing’, said the child. ‘Well, don’t do it again’, said the father. There was a short silence, and then the noise began again, worse than ever. ‘If you don’t mind what I say, my boy’, said the father, ‘you’ll find yourself in bed, in something less than a pig’s whisper.’ He gave the child a shake to make him obedient, and such a rattling ensued as nobody ever heard before. ‘Why dam’ me, it’s in the child’, said the father; ‘he’s got the croup in the wrong place!’ ‘No, I haven’t, father’, said the child, beginning to cry, ‘it’s the necklace; I swallowed it, father.’ The father caught the child up, and ran with him to the hospital, the beads in the boy’s stomach rattling all the way with the jolting; and the people looking up in the air, and down in the cellars, to see where the unusual sound came from. ‘He’s in the hospital now’, said Jack Hopkins, ‘and he makes such a devil of a noise when he walks about, that they’re obliged to muffle him in a watchman’s coat, for fear he should wake the patients.’

As a whole, this story might come out of any nineteenth-century comic paper. But the unmistakable Dickens touch, the thing that nobody else would have thought of, is the baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes under it. How does this advance the story? The answer is that it doesn’t. It is something totally unnecessary, a florid little squiggle on the edge of the page; only, it is by just these squiggles that the special Dickens atmosphere is created.

That a character is flat does not suggest a limit in talent or a lower standard of writing. In “Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction: A Wax Museum with a Pulse”, I tried to explain why such flat types are necessary for the movie to work, and that the problem with its many imitators is they didn’t note the importance of this detail. Many of the humorous characters of Shakespeare and Dickens are flat. The comedy of “The Simpsons” requires flat types, and this does not take away from it being a fiendishly well-written show. The only qualifier is that such flat types work effectively, but only in certain contexts, and when they are placed in a lengthy scene where they are the focus, where, whatever their witty dialogue, they remain unchanging, they become dull in the same conditions that Hamlet or Michael Corleone are fascinating. There is nothing unknown about flat types, they always act for the same reason, and they give explicit statement for why they act the way they do. It should be noted that a round character does not need to belong to a conventional drama, and it does not require us to know much of them in biographic detail; Blade Runner is a science fiction thriller whose title character is an enigma throughout. Yet when he crushes the origami in his hand at the end and we hear a line from his nemesis, Gaff, we must guess at what this man is thinking.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Tarantino avoided the flaws of flat characters two ways early in his career. The first was by having them share the movie with so many others, that their screen time was shortened. Some of his best writing comes from characters who are on so briefly, we don’t even see their flatness, whether it’s the single monologue scene given over to Captain Koons, or the dialogue between Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) and Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper) – Worley has two scenes, Coccotti only one. The second solution was to feature characters for which the audience has a distanced attitude, which creates tension over their fate. Different characters could have different ends in Fiction, with Mia dying, or Jules getting killed and Vincent leaving the killing spree life, without the movie becoming a tragedy. The men and women of Fiction could well be the villains in another movie. In Reservoir, there is only one character who is something close to a hero and that’s the undercover cop. That he has this heroic quality is only revealed to us in the middle of the film, and it is almost immediately qualified by his having shot a civilian point blank during the robbery aftermath. Even if Mr. Orange were to survive, he would still have killed that woman and felt as if he betrayed Mr. White – the story’s arc would remain tragic, and life would be little consolation.

All this changes from Jackie Brown on. Jackie is clearly the hero, and Ordell Robie is the villain. If she doesn’t win, the story is a tragedy. It is also Tarantino’s first and only piece of writing where we see round types. Jackie grows in confidence from the beginning of the movie to its end, while Ordell starts out calm and descends into exasperated anger as his failed schemes pile up. It is a movie where a character’s motives remain unknown: we’re given no explicit reason as to why Jackie doesn’t end up with Max Cherry at the end, and are left to our own best guesses. After this, we return to flat types, but with clear heroes as in Jackie. The bride must win against Bill, just as Jackie must win against Ordell; the first set of women can die in Death Proof, but the second set must win; the military unit must succeed in their mission against the Nazis in Basterds and, impossibly, they do; Django must save Broomhilda. If these heroes don’t win, their movies must be told as tragedies, of heroes pursuing a noble cause, and failing. That the characters are flat doesn’t matter as much in Kill Bill, because so much of the movie is devoted to kinetic action – most action movies contain flat types, and must have flat types, and that doesn’t keep them from being memorably written, the best example perhaps being the dialogue of John McClane and Hans Gruber in Die Hard. It’s an issue with Death Proof where the women need to be distinct, individual, with parts unknown – these qualities would give their conversations on sex and relationships a sense of revealed intimacy, rather than banal explicitness. And it’s a problem with Basterds where the heroes are their missions alone, and nothing else. We never feel, for instance, the impact of Aldo Raines’ scar from a hangman’s rope in anything he does or says. This near death mark feels as incidental as the color of the hands of a timepiece he might wear. The shortcomings of flat characters might be an even greater issue in Django, maybe best evidenced by the lengthy Candieland dinner scene.

The conversation between the four men – Django, Schultz, Calvin, Stephen – properly has a slow rhythm, and properly feels endless. Tarantino has compared the quest for Broomhilda to the journey up the river in Apocalypse Now, and this house has the feel of the lost plantation in the Redux version of the film, a place somehow entirely outside of time and civilization itself. There’s the brilliant, paradoxical detail of Lara Lee as a woman beyond a certain age, whose dress and manner are still that of a girl at her first cotillion. The problem is not the setting, but the instruments: the four men are almost entirely static. Django is the angry man who wants his wife back. Schultz the helpful wit. Calvin the evil slave owner. Stephen, his cruel servant. There is nothing these men can expose in themselves, and there is no gradation in their character, whereby they shift from one place to another. When Kareem Abdul-Jabar calls the movie a B picture, rather than an A picture (“Django is wonderful. But it shouldn’t be up for best picture.”), I think it is this that he’s getting at. Though they have more dialogue, they exist only along the same polarities as in Game of Death: Django is on a righteous quest, and the obstacle to his goal is the Fifth floor guardian, Calvin Candie.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

There are many ways in which the dynamic between the four could be made more interesting by using rounder characters, and I give one, not as a solution, but as a contrasting example of available possibilities. We re-make Calvin a little as a man with a demeanor that is only outwardly slow. He defers to the far greater intelligence of Schultz. The doctor, while clever, is a little too self-confident, and thinks Calvin a fool from whom he can get Broomhilda easily, once he buys Eskimo Joe. As the dinner progresses, it becomes more and more clear that Calvin is much smarter than he lets on, that he knows what these two men want, and may even have a trap ready for them. Django picks this up before Schultz does, and he hates Schultz for it: hates the doctor for being so self-confident, and hates that he has to rely on this man for help. Calvin reveals that, thanks to helpful sources, he has known who these men were and what they wanted before they even met. Though no guns are drawn, Schultz and Django realize they are in mortal danger. Calvin then gives an incredibly eloquent speech on enlightenment values and christian charity, a speech that might sound uncannily, and not coincidentally, like something out of the writings of Thomas Jefferson – we expect its conclusion to be his announcement of the emancipation of all his slaves. But, no: he makes chillingly clear that his vision of enlightenment includes only the race of himself and Schultz, and anyone of african descent be damned. At this moment, Schultz himself reveals that he has known before this lengthy, deceptive oratory how to elude Calvin’s trap, and he then explains to the plantation owner how. Django is relieved, grateful for his friend’s resourcefulness, yet angry still, at this man and himself, for his dependence on him, a dependence necessitated entirely by the dangerous condition of an ex-slave setting foot on the Candieland plantation. After this, we might return to the movie’s arc: the purchase of Broomhilda, the bloodbath, and the resolution.

The changes here are small: the only alteration is to give these men the possibility of mystery, of something hidden that we all possess. I make this example not out of arrogance, but to suggest a possibility of the balance shifting in a way that doesn’t take place in the scene as is. That Calvin should be able to briefly outsmart the bounty hunters, and that he should give his speech of narrow charity, does not exculpate slaveowners, but only brings it closer to our world, where the pro-slavery and pro-segregationist faction has often shown a frightening cleverness, and where the writings of Thomas Jefferson make an eloquent and thorough case for liberty, while side by side his other writings give unwavering support to the manacling of a good portion of humanity. By making these characters round in this way, Calvin Candie becomes more than a simple villain, but that does not necessarily make him any less a villain – however, the primary objective is aesthetic. Where now the dinner conversation is a straight river towards which we move to the shoot-out, it now becomes a more winding, twisty place where the boat comes close to toppling over, before it finally does fall off the edge when guns are drawn.

I make mention of possible changes to three of the quartet, while leaving Stephen out for an obvious reason: though he is as flat a character as the others, there is something of an enigmatic depth to him as well4. That he is easily the most interesting man in the film is not just a tribute to the formidable gifts of the actor playing him, but that this character has a quality the others lack. He is a man who has found a freedom, strength, and dignity as Candie’s lieutenant, the executor of his edicts and the power behind the throne. The very moment Stephen sees Django, his face twists up into a snarl: he hates this man for having attained these same things without needing to kowtow or betray anyone. Though Schultz is intended to be our proxy, an enlightened man of our times with no first-hand knowledge of slavery5, it is this resentment, though expressed by a caricature, that more closely resembles ignoble human feeling than anything in the movie, our anger at those akin to us who have achieved what we fought so hard for, and seemingly without the moral compromises we have had to make. When Stephen goes through the list of similes of how much he missed his master, and reaches “I miss you, like I misses a rock…in my shoe”, there is the uncertainty of whether he likes this man at all, or in fact despises him for being so stupid and so powerful at once. Yet when Calvin dies, Stephen openly wails, though there are no white people alive to appreciate his keening. Perhaps he truly feels grief for this man, or maybe he is an onion of deception, where underneath every lie is another lie. Before his death, he lets his cane fall, and he stands without difficulty – though even when alone in his first scene, unobserved by anyone, he shuffles bent over, as if he effected feints and masks not for others, but because he felt naked without them. These are mysteries without easy explanation, and none of the other characters have anything akin.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

This is why I think it has been a mistake for critics to say that Schultz is simply a re-write of Christoph Schultz’s Hans Landa. It is Stephen who is the proper reprise of the Landa character, and just as Stephen’s ambiguity makes him more interesting than anyone else, such was the same with Landa. Here was a man of substantial intellectual ability, extraordinary charm, and great sympathy for others. His interrogations showed such understanding of the subject that it seemed impossible that they would move towards a malign intent, but so they moved. Just as Stephen has his unknowns, the unknown for Landa was how such a figure, who has all the qualities one expects in the enlightened resistance hero, was an ardent nazi. The partial answer, given at the film’s end, is that he is nothing of the kind: he is a simple opportunist, who will adopt any ideology which is to his benefit. That Schultz lacks this quality of Landa is to the detriment of that character, and the movie. Schultz says his lines with all sorts of zigzags and pauses, but they are fundamentally dull because there is nothing to be revealed. Questions such as how a man might move from dentistry to ace marksmanship go unanswered, and though in a rounder character their answer might be an intriguing revelation, or a haunting riddle, they are of no interest here: this is a flat man, a kindly, well educated gunman from the movie’s beginning to his end.

That Stephen is easily the smartest man on Candieland, a man without whom the whole plantation would fall apart is no doubt part of a larger critique of the entire plantation society. The southern towns are mud filled eyesores, while the estates are degenerate, but lush palaces; the moral decay only makes the plantation soil more fertile. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes was something of an idiot savant, brilliant at airplanes and publicity, inept at everything else. DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie is also an idiot savant, but without the savant part; a good-for-nothing who goes for bunko phrenology scholarship and a francophile who doesn’t speak a word of french. This pre-confederate society is a dysfunctional place where everyone is either slave, poor trash, or one of the fools fortunate to be born to the right place, as Candie’s lawyer testifies: “Calvin’s father and I were about eleven when we went to boarding school together. Calvin’s father’s father put me through law school. One can almost say that I was raised to be Calvin’s lawyer.”

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

The first meet between the bounty hunters and the slave owners is in the Julius Caesar room in the Cleopatra club. Candie’s mistress is named Sheba, after the well-known queen of the extinct kingdom. Corrupt, declining empires shadow this slave empire which will soon end. When one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best themes, “Nicaragua” plays over the approach to Candieland, this is not arbitrary magpying by the director; it was Nicaragua that the southern states hoped to conquer, in order to extend the life of the slave empire by extending its reach6. It is the legacy of the plantation system that is the root cause of the long-term inequality of Latin America, and it is the legacy of the plantation system in the south which is the root cause of its repellent inequality as well. The landowner class of many of these countries, including Nicaragua, backed military juntas who could guarantee their business interests, and the movie Under Fire, the source of Goldsmith’s theme, is about the fall of Antonio Somoza, the man who received substantial U.S. aid as military dictator of the country for which Goldsmith’s theme is named.

As said, that the smartest man on the Candieland estate, whose non-slave elite is made up of idiot rich and street trash, is a black slave, and that the estate is almost entirely run by this man, is intended as scathing satire. I do not think the satire was made with any hidden malign message, but if we treat this satire in analogy fashion to another historical tragedy, I think we see one major problem with it. Imagine, as a thought experiment, Django Unchained re-made and set instead in World War II europe. Two men, one jewish, the other christian, travel through the continent incognito, searching for the jewish man’s wife, who is trapped in one of the many concentration camps. The jew is portrayed as a man indifferent to the condition of all the jews in these camps; his quest begins and ends with his wife, that’s all. When they finally find the death camp in which his wife is located, they discover it staffed by incompetent and stupid germans. The only reason why this camp keeps functioning in any way is through the supervision of a brilliant jew turncoat. It is the christian, and not the jew, who is finally so outraged by the camp conditions that he ends up being killed after shooting the ostensible camp commander. The camp’s destruction is incidental to the rescue of the hero’s wife, and the movie ends with the killing of the chief villain, the jew who was actually running the camp the whole time. The problem, apparently, is not german nationalism, or german ideology, but jews having no sense of community or regard for each other.

It is this lack of any sense of community or common plight which is Django‘s other important flaw. Tarantino is often labeled, pejoratively or not, as a hipster director, with little thought given to the definition and tradition of the word “hipster”. John Leland’s flawed but valuable Hip: The History 7 makes a strong attempt at finding such defining traits, some of which we can find in Tarantino’s movies. One central idea is ambiguity: that something said might be both one thing and another, or neither. He cites the old school use of “bad”, where the word might carry its traditional connotation, or be a compliment, all based on how it’s said. The lyrics of Bob Dylan carry this same mystery. So does the music of Kind of Blue, where the feeling is keen, yet difficult to define: certainly not happy, but not quite melancholy either.

There is also another kind of ambiguity, though I think Leland misunderstands it, where music or clothing may or may not be a put-on: are you wearing this with sincerity, irony, or both? The moment such fashion loses this quality, it ceases to be fashionable. When Leland writes of the benighted era of the trucker hat – an era I don’t remember except for the fact that, as always, Ashton Kutchner was somehow to blame – he tries to find some anthropological basis for this trend, when it’s entirely unnecessary. Such fashion, in the proper context, asks the question, am I putting you on? This is similar to the pose where stylish gear surrounds a t-shirt of an out-of-fashion icon, Michael Jackson a few years before his death, Madonna a few years from now. Is your t-shirt sincere or ironic? If the answer is obviously and immediately one or the other, then the effect doesn’t work.

The ambiguity of Tarantino’s work begins in one place and ends in another, with Jackie Brown the dividing line. Reservoir and Fiction are ambiguous the way detective fiction and hard-boiled stories (Fiction‘s very title a hat-tip to this ancestry) are ambiguous: what should our attitude be towards characters who are kept at a distance, outside the range of traditional sympathy?

This section from Hip, on detective fiction, captures the disconnect well:

The books served up a masculine swinger in action. Equally comfortable with lowlifes or swells, he was detached from both. In the high art of the period, modernism cracked the continuity of narrative. Pulp writers applied this disjunction to sex and violence, rendering them as discontinuous facts, without foreplay or afterglow. The action assumed a slapstick illogic:

I giggled and socked him. I laid the coil spring on the side of his head and he stumbled forward. I followed him down to his knees. I hit him twice more. He made a moaning sound. I took the sap out of his limp hand. He whined. I used my knee on his face. It hurt my knee. He didn’t tell me whether it hurt his face. While he was still groaning I knocked him cold with the sap.

In this passage, from Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely (1940), the violence is all in the syllables, short and fast, but the rub lies in Chandler’s small wisecrack: He didn’t tell me whether it hurt his face. Even in the midst of this pounding, the narrator distances himself from the violence by converting it to attitude and performance. Violence, then, becomes a kind of language, with its own humor and point of view. Through this device action becomes consciousness.

Tarantino’s later movies lose this ambiguity when they have clearly defined heroes and villains. We might find Stephen and Hans the most fascinating, most quotable characters of their respective movies, but if they win, those same movies are now tragedies. Our attitudes towards them are fixed because of the complicity of these men in unquestionable suffering. The ambiguity in Tarantino’s later work instead becomes that of someone wearing an outré piece of clothing: am I putting you on, or aren’t I? Should I treat the violence in Kill Bill as sickeningly real, or comic exaggeration? Are Basterds and Django serious attempts to grapple with historic tragedies, or are they callous jokes? There is evidence for both sides, and again, if there weren’t both such possibilities, the ambiguity wouldn’t be there.

Django‘s seeming indifference to a greater good lies with another quality of hip which Leland pinpoints. If the thesis of the good citizen is “to subordinate the self to the doctrine of the community, to conform to the values of the charter”, the hip are its anti-thesis. Those who Leland cites as belonging to this antithetical group – jazz musicians and Beat writers, among others – were frequently in this position of exile because of their race and sexual orientation. Their work did not concern the larger community, because they had been excluded from the larger community. Their explorations are often inward, rather than outward, though not without larger purpose – by simply establishing these depths, by creating work that contained qualities undefined and unknown, they made clear that, however they were seen, they were men and women as substantial as those who had exiled them. This is the crux of Django‘s problem, because this is a movie where its lead carries no such ambiguities, and more importantly, he has seemingly no interest in his own community, the exile community of which he is one of the exiles.

Neither problem is tied to the race of the man, both traits are inherent in Tarantino’s work, and only problematic in the context of this historical story. His characters, as said before, are often flat. The Nelson George critique of the quality of roles for top name black actors, “Still Too Good, Too Bad or Invisible”, misses this point; George writes, “Mr. Foxx’s Django is undeterred and implacable in search of his lost wife. But he is not a true human being. Like most action movie heroes he is more an idea of a character, one with no detectable flaws who’s enjoyable to root for.” This accurately describes the flatness of Django, without noting that this flatness exists in the rest of the cast, and the casts of most of Tarantino’s other movies – though these characters might be different, more loquacious than Django, they are ultimately as static, as unreal as he is.

That there is a lack of kindred feeling among people is to be expected in Fiction and Reservoir, which deal almost entirely with criminal society. That Kill Bill involves a woman fighting almost entirely alone, without any allies, is traditional to the revenge genre. Basterds, despite the subject matter, is one where the larger society of jews is irrelevant; if Raines’ unit were made up of people, whatever their race, who had lost family members to the Hitler war machine and were trying to extract vengeance, it’s the same movie. If Shoshanna is a christian woman who wishes to avenge parents killed by the Reich because of their opposition to the regime, we have the same movie. The end of the holocaust as a result of Hitler’s death is never brought up, and none of the apaches ever mention it. Both sets of warriors, Shoshanna and Raines’ unit, are devoted to their deadly missions, rather than the plight of any larger community. Jackie, Tarantino’s only movie with round characters, breaks this trend: Max and Jackie shouldn’t trust and help each other out, but they do. This indifference to any larger community only becomes starkly obvious, and a problem, when we reach Django: this is a hero who wants to rescue his wife, and doesn’t seem to care about any other slave – barely even speaks to other slaves. That Candieland slaves are ultimately freed through his actions is incidental to his quest.

This aversion to fellow feeling provides the movie one of its most provocative moments. Schultz and Django go in character to meet with Candie, as a fight fan and a black slaver. The difficulties of these men playing these roles is not equal, because the true feelings that Django has to submerge in order to play his role are far greater than what Schultz has to hide. Django gives himself away almost immediately during the mandingo fight, when he sits at the bar, looking away from the violence, burning with anger. The barman sees him, and knows right away the man’s front is false: no black slaver would be so upset by this spectacle. Taking on this role for Django means being hated in a way Schultz isn’t, not just by the estate hands, but by the marching slaves as well. “100 Black Coffins” sounds in Django’s head as he looks at the Candieland elite, but it sounds in the slaves’ heads as well, as they look on this one eyed charlie. The disturbing apex of this is when Schultz offers to buy D’Artagnan, so that he isn’t torn apart by dogs, and Django stops him from doing so. There is a practical reason to do so, but I also read an anger, which, if it was allowed to play out between the two men, would have made for a more interesting relationship. When Django stops Schultz, one can imagine him thinking: if I have to put up with looking at these atrocities, and doing nothing, I’m going to force you to do the same. I won’t allow you any self-serving sentimentality that in saving this man’s life, others like him won’t die every day. The movie avoids any cheap schmaltz in this moment, but also implies that such a moment could only be cheap schmaltz. It avoids life-saving benevolence as well.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

That this problem is not specific to its historical context – if the military unit of Basterds came across jews on the verge of deportation and did nothing for them, it’s the same problem – doesn’t make it any less problematic. That this lack of selflessness is wholly false makes the issue even worse: former slaves who had only briefly held freedom gave their lives as soldiers in order that the slave empire be defeated. This might be an apt place to note that the point at the opposite end of hipster ambiguities is the pious, the sincere, the message movie. These are always explicit in their statement, always asking for a better world, and always of noble intent. Tarantino’s films are antithetical to this: that they never show any larger community feeling isn’t simply skepticism of false pieties, but skepticism of all pieties. The closest we get to earnest, benevolent people in his movies are in their inverse: Lance and Jody, the hippie dealers, who are an evil mirror of the achingly sincere, well meaning archetype. They do not want to help Vincent when Mia is dying; Lance sells heroin to Vincent – not the gentler ecstasies of weed or hallucinogens – and when questioned on his quality, he asks, “do I look like a nigger?” The conflict between Tarantino and Spike Lee is often presented in racial terms, when these are its actual polarities. Do the Right Thing is about the righteous thing to be done, with the characters in disagreement over what that thing is. The protagonist of The 25th Hour is given the possibility of salvation, and the possibilities of this saved life are an explicit reference to The Last Temptation of Christ: if he makes a break for it, this man must lead a benevolent life and help others. The respective critiques of the work of both men reflects this divide: the knock against Tarantino is that his movies devolve towards nihilism, that his characters don’t care about anything except themselves and their immediates. The knock against Lee is that his films have become didactic sermons.

Any sense of greater fellowship in Django is on the part of Schultz, and it always strikes me as false. This man, who has gone from dentistry to assassination for financial reasons, is moved to help Django because his quest resembles that of Siegried’s. He is suddenly so upset over the condition of slaves as to lose his life over it – this man who travels throughout the south has somehow never before come across the reapings of its bloody institution. The arbitrariness of both moments, both in the service of the larger necessity of the plot, are what we might associate with the writing of an old school TV series. We might again imagine “The Bounty Hunters” where episode by episode, this pair have adventures throughout the pre-Civil War south. That their pairing up is hokey and forced is irrelevant, because the start of the relationship in episode one is never referred to again, and has no bearing on the later episodes. The state of these characters is the same in episode two, as it is for episode seventeen, and they make no mention to the conditions that brought about their initial pairing. That the doctor, in the series finale, suddenly gets upset about slavery is arbitrary as well, but to be expected in a drama where what takes place in one episode seems to have nothing to do with what happens before or after.

The most obvious motivation for the bonding of these two men is not myth, not benevolence, but economics. Django is first necessary to get the bounties for the Brittle brothers, and he then becomes extraordinarily helpful in obtaining other bounties through his expert marksmanship. We never see acceptance of Django as a citizen; we see acceptance of him as a businessman, when he is treated as any other man, without reference to his race, in the scene where they bring in the corpses of the Wilson-Lao gang. Django and Schultz are not outlaws, but lawful capitalists. The slave traders deal in life, this pair deals in death. That there is something vile in the trade they engage in is something the movie acknowledges, but critics seem to have ignored. If you are declared a criminal, by anyone or any company whatsoever, these men are given license to kill you without trial or evidence. The squalor of their trade is brought up by Django, and Scultz’s argument is two parts. The weakest is tautological: if the handbill says you are guilty of the crime, then you are guilty of the crime and we can kill you. The second, and strongest part is financial: this will get us the money to buy your wife.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

SCHULTZ
Let’s take out Smitty Bacall’s handbill.

SCHULTZ does just that, unfolds it, and gives it over to DJANGO.

SCHULTZ
Read it aloud. Consider that today’s lesson.

DJANGO
Wanted. Dead. Or alive. Smitty Bacall and the Smitty Bacall…gang. For murder and stagecoach…robbery. Seven zero zero zero…

SCHULTZ
Seven thousand.

DJANGO
Seven thousand dollars. For Smitty Bacall…one thousand dollars for each of his gang…members. Known members of the Smitty Bacall gang are as follows: Dandy Michaels, Gerald Nash, and…

SCHULTZ
Crazy Craig Koons.

SCHULTZ emphatically stabs the handbill with his finger.

SCHULTZ
That is who Smitty Bacall is. If Smitty Bacall had wanted to start a farm at twenty two, they never would have printed that. But Smitty Bacall wanted to rob stagecoaches, and he didn’t mind killing people to do it. You want to save your wife, doing what I do…this is what I do. I kill people and sell their corpses for cash. This corpse is worth seven thousand dollars. Now quit being a pussy, and shoot him.

DJANGO aims at the man steering a plow over fields, and his shot is dead solid perfect. The farmer, no larger than an ant, falls to the ground. His son, at the foot of the plow, rushes over to the dead man, and we can hear him cry “Pa!” even from this great distance.

This trade might be murderous, but it is protected under the law. Just as slavery is legal, and runaway slaves must be returned to their masters, Schultz and Django have full immunity in what they do. This is what allows them to kill a town sheriff in broad daylight, and to kill the whip hands on Big Daddy’s estate. We have one set of capitalists, the death dealers, versus another set, the life dealers, and the movie’s thesis appears to be that slavery hasn’t simply destroyed millions of african lives, but this reliance on human labor has held the south in a premodern stasis, over which the technological skill and vitality of these two men have infinite advantage. The bounty hunters are not simply more moral men because of their opposition to slavery, they are better capitalists.

The businessmen of the movie who preserve slavery do so not just because they hold business sacred, but because slave ownership enhances their sense of self. Slavery is sale of human property, a business practice that is protected because business is sacrosanct. Yet when the death dealers show up on Big Daddy’s property, engaging in their legal business, they are not protected – because a black man killing whip hands threatens this very sense of self. Though this has been a simple business transaction, just as slavery is such a transaction, Big Daddy tries to stop them, not through economic means, but as leader of a mystic force8, a crowd of torch carrying horsemen, an image that evokes nothing less than the quasi-mystic rituals of the Nuremberg rallies. We cut behind the scenes, and find the men who compose this crowd to be petty, stupid wretches, the show of horror they’re about to put on giving grandeur to their lives. This here is the cause for the continuance of slavery, not any economic reason. These men have status if others, simply because of their race, live in mortal fear of them. The killings at Big Daddy’s are the first business transaction that goes awry, and the second, of course, is when Broomhilda is sold. The transaction is completed, the papers have been signed, but: Candie insists his hand be shaken. The ownership of men and women is not simply owning of property, it is power over human life. Candie requires deference to this power, and this Schultz cannot show. However, by the very failure of this business transaction, this movie can get made and we get to see it; a movie about slavery, even one directed by Tarantino, would have a deuce of a time getting funds. A Tarantino revenge movie, on the other hand, with a massive shoot-out at its end, is a slightly easier sell. The commercial transaction inside the movie must fail in order that the commercial transaction outside the movie can go ahead.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

That these capitalist heroes, Django and Schultz, are a break from the traditional concept of hipsterism, of celebrating people outside society’s structure, outside its economic structures, also seems to have gone unnoticed. Tom Carson, a talented writer whose work I sometimes find astonishing and funny, and sometimes repellent, misses this in his review, “Tarantino, Chained”. He focuses on the movie as one more in a series of racial games that Tarantino plays, then brings up as reference point, though he never mentions it again, a keystone work: “Despite my teenage fascination with Norman Mailer’s tellingly bonkers midcentury essay, ‘The White Negro,’ I hardly thought I’d end up citing it as a relevant text in connection with any filmmaker’s work in 2012.” Mailer was a man disgusted with the banalities of advertising, capitalism, and contemporary society, so he attempted to find refuge from such things in the primitive, the mystic, the magical, the violent. Such questing did not begin or end with Mailer, and the only problem with an essay like “The White Negro” is that he found such qualities entirely in one race of men and women. He hated the sterile, prepackaged adventure in such things as the Apollo mission, and so he tried to find salvation in african americans, who he thought would counter the rise of the engineer class through, as he saw them, their mystic powers and utter inability in mathematics9.

