California has long been home to the eccentric and free spirits, so naturally the highly eccentric Irish mystic, poet and Celtic mythologist Ella Young found a home there. The first woman to hold an endowed lectureship in the English Department at the University of California at Berkley, Young left several enduring legacies on the Golden State’s literature, counterculture, and environmental movement.
Nearing old age in Ireland, Young helped spark a new age consciousness in the Bay Area. Young lived the first fifty-eight years of her life in her native land, but even before leaving for America, she traveled far from her conservative Ulster roots. Born in December 1867, in Fenagh, a townland near Ballymena, Co. Antrim, Ella was eldest of five daughters of a Presbyterian minister. The family moved to Dublin at an early age and Young graduated with a BA in History, Political Economy and Law from the Royal University of Ireland. Abandoning Christianity, Ella’s interest in the spirit world led her to join the Hermetic Society, the Dublin branch of the Theosophical Society, which sought to awaken the power and presence of Ireland’s ancient spirits. Young was greatly influenced by fellow Ulster mystical poet AE Russell, and she soon became one of his select group of protégés known as the “singing birds.”
She found her muse and published her first volume of verse in 1906, and her first work of Irish folklore, The Coming of Lugh, appeared in 1909. Young mixed with luminaries of the Celtic revival including J.M. Synge, W.B. Yeats and Maud Gonne, with whom she might have had a romantic relationship. Like other writers of her day, Ella found great spiritual riches in the West of Ireland, where Irish was still the spoken language of the locals and where she was also able to hear what she called the Music of the Faerie, the ceol sídhe.
Ella completed a master’s degree at Trinity, but she would be drawn into the revolutionary fervor then sweeping Ireland. Young’s immersion in Celtic mythology and theosophy led her to promote a spiritually inflected Irish nationalism. A friend of Patrick Pearse, Ella became a member of Sinn Féin in 1912 and a founding member of Cumann na mBan in 1914. Ella witnessed the 1916 Rising in Dublin and is alleged to have hidden ammunition under the floorboards of her home and helped two fugitive Republican prisoners to escape Dublin. An anti-Treaty Republican, she strongly opposed the Anglo–Irish Treaty and, after supporting different sides, she and her mentor Æ Russell never spoke again. Because of her anti-Treaty stance, Young was interned by the Free State in Mountjoy jail and in the North Dublin Union.
An ardent cultural Nationalist, Young fervently believed the revitalization of Irish culture could be realized through a reconnection with its Celtic mythological roots. She taught in Dublin, but she came of age as an anti-Treaty woman at a time and in a state where her gender, politics and Protestant background severely limited her career opportunities. Young left Ireland for the US In the mid-1920s, where she would spend the rest of her life. Her emigration, she claimed, had been foretold in 1914 by a Romani fortune teller.
Fortunately for Ella, Celtic studies scholar William Whittingham Lyman Jr. left his Berkley lectureship in 1922 and Young was hired to fill the vacancy in 1924. Ella, however, was almost forbidden entry into the United States. During an interview in Ellis Island, Young was detained as a probable mental case when the authorities learned that she believed in the existence of fairies, elves, and pixies. However, outrage by her American readers at the ban helped her finally gain entry.
Young fell in love with Berkley, California and Berkley loved her back. Young adored the college town, especially its exotic flora, breathtaking views, and its student culture. She quickly inspired a cult-like following in California. A striking woman, Young cut a dramatic figure with a noble forehead and face that seemed to shine with an inner light. She lectured in what she considered the traditional purple robes of a Druid bard, which she called her “reciting robes,” to visually portray an authentic Irish identity. She let her shoulder-length silver hair hang free and instead of shaking hands when introduced, she raised her hands high in the ancient druid greeting. Poet Padraic Colum compared her to the ancient “women who knew the sacred places and their traditions, who knew the incantations and the cycles of stories about the Divine Powers, and who could relate them with authority and interpret them wisely. . . She speaks of Celtic times as if she were recalling them.” A gifted speaker, Ella held her listeners spellbound with the heroic myths and sagas told in her lilting Irish voice – the voice of the bard, a keeper of the ancient teachings of her ancestors.
Young was above all a gifted storyteller and children’s author. She published The Wonder-Smith and his Son (1925), The Tangle-Coated Horse (1929), and The Unicorn with Silver Shoes (1932), stories for children, inspired by themes from Celtic myth, with beautiful illustrations and written in her delicate, carefully cadenced prose. The Unicorn with Silver Shoes was nominated for the American Newbery Prize for children’s literature in 1932; all her children’s stories were repeatedly reprinted until the 1990s.
Young was a frequent guest at the home of the celebrated California poet Robinson Jeffers, who was also deeply influenced by the Celtic revival. Jeffers and Young both identified the physical and spiritual similarities between California’s Big Sur and the West of Ireland. Ella considered dramatic Point Lobos in Marin County, where she communed with the dryads of the pine trees, the sea spirits, and the great guardian Deva who hovered over the sea with shining wings, to be the center of psychic power for the entire Pacific Coast. Young also became a close friend of Virginia and Ansel Adams, the renowned photographer of California’s wilderness, who made Yosemite Valley a symbol of the state. Adams took several dramatic portraits of Young in her “reciting robes.”
Ella Young lectured that an awareness of the supernatural world in Celtic folklore and literature could bring her listeners into a closer relationship with the natural world around them. Her love for the beauty of California made her an environmentalist long before it became fashionable, and also she saw the Earth as a great living being. She forged a close friendship with Dorothy Erskine, an early California environmentalist and advocate for limiting growth. Young also founded The Fellowship of Shasta, which became involved in environmental activism, working successfully to prevent developers from building on Point Lobos and also with the Save the Redwoods League, which preserved the remaining old-growth forests of California.
An enemy of materialism and egotism, Young espoused “the natural world and our relationship to it” as an alternative to consumerism. Ella moved to a Theosophic commune in Oceano, near San Luis Obispo in the early 1930s, and became part of a community of artists and writers living on the sand dunes, known as the Dunites. Thanks to her friendship with Ansel Adams, Ella stayed with the community of artists in Taos, New Mexico, where she met Georgia O’Keeffe and Frieda Lawrence and studied Native American and Mexican myths.
Back in California, Young assembled around herself a fascinating circle of artists, writers and freethinkers. She became close friends with the Irish-born landscape painter John O’Shea and other West Coast painters. Ella also became intimate with composer Harry Partch, who set several of her poems to music. Perhaps a lesbian herself, Young befriended California pioneers of sexual liberation, such as Elsa Gidlow, the British-born lesbian poet, and Gavin Arthur, a bisexual astrologer and sexologist whom Young first met in 1920s Dublin.
Young developed cancer. In the last year of her life, she claimed that she had been in communication with the occupants of a thimble-sized spaceship which came and hovered in her garden. Ella died in her cottage on July 23rd, 1956, aged eighty-eight. She was cremated, and her ashes were scattered in a redwood grove. She left the royalties from her books to a society that protected those redwoods.
Like many Brooklyn Jews of his generation, Howard Zinn, an icon of the American left, questioned laissez fair American capitalism and American nationalist glorification of country. He was the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” a best seller which sold more than two million copies and inspired a generation of high school and college students to rethink American history. He was also a strong supporter of the civil rights movement and an opponent of the Vietnam war, as well as being a much-loved professor. Proudly, unabashedly radical, Zinn delighted in debating ideological foes, including his own college president, and in attacking conventional ideas, not the least that American history was a heroic march toward democracy.
Born Aug. 24, 1922, Howard Zinn grew up in Bedford Stuyvesant. His parents were Jewish immigrants who met in a factory. His father worked as a ditch digger and window cleaner during the Depression. His father and mother ran a neighborhood candy store for a brief time, barely getting by. For many years his father was in the waiter’s union and worked as a waiter for weddings and bar mitzvahs. “We moved a lot, one step ahead of the landlord,” Zinn recalled. “I lived in all of Brooklyn’s best slums.”
“NO LONGER A LIBERAL”
His parents were not intellectuals and Zinn recalled that there were no books in his home growing up. At some point his parents, knowing his interest in books, and never having heard of Charles Dickens, sent in a coupon with a dime each month to the New York Post and received one of ultimately twenty volumes of Dickens’ complete works. He became interested in fascism and began to read about its rise in Europe and to engage in political discussions and debates with some young Communists in his neighborhood. Zinn was radicalized thanks to a peaceful political rally in Times Square, where mounted police charged the marchers, hit Zinn knocked him unconscious. Zinn explained, “From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. . . The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.”
After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, Zinn became an apprentice shipfitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he and a few other apprentices began to discuss books and strategize about how to improve their dangerous working conditions. Excluded from the craft unions of skilled workers, they formed their own Apprentice Association. On an overnight boat trip he organized to raise money for the association, he met his future wife, Roslyn Shechter, who shared Howard’s progressive views and was also a Jewish child of immigrants. Zinn joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, eager to fight the fascists, and became a bombardier in a B-17. While in the Air Force he was disturbed by the race and class inequality among the servicemen. It wasn’t until years after the war that he questioned the necessity of the bombs that he dropped. But at the end of the war, back in New York, he deposited his medals in an envelope and wrote: “Never Again.”
“I would not deny that [WWII] had a certain moral core, but that made it easier for Americans to treat all subsequent wars with a kind of glow,” Zinn said. “Every enemy becomes Hitler.”
After the war, he went back to interview victims of the bombing, and later wrote about it in two books. His own experience and his subsequent interviews led him to conclude that the bombing had been ordered more to enhance the careers of senior officers than for any military imperative, and he later wrote about the ethics of bombing in the context of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tokyo and Dresden, as well as Iraq.
Zinn and Roz married in 1944. While Zinn worked various jobs after the war, they lived on meager income in a rat-infested basement apartment in Brooklyn. Their daughter Myla was born in 1947 and Jeff in 1949. They moved to new public housing in 1949 and Zinn went to New York University for his B.A in history.