I raise this not to debate Mailer, but to make clear that Django and Schultz contain none of these elements. They are not mystics. They are not rebels. They are very successful businessmen. The death at a distance, whether by drone or carpet bombing, which Mailer hated, these men deal out. The mystic is the province of Big Daddy’s Klansmen. The religious feeling that animated Nat Turner10, which animated the abolitionists, is entirely absent from this movie, except for Big John, who sermons while he whips. Carson bring up Mailer to give support to his claim that Django is part of Tarantino’s continued fetishization of black americans, then taunts the director for lacking the sand to depict the sexual assault of slave women – as if the miseries of slavery revolved entirely around that. This was not, I believe, cowardice on Tarantino’s part; I think you can discern two obvious reasons for his approach, an approach that goes directly against Carson’s primary claim. Though black americans may have been first valued, then fetishized, for their physical qualities, this movie takes pains to have Django’s victories be connected entirely to skill, and his mastery of the technology of the pistol. Django pulls a man down from his horse, whips Little Raj, but never engages in a fistfight. When he walks about the Big Daddy estate, we are shown the disparity between this modern capitalist, and the primitive men of the plantation, in obvious symbols: he is able to see at great distance with a telescope, while Ellis Brittle has an eyepatch. Little Raj is barely able to pull out his gun, while Django is lightning fast. He kills Big Daddy at great distance through the use of a rifle scope. Whatever Django’s innate ability, this is a skill, something obtained through the practice sessions we observe. That it is not some extension of “primitive” virility, is proved by the example of the man who is probably, after Django, the best marksman in the movie: the middle-aged fussy merchant, Schultz.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

The second reason involves the movie’s ending: if the sexual ill treatment of Broomhilda is made explicit, or even brought up, then it makes the movie’s ending impossible, because such abuse would overwhelm the lovers’ kiss. Again, rather than focus on their physical essence, and the physicality of the kiss, we are conveyed the ephemeral float after an eternity apart through silhouette. This image also properly evokes myth: one is sure, without having seen them, that such a shot is there in Casablanca or Gone With the Wind, and these lovers are now placed on the hallowed Olympus too. This consecration into legend is in the movie’s final moment as well. Jesse James, a confederate partisan and indifferent gunman, was somehow promoted into the best gunslinger of the southern states. But there was in fact, another man, unknown up to this time, who could easily outdraw him. “You know what they’re going to call you?” asked his mentor, “The fastest gun in the south.” Django Freeman, who started out as a german myth, has become an american one.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

FOOTNOTES

1 A contrasting example in which the true physical aspect of the world is conveyed, and a man truly feels this cold, can be found in William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, as Turner waits in his cell.

Over Jerusalem hung a misty nightfall, over the brown and stagnant river and the woods beyond, where the water oak and cypress merged and faded one into the other, partaking like shadows of the somber wintry dusk. In the houses nearby, lamps and lanterns flickered on in yellow flame and far off there was a sound of clattering china and pots and pans and back doors slamming as people went about fixing supper. Way in the distance in some kitchen I could hear a Negro woman singing-a weary sound full of toil and drudgery yet the voice rich, strong, soaring: I knows moon-rise, I knows star-rise, lay dis body down … Already the dusty fall of snow had disappeared; a rime of frost lay in its place, coating the earth with icy wet pinpricks of dew, crisscrossed by the tracks of squirrels. In chilly promenade two guards with muskets paced round the jail in greatcoats, stamping their feet against the brittle ground. A gust of wind swept through the cell, whistling. I shivered in a spasm of cold and I closed my eyes, listening to the lament of the woman far off, leaning up against the window ledge, half dreaming in a half slumber of mad weariness and longing: As the heart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me …

2 It is this unreality which, I think, prevents the frequently used racial epithet from having anything like its full impact. I quote, in contrast, an excerpt from Hemingway’s “The Killers”, where each use of the word is like a hard, painful tap. The story also serves as a helpful comparison in the establishment of tension through characters who, though their intents are simple – kill or be killed – are rounded enough that there is tension in what might happen next in this short story. George is the owner of the business which two hitmen have taken over while looking for their quarry, a man named Ole Anderson. Al is one of the hitmen, Nick Adams is one of the customers, and Sam is the cook.

“What’s the idea?” George asked.

“None of your damn business,” Al said. “Who’s out in the kitchen?”

“The nigger.”

“What do you mean the nigger?”

“The nigger that cooks.”

“Tell him to come in”

“What’s the idea?”

“Tell him to come in.”

“Where do you think you are?”

“We know damn well where we are,” the man called Max said. “Do we look silly?”

“You talk silly,” Al said to him. “What the hell do you argue with this kid for? Listen,” he said to George, “tell the nigger to come out here.”

“What are you going to do to him?”

“Nothing. Use your head, bright boy. What would we do to a nigger?”

George opened the slit that opened back into the kitchen. “Sam,” he called. “Come in here a minute.”

The door to the kitchen opened and the nigger came in. “What was it?” he asked. The two men at the counter took a look at him.

“All right, nigger. You stand right there,” Al said.

We see the greatest fullness in Sam, after the hitmen leave. He might be dismissed as nothing by these men, but he knows more of the world than any of them, and thinks they are ridiculous naifs for trying to help out any of the hitmen’s targets.

“Listen,” George said to Nick. “You better go see Ole Anderson.”

“All right.”

“You better not have anything to do with it at all,” Sam, the cook, said. “You better stay way out of it.”

“Don’t go if you don’t want to,” George said.

“Mixing up in this ain’t going to get you anywhere,” the cook said. “You stay out of it.”

“I’ll go see him,” Nick said to George. “Where does he live?”

The cook turned away.

“Little boys always know what they want to do,” he said.

3 That Tarantino’s characters are flat is why they seem so referential. Anna Karenina does not signify, or refer to anything else other than Anna Karenina, she is so full and vivid a character. The flatter a character, the more it seems to point to something else, just as a simple graphic of an eye or a skirted figure suggests a symbol representing something else, and a large scale oil painting does not.

Stephen, for instance, may or may not call to mind the title figure of Uncle Ben’s rice:

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Big Daddy might be just an antebellum plantation owner archetype, and he might also be a wink at the Ole Miss mascot, Colonel Reb (mascot picture originally from CNN story “Legislator pushes bill to restore Colonel Reb as Ole Miss mascot”):

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

When Django puts on tinted glasses, he may simply be hiding the anger in his eyes from the Candieland staff, and he also amy be a reference to the photo of civil rights figure Elizabeth Eckford:

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

The historical context of the photo by Johnny Jenkins can be found here (archive link):

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

4 The only other character who has anything like this is the tracker played by Zoe Bell. Her riddlesome nature is due to a good chunk of the scripted part being cut, so we are left with a mess of contradictary details that make her more mysterious than anyone else on-screen. She has been disfigured in some way, either by wound or disease, so that she must cover up her face; she is the only woman in a crew of rough housing men, suggesting that she is a very tough piece of work; the only close glimpse we’re given shows her going over old photos, which imply that she and Django knew each other as children. The expression on her face after looking at this photo is cryptic, one of the rare times in the film where we can only guess at what is felt by a character.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

We are also left to infer the character of another silent role, Sheba, Calvin’s escort, though given the way this role has been constructed as a woman who is a consort, only a consort, and finds value in this relatively elevated position, her expressions and gestures, though always mute, have, I think, a single meaning. When Django arrives at the bar, she moves away from him, and towards the fight: this man is beneath her. After Calvin’s funeral, she is dispatched to prepare coffee, and she gives a poisoned look to the maid she accompanies: again, such a lowly service as making coffee is below her station.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

5 Tarantino himself makes this point in an interview on Elvis Mitchell’s radio show / podcast, “The Treatment”.

6 From James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, about William Walker, a former journalist, who maanged to take over the country of Nicaragua, briefly, giving hope that it might serve as a bulwark against attempts to end the slave empire:

In 1854 Walker signed a contract with the rebels in Nicaragua’s current civil war and in May 1855 sailed from San Francisco with the first contingent of fifty-seven men to support this cause. Because Britain was backing the other side and American-British tensions had escalated in recent years, U. S. officials looked the other way when Walker departed. With financial support from [Cornelius Vanderbilt]’s transit company, Walker’s filibusters and their rebel allies defeated the “Legitimists” and gained control of the government. Walker appointed himself commander in chief of the Nicaraguan army as Americans continued to pour into the country-two thousand by the spring of 1856. President Pierce granted diplomatic recognition to Walker’s government in May.

Although Walker himself and half of his filibusters were southerners, the enterprise thus far did not have a particularly pro-southern flavor. By mid-18 56, however, that was changing. While much of the northern press condemned Walker as a pirate, southern newspapers praised him as engaged in a “noble cause. . . . It is our cause at bottom.” In 1856 the Democratic national convention adopted a plank written by none other than Pierre Soulé [a member of then-President Samuel Pierce’s administration] endorsing U. S. “ascendancy in the Gulf of Mexico.” Proponents of slavery expansion recognized the opportunities there for plantation agriculture. Indeed, Central America offered even more intriguing possibilities than Cuba, for its sparse mixed-blood population and weak, unstable governments seemed to make it an easy prey. Of course the Central American republics had abolished slavery a generation earlier. But this was all the better, for it would allow southerners to establish slave plantations without competition from local planters. “A barbarous people can never become civilized without the salutary apprenticeship which slavery secured,” declared a New Orleans newspaper that urged southern emigration to Walker’s Nicaragua. “It is the duty and decreed prerogative of the wise to guide and govern the ignorant . . . through slavery, and the sooner civilized men learn their duty and their right the sooner will the real progress of civilization be rescued.”

During 1856 hundreds of would-be planters took up land grants in Nicaragua. In August, Pierre Soulé himself arrived in Walker’s capital and negotiated a loan for him from New Orleans bankers. The “greyeyed man of destiny,” as the press now described Walker, needed this kind of help. His revolution was in trouble. The other Central American countries had formed an alliance to overthrow him. They were backed by Cornelius Vanderbilt, whom Walker had angered by siding with an anti-Vanderbilt faction in the Accessory Transit Company. The president of Nicaragua defected to the enemy, whereupon Walker installed himself as president in July 1856. The Pierce administration withdrew its diplomatic recognition. Realizing that southern backing now represented his only hope, Walker decided “to bind the Southern States to Nicaragua as if she were one of themselves,” as he later put it. On September 22, 1856, he revoked Nicaragua’s 1824 emancipation edict and legalized slavery again.

This bold gamble succeeded in winning southern support. “No movement on the earth” was as important to the South as Walker’s, proclaimed one newspaper. “In the name of the white race,” said another, he “now offers Nicaragua to you and your slaves, at a time when you have not a friend on the face of the earth.” The commercial convention meeting at Savannah expressed enthusiasm for the “efforts being made to introduce civilization in the States of Central America, and to develop these rich and productive regions by the introduction of slave labor.” Several shiploads of new recruits arrived from New Orleans and San Francisco during the winter of 1856-57 to fight for Walker. But they were not enough. Some of them reached Nicaragua just in time to succumb to a cholera epidemic that ravaged Walker’s army even as the Central American alliance overwhelmed it in battle. On May 1, 1857, Walker surrendered his survivors to a United States naval commander whose ship carried them back to New Orleans. They left behind a thousand Americans dead of disease and combat.

Ed Harris, who played a mercenary in Under Fire, would play the title role in a bio-pic of this man, Walker. It is a surreal movie, somehow taking place both during Walker’s time and the 1980s, when the U.S. made attempts to prop up the contra rebel movement in that country.

7 I am thankful to Leland’s work for his many insights, as well details on Jesse James and Elizabeth Eckford that I have used in this post; I do, however, think one major flaw in Hip is his attempt to find some moral striving in those who have belonged to hip communities and made hip works, when there is no necessity of any such thing, and a moral earnestness may even be an obstacle to the quality deemed hip. I try and imagine someone who fully embodies all the qualities which are contained in Leland’s amorphous concept of hip, and I think of a hypothetical Actress X. She is a figure of the past, because in the present where any information can be found instantaneously, there are no tribes of fringe fashion, or obscure musics – everything is known and available, and nothing is in the shadows. This Actress X is hauntingly beautiful, and this already connotes the amorality of hip, because there is nothing inherently moral or good in beauty. There is always a hint of mischief, and sometimes bored malice, in her face. She is not stupid, and she does not suffer fools. Her most well-known photo is one of her giving a cold look to the camera for interrupting her while halfway through Dostoevsky’s The Devils. Some, uncharmed by this figure, point out that she appears in a number of photos, months and years apart, with the same half-read Dostoevsky, but these claims are in turn questioned – the issue always remains unresolved.

She is without industry or ambition, someone bored with acting but casually great at it, someone outside of the traditional demands of work and money earning. Again, there is nothing moral in this, simply the fortunate circumstance of the elite actor, and this lack of any link to traditional work or work ethic only adds to her pose. A good part of her appeal is that she acts as she will, giving no explanation or justification, and feeling no such need to do so. She acts not simply in a manner that is anti-authourity, but as if authourity doesn’t exist. Again, this places her in the past, when there was such thing as a strong moral scolding center, taken semi-seriously when it lectured public individuals about their private behaviour. She has probably slept with many men, and a few women – but she doesn’t give much mention of it, and it is beneath her to be “naughty” in such an ostentatious manner. Who she has slept with exactly remains unknown – she is always very discrete about this, and other men and women are always bragging about things they haven’t done.

The albums of Prince, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, and Nine Simone are among her favorites, of course; but so too are The Carpenters’ Greatest Hits. She does very good acting in some good to great movies, and she is on the verge of something greater, that exciting, well hyped moment when someone will produce their breakthrough work, when she dies at a tragically youthful age, a few years shy of thirty. Again, there is nothing moral or just in this young death, but it helps her be even closer to hip: she is always on the edge of eclipsing what she once was, of developing into someone else, without ever becoming so. Whether she would actually produce anything like this great work is doubtful, given her bored indifference with anything to do with her career. Any compromises she would have to make with relationships, with work, surrendering to the responsibilities of children, all those are never reached. She is always amorphous, about to form into something new, something unknown. She dies, and forever there is speculation on who she was, and these questions are answered, the answers refuted, and the questions asked again. Though many companies attempt to bid on her image for commercial use, with the top grab the photo of her with the open Dostoevsky, they are all refused, even Apple and their “Think Different” campaign. Actress X remains unknown, Actress X remains untouchable, Actress X remains hip eternal.

8 I refer to this pre-Klan as a “mystic force” as their imagery is a deliberate attempt to evoke the supernatural; the lengthy and ridiculous preparations of the men are intended not for material effect – their hoods, hilariously, make it more difficult to see, reducing this material effect – but to invoke an image that might be associated with the powers of an almost supernatural entity. There is a good deal of evidence for this as a reason for the Klan’s outfits, but I pick the nearest at hand, an interview with David Cunningham, author of Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan, on “Fresh Air”, hosted by Terry Gross, (“‘Klansville, U.S.A.’ Chronicles The Rise And Fall Of The KKK”):

TERRY GROSS
And how did the white sheet, and the white hood get created as both a symbol and as a costume of the Klan, and the covering of the Klan to protect their identity?

DAVID CUNNINGHAM
Well, again there are a lot of stories about where the particular aspects of these symbols came from. The general story, I think, is that the white hood, the masks over the face, were designed to create the sense of a spectre or ghost. In some ways, it was designed to both hide people’s identity, and create these ghastly personas where they could go out at night, under the cover of darkness, often on horseback, and sortof combine these pranks that would sortof move back to then resonant folklore tales, and things like that, ghosts who would drink enormous quantities of water, and all these kinds of supernatural things, but turn it in a way that also be terrorizing. So, the people that they would target with these quote unquote “pranks” were not random certainly, and they were people they really wanted to scare and send a message to.

9 Norman Mailer’s blind devotion to his instincts leads him to places that are sometimes sublime, sometimes ridiculous. He ends up in the latter place, with the strange racial theories of his account of the Apollo lunar landing, Of a Fire on the Moon:

Aquarius [the nickname Mailer gives himself in this book] had never been invited to enter this Black man’s vision, but it was no great mystery the Black believed his people were possessed of a potential genius which was greater than the Whites. Kept in incubation for two millennia, they would be all the more powerful when they prevailed. It was nothing less than a great civilization they were prepared to create. Aquarius could not picture the details of that civilization in the Black professor’s mind, but they had talked enough to know they agreed that this potential greatness of the Black people was not to be found in technology. Whites might need the radio to become tribal but Blacks would have another communion. From the depth of one consciousness they could be ready to speak to the depth of another; by telepathy might they send their word. That was the logic implicit in CPT. If CPT was one of the jokes by which Blacks admitted Whites to the threshold of their view, it was a relief to learn that CPT stood for Colored Peoples Time. When a Black friend said he would arrive at 8 P.M. and came after midnight, there was still logic in his move. He was traveling on CPT. The vibrations he received at 8 P.M. were not sufficiently interesting to make him travel toward you – all that was hurt were the host’s undue expectations. The real logic of CPT was that when there was trouble or happiness the brothers would come on the wave.

Well, White technology was not built on telepathy, it was built on electromagnetic circuits of transmission and reception, it was built on factory workers pressing their button or monitoring their function according to firm and bound stations of the clock. The time of a rocket mission was Ground Elapsed Time, GET. Every sequence of the flight was tied into the pure numbers of the time line. So the flight to the moon was a victory for GET, and the first heats of the triumph suggested that the fundamental notion of Black superiority might be incorrect: in this hour, it would no longer be as easy for a militant Black to say that Whitey had built a palace on numbers, and numbers killed a man, and numbers would kill Whitey’s civilization before all was through. Yesterday, Whitey with his numbers had taken a first step to the stars, taken it ahead of Black men. How that had to burn in the ducts of this Black man’s stomach, in the vats of his liver. Aquaris thought again of the lunar air of technologists. Like the moon, they traveled without a personal atmosphere. No wonder Blacks had distaste for numbers, and found trouble studying. It was not because they came – as liberals necessarily would have it – from wrecked homes and slum conditions, from drug-pushing streets, no, that kind of violence and disruption could be the pain of a people so rich in awareness they could not bear the deadening jolts of civilization on their senses. Blacks distaste for numbers not because they were stupid or deprived, but because numbers were abstracted from the senses, numbers made you ignore the taste of the apple for the amount in the box, and so the use of numbers shrunk the protective envelope of human atmosphere, eroded that extrasensory aura which gave awareness, grace, the ability to move one’s body and excel at sports and dance and war, or be able to travel on an inner space of sound. Blacks were not the only ones who hated numbers – how many attractive women could not bear to add a column or calculate a cost? Numbers were a pestilence to beauty.

If the Blacks yet built a civilization, magic would be at its heart. For they lived with the wonders of magic as the Whites lived with technology.

10 From The Confessions of Nat Turner, a transcribed testimony of the leader of the most successful slave revolt in the United States, a description of the mystic vision that he said inspired him to action:

About this time I was placed under an overseer, from whom I ran away-and after remaining in the woods thirty days, I returned, to the astonishment of the negroes on the plantation, who thought I had made my escape to some other part of the country, as my father had done before. But the reason of my return was, that the Spirit appeared to me and said I had my wishes directed to the things of this world, and not to the kingdom of Heaven, and that I should return to the service of my earthly master-“For he who knoweth his Master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes, and thus have I chastened you.” And the negroes found fault, and murmurred against me, saying that if they had my sense they would not serve any master in the world. And about this time I had a vision-and I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened-the thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in streams-and I heard a voice saying, “Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bare it.” I now withdrew myself as much as my situation would permit, from the intercourse of my fellow servants, for the avowed purpose of serving the Spirit more fully-and it appeared to me, and reminded me of the things it had already shown me, and that it would then reveal to me the knowledge of the elements, the revolution of the planets, the operation of tides, and changes of the seasons.

After this revelation in the year 1825, and the knowledge of the elements being made known to me, I sought more than ever to obtain true holiness before the great day of judgment should appear, and then I began to receive the true knowledge of faith. And from the first steps of righteousness until the last, was I made perfect; and the Holy Ghost was with me, and said, “Behold me as I stand in the Heavens”-and I looked and saw the forms of men in different attitudes-and there were lights in the sky to which the children of darkness gave other names than what they really were-for they were the lights of the Saviour’s hands, stretched forth from east to west, even as they were extended on the cross on Calvary for the redemption of sinners. And I wondered greatly at these miracles, and prayed to be informed of a certainty of the meaning thereof-and shortly afterwards, while laboring in the field, I discovered drops of blood on the corn as though it were dew from heaven-and I communicated it to many, both white and black, in the neighborhood-and I then found on the leaves in the woods hieroglyphic characters, and numbers, with the forms of men in different attitudes, portrayed in blood, and representing the figures I had seen before in the heavens. And now the Holy Ghost had revealed itself to me, and made plain the miracles it had shown me-For as the blood of Christ had been shed on this earth, and had ascended to heaven for the salvation of sinners, and was now returning to earth again in the form of dew-and as the leaves on the trees bore the impression of the figures I had seen in the heavens, it was plain to me that the Saviour was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgment was at hand.

(Some edits and additions have been made, unaffecting the overall themes, since the original posting. The footnotes dealing with Of a Fire on the Moon and Hemingway’s “The Killers” was added March 9th.)

(Django Unchained images copyright The Weinstein Company; Blade Runner image copyright Warner Brothers.)

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Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan: Traumanovelle

(SPOILERS, obviously. The shooting script differs enough from the finished movie that the dialogue excerpts in this post are transcribed from the movie, rather than taken from the screenplay, available here.)

A movie which I am only able to see in one context, and it is this context which makes it a heartbreaking and powerful experience. Richard Brody, whose reflections on every movie I read, and which I value whether or not I agree with them, writes of it in “Performance Anxiety” as a picture about art itself, and the devotion necessary to make it. One becomes so committed, that it is something like madness, and the movie embodies this: it is mad, and it is indifferent to its madness, and how its madness appears to others. However, I see Swan differently, can only see this movie in this one way, and I do so instinctively, viscerally, and not out of any attempt to give it any depth, or to fit pictures into a puzzle, but for the same reason a gesture signifies something so overwhelmingly to the watcher, and it can signify nothing else. I think it is very much a movie about sexual abuse, abuse we never see firsthand, abuse of Nina by her father, where the events of the movie are both echos and aftershocks of this sexual abuse. The mirroring that takes place, where Lily is a sensual double of the chaste Nina, makes me think of nothing other than the displacement that takes place among those who are abused: this did not happen to me, it happened to someone else; I did not do that, someone else did. The climactic moment of this film is, of course, when this girl realizes that all the qualities of her double are her own, and the profound emotional consequences of that. For me, this is the movie’s context, and it cannot be anything else; I think I can make a fairly diligent case for this, but whether it results from deliberate intent or strange accident, I cannot say.

I AWAIT THE DEVIL’S COMING

Black Swan opens with Nina dancing the lead in Swan Lake, her face wearing an expression of earnest sunniness, a desperate desire to please, that she carries through so much of the film. This is a movie dominated by handheld camera shots which seemingly stalk this beleaguered woman, and we have the first one here, but with a twist: it does not follow her, but Von Rothbart, trailing him as he moves toward her1. In Swan Lake, Von Rothbart is the magician who has turned several young women into swans, including Odette, the heroine of the story. Von Rothbart has a daughter, the black swan, Odile, who looks almost exactly like Odette2. Nina’s own father is noticably absent, his absence never explained, or even mentioned. The only images we have of a father are the figure of Leroy, and the cruel magician Rothbart. Odette and Von Rothbart dance together now, Von Rothbart becoming more and more monstrous, until we cut away to Nina in her bedroom. She relates to her mother the story of this dream, the frightening dance with Von Rothbart, but the mother gives no response, no indication that she’s even listening, and Nina looks down.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

NINA
(while stretching)
I had the most amazing dream last night. I was dancing the White Swan.

No answer.
NINA (CONT’D)
Different choreography, like the Bolshoi’s. It was the prologue, when Rothbart casts his spell.

Black Swan: when Rothbart casts his spell.

A post shared by Goto Tengo (@gototengo) on

This is the closest we get to a direct reference to the abuse Nina once suffered. The later relationships are a re-play of what once took place, and which explain the tension between mother and daughter, but never in anything like explicit terms. Nina’s father forced himself on her, just as Leroy forces himself on Nina, but Erica did not see her daughter as the victim, but as the seducer, just as Beth sees Nina as the seducer. All the conflicted feelings about sexual abuse – a daughter wanting to please a father, a daughter feeling like a whore for what she’s done, a mother suppressing her daughter’s own sexuality because she sees her as a rival, a daughter hating her own body for its attractive powers – all these are played out again in Nina’s contemporary relationships.

An important, often mentioned, trait of this movie is its campiness. Dennis Lim’s “Dirty Dancing: Is Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s tawdry thriller, a work of camp?” is perhaps the most in-depth and insightful investigation of this quality, but I don’t think it provides sufficient focus to what gives the film this trait. Camp cannot be knowing, it cannot be deliberate; there is something unworldly and innocent about it. If we associate musicals with camp, it is because these involve an unrestrained and guileless exposure, something child-like. The antithesis to this is the cynical and the carnal, and mixing these two opposing forms often produce dramatic contrasts, such as the musicals of Trey Parker and Matt Stone like Orgazmo and The Book of Mormon where wide-eye innocents sing profane songs, or Pennies From Heaven where characters stuck in the sinful earthliness of our world sing songs of naive hope. There can be no cynicism in camp, no immediate profit motive or ambiiton; it must embody an almost delusional ideal that art can make the world a better place – if camp is art that fails at this ideal, it does not make it any less poignant or diminish a fan’s admiration for it. Lim cites Showgirls as partial camp or failed camp, but I don’t think he sees the same contradictary forces I believe make it both camp and not camp: it is not camp because it was made with the intent to be very profitable through a lot of women getting naked in a movie directed by the guy behind Basic Instinct; it moves towards camp because instead of simply giving the people what they want, it is somehow a genuine attempt to try to make art – pornography does not need to be this ambitious.

What is central to Black Swan‘s campiness is not the ballet setting, or Swan Lake, or its horror movie elements, but the heroine, Nina, who has all the qualities of camp I have mentioned – she is guileless, innocent, and unworldly. Nina is a pliant blank, a woman who simply wanted to be a good daughter, but was forced to submit to sexual abuse as part of this role. Sex for her now has become something toxic. She still has sexual desires, but she has them only in another displaced identity – the girl Lily, who always ends up blending into a malevolent version of herself. A rigidly chaste figure like Nina would usually be seen from outside, as a figure of ridicule, but here we adopt her perspective entirely, without irony, and this is what gives the movie its campiness. Critics have written of the part as one playing to Natalie Portman’s focus and control – but I don’t see this at all. The power in this role is that it is entirely affectless, vulnerable, without the safety net of irony. Nina is a ridiculous figure, but she is ridiculous for tragic reasons – yet Portman makes no attempt to curb the ridiculousness of this figure, and the ridiculousness only makes her more heartbreaking, underscoring the tragedy at the heart of her life. It is this pliant blankness, whose unworldliness is so alien to us now, so alien especially in a place like New York City, which summons in the observer the idea that this woman must be the victim of abuse. “Black Swan: Movie about Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse” is a blog post that takes an entirely different perspective on who is responsible for Nina’s sexual abuse; I do not agree with the hypothesis, but I highlight it as an example of how Nina’s pose itself, outside of physical evidence or theories of who is responsible, provokes the visceral reaction that this woman has been such a victim.

After breakfast with her mother, Nina goes to ballet school, and we get the first of many handheld shots where Nina is pursued. This is entirely consistent with a woman haunted by abuse – she is a woman who never loses the sense of being prey. Beth is the star ballerina, Leroy’s girlfriend, but because she is now of a certain age, she will soon be let go. Nina looks up to her, admires her, as a daughter might look up to a maternal figure. When Beth storms out of her dressing room, Nina steals some of the items that mark a woman from a girl – her perfume, earrings, and lipstick. We then see her wearing lipstick for the first time in a meeting with Beth’s boyfriend, Leroy, and we assume it is Beth’s lipstick. It is just as if a little girl might try out the lipstick of an older sister or mother, a daughter playing the role of her mother.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Leroy forces himself on her, to which she is passive until finally, she bites him – he is astonished at the violence of this reaction. She is perhaps reacting not just to this incident, but her past abuse as well. This moment and its aftermath contain all the ambiguties of this earlier abuse – she is playing chaste role-playing, her father assaults her, she feels that she provoked this reaction in her father, and her mother reinforces this, blames her for being a seducer. She gets the lead role in Swan Lake, and though she did not consent to Leroy’s assault, she is viewed as the temptress, that the role was given in return for her sexual consent – someone writes WHORE on the mirror. But perhaps not someone else: it is written in lipstick, and we immediately think of Beth’s lipstick, and that Nina has written this in condemnation of herself – because she has been assaulted, she must have brought it on. The self-hatred is what we would associate with a child who has been sexually abused by a parent – that the child blames themselves for provoking it, and if the parent shows love or affection for the child, gives gifts to the child – that affection, those gifts are shot through with the feeling that it is shown in exchange for some past sexual act.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

This is a movie where a hatred of the body recurs again and again, and specifically, the post-pubescent body. Nina scratches constantly at her back, where she’ll develop wings. Her double, Lily – the part on which all sexual experience is displaced – has a flower openly tattooed onto her back, a flower that develops into wings during sex.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

I cannot accept the movie’s look at ballet as a serious criticism of ballet in and of itself because Nina’s dancer life is so false – her role as ballerina is only as passive instrument, only at the command of others, taking no joy or excitement as a collaborative artist in what she does. Her diet and training are never seen as something like that of an intensely dedicated athlete or creator, but only as self-punishment. These images do not work for me at all as some kind of indictment of ballet: I think they fit perfectly with the idea of dance as an abstraction for sex. Nina can only see sex as an experience of suffering, where she is acting on the order of others – and this is what dancing is like for her as well. Her body is in pain from dancing, and of course, she often has bleeding wounds; we might take this as a symbol of her menstrual cycle, a sign of a sexuality repressed, or a more disturbing symbol: the breaking of Nina’s hymen, the loss of her virginity to her father3.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Her mother has made her feel that she tempted her father, that she wronged her mother, and Nina’s attitude towards her mother is one of constant penance for this past misdeed, and her dance training is masochistic, a self-adminstered punishment. Her bedroom remains that of a much younger girl, filled with stuffed animals; she wishes to remain in a pre-pubescent state forever, a place before her body got her into trouble. Her sensual double has a full, curvaceous body, while Nina starves herself so that her curves might disappear. When Lily dances, she is enthusiastic and enjoys herself, qualities absent from Nina’s dancing, who has made herself into a machine that will please others – an asexual pleasure. She makes all these attempts to desexualize herself and still she fails – she sits on the subway and an old man mimes masturbation. After the reception, she fixes on a statue that she feels kin to, one with wings, but no arms to defend itself, without sex, its face a mask of pain.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

In “Performance Anxiety”, Brody rightly gives attention to the eyes of the four principals, and though these features are distinctive and emphasised, it is crucial that this is not a movie about voyeurism. The gaze primarily emphasised is not others spying on Nina, but Nina looking at herself – this self-awareness, this awareness of who she is, is what she fears and wants to avoid. This haunts her, but so does the look of her mother, though this is an implied gaze, and, I think, a gaze of something specific: her mother witnessing the abuse of her child, and not properly seeing it, seeing her daughter as the seducer, just as Beth sees Nina as a seducer when she’s done nothing. Nina masturbates, and suddenly she realizes that her mother is in her bedroom, asleep – there is the obvious, general shame of sex, but a more specific one as well; it is Nina’s sex that caused so much trouble. She walks into her mother’s studio, and the eyes of a drawing of herself, with a forced, pliant smile, follow her around the room – she cannot stop seeing what she has done though she only wants to forget it. A second time in the studio, all her mother’s work is alive with gazes, looking at her, blaming her, and doing nothing.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Both Erica and Nina know a secret, and both conceal it: when Nina scratches herself, Erica has cover-up they’ll use that they’ve used many times before.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

ERICA
Sounds like quite an evening. I wish I could’ve been there.

NINA
You know I asked.

ERICA
I know you did. Susie told me. Guess he wanted you all to himself.

NINA
That’s not why.

ERICA
I don’t blame him. Where’d you get these? (ERICA touches one of NINA’s diamond earrings, the ones she stole from BETH)

NINA
They’re fake.

ERICA
Fooled me.

ERICA helps her take off her dress.

NINA
I can do it.

ERICA
He must have been by your side…all night. Showing you off.

ERICA finishes unbuttoning NINA’s dress and sees the scratches on her back.

ERICA
Oh, Nina!

NINA
It’s just a rash.

ERICA
A rash, what are you talking about?

NINA
It was worse a few days ago. It’s fine already.

ERICA
You’ve been scratching yourself again.

NINA
No, I haven’t.

ERICA takes off her dress.

NINA
Mom!

ERICA
Thought you’d outgrown this disgusting habit.

They run to the bathroom.

ERICA
Jesus christ, Nina, I’d thought you’re done with this. The shrugs. You keep wearing the shrugs. Sit down. You have the white one. And the pink one. And that’ll help hide it. And then I’ll dig out that expensive cover-up. We still have some. No one will see it.

NINA
Mom, please.

ERICA cuts NINA’s nails.

ERICA
It’s the rule, isn’t it? It’s all this pressure…I knew it’d be too much, I knew it.

ERICA cuts a nail too close, and NINA ows. ERICA kisses NINA’s knuckle.

ERICA
Gonna be alright, gonna be alright, gonna be alright.

NINA looks away.

The last moment, where her mother’s gaze is not implied, but finally direct, is at the ballet itself. Nina is the black swan, the dark wings are her own, not displaced onto another – and her mother witnesses it. The sexual self that the black swan embodies, Erica always tries to suppress. Erica wants to keep Nina from going out, from having sex, not for any religious reasons (though the relationship of Erica and Nina is most often compared with the mother and daughter of Carrie, where the mother was a religious fanatic) but because she feels her daughter’s sexuality was destructive in the past. Nina takes a small bar to jam her door so that she isn’t confronted with her mother’s prying eye, but she blocks the door with such familiarity that I cannot help but think she has done this before: to keep her father from entering her bedroom.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Leroy plays the role of a proxy father, forcing himself onto Nina. After an unsatisfying rehearsal, he asks the cast to go, and he then plays the role of the prince, where he proceeds to touch her all over the place. He calls Beth his “little princess”, and, in the end, calls Nina “little princess” as well. Lily calls this “gross” though she doesn’t explain why – but isn’t “little princess” exactly the nickname a father would have for his daughter?

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

This encounter with Leroy is intensely painful for her, and it triggers the appearance of her double, Lily, who is both her and not her. When this figure first appears in the shadows, it is her, but in Lily’s clothing. She does not ask, “Who is there?”, but “Who is that?” The conversation that follows is that between two parts of Nina in reaction to an abusive father, with the self-confident, sexual Lily raising the most difficult, taboo questions. Nina looks at the father in platonic terms, the qualities which require admiration and inspire obedience. Lily brings up the possibility that fathers can be disobeyed, that this abuse is not an extension of a parent’s love, but a violation of it. Nina defends the abuse, the way a child might defend abuse, because otherwise it requires that they see the parent as violator – “well, you don’t know him”. Lily then raises the difficult subject of Nina’s own attraction to this man, the way a child’s pre-sexual and sexual feelings intertwine with abuse. We admire qualities in our parents, and we wish to see them in our mates, qualities that in others inspire attraction; an abused child sees these qualities in the abusive parent, and questions whether they are the guilty ones, whether they brought on such abuse, whether the admiration the child feels for the parent is a reciprocation of the parent’s explicit sexual feeling.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

NINA
You can’t smoke in here.

LILY
Well…I won’t tell if you won’t.

LILY sits down.

LILY
Big day’s getting closer and closer, huh?

NINA stays silent.

LILY
Well, I can’t wait. I think you’re going to be amazing.

NINA (softly)
Thanks.

NINA takes a cigarette, and LILY lights her up.

LILY
So…do you want to talk about it?

NINA starts crying.

NINA
I just had a hard day.

LILY
Leroy playing a little too rough for you?

LILY cont’d
C’mon Nina, he’s a prick.

NINA
He’s brilliant.

LILY
Sure. But it’s not like he’s all warm and fuzzy.

NINA
Well, you don’t know him.

LILY
Someone’s hot for teacher!

NINA gets up to leave.

LILY
C’mon, it’s okay. I don’t blame you.

NINA
I should go home.

LILY
C’mon Nina, I’m just playing around.

LILY cont’d
Nina.

But NINA is gone.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

When Nina gets the lead, Beth hates her for it, calls her a whore4, and then the maternal figure, Beth, is badly hurt in a car accident. This, I think, is an echo of the way an abused child might look at abuse, and how Erica has made Nina see it: I tempted my father, and I have destroyed my mother through this temptation. Leroy interviews Nina at his apartment about her intimate life, opening with the statement, “I don’t want there to be any boundaries between us”: there were no such boundaries with her real father, either. When asked about boyfriends and whether she’s a virgin, though she says otherwise, her whole demeanor suggests someone who has been entirely chaste, except perhaps for one taboo relationship. He asks the question of whether she enjoys sex, and though for most people the answer would be a qualified yes, Nina doesn’t answer – nor does she say why the answer might be no.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

LEROY
I don’t want there to be any boundaries between us.

NINA
No, me neither.

LEROY
So…you got a boyfriend?

NINA (very softly)
No.

LEROY
And…you’ve had many in the past?

NINA
A few, but…no one serious.

LEROY looks at her for a while.

LEROY
You’re not a virgin, are you?

NINA smiles, looks down.

NINA
No.

LEROY.
So. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

NINA takes a drink.

LEROY
And: you enjoy making love?

NINA
Excuse me?

LEROY
Aw, c’mon. Sex. Do you enjoy it?

NINA doesn’t answer.

LEROY
We need to be able to talk about this.

NINA nods, always looking away and down.

LEROY
I got a little homework assignment for you. Go home, and touch yourself. Live a little. It’s late. There’s lots of work tomorrow. The doorman will find a cab for you.

THE AWFUL TRUTH

As I wrote earlier, the first scene where Odile dances with Rothbart, a frightening, violent dance, is the closest we get to a direct reference to abuse. It is Rothbart as Nina’s father that carries such disturbing power for her, not Rothbart the character itself. During the concluding ballet, when she is backstage, the actor playing Rothbart gives greeting, and she barely notices him.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

There are three other scenes when Rothbart shows up, all frightening. Nina looks at herself in the mirror, and the reflections take a life of their own, looking back at her. In the corner of the mirror, his perspective gazing down on her, is a photo of Rothbart. She wishes to forget this memory, she never mentions it, and yet it is there – she knows who she is and what she’s done, her own reflections confront her with this.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Another is much, much more direct. Lily is the identity on which all of Nina’s sexuality is displaced; at crucial moments, of course, there is no separate person, and she is Lily. Such is the case where Nina spies Lily having sex with Leroy, the father figure. Suddenly, the scene changes nightmarishly. It is now Nina on the table having sex with Leroy. And then: Leroy is no longer Leroy, but Rothbart, Odile’s father.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

The music used to score this is the same as in the opening scene, the frightening dance. That this discovery fits the pattern of a previous sequence is notable as well. Nina practices with the dancer playing the prince, but Leroy tells her she’s doing the part of the black swan wrong. The lights go out, and Leroy has to yell that they’re still working, and the lights go back on. He dismisses the others, then practices with Nina alone, playing the part of the prince, fondling and kissing her. He ends the session by telling her why she’s doing the part wrong, which might be why someone might have told her she’s not being a good daughter: she’s not responding to his passion in kind – it is she who should seduce him, not the other way around. We now have this second sequence, where she practices practices practices, repetitively, punishingly, at such length that the accompanist finally leaves. She then is haunted by mirror images that seem to turn round and scrutinize her with a cold, piercing look – they can see all of her, all her memories. The lights go out, just like before, but this time no one listens when she says someone’s still working. She goes out to the stage, and there makes her discovery.

There is one other moment when Rothbart shows up, and it would have entirely eluded me were it not for the valuable work done at the Cinematic Corner by the blogger Sati, “48 hidden images in ‘Black Swan'” (reached via the Reddit thread, “48 hidden images in Black Swan”), which breaks down the images of the nightclub scene, images we see only in the briefest of microseconds. I assumed, wrongly, that they show us Nina relaxing, when they only do so on the surface. Looked at frame by frame, they show nothing of the kind, but only reinforce the idea of a woman falling apart, the images often not of dancers in the club but constructs from her own hallucinations, chock full of images of importance to her. There is much in these, but I believe there is at least one obvious recurrent theme: Rothbart, a symbol standing in for someone else, as her predator.

One of the first frames has the statue which fascinated Nina in the background:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

We then have the gates to the Swan Lake castle:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Followed by the white swan, Odette, with Rothbart behind her:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

She dances with Andy, Rothbart in the background:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

She dances with Andy, who first becomes Leroy:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Then transforms into Rothbart:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Another nightmarish frame of Rothbart:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Though I consider the work on Cinematic Corner on this film invaluable, I disagree on one point of their description of these frames. They label these eyes as belonging to the black swan; I think they are Rothbart’s eyes, the same distinctive eyes that burn with frightening brightness in the opening dance:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Rothbart silhouetted by the moon:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

In the arms of Rothbart:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Nina seems to remember something very upsetting, while to her side is an image of herself splitting apart. From here, until Lily shows up, calling Nina’s name, we hear on the soundtrack, “Sweet girl, sweet girl” over and over in a distorted singsong; this, of course, is a name her mother has for her, and which Lily mockingly says after she brings Nina to orgasm5. Her mother may call her a sweet girl, but there are things in her past that make Nina feel not sweet at all, but corrupt.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Nina represses her sexuality because she looks at it as a destructive force, something which her mother blames for tempting her father, and which she associates with the pain of abuse. In the club, we see visions of an asexual ideal as well as a few moments which contain images that specifically reference female sexuality. The asexual ideal shows up in the images of the statue, as well as a brief frame of the black swan distorted into this sexless figure.

Still focused on this upsetting memory, while to her right we see someone with the distinct eye shadow of the black swan:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Which then distorts into this alien, hairless, sexless creature:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Then, an image of her nonchalant, yet by her side an image of her screaming in agony:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Still outwardly calm, paired with an obvious sexual image, a bare breasted woman with her face veiled:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

A realization, of something horrific, where in one frame she is the black swan, and in others, she splits apart:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

The black swan behind the scrim of her room’s butterfly wallpaper. Nina is a butterfly who forces herself to remain larval, the black swan is the sexual self she both wants to be and fears being:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Again, transfixed by a memory, and Rothbart right beside her. After this image, the “Sweet girl” singsong stops.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

After she dances with Andy and Tom, these dark images cause her to reflect, and she never dances again with the boys, dancing only with Lily, who, transforms into herself. Another memory, with the statue’s pained face and Lily in the background:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

With Lily, and the tower from which she’ll fall to her death:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Nina with Lily, the moon by their side; the moon is in the background of one of Odette’s dances, and a woman’s menstrual cycle was once thought to be linked to the cycle of the moon:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Nina with Lily, Nina with Lily and the butterfly wallpaper as a background:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Another disturbing image of Rothbart:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Another of the obvious images of female sexuality, this time it’s the curve of a woman’s breast:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

The moon, again:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

A woman’s breasts, underwater:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

The eyes of Rothbart staring out at her, a hand holding a moon-like globe with light falling on the water. The ocean’s tides are moved by the moon’s motion, just as a woman’s menstrual cycle was once thought to be guided by the lunar sphere. Odette is under Rothbart’s spell, just as the ocean is in the command of the moon. A hand holds this globe as if it possesses it: her father has possessed her; her father has taken her virginity.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

She was dancing with Lily, now she is dancing with herself:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

The black swan in the background:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

(A compilation of these images was put together on youtube, “Black Swan Club Scene (EVERY single hidden picture)” by “SchwarzerFrost1989”, who was kind enough to link back to this post.)

LAUGHTER IN THE DARK

Nina is the little princess, but also the swan queen. In the credits, Erica’s title is Erica Sayers / The Queen. Leroy’s name isn’t the american pronunciation, Leroy, but the french – “Le Roi”, “the king”. Nina takes over the role of queen from Beth, Leroy’s girlfriend. When Leroy makes the announcement that Nina is taking on the role of queen, there is applause, but there is also Lily laughing at something very funny about this. Lily, who delves into the taboo areas that Nina forbids herself, and who asks the taboo questions that Nina does not ask, but who is ultimately just a projection of Nina, is laughing at a joke that Nina knows, but does not allow herself to laugh at: a father figure is giving her the mother figure’s role, just like before. Lily’s laughter here echoes the recurrent, eerie laughter in the movie, which I think always centers around the sick joke of Nina’s relationship with her father, and the memories Nina does not want to have.

Other than its first use during the opening credits, we hear the laughter whenever there is a moment that might remind Nina of her past abuse, a symbol loaded with the possibility of her past abuse, or when a reflection of Nina, a Nina without a mask, looks back at Nina coldly and fully, as if seeing every part of her, including all the horrors she keeps hidden. The laughter is there when Leroy kisses Nina for the first time; the moment blood (which might carry a hymenal or menstrual association) drops into the bath water (a moment discussed in greater detail later); when Nina cuts her nails and suddenly she is a fiercer, less saccharine figure; her reflection turning as the photo of Rothbart looks down; her reflection turning when she practices alone after the accompanist leaves. And there is one last instance of this laughter, and it’s crucial: after the lights go out in the practice room, Nina goes to the empty stage, sees Rothbart across the wings, and as she crosses it, she hears the haunting laughter, which then becomes very real, the laughter of Lily having sex with Leroy, then Nina with Leroy, then Nina with Rothbart.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

LEROY
But: as we bid adieu to one star, we welcome another. We’re opening our season with my new version of Swan Lake. Taking the role of the new swan queen, the exquisite Nina Sayers.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

A compilation of these moments on youtube.

THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME, IT WON’T BE ME

What Leroy keeps demanding of Nina, what she will not give, is complicity, that she actively participate in sex, that she enjoy it. This, I think, relates to one of the great shames that victims of sexual abuse feel, that the pleasurable apsect of sex is not entirely absent – and though this does not make abuse any less abuse, it is what shames Nina, and causes her to turn away from sex. The image of Rothbart having sex first with Lily, then her, is frightening because she sees herself consenting and enjoying it. She does not want to be the person who did these things, and so she isn’t; it was someone else, a double, who did these things and to whom these things were done. She consents, and did not consent at all. This idea is there again when she clearly sees Lily put something into her drink, but drinks it anyway – then, after a debauched night, gets upset at Lily for putting it in her drink. It is on this same night that I think there’s another crucial moment, in the cab ride home. Lily walks her fingers over to Nina’s pants, but Nina gently takes them away, and then holds her hand: no, right now, I just want the comfort of a held hand. She looks out the window, light passes over the glass, and we hear on the soundtrack a man having an orgasm: it seems unconnected to any man in the movie, and maybe it is a memory that requires the comforting clasp of another’s hand, and maybe this is a memory of her own father.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Black Swan: in the cab.

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These clasped hands are of sufficient importance that they show up in the club scene, which is chock full of images, from her past and future, significant to Nina. She sees Rothbart, the statue she feels kin to, the tower from which she’ll fall to her death, and these hands in a specific context; Rothbart’s eyes stare out, a hand holds a globe, possesses it, and off to the side, the clasped hands.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Dance, for Nina, is always associated with pain. Her own participation in sex she links with self-destruction and death. She displaces sex onto women who aren’t her, doubles that she envies for their self-confidence and power. Her first double is herself, walking past with a cool gaze unafraid of anything in the night, before she pushes this identity further away onto a more sensual type – Lily, who’s curvy with olive skin6, and has no inhibition about pissing in a sink.

Black Swan: Nina walks past herself.

A post shared by Goto Tengo (@gototengo) on

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

A small note: Nina’s earrings are always rounded, while Lily’s are almost always sharp, sword-like, we might even call them phallic. Lily has the sexual confidence and strength that Nina associates with a man.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

That she envies Lily’s self-confidence, her strength, and wants it, shows up in one particular scene – one that makes clear that this very strength is her own. She is at home with her mom and they fight; her mom is worried that Leroy will prey on her daughter. Even though he already has, Nina denies that anything has taken place. They get into the thorny issue of Erica giving up her career for Nina, and Nina mocks her. Erica asks her daughter about her skin, then insists that she see it, and Nina refuses her bluntly: no. The very moment that she shows a strength she’s never shown before in dealing with her mother, Lily suddenly shows up, knocking at their door.

ERICA and NINA, at opposite corners of the room, ERICA sewing one of NINA’s shoes, NINA tempering the material of another with a lighter.

ERICA
Has he tried anything with you?

NINA looks up, then back down, but doesn’t answer.

ERICA
He has a reputation.

NINA still doesn’t answer.

ERICA
I have a right to be concerned, Nina. You’ve been staying late so many nights, rehearsing. I hope he isn’t taking advantage, that’s all.

Nina now looks up.

NINA
He’s not.

ERICA
Good.

ERICA cont’d
I just don’t want you to make the same mistake I did.

NINA (a quiet sarcasm)
Thanks.

ERICA
Not like that. I just mean as far as my career is concerned.

NINA (still quiet, but fiercer sarcasm)
What career.

ERICA gives NINA a long, hard look. It’s as if you can hear the metal of a sword unsheathed. From now until NINA’s “Nothing”, ERICA gives NINA an unrelenting stare, while NINA looks down.

ERICA
The one I gave up to have you.

NINA (the sarcasm is not as bold, but still there)
At twenty eight.

ERICA
So?

NINA
Only-

ERICA
Only what?

NINA
Nothing.

She punctuates this with a look up at her mother. NINA has the strength to meet ERICA’s gaze.

ERICA
How’s your skin?

NINA goes back to looking down.

NINA (quietly)
Fine.

ERICA
Are you leaving it alone?

NINA hm-mmms, without looking up.

ERICA
Let me see.

ERICA stands up, and her expression could break through steel.

ERICA
Take off your shirt.

NINA
NO.

NINA looks up at her mother, and she has inherited enough of her mother’s hard stare to meet hers.

At this very moment, the doorbell rings, and both women turn in the direction of their possible guest.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Black Swan: a guest at the door.

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The struggle between these two types is not rote game playing, it is a struggle because it requires Nina to see the earnest, affectless type as the false one, and this other, stronger type as her truer self. Yet she also looks at this other self as evil, evil for what she’s displaced onto her – the act of having sex with her father, and evil because this girl, this truer self, can destroy who she is. For her to become this other person, she must confront her memories of the past, and this she cannot do. Nina masturbates, but stops when she sees her mom in the room – her mom has made her think that her sexuality destroyed their lives. In the bathtub, she masturbates again, then sinks below the water. That she has this sexual desire makes her want to drown. Blood, from nowhere, suddenly appears in the water. I associate it with blood of the hymen – this girl lost her virginity to her father. Right after, in the movie’s most frightening moment, a malevolent Nina appears above the water, ready to drown her.

Black Swan: boo.

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When she and Lily are in her bedroom, it is not a sign that Nina is actually into girls – it’s because the only sexual partner she trusts is herself. Yet even this fantasy goes awry – because she wants this girl to be both herself, the one person she trusts, and another displaced identity that is not her. At various moments Lily is briefly not Lily, but Nina – the first, and most striking one, her reflection in a mirror.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Lily does not simply eat Nina out – she consumes her7. During sex, there are intermittent, frightening moments for Nina, when Lily is suddenly her. Nina reaches orgasm, and this physical pleasure makes her see clearly that Lily, this other on whom all her sexuality has been displaced, is in fact her as well. This briefly destroys her – the other Nina smothers herself with a pillow.

Black Swan: smothered.

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Nina returns the lipstick, perfume, and earrings to Beth, and Beth is upset: “You stole them from me?” The scene’s importance is, I think, as an echo of earlier abuse: Nina takes items that signify to a little girl what it is to be a woman and Nina stole her mother’s role as her husband’s lover. Nina is treated as the guilty one, but to present herself as the victim of abuse would require that she acknowledge to herself that abuse took place, so she instead presents herself as another kind of victim, a girl whose role is in turn being stolen by someone else, this sensual other, Lily. Beth stabs herself in self-hatred, much as Erica may have shown self-hatred – outrage at her daughter as romantic rival, rather than abuse victim. Beth stabs herself, and suddenly it is Nina stabbing herself – her role is Beth’s, her role is Erica’s, she has tempted their men, a proxy father and an actual father, and she wishes to destroy herself for it.

That Nina feels she has taken the place of both Beth, a mother proxy, and Erica, her actual mother, in relations with Leroy, a father proxy, and her actual father, shows up in this scene and the next as she seemingly sees herself in both roles. After leaving the hospital, where Beth transforms into her, Nina returns to a seemingly abandoned house. She washes her hands in the empty kitchen, turns the light off, and hears someone say, “sweet girl”, her mother’s name for her which recurs through the movie, a phrase that haunts her because she doesn’t feel sweet at all. She switches the lights back on, but instead of her mother, it’s her in the hospital gown, as Beth. She rushes to her mother’s studio, where the paintings confront her, chanting “Sweet girl, sweet girl, it’s my turn, it’s my turn.” She looks in the mirror, and again, sees herself as Beth, then, when she turns round to confront the reflected figure, she sees not herself, but her mother.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

The movie’s last part revolves around Nina fully becoming this other self, and how this acceptance is annihilating. She throws out all the dolls that she’s kept, the souvenirs of her prepubescent life. Her skin tone and hairstyle change, so that when she lies in bed before throwing out the dolls, we might briefly think we’re looking at Lily. Finally, the rash in her back sprouts dark feathers, her feet web, her eyes go blood red, and her legs arch like a swan’s – it is all like the physical changes of pubescence, the very transformation that caused her so much trouble.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

She asks Leroy for help because she thinks Lily is trying to take over her part; but Lily, the strong, sexual girl is already taking over her part: she fights back against her mom and escapes from the house; when Leroy talks about her not playing the lead, Nina refuses him with steely will.

A SWAN SONG (FOR NINA)

Before getting to the last sequence, culminating in the image of Nina lying back on a mattress, it might be helpful to point out that the movie is organized around variations of Nina right before going to sleep and waking from sleep, with some of the most important moments coming at this time. Although the practice for Swan Lake must takes months, the action of the movie seems to occur in less than a week and a half. I mention only necessary and relevant events around these moments of waking up and going to sleep.

The movie opens with her nightmare of Rothbart, but rather than waking up disturbed, she has a vague smile on her face, as if unwilling to see the fearful images we’ve just seen. Something then briefly changes in her expression, as if inferring some memory hidden in this dream, and then she returns to smiling happiness.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

She returns home from ballet, her practice having gone awry with Lily’s entrance, and she’s very upset. Her mother re-assures her daughter, “Everything will be better in the morning. It always is.” I bold the last for empahsis, because I don’t think she speaks just of today, but events long ago as well. She then calls her the name that repeats again and again, always with mocking irony throughout the film, “sweet girl”.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Nina gets the lead, there is the reception where Beth calls her a whore, and accuses her of using sex to get the part. Leroy asks about her sexual history, and her mother cuts her nails after she sees the rash on her back. When shes wakes up this time, she appears in a much worse state. It is after this that she tries to masturbate, before stopping when she sees Erica in the room.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Possibly in the evening of the same day, she finds a bar to block the door, but does not put it in place yet. Nina lies in bed, and Erica asks, “Are you ready for me?” Those who believe that Nina is sexually abused by her mother put great weight in this line, but I think this is a more conventional question of a mother asking her daughter whether she’s set to be tucked in. Though I think Erica is domineering, I don’t her as someone with a sensual attitude towards her daughter. From all her visible behavior, we see the opposite attitude, of someone trying to eliminate Nina’s sexuality.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Nina rebels against her mother, she goes out with Lily, on the way home in the cab we hear what might be her father for the only time in the movie. Sex with Lily makes her orgasm, and then destroys her – Lily does not simply resemble her, she is Lily, and her double now smothers her. She wakes up for the third time in the movie, and she’s in even worse shape.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

She goes home, and lies in bed, but does not sleep. She smashes her music box and throws out her dolls.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Nina has the stunning vision of Rothbart with herself, then goes to the hospital where Beth transforms into her. She flees home, there to be haunted by the role of proxy mother, a hospital gowned Beth who is actually her, who then becomes her own mother. She rushes to her bedroom, blocks the door, and her transformations become more disturbing and violent; red eyes, feathers, arched legs. Her unfamiliarity with these new legs cause her to trip, and she is knocked unconscious.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

The focus for the first time in a wake-up scene is not on Nina, but her mother, most likely up all day and night, by her side, in the bedroom. Her mother has placed mittens on Nina to keep her from harming herself by scratching, but we might also see these as insulation from the tactile world, a last attempt to keep the sensual at bay. Nina wakes up, and for the first time, she does so not in the morning, but at night – she’s been unconscious for so long she might miss the premiere. She fights past her mother and leaves the bedroom.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

A compilation of these scenes on youtube.

At the ballet, Nina waits in the wings to go onstage, looks over at Leroy, and then at the actor playing the prince. She sees Lily aggressively sexual with this man, an aggressiveness she both wishes for, and which she turns away from because she associates so much of sex with her abuse. She is held aloft during the dance by this prince, and just as abuse colors the later sexual lives of the abused, it affects her here: she is held in this man’s arms, and she is suddenly afraid, and she falls out of them. If this dance with the prince is like sex, then what makes her fall out of the prince’s arms is the past association of sex with her father’s abuse – she sees Lily in the chorus, and then sees herself in Lily’s place; Nina is also Lily – Odette does not simply resemble the black swan, Odile, she is Odile, and Rothbart is her father.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

She fights Lily, and now finally the line between these two selves, the image of chastity she holds onto and the person on which she displaces her whole sexual identity, literally shatters. The mirror breaks during the fight, and Nina stabs her opposite with one of its shards. She dances the part of Odile, the black swan, Von Rothbart’s daughter, with assurance. Where before Leroy imposed himself on her, she now kisses him passionately.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Her literal transformation into a black swan bookends Rothbart’s literal physical transformation in the very frightening dance which opens the film. Immediately after her physical change, which mirrors that of Rothbart, we have a scene which links easily with this one: the discovery of a bleeding mortal wound, and that Lily – or at least the Lily we have seen through much of this movie – is a construct of her imagination.

Black Swan: transformations.