Thanks to the GI Bill, which paid the tuition of veterans, Zinn went to Columbia, where he earned an MA in 1952 with a thesis about a famous coalminers’ strike in Colorado, then obtained his PhD with a dissertation about the career in Congress of Fiorello LaGuardia, the reforming mayor of New York. He studied at Columbia under Richard Hofstadter who taught Zinn that American liberals were not as liberal as they thought they were, and that the two common threads in all American history were nationalism and capitalism.
In 1956, Zinn accepted a professorship at Spelman College, a traditionally black college for women in Atlanta, Georgia. Among his students were Maria Wright Edelman, the campaigner for children’s rights, and the future novelist Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. At Spelman, he was a mentor to and later the historian of the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC), the radical student wing of the civil rights movement. Zinn took part in many civil rights protests, and he encouraged his students to join him in these marches, which angered Spelman’s president. Zinn angered the authorities at Spelman over his insistence that its students should not be trained to be ladies, but should be actively involved in politics. “I was fired for insubordination,” he recalled. “Which happened to be true.” Zinn moved to Boston University in 1964, where he quickly became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He angered many Americans, including Boston University’s president, by traveling with the Rev. Daniel Berrigan to Hanoi to receive prisoners released by the North Vietnamese, and produced the antiwar books “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal” (1967) and “Disobedience and Democracy” (1968). When Daniel Ellsberg, a previously gung-ho John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson administration official, came out against the war, he gave one copy of the Pentagon Papers (officially titled United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, the government’s secret history of the war) to Zinn and his wife, Roslyn. Zinn and Noam Chomsky edited what became known as the Mike Gravel edition, published in Boston in 1971-72 by the Beacon Press.
In 1980, he published his most successful work, A People’s History of the United States, which was a highly controversial revision of American history. Instead of the usual congratulatory tone of most American history textbooks, his work concentrated on what he saw as the genocidal depredations of Christopher Columbus, the blood lust of Theodore Roosevelt and the racial failings of Abraham Lincoln. He also highlighted the revolutionary struggles of impoverished farmers, feminists, laborers and resisters of slavery and war. Bruce Springsteen said the starkest of his many albums, “Nebraska,” drew inspiration in part from Mr. Zinn’s writings.
For decades, he poured out articles attacking war and government secrecy.
When President Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli in 1986, Zinn wrote: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable.” He denounced the invasion of Iraq and also criticized President Barack Obama’s intensification of the war in Afghanistan. He was sharply attacked in Israel and by many of his fellow American Jews for saying that war was morally the equivalent of terrorism.
Mr. Zinn retired in 1988, concluding his last class early so he could join a picket line. He invited his students to join him. Zinn also wrote three plays: “Daughter of Venus,” “Marx in Soho” and “Emma,” about the life of the anarchist Emma Goldman. All have been produced. Zinn died in 2010.
Zinn always believed in standing up to injustice and fighting for oppression. He said near the end of his life, “Where progress has been made, wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it’s been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn’t just moan. They worked, they acted, they organized, they rioted if necessary to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that’s what we have to do today.”
POSTSCRIPT from Rebel Breeze:
TRUMP ATTACKS ZINN AFTER LATTER’S DEATH
“If you want to read a real history book,” Matt Damon’s character tells his therapist, played by Robin Williams, in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” “read Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States.’ That book will knock you on your ass.”
It is very unlikely that President Donald Trump knew who Howard Zinn was before he saw the name on his teleprompter. And it is even less likely that he’s read “A People’s History of the United States.” But that didn’t stop him from saying — at the White House Conference on American History on Thursday — that today’s “left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long. Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts, like those of Howard Zinn, that try to make students ashamed of their own history.”
The wolf was hunted to extinction in Ireland during English occupation1 – in fact, a similar bounty was paid by the colonial administration on delivery of Catholic priests and resistance fighters as was paid on a wolfskin2. They were extirpated in most of western Europe and in large parts of the USA and plans to reintroduce them run into lots of opposition. But really, what is the problem with wolves?
The canine with closest ancestry to our domestic dog is the wolf, the Eurasian and American subspecies – close enough to our dog to mate and produce viable offspring – and the divergence from a common ancestor is estimated to have occurred 11,00 to 16,00 years ago.3 The wolf is an apex predator usually in a pack ruled by an alpha male and alpha female, the only ones permitted to mate and their offspring are cared for by the whole pack.
Highly social, adaptable to different terrain and weather, the wolf is a highly-intelligent animal able to travel long distances and fierce in defence or attack. Many people might fear wolves through imagining they or their children being attacked by them – and certainly there are enough childhood stories to feed that fear — but the main opposition to their conservation or reintroduction does not come from that source. Nor is the source those pet owners, particularly of weak or diminutive descendants of the ancient canine stock, like those for example in Los Angeles who complain that a coyote ate their toy poodle.
Wolves playing among themselves in juxtaposition to humans in Gorbeia, the largest natural park in the south-western Basque Country. The presence of wolves there is mentioned in only some of the tourist promotional literature and no explanation was provided with the youtube posting of this remarkable video.
The main opposition, and by far the most powerful, are the livestock farmers4. And their fears are far from irrational. Wolves are top-range predators easily capable of killing a sheep, pig or goat and, as a pack, of killing cows and even horses too5. Most livestock farmers are not going to be convinced by arguments in favour of biodiversity when they largely favour one or two breeds of meat or dairy animal, selectively-bred for high production relative to maintenance cost.
And the bigger the livestock farmer, the more realistic his problem with wolf conservation — or worse, wolf reintroduction. The bigger the herd, the more widely it is dispersed for grazing, the more difficult to protect. Paid guards with high-powered rifles are only effective by day. Corralling by night requires electrified fencing and even they are not infallible.6
So how did people manage before? In some parts of Western Europe, there have been wolves in living memory and people raising livestock in those areas made a reasonable living. How did they do it?
The answer is dogs7. Not the poodle or spaniel or terrier type but big strong dogs capable of fighting wolves and, in the case of some breeds, more than a match in a one-on-one contest. The studded or spiked collar was invented to shield the dog’s vulnerable neck and throat.
PROTECTION FROM WOLVES BY DOG
In a video from the Basque Country I viewed some years ago, some villagers talked about wolves and the mastiff dogs they had and these are discussed also in a video in Spanish included here with shepherds from the Zamora region, in Castille and León, in central Spain. This type of dog is not a sheep or cattle herder8 but rather a livestock guard; living around the livestock, it knows them and does not permit predators of any size to approach them. In some parts of the world and in the case of some breeds, nor will they permit the approach of any humans, other than their masters and their known associates. Livestock guardian dogs are not all mastiffs but all are typically big and strong breeds, hardy to the prevalent weather conditions typical to their area, socialised to the herd animals and therefore at ease with them (and vice versa), protective of the livestock and inhibited from injuring or killing them, even when hungry. They are comfortable enough with their owners (although reputedly some do not enjoy petting) and his or her close associates, with some breeds also very protective of their owners.
There are around fifty currently known breeds around the world to fill this role9 including: Akbash and Aksaray Malaklisi of Turkey, Bakharawal of India, Beauceron of France, Cane di Manara of Sicily, Estrella Mountain dog of Portugal, Georgian Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees and Pyrenean Mastiff, Greek Shepherd, Himalayan Sheepdog, Karakachan of Bulgaria, Mazandrani of Iran, Mucuchies of Venezuela, Slovak Cuvac, Vikhan Sheepdog of Pakistan. The Irish Wolfhound was probably not one, it seems to have been primarily a hunting chase dog, though its name suggests it might have been used to hunt wolves too.10
2019 interviews in Castillian Spanish with shepherds who use Mastiffs livestock guard dogs in Zamora region, central Spain.
It should be born in mind that in many parts of the world, wolves are not the only mammalian apex predators; big cats and bears compete with them; in those regions guard dogs have to be and are willing and able to confront those species too. Despite the size and armament differential, a good guard dog will confront such predators displaying extreme threat in appearance and sound (and possibly also summoning assistance). Livestock guard dogs have been known to fight to the death but bear or even lions will usually back off to seek easier prey. Besides, a flock needs a minimum of two livestock guard dogs and and there might be more.11
These breeds are mostly comparatively rare now in many parts of the world, where apex predators have been extirpated, since their function has largely been dispensed with, or they are maintained as pets or competition show dogs.
None of the Basque villagers interviewed had mastiffs any longer, although one Basque livestock farmer informed the interviewer that his father had two. However, in some other parts of Iberia, the mastiff breed is still active as a working dog and a shepherd in Zamora (Castille and León autonomous community, central Spain) with a flock of 450 sheep has five mastiffs; all five might not be necessary but as he explains, one must have a working reserve in case of injury, sickness etc among the guard dogs. He spends €5,000 p.a on the dogs. The shepherds there have no interest in the show specimens of the breed saying that they are not being judged by their working ability. “If a wolf sees a show dog, it laughs,” says another shepherd. “If our dogs see one, they’d laugh too.” “It is impossible for the necessary qualities of a working dog to be judged in show environment”, says another shepherd, pointing out too that a mastiff that is too heavy cannot run, thereby rendering it it useless for guarding the flock.12 The dogs also need to learn from experience how to respond not just to an individual wolf but to a pack, where individual members of the pack will seek to lure the dog away towards others in ambush, or to detach it from the prey which others will then attack.