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When she returns to her dressing room, she discovers that Lily’s body was never there, a fight never took place, the qualities of this person have been hers all along. Just as her orgasm was followed by her being smothered, her becoming the black swan is followed by her death: she wants to be this self-confident, sexual other, yet if she is this other, then it means certain things have been done to her, and she has done certain things, and this makes her want to destroy herself. She extracts the mirror shard: literally, her reflection is inside of her. Her wound is like a bloody vagina – a symbol so literal it requires no explanation.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

We see her weep as she holds the shard, and her tearful expression is not that of one anticipating death, but one of remembering.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Though she is literally dying inside, she now wipes away her tears and puts on a white mask of make-up, an act very much of a part with a life spent having to hide the pain she suffered.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

She goes out for the last dance. She ascends the steps, and just as she looked from Leroy over to the actor playing the prince, her gaze now moves from Von Rothbart to the prince on stage. We see her mother in the audience, the first time we see her outside the shelter of her house, and just as she witnessed her daughter with her own father, she has now seen her daughter transformed into this sexual self, the black swan.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Nina falls from the stairs onto the mattress, the camera closes in on her face like a lover, and it is like her own submission to her father as she tumbles onto the bed: a surrender to her father, and to death as well. The cast gathers round and they realize that she is dying. Her last words are to Leroy, the proxy father. “I felt it”, she says. LeRoy asks, “What?”, and she answers, “Perfect”, and this is not about the performance now, but what took place years ago: the pain she felt then is one she has always felt, no matter how much she has tried to hide it, and there has been something perfect in what she suffered, like a bullet that is a direct hit on a mortal place. “It was perfect”, are her last words. When Odette dies, Rothbart’s spell over her is broken, and in her last moments, the spell Nina’s father has cast on her has ended as well. This campy, irony-free girl is for the first time ironic: she speaks of her past trauma the way we speak of an ideal sexual experience, but she is not speaking of it as an ideal sexual moment at all. What was inflicted on her then was the perfect wound, and it has now destroyed her.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

FOOTNOTES

1 The image of a camera shooting from behind a character with their back turned, looking at Nina, is repeated twice again, both with significant figures.

Again, Rothbart in the opening:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Leroy’s first entrance, looking down at the practice session:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Nina, looking at herself, in the practice room, after Leroy fondled her. Nina transforms into Lily when she makes her entrance.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

2 A good synopsis can be found here.

3 The connection between sex and the grinding, disciplined forms of the ballet is not simply the intuitive, obvious connection between dance and sex, but a point made as well through the use of music.

We see Nina dance alone in front of a mirror, accompanied by “Lose Yourself”, a sinister, pulsing piece that moves over the same notes, again and again. The music’s steady, prominent beat might be called sexual, but it is a joyless, menacing, machine-like sex. This scene might be a solo practice, and we might call “solo practice” a euphemism for something else. In the midst of this practice, something interrupts her, the broken toenail. Something interrupts her sexual thoughts as well: a past violation, a past breaking.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

“Lose Yourself” is played again, when Nina tries to masturbate. She stops abruptly when she realizes that her mother has been in the room, asleep, the whole time. Erica either did not see, or refused to see the abuse which took place, and her reaction to this was to restrict and restrain her daughter, who she saw as the instigator.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

We then have a brief play of “Lose Yourself” in the cab, when Lily moves her hand into Nina’s pants, and it then fades out when Nina makes clear she wants to hold someone’s hand right now, not anything more forward than that. We then have Nina possibly remembering something, the sound of a man having an orgasm, and this might be a past memory of her father. Each time, the “Lose Yourself” theme ends with a moment that might be a veiled reference to past abuse: the broken toenail, the mother who is close to her daughter’s sexual intimacy but asleep to what takes place, the sound of a man climaxing.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

The theme from “Lose Yourself” occurs one last time, in the selection “Opposites Attract”, which plays over the sex scene between Nina and Lily. Lily, of course, is not exactly there: this is Nina with a fantasy version of herself, the only partner she trusts. It can be thought of as a variation on the first scene featuring “Lose Yourself”; that was solo practice in front of a mirror, and this is a sort of solo practice before a mirror too. Where before the horns jumped in when Nina saw her mother, now they sound when Nina realizes that Lily is her, that Lily’s sexuality isn’t someone else’s but her own, and is reminded of the painful history which accompanies this part of her.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

4 The dialogue between them:

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

BETH appears, suddenly.

NINA
Beth! I’m so sorry to hear you’re leaving the company.

BETH
What’d you do to get this role? He always said you were such a frigid little girl. What’d you do to make him change his mind? Did you suck his cock?

NINA
Not all of us have to.

BETH
You fucking whore. YOU FUCKING LITTLE WHORE.

LEROY
Woah woah woah…what’s going on here?

BETH
I NEED TO TALK TO YOU.

LEROY
Beth. My little princess. Please.

BETH
I’m coming by later. I have something for you. A token of my appreciation.

BETH cont’d
You make the most of it, Nina.

5 She calls her this in one of the first scenes, right after the opening nightmare, and before the first ballet session.

ERICA moves to put a top on NINA

ERICA
Up.

ERICA sees the mark where NINA’s wings will sprout.

ERICA
What’s that?

NINA looks at the blemish in the mirror.

NINA
Nothing.

ERICA puts the top on her daughter.

ERICA
You sure you don’t want me to come with you?

NINA gives a smiling no thanks.

ERICA
Sweet girl.

ERICA hugs NINA, a sober look on ERICA’s face.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

6 That the more sensual type is always the more “ethnic” type is a trope still with us, though from the perspective of many in the past, we are all ethnic types now.

7 There might be a jokey foreshadowing to this early on in the movie, during the reception. Nina and Lily have their first exchange of dialogue in the bathroom. Nina is about to leave as Lily gets ready to piss in a sink; Lily asks her to stay and keep her company, but Nina leaves anyway. Right after this, Leroy runs into Nina as the reception lets out and these are his opening lines:

LEROY
Hey. They tried to eat you alive, but there you are.

(The material on the club scene was added to this post on February 16th – when that edit was made, earlier material on the different earrings of Nina and Lily, as well as a brief examination of the post-practice conversation between the two women got taken out. It was put back in the next day. Some small additions and edits have been made since then. The footnote on “Lose Yourself” was added March 7th. This same footnote was edited on March 13th, because I’d forgotten about the use of this music in the cab ride. On December 9th, 2013, I changed the section head “A Mirror, Darkly”, which I’d never liked, to “I Await the Devil’s Coming”, taken from Mary McLane’s memoir, whose re-issue I learned about from The A.V. Club’s “Our favorite books of the year”. On April 17, 2015, this post underwent a session of copy editing.)

(All images copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures.)

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Has Donald Trump Ever Been Rich?

I had always thought of Donald Trump as someone who had once been very rich, lost a great deal of money, and now tried to pass off his fractional fortune as the bounty of a Midas. This ancient article, “All of the People, All the Time” from the valuable Spy magazine archive puts that idea to rest for me. This creature was always a nuisance, and never rich.

I excerpt the beginning, three interesting points, and its conclusion.

The opening:

YOU CAN FOOL ALL THE PEOPLE ALL THE TIME

How Donald Trump Fooled the Media, Used the Media to Fool Banks, Used the Banks to Fool the Bondholders and Used the Bondholders to Pay for the Yachts and Mansions and Mistresses

by John Connolly

With his bluster and his extravagance and his tabloid love life, Donald Trump has always been a source of considerable entertainment. If we’re honest, we all have to admit that after his every achievement in greed or vanity we’ve said to ourselves, Heck, you’ve gotta love that guy! Like some funny, impossibly venal puppet in a Punch-and-Judy show, Trump has always given us a good laugh. In fact, Trump’s image as a buffoon is just another example of how the press has protected him from real scrutiny for so long. While one would prefer not to be considered a joke, that is not so bad if it distracts people from seeing what one really is: a charlatan, a liar, a cheat. But if Trump has thrown the press and public off his trail during the last year, he has not managed the same trick with law enforcement. SPY has learned that Trump’s 1988 sale of Resorts International to Merv Griffin is now the subject of two criminal investigations, one by the FBI. “We are looking into the organized-crime [side of it],” says a law-enforcement official. Furthermore, John Sweeney of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement confirms that his agency is also studying Trump’s participation in the Resorts deal.

A former…well, top Trump executive told SPY he considers Trump “evil incarnate.” A mobster who knew Trump socially said of him once, “He’d lie to you about what time of day it is – just for the practice.” And indeed, a close study of Trump’s actions over the past few years reveals a man addicted to deception, a man who invested like a fool, a man who shaved from deals and bled failing companies of cash so that he could live with absurd excess, a man who borrowed huge amounts from credulous banks and investors, a man who not only is not now a billionaire but never had $1 billion or $500 million or – very possibly – even $100 million and who has been strapped since 1987. Donald Trump is not just some cartoon character, a guy with a comb-over and a press agent and a board game named after him; he is and always has been a real and fairly treacherous human being.

In the history of finance, Donald Trump will be known for one brilliant innovation. No one before Trump had used the press so cunningly to give himself legitimacy with creditors. Trump made the media his balance sheet. Reports of Trump’s wealth in newspapers and especially in sober business magazines such as Fortune and Forbes and Business Week were the basis upon which banks lent him money and the public bought his bonds.

A spokesman for Arthur Andersen, Trump’s accountants until 1990, admitted to SPY that they had never conducted a financial audit of Donald Trump. Andersen did conduct “financial reviews” – the term for a very superficial analysis of management and procedures, a once-over quite unlike an audit, which would include the accountants’ solemn opinion of the finances under examination. Sources at Chase Manhattan and Citibank – from which Trump borrowed $290 million and $990 million, respectively – say that although Trump may have given the bank audited financial statements for certain specific properties, they never had an audited statement of Donald Trump and his finances generally. Bankers Trust – which has lent Trump more than $100 million with no collateral – declined to comment for this article. Manufacturers Hanover – which has lent Trump $160 million – also declined to comment.

Two of the most powerful banks in the world report that no one ever audited Donald Trump. Some of the loans that the banks made to Trump even had provisions stating that if his net worth fell below a certain level ($600 million, for example), Trump would have to pay back the loans immediately. Very prudent – except that the banks never insisted that Trump verify his net worth by audit.

So, without audits, often without collateral, how did Trump manage to borrow all that money? Well, every one knew that Donald Trump was a billionaire, and who wouldn’t lend money to a billionaire? Banks are in the business of making loans, and in the overheated eighties, a banker couldn’t wait to make a loan to Donald Trump. The banks and the people who bought Trump’s bonds were influenced by the news accounts of Trump’s billions.

If Trump had told the press the truth, or if the press had held his claims up to even a rudimentary level of scrutiny, then Trump might not owe the banks $2 billion on which he has suspended interest payments, and he might not have sold $1.277 billion in bonds that are now worth only $493 million. But Trump didn’t tell the truth, and the media were pathetically gullible. Even the press reports of Ivana’s prenuptial agreement are wrong – it is for $10 million, not $25 million. The information presented below is not based on hindsight – if journalists had been inclined to look, they could have found out the truth at any time.

Interesting point one:

Trump Tower and the Grand Hyatt were Trump’s first major projects. Both were initiated when New York was still reeling from the fiscal crisis of the mid-seventies and was willing to make any deal with any developer, just as long as he developed. As New York’s economy took off in the early eighties, the deals made Trump look like a winner. What the media have ignored for purposes of assessing Trump’s wealth and ability, though, is that neither project was Trump’s alone. The Hyatt, a renovation of the 64-year-old Commodore Hotel, is half owned by the Pritzker family of Chicago. Equitable Life holds the mortgage to the hotel, and since the Pritzkers presumably really are worth about $5 billion, Equitable probably felt safe entering a deal with them. What did Trump bring? He knew his way around city government, so he won the tax abatements that made the Hyatt a success.

Equitable then agreed to be Trump’s partner in Trump Tower, putting up half the money. Equitable sold those condos at the height of the market and then wanted out of the market and then wanted out of the retail and commercial space. Trump bought them out with a $75 million loan from Chase Manhattan. He has come to them with other plans, but they have decided to pass on these ventures.

It is difficult to determine exactly what value to place on Trump’s equity in the Hyatt and Trump Tower. One popular misconception is easily remedied, however: Donald Trump in no sense owns Trump Tower. The condominiums that make up all but 19 floors of the building are owned, of course, by the people who bought the apartments. Trump owns only the retail space and his apartment and office. He surely made some money on those condominiums, with Equitable’s help, and the Hyatt continues to be profitable. But like a movie star with a couple of early hits, Trump traded on those successes for a decade.

Two:

During our look into Trump’s stock transactions, we came across an interesting item. In 1986, Trump, the “billionaire,” needed $31 million to meet a margin call for his purchase of Bally Corporation stock. The funds to meet the margin call came from his Holiday Corporation stock profits; a credit line from Bankers Trust; a distribution from Trump Equitable 5th Avenue Corporation, which is the agent for Trump Tower commercial space; miscellaneous credit lines from other banks; and a 1985 federal income tax refund. All this desperate scrounging by a top-of-his-form billionaire for a measly $31 million.

And three; the cited article is “The Unmaking of a Documentary” by Edwin Diamond.

“[Trump] had the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen & Company do a special audit. The CPAs declared Trump had cash assets of $700,125,00 as of November 30, 1988…So much for Trump’s not being as big as he says he is”

– “The Unmaking of a Documentary,” New York, September 4, 1989

Ah, yes, “So much for Trump’s not being as big as he says he is.” In some ways, his use of the Arthur Andersen letter is Trump’s most elegant deception. The accountants’ carefully worded letter did say – perfectly accurately – that on the specified date Trump had $700,125,000 in cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities. Having seen the lengths to which Trump was driven in order to raise a mere #31 million back in late 1986, we may be surprised to learn that on a typical day in 1988 he had 20 times that in liquid assets. Fortunately, a simple explanation presents itself: if one interprets it properly, which the Trump-adoring editors at New York were in no way inclined to do, the Andersen letter actually demonstrates that on November 30, 1988, Donald Trump was $20 million in the red.

The date of the review was not the end of a fiscal year or quarter, but neither was it arbitrary. It happened to be eight days after Merrill Lynch had given Trump $651 million in cash specifically for the purpose of building the Taj Mahal. The money had been raised through a junk-bond offering. The accountants’ letter made only passing reference to the possibility that any of the $700 million was earmarked for specific projects. It also failed to explain that the marketable securities were shares in Alexander’s department stores – stock that Trump had borrowed $69 million from Citibank and Bear Stearns to buy.

Andersen stated that Trump had $700 million in cash and stock. Deduct the $69 million owed on the stock, and that leaves Trump with $631 million. But Merrill Lynch had just given Trump $651 million for the Taj Mahal, so, in fact, he was “overdrawn” for $20 million.

The conclusion. The Castle referred to is the Trump Castle Casino, an Atlantic City casino, now called the Atlantic City Golden Nugget.

A fool and a liar and a deadbeat Trump may be, but no one can say that he doesn’t have touching, human qualities. Take his solicitude to his aging father. In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump had surreptitiously borrowed $3 million from Fred Trump to help him make an $18.4 million Castle Casino bond payment. A week before Christmas, Trump had Howard Snyder, an attorney for his father, walk into the Castle, go up to the cashier’s window, buy $3 million in chips and leave with those chips. With that $3 million, Trump had the money he needed to make the bond payment.

The CCC requires that all loans be reported. Needless to say, Trump did not advise the Commission of the loan from Fred. “We found out about [the transaction] the next day. We began to look into it right away,” John Sweeney, the new director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, told SPY. “We sent a letter to the Trump Organization saying, ‘We are treating it as a loan.'” This is what things have come to for Donald Trump. The boy from Queens had to go back to Queens for a bailout.

Addendum, added on September 17th, 2013:

While reading Mark Singer’s collection of profiles, Character Studies, I came across the one source of actual, substantial income by which one might label Trump rich, not mega-rich, not the wealth of Midas that he affects, but still very rich. It occurred after his supposed heyday, with the sale of his share of the Grand Hyatt Hotel to the Pritzkers. I give it over to Singer:

Then, last October, Trump came into possession of what a normal prson would regard as real money. For $142 million, he sold his half interest in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, on Forty-second Street, to the Pritzker family, of Chicago, his longtime, and long-estranged, partners in the property. Most of the proceeds weren’t his to keep, but he walked away with more than $25 million. The chief significance of the Grand Hyatt sale was that it enabled Trump to extinguish the remnants of his once monstrous personally guaranteed debt. When Forbes published its annual list of the four hundred richest Americans, he sneaked on (373rd position) with an estimated net worth of $450 million. Trump, meanwhile, had compiled his own unaudited appraisal, one he was willing to share along with the amusing caveat “I’ve never shown this to a reporter before.” According to his calculations, he was actually worth $2.25 billion – Forbes had low-balled him by 80 percent. Still, he had officially rejoined the plutocracy, his first appearance since the blip.

I hand off the ending of this post to the ending of Singer’s own piece, which is as memorable and well-written as anything in the collection. The profile came out shortly after Trump’s first divorce:

Next, we headed north, to Mount Kisco, in Westchester County – specifically to Seven Springs, a fifty-five-room limestone-and-granite Georgian splendor completed in 1917 by Eugene Meyer, the father of Katharine Graham. If things proceeded according to plan, within a year and a half the house would become the centerpiece of the Trump Mansion at Seven Springs, a golf club where anyone willing to part with $250,000 could tee up.

From the rear terrace, Trump mapped out some holes of the golf course: an elevated tee above a par thre, across a ravine filled with laurel and dogwood; a couple of parallel par fours above the slope that led to a reservoir. Then he turned to me and said, “I bought this whole thing for seven and a half million dollars. People ask, ‘How’d you do that?” I said, ‘I don’t know.’ Does that make sense?” Not really, nor did his next utterance: “You know, nobody’s ever seen a granite house before.”

Granite? Nobody? Never? In the history of humankind? Impressive.

In Trump’s office the other morning, I asked whether, in light of his domestic shuffle, he planned to change his living arrangements. He smiled for the first time that day and said, “Where am I going to live? That might be the most difficult question you’ve asked so far. I want to finish the work on my apartment at Trump International. That should take a few months, maybe two, maybe six. And then I think I’ll live there for maybe six months. Let’s just say, for a period of time. The buildings always work better when I’m living there.”

What about the Trump Tower apartment? Would that sit empty?

“Well, I wouldn’t sell that. And, of course, there’s no one who would ever build an apartment like that. The penthouse at Trump International isn’t nearly as big. It’s maybe seven thousand square feet. But it’s got a living room that is the most spectacular residential room in New York. A twenty-five-foot ceiling. I’m telling you, the best room anywhere. Do you understand?”

I think I did: the only apartment with a better view than the best apartment in the world was the same apartment. Except for the one across the park, which had the most spectacular living room in the world. No one had ever seen a granite house before. And, most important, every square inch belonged to Trump, who had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul. “Trump” – a fellow with universal recognition but with a suspicion that an interior life was an intolerable inconvenience, a creature everywhere and nowhere, uniquely capable of inhabiting it all at once, all alone.

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Angola, Namibia, South Africa, and a Tea Party Leader

Occasionally, one comes across an old story, an obscurity, that is like a small rock launched at fine glass, the spiderweb of cracks traveling out from the initial impact, all the way to the edges of the frame. It is marring, and destructive, yet we are held agape at the reach of this forgotten moment. The auguring incident is a magnet for any writer, so much so that a now extinct magazine Spy made fun of this technique, with its Ten Years Ago in Spy Today, where it would approvingly quote a decade-old story from its pages unerringly anticipating contemporary events; Spy was a magazine full of vicious satire, and these decade old stories were always made up. The necessary repetition involved in writing is too frequently unacknowledged, and I am by no means the first to cite this feature in an introduction; James Traub, a Spy veteran1, did so effectively in “The Way We Live Now”, and he gives a more succinct intro to this feature: “There used to be a column in Spy magazine, Ten Years Ago in Spy, which featured astonishing and, of course, completely fictitious acts of journalistic foresight. ‘NASA’s enthusiasm notwithstanding, the space shuttle is a potentially deadly hodgepodge of untested technologies,’ ran one breathless article. ‘High on the list of suspected components are the enormous flexible gaskets…'”

I give some extensive mention to this, because it is in the pages of this magazine that we can find the epicenter of one such quaking event. This magazine is ancient, this magazine is extinct – an ad makes you think, “Oh, these are the people Patrick Bateman killed” – but its tremors reach us even now. The story is diligent, quality reporting – Spy‘s alumni are widely spread and fertile spores, its writing a shaming standard to the low watermark that’s attempted now – but very much a back of the book, short feature, its ominous qualities impossible for the writers of the time to discern, but obvious to most readers now. We go back not ten years, but twenty two, to August 1990, the magazine’s cover featuring a weeping pseudo-billionaire still very much with us, and inside is “Fooled on the Hill: How some die-hard Cold Warriors and a Belgian con artist tried to change U.S. policy in Africa”, by David Aronson and David Kamp.

The piece opens with the tumult around the inauguration of the president of Namibia, a country sharing borders with both Angola and South Africa. The nation was beginning its transition to independence, after decades of being the vassal state of apartheid South Africa, the ruthless segregation policy of that country imposed on Namibia as well. For this transition to independence to take place would require UN supervision, which would require funding from wealthier nations, including the United States. Many hard-line conservatives, however, did not want this independence to take place, people like the notorious senator from North Carolina, Jesse Helms. They tried to stop it from happening through legislative chicanery and deception. I quote extensively from the piece, because it tells the story better than I can paraphrase it, and I begin such quoting now:

Four months earlier Helms and his right-wing allies had managed to put the United States in a position of disapproving of Namibian independence by sneaking a rider through a budget bill through Congress. The rider authorized the president to halt U.S. funding for a United Nations team, called UNTAG, that was overseeing Namibia’s peaceful, carefully negotiated secession from South Africa. As we shall see, the basis of Helms’s legislative gambit was bogus, a fabrication that might have been revealed had Congress administered some rudimentary tests before enacting the bill into law.

Helms, like most of Capitol Hill’s extreme conservatives, never wanted an independent Namibia, a country whose dominant party (SWAPO) is aligned with Moscow. Neither do Helms and his ilk hold much affection for Namibia’s friendly neighbor, Angola, whose Marxist government is backed by Cuba and is fighting a civil war against Jonas Savimbi’s U.S.-supported UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) guerillas. In December 1988, Angola, Cuba, and South Africa signed an agreement in which Cuba promised to withdraw its troops from Angola by mid-1991 and South Africa agreed to allow Namibia’s independence. This deal was not universally approved; Duncan Sellars, chairman of the conservative International Freedom Foundation (IFF) in Washington, says that after the agreement was signed, right-wingers thought of it as “a sellout of [South Africa-controlled] Namibia and a sellout of UNITA.”

This group then goes into action:

Helms and a platoon of right-wing operatives (the lobbyists at Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, who represent UNITA, and the think-tankers at the Heritage Foundation and the IFF) coalesced around a piece of legislation – the rider to the budget bill – that would have given President Bush an excuse for withholding Washington’s funding for the UN team in Namibia if any evidence was found that the Cubans were using chemical weapons to support their Marxist pals in Angola. In other words, the bill said that if the Commies misbehaved in Angola, we couldn’t help pay for Namibia’s transition to independence.

We are then told the genesis for this action:

The idea for the bill was born during a trip taken to Angola in March 1989 by Michael Johns, the Heritage Foundation’s policy analyst for African affairs.

There he met Andries Holst, a West German who claimed to be filming a documentary about Cuba’s use of chemical weapons in Angola. Johns brought Holst to Washington where the German filmmaker was introduced to Helms, State Department officials, lobbyists and other conservatives likely to be moved by his footage, which purported to show the horrors of chemical warfare.

The filmmaker’s evidence, however, does not persuade, so another tact is tried:

For whatever reason, Holst did not impress, and Hems’s bill foundered. To salvage the effort, the IFF’s Duncan Sellars refocused attention on a scientific report Holst had commissioned from Aubin Heynrickx, a toxicologist from the University of Ghent in Belgium, which substantiated Holst’s claims. In July, Sellars brought Heyndrickx to Washington to tour the same conservative network Holst had earlier traveled. The difference: Heyndrickx’s opinions carried the heft and credibility of science.

And this time, it works.

While Heyndrickx held forth, Helms rallied his allies on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to lash the rider to a vital appropriations bill and Black, Manafort’s lobbyists hit the Hill. And son of a gun, with the boost Heyndrickx provided, the plan worked: on November 21, George Bush put his signature on a bill containing the Cuban-chemical-warfare provision.

There is a caveat:

But what might look like a model of parliamentary maneuvering is more likely an instance of ultraconservative fraud. For as it turns out, Holst is an impostor with no serious journalistic or filmmaking credentials, and Heyndrickx, on whose reports the rider was entirely predicated, is a publicity-seeking showboat.

The evidentiary foundation of this bill, the proof of use of chemical weapons, is soon revealed to be bunk:

Heyndrickx’s examination of Holst’s bomb fragments and environmental samples showed that chemical weapons were used. Other chemical-weapons experts – one is tempted to say real chemical-weapons experts – disagree. Finland’s Marjatta Rautio, who is perhaps the world’s preeminent expert in this field, examined Heyndrickx’s data and reports. “I don’t see the connection between the results and the conclusions,” she says. Julian Robinson, senior researcher at the University of Sussex, doubts Heyndrickx’s descriptions of the victims’ medical conditions. And André De Leenheer, Heydrickx’s overseer at Ghent, is frankly contemptuous. “I’ve been studying everything in detail that has been written,” De Leenheer says of Heyndrickx’s findings. “It’s a real joke.” De Leenheer says he would kick out any student who handed in a similar report.

A toxicologist claims that a soviet journal gave high marks to Heyndrickx’s work, but it turns out that the source for this commendation is Heyndrickx himself. The lobbying firm behind this whole effort, Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, gave no scrutiny whatsoever of the work of this supposed expert. When Heyndrickx passed the material on to the state department, their tests came back negative for any evidence of chemical contamination. A representative of UNITA, the Angolan military group that helped shepard Heyndrickx’s work to those in the U.S., claimed that he had discussed the work with other experts at “a university of chemical warfare” in Switzerland. When a swiss embassy is contacted, the reporters are told that no such studies are undertaken at any swiss university, and no such university in Switzerland exists. The article puts it best: “this significant piece of legislation was passed with no credible substantiation whatsoever.”

The article ends with a definitive putdown: “Is Heyndrickx a charlatan?” A chemical weapons expert at the state department responds, “I have no doubt about that,” adding, “That’s for sure.” Of course, this is not the story’s true end, but part of a larger picture. Anyone who reads this piece now sees immediately its unconscious prescience for the war in Iraq: poorly examined evidence passed to the U.S. by third parties with a vested interest that such evidence prompts the U.S. into action, all helpfully co-ordinated by a lobbying group that has no problem representing a murderous dictator, but has no interest in anyone working minimum wage. Then, the price would have been Namibian independence; in Iraq, it was death and maiming for hundreds of thousands. So, this small story (though not small at all, especially if one is from Namibia) holds that illumination, but it holds other light as well, by simply examining some of the players in the context of what a brief two decades of extra knowledge can give us.

At least one of the participants, the film-maker Andries Holst, has seemingly disappeared from the eye of history. Aubin Heynrickx, the ridiculed toxicologist, shows up again during the lead-up to the trials over the massacre of Kurds in northern Iraq, “In Iraq chemical arms trial, scientists face many burdens of proof”. He is described as “somewhat of a maverick in the field”, Heynrickx asserting that the Iraq army used cyanide and biological toxins, an assertion which most in his field disagree with2. No mention is made of his sorry involvement in the attempt to block Namibian independence. The best known members of the lobbying powerhouse Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly are Charlie Black, Roger Stone, and Lee Atwater. Atwater, a man best known for his use of the infamous Willie Horton ad during the 1988 election, died, thankfully, very young. Roger Stone, a Nixon campaign alumnus, would go on to stage the Brooks Brothers riot in the 2000 election in order to stop vote counting in Miami3, help destroy the Reform party in that same year in order to eliminate a third-party threat on the right4, as well as fund and co-ordinate Al Sharpton’s 2004 presidential run in order to hurt the eventual democratic candidate with black voters5. Other notable incidents included his work as a liaison for the ill-viewed NXIVM cult6, flogging the possibility of a Michelle Obama “whitey tape”7, and a consulting venture with Scott Rothstein, the man behind the largest ponzi scheme in Florida history, now serving half a century in prison8. After a New York campaign in which he backed distribution of a flyer accusing a libertarian candidate of being a pedophile9, he would go on to run the campaign of the libertarian federal candidate, Gary Johnson, either out of devout libertarian belief, financial need, or perhaps again manipulating a third party or outsider candidate to arrange for a republican win10.

Charlie Black would continue to be a man of incredible power and toxic clientele. His list of clients would include Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile behind most of the bunko evidence of biological and chemical weapons, as well as the mercenary firm Blackwater, which he called “a fine company that’s provided a great service to the people of the United States and Iraq”, along with Phillipine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and Phillip Morris11. He would retire from lobbying when he went to work in the 2008 race for the crusading anti-lobbyist candidate John McCain; following the campaign, he un-retired from lobbying, and went back to work at his old firm12. During that same campaign, Mitt Romney criticized McCain for having so many lobbyists as associates. When someone pointed out that Romney also had plenty of lobbyists in his campaign, the candidate insisted that they were not involved in his campaign, but simply informal advisers13. In 2012, Black would join Romney as an informal adviser as well. Not that he was actively participating in any way: “No formal role in the campaign. Just offer advice occasionally.”14

These men, however, were well known already for their ignoble work. There was one player, crucial in the incident, that was behind a veil, and this was the International Freedom Foundation. I re-quote again their first appearance in the story: “Duncan Sellars, chairman of the conservative International Freedom Foundation (IFF) in Washington, says that after the agreement was signed, right-wingers thought of it as ‘a sellout of [South Africa-controlled] Namibia and a sellout of UNITA.'” The IFF was a think tank started by Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist who served half a decade in prison15. This, however, is not the chief notoriety of this organization; its chief notoriety is that a substantial amount of its funding secretly came from the apartheid government of South Africa, for the purpose of opposing sanctions, defaming its opponent, the ANC, and the ANC’s leader, Nelson Mandela. The funding of the IFF within the South African intelligence service was sometimes referred to as “Pacman”, and sometimes as “Operation Babushka” – a babushka is one of those wood russian dolls which contain another doll within16. This operation was handled by Craig Williamson, an intelligence agent who was also behind the assassination of Ruth First, Joe Slovo, and other anti-apartheid activists17. The South African interest in this case was that the country very much wanted to remain in Namibia, where it could continue its apartheid policy. Namibian independence would end all that.