A wikipedia entry on Livestock Guard Dogs links their use with wolf coexistence: “With the reintroduction of predators into natural habitats in Europe and North America, environmentalists have come to appreciate Livestock Guard Dogs because they allow sheep and cattle farming to coexist with predators in the same or nearby habitats. Unlike trapping and poisoning, LGDs seldom kill predators; instead, their aggressive behaviors tend to condition predators to seek unguarded (thus, non-farm animal) prey. For instance, in Italy’s Gran Sasso National Park, where LGDs and wolves have coexisted for centuries, older, more experienced wolves seem to “know” the LGDs and leave their flocks alone.”13
Some Basque and Spanish shepherds seem to agree and are prepared to coexist with the wolf, using more traditional methods of livestock farming, corralling their stock by night with dogs to protect on duty as they are also by day.14 With a different apex predator in Australia, the widely-hated by farmers dingo, a few farmers are seeking to coexist with the predator against the opposition of the majority of their colleagues, in areas where dead dingoes may be seen suspended from trees or even roadside structures.
Dingoes are pack animals in which only the alpha pair breed (like wolves) and one of the cattle farmers states that dingo extermination attempts break up the pack, resulting in more individuals breeding. He also relates that kangaroos eat down the vegetation which competes with his cattle but also contributes to drying out of the land. When he stopped trying to eliminate the dingo, he says, they preyed on the kangaroo which in turn resulted in more surviving vegetation and land in better condition.15
A shepherd in the Zamora range states too that the wolf keeps down the numbers of wild boar and deer and generally across Europe these ungulates are reported to be on the increase (the white-tailed deer also in the USA). Boar are well-known in some regions for raiding cultivated fields, trampling growing plants to reach what they find edible, well able to knock down types of fencing, squeeze through gaps and so on. Increasingly on the Internet one can find videos of wild boar, often accompanied by their litter, foraging in villages and towns (in one video, even successfully overturning a trash dumper to feed on the contents). These types of ungulates contribute their own kind of environmental damage in addition in some cases to nuisance to humans16.
The Zamoran shepherd comments also that deer, a natural prey of wolves, often carry brucelosis and infect cattle, which in turn is is transmissible to humans and treated as a serious disease. In cattle it results in loss of weight, abortion of fetuses and lower milk production and as the shepherd says, state control procedures require the destruction of the whole herd upon finding of some infected animals. Apart from anything else, clearly this measure can have serious economic consequences for the farmer and for the whole state in question.17
If wolf conservation and reintroduction is be successful in the long-term, it will require livestock farmers to have smaller herds and a partnership with herd guard dogs, as well as other defensive means. This entails the irony that the expansion in herd protector dogs results in protection for wolves, in preventing their cousins from causing depredation in the herds, which would entail reprisals from humans.
It may be that farmers will occasionally lose a lamb or a calf or a pig from their ranges to a predator – but they lose occasional animals anyway, to pests, disease and mishap. Their stock animals will probably be healthier and tend towards the sturdier types.
Yes, but smaller herds? Well, is it not widely accepted (except by big farmers and banks) that we breed too many meat animals, with huge emission of greenhouse gasses and lots of waste? Smaller herds would surely be environmentally welcome.
CONSERVATION AND REINTRODUCTION PROGRAMS
Reintroduction methods for wolves vary from releasing adult animals from captivity, whether alone or as a pair, to placing captive-bred pups within a wild litter, when according to reports they are fostered without difficulty by the wolf bitch.
The problems involved in projects of conservation and reintroduction are not small. The wild mammalian apex predators can compete with and threaten the other mammalian apex predator – the human. Direct predation on humans by the other land-based predators is statistically low; fatal encounters for humans are much, much rarer than those for the other mammal involved and, when occurring, usually arise from self-defence by the animal or defence of kind (especially of the young), along with rabid animals. So, in general, leave them alone and they’ll leave us alone.
Still of a Mexican Wolf Reintroduction from video (Videocredit: Arizona Game & Fish Dept. 2018)
But leaving our livestock alone is a different proposition entirely and even more so if our livestock and livestock management systems have reduced the wolves’ natural prey, both in number and variety. And we tend to do that. Our systems tend to reduce forest to favour grassland for our domesticated grazers, which reduces or wipes out forest prey. Then we set out to reduce or even eliminate the wild grazers competing with our domesticated ones. Even when we develop forests we tend to favour monoculture or restrict to a few species of commercial timber with high turnover in comparatively shorter time.
Hunting and fishing reserve managers kill predators ranging from hawks, eagles, and owls to stoats, badgers, wolverines, foxes, otters, bears, felines and wolves; legal and illegal means of killing predators include shooting, trapping and poisoning. But those practices also favour only those particular wild species valued for hunting, often edging out a diversity of other species which are now faced with “unfair competition” from the “sport” species, resulting in damage to diversity and to the particular eco-system.
Large-scale elimination of prey animals in order, for example, to protect crops, also reduces the natural prey available to predators. Growing only particular kinds of trees will result in quicker turnover and or greater profits but also in monoculture forests giving little shelter to diverse wild life.
For good reasons as explained by their supporters, the presence of apex predators affects not only their prey and other predators but also vegetation, which in turn affects other animals, birds and fish (through their effect on water courses) – in fact, a top-down effect on the whole local environment which has been shown to beneficial.
The objectors argue that large mammalian predators can cause significant problems to humans and most significant among those humans are the livestock farmers. They, ranging from rancher livestock operations of thousands of animals, down through the medium enterprises of some hundred head, to small farmers with up to a sore or so, are the main source of opposition to wolf conservation or – what are we thinking of? — reintroduction.
The opposition based on fear of attack on person, largely without contemporary logic but relying on ignorance and some folklore, can be educated and managed by conservationists but the livestock farmers are a different proposition. Those who rely on livestock to make a decent living and those companies for which it is big business, along with their shareholders and banks, are not going to be easily persuaded. The smaller or even medium-sized concerns are potentially more amenable to convincing, especially if aided by state grants to offset losses to predation18. The evidence is that for them a change to investing in livestock guard dogs would be manageable and very possibly more emotionally rewarding19.
Big business is another matter. Grants would have to be substantial to convince them and, in any case, ecological grants to big business have not turned out to be of benefit to the environment overall. Quite crudely, big business will need to be forced to reduce the size of its operations or be put out of business one way or another; how that may be achieved is another day’s discussion. Meanwhile, progressing with smaller and medium-sized livestock farmers will make some difference and play an important educational role in what is good for the environment and for us.
NATURAL REINTRODUCTION AND VIABILITY
Not all reintroduction is human-initiated. In the Pyrenean region of the Iberian peninsula, in areas devoid for years of the native wolf, they speak of the appearance of the Italian wolf (sub-species) slightly divergent from its Iberian cousin), though none of those migrants having yet bred and thereby established a pack. This situation is leading to increased discussion around the pros and cons of wolf conservation and herd protection there.
The wolf is protected in Iberia and though classified as game species in the northern part of the Spanish state20 a ban on hunting wolf was introduced even there in February of this year (2021). This had been agreed some years earlier by the Euskadi regional Government but not implemented, until conservationists (with the support of some traditional shepherds took a successful court case to force the implementation.21 Compensation is paid for livestock killed by wolf or bear but in uneven amounts and by different systems across the state.
In the case of achieving general agreement and support for reintroduction, there remains the problem of viability of the reintroduced animals. Although the White-Tailed Eagle reintroduction to Ireland has been successful, reintroduced Golden Eagles struggle to survive and expand on the amount of suitable prey available to them. Wolves might not fare much better, once they had reduced the red and roe deer populations in the country.
However, a puzzle for us is that the earlier well-referenced wolf existence in Ireland predates that of the deer, raising questions on what were its main prey animals at that time. Perhaps it was the wild boar and certainly the presence of the torc is attested to in many Irish place-names.
In a number of other European countries, wolves could probably build sustainable populations preying on deer and boar, in addition to rodents and lagomorphs, along with some waterfowl (in particular ground-nesting ones such as the mallard). Swans in Ireland for example would presumably have to change their nesting habits to more isolated reed-beds and islands (though wolves are good swimmers).
In countries with large wild areas the problems of wolf and human interaction are reduced but Ireland is not such a country. The success of such a project in Ireland would require substantial areas apart from bogland being given over to wildness, with substantial forest coverage (the benefits of the latter are discussed below). Sheep flocks and cattle herds would need to be smaller and require guarding by day and night; the benefits of smaller livestock herds and a mechanism for their protection has been discussed earlier here.
Also required would be a rigorous enforcement of predator protection legislation which does not have a good record in Ireland (see http://trinitynews.ie/2016/10/farmers-wildlife-freak-outs-and-facts/) and and a compensation scheme for farmers in case of livestock loss (or indeed cultivated land loss to wilding habitat, multi-species deciduous forest planting, etc).
SUPPORT — WHY BOTHER?
The financial and educational benefits of eco-tourism are often quoted in defence of reintroduction of wolves and other terrestrial apex predators and, for some, those are sufficient justification. Eco-tourists are particularly interested in seeing apex predators and even hearing them, especially in the case of wolves. Certainly providing for such tourism is a niche which can permit a living to be made from management of low livestock numbers or even land without any livestock at all. As such it can be a convincing argument for small herding communities or for individual farms in livestock country.
Another reason quoted is the psychological and scientific benefits of living more in tune with the natural world and, though hard to quantify, in a world heading for ecological disaster such potential benefit should not be ignored. Which is what it is likely to be, however, in communities and enterprises focused on surviving in the present (not to mention those for whom extracting maximum profits is the only viable reason for any undertaking).
Another and more tangible benefit of encouraging mammalian apex predator conservation or reintroduction is the early and visible environmental improvement resulting in places where it has been tried. Wild grazers compete with livestock grazers, often more efficiently than livestock can manage. Not only that but they will graze areas being left for regrowth by the farmer. Such overgrazing results in arid ground, retaining little moisture, soil erosion and can even end in desertification. What long-term benefit to the environment if reducing domestic herds results in more and more land being overgrazed?
In addition, there are the problems of infection of livestock and in turn humans by diseases carried by wild ungulates (e.g. deer, bison, antelope, boar, wild goats, mountain sheep22).
The large predator can be the solution. Wolves and other apex predators keep down the numbers of wild ungulates, keeping them also on the move (in fear of predators), allowing vegetation to recover from grazing, in turn assisting moisture retention in the soil. These changes in turn benefit many other animals and plants, from invertebrates up to birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Previously to wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, the moose had only the occasional bear to worry about and they chewed their way through branch and leaf; rangers had to cull large numbers every year and even so there was substantial deforestation and large numbers of moose would die during severe winters, only to be quickly replenished the following year. Only one family of beavers was seen at work (their food of shrubs and low trees by the water margins was being eaten by the moose).
Twenty-five years after the reintroduction of wolves, willow and aspen had recovered in some areas of Yellowstone, beaver colonies had increased 14-fold, song-birds had recovered and some new species were being seen. The soil is retaining greater moisture. There are arguments about how much these changes are due to the action of the wolves but most experts grant the wolves at least some credit while some others give them a lot.23
So that’s good news for the environment and the wolf, not so good for the moose, right? Actually, it seems to be good news for the moose too, with lower die-off for moose in winter,24 signalling a general improvement in health of the stock surviving predation.
When the numbers of grazers is controlled, tree seedlings of willow and alder get a chance to grow on the edges and banks of bodies of freshwater, which tends to control soil erosion on banks and reduce flooding. When grazers are prevented or restricted from eating seedlings, new trees survive to extend the woods and forests or to replace fallen trees and harvested timber.
Many ecologists and forestry experts blame the white-tailed deer for changes across large parts of the USA, involving reductions in canopy-cover, reductions in diversity of tree species and general forestry maintenance (to say nothing of failure to extend)25.
For the ecology of the world, the thinning out of wild grazers is perhaps the most valuable service rendered by large mammalian predators although other factors need to be taken into account, including pattern and variety of planting and management, domestic herd sizes, along with of course responses to insect and fungal pests.26
It has long been known too that many species of trees prevent or restrict soil erosion and restrict flooding by holding water margins and, in some cases such as mangroves, sap the effects of hurricanes coming from the seaward side, along with tidal waves.
More crucially, trees produce oxygen and consume or hoard carbon. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen”.
We all know that we need oxygen to breathe and also to combine with other elements, such as carbon dioxide, to produce water.27 But the problem of excess loose carbon dioxide is recognised as one of the most serious confronting the eco-system at this moment, with carbon dioxide emissions creating part of the “greenhouse” cover over the earth, contributing hugely to global warming. This process in return is causing sea-levels to rise and also to warm, causing mass deaths in seas, along with big changes in weather systems with devastating effects for human and animal populations.
The wolf can also play a role in mediating the effect of other predators and has done so in part of the USA with regard to the coyote, similar to what the dingo has done to the European-introduced red fox, which has become a problem in Australia.
In Ireland another introduced species, more likely through escape from fur farms, the american mink, is also a problem and is spreading.28 It may be that the wolf can play a helpful role there too, along with having some effect in controlling that other american, the grey squirrel which, in turn, might assist the red squirrel’s return to areas from which it has long been absent.
1Though indications exist of some hunting of wolves by humans in Ireland, in England, wolf persecution was enforced by legislation and the last wolf was killed in the early 16th century during the reign of Henry VII (see Wikipedia on the Eurasian Wolf). Ireland was invaded by British-based forces in 1169 and over time native forces were defeated and the whole country came under English rule until partly independent in 1921.
2For priests: “An 1709 Penal Act demanded that Catholic priests take the Oath of Abjuration and recognise the Protestant Queen Anne as Supreme Head of the Church of England and, by implication, in Ireland. Priests who refused to conform were arrested and executed. ……….The reward rates for capture varied from £50–100 for a bishop, to £10–20 for the capture of an unregistered priest; substantial amounts of money at the time. The work was dangerous, and some priests fought in self-defence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priest_hunter
For Wolves: “In AD 1652 the Commissioners of the Revenue of Cromwell’s Irish Government set substantial bounties on wolves, £6 for a female, £5 for a male, £2 for a subadult and 10 shillings for a cub”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolves_in_Ireland
4In some parts of the USA and Western Europe, where hunting big game is a widespread activity, fear of competition with the wolf in hunting season is also an important factor and one where “the common man” may come into conflict with those wishing to protect or reintroduce the wolf.
5It is worth noting that wild grazing mammals are capable of defence against hunting canines by outrunning them and, usually as a last resort, by fighting them with horn, antler, tusk, teeth or hoof. In turn, wolves have to plan, ambush, select targets and coordinate attacks. Old and very young grazers are vulnerable but calves and foals are pushed by their mothers to stand minutes after birth; in an hour or two, they can run. A wolf injured in attack cannot travel with the pack and will miss out on most food and, if failing to heal rapidly enough, will die. There is a constantly flexing relationship between the survival mechanisms of both prey and predator.
6In the first place they need to be high enough to prevent wolves leaping or scrambling over them, also proof against digging under. And since anecdotal evidence relates livestock guard dogs being willing to stand the pain of electric shock if sufficient stimulus is provided to get out of an electrified enclosure, one must assume that wolves will develop that same resolution at some point. Finally, there is the issue of possible weather damage and failure of the power supply to the barrier.
8There are a few types that can combine the characteristics of herding and guard, such as the Beauceron but in general livestock dog breeds specialise in either guarding or herding. In Australia, where the apex land predator is not the wolf but the smaller and lighter Dingo, some herding breeds also act as livestock guard dogs.
9Two are known to be extinct: The Alpine Mastiff and the Molossus.
10It seems that this breed was so valued abroad that Irish chieftains and English occupiers exported them, so that no originals of the breed remain. The current breed that goes by that name, a gentle attractive dog of high stature, is derived by cross-breeding. Wikipedia: “Based on the writings of others, Graham had formed the opinion that a dog resembling the original wolfhound could be recreated through using the biggest and best examples of the Scottish Deerhound and the Great Dane, two breeds which he believed had been derived earlier from the wolfhound. Into the mix went a Borzoi (“Korotai”), who had proved his wolf hunting abilities earlier in his native Russia. For an outbreed a “huge shaggy dog” was added, which may have possibly been a Tibetan Mastiff.
14See videos in Spanish from Zamora and the Basque Government region (latter in References & Resources)
15See Sources and References at article end for items in relation to dingo conservation,
16Apart from upending trash containers and raiding farms, boar may also attack humans, especially in the case of a sow accompanied by her litter and is capable of inflicting mortal wounds. Should boar become widespread in very close contact with humans, children might be attacked too.
18A Zamoran shepherd says he receives no grant and though not asking for one, says he should be supplied free of charge the ID chip he is required by law to embed in his dogs. On the other hand the Euskadi regional Government agreed to pay a grant and other regions have done so too, in areas where the wolf and bear are known to be in residence, without having to prove or even claim a kill of any of their stock.
19Partnership with working dogs is likely to be therapeutic in itself and surely wholly preferable to setting out traps, poison bait (which kills other predators and scavengers too) and shooting, including even killing cubs. Besides, break up the pack and more wolves will mate and bear litters.
20Ironically that status can serve to protect predators from extermination and since it was given that status in Poland, the wolf population increased substantially (see Wikipedia the Eurasian Wolf).
A group of mixed political background held a picket this afternoon in Henry Street, one of the main shopping streets in Dublin’s city centre. The picket was protesting the continuing internment in Ireland of political activists and also expressing solidarity with political prisoners in different parts of the world – a Palestinian flag and a couple of Basque ones flew alongside the Irish ones. There are over 60 political prisoners in Irish jails both sides of the British Border.
Many people were out shopping or just enjoying the sun on what must have been the hottest day of the year so far. Up to 200 leaflets were distributed and passers-by occasionally stopped to discuss with the picket supporters.
MESSAGE OF SOLIDARITY TO CAMPAIGNERS FOR MUMIA ABU JAMAL
Near the end of the picket, a representative of the Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland was recorded voicing a message of solidarity for Mumia Abu Jamal, to send to an upcoming conference on Mumia and other political prisoners.
Mumia is a political prisoner, a black United States activist and author who was awaiting execution but is now in his 40th year in jail. He was a popular broadcaster in 1981 when he went to the assistance of his brother, who was being harassed by a white police officer. As the incident came to an end the cop was dead of gunshot wounds and Mumia was shot in the stomach.
There are so many questions about the scenario the Prosecution laid out and which got Mumia convicted of murder and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to imprisonment for life. His gun had five bullets missing but Mumia was never tested to see whether he had fired the gun nor were the tests on the bullets in the police officer conclusively proven to come from there. The crime scene was not preserved and the police were in and out of it, with Mumia’s gun while Mumia was in hospital, undergoing an emergency operation. Photos taken of the scene by an independent press photographer did not show the presence of the taxi of a witness against Mumia, who claimed he was parked there. Not to mention the later confession of a man who claimed to have killed the police officer on behalf of other police as a contract kill (the decision not to use him as a witness divided Mumia’s legal team and two lawyers resigned as a result).
As the spokesperson of the Anti-Internment Committee said, even if people believe that he fired the shots that killed the police officer, after 40 years Mumia should be freed on humanitarian grounds. The USA is allegedly the country leading the world in democracy, as the spokesperson commented, but holds a great many political prisoners, some of them for many, many years in jail.
MORE EVENTS TO COME
Pandemic permitting, the AIGI intends to hold pickets on approximately a monthly basis to protest continuing internment and in solidarity with political prisoners, such events being advertised on our social media. The organisation is independent of any political party or organisation and all who oppose the jailing of activists without trial or wish to support political prisoners are welcome.
By Geoffrey Cobb (Reprint from The Irish Echo 23 June 2021)
(Reading time: 2 mins.)
The Rev. Bernard Quinn faced opposition from the Ku Klux Klan on Long Island.