This information all came out a half-decade after the Spy magazine piece, during South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here is the foundation as described in volume two of the commission’s summary report:

An overview is provided below of certain projects undertaken by the South African Defence Force (SADF), South African Police (SAP), National Intelligence Service (NIS), Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of National Education, as presented to the Kahn Committee, the Ministers’ Committee on Special Projects and the Secret Services Evaluation Committee.

Most projects appear to be related to the establishment of front organisations or actions aimed at counteracting the activities of the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies, primarily in the sphere of information, communication, disinformation, propaganda and counter-propaganda. Other projects were aimed at circumventing sanctions.

South African Defence Force (SADF)

The SADF secret projects covered a range of activities such as publications, front organisations, and support to surrogate groups.

Two of the more costly projects were Pacman and Byronic. Pacman was the code name for the International Freedom Foundation, which had offices in Johannesburg, Washington, London, Brussels and Bonn. Its objectives were described as the combating of sanctions and support to constitutional initiatives through publications, lobbying, conferences etc. It specifically supported Mr Jonas Savimbi and UNITA. Leading personalities in government circles in Europe and the USA were involved, with half of its funds coming from abroad. Pacman’s annual budget for 1991/92 was listed as over R10 million. In late September 1991, the Minister of Finance agreed to a one-off payment of R7 million, approved by Minster of Defence, “to enable the country to withdraw from the enterprise”. This payment was vested in a trust controlled by trustees appointed by SADF.

All those who had any connection with the IFF, or might have had any connection with the IFF, denied knowing of the South African funding. “This is nothing I ever knew about. It’s something that I would have resigned over or closed the foundation over. I would have put a stop to it,” said Sellars, now a Virginia businessman18. Jesse Helms, the senator who put the rider in the original legislation, would deny even having knowledge of the group, through his then spokesman, Marc Thiessen: “Helms has never heard of the International Freedom Foundation, was not chairman of their advisory board and never authorized his name to be used by IFF in any way shape or form. We never had any relationship with them.”19 Thiessen would go on to be a speechwriter for George W. Bush, and would write a book defending the administration’s use of torture, Courting Disaster. In her review, “Counterfactual: A curious history of the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program”, Jane Mayer, author of the definitive torture history The Dark Side, would write that the book “downplays the C.I.A.’s brutality under the Bush Administration to the point of falsification.”20

Abramoff also denied knowing of the source of funds for his organization, though another Abramoff venture makes this less credible. The IFF was only one Abramoff project which involved Africa; another was a symbolic meeting of anti-communist unity, the Democratic International, organized in Jamba, Angola, of various cold war anti-communist leaders: Contras, Afghan mujahaiden, Angola’s UNITA, among others. None of these groups spoke each other’s language, they soon ran out of food, the pact of co-operation signed there had no meaning and led to nothing21. The only one to benefit from this meaningless ceremony was Abramoff, who was approached to make a movie of Jonas Savimbi, the leader of UNITA, a man who was later to be charged with war crimes, before being killed in battle22. “Nobody watches documentaries,” replied Abramoff, and instead he made Red Scorpion 23. Scorpion is a too little examined movie which is ostensibly anti-communist (Cuban and Russian military are the main villains), but whose chief purpose appears to serve as South Africa propaganda24. Its hero is a Russian defector who does not look slavic at all, but resembles nothing less than the aryan ideal of a blonde superman. This man helps the black insurgents against their true oppressors, the Soviet alliance, much as South Africa tried to set up allied governments in Namibia and Angola which fought against anti-colonial movements that had soviet support. The movie ends with a triptych that illustrates how a white south african military man might see himself during that struggle – the Aryan ideal flanked by his allies, an unctuous american reporter and a black rebel leader. That the movie strongly suggests South African propaganda is not an accident – Williamson, the South African intelligence agent would say that Scorpion was funded by “our guys”, and that they also provided military equipment for the production25. Russell Crystal, an adviser to F.W. DeKlerk, South Africa’s president, was an informal producer on the film26. After Swaziland fell through as a filming location, it would be shot in Namibia, then the protectorate of South Africa27. Abramoff planned on using South African Defense Force (SADF) troops and equipment; Carmen Argenziano, the actor playing the villainous Cuban colonel, confirms that many of those playing Russian and Cuban troops were SADF soldiers28.

That South Africa was heavily involved in such ventures, a connection seemingly unknown to so many, was seemingly known very well to others. “We heard that very right-wing South African money was helping fund the movie,” said Argenziano, “It wasn’t very clear. We were pretty upset about the source of the money. We thought we were misled. We were shocked that these brothers who we thought were showbiz liberals – Beverly Hills Jewish kids – were doing this.”29 Chester “Chet” Crocker, assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1981 to 1989, did not think there was any way the Democratic International could have been organized without help from the SADF.30 “We knew that the IFF was funded by the South African government,” Herman Cohen, who ran Africa operations for the National Security Council during the Reagan era, would tell Salon magazine. “It was one of a number of front organizations.”31 When asked about South Africa’s involvement with the IFF and Scorpion in 1995, at the time of the Truth commission revelations, Abramoff called them “outrageous.”32 When his brother, Robert, was asked about the allegations in 2006, after Jack’s arrest, he would say, “It’s a family matter and I prefer not to comment on anything.”33

The exact influence of the South African government on the conservative movement is difficult to discern exactly, because they often seem to move in lockstep, without dissent or question, whether it be opposition to sanctions, support for South Africa in Naimbia, support for the South African proxy in Angola, Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA, harsh criticism of Nelson Mandela, or strong support for Madela’s rival, Mangosuthu Buthelezi. A good way of getting insight into this is by looking at the writings of Michael Johns, then an africa specialist for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. It is Johns, remember, who is the seed of the Namibian chemical weapons story. I quote again the relevant section:

The idea for the bill was born during a trip taken to Angola in March 1989 by Michael Johns, the Heritage Foundation’s policy analyst for African affairs.

There he met Andries Holst, a West German who claimed to be filming a documentary about Cuba’s use of chemical weapons in Angola. Johns brought Holst to Washington where the German filmmaker was introduced to Helms, State Department officials, lobbyists and other conservatives likely to be moved by his footage, which purported to show the horrors of chemical warfare.

Johns was a passionate supporter of Jonas Savimbi, the head of Angola’s UNITA – as mentioned already, a man later indicted as a war criminal and killed in battle. After Angola’s independence from Portugal, UNITA would break away from the coalition which fought for this independence, and wage a long civil war; it fought entirely out of self-interest, colluding with the former colonial power of Portugal34. UNITA had nothing like the support of the other political parties in the country, and would not have been able to wage its long struggle without military support and funding from South Africa and the United States35. Savimbi was fluent in four languages, an educated man, a brilliant tactician, an opportunist, and a sociopath36. Chester Crocker described him as “a brilliant military warlord who operated by the gun, lived by the gun, and died by the gun.”37 Don Steinberg, ambassador to Angola during the first Clinton administration, on Savimbi: “He was the most articulate, charismatic homicidal maniac I’ve ever met.”38 He recruited children into his armies, he burned women for being witches, he specifically targeted medical workers and school teachers for killing39. When he suspected top members of his command of betrayal, the men who were his ambassadors to the United States, he had them and their families killed. UNITA, according to one survey, was responsible for the majority of the landmines in Angola, supplied by the United States, and placed in fields – a measure which had a devastating effect on agriculture and triggered a famine40. He was seen as an anti-communist by the U.S., but those within his movement say that Savimbi ran UNITA like a communist organization41. After a long, bloody war, there were finally elections in 1991. When Savimbi lost at the ballot box, he went back to living by the gun42. The campaign of maiming, killing, and mining by UNITA continued for another decade, funded by blood diamonds43. In 1999 he was indicted for war crimes, and then, finally, out of some strange mercy, he was killed in battle, and Angola’s civil war ended. Angola is still recovering from this time of horrors: it is a hideously inequitable place, the most expensive country in the world, its economy designed around guest workers for the oil industry and the ruling elite, who get swimming pools, nightclubs, and underage girls, while most citizens get shantytowns44.

It is in this context that we can read Johns on Savimbi. In 1990, after the end of the Cold War, he argues for continuing aid to this man so that he might finally take power. In the essay, “With Freedom Near Angola: This Is No Time To Curtail UNITA Assistance”, he charges that the obstacle to freedom and democracy in Angola lies not with Savimbi, but his opponents:

Since it began arming UNITA in 1986, Washington has made a substantial investment in UNITA’s bid for a democratic Angola. American support for UNITA has discouraged Soviet and Cuban military involvement in southern Africa. Indeed, having been defeated in battle, some 65,000 Cuban troops in Angola are now headed back to Havana as a result of a negotiated settlement reached in December 1988.

American support for UNITA since 1986 has also helped advance the cause of democracy in Angola, raising hope that the 15-year conflict can be settled without further loss of blood. Angola’s Marxist regime took power in 1975 promising free and fair multi-party elections; it has yet to hold them. Since 1975, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi has been demanding that the Angolan regime keep its promise. George Bush has supported Savimbi’s objective, promising last January that UNITA will receive American support `until genuine national reconciliation has been achieved.’

Ted Kennedy, the usual conservative bogeyman, is the enemy in all this for his opposition to more aid for Savimbi. Kennedy’s action, Johns warns, will lead to a longer war:

In Angola, where a civil war has raged for 15 years between the country’s Soviet-backed Marxist regime and an American-supported resistance movement, peace and freedom are now within sight. Unable to achieve a military victory, the Angolan regime of Jose Eduardo dos Santos is at last considering resistance demands for multi-party elections. These elections would allow a cease fire in the Angolan civil war. An obstacle to this has appeared not in Angola, but in the U.S. Congress. There Senator Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, intends this week to attach an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would end American military assistance to Angola’s democratic resistance forces, known as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Kennedy thus would remove all incentive for Angola’s Marxist regime to continue negotiations, and would likely encourage that regime again to seek a military–rather than diplomatic–solution to Angola’s civil war.

It ends with this vision of what would take place if military aid to Jonas Savimbi is ended:

It would open the door for further militarism on behalf of the Angolan regime, and close the door on the democratic aspirations of the Angolan people.

We also have this piece, again by Johns, “Namibian Voters Deny Total Power to SWAPO” read into the congressional record by Indiana congressman Dan Burton [archive link], in reaction to the vicious smear of Savimbi by those who wanted an end to U.S. aid for this man. Again, it is Savimbi fighting for democracy and good government, ideals blocked by his opponents:

Over the past 12 months, an estimated $1.5 billion in Soviet military assistance has arrived in Angola with the sole intention of driving the Angolan freedom fighters into the ground.

But Jonas Savimbi is still standing. His forces operate in every Angolan province, and over one-third of the country is firmly in their control. All this from a movement whose every survival remains nothing short of miraculous.

In resistance terms, Savimbi is clearly correct. UNITA has won the war. In political terms, however, the struggle for Angolan freedom remains even elusive. The Angolan regime shows little sign of agreeing to the free and fair elections it promised in 1975, leaving Savimbi with little alternative but to continue his battle for freedom.

In Washington, the picture is no prettier. The Angolan government had launched a propaganda campaign intended to discredit the Angolan freedom fighters among its Washington supporters.

Last week, the Angolan government purchased advertising space in the Washington Post and the New York Times in which it quoted from an August National Review article that described Savimbi’s intentions as fighting to extend ‘his autocratic grip on the people within his domain.’ Despite Savimbi’s consistent support for democratic values, the author described UNITA as ‘a highly centralized, Leninist organization.’

The radical organization TransAfrica, which has received donations from the governments of Cuba and Angola, is also weighing in against the freedom fighters. Last week TransAfrica director Randall Robinson held two press conferences in one week to denounce UNITA, and in an apparent effort to overturn any diplomatic gains made by Savimbi’s Washington visit, his organization invited Angolan dictator dos Santos to visit Washington to press his case for a termination of UNITA aid.

We can discern a strong contrast with the way in which Johns views Savimbi and Nelson Mandela. While Savimbi’s murder of civilians goes unmentioned in Johns’ writing, Mandela, though praised sparingly for his work combating apartheid, is described as a terrorist, the head of a communist affiliated terrorist organization, the ANC, and a man who deserved to spend decades in prison. From “For Mandela’s Visit, Some Words of Caution”, written after Mandela was released from prison, just prior to his first visit to the United States:

It is appropriate that one of apartheid’s most heralded resistance figures, Nelson Mandela, will be welcomed to the U.S. next week. Mandela will meet with George Bush on Monday. He will address a joint meeting of Congress the following day, joining the ranks of Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Douglas MacArthur, and more recently Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa.

Americans nevertheless have reasons to be skeptical of Mandela. First, Nelson Mandela is not a freedom fighter. He repeatedly has supported terrorism. Since Mandela’s release from prison and his subsequent refusal to renounce violence, the Marxist-dominated ANC has launched terrorism and violence against civilians, claiming several hundred lives. Further, the ANC, in which Mandela serves as Deputy President, has tortured and executed its own members when they have refused to tow the party line, a fact Mandela conceded in a press conference on April 14. ANC dissidents who escaped to Kenya in April contend that at least 120 political prisoners are being detained and tortured in ANC camps in Angola and Uganda. Because of its support for violence against civilians, Mandela’s ANC was labeled a “terrorist” organization last January in the U.S. Defense Department’s Terrorist Group Profiles.

He then goes on to paint Mandela as a potential communist dictator:

Second, though Mandela has spoken out against apartheid, he is not likely to support economic and political freedom if he or the ANC takes power in South Africa. At the very moment communism was collapsing in Eastern Europe, Mandela praised the South African Communist Party in his first speech following his release from prison. Mandela said in Cape Town on February 11: “We are heartened by the fact that the alliance between ourselves and the [communist] party remains as strong as it always was.” Mandela also continues to propose the nationalization of South African industry, even though this failed policy has been rejected not only throughout Europe, Latin America, and Asia, but increasingly in Africa.

Johns appears to have a strong preference for Mandela’s rival, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, instead:

In forming its South Africa policy, Washington must now decide what sort of political system it wants in South Africa. Partly because of its terrorism and alliance with South Africa’s communist party, not all South African blacks support the ANC, and many have sought political alternatives. Foremost among these is the Zulu-dominated Inkatha movement, led by Chief Manosuthu Buthelezi, which represents some 1.5 million black South Africans.

A deferential attitude on the part of Johns towards South Africa is most strikingly revealed in a Heritage lecture on Namibia. From “Namibia and the Global Democratic Revolution”:

Part of the reason the potential dangers of the Namibian independence process, most notably, the rise of a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship in Namibia, receive so little attention in the U.S. is that there is a general feeling that South Africa knows about Namibia – that South Africa has carefully weighted the potential benefits and costs of granting Namibia independence, and if South Africa views the independence process as acceptable to their security interests, there is little reason for the U.S. to have further concern. Our questioning South Africa’s Namibia policy is viewed a little bit like South Africa questioning our Mexico policy.

This lecture was made in 1989, after the U.S. had imposed sanctions on South Africa with overwhelming public support. The apartheid state was viewed as utterly evil; yet here Johns is arguing that the common sense U.S. perspective is that this same apartheid state should have full sway over the government of its neighbors. Note that this is not simply his perspective, it is supposedly the general feeling in the United States, at a time when the public was strongly supporting sanctions, that South Africa should have such sway, and that it is expected for such rule to go unquestioned.

Equally insightful is a review of After Apartheid: The Solution for South Africa by Leon Louw and Frances Kendall (“Swiss Family Buthelezi”). Though the anti-apartheid struggle involved the collective effort of people from many native tribes, as well as south-east asians, Johns opens his review by portraying the country as a place of ethnic strife, where prejudice of white against black is just one conflict of many, and as if that hostility is equal to both sides, and between parties of equal power:

South Africa is a rich and beautiful land where many people hate each other. The hostilities are not simply betwen black and white, or Zulu and Xhosa, or Hindu and Moslem, or Afrikaner and Anglophone. Sometimes the bloodiest conflicts are between rival political organizations within the same ethnic group, especially between radical blacks in the townships associated with the African National Congress (ANC) and the leaders of tribal homelands with strong rural power bases.

We have the continued defamation of the ANC:

It has long been the aim of the South African Communist Party, which exerts significant influence on the ANC, to take control in a unitary state, destroy the power bases of the country’s independent black leadership, and assume totalitarian control. And in pursuit of this objective they have accepted and actively sought the support of the Soviet Union. Occasionally, the ANC might try to cover these facts with cosmetic remarks and there may even be differing viewpoints toward Marxism-Leninism within the organization, but it remains clear that the ANC leadership is, in fact, wedded to terrorism and violence, and very much aligned with Soviet ambitions in southern Africa.

[If] there has been one common characteristics to ANC rhetoric and actions since its 1969 Morogoro conference, it has been that total uncompromising power in South Africa is their only objective, and they have seldom spared any level of violence to achieve this end.

Another figure is brought in to deal with this book’s primary flaw of its insufficiently critical look at the ANC. The man is Warwick-Davies Webb, and I award no points for guessing which think tank he’s from. I will also make the small observation about a strange quality of this review of a South Africa policy book: the only people quoted in the review on the feasibility or commendability of a canton type government appear to be members of its white minority.

However since the ANC cannot thrive without Soviet and other external assistance, why not insert a meaningful constitutional provision that would outlaw foreign intervention in South African affairs? “The book does not take into consideration the possible exploitation of the system by totalitarian groupings,” says Warwick Davies-Webb of the International Freedom Foundation’s Johannesburg office, a group committed to individual liberty and free-market values. The totalitarian threat, Webb thinks, would probably be greatest during the transitional phase. “By bringing in the SACP, ANC, and PAC (Pan-Africanist Congress) into the transitional phase, Leon [Louw] fails to take into account their nature and their short term expedient tactic of accepting co-option into the system in order to further their own political agenda,” he says.

This might be one of the only times where I have seen a book, and its review, refer to the apartheid state as a product of both right and left prejudice, of apartheid as a problem of statism, and most strikingly, one characterized as implicitly racist – if there is any system whose defining, explicit purpose is racist, it would be apartheid.

Again, from the review:

The book contains a brilliant analysis of how apartheid has thrown the South African economy into near shambles. While mineral wealth has kept the country alive, regulations on who can buy and sell goods, who can own property, and who can be employed have generally crippled economic growth. Before “grand apartheid” was enacted by the National Party in 1950, apartheid laws were intended to protect white farmers and workers from black competition. And this is a shame, Kendall and Louw argue, because the South African black tradition – back to the 1800s when the Mgengus and Ngunis were successful herdsmen and farmers – falls solidly in the entrepreneurial tradition. “There is an extraordinary implicit racism in all of this,” remarks Louw, “from the Left and the Right, but especially from the Left. The Left regard blacks as welfare cases, disabled people, for whom the only hope is a masssive paternal welfare state.”

Today South Africa is swamped with a whole array of white-sponsored statist laws that discourage individual initiative and disrupt free enterprise, including minimum standards regulations, extensive licensing laws, discretionary laws regulating the opening of new businesses, and large levels of government ownership over the means of production. South Africa remains perhaps the most overregulated economy in the non-Communist world, and the dead hand of bureaucracy is most stifling for blacks.

The problem is not primarily apartheid, but a strong state. The state must be weakened, for the greater economic benefit of South Africa, to avoid the dominance of a white minority by a black majority, and to prevent the outbreak of ethnic strife warned of in the first paragraph.

The “one man, one vote” unitary state proposed by the ANC and its front organization, the United Democratic Front (UDF), would be unacceptable to Afrikaners and other whites who fear being governed by a black majority, to smaller black ethnic groups who fear oppression of tribal minorities so typical in much of the rest of Africa, and to homeland leaders who fear they would lose their local political authority. The most pressing political challenge for the nation, then, is to find a way of broadening democratic participation while at the same time preventing any one racial, ethnic, or political group from dominating the others.

The book’s solution, one that Johns commends, is for a federal, decentralized state:

For a number of years, many South Africans have argued that strong local government – federalism – is the only democratic system that realistically could replace apartheid. With power decentralized, each group would have the opportunity to govern itself in the areas where it composes a majority. The struggle for national power would become less important if each group knew it would be protected in its own area; national conflict would therefore be diffused.

Johns presents this solution as one equally opposed by the ANC and the pro-apartheid National Party, which is a little unusual, since this federal solution seems uncannily like the one put forth by the same National Party during negotiations over the post-apartheid state, and described by Nelson Mandela in his memoir Long Walk to Freedom, as apartheid in disguise:

Despite [F.W. De Klerk’s] seemingly progressive actions, Mr. de Klerk was by no means the great emancipator. He was a gradualist, a careful pragmatist. He did not make any of his reforms with the intention of putting himself out of power. He made them for precisely the opposite reason: to ensure power for the Afrikaner in a new dispensation. He was not yet prepared to negotiate the end of white rule.

His goal was to create a system of power-sharing based on group rights, which would preserve a modified form of minority power in South Africa. He was decidedly opposed to majority rule, or “simple majoritarianism” as he sometimes called it, because that would end white domination in a single stroke. We knew early on that the government was fiercely opposed to a winner-takes-all Westminster parliamentary system, and advocated instead a system of proportional representation with built-in structural guarantees for the white minority. Although he was prepared to allow the black majority to vote and create legislation, he wanted to retain a minority veto. From the start I would have no truck with this plan. I described it to Mr. de Klerk as apartheid in disguise, a “loser-takes-all” system.

The Nationalists’ long-term strategy to overcome our strength was to build an anti-ANC alliance with the Inkatha Freedom Party and to lure the Coloured Afrikaans-speaking voters of the Cape to a new National Party. From the moment of my release, they began wooing both [Mangosuthu] Buthelezi and the Coloured voters of the Cape. The government attempted to scare the Coloured population into thinking the ANC was anti-Coloured. They supported Chief Buthelezi’s desire to retain Zulu power and identity in a new South Africa by preaching to him the doctrine of group rights and federalism.

The use of Inkatha and Buethelezi to divide and conquer is another example of the striking lockstep in the attitudes of the hardline conservative intellectual class of the U.S., including Johns, and the government of South Africa. We have seen this already in the way Johns gives far more sympathetic treatment to Buthelezi than Mandela in his writing. Buthelezi, along with Savimbi, were both invited to speak at Johns’ think tank, the Heritage Foundation45. The other side of this wicked arrangement took place in South Africa, again, like the funding of the International Freedom Foundation, behind a veil. For even though he was thought to be an independent actor, Buthelezi, just like the IFF, had received secret aid from the South African government. Some of this was to sustain his party, the Inkatha, while the more nefarious involved collusion and training between Inkatha members and the South African Defense Force, collusion which resulted in the Inkatha instigating ethnic violence, the very violence that Johns cites as a reason for why a strong, single state would be impossible.

This is a controversial subject, so I quote at length from the relevant notes on Buthelezi from the Truth commission – on his attraction for conservative whites overseas, his collusion with the apartheid government, as well as the violence and autocracy which characterized KwaZulu, his tribal region (note: Buthelezi refused to co-operate with the Truth commission and did not offer testimony which might have qualified or refuted any testimony against him). All the following excerpts are from volume two of the commission:

During the latter part of the 1970s, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi became vocal in his opposition to protest politics, economic sanctions and the armed struggle being promoted by the ANC in exile. This, together with his calls for investment and a free-market economy and his embracing of constituency politics, won him increasing support from the white business and white community at large. However, it placed him at odds with the ANC’s leadership in exile. The leaders of the two parties met in London in October 1979 to discuss their differences. At the London meeting Chief Buthelezi accused the ANC leadership of being hypocritical and of having deserted black South Africans.

Following the 1979 meeting, Chief Buthelezi faced growing hostility from an increasing number of Zulu-speaking people in Natal and the KwaZulu homeland for his rejection of the ANC’s strategies and, in particular, for his decision to participate in the homeland system, to work through the tribal authorities, the KLA and the black urban councils. The two organisations’ differing approaches to opposing apartheid laid the basis for the bitter and bloody political conflict that ensued.

Note that the roots of the conflict between these groups is not ethnic, as Johns states, but over political beliefs.

During the early 1980s, Chief Buthelezi still had high standing in the international community and amongst South African (white) businesspersons. Part of this was due to Inkatha’s official and international rhetoric of non-violence. This was indeed true of Inkatha’s stance towards the South African government and the white electorate. Inkatha supporters did not bomb shopping centres or defence force installations, or kill black Security Branch members. However, Inkatha members clearly employed violence against the ANC/UDF and against other extra-parliamentary opponents of the state, as did members of the UDF. The following quotes from speeches made by Chief Buthelezi at Inkatha meetings or in the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly during the early 1980s indicate an increasingly militaristic tone emerging in his addresses to his constituency:

I believe we must prepare ourselves not only to defend property and life but to go beyond that and prepare ourselves to hit back with devastating force at those who destroy our property and kill us.

I have stated that our commitment to peaceful change does not take away the inalienable right which every individual has to defend himself or herself…We cannot, just because we are a peaceful movement, lie down so that people can trample on us or destroy us without lifting a finger.

There are many examples of such violence; one of the more prominent was the Umlazi Cinema massacre:

On 1 August 1985, Victoria Mxenge, an UDF executive member, was murdered at her home in Umlazi, Durban. A memorial service was held in her honour in the Umlazi Cinema building on 8 August 1985. Whilst the service was in progress, hundreds of Inkatha vigilantes armed with assegais, knobkieries and firearms burst into the cinema, and began randomly stabbing and shooting at the mourners. In the attack, fourteen people were killed and many others injured. Witnesses allege that the attackers included Inkatha vigilantes recruited from the adjacent shack settlements and from Lindelani, north of Durban. The soldiers and police were allegedly still present but did not act to prevent the attack. This was the worst incident yet of clashes between Inkatha and UDF.

The following excerpts provide some illustration of the co-operation between Buthelezi, Inkatha, and the South African government:

An Inkatha-supporting and state-sponsored vigilante group known as the A-Team was set up with the help of the SAP [South African Police] Riot Unit, in 1983/4 in the Chesterville township, Durban. Statements made to the Commission allege that the A-Team was responsible for the perpetration of human rights abuses in the township between 1985 and 1989. These included at least ten killings, several cases of attempted killing and many incidents of arson and severe ill treatment.

The picture painted by witnesses who gave evidence at public hearings of the Commission in Durban was that this group established a reign of terror in Chesterville over a number of years. They took over Road 13, illegally occupying houses in that road and burning surrounding houses in order to make a safe area for themselves. They also allegedly brought in Inkatha youths from other townships to bolster their power-base. Their sole aim was to target members of youth and other UDF-linked organisations. This they did with the active complicity of the SAP, including the Riot Unit and the Security Branch.

In his application for amnesty, former member of the Durban Riot Unit, Mr Frank Bennetts, gave evidence of the extent of the Security Branch’s involvement in and collusion with members of the A-Team. He described the A-Team as:

a group of Inkatha supporters who were acting in their capacity, or so I believed, in assisting the police in the curbing of the growth and support of groups and organisations opposed to the government and the order of the day.

According to Bennetts, the A-Team assisted the Riot Unit by identifying alleged perpetrators and UDF activists to be detained. They also served as informants, passing on information to the security forces. In return, the Riot Unit offered them protection by putting extra patrols into the street where they lived, and giving them escorts in and out of the township if and when they required it.

Bennetts told the Commission that the A-Team members were never detained under the emergency regulations, although there was good cause to detain them. He said that had the police arrested the A-Team members, the incidents of violence in Chesterville would have been reduced “by 99.99%”. In his words, ‘[The A-Team] wrecked half the township”. Nevertheless, the Riot Unit openly and blatantly sided with the A-Team, perceiving the gang as a legitimate ally in their struggle against the UDF.

The latter 1980s: Collusion with the South African security forces

By 1985, Inkatha supporters found themselves increasingly under attack by virtue of the positions they held within local government and homeland structures. Threats of assassination against Chief Buthelezi in 1985 prompted the Inkatha leader to turn to the South African government, in particular to the SADF, for assistance to take on the ANC/UDF. Contact with the central government had of necessity to be secret given Chief Buthelezi’s public stance towards the South African government. During the latter half of the 1980s, Inkatha began to draw increasingly upon the support of the South African government, and to rely more heavily on the South African and KwaZulu government’s infrastructure and resources. In the process, its aggression turned away from the apartheid state and became directed at those who were advocating alternative structures and thus threatening its power-base.

The South African government not only welcomed but also actively promoted this covert alliance with Inkatha, as it fell squarely into its response to what it saw as the total revolutionary onslaught against it. Covert logistical and military support to UNITA in Angola, RENAMO in Mozambique and to the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) was a critical part of the South African government’s counterrevolutionary strategy. Although these operations were external, the State Security Council resolved in 1985 to establish such groups internally, in addition to those it was already supporting. Inkatha was seen as being able to play the same counter-mobilisation role inside the country as their external surrogates (such as UNITA) had played, and had become a “middle force” between the South African government and its political enemies. A common feature of the external and the internal operations, was that in both cases training and weapons supply were undertaken by the SADF’s DST, and by Special Forces personnel.

Furthermore, the media images projected of white policemen assaulting and shooting at black demonstrators were clearly unacceptable internationally, and there was a feeling that repression should as far as possible not be carried out by state security forces, but by black surrogate groups. Part of the government’s strategy was to characterise the political conflict in the country as “black-on-black” violence.