In 1983, African-American priest Fr. Paul Jervis was assigned to the parish of St. Peter Claver in Brooklyn, which had been founded in 1921 by Fr. Bernard Quinn, as Brooklyn’s first black Catholic parish. Speaking with his parishioners, Jervis was amazed to hear the stories of so many older people who still spoke of Quinn with profound reverence, even though he had died 43 years earlier.
Intrigued, Jervis began to research his predecessor and was so taken with Quinn’s life that he decided to write a biography of Quinn calling it: “Quintessential Priest, The Life of Father Bernard J. Quinn.” Jervis’s biography is an inspirational tale of a man whose love for his black congregation defined him and forged a unique community of faith.
Quinn was born in 1888 in Newark, N.J., into a large Irish Catholic family. His father, who was from County Cavan, and his County Offaly mother sent him to parochial school and young Bernard felt such a strong vocation that he entered the seminary in 1906, where he developed a lifelong deep sympathy for the poor and the downtrodden. Ordained in 1912 in Brooklyn, Quinn was assigned to diocesan parishes such as St. Patrick’s in Bay Ridge and St. Gregory the Great in Crown Heights.
SHOCKED BY RACISM IN US ARMY DURING WW1
When World War I erupted, Quinn volunteered to serve as a chaplain for front line troops. Commissioned as a First Lieutenant, Quinn served as chaplain of the 333rd infantry. Serving at the front, he became a victim of mustard gas. Though he recovered, Quinn suffered from the gassing for the rest of his life. In France, Quinn was shocked by the racism in the American army. When a white American Protestant chaplain refused to pray with a dying Black soldier, Quinn intervened and prayed with the dying soldier, but the troubling incident lingered with Quinn.
The war ended, but Fr. Quinn remained in France to minister to the wounded soldiers. After a chance reading of “The Story of a Soul, the life of St. Therese of Lisieux,” in the barracks library, Fr. Quinn discovered a spiritual hero. Learning that he was stationed in the vicinity of Alencon, not far from St. Therese childhood home, Quinn obtained permission to visit it and became the first priest to celebrate Mass there before it became a popular shrine. Intense devotion to St. Therese would define Fr. Quinn’s faith for the rest of his life.
BACK TO BROOKLYN FROM THE WAR
Quinn returned to Brooklyn in 1919. While preparing two black women for baptism, he was inspired to create an apostolate to African Americans, but his concern for Blacks was not shared by all Brooklyn’s Catholics, some of whom did not want African Americans praying in their churches. After repeated appeals, Quinn finally received permission from Bishop McDonnell to begin his mission to the Black people of Brooklyn, but finding Black Catholics proved difficult. Quinn went to the streets, asking every African American he met where he could find Catholics.
Finally, Quinn found Mr. Jules de Weever, the leader of the dissolved Colored Catholic Club, which had met from 1915-1916, seeking in vain to establish a church for Black Catholics in Brooklyn. Frustrated by the church’s indifference to their quest, the group disbanded. Quinn revived the CCC and inspired them to persevere in founding Brooklyn’s first Catholic church.
Quinn incessantly petitioned the bishops for permission to establish an African-American parish, reminding them that Black Catholics were being excluded from worship at Italian, Irish and German churches, but instead of agreeing, the bishops ignored Quinn’s pleas. Finally, thanks to his perseverance, they authorized the founding of Brooklyn’s first African American Catholic Church, St. Peter Claver Church, in 1921, naming Quinn pastor.
The Irish-American priest now needed a church building and the parish soon found a warehouse for trunks and baggage that had once been a Congregationalist church on the corner of Ormond Street, now Peter Claver Place, and Jefferson Avenue, in the expanding black community of Bedford Stuyvesant. Quinn and the congregation enthusiastically set to work on the herculean task of transforming the warehouse back into a house of worship. The church’s decoration celebrated black faith with murals of early Black saints, and of St. Peter Claver’s work with enslaved Africans in Cartagena, Colombia.
On Christmas Day, 1921, the cornerstone for St. Peter Claver, named for the patron saint of African peoples, was laid. By 1922, the church was ready and blessed by Bishop Thomas Edmund Molloy. Quinn soon proved to be a model pastor and quickly the kindhearted priest endeared himself to his rapidly growing flock. Brooklyn’s Black Catholics were attracted to a church that didn’t just tolerate them, but even welcomed them with open arms. The parish became more than a place to pray, helping the parish’s poor, while also setting up a clinic, a credit union, a parish school, and adult education classes. St. Peter Claver soon became famous for its large children’s choir and its band. Legendary entertainers Lena Horne and Pearl Bailey both started their singing in the church’s choir. Reputedly, it was the first African-American choir ever to sing at the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music.
THE LITTLE FLOWER NOVENA BUSTOP
Fr. Quinn began a temporary daily novena, a series of prayers, to his inspiration, St. Thérèse, called the Little Flower Novena, but he never could have imagined the massive reaction the novena received. People begged for the novena to continue and an estimated that 10,000 of all races a week poured into St. Peter Claver’s. Within five years an amazing 2.2 million people had attended the novena, stirring the envy of nearby white Catholic pastors who complained that it drew away their parishioners. The novena was such a hit that the drivers on the bus line near the church would call out “Little Flower Novena stop.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle soon did a feature article on the amazing success of the novena.
The novena proved to be a huge money maker for the parish, allowing Fr. Quinn to fund some of the parish projects he envisioned including a $300,000 school building, a convent, a recreation center and a Long Island orphanage that would ignite the bitter flames of racism. In 1929, Msgr. Quinn founded the Brooklyn Diocese’s first orphanage for Black children in a farmhouse in Wading River, Long Island, which at the time was still part of the diocese. A cross was burned in front of the Quinn family home in Mineola, but the priest defied the threat. Outraged racist locals contacted the Ku Klux Klan, which was very active on Long Island in the 20s and 30s, and the orphanage burned in an act of arson. The orphanage was rebuilt but burned again in the same year.
THE KLAN AND RACISM IN THE CHURCH
Undeterred, Father Quinn rebuilt the orphanage yet again, this time in stone and brick. The Brooklyn Eagle announced this with a headline, “New Fireproof Orphanage Will Defy Incendiary.” The KKK gave up, and the orphanage, called the Little Flower Orphanage, in honor of St. Thérèse, was dedicated as the Little Flower House of Providence Oct. 26, 1930. Today that organization survives as the Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York, offering adoptions and other social services in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.
Quinn became an outspoken defender of Brooklyn’s Blacks against the pervasive racism of his day. He denounced institutionalized racism and invited the Urban League, an African American advocacy group, to speak at his church. Some Brooklyn Catholic clergy spoke out against Quinn’s embrace of Black Catholics. In 1929, Msgr. John L. Bedford wrote in his Brooklyn parish newsletter that “Negroes should be excluded from this Roman Catholic Church if they become numerous.” Quinn vehemently defended his flock writing in the Brooklyn Tablet, “It seems to me that no church can exclude anyone and still keep its Christian ideals. The Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and this, plus the fact that church property is tax exempt, ought to mean that anyone can go anyplace to worship.”
The strain of his herculean labors took a physical toll on Quinn. In the spring of 1940, Msgr. Quinn went into nearby St. Mary’s Hospital for surgery for an abdominal problem. He never came back to St. Peter Claver’s, dying on April 7. Brooklyn’s Black Catholics were in shock. They had lost a dear friend and their most vocal advocate. Eight thousand grieving mourners attended his funeral at St. Peter Claver, which was reported in all the New York papers including the New York Times.
In 1992, a movement to canonize Msgr. Quinn received the blessing of the Catholic Church and the long and difficult path to Quinn’s canonization has started. Decades before the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement, Fr. Quinn dedicated his life to serving Brooklyn’s Black Catholics and his life remains a shining example of the power of love to defeat hatred and bigotry.
Author and teacher Geoffrey Cobb will lead a walking tour on Saturday, Aug. 7, of sites associated with the Tipperary-born Paddy “Battle Axe” Gleason, who was the last mayor of Long Island City before its 1898 incorporation into New York City. The event is sponsored by the New York Irish Center, 10-40 Jackson Ave. “Rebel Breeze” will shortly publish an article about the same Gleason by Geoffrey Cobb.
A black American traveling entertainer, boxer and trainer, soldier in two world wars for two different countries, awarded 14 French military medals, airplane pilot, nightclub owner, musician, civil rights activist, associate of famous writers and musicians.
Bullard’s biography is so amazing I cannot believe it has never been made into a movie. Like the lives of many African Americans, it is also a tale full of suffering and pain that highlights the horrible racism that pervaded America in his day. He is such a remarkable person that more people should know about the achievements of this unique figure.
Bullard was born in 1895 in Columbus, Georgia, the seventh of 10 children born to William (Octave) Bullard, a black Caribbean and Josephine (“Yokalee”) Thomas, a Native American Creek woman. Georgia at the time of his birth was a dangerous place for “uppity” African Americans and tragically lynchings were common. His father’s people were Haitians who revolted against French slavery and following the revolution, Bullard’s ancestors left the Caribbean for the United States and took refuge with the Native American Creek people.
As a young boy, he was traumatized by the sight of a white mob attempting to lynch his father over a workplace dispute. A proud man, his father imbued his son with the conviction that African Americans had to maintain their dignity and self-respect, despite all the indignities heaped upon them. Bullard fell in love with his father’s stories of France where slavery had been abolished and blacks were treated equally. At age eleven, Bullard ran away from home hoping to reach France. In Atlanta, he joined a family of English gypsies and traveled throughout Georgia with them, tending their horses and learning to be a horse jockey. The gypsies told him that there was also racial equality in England and Bullard determined to go there instead of to France.
Bullard found work with the Turner family in Dawson, Georgia. Because he was hard-working as a stable boy, young Bullard won the Turners’ affection and was asked to ride as their jockey in the 1911 County Fair races, where he was victorious. Eventually, he made his way to Norfolk, Virginia where he stowed away on a ship to England.
In 1912, Bullard arrived in Scotland and soon went on to London where he boxed and performed in humiliating racist pieces for the Freedman Pickaninnies, an African American troupe. While in London, he trained under the then-famous boxer Dixie Kid who arranged a bout for Bullard in Paris. Bullard fell in love with the “city of light” and decided to settle there. He continued to box in Paris and worked in a music hall until the start of the First World War.
A SOLDIER IN WWI
When the War broke out Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and by 1915 had become a machine gunner, seeing combat on the Somme front in Picardy. He served in a regiment known as the “hirondelles de la mort” (“swallows of death”) and saw combat at Verdun where he was severely wounded on March 5, 1916. During his convalescence, Bullard was cited for acts of valor at the orders of the regiment on July 3rd 1917 and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.
After recovering, he volunteered on October 2nd 1916 for the French Air Service and became a machine gunner. He joined a group of American aviators fighting for France on November 15, 1916, called the Lafayette Flying Corps and became the first African American aviator in World War I. He took part in over twenty French combat missions, and is sometimes credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft.
When the USA entered the war, The United States Air Service created a medical board to recruit Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps to fly for the United States. Bullard went through the medical examination but he was not accepted, because in the segregated American military only white pilots were chosen. Sometime later, while off duty in Paris, Bullard allegedly got into an argument with a French officer and was punished by being transferred out of his combat unit and into a service battalion. Before he left the French military, the French government awarded him three different medals for his heroism in battle.
NIGHT CLUB OWNER
After his discharge, Bullard went back to Paris, where he started to play drums in a jazz band at a nightclub named “Zelli’s”, which was owned by Joe Zelli. Bullard worked with Robert Henri, a lawyer and friend, to get Zelli’s a club license, which allowed it to stay open past midnight. Zelli’s soon became the most celebrated nightclub in Montmartre because few other clubs could stay open so late. With the money he saved from playing at Zellis, Bullard traveled to Egypt, where he played with a jazz ensemble at Hotel Claridge and fought two prize fights.
Missing Paris, Bullard returned to the City of Lights where his career was about to take off. He became an entrepreneur hiring jazz musicians for private parties with Paris’ social elites, worked as a masseur and exercise trainer. Bullard then got a job managing the nightclub “Le Grand Duc”, where he hired the famous American poet, Langston Hughes. Around 1928, Bullard had saved enough money to enable him to purchase “Le Grand Duc.” Thanks to being the owner of a hot Parisian club, Bullard made many famous friends, including the dancer-actress Josephine Baker, poet Langston Hughes and jazz musician Louis Armstrong. He eventually became the owner of another nightclub, “L’Escadrille” where he got to know writer Ernest Hemingway, who based a minor character on Bullard in his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Bullard also opened his own gym and gave boxing lessons, training successful fighters such as “Panama” AL Brown and “Young” Perez. In 1923, he married Marcelle Straumann, a striking French woman from a wealthy family. The marriage ended in divorce in 1935, with Bullard gaining custody of their two surviving children, Jacqueline and Lolita.
A SOLDIER IN WWII
When World War II began in September 1939, Bullard, who also spoke German, agreed to a request from the French government to spy on the German citizens who still frequented his nightclub. When the Germans attacked France, Bullard volunteered and served with the 51st Infantry Regiment and was severely wounded in the battle for Orleans. When the Nazis took over Paris, he slipped over the border into Spain and then headed back to the United States.
Bullard spent some time in a New York hospital and never fully recovered from his wound. He missed Paris and his minor celebrity there. In New York, he had no celebrity and had to work menial jobs. He longed to return to Paris but learned that his nightclub had become a casualty of the battle for Paris. The French government gave him a financial settlement with which he purchased an apartment in Harlem.
Returning to America after World War II, Bullard was active in the civil rights movement. During one confrontation, a bus driver ordered him to sit in the back of the bus. In 1949, Bullard was a victim of one of the most notorious incidents in New York State history, the Peekskill riots. Bullard was a fan of African American communist entertainer Paul Robeson who was scheduled to sing at a Civil Rights benefit. Before Robeson arrived, however, a mob attacked the concertgoers with baseball bats and stones. Thirteen people were seriously injured including Bullard who was knocked to the ground and beaten by an angry mob, which included members of the state and local law enforcement. The attack was captured on film in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar-winning narrated documentary Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. Despite photographic evidence, none of his attackers were prosecuted. Graphic pictures of Bullard being beaten by two policemen, a state trooper, and a concert-goer were later published in Susan Robeson’s biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.
The 1950s were difficult years for Bullard whose daughters had married and he lived alone in his apartment, which was decorated with pictures of his famous friends and a framed case containing his 14 French war medals. His final job was as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center, where no one suspected he had once been the “Black Swallow of Death.” In 1954, the French government invited Bullard to Paris to be one of the three men chosen to rekindle the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe and in 1959 he was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion De Honeur by President Charles De Gaulle, who called Bullard a “véritable héros français” (“true French hero”). He also was awarded the Medaille Militaire, another high military distinction. On December 22, 1959, he was interviewed on NBC’s Today Show presenting his amazing biography and received hundreds of fan letters.
Bullard died in New York City of stomach cancer on October 12, 1961, at the age of 66. He was buried in the French Veteran’s section of Flushing Cemetery, where nine years later his good friend Louis Armstrong would also be interred. On August 23rd 1994, 33 years after his death and 77 years to the day after the physical that should have allowed him to fly for his own country, Bullard was posthumously commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Airforce.
Driving out of frenzied Manhattan heading out over the 59th Street Bridge and through the highway traffic east into Queens, the dense urban landscape is suddenly broken up by a jarring sight- an immense sea of green. Coming closer, the driver, who sees a vast number of gravestones and monuments, realizes that this great green space is a huge city of the dead.
This great green city of the dead is Calvary Cemetery, a place rich in New York Irish history. Founded by the Archdiocese of New York, the graveyard contains the remains of a staggering three million people, more than all the current population of the borough of Queens. Calvary holds more burials than anywhere else in the United States, covering an unbelievable 365 acres of prime real estate. The cemetery reaches into two neighborhoods and is comprised of four large sections. Many of the most important characters in New York Irish history rest beneath its fields and walking around Calvary is a lesson in New York Irish history. It even holds the remains of Annie Moore, (1874-1924) the Irish immigrant who was the first person of the millions of hopeful immigrants who passed through Ellis Island.
By the 1840’s, Lower Manhattan’s Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral graveyard was filling up and it was no longer possible to bury its large population on the island. In 1847, faced with many corpses from a raging cholera epidemic the New York State Legislature passed the Rural Cemetery Act, authorizing non-profit corporations to operate commercial cemeteries. The trustees of St. Patrick’s bought the 151-acre Alsop farm in Queen, which became the original section of Calvary Cemetery, today known as Old Calvary. When Mrs. Ann Alsop sold the farm to the Trustees, she insisted that her Protestant Alsop family burial ground remain separate from the Catholics and the trustees have maintained this division to this day. The tiny family plot still remains walled off, dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands of Catholic tombstones around it.
Calvary was consecrated by the legendary Tyrone-born Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes (1797-1864) in August 1848 and by 1852 there were 50 burials a day, half of them poor Irish kids under seven years of age, victims of the noxious conditions in the disease-ridden, teeming Manhattan slums. It cost seven dollars for an adult to be buried there, children under age seven cost three dollars and children aged seven to fourteen cost five dollars. In the early 20th Century, influenza and tuberculosis epidemics caused such a shortage of gravediggers that people were forced to dig graves themselves for their own loved ones.
In the days before highways and city parks, people reached Calvary by ferryboat and excursions to the graveyard were regular Sunday family outings. People often picnicked while visiting their loved ones and enjoyed the bucolic charm of the giant green expanse. With amazing statuary, marble mausoleums and towering trees, the graveyard remains a place of great beauty, though today there are few family visitors. Calvary, though retains a wonderful tranquility, making it a welcome refuge from the noisy city around it. Today, some harried New Yorkers visit Calvary to collect their thoughts or just to enjoy its wonderful calming silence. I have just written a book The Irish in New York and I realized that many of the characters in my book and hundreds of other famous Irish figures lie in Calvary’s ground. The Irish clawed their way to power and acceptance by creating an infamous political machine called Tammany Hall and dozens of its most notorious members lie in Calvary’s earth. The most famous Tammany Hall politico lies there, Al Smith, (1873-1944) the first Catholic Governor of New York, a reformer and the first Catholic nominee for President of the United States. A poor boy himself, Smith enacted many factory safety and labor reforms to help the working class. Another Tammany Hall figure who lies there is the infamous “Big Bill” Devery” (1854-1919). Serving as a notorious police chief of New York City, Big Bill stole enough money to become part-owner of a baseball team that would be known as the New York Yankees. A generous thief, Devery died almost broke.
A contrast to the corrupt Devery, Fr. Edward McGlynn (1837-1900) also lies in the graveyard. McGlynn was so passionately attached to the ideas of socialism and helping the poor that the Catholic Church branded him as a Communist and had him defrocked, though he was later reinstated. He was so loved that three decades after McGlynn’s death a parishioner wrote these words in Gaelic and English on paper attached to his tombstone:
Fr. McGlynn, We thank the Lord who gave us you, Soggarth aroon, (beloved priest in Gaelic)
Learned and wise, kindly and true, Soggarth Aroon,
You know your cause was sanctified,
Stood till measures were rectified,
And rest with God’s beatified, Soggarth Aroon.
There are also many infamous characters in Calvary including “ The Queen of The Night Club” Tex Guinan (1884-1933), who became a legendary, and often arrested, hostess of speakeasies during the Great Depression. She became famous for her sharp tongue and for insulting her rich male clients who still spent vast sums in her clubs. Tex lies amongst many famous murdered Italian mafiosi who also sleep in Calvary.