One of the first instances of covert military assistance between Inkatha and the South African government was Operation Marion, the SADF Military Intelligence project set up in early 1986 in order to provide assistance to Inkatha and the KwaZulu government. During 1985, Chief Buthelezi was alerted by Military Intelligence to alleged assassination plans against him. This prompted him, in late 1985, to approach Military Intelligence with a request for various capabilities, including an offensive paramilitary capacity, in order to take on the ANC/UDF.

Flowing out of this was what has become known as the Caprivi training, the clandestine training in offensive action of some 200 Inkatha supporters conducted by the Special Forces arm of the SADF in the Caprivi Strip, South West Africa/Namibia in 1986. Secret military intelligence documents make it clear that the project was undertaken as much to further the strategic aims of the South African government and Defence Force, as it was in response to a request from Chief Buthelezi. Planning for this project took place in circumstances of utmost secrecy, and involved the highest echelons of the State Security Council and Military Intelligence on the one hand, and Chief Buthelezi and his personal assistant, Mr MZ Khumalo, on the other. The defence force was at pains to ensure that the entire project was covert, and that the funding of the project could not be traced back to its source.

The trainees were controlled and supervised by a political commissar, later to become their commander, Mr Daluxolo Wordsworth Luthuli. Luthuli was a former ANC guerrilla fighter who had recently joined Inkatha after being released from a lengthy term of imprisonment on Robben Island. His appointment was authorised by Chief Buthelezi.

Luthuli was unequivocal concerning the purpose of the Caprivi training. He told the Commission that the training was aimed at equipping Inkatha supporters to kill members of the UDF/ANC. According to Luthuli and other Caprivi trainees who spoke to the Commission, this is what they were explicitly told by their SADF instructors. They knew that they were being trained as a hit squad.

With their deployment in various parts of KwaZulu and the former Natal, the trainees were partly responsible for the dramatic escalation of the political conflict in the region, and fundamentally changed the political landscape in the former KwaZulu homeland, the repercussions of which are currently playing themselves out in this region. Their modus operandi, their mobility, their access to infrastructure and sophisticated weaponry exposed large numbers of people and vast areas of the province to their activities. As a result, they were responsible for facilitating the easy and quick resort to violence as a means of settling political scores and greatly enhanced the development of a culture of impunity and political intolerance that is so well established in the province at the present time.

The Commission heard evidence of the involvement of Caprivi trainees in the KwaMakhutha massacre on 21 January 1987 in which thirteen people, mostly women and children, were killed and several others injured in the AK-47 attack on the home of UDF activist Bheki Ntuli. A large number of people including former Minister of Defence General Magnus Malan and MZ Khumalo of the IFP, were tried for murder in 1996 in the Durban Supreme Court. Although the accused were acquitted, the Supreme Court found that Inkatha members trained by the SADF in the Caprivi were responsible for the massacre and that the two state witnesses, being members of the SADF Military Intelligence, were directly involved in planning and execution of the operation. The court was not able to find who had provided backing for the attack.

Following the revelation of the depth of their collusion with the apartheid government, Buthelezi’s Inkatha party would end up boycotting the elections: “Inquest Finds South Africa Police Aided Zulus in Terror Campaign” by Bill Keller.

With the end of the Cold War, Johns leaves the Heritage Foundation, goes to work for Eli Lily, health care lobbyists S.R. Wojdak & Associates, then Gentiva Health Services, and for the past decade, work as an executive at Electric Mobility Corporation46. Electric Mobility sells Rascal scooters, motorized wheelchairs which allow the elderly and disabled to travel with greater ease; it is an interesting company. Prior to Johns tenure there, it was fined close to a quarter of a million dollars by the state of New Jersey and signed an agreement with the state’s attorney general to cease hard-sell practices, such as misinformation on medicare reimbursements47. Michael Flowers, the president of the company, objected to the reporting of this as a fine. Electric Mobility was not fined, he wrote: “Electric Mobility entered into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with the State of New Jersey. By doing so, we believe that we have set the industry standard for ethical sales practices.”48 This same Consumer Affairs site now lists 69 complaints about Rascal scooters. I include some of the more notable, from 2005 through to December of last year, all after Johns had joined the company:

I have Rascal 115 scooter that quit working. I called Rascal in February 2012 and was directed to service center Watkins & Riggs in Ocala, FL. I was called a couple days later and was told speed controller was bad and was on backorder. After three weeks, I called service center to find they were still waiting on parts. So I then called Rascal and left message as directed but never got a call back. A month later, I called Rascal again and call got redirected to new owner who in just a few words told me that they just purchased Rascal and any problem before the buyout two weeks ago was not their problem. Again, I called service center who again told me parts are still on backorder. What good is a product that you need but cannot get parts?

Bought Rascal 600 scooter. It worked for about 6 months then just stopped working. Was taken to an authorized repair shop, they didn’t know what was wrong & why it stopped. After having it at their shop. Weekly calls on when it would be fixed, was told someone would call. Finally had to stop at shop. They would try to find what was wrong. Repeated calling again, I took it home worked for couple of months, stopped again-took back to same shop for help. Both times had to pay for shop time & was not told what the problem was.

I am 83 years old-diabetic neuropathy both legs and feet. Can’t walk. Has caused mental/emotional distress! My lifestyle is limited. Very unhappy with performance! Help. Medicare will not let me get another & I am on limited income. I would like to live the rest of my life enjoying the outdoors and being mobile again! I would like to have this “Lemon” scooter replaced! Can I sue for damages or another option? Please help me!

I was looking at numerous electric mobility scooter, and I chose the “Rascal 600 B”. The representative came to my home to show me how the “rascal 600 B” looks and operates. I was told that the Rascal company would file with Medicare all papers that I provided to him at the time of purchasing. He told me that I would be getting 80% of my money back. I had all the correct paper work that he needed to file my claim on 5-27-10. Since then I’ve been turned down by Medicare, stating that the forms & codes were improperly filed.

I have contacted and informed the Rascal company regarding this matter. I have stage 4 lung cancer and cannot walk short or far distances without the help of this scooter. I have neuropathy of both feet & legs and some in my hands. Using this scooter has improved my living skills in my home and outside, where I could not walk w/o pain. I’m asking that someone check into this claim. If I don’t get any compensation for this scooter, fine, but I was told that I would get 80% back. No consequences, I’m using the scooter for self well being. It’s just that I was lied to and nothing can take that away. If I’m not going to get some money back, don’t tell me such.

I just found your site and read complaints from buyers of the Rascal Scooters. My parents, in their 80’s at the time, were also scammed by the saleswoman, promising Medicare would reimburse the cost of the Rascal Scooter. I contacted the Rascal Company and the creditor to no avail. I contacted the saleswoman and she claimed she never said any such thing, and that there was nothing she could do for them now. Unfortunately, my father suffered a massive stroke and never even used the thing. I ended up paying off the remainder of the bill, just to relieve some of the stress in the months following my father’s death. It now (2 1/2 years later) sits in my driveway with a For Sale B/O sign. I know we’ll never get near the full purchase price. Oh well, live and learn. Do not trust the Rascal sales reps!

My 82-year-old mother received an unsolicited high pressure sales call today from a salesman named Mike who insisted he had an appointment for a scooter demonstration and said he would not leave unless she agreed to a demo. When she said she had not requested an appointment and did not want a demo and was not able to participate in a demo because of her health, he became very hostile and repeatedly said he would not leave until she agreed to a demo. She said she was going to call the company and demand to know who said they scheduled the demo. The salemand [sic] physically jerked his business card from my mothers hand and left.

The hostile and high pressure sales tactics including refusing to leave when asked threatened my mother who is recovering from hip replacement surgery with complications from a staff [sic] infection.

I was told by Jerri, telephone sales, that I could get a new scooter by having an Orthopaedic Surgeon order one for me. Mine gave me a prescription for one, but she sent papers for a power chair to him. He filled them out and I received a power chair INSTEAD of the scooter, which I needed. I was told by Lauren, who made the delivery, that it was a power chair or nothing!

I did not want it, but was afraid to refuse it, since I don’t know when I may get worse. I have serious heart trouble and, being preoccupied with my other disabilities, I just let the chair sit unused until October when I began to try to get it exchanged for a scooter.I was told by another dealer that Electric Mobility pushed the chairs because they made 3 times as much on them as on the scooters. Tim called me last week and said that my family physician could now request a scooter for me and, if he filled out the papers, EM would pick up the chair and bring me a scooter.

Today I was called by an arrogant motor-mouth named Steve who would hardly let me get a word in edgewise. HE said Tim was wrong about the family physician, etc., and pretty much told me I was out of luck. He would not allow me to talk with a rational representative and kept threatening to terminate this conversation until I finally gave up and hung up. I refuse to believe that I have to be run over and mistreated by Electric Mobility and that they have a license to steal from Medicare and Blue Cross. They billed around $6,000 for a useless chair; I have seen scooters for sale at Costco for $1,200! Something doesn’t smell right! Do you agree?

They seem to figure that all older people who have trouble walking are also brain-dead. They assign a fast-talking slick,sleazy spokesman to out-talk and put off the old folks. Since my brain still works, I want to see that this abuse is corrected.

This is Johns’ vocation, but he has a far more distinctive avocation. Of all those involved in the Namibia chemical weapons scam, Charlie Black is the most powerful, but Johns is the most visible. He has not vanished from the earth, and in fact is more prominent than ever before. He is the national chairman of The Patriot Caucus, a three thousand member strong Tea Party organization, listed in National Journal’s “12 Tea Party Players To Watch”. By virtue of his leadership of this group, he’s also listed on “The Top Conservatives to Follow on Twitter”, in the coveted intellectual acreage between Michelle Malkin and John Boehner. He’s there speaking at the March for Liberty, Washington D.C. (part one and two); the Dallas Tea Party, same day (part one, two, three); a Philadelphia Tea Party rally; a softball Katie Couric interview with Tea Party patriots; he has a blog devoted to freedom and prosperity, and a twitter feed devoted, presumably, to these same.

Johns is Janus-like in his promotional work; with Couric, he affects a congenial, open-minded pose. At tea party rallies, his voice is almost always an uncontrolled, angry shriek, so he resembles no one so much as Chris Farley’s lunatic motivational speaker. His rhetorical approach at these meetings is simple, beginning with a premise that few would consider controversial (we differ on many issues, but we still have shared beliefs) and then moving on to the supposed shared belief, which is more than a little controversial – Hillary Clinton is a traitor, America is inherently a christian nation, etc.

One example, from a Philadelphia Tea Party rally:

Michael Johns at a Philadelphia Tea Party rally

Let me say this: America has a unique standing in the world. And we may differ over issues here and there, but I know we are united on one. This state department, under Mrs. Clinton, is surrendering american autonomy to international bodies…they are surrendering our constitutional rights to form our own foreign policies, to make our own national security interests [sic], the message needs to go out to Washington, MR. OBAMA, WE WILL DEFEND AMERICA, NOT THE UNITED NATIONS!

Another, from a Boston Tea Party gathering, 2009:

Michael Johns at a Boston Tea Party rally

Let me just say, as we gather today, republicans and democrats, liberals and republicans, independents, third party members, many members of the Ron Paul movement, maybe there is a new coalition emerging right now. Maybe this is the beginning of something truly exciting. Maybe we can put aside whatever petty differences that have kept us from working together and start anew, and build a new resistance in this country that is rooted in the belief of the american people [sic], in a free market enterprise system, in our democratic processes, and our national autonomy.

I want to be clear on one other comment. Mr. Obama was in Europe. Made a very controversial statement. Said this is not a christian nation. (audience loudly boos) The message needs to go forward to Washington, Mr. Obama every historical document signed in Philadelphia, every founding document of this nation, has cited our creator, that is the basis on which we distinguish ourselves from the world (audience cheers). That is the foundation of our liberties, and our god-given freedoms. AND THEY ARE GOD GIVEN FREEDOMS. A nation that denies its creator, and rejects its principles will not long endure. And we need to re-unite today with an understanding of the principles, start with Sam Adams, start with the bravery of these men and…who led this great initiative which has started and begun the most powerful nation in the world. The time has come to defend those principles, THEY ARE BEING ERODED!

When America stops being a christian nation, it will end up living in a van down by the river.

Most of his writing is the expected angry boilerplate. “Release the Birth Documents Already”, demands one blog post; “Van loads of Somalis being transported to #Ohio polls, instructed to vote straight Dem ticket. goo.gi/qLVv“, warns a tweet49. When a Marvel comic pokes fun at the tea party movement, by suggesting they are slightly less than heterogeneous in skin color, he is alert, active, and involved, demanding why Marvel didn’t issue an apology the moment they saw the comic panel50. “The Tea Party movement has been very reflective of broad concerns of all Americans,” says Johns, who appears to live in a different universe than I do, “Membership is across ethnic, religious and even political lines.” He was an unambivalent supporter of the Iraq war; in 2007, he defends the cruddy intelligence that got the U.S. into the war, then waves the point away, insisting that whatever started the war is irrelevant, since Iraq is now the central point of the war on terror, then demands an apology from Harry Reid for having the audacity to call the Iraq war a failure51.

There is a foolish game that someone outside Africa can play, and I’m certain I’ve played it, where, as if by a magic trick, the people of the continent are made to be either people or as inanimate as sticks, depending on one’s convenience. When one wants to feel warmth over some compassionate act, they are human; when one feels guilt over some neglect, or the possible horror that a politician one supports has inflicted on a country there, they are suddenly sticks again. When one wishes to grief an enemy over the harm they’ve caused some place on the continent, they are human, and when this griefing is returned in kind over one’s own misdeeds, the continent’s people are suddenly sticks again. For me to invoke the dead of Angola for the sole purpose of an argument is to diminish them, and as someone outside Angola, I cannot demand an apology on their behalf. So, my curiousity is my own, and my curiousity is this: whether this man, Michael Johns, who demands apologies of so many, for so many slights, has ever felt the impulse to ask forgiveness for the thousands dead from the civil war unleashed by Jonas Savimbi, the man he abided, abetted, and encouraged. The head of Zambia’s government, which gave support to Savimbi during the long civil war, gave apologies for this support52. I know that the dead of Angola are not an important issue – nowhere near as important as a panel in a Marvel comic – but I can only hope that they are important enough that what took place there would be remembered, prompt some questions of why it took place and how to keep such a thing from ever happening again, and might prompt something other than the simple dictum that African life is cheap. That African life is viewed cheaply is beyond dispute, but that other lives can be viewed as cheaply, that there is nothing inherent in those who live on the continent that renders it cheap, is not beyond dispute either. The lives of Angolans were thrown away easily. The independence of Namibia was almost thrown away just as easily. Ten years later, the lives of americans in Iraq were thrown away very easily as well. That Iraqi life was extinguished with even greater ease is another indisputable. That all these lost lives once had great political significance, their fight of great political convenience, and their deaths now incredibly inconvenient, something that must be forgotten as soon as possible, so that we might all move on to the next frame of the movie, to a place without horror – this is a horrific truth as well.

On February 27th, 2008, William Buckley died, and Johns eulogized him as if he were a messiah: “There was the time before him and there was the time after him…We will not likely see his type again.” (“Walking the road that Buckley built”) It is in this modern messiah that we might have the rosetta stone of why conservatives were so pliant before the efforts of South African intelligence, why their approach was often indistinguishable from official policy in South Africa. In 1957, with the public conflagration over civil rights only kindling, Buckley’s National Review would feature an editorial, unsigned – though most likely written by the messiah himself – which asked, “whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced one.” Then: “If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.”53 Thirty years later, National Review would ask whether the South African majority were “intellectually and practically prepared to assume the social, economic, and political leadeship in a highly industrialized country?”54 Africa was across the ocean, and Africa was here as well. Just a few short years before apartheid was destroyed, Buckley would advise the U.S. to forget about the “one man/one vote” business over there55. Various states are now weighing measures so that rural votes count for more than urban ones56. George Will praised the idea of deterring “potential voters with the weakest motivations”57. The day after Barack Obama’s re-election, Johns’ former employer, the Heritage Foundation, declared war on the president58.

In 1989, the year before Namibian independence, the article “Young Bucks”, by Bob Mack, a very good writer perhaps best known as editor of the greatest magazine in the history of journalism, appeared in the now extinct Spy. “Young Bucks” dealt with the going-ons at the National Review. One staff meeting, headed by Buckley, discussed the issue of the week before, one featuring a provocative cover story titled “Blacks and the G.O.P.: Just Called to Say I Loved You”, on the difficulties the republican party had attracting black voters. Buckley was a man known for his sterling silver wit, and he had just the bon mot for this provocative cover. “Maybe,” he began, the brilliant, rare wine of a yacht and windsor knot mind about to be poured, “Maybe it should’ve been titled ‘Just Called to Say I Love You, Niggah.'”59

(On January 16th, 2014, the transcript of the Whitey tape video in footnote #7 was added. On April 10, 2015, this post underwent a session of copy editing. On April 14, 2015, the stills from Red Scorpion were replaced with higher quality images.)

FOOTNOTES

1 He wrote this insightful piece on William Kunstler, “Still Crazy After All These Years”.

2 He is mentioned at the beginning of “In Iraq chemical arms trial, scientists face many burdens of proof”:

For 18 years, Dr. Aubin Heyndrickx has tended the sealed jars containing strands of hair and scraps of clothing he gathered from a dead woman’s body. Collected in Halabja, one of many Kurdish towns in northern Iraq that were attacked with chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein’s army in 1988, they have sat in a blue plastic drum in his lab ever since, waiting.

Now, as prosecutors prepare to try Saddam in Baghdad for genocide against the Kurds, Heyndrickx would like the material to be analyzed. “May I insist these proofs are mentioned at the trial?” the doctor asks.

He is one of a small group of doctors, scientists and Middle East experts who have studied chemical weapons use by Iraq against its Kurdish citizens in the 1980s. Now, they are dusting off evidence and attempting to collect new data in an effort to define the scope of a distant tragedy that is only now to come under scrutiny in court.

Near the very end is a brief reference to his maverick quality:

Because of the lack of hard data and the imprecise testing there is some disagreement about how many people were affected and what chemical compounds were used.

Heyndrickx, somewhat of a maverick in the field, believes that the Iraqi Army also used cyanide and biological toxins, although most other scientists disagree.

Still, he was one of the few Western experts on the ground in Halabja just after the attack, and the samples in his lab – particularly the clothing – could still provide valuable clues if they were properly sealed and stored, Hay said.

3 From a profile of Stone, “The Dirty Trickster” by Jeffrey Toobin; Stone’s role in the riot is disputed.

A substantial contingent of young Republican Capitol Hill aides, along with such congressmen as John Sweeney, of New York, who had travelled to Miami, joined in the protest. Thanks to this delegation, the events at the Clark center have come to be known as the “Brooks Brothers riot,” but Stone disputes that characterization. “There was a Brooks Brothers contingent, but the crowd in front of the courthouse was largely Spanish,” he said. “Most of the people there were people that we drew to the scene.”

At one point on November 22nd, Stone said, he heard from an ally in the building that Gore supporters were trying to remove some ballots from the counting room. “One of my pimply-faced contacts said, ‘Two commissioners have taken two or three hundred ballots to the elevator,’ ” Stone said. “I said, ‘O.K., follow them. Half you guys go on the elevator and half go in the stairs.’ Everyone got sucked up in this. They were trying to keep the doors from being closed. Meanwhile, they were trying to take the rest of the ballots into a back room with no windows. I told our guys to stop them-don’t let them close the door! They are trying to keep the door from being closed. There was a lot of screaming and yelling.” (In fact, the Gore official in the elevator, Joe Geller, was carrying a single sample ballot.) The dual scenes of chaos-both inside and outside the building-prompted the recount officials to stop their work. The recount in Miami was never re-started, depriving Gore of his best chance to catch up in the over-all state tally.

As is customary with Stone, there is some controversy about his precise role. “I was the guy in charge of the trailer, and I coördinated the Brooks Brothers riot,” Brad Blakeman, a lobbyist and political consultant who worked for Bush in Miami, told me. “Roger did not have a role that I know of. His wife may have been on the radio, but I never saw or heard from him.” Scoffing at Blakeman’s account, Stone asserts that he was in the trailer; he said that he had never heard of Blakeman. (Rule: “Lay low, play dumb, keep moving.”)

4 “The Sex Scandal That Put Bush in the White House” by Wayne Barrett explores the strange and labyrinthine sex scandal involving Pat Buchanan and the reform party. Stone himself confirms his work in a Reason magazine interview:

QUESTION:

Should the libertarian party continue to exist?

STONE:

Well, as one who, I think, either helped kill, or killed the Reform party, because I believe they cost us the White House in 1992 and 1996…their lack of any ideology at all…it was a hodgepodge of vegetarians, goldbugs, and a few libertarians, and gun people, and gun control people, there was no consistency there other than people who couldn’t make it in any other party.

In an interview with Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie and in a classroom discussion moderated by Gillespie, political operative Roger Stone states openly and explicitly that he destroyed the third party Reform Party in 1992 and 1992 because it split the conservative vote, and caused the Republicans to lose. Taken from the interviews, “Roger Stone at Reason November 28, 2007” and “Roger Stone on New Media and Old Campaign Tricks”.

5 Wayne Barrett’s “Sleeping with the GOP: A Bush Covert Operative Takes Over Al Sharpton’s Campaign” is the definitive piece on the strange alliance of Sharpton and Stone.

On Sharpton’s attacks on the front-runner, designed by Stone himself:

While Bush forces like the Club for Growth were buying ads in Iowa assailing then front-runner Howard Dean, Sharpton took center stage at a debate confronting Dean about the absence of blacks in his Vermont cabinet. Stone told the Times that he “helped set the tone and direction” of the Dean attacks, while Charles Halloran, the Sharpton campaign manager installed by Stone, supplied the research. While other Democratic opponents were also attacking Dean, none did it on the advice of a consultant who’s worked in every GOP presidential campaign since his involvement in the Watergate scandals of 1972, including all of the Bush family campaigns.

On the Sharpton campaign as part of a larger Bush strategy:

The Washington Post recently reported that the Bush campaign was planning a special advertising campaign targeting black voters, seeking as much as a quarter of the vote, and any Sharpton-connected outrage against the party could either lower black turnout in several key close states, or move votes to Bush. Both were widely reported as the consequences of Sharpton’s anti-Green rhetoric in 2001, [Mark Green, democratic candidate for New York City mayor, beat Fernando Ferrer, the Sharpton backed candidate in a bitter primary race]a result Sharpton celebrated both in his book and at a Bronx victory party on election night.

6 Stone’s connection with NXIVM was first reported in the New York Post, Top GOPers ‘Cult’ Favorites; The Times-Union series on NXIVM is the definitive work on the cult, comprising “Secrets of NXIVM”, “‘NXIVM is a litigation machine'”, “In Raniere’s shadows”, “‘Ample evidence’ to justify investigation”, all by James M. Odato and Jennifer Gish. “Poor Little Rich Girls: The Ballad of Sara and Clare Bronfman” by Maureen Tkacik, is an insightful read as well.

7 “Roger Stone Brings Up the Infamous ‘Whitey’ Tape!”:

The following is a transcript of the video, with the most striking text bolded:

GERALDO RIVERA
Roger, I want to start with you. You have some news, or at least your own incendiary prediction on Michelle Obama’s allged vulnerabilities. What do you know, or at least, what do you think you know?

STONE
Well, there’s a buzz which I believe now to be credible, some indelible record exists of public remarks that Michelle Obama allegedly made, which are outrageous at worst – at best – but could be termed racist, including some reference to white people as “whiteys”. Allegedly. And there’s been a race here, Geraldo-

RIVERA
Now, wait a sec- wait a sec- Roger, you can’t just say that when there’s no proof for it-

STONE
No no, let me finish. There’s been a race here between Clinton research people who are seeking this tape, and the republican opposition researchers and the Republican National Committee. I now believe a network has this tape, I believe that reliably, something like that could roil the race, which explains why, to me, Hillary Clinton is staying in this race. What other reason is there to stay in this race, other than hoping that there is a bomb, at high level, Clinton operatives say there is a bomb of this nature. I have heard that from credible-

RIVERA
Hold it there…okay. We hear that you heard it. Let me go to Michael Brown for his response, and let me also point out that Roger Stone was the person who said that he heard that New York governor Eliot Spitzer was using the services of prostitutes, and at least in that incendiary allegation, there was some facts behind it, and ultimately it was proven true. But Michael Brown why don’t you respond to what you just heard from Roger Stone?

BROWN
Well, I’m not gonna question whether he believes what he’s saying is true. But I will say that the Republicans are up to their usual stuff, when they cannot beat Democrats on issues, they always go personal negative. That’s what this is all about. We’re gonna see this for the next six months from the Republican party, this is what they do. I don’t know why we should be shocked by all of this. I think they’re starting a little early, they’re probably off their timeline a little bit…I’m not surprised by this, it has nothing to do with anything except flat-out politics, and it’s ugly, and these are the kinda things that don’t help the American people come to the polls to vote. They don’t keep people inspired and I’m sure the Obamas will obviously prevail on issues like this and stay focused on issues, assuming he’s the nominee.

STONE
This really has very little to do with the general election, this has a lot to do with why Hillary Clinton is staying in this race. Look, there’s already a buzz in Washington. At least seven news organizations have contacted me, wanting to know, how to get their hands on this tape, giving me more information than I had after I spoke to each one of them. I now believe the tape exists, I believe a network has it. If this pans out to be true, based on Michelle Obama’s previous comment, that this was the first that she had been proud of her country…which I think shows, an attitude that is problematic.

RIVERA
And I’ll give you a hundred bucks if it’s true. I’ll give you a hundred bucks if it’s true. I don’t believe it’s true. Michael Brown, you respond.

BROWN
Well, his premise is that this is why Hillary Clinton is staying in, hoping that this bombshell derails Senator Obama’s nomination effort. That’s not why Senator Clinton is staying in the race. She’s staying in the race, hoping that now she has the popular vote lead, the superdelegates will say, maybe Senator Clinton is the best person to take on John McCain. That’s why she’s staying in the race. She wants to make the argument to superdelegates. And to obviously put out this notion that there’s some race between the Clinton campaign and the news media organization is nonsense. This is a republican tactic-

STONE
And the republicans.

BROWN
And the republicans. Roger, you and I both know that this is a republican tactic, this is what they do. And this is what we’re going to continue to see for the next six months, because they have no answer about the war, they have no answer about gas prices, they have no answers about health care, so they do smear. That’s what they do.

RIVERA
Michael Brown, thank you. Roger Stone, thank you, we’ll see.

8 Stone’s work at the Rothstein firm is mentioned in “Roger Stone, Political Animal” by Matt Labash.

Stone has a nice life in Miami. He gets out to kayak quite a bit, enjoying the year-round good weather. He and Nydia have five grandchildren. A power law firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, recently brought him on to head their burgeoning public affairs side. The firm’s head, Scott Rothstein, is a pitbull litigator with a taste for Bentleys and $150,000 watches. He shares Stone’s operating philosophy, telling me that he tells all his lawyers, “Get into the game, or get the f– out of the way.”

A good overview of the Scott Rothstein scheme can be found on the episode of “American Greed”, “$1.2 Billion Scam: Ft. Frauderdale”

9 The flyer in question:

Angola Namibia South Africa

From “False, Defamatory Lit Distributed Against Libertarian Warren Redlich” by Celeste Katz:

This grossly false and damaging flier, accusing Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Warren Redlich of being a dangerous “sexual predator” and credited to “People For A Safer New York,” is being circulated in the Capitol Region and perhaps beyond. Redlich, as you can read below, has naturally condemned the material.

I am admittedly late to the game on this one, and it’s frankly because I struggled with whether to write about this at all. Redlich, by nature of his candidacy, is a public figure, but this is extreme, to say the least. (The usual reminder: I am not a member of any political party and I do not support any candidate for any office, financially or otherwise.)

The backstory is that this seems to come out of a comment Redlich made on his “Stop Wasting Money” blog about the “hubbub” over racy pictures of Miley Cyrus, which reads, in part, “If you look at literature like Shakespeare, and at some historical figures like Sir William Johnson (a prominent pre-revolutionary leader in New York), you get the impression that it used to be normal for men, even much older men, to be interested in teenage girls.”

From the Times-Union “Capitol Confidential”:

I asked Roger Stone, a self-avowed political dirty trickster and Davis’ campaign manager, if he knew about the mailer. (The sex predator flier came from a group called “People for a Safer New York” that I can’t find a record for.)

“I’ve seen both mailers, I think that they’re both accurate. People for a Safer New York is called a first amendment group,” Stone told me by phone. “I’m in touch with them. Who are they? They’re a first amendment organization I urged them to do this, this is a first amendment issue.”

He defended the flier, even though he declined to claim credit for it when I asked him. (Or otherwise characterize how heavily involved with this he is.)

“Let’s be very clear: everything here is 100 percent legal, everything here is 100 percent accurate,” Stone said. “As somebody who has two granddaughters, I really find Redlich’s advocacy and defense of sex with underrate girls disgusting and repugnant, and voters need to know about it prior to voting on Tuesday.”

10 The NSFW Corporation’s “The Gary Johnson Swindle and the Degradation of Third Party Politics” by Marc Ames looks at this story in-depth; my own “Maureen Otis: A Mystery Inside A Mystery” touches on it as well.

11 From “‘Steady Hand’ for the G.O.P. Guides McCain on a New Path” by Kate Zernike:

Blackwater, he says over steak salad at the Morton’s off the K Street lobbying corridor, “is a fine company that’s provided a great service to the people of the United States and Iraq.” Saudi Arabia, another client: “a great ally.” Mr. Savimbi, the brutal Angolan leader whom President Ronald Reagan promoted as a freedom fighter but many Democrats derided as an ally of apartheid South Africa: “a great pleasure to work with.”

From “McCain Adviser’s Work As Lobbyist Criticized”, by Michael D. Shear and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum:

In addition to Savimbi, Black and his partners were at times registered foreign agents for a remarkable collection of U.S.-backed foreign leaders whose human rights records were sometimes harshly criticized, even as their opposition to communism was embraced by American conservatives. They included Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Nigerian Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre, and the countries of Kenya and Equatorial Guinea, among others.

From “‘Steady Hand'” by Zernike:

Mr. Black has worked for some of the city’s most controversial clients (Jonas Savimbi, Philip Morris, Blackwater) and with the baddest boys of Republican politics (he cut his teeth on Jesse Helms‘s campaigns, and was a mentor to Lee Atwater). But he has managed to stay ahead of controversy himself.

That year was the last moment when Black was able to stay outside of controversy; during the election, a MoveOn.org ad would specifically target the list of reprehensible men the super-lobbyist had taken on as clients.

12 From “McCain Adviser’s Work As Lobbyist Criticized”, by Michael D. Shear and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum:

Black has retired from lobbying, having left BKSH & Associates recently. But he says he has no intention of leaving the campaign and is unapologetic about a lobbying career spanning 30 years and seven presidential campaigns. He said his firms never represented foreigners “without first talking to the State Department and the White House and clearing with them that the work would be in the interest of U.S. foreign policy.”

“Veteran Lobbyist to Advise Romney Campaign” by Shear:

During 2008, Mr. Black resigned from the lobbying firm he founded, BKSH while he traveled with Mr. McCain. He returned to the firm after Mr. McCain lost to President Obama. The firm has now merged with another company and is called Prime Policy Group.

13 “Veteran Lobbyist to Advise Romney Campaign” by Michael D. Shear:

Four years ago, Mr. Romney assailed Mr. McCain for having close ties to big-time Washington lobbyists like Mr. Black.

“I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign,” Mr. Romney said at the time. “Somebody doesn’t put the kind of financial resources that I have put into this campaign and the personal resources I have put into this campaign in order to do favors for lobbyists.”

When a reporter pointed out at the time that Mr. Romney had lobbyists who worked on his campaign, Mr. Romney insisted they were merely informal advisers, and were not paid to run his campaign.

14 “Veteran Lobbyist to Advise Romney Campaign” by Michael D. Shear:

In an e-mail to The Caucus, Mr. Black said he and his wife, Judy, decided to support Mr. Romney about six weeks ago, but he said he was not actively participating in the presidential campaign.

“No formal role in the campaign. Just offer advice occasionally,” Mr. Black said. “The right man to be president.”

15 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

In 1986, [Jack Abramoff] founded the International Freedom Foundation, whose stated goal was “to foster individual freedom throughout the world by engaging in activities which promote the development of free and open societies based on the principles of free enterprise.” More specifically, among the IFF’s aims were to oppose the Anti-Apartheid Act and other sanctions and to urge greater support in Washington for Pretoria and less support for the African National Congress, the party that would come to power in 1994 under Nelson Mandela. At its height, around the time “Red Scorpion” was released, the IFF employed about 30 young ideologues in offices on G Street in Washington, Johannesburg, London and Brussels. Churning out reports and presentations (for one such presentation on the Contras, it borrowed the slide show that North had used to raise money for his arms-deal network, according to Pandin), the IFF attracted notable members such as Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind.

16 This material comes from an important Newsday article, “Front for Apartheid: Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power” by Dele Olojede and Tim Phelps, that has almost entirely vanished from the web, except for Lexis-Nexis. It can be found in full at the disreputable conspiracy site bilderberg.org, though its most shocking points are re-iterated in the AP story, “Report: Conservative Think Tank Was Front For Apartheid”. The post “Apartheid Regime” by Joe Amato at the Crooks and Liars blog also contains many relevant extracts.

The relevant excerpt about the IFF:

The International Freedom Foundation, founded in 1986 seemingly as a conservative think tank, was in fact part of an elaborate intelligence gathering operation, and was designed to be against apartheid’s an instrument for “political warfare” against apartheid’s foes, according to former senior South African spy Craig Williamson. The South Africans spent up to $1.5 million a year through 1992 to underwrite “Operation Babushka,” as the IFF project was known.

“We decided that, the only level we were going to be accepted was when it came to the Soviets and their surrogates, so our strategy was to paint the ANC as communist surrogates,” said Williamson, formerly a senior operative in South Africa’s military intelligence, who helped direct Babushka. “The more we could present ourselves as anti-communists, the more people looked at us with respect. People you could hardly believe cooperated with us politically when it came to the Soviets.”

I re-post the article from the bilderberg site, making only the small correction of Thiessen’s name (they had it as “Mere”).

FRONT FOR APARTHEID
Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power

Sunday July 16, 1995

This article was reported by Dele Olojede in South Africa and Timothy M. Phelps in Washington, and was written by Olojede.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa A respectable Washington foundation, which drew into its web prominent Republican and conservative figures like Sen.. Jesse Helms and other members of Congress, was actually a front organization bankrolled by South Africa’s last white rulers to prolong apartheid, a Newsday investigation has shown.

The International Freedom Foundation, founded in 1986 seemingly as a conservative think tank, was in fact part of an elaborate intelligence gathering operation, and was designed to be against apartheid’s an instrument for “political warfare” against apartheid’s foes, according to former senior South African spy Craig Williamson. The South Africans spent up to $1.5 million a year through 1992 to underwrite “Operation Babushka,” as the IFF project was known.

The current South African National Defence Force officially confirmed that the IFF was its dummy operation.

“The International Freedom Foundation was a former SA Defence Force project,” Army Col. John Rolt, a military spokesman, said in a terse response to an inquiry. A member of the IFF”s international board of directors also conceded Friday that at least half of the foundation’s funds came from projects undertaken on behalf of South Africa’s military intelligence, although he refused to say what these projects were except that many of them were directed against Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

A three-month Newsday investigation determined that one of the project’s broad objectives was to try to reverse the apartheid regime’s pariah status in Western political circles. More specifically, the IFF sought to portray the ANC as a tool of Soviet communism, thus undercutting the movement’s growing international acceptance as the government-in-waiting of a future multiracial South Africa.

“We decided that, the only level we were going to be accepted was when it came to the Soviets and their surrogates, so our strategy was to paint the ANC as communist surrogates,” said Williamson, formerly a senior operative in South Africa’s military intelligence, who helped direct Babushka. “The more we could present ourselves as anti-communists, the more people looked at us with respect. People you could hardly believe cooperated with us politically when it came to the Soviets.”

The South Africans found willing, though possibly unwitting, allies in influential Republican politicians, conservative intellectuals and activists. Sen. Jesse Helms, now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, served as chairman of the editorial advisory board for the foundation’s publications. Through a spokesman, Helms said that he did not know anything about the foundation.

“Helms has never heard of the International Freedom Foundation, was not chairman of their advisory board and never authorized his name to be used by IFF in any way shape or form. We never had any relationship with them,” Marc Thiessen, a Helms spokesman, said.

Rep. Dan Burton, who was the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee on Africa, and Rep. Robert Dornan were active in IFF projects, frequently serving on its delegations to international forums. Alan Keyes, currently a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, also served as adviser. (He did not return a call seeking comment.) The Washington lobbyist and former movie producer Jack Abramoff, and rising conservative stars like Duncan Sellers, helped run the foundation.

All those contacted denied knowing that it was controlled and funded by the South African regime.

Although there are strong indications that U.S. laws may have been broken some IFF officials have admitted in interviews that they knew that South African military intelligence money helped pay for the foundation’s activities in Washington there is no clear evidence that the politicians associated with IFF either took campaign contributions or otherwise directly benefited financially from the foundation .

Under U.S. law, anyone who represents a foreign government or acts under its orders, direction or control, has to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. Asked if a “think-tank” sup up and supported by a foreign government has to register, a Justice official said, “If the foreign [government] has some say in what they are doing and, obviously, if they are funding it they probably do then they probably do have to register.” Violation of the law carries a fine up to $10,000 and a prison term of up to five years.

Several key figures involved in the IFF and contacted by Newsday denied any knowledge that the foundation was a front for the political agenda of a foreign government. Duncan Sellers, now a Virginia businessman, said, “This is nothing I ever knew about. It’s something that I would have resigned over or closed the foundation over. I would have put a stop to it.”

“The Congressman didn’t know anything about it,” said a spokesman for Dornan, Paul Morrell. “This is all news to him if it is true.” Morrell described Dornan’s impression of the IFF as simply “pro-freedom, pro-democracy, pro-Reagan.”

Phillip Crane, another U.S. representative listed as an IFF editorial adviser, joined the board in 1987 at the request of Abramoff, said an aide, and by 1990 had quit. “He never attended a board meeting that he can recall,” said the aide, Bob Foster. “He had no idea that any such situation [intelligence connections] existed.”

Williamson said that the operation was deliberately constructed so that many of the people would not know they were involved with a foreign government. “That was the beauty of the whole things guys pushing what they believed,” he said. Helms for example, voted against virtually every punitive measure ever contemplated against South Africa’s white minority government, however mild. And Burton was nearly hysterical in arguing against sanctions that a large bipartisan majority passed in 1986 over President Ronald Reagan’s veto, at one point warning that “there will be blood running in the streets” as a result.

But in some cases, such as Abramoffs, the relationship with the South African security apparatus was more than merely coincidental, according to Williamson and others. A former chief of intelligence, now retired, said emphatically that the South African military helped finance Abramoffs 1988 movie “Red Scorpion.” The movie was a sympathetic portrayal of an anti-communist African guerrilla commander loosely based on Jones Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader allied to both Washington and Pretoria. Williamson also said the production of “Red Scorpion” was “funded by our guys,” who in addition provided military trucks and equipment – as well as extras.

Abramoff reacted with anger when told of the allegations Friday, saying his movie was funded by private investors and had nothing to do with the South African government. “This is outrageous,” he said.

Details of South Africa’s intelligence operations in the last years of apartheid have begun to rapidly emerge with the imminent establishment of a Truth Commission by the Mandela government. The commission will elicit confessions of “dirty tricks” by apartheid’s foot soldiers and their Commanders, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Williamson, for instance, recently revealed that he was involved in the assassination of Ruth First, wife of the ANC and South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo, and other anti-apartheid activists.

In South African government thinking, the IFF represented a far more subtle approach to defeating the anti-apartheid movement. Officials said the plan was to get away from the traditional allies of Pretoria, the fringe right in the United States and Europe, “some of whom were to the right of Ghengis Khan,” said one senior intelligence official. Instead, they settled for a front staffed with mainstream conservatives who did not necessarily know who was pulling the strings.

“They ran their own organization, but we steered them, that was the point,” Williamson said.

“They were very good, those guys, eh?” said Vic McPheerson, a police colonel who ran security branch operations and participated in the 1982 bombing of the ANC office in London. “They were not just good in intelligence, but in political warfare.”

Starting in 1986, when Reagan failed to override comprehensive U.S. economic sanctions, the South African government began casting about for ways to survive in an international environment more hostile to apartheid than ever. A very senior official in South African military intelligence, to whom IFF handlers reported at the time, said the operation cost his unit between $l million and $1.5 million a year. The retired general said the funds represented almost all of the IFF’s annual operating budget, although the foundation gained such legitimacy that it began to attract funding from individuals and groups in the United States.

On at least one occasion, the IFF had trouble accounting for its money. It was unable to comply in 1989 with a New York State requirement that it provide an accountant’s opinion confirming that its financial statements “present fairly the financial position of the organization.” It was eventually barred, in January, 1991, from soliciting funds from New York. According to financial records provided by Jeff Pandin, the foundation’s last executive director in Washington, IFF revenue in 1992 dropped by half of the preceding year’s, to $1.6 million. It just so happened that President Frederik W. de Klerk ended secret South African funding for the foundation in 1992, in response to pressure from Mandela to demonstrate that he was not complicit in “Third Force” activities. Pandin expressed shock that much of the organization’s money had been coming from clandestine South African sources. “I worked for the IFF from Day One to Day End,” he said. “This is complete news to me.” He said he once had met Williamson when he was in Mozambique, but was unaware of any official links.

On the surface, the IFF’s headquarters was in north-east Washington, D.C., , at 200 G Street, next door to the Free Congress Foundation, another conservative institution. From that base, it launched campaigns against communist sympathizers and perceived enemies of the free market. It broadly supported Reaganism, and its principal officers ran with the Ollie North crowd. But it always paid special attention to ANC. When Mandela made his first visit to the United States in 1990, following his release from prison, the IFF placed advertisements in local papers designed to dampen public enthusiasm for Mandela. One ad in the Miami Herald portrayed Mandela as an ally and defender of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The city’s large Cuban community was so agitated that a ceremony to present Mandela with keys to the city was scrapped.

The IFF published several journals and bulletins, in Washington and in its offices in Europe and Johannesburg. One of its contributors was Jay Parker, an African-American who was a paid public relations agent of successive apartheid regimes throughout the 1970s and 1980s. People like Henry Kissinger were invited to IFF seminars to deliver keynote speeches. The foundation brought together the together the world’s top intelligence experts at a 1991 conference in Potsdam, Germany, to mull over the changing uses of intelligence in the post-Cold War world. Among those in attendance was former CIA director William Colby and a retired senior KGB general, Oleg Kalugin. The IFF also waged a major but not surprisingly futile campaign for U.S. retention of the Panama Canal. But its main purpose was always to serve the ultimate goals of the South African government, according to those who helped nudge it in that direction. The former senior South African military intelligence official said he traveled to the United States and Canada in 1988 as a guest of the IFF. But the real reason for his trip, he said, was to try to strengthen South African intelligence operations on the ground, at diplomatic posts and the North American offices of Satour, the country’s tourism promotion agency.

“I was surprised at the kind of access the IFF operation provided us,” said Wim Booyse, who went by the title of Senior Research fellow at the Johannesburg office of the IFF. Booyse said when he visited Washington In 1987 to attend IFF-sponsored seminars, part of the propaganda training he and other visitors received came from a disinformation specialist at the United States Information Service, an official he identified as Todd Leventhal. Leventhal said in response that he remembered meeting with Booyse and possibly a few other IFF people, but gave no formal talk and talked to them only about countering disinformation, not spreading it

Far from being a mere branch of the IFF, the Johannesburg office was in fact the nerve center of IFF operations worldwide. According to Martin Yuill, who served as administrator of the “branch,” he began to realize that perhaps Johannesburg was not just a branch office after all, since it was always deciding how much money the other offices, Including the Washington headquarters, should have. “I guess one would have to conclude that that was the case,” he said.

Although he insisted that the IFF was no clandestine operation, Russell Crystal who ran the Johannesburg office, said it was vital to the foundation. He said Friday in an interview that “jobs” for South African intelligence provided at least half of total IFF revenue, and that he sometimes asked military intelligence to send the fees from these “jobs” directly to the Washington office of the IFF.

“The military intelligence, there were certain things they wanted done — tackling the ANC as a terrorist-communist organization,” Crystal said. “The projects we did for them, they paid for. ” He added that it was not impossible that South Africa accounted for far more than his estimated 50 percent, of IFF revenues.

As an example of this “tackling,” Crystal cited the targeting of Oliver Tambo, whenever the late exiled leader of the ANC traveled around the world. Once, when Tambo visited with George Shultz, then-secretary of state, the IFF arranged for demonstrators to drape tires around their necks to protest the “necklace” killings of suspect ed government informers in black townships in South Africa.

“The advantage of the IFF was that it pilloried the ANC,” said Williamson. “The sort of general western view of the ANC up until 1990 was a box of matches [violence] and Soviet-supporting — slavishly was the word we latched on. That was backed up with writings, intellectual inputs. It was a matter of undercutting ANC credibility.”

By 1993, the IFF effectively shut down after de Klerk pulled the plug on many politically motivated clandestine operations. But the IFF did not go down before one final parting shot.

In January that year, the foundation financed a investigation into alleged human rights abuses during the 1980’s at ANC guerrilla camps in Angola. Bob Douglas, a South African lawyer, concluded there was evidence of torture and other abuses, forcing the ANC to acknowledge some abuses. Douglas said Friday he did not believe that the IFF worked for military intelligence. “I did a professional job for which I charged professional fees,” he said crossly. “I did my job of work, I finished my work, and had nothing to do with it since then.”

17 From “Front for Apartheid: Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power” by Dele Olojede and Tim Phelps:

Williamson, for instance, recently revealed that he was involved in the assassination of Ruth First, wife of the ANC and South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo, and other anti-apartheid activists.

18 “Front for Apartheid: Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power” by Dele Olojede and Tim Phelps:

Several key figures involved in the IFF and contacted by Newsday denied any knowledge that the foundation was a front for the political agenda of a foreign government. Duncan Sellers, now a Virginia businessman, said, “This is nothing I ever knew about. It’s something that I would have resigned over or closed the foundation over. I would have put a stop to it.”

19 “Front for Apartheid: Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power” by Dele Olojede and Tim Phelps:

“Helms has never heard of the International Freedom Foundation, was not chairman of their advisory board and never authorized his name to be used by IFF in any way shape or form. We never had any relationship with them,” Marc Thiessen, a Helms spokesman, said.

20 From “Counterfactual: A curious history of the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program”, by Jane Mayer:

“Courting Disaster” downplays the C.I.A.’s brutality under the Bush Administration to the point of falsification. Thiessen argues that “the C.I.A. interrogation program did not inflict torture by any reasonable standard,” and that there was “only one single case” in which “inhumane” techniques were used. That case, he writes, involved the detainee Abd al-Rahim Nashiri, whom a C.I.A. interrogator threatened with a handgun to the head, and with an electric drill. He claims that no detainee “deaths in custody took place in the C.I.A. interrogation program,” failing to mention the case of a detainee who was left to freeze to death at a C.I.A.-run prison in Afghanistan. Referring to the Abu Ghraib scandal, Thiessen writes that “what happened in those photos had nothing to do with C.I.A. interrogations, military interrogations, or interrogations of any sort.” The statement is hard to square with the infamous photograph of Manadel al-Jamadi; his body was placed on ice after he died of asphyxiation during a C.I.A. interrogation at the prison. The homicide became so notorious that the C.I.A.’s inspector general, John Helgerson, forwarded the case to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution. Thiessen simply ignores the incident.

21 From “My Dinner with Jack” by Mark Hemingway:

In the summer of 1985 Abramoff helped plan and organize an event that, as Abramoff told me, inspired Red Scorpion. Abramoff joined forces with Jack Wheeler, another anti-Communist activist, to create the “Jamboree in Jamba”–known more formally as the Democratic International. The pair approached Lewis Lehrman, a conservative benefactor who made a fortune off his Rite-Aid drugstores, with the idea: For years the Soviets had been sponsoring what amounted to supervillain summits, where Sandinistas, African Communist insurgents, and representatives of the PLO and Cuba convened presumably to stroke their fluffy white cats and update their arms-dealer Rolodexes.

Abramoff convinced Lehrman that this put the “good guys” at a comparative disadvantage–the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghan mujahedeen, Savimbi’s rebels in Angola, and other freedom fighters needed a meeting of their own. Congress was in the process of cutting off aid to the contras, and anything that could be done to bolster the group’s public reputation would be politically helpful to Reagan. Lehrman agreed to fund it, and Rohrabacher was brought in to help muster support from inside the White House. Abramoff and Wheeler would handle the details on the ground.

According to Abramoff, the event was a goat rodeo from the start. Hardly a government in the world was enamored of the idea, and simply deciding where to hold the event was no small affair. Only two governments were publicly supportive: South Africa and Israel, and for PR reasons it was quickly decided that neither country was a suitable venue.

So they settled on Jamba, Angola, the home base of Savimbi’s UNITA movement (National Union of Total Independence for Angola), which was fighting the Cuban troops that propped up the Soviet-backed Angolan government. Not exactly the most hospitable locale.

Logistically, the event was a nightmare. Simply trying to get the attendees into the Angolan hinterland provoked international incidents. Pakistan blocked some Afghan rebels from leaving, and skittish Thai officials almost stopped Laotian anti-Communist leader Pa Kao Her from departing Bangkok.

Facilities consisted of little more than grass huts and an airstrip, and managing the various cultures and egos proved challenging, as demonstrated by Abramoff’s deft and hilarious impersonation of a frenzied Afghan warlord who insisted on ranting and raving for 45 minutes, long after the translator who had been procured on his behalf proved worthless. Not only was Abramoff’s mimicry compelling, he gestured wildly with his hands in a way that caught me totally off guard, making me laugh harder. He clearly wasn’t afraid to embarrass himself, a quality that was endearing, considering I had started out the evening somewhat intimidated. I also became aware of how carefully he was gauging my reaction to his tale. He didn’t care about impressing me; it was obvious he had little to prove. But he did tell his story in a generous way–he wanted me to enjoy it, and I did.

The final insult in Jamba was running out of food. Abramoff, who keeps kosher, had packed all his own provisions into the African jungle. Upon leaving the event early, he stood on the stairs of the plane auctioning off his remaining cans of tuna for as much as $20 to ravenous members of the press who had yet to leave.

The jamboree itself ended up being largely ceremonial. Everyone pledged to share intelligence, and Lehrman read a letter Rohrabacher had drafted on Reagan’s behalf, expressing solidarity with those struggling against the Soviet empire. The Time reporter on the scene concluded that the meeting marked the beginning of “a new lobby to urge Congress to support the Nicaraguan contras and other anti-Communist guerrillas.” Considering the improbability of the thing coming together at all, everyone involved considered it a success.

22 “Angola seeks Savimbi’s arrest” by Lara Pawson:

The Angolan Government has issued a warrant for the arrest of Unita leader, Jonas Savimbi.

Late on Friday state radio broadcast a statement from the national department for criminal investigations.

Rebellion, sabotage and the use of explosives are among a long list of crimes alleged to have been committed by the Angolan rebel leader.

The announcement comes seven months after the Prosecutor General labelled Savimbi a war criminal, shortly after a fresh outbreak of war in the battered southern African state in December.

Under Angolan law, the Unita leader is accused of committing a myriad of crimes, ranging from murder and assault to the trafficking of war material.

Indeed, there is no shortage of allegations against Dr Savimbi.

Aside from official testimonies given by victims of Unita, hundreds of thousands of Angola’s displaced recount similar tales of massacres in their rural villages. More often than not, they blame Dr Savimbi for the deaths of their relatives and friends.

From “Jonas Savimbi, 67, Rebel Of Charisma and Tenacity” by Michael T. Kaufman:

Jonas Savimbi, who was killed yesterday by Angolan government soldiers, spent more than 35 years in the African bush battling first for Angolan independence and then for personal power.

At least one conservative mourned the death of this man, even after all the blood on his hands, and this was Howard Phillips.

He is mentioned in the John’s article arguing for continued aid to UNITA, read into the congressional record by Indiana’s Dan Burton [archive link]:

Savimbi told conservative leader Howard Phillips and me last March during a visit to Savimbi’s headquarters in the Angolan bush, `there are a lot of loopholes in that agreement. The agreement is not good at all.’

A background on this figure can be found at “Howard Phillips’ World” by Adele Stan.

On the event of Savimbi’s death, Phillips and his son, David, issued a statement via Newsmax, “Angolan Christian Rebel Leader Assassinated”, mourning the rebel’s death and blaming it on the collusion of George W. Bush, the state department, Chevron, and the Angolan government.

From the statement of David Phillips:

My family and I have spent the weekend grieving the loss of a longtime friend and heroic Christian leader, Dr. Jonas Mahleiro Savimbi.

Savimbi was the leader of the only organized opposition to the totalitarian rule in Luanda. He sacrificed his life for more than 40 years in pursuit of liberty and self-determination for his people. He had a following in Angola up until his death because he personified hope for the most marginalized and downtrodden segment of Angolan society, the indigenous non-assimilated African people.

The son of an evangelical pastor and railway stationmaster, he relied on his Christian faith for strength, courage and wisdom to wage a lifelong struggle for the freedom of the Angolan people.

Africa has lost one of its best Christian leaders and America has lost one of its most faithful Cold War allies.

From the statement of his father, Howard:

Dr. Jonas Savimbi was a great Angolan patriot, truly a man who served as a loving, self-sacrificing father to those of his countrymen who shared his love of freedom and who were willing to die to escape the bonds of Portuguese colonialism and Communist tyranny.

In the war against Soviet imperialism America had no more faithful and courageous ally.

In 1992, Savimbi won a popular election, which victory was stolen from him even more blatantly than Mayor Daley stole Illinois for John F. Kennedy in 1960.

[With] no fear of rebuke from those who govern the New World Order of socially respectable international opinion, the Angolan Reds targeted Dr. Savimbi to be hunted down and murdered.

His death is a tragic loss.

His blood is on the hands of the government of the United States, as well as on the hands of the Angolan gangster government which directly gave the orders.

23 Mark Hemingway’s “My Dinner with Jack”:

But for Abramoff, the pivotal moment in Jamba came when he was approached by someone trying to secure funding for a documentary about Savimbi. Abramoff scoffed. Rambo: First Blood Part II had just been released in theaters three weeks earlier, becoming the first film to open on more than 2,000 screens. “Why would you want to make a documentary? Nobody watches documentaries,” he told me. “I said to the guy, ‘You should make an action film.'”

YOU CAN ALSO SAY THIS for Abramoff–the man has a gift for making wild ideas a reality. Jack revisited his movie idea in an entertainment law class he took while finishing his degree at Georgetown a few years later. He sketched out a story based loosely on what he knew about Savimbi’s plight and the Soviet operations in that part of Africa.

24 The movie opens with the credits featuring a name that is now indissolubly linked with D.C. scandal:

Jack Abramoff in Red Scorpion credits

Jack Abramoff in Red Scorpion credits

Jack Abramoff in Red Scorpion credits

It is a movie about a russian fighter who, after seeing the plight of africans under russian siege, defects to their cause and fights on their behalf. His appearance, that of a blonde, muscular uberman, is the aryan ideal; his identity is inextricably linked with being a warrior. He is a member of the spetsnaz – russian special forces – and, over and over again, this is how he identifies himself: “I am spetsnaz.” After defecting, he is re-captured, and his captors humiliate this man by exiling him from this group: “you are no longer spetsnaz.” One of his last lines is declaring that he still belongs to this military ideal, while no longer belonging to the soviet state: “I am still spetsnaz, but I am no longer you.” This man fits the aryan ideal, but the fascist ideal as well, a man for whom belonging to the military group is more important than his belonging to the larger society.

That this man defects from a colonial group, then ends up fighting against it, is analogous to the Boers of South Africa, who came as colonizers to the continent, and then ended up fighting against Europe itself. The National Party which took power after World War II was pro-Germany and opposed to South African involvement on the side of Britain. The Red Scorpion title character fights against the colonizers of which he was once one, becomes a savior to african freedom fighters, and possibly, the true heir to africa. This man’s transformative moment is to meet the chief of a group of Kalahari San (they are also called the Bushmen, which I believe is considered a pejorative), who burns on this man a tattoo signifying membership in their tribe. The Red Scorpion hunts with an african spear as well or better than the chief, and the chief gives this man his spear, a gesture which I read as signifying tribal membership, access to tribal hunting grounds, and status as an african warrior.

It is impossible to watch the movie without thinking immediately of Susan Sontag’s “Fascinating Fascism” which found links between the aryan ideal of the Nazis and the warrior ideal of the Nuba tribe. Even though the Kalahari are not the Nuba, the Kalahari’s culture distinct and dissimilar from that of the Nuba, what is striking is that all the features Sontag cites as a crucial part of the warrior ideal celebrated by Leni Riefenstahl in both Europe and Africa are in Red Scorpion: the celebration of the physical over the mental – the title character never solves a problem through ingenuity, only strength or marksmanship – and the sublimation of the self into some larger martial force, in this case, the spetsnaz. The Red Scorpion moves from being a warrior in a soviet military force to being a warrior in a tribe of hunters – the same warrior character is never altered, only re-directed towards a different enemy. There is also an important distinction. When Riefenstahl traveled to Africa, the Nazi warriors were either dead or elderly, while the Nuba still had youthful devotees to their ideal. The Red Scorpion, on the other hand, is the youngest member of the cast, and the youngest, fittest man compared to any of the Kalahari, whose chief is elderly, and played by an actor in his nineties; the implicit message is that the future of Africa lies with the Red Scorpion, not the Kalahari.

Red Scorpion

Red Scorpion

Red Scorpion

Red Scorpion - passing the spear - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/LikableUnkemptHyena

Red Scorpion

The movie ends with an image which might embody how a white south african military man might see himself: the aryan ideal, flanked by a sycophantic american journalist, their conservative allies in the U.S., and an african anti-Soviet freedom fighter, someone like Jonas Savimbi, to whom the South African government gave so much financial and military aid.

Red Scorpion three together

25 From “Front for Apartheid: Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power” by Dele Olojede and Tim Phelps:

A former chief of intelligence, now retired, said emphatically that the South African military helped finance Abramoffs 1988 movie “Red Scorpion.” The movie was a sympathetic portrayal of an anti-communist African guerrilla commander loosely based on Jones Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader allied to both Washington and Pretoria. Williamson also said the production of “Red Scorpion” was “funded by our guys,” who in addition provided military trucks and equipment – as well as extras.

26 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

[Jeff] Pandin [an Abramoff associate] recalled that Abramoff enlisted Russell Crystal, the head of the IFF’s Johannesburg office and an advisor to F.W. DeKlerk, to be an informal producer on “Red Scorpion” (whether this meant Crystal helped fund the film, Pandin did not remember).