The Irish have been valiant New York fire fighters and some who lie in Calvary died fighting fires. One of the memorable graves contains a life-sized statue of Charles Keegan (1858-1882), a Brooklyn firefighter killed in the line of duty while fighting a blaze at Locust Point (the long-lost locale is at Meeker Avenue where it meets Newtown Creek), caused by a lightning strike at the Sone and Fleming Kings County Oil Refinery in 1882. Explosions associated with the blaze claimed the first Penny Bridge; Keegan and fellow firefighter Stuart Deane suffered grisly deaths, being burned alive. Some of the teenage girls who were burned in the tragic 1911 Triangle Fire also sleep in Calvary.
Perhaps the most striking feature in the cemetery is the city park located completely inside Calvary, dedicated to the Civil War soldiers who defended the Union. Irish sculptor Daniel Draddy from Cork created the park’s most stunning feature — amazing life-sized statues of Civil War soldiers. There is also a Fenian Monument in Calvary, erected in 1907 to honor members of the Fenian Brotherhood buried there, one of whom is the great Tipperary Fenian leader and Civil War veteran Michael Doheny (1805-1862) .
There is also — and a monument also honors — the legendary Civil War NY Irish regiment, the Fighting 69th, whose leader Thomas Meagher is also profiled in my book. My friend Peter McHale, author of Greenpoint Doughboy, wrote his excellent work about his great-uncle who fell in France fighting with the 69th in World War I. The book ends with the fallen hero’s return to be interred in Calvary.
One of the most famous figures interred there is Mayo legend and Olympic Gold Medalist Martin Sheridan (1881-1919). Sheridan, a World Record-setting discus hurler, was cut down just short of his thirtieth birthday by the last great pandemic a century ago. He lies in sight of the former Celtic Park where a number of Irish immigrants formed a legendary sports club that brought home several Olympic medals.
Artists and musicians also lie there. Galway-born Patrick Gilmore (1829-1892), song writer and band leader, known as “The Father of the American Band,” who wrote When Johnny Comes Marching Home and Meath’s John Mulvany (1839-1906) the great western painter of Custer’s Last Stand also rest there. Also among the dead is James Blake (1862-1935) who wrote the text to the iconic New York song “ The Sidewalks of New York.”
Millions of New Yorkers lie here, each with his or her own biography. Sadly, the Archdiocese shut down walking tours of the cemetery and unlike Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, Calvary fails to commemorate its amazing history. Let’s hope that this changes soon.
Born and raised on the New Jersey shore, Sean Tobin was influenced by Folk-song troubadours like Guy Clark, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, as well as high-energy rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and Tom Petty. Self-taught and trained by the New Jersey bar scene, Tobin owes much to his time spent busking on the streets of Galway, Ireland throughout 2015 and 2017. After graduating college in 2017 and uncertain of which direction to take he undertook the El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trail through Spain, with his guitar tied to his pack. Upon completion, the future became obvious and on returning to New Jersey he worked hard to fund his music. He released his first album, This Midnight, in the summer of 2018, and in 2019 he played Frank Turner’s Lost Evenings III Festival at the House of Blues in Boston and soon after quit his day job.
In July 2019, Sean released ‘Dreams & Black Caffeine,’ a four-song EP recorded in Ocean, NJ with his band, The Boardwalk Fire. The group played several shows promoting the work, and had planned a tour for the summer of 2020, but were forced to cancel due to the Covid lockdown. The last year has seen the release of ‘East Coast Artifacts’, a compilation of his first EP, various tracks recorded through lockdown and three new songs.
“We’ve all played together as duos or trios in the past, but St. Patrick’s Day Forever really fortified us as a band,” said Tobin. “I just wish we could play live. That’s what we’re best at.”
Well he has a lot of catching up to do and on his new 4-track EP, accompanied by his band The Boardwalk Fire, he has made a pretty good start.
Released at the end of February, 2021 the EP features two originals and two covers and kicks off with the title track, a fast paced Irish trad influenced Celtic-Punk song about the lockdown and it’s first anniversary in New Jersey. It was after all the cancellations of St. Patrick’s Day events around the world that set the scene for what was going to follow. Lively, upbeat and catchy as hell Sean Tobin tells a great story with a brilliant accompanying video too!
It was winter 2020, we were playing on the roof, Jack was slapping stand-up to another song by Bruce. A mere twenty hours later, we heard it on the news: the Jersey Shore’s in lockdown, so stock up on your booze!*
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*
Not long later it was Easter, I was sippin’ on some stout. I’d horded fifty cases out of fear that they’d run out, but I couldn’t taste a drop ’cause I gave it up for Lent. So come Easter, fifty cases, up the field they went!*
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*
Murphy! Your laws are screwin’ me! But frankly, I don’t blame you. If it’s what we gotta do, to keep people from dyin’, then I’ll stay home for you. I just miss my friends…and the bar…*
So now it’s comin’ up on summer, and I’m still drinkin’ stout. I would be switchin’ to Corona, but I don’t think that’s allowed…So instead I’ve got a toucan on one can, three cans, five. If Guinness makes you stronger, I’m the strongest man alive!*
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*
The EP’s other original song is titled ‘Ode to Anna Liffey’s’ a bittersweet love song to the now closed Irish bar Anna Liffey’s in New Haven, Connecticut. As with all of Sean’s songs and in common with Irish music in general the songs tell intricate stories and at over six minutes the song gives him plenty of scope in telling his story of days spent propping up the bar there. A swirling gentle song with Sean’s strong voice backed by accordion and percussion that soon enough gets faster and faster with Sean’s guitar and Sean-David’s fiddle smoking! A real Irish tinged bluegrass/country floor filler that ends on a sad note (especially for us Irish!) with the last chorus going out to all the bars that are forced to close but “go down swinging”.
Prominent among the crazed mob that stormed the American Capitol building on January 6th were banners of QAnon, a far right-wing, loosely-organized network and community of believers who embrace a range of wacky, discredited beliefs. Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed during the violence inside the Capitol was a fanatical QAnon adherent. Babbitt’s social media feed was a stream of messages celebrating President Trump and QAnon conspiracy theories and many of her co-insurrectionists were also QAnon true believers. For many on the American far right, QAnon shapes their worldview and explains their fanatical support for President Trump, but what exactly is QAnon, how large and powerful is it, and what do they believe?
At its heart, QAnon is a cult united by the insane belief that President Trump was waging a secret war against a cabal of elite cannibalistic Satan-worshipping pedophiles. QAnon supporters believe that Trump was planning a day of reckoning, known as the “Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal would be arrested. After the Storm, believers say military tribunals would ensure that these baby-eating traitors would be executed or sentenced to life in prison. Faced with overwhelming proof of the cabal’s existence, a stunned public would mourn; rage; and ultimately unite behind President Trump, ushering in a golden age of patriotism and prosperity.
QAnon supporters claim liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic Party politicians and high-ranking “deep State” government officials are all members of the cabal. They have also claimed that Trump feigned a conspiracy with Russians to trap Robert Mueller into exposing the sex-trafficking ring and preventing a coup d’état led by Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama and George Soros. Disgraced General Michael Flynn, who was convicted of lying to the FBI, but then pardoned by Trump is one of the heroes of the movement. He was filmed reciting the QAnon oath — “Where we go one, we go all” — with his family.
No-one knows the exact number of QAnon believers but social media and opinion polls indicate there are at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who believe at least some of the bizarre theories offered up by QAnon. In August, according to NBC, an internal Facebook review identified more than three million followers across a number of groups and pages. Roughly 10 percent of American adults believe in some or all of QAnon’s theories, according to a Pew Research study conducted last year.
It all started in October 2017, when an anonymous user posted a series of notes on social media message board 4chan. The user signed off as “Q” and claimed to have a level of US security approval known as “Q clearance.” These messages became known as “Q drops” or “breadcrumbs”, often written in cryptic language peppered with slogans, pledges and pro-Trump themes. True believers argue that deliberate misinformation is sown into Q’s messages, making the conspiracy theory impossible to disprove.
“Q” signs and merchandise were first spotted at Trump campaign rallies in 2018 and the cult has spread like wildfire. In 2019, the FBI designated Qanon as a potential domestic terrorist threat. Using social media, QAnon believers swap conspiracy theories, welcoming opponents of vaccinations, people who believe the moon landing was faked, and followers of just about every other conspiracy theory into their community. QAnon is also tightly linked to the equally mad “pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which claimed that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring from a Washington pizzeria. Many of the most popular QAnon groups also double as pizzagate groups, according to leaked documents. Theses fantasies though have spurred violent reactions among its believers. Both pizzagate and QAnon have been implicated in real-world violence, including armed standoffs, harassment campaigns, attempted kidnappings, a shooting and two murders. Data from digital researchers shows that QAnon content spiked during the early coronavirus lockdowns in the spring of 2020. Even after mainstream social media platforms began cracking down on QAnon-related accounts — Twitter banned them in July with Facebook and Youtube following in October — people continued spreading conspiracy theories through camouflaged account names and hashtags.
Prior to the 2020 election, a Yahoo Poll found that nearly half of Trump supporters had heard of QAnon, and of those, more than a third said they believe at least some of it is true. When asked about the baseless claim that “top Democrats” were involved in child sex-trafficking, half of all Trump supporters agreed.
QAnon played a prominent role in the 2020 election. In the election, more than 70 congressional candidates endorsed some part of the QAnon ideology. The Texas Republican Party used a QAnon slogan for its 2020 campaign, (“We Are the Storm”), then rolled it out with a new line of swag and text messages to supporters (“Text STORM2020 for updates”). Fox News, playing to the group’s adherents, ramped up its coverage of sex-trafficking stings and, in an interview with Eric Trump, Fox host Jesse Watters said: “Q can do some crazy stuff, with the pizza stuff and the Wayfair stuff, but they’ve also uncovered a lot of great stuff when it comes to (pedophile Jeffrey) Epstein and when it comes to the deep state.” Trump himself mentioned QAnon during a debate in October claiming he knew “nothing about it” but had heard “they’re very strong against pedophilia, and I agree with that.”