27 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

Initially, the movie was set to shoot in Swaziland, but at the last minute Abramoff moved the production to Namibia, which was occupied by South Africa’s apartheid government.

28 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

The actor Carmen Argenziano, who played the villainous Cuban colonel, said he knew that many of the men playing Russian and Cuban soldiers were actual SADF soldiers.

29 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

“We heard that very right-wing South African money was helping fund the movie,” [Carmen] Argenziano said. “It wasn’t very clear. We were pretty upset about the source of the money. We thought we were misled. We were shocked that these brothers who we thought were showbiz liberals – Beverly Hills Jewish kids – were doing this.”

30 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

By 1988, when shooting started on the film, Abramoff likely had connections in the South African government. For a decade, after all, South Africa had been Savimbi’s main backer, and according to [Chester] Crocker and others, Abramoff would not have been able to put together the Democratic International without extensive help from the SADF.

31 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

“We knew that the IFF was funded by the South African government,” Herman Cohen, who ran Africa operations for the National Security Council, told Salon. “It was one of a number of front organizations.”

32 From “Front for Apartheid: Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power” by Dele Olojede and Tim Phelps:

Abramoff reacted with anger when told of the allegations Friday, saying his movie was funded by private investors and had nothing to do with the South African government. “This is outrageous,” he said.

33 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

After Jack returned to Washington, Robert Abramoff stayed in Los Angeles and continued to produce films. He is now a full-time lawyer. Reached at the offices of Burgee & Abramoff in Woodland Hills, he refused to speak about his brother or “Red Scorpion.” “It’s a family matter and I prefer not to comment on anything,” he said.

34 From “Angola’s Jonas Savimbi Was No Freedom Fighter” by Piero Gleijeses:

During Angola’s war of independence against the Portuguese in 1961-1974, Savimbi was an impressive guerrilla leader, but his movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, was far weaker than Neto’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA.

In February 1972, Savimbi proposed to have his forces cooperate with the Portuguese to “eliminate” the MPLA. The Portuguese responded favorably, and for the next 18 months Savimbi was their ally. But in late 1973, Lisbon broke the agreement and attacked UNITA. And so Savimbi became known, much against his will, as a “freedom fighter,” even though he was still trying to forge a new alliance with Lisbon when the Portuguese regime was overthrown in April 1974.

By 1977, the story of Savimbi’s betrayal of the Angolan independence movement was public knowledge in Western Europe. In 1979, the mainstream Lisbon weekly Expresso concluded: “The fact that Savimbi collaborated with the Portuguese colonial authorities has been so amply proven that no one can question it in good faith.”

No one, that is, but Americans.

Savimbi’s betrayal of the independence struggle has been overlooked in the thousands of press reports and scores of books written about Angola, and, even now, in the articles about his death.

35 From “Angola’s Jonas Savimbi Was No Freedom Fighter” by Piero Gleijeses:

Within weeks of the collapse of the Portuguese dictatorship, Savimbi approached the white rulers in Pretoria for help in the impending civil war in Angola. If he won, he promised to maintain friendly relations with the apartheid regime. How tempting, particularly when the MPLA vowed that there would be no peace in southern Africa until apartheid had been defeated.

In July 1975, with Washington’s blessing, South Africa began its covert operation in Angola to support Savimbi.

Yet Savimbi was not a South African puppet. He was simply being true to himself. He was a warlord whose overriding principle was absolute power, and if this required an agreement with Portuguese colonial authorities first, and then a dalliance with apartheid, so be it.

In October 1975, with Washington’s urging, South African troops invaded Angola. Crashing through MPLA resistance, they would have taken Luanda, the MPLA stronghold, had Fidel Castro not sent Cuban soldiers to Angola in early November. Contrary to U.S. reports of the time, Castro did so without consulting Moscow. He was no client. “He was probably the most genuine revolutionary leader then [1975] in power,” Kissinger writes in his memoirs.

From “Land Mines in Angola: An Africa Watch Report”:

In late 1983, the UN Security Council demanded that South Africa withdraw from Angola. Shortly afterwards, Angola and South Africa signed the Lusaka Accords, under which South Africa agreed to withdraw if Angola ceased support for SWAPO. However, South African withdrawal was extremely slow, and was reversed in 1985 when another invasion was launched, in support of UNITA which was facing defeat against a full-scale attack by FAPLA with Cuban support. The government clearly believed that if South African support for UNITA was withdrawn, it would be able to achieve a military solution to the conflict.

36 From “Jonas Savimbi: Washington’s ‘Freedom Fighter’, Africa’s ‘Terrorist'” by Shana Wills:

Jonas Savimbi, a member of Angola’s largest ethnic group, the Ovimbundu, was born and raised in the southern Angolan province of Moxico. A bright, charismatic, former doctorate student, Savimbi became fluent in more than six languages–including Portuguese, French, and English. His knack for learning languages boosted his credibility among the various groups with whom he negotiated. His gift in European languages facilitated his dealings with political opponents, diplomats, and foreign reporters, while he switched into Umbundo when rallying his followers among the Angolan people.

From “Angola’s Jonas Savimbi Was No Freedom Fighter” by Piero Gleijeses:

Friend and foe acknowledged the abilities and charisma of Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader who was killed by government troops last month.

“Savimbi is very intelligent,” Lucio Lara, a senior aide to his bitter rival, Agostinho Neto, once admitted.

Savimbi also never deviated from his overriding goals or principles. It is odd, however, that Americans have failed to appreciate what these goals and principles were.

During Angola’s war of independence against the Portuguese in 1961-1974, Savimbi was an impressive guerrilla leader, but his movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, was far weaker than Neto’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA.

We might end this note on Savimbi’s formidable intellectual abilities with a contrast in how he is portrayed in the videogame Black Ops II; from “Call of Duty: the recall of Jonas Savimbi” by Sean Jacobs:

Black Ops II paints Savimbi as some kind of brute with his halting English and screams. But he was, in fact, a consummate media figure and understood the power of western press on public opinion. Three clips – the first in French (with Portuguese subtitles), the second in Portuguese, and a third in which Savimbi answers questions, in English, at a surreal “Unita News Conference with Republicans” – provide a brief contrast to his depiction in Black Ops II. He spoke many languages fluently. His English speech and diction was refined – not the kind of brutish bush English they give him.

37 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

[Chester] Crocker described Savimbi, who was killed in 2002, as “a brilliant military warlord who operated by the gun, lived by the gun, and died by the gun and ultimately had a failure of judgment, like warlords often do.”

38 “The tale of Red Scorpion” by James Verini:

Others are less charitable. “He was the most articulate, charismatic homicidal maniac I’ve ever met,” said Don Steinberg, ambassador to Angola during the first Clinton administration.

39 From “Jonas Savimbi: Angolan nationalist whose ambition kept his country at war” by Victoria Brittain:

By the end of the 1980s his proxy army, supplied and funded by the CIA and aided by numerous South African invasions, had sabotaged much of Angola. Swathes of the countryside were cut off from agriculture by minefields, mine victims and malnourished children swamped the hospitals and tens of thousands of children were also kidnapped by Unita troops and taken to Unita-controlled areas in the south around Savimbi’s capital at Jamba.

Appalling rites, such as public burning of women said to be witches, characterised the reign of terror in which many of Savimbi’s close associates were imprisoned or killed on his orders.

From “Jonas Savimbi: Washington’s ‘Freedom Fighter’, Africa’s ‘Terrorist'” by Shana Wills:

For decades, Savimbi’s forces fought Angola’s MPLA government, which was supported militarily by the Soviet Union and thousands of Cuban troops–and was recognized by every country in the world except South Africa and the United States. In order to instill terror in the population and to undermine confidence in the government, Savimbi ordered that food supplies be targeted, millions of land mines be laid in peasants’ fields, and transport lines be cut. As part of this destabilization effort, UNITA frequently attacked health clinics and schools, specifically terrorizing and killing medical workers and teachers. The UN estimated that Angola lost $30 billion in the war from 1980 to 1988, which was six times the country’s 1988 GDP. According to UNICEF, approximately 330,000 children died as direct and indirect results of the fighting during that period alone. Human Rights Watch reports that because of UNITA’s indiscriminate use of landmines, there were over 15,000 amputees in Angola in 1988, ranking it alongside Afghanistan and Cambodia.

40 “The dragon of death who had to be slain”, an account by Fred Bridgland of Savimbi and the murder of one of Savimbi’s closest associates, Pedro “Tito” Chingunji, and Chingunji’s family:

With Savimbi that day was a tall, slim 19-year-old guerrilla with soft, intelligent eyes, wearing a beret set at a jaunty angle. Pedro “Tito” Chingunji was to become my closest African friend; in due course, Savimbi would execute him and his entire family, including his one-year-old twins.

Later:

Then Tito asked me to fly to meet him in Washington on a matter of life or death. It was the most disturbing conversation I have ever had.

His mother, father, three brothers and a sister had been executed by Savimbi. His wife and children were being held hostage at Savimbi’s bush headquarters, Jamba, to ensure that Tito continued to perform diplomatic miracles in Washington.

The slaughter of his family was only part of the horror, said Tito. Savimbi had also ordered the public burning on bonfires of dissident women and their children.

On his next visit to Jamba, Tito was arrested and put on trial for trying to open a dialogue with the MPLA, for allegedly trying to overthrow Savimbi and for allegedly having had an affair with one of Savimbi’s many wives and concubines.

I never saw Tito again. We now know that he and his wife and children were executed shortly before Angola’s first election in 1992. Savimbi narrowly lost the election. With Tito and a whole range of other second-tier leaders he either executed or forced to flee, Savimbi might have won.

From “Land Mines in Angola: An Africa Watch Report”:

In Africa Watch’s 1992 survey, among a total of forty-five, six said that FAPLA [Forças Armadas Popular para a Libertação de Angola, the Angolan army] was to blame (including one soldier blown up by a mine his colleagues had planted earlier), twenty-seven said UNITA, and twelve said that they did not know. Many of the “don’t knows,” particularly the six who were interviewed in Luanda, may have been reluctant to mention FAPLA.

The 1990 ICRC survey came up with a similar result. Eighty-three blamed UNITA (73.5 percent), fourteen blamed FAPLA (12.4 percent), one blamed the Cubans (0.7 percent), and fifteen said that they did not know (13.3 percent).

The war was fought in a manner that reduced much of Angola’s population to a state of famine. There were no recognized front lines, and fighting raged backwards and forwards over large areas of the country. As a result, a very large proportion of the population was directly affected by the war, and an even larger number of people lived with the pervasive fear that fighting could come to their locality at any time. The widespread use of land mines, especially on roads and paths, was a crucial factor in creating famine. The threat of land mines prevented free movement of people and commerce, and proved a serious obstacle to relief efforts.

During 1990, serious food shortages threatened much of the country. According to estimates by the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, up to 10,000 people died in the first four months of the year. In September, the United Nations estimated that about 1.9 million Angolans in nine central and southern provinces faced famine. About three quarters of those at risk were in areas made inaccessible for relief. About 1.2 million people were in the central Planalto of Huambo and Bíe provinces and the neighboring areas. This, the most fertile and densely populated part of Angola, was the center of UNITA’s war effort. UNITA aimed to destabilize the government by preventing it from exercising any form of authority in these provinces. This strategy, together with the shifting battle lines, meant that the delivery of relief to the Planalto by establishing tranquil zones or safe passage agreements would be possible only if UNITA dramatically revised its military strategy.

The United States government and Congress have been significant though inconsistent supporters of UNITA, and have provided financial and military support. At least seven types of US-manufactured mines are present in Angolan soil. Major Cox of the British army noted that “the mines laid by UNITA forces were mainly from the USA.” He did not, however, say who was the immediate supplier of mines to UNITA. His fellow British officer, Col. Griffiths also declined to characterize the US as a major direct supplier of mines. At this writing, the United States government has not accepted that it bears any responsibility for the large number of US-manufactured mines in Angola.

41 From “Jonas Savimbi: Washington’s ‘Freedom Fighter’, Africa’s ‘Terrorist'” by Shana Wills:

Whatever the case, Savimbi certainly showed his skill as a political chameleon. In 1988, several former UNITA members reported to the Portuguese newsweekly, Espresso, that UNITA’s political elite all followed the precepts of Savimbi’s Practical Guide for the Cadre, which was described as “a manual of dialectical materialism and Marxism-Leninism with a distinct trait of Stalinism and Maoism.” The UNITA dissidents claimed that the Guide was taught in a room filled with Lenin and Mao Tse-Tung busts, where the anthem of the Communist International was sung every day. These former UNITA members denounced as fraudulent Savimbi’s widely publicized pro-Western ideology and defense of democracy. They pointed out that there was a huge discrepancy between what UNITA claimed abroad as its objectives (i.e., negotiations with the MPLA, reconciliation, and coalition) and what the Guide taught. The Guide, said to be written by Savimbi, was considered a secret book accessible only to the political elite of UNITA.

42 “Jonas Savimbi: Angolan nationalist whose ambition kept his country at war” by Victoria Brittain:

US pressure brought the Angolan government to accept a peace agreement at Bicesse in 1991 that required both sides to disarm and demobilise before a UN-monitored election in 1992. Washington was confident that Savimbi would win the election. But in February 1992 his oldest associate, Antonio da Costa Fernandes, and another leading Unita cadre, Nzau Puna, defected, declaring publicly that Savimbi was not interested in a political contest, but was preparing another war. However, so strong were US ties to Savimbi that those warnings and others were disregarded.

He launched a catastrophic new war when he lost the election in late September, and came close to seizing power in the following months.

43 From “Jonas Savimbi: Angolan nationalist whose ambition kept his country at war” by Victoria Brittain:

Jonas Savimbi, who has died aged 67, was, for 20 years, a figure as important in southern Africa as Nelson Mandela, and as negative a force as Mandela was positive.

For the past 10 years, using the proceeds of smuggled diamonds from eastern and central Angola, he fought an increasingly pointless and personal bush war against the elected government in which hundreds of thousands of peasants were killed, wounded, displaced, or starved to death.

44 From “Welcome to the World’s Richest Poor Country” by John Kampfner:

Aihameselle Mingas beckons me inside his house. He wants to show me his new architect-designed kitchen, with its floor-to-ceiling fridge, and its architect-designed sitting room with its Italian furnishings. Each room has a plasma home-entertainment screen. “Come see the marble. It’s from Brazil,” he says.

I have seen conspicuous consumption in London, Moscow, New York, and Paris, but never a contrast such as this. Outside the high walls of Aihameselle’s house stand two dilapidated tower blocks. The holes in the road resemble lunar craters. Dozens of bored youths stand around, their eyes blank. And the stench. The shit is, literally, floating down the street.

Luanda was built for less than half a million folk. The war drove the population up to four million people, fleeing as the two sides – the communist government backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba, and the rebel UNITA forces supported by America and apartheid South Africa – fought out one of the most vicious conflicts of the Cold War. That is why you have such fast urbanisation. That is why everywhere you look, you see shanties, shacks in fetid and treeless slums that stretch for miles to the horizon. That is why the city suffers power cuts, why traffic doesn’t move and why sanitation has collapsed. When it rains, the polluted Bengo river overflows; the water merges with the garbage-strewn banks, producing yet another bout of cholera.

By night, people party – hard, until dawn. Then, before they return home (drivers have been sleeping in the car park), they gather for one last time to eat fish soup. A popular night-time venue for drink and watching bands play Kuduro music, is Miami. This is a younger, more local and hipper crowd, a far cry from the sad middle-aged men I see at another place down the road, accompanied by their catorzinagas, 14-year-old escorts.

For the rest, life consists of eking out a miserable existence, working on construction sites, if you are lucky, or hawking anything you can find. Life expectancy is 42. Angola has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Three quarters of the population earn less than a dollar a day – the UN definition of absolute poverty. Some 50 per cent of people have no access to clean water; 24 percent of children under 14 are forced to work.

45 “My Vision For South Africa” is the lecture Buthelezi gave at Heritage; Savimbi’s has the sick joke of a title, “The Coming Winds of Democracy in Angola”.

46 From Johns’ LinkedIn profile:

Michael Johns is a health care executive with extensive experience in leading medical device, medical supply, home health, pharmaceutical and specialty pharmaceutical revenue and market share growth. His industry expertise includes executive management, sales and marketing management, operational management and efficiencies, Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance contract and reimbursement management, investor and public relations, the development and implementation of organic and acquisition-oriented growth strategies and other industry functions.

As Divisional Head and Corporate Vice President for Electric Mobility Corporation, a global medical device company, Mr. Johns drove top-line sales from $3.8 million to $30 million, increased divisional profit contribution by 150 percent, and reduced Medicare, Medicaid, and managed care DSO by 75 percent. He launched a national clinical sales force of 200 from scratch and developed over 250 managed care contracts. Prior to this, he was Vice President and a member of the senior management team of Gentiva Health Services, the world’s largest home health care company.

Prior to beginning his health care management career in 1994, Mr. Johns was a White House speechwriter to the President of the United States, a senior aide to the Governor of New Jersey and a U.S. Senator, and a policy analyst and editor at one of the nation’s most influential public policy research institutes.

47 From the Consumer Affairs website, “Electric Mobility Fined $225,00 by New Jersey”:

Electric Mobility has agreed to pay more $225,000 in fees and consumer redress after an investigation by the state of New Jersey. The company also agreed that it distributors will prominently state the conditions under which Medicare is likely to pay some or all of the purchase cost of a motorized wheelchair.

The company also agreed to clearly disclose the requirements for transporting the scooter in the consumer’s personal vehicle, including the need to disassemble the device or to use a ramp or other accessory that must be purchased separately.

48 The full letter, from the Consumer Affairs site:

Mr. James R Hood
Editor in Chief & President
Consumer Affairs.Com
400 N Capitol St., NW Suite G-50
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Mr. Hood,

Once again, I have viewed, with great concern, the misinformation you have posted to your website concerning Electric Mobility Corporation. Electric Mobility was not fined $225,000 by the State of New Jersey as your website erroneously reports.

Electric Mobility entered into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with the State of New Jersey. By doing so, we believe that we have set the industry standard for ethical sales practices. It is also important to note that this was an amicable agreement and that Electric Mobility voluntarily cooperated and agreed to this Assurance of Voluntary Compliance. Furthermore, the agreement resolved and settled all issues in controversy without any findings of law or fact. Moreover, the agreement, executed by the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey and me, specifically acknowledges “Electric Mobility admitted no wrongdoing and the fact that Electric Mobility promises to act in specific ways or not to act in specific ways does not constitute an admission that Electric Mobility has acted any differently in the past. Indeed, Electric Mobility contends that it has always been in compliance with the laws and regulations of New Jersey.”

The majority of the provisos contained in the Agreement have been in place for many years. Medicare coverage criteria is a complicated issue—one that we have always addressed during our sales presentation. Whenever customers do not meet this criteria, we have had the customers execute an Advance Beneficiary Notice, as required by Medicare regulations. We have taken additional steps to change our documentation to assure that all Medicare beneficiaries now acknowledge, in writing, that they have received both the Medicare coverage criteria and the fee schedule amount applicable to their state of residence.

Electric Mobility paid the amount specified in the Agreement for “attorney fees, investigative costs and future consumer initiatives” and to establish an escrow fund. After resolution of any previous consumer concerns, the remaining balance of the escrow fund will be returned to the company. Nowhere in the agreement is the there any mention of “fines” as purported in your website.

We believe that we have always upheld high ethical standards in our industry. We voluntarily entered into this Agreement to assure our customers and all persons associated with the company are aware of the standards to which we are committed.

Sincerely,

Michael Flowers
President

49 The tweet itself:

50 From “Tea Party Jab to Be Zapped From Captain America Comic, Writer Says”:

In issue No. 602 of Captain America, “Two Americas, Part One,” the title hero and The Falcon, a black superhero from New York City, stumble upon a protest rally in Boise, Idaho. They see scores of protesters carrying signs that say “Stop the Socialists!” and “Tea Bag The Libs Before They Tea Bag YOU!”

Captain America says the protest appears to be an “anti-tax thing,” and The Falcon jokes that he likely would not be welcomed into the crowd of “angry white folks.”

Ed Brubaker, who wrote the story, told FoxNews.com he did not write the “Tea Bag The Libs Before They Tea Bag YOU!” sign shown in the edition, insisting that the words were added by someone in “lettering or production” just before being shipped to the printer. It will be changed in subsequent editions, he said.

“I don’t know who did it, probably someone who thought it was funny,” Brubaker wrote in an e-mail. “I didn’t think so, personally. That’s the sign being changed to something more generic for the trade reprint, because I and my editor were both shocked to see it.”

But the change may come too late to placate a chorus of critics who noticed the apparent jab at the Tea Party movement and who accused Marvel of making supervillains out of patriotic Americans.

Michael Johns, a board member of the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, said he felt the “juvenile” dig will ultimately do more damage to Marvel’s brand than to the Tea Party movement. He also disputed the insinuation that the growing movement lacks diversity.

“The Tea Party movement has been very reflective of broad concerns of all Americans,” Johns said. “Membership is across ethnic, religious and even political lines.”

Johns accused Brubaker of “blame-shifting” and questioned why an apology or retraction hadn’t been issued as soon as the writer or Marvel executives noticed the politically charged signs.

The offending image:

Angola, Namibia, South Africa

51 From “One Iraq Option Only: Victory”

Disturbingly, there is an emerging consensus among the Democrat-led United States Congressional leadership that the war in Iraq is “lost.” The most recent example that this thesis has worked its way into official party talking points was offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat, who pointedly stated last month that “…this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything….”

Setting the obvious contrarian politics aside, could there be a more defeatist, demoralizing and undermining statement at this time?

Clearly, one hopes that is not a message Congressional Democrats want to be sending al-Qaeda and America’s enemies in the region at this juncture, and I think it would be unfair to assign any member of Congress such malicious motives. But it’s already becoming very clear that driving the Republicans from the White House will first mean ensuring no 2008 Republican candidate can run on the coattails of a Bush-led victory in that nation. Putting politics ahead of national security, this nation’s Democratic leadership knows all too well what the prolonged nature of the Iraq War has done to President Bush’s national popularity. It has set the table for the Democrats to reclaim the Presidency in a mere 20 months.

If it is not politics that is driving the Democratic inclination to label the Iraq War “lost,” then Senator Reid’s course of action should be clear: He owes this nation, its deployed troops and their families an apology because this conflict has been anything but “lost.”

This demand for an apology from Reid for calling the Iraq war “lost” is especially interesting given the veneration Johns has for William F. Buckley. From “Buckley Says Bush Will Be Judged on Iraq War, Now a `Failure'”, by Heidi Przybyla and Judy Woodruff, a year before Johns made his demand:

William F. Buckley Jr., the longtime conservative writer and leader, said George W. Bush’s presidency will be judged entirely by the outcome of a war in Iraq that is now a failure.

“Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq,” Buckley said in an interview that will air on Bloomberg Television this weekend. “If he’d invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn’t get him out of his jam.”

52 From allAfrica, “Angola: Zambia Leader Apologises Over Past Support to Jonas Savimbi”

Lusaka – Zambia has apologised to neighbouring Angola over the Frederick Chiluba-led Government’s support to late rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, President Michael Sata confirmed today.

Savimbi, who waged an almost three-decade-long civil war against President José Eduardo dos Santos’ regime, died in combat aged 68 in 2002.

Speaking at State House in Lusaka when he received credentials from Angola’s new Ambassador to Zambia Balbina Malheiros Dias Da Silva on Wednesday, President Sata said he had sent Zambia’s founding father, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, to apologise to President José Eduardo and Angolans.

President Sata, a long-time ally of the late Chiluba – Zambia’s president between 1991 and 2001 – and key leader of the then ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), said the MMD was “very treacherous” during Angolan Government’s battle against Savimbi.

“I apologise on behalf of Zambia that what our colleagues in MMD did was fraudulent, was greed,” said President Sata, 74, who is less than one month old in power.

“As I am talking, our first president Dr Kenneth Kaunda is in Angola. I sent him as my envoy to go and personally apologise to the President.”

53 This editorial, along with much National Review archive material has been pulled by the magazine from the internet. I am deeply grateful to Bradford DeLong who preserved a copy in his post “From National Review’s Archives”, and I re-paste it here.

National Review editorial, 8/24/1957, 4:7, pp. 148-9: The most important event of the past three weeks was the remarkable and unexpected vote by the Senate to guarantee to defendants in a criminal contempt action the privilege of a jury trial. That vote does not necessarily affirm a citizen’s intrinsic rights: trial by jury in contempt actions, civil or criminal, is not an American birthright, and it cannot, therefore, be maintained that the Senate’s vote upheld, pure and simple, the Common Law.

What the Senate did was to leave undisturbed the mechanism that spans the abstractions by which a society is guided and the actual, sublunary requirements of the individual community. In that sense, the vote was a conservative victory. For the effect of it is–and let us speak about it bluntly–to permit a jury to modify or waive the law in such circumstances as, in the judgment of the jury, require so grave an interposition between the law and its violator.

What kind of circumstances do we speak about? Again, let us speak frankly. The South does not want to deprive the Negro of a vote for the sake of depriving him of the vote. Political scientists assert that minorities do not vote as a unit. Women do not vote as a bloc, they contend; nor do Jews, or Catholics, or laborers, or nudists–nor do Negroes; nor will the enfranchised Negroes of the South.

If that is true, the South will not hinder the Negro from voting–why should it, if the Negro vote, like the women’s, merely swells the volume, but does not affect the ratio, of the vote? In some parts of the South, the White community merely intends to prevail on any issue on which there is corporate disagreement between Negro and White. The White community will take whatever measures are necessary to make certain that it has its way.

What are the issues? Is school integration one? The NAACP and others insist that the Negroes as a unit want integrated schools. Others disagree, contending that most Negroes approve the social separation of the races. What if the NAACP is correct, and the matter comes to a vote in a community in which Negroes predominate? The Negroes would, according to democratic processes, win the election; but that is the kind of situation the White community will not permit. The White community will not count the marginal Negro vote. The man who didn’t count it will be hauled up before a jury, he will plead not guilty, and the jury, upon deliberation, will find him not guilty. A federal judge, in a similar situation, might find the defendant guilty, a judgment which would affirm the law and conform with the relevant political abstractions, but whose consequences might be violent and anarchistic.

The central question that emerges–and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal–is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced ace. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes’, and intends to assert its own.

National Review believes that the South’s premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way, and the society will regress; sometimes the numberical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.

The axiom on which many of the arguments supporting the original version of the Civil Rights bill were based was Universal Suffrage. Everyone in America is entitled to the vote, period. No right is prior to that, no obligation subordinate to it; from this premise all else proceeds.

That, of course, is demagogy. Twenty-year-olds do not generally have the vote, and it is not seriously argued that the difference between 20 and 21-year-olds is the difference between slavery and freedom. The residents of the District of Columbia do not vote: and the population of D.C. increases by geometric proportion. Millions who have the vote do not care to exercise it; millions who have it do not know how to exercise it and do not care to learn. The great majority of the Negroes of the South who do not vote do not care to vote, and would not know for what to vote if they could. Overwhelming numbers of White people in the South do not vote. Universal suffrage is not the beginning of wisdom or the beginning of freedom. Reasonable limitations upon the vote are not exclusively the recommendations of tyrants or oligarchists (was Jefferson either?). The problem in the South is not how to get the vote for the Negro, but how to equip the Negro–and a great many Whites–to cast an enlightened and responsible vote.

The South confronts one grave moral challenge. It must not exploit the fact of Negro backwardness to preserve the Negro as a servile class. It is tempting and convenient to block the progress of a minority whose services, as menials, are economically useful. Let the South never permit itself to do this. So long as it is merely asserting the right to impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to effect a genuine cultural equality between the races, and so long as it does so by humane and charitable means, the South is in step with civilization, as is the Congress that permits it to function.

54 From Jacob Heilbrunn’s masterful “Apologists Without Remorse”, on the sorry history of conservative intellectual attitudes toward South Africa:

As [Chester] Crocker [undersecretary of state] told a South African reporter in October 1980, “all Reagan knows about southern Africa is that he’s on the side of the whites.” “To what extent,” asked the March 14, 1986, National Review, “is the vast majority of South African blacks intellectually and practically prepared to assume the social, economic, and political leadership in a highly industrialized country?”

55 From Jacob Heilbrunn’s “Apologists Without Remorse”:

On August 1, 1986, William F. Buckley, Jr., advised the United States to forget about the “one-man/one-vote business.”

56 There are may pieces out there discussing this issue. One of the more recent is Jonathan Chait’s “Who Needs To Win To Win?”

57 From “Mountain out of a molehill”:

Because the likelihood of any individual’s vote mattering is infinitesimal and because the effort required to be an informed voter can be substantial, ignorance and abstention are rational, unless voting is cathartic or otherwise satisfying. A small voting requirement such as registration, which calls for the individual voter’s initiative, acts to filter potential voters with the weakest motivations. They are apt to invest minimal effort in civic competence. As indifferent or reluctant voters are nagged to the polls – or someday prodded there by a monetary penalty for nonvoting – the caliber of the electorate must decline.

58 “Stand With Us”:

59 As this is a slightly controversial quote, I upload scans of the article portion where it’s featured, so there won’t be doubts as to its veracity. The anecdote begins on page 73 and continues on to page 74; I thought it was a distraction to mention in the main piece the insight of one of the Review editors that, “under a real government, Bishop Tutu would be a cake of soap.”

Angola Namibia South Africa

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