Q predicted a Trump victory and true believers were devastated when Joe Biden won, but in a worldview dominated by the belief that Democratic elites have rigged the system, a Biden victory wasn’t a repudiation of the theory, instead it was further evidence of a scandal. A QAnon believer soon claimed that the Biden campaign used a powerful supercomputer known as the hammer to change millions of Trump votes to Biden ones. The Hammer story neatly fit into QAnon’s overarching narrative of corrupt Democrats stealing the election from its rightful winner, Mr. Donald Trump and hence, the presence of so many of its followers inside the Capitol.
Though Trump lost, in many ways QAnon won. Almost a million and a half Americans will be represented in Congress by people who support QAnon. Gun-toting Colorado Republican Representative Lauren Boebert who won her race to represent her district is perhaps the most famous QAnon supporter. In the wake of the Capitol attack, Boebert has faced fierce criticism for disclosing the secret location of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the insurrection, putting Pelosi’s life in danger. Boebert has been called the “Qanon Congresswoman” for saying she hopes the conspiracy theory is “real.”
Boebert is not alone in the House of Representatives. Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia has called “Q” a “patriot” who is “worth listening to and claimed that Q “posted many things that seem to verify that he is the real deal,” she says. “It’s not just someone poking in the dark, messing with people.” Taylor Greene has also accused holocaust survivor George Soros of collaborating with the Nazis and Trump has called her a “future Republican star. There is speculation that she might run for the United States Senate or Governor of Georgia.
Perhaps the poster child for the movement is the Q Shaman, whose name is actually Jacob Anthony Chansley. Also known as Jake Angeli, he was photographed striding through the Capitol bare-chested wearing a fur and horns, while carrying a six foot spear and a USA flag. In February, Mr Angeli was photographed at a Trump rally holding a sign that read “Q Sent Me.” Mr Angeli has called himself a “multi-dimensional or hyper-dimensional being” and claims he can “see into these other higher dimensions that these entities – these pedophiles, these rapists, these really high up people … that they can almost hide in the shadows in.” He faces multiple charges including violent entry and disorderly conduct. Angeli told federal authorities he traveled to the Capitol to answer the call from his President, who had asked his supporters to muster in Washington, D.C., on the day Congress met to certify the election defeat of Donald Trump. Angeli’s claim of following Trump’s order, along with the same claim made by others arrested in the insurrection, will serve as evidence in Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska recently warned in an op-ed in The Atlantic magazine that the QAnon conspiracy theory movement is destroying his Party. He wrote, “We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasists, and the ruin that comes with them.” He added, “The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about.”
Will Biden’s victory dim QAnon’s allure? Or will these conspiracy theories always survive, even in the face of apparent contradictions? Will Sasse and rational Republicans prevail or is the movement too powerfully entrenched in the party to be extirpated? One thing is sure: Qanon is not going to go away quietly.
Back in November, I was horrified enough by an orgy of violence at a Pro-Trump march to write a column exposing it, but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the horrific scenes that unfolded on television Wednesday January 6th. Millions of Americans watched in disbelief as tens of thousands of Neo Nazis, White Supremacists and other members of the extreme Right invaded the Capitol. A horrified CNN presenter asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: where is the National Guard and law enforcement? Black Lives Matter protestors asked: why was their peaceful march in Washington met by a huge National Guard and police presence, while these same forces were nowhere to be seen as violent white supremacists ran amok?
Looking at the complete lack of preparations for the violent mob which swarmed the Capitol on Wednesday, it may have seemed like bad planning. However, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the lack of security was absolutely intentional.
The attacks that took place should have surprised no one. The extensive multi-billion dollar security apparatus ignored several red flags. Plotters in on-line far-right forums explicitly discussed how to storm the building, handcuff lawmakers with zip ties and disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s election — in what they portrayed as responding to orders from President Trump. Trump supporters exchanged detailed tactical advice about what to bring and what to do once they assembled at the Capitol to conduct “citizen’s arrests” of members of Congress. One poster said, “[expletive] zip ties. I’m bringing rope!” Online chatter was organized, in some cases, around hashtags such as #StormTheCapitol and included threats to kill congressional leaders.
The violence that occurred was orchestrated at the highest levels of the Trump administration. Trump made sure that the Pentagon would not provide necessary forces to protect the nation’s capital against the assault he was orchestrating. Shortly after losing the election in November, Trump began replacing Pentagon officials. Principled leaders were dismissed as Trump packed the Pentagon with sycophants who had demonstrated blind loyalty to him. The new appointmentss included bringing in disgraced former Gen. Anthony Tata, Islamophobic right-wing radio host Frank Wuco, and conspiracy theorist Rich Higgins. A day after positioning this trio, Trump replaced the Chief of Staff at the Pentagon with former Devin Nunes staffer Kash Patel. On the same day, he forced out the undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence
Last Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol seemed that the Government was caught unprepared, but the lack of response was carefully crafted. Trump made certain to get rid of those officials who had resisted efforts to use active military troops against Black Lives Matter protestors over the summer. When the violence started last Wednesday, Trump’s lackeys at the Pentagon blocked repeated requests from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for the use of the National Guard to contain Trump’s “wild” protest and continued blocking it, even as Senators and Representatives were frantically phoning from inside the besieged Capitol. This was not a spontaneous event. It was, in every way, a plotted coup and the Pentagon was part of it.
While exactly what happened still remains murky it is now clear that the Pentagon limited the Washington D.C. National Guard to managing traffic. Foreseeing violence, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested support in advance of Trump’s rally, but the Department of Defense said that the National Guard could not have ammunition or riot gear, interact with protesters except in self-defense, or otherwise function in a protective capacity without the explicit permission of acting Secretary Christopher Miller, whom Trump put into office shortly after the election after firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
When Capitol Police requested aid early Wednesday afternoon, the request was denied. Defense officials held back the National Guard for about three hours before sending it to support the Capitol Police. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, tried repeatedly to send his state’s National Guard, but the Pentagon would not authorize it. The National Guard of Virginia was mobilized only when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Governor, Ralph Northam, herself.
There was also a personal angle to holding back the National Guard. Bowser was harshly critical of Trump in the summer, and the Pentagon got revenge on her by denying help when she needed it. A White House adviser told New York Magazine’s Washington correspondent Olivia Nuzzi that Trump was watching television coverage of the siege and was enthusiastic, although he didn’t like that the rioters looked “low class.” Many people called for Trump to make a statement urging his followers to desist, but for hours Trump said nothing.
As the assault on the Capitol unfolded, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned on Thursday, made “an urgent plea” for a 200-member rapid response force to rush to the Capitol building. However, an official from the office of the Secretary of the Army replied that “wasn’t going to be possible.” As a reason, that official said the Pentagon didn’t like the “optics” of Guard members entering the Capitol—even though the building was at that point surrounded by thousands of Trump supporters who had forced their way through multiple levels of police security. It wasn’t until Trump supporters had actually stormed the building, smashed their way into the chambers of Congress, ransacked congressional offices, and prowled the halls hoping to take political leaders hostage, that the Pentagon finally approved the use of National Guard forces.
On Thursday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy ludicrously claimed the military had “acted as quickly as possible” and that officials hadn’t anticipated the level of violence demonstrated by Trump supporters in their “wildest imagination.” If so, they were the only ones. Trump encouraged exactly this type of action, and many others warned of the potential for violence. In fact, many of the same groups that rioted in December planned another orgy of violence for the bigger event that Trump was already advertising for January 6th.
Perhaps the prime target of the Capitol rioters was Vice President Mike Pence who had refused to block the certification of Biden’s election as president. While the rioters were in the Capitol, Trump tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify.” The Vice President had to be whisked away to a secure location to save his life. Reuters photographer Jim Bourg, who was inside the Capitol, told he overheard three rioters in “Make America Great Again” caps plotting to find Vice President Mike Pence and hang him as a “traitor”; other rioters were shouting the same.
Many of the rioters are being identified and they allegedly include police officers, elected Republican Party officials and former members of the military. Some rioters gained access to the security cordon around the Capitol supposedly by flashing badges. Some Capitol police allegedly opened barricades for the rioters and even took selfies with the mob. Five people died in the mayhem including a woman shot in the chest. Capitol Police have identified her as Ashli E. Babbitt, an Air Force veteran and Q Anon conspiracy believer from San Diego. Fifty U.S. Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department officers were injured in the riot and one officer died while on duty.
AMAZING NOT MORE LOSS OF LIFE
It is amazing that there was not more loss of life. An Alabama man allegedly parked a pickup truck packed with 11 homemade bombs, an assault rifle and a handgun two blocks from the US Capitol. Another man showed up with an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and told acquaintances that he wanted to shoot or run over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Christopher Alberts, of Maryland, was arrested for carrying a handgun and 25 rounds of ammunition on Capitol grounds. Explosives were found in the Capitol and multiple locations around Washington.
In response to the wave of anger that spread across the country, right wingers claimed that the rioters were Antifa and Black Lives Matter activists. Speaking on the House floor only hours after the mayhem, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) expressed his anger at the perpetrators. But Gaetz wasn’t accusing fellow Trump supporters — instead, he suggested members (sic) of Antifa had secretly infiltrated the group to cause the chaos. The F.B.I subsequently refuted claims that Antifa activists took part in the attack.
Will Trump be punished for his role in the violence? If there were real justice in America, Donald Trump and his flunkies in the Pentagon who planned holding back the National Guard would face severe punishment. It is almost certain, though, that Trump will avoid paying for his criminal role in the riot, even though he has blood on his hands.