Interview with Nils Melzer about his book - The Persecution of Julian Assange
Chris Hedges discusses ‘The Trial of Julian Assange,’ a new book by Nils Melzer, UN special rapporteur on torture, in this edition of Hedges show, On Contact.
Chris Hedges discusses ‘The Trial of Julian Assange,’ a new book by Nils Melzer, UN special rapporteur on torture, in this edition of Hedges show, On Contact.
In this extraordinary interview, revealing more political abuse of the British legal system, Chris Hedges talks to Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who was removed from his post after he made public the widespread use of torture by the Uzbek government and the CIA.
Murray has since become one of Britain’s most important human rights campaigners, a fierce advocate for Julian Assange and a supporter of Scottish independence. His coverage of the trial of former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who was acquitted of sexual assault charges, saw him charged with contempt of court and sentenced to eight months in prison. The very dubious sentence, which upends most legal norms, was delivered, his supporters argue, to prevent him from testifying as a witness in the Spanish criminal case against UC Global Director David Morales. The company founder is being prosecuted for allegedly installing a surveillance system in the Ecuadorean Embassy when Julian Assange found refuge, that was used to record the privileged communications between Assange and his lawyers. Morales is alleged to have carried out this surveillance for the CIA.
The original title of this interview of Craig Murray by Chris Hedges on 27 June 2021 was, "On Contact: Judicial lynching." The original URL is https://www.rt.com/shows/on-contact/527602-craig-murray-judicial-lynching/ Below we have reproduced the videoed interview and the transcript.
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Chris Hedges: Welcome to On Contact. Today, we discuss the judicial lynching of the human rights, activist Craig Murray.
Craig Murray: When I became a whistleblower, they were very keen to put me in prison but that--they couldn’t find a way of doing it without the obstacle of a jury. I think they finally--the state--the establishment has finally found a way to imprison me without a jury. There’s also the fact that what this is about is that there’s a split in the independence group. And the reason, they were trying to frame Alex Salmond and I should be totally blamed. I have no doubt whatsoever that this was an attempt to fit up Alex Salmond on false charges orchestrated by those currently in charge of his own party, particularly orchestrated by the current First Minister of Scotland. And that this attempt to frame him was foiled by the jury. The jury saw through it. And the reason for this, the split in the Scottish National Movement was behind this is that Alex Salmond and I and others believe that the movement has been hijacked by people who have no intention of actually obtaining Scottish independence.
CH: Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan was removed from his post after he made public the widespread use of torture by the Uzbek government and the CIA. He has since become one of Britain’s most important human rights campaigners, a fierce advocate for Julian Assange, and a supporter of Scottish independence. His coverage of the trial of former Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, who was acquitted of sexual assault charges, saw him charged with contempt of court and sentenced to eight months in prison. The very dubious sentence, which upends most legal norms, was delivered, his supporters argue, to prevent him from testifying as a witness in the Spanish criminal case against UC Global Director David Morales who is being prosecuted for allegedly installing a surveillance system in the Ecuadorian Embassy when Julian Assange found refuge there, that was used to record the privileged communications between Assange and his lawyers. Morales is alleged to have carried out this surveillance on behalf of the CIA. Joining me to discuss his case is Craig Murray. So Craig, before we talk about the rather complicated judicial procedures that have been leveled against you--charges that have been leveled against you, let’s talk about UC Global and Julian Assange. You, I think, did probably the best coverage of the trial and have written, you know, very presciently and eloquently about Julian’s case.
CM: Thank you. Yes. UC Global was spying, specifically, on Julian’s defense counsel, and on meetings Julian had in which he was discussing his defense, and the evidence is--and the evidence that’s been given in court is, by former employees of UC Global who have turned whistleblower, that that was at the behest of the CIA. And of course, this is quite extraordinary. The idea that the government which was trying to extradite Julian Assange, was spying on his legally privileged conversations with his counsel to defend that extradition. In any normal course, anywhere, in any Western so-called democracy, that would be enough to have the case dismissed in itself. That hasn’t been the view taken by the London courts. The counsel for the US government claimed that due to Chinese walls, the CIA have never given the Justice Department any of the material which the CIA had obtained on the defense counsel. In which case, why were the CIA specifically instructing UC Global to spy on the defense counsel if they weren’t going to use the material? What other use could the CIA be putting that material to, you know? It’s plainly nonsense. You don’t--you don’t tell a company to spy specifically on somebody’s lawyers if you’re not going to use it in the legal case. So this whole thing is a [INDISTINCT] of lies and evasion, and it all goes back to the--to the CIA and the state department.
CH: So we should be clear that a lot of the stuff is leaked, El Pais, and other newspapers. So we have videos that they took inside. You know, the leaks, this isn’t conjecture. Can you--a lot of this evidence has become public. Can you lay out, you know, what we’ve been able to see, especially in the Spanish press?
CM: Yeah, certainly. The Spanish press has, you know, put out in some detail that the employees have testified that they were ordered specifically to spy on the defense counsel. The video material itself has been leaked to the media. You can find it online, including video material of my own conversations with Julian, because it wasn’t only his legal counsel who were spied upon. And as well as that, you know, it’s been leaked that there were discussions of potentially poisoning and killing Julian Assange. There were discussions on kidnapping him, there were discussions on obtaining material like nappies of his babies, so their DNA could be mapped and the parenthood checked. The--and also, not discussions, what actually happened was not just videoing his lawyers, but following his lawyers away from the embassy, tracking them to their homes, surveilling them more generally. And in fact, there have been burglaries at offices of some of his lawyers, which, so far, evidence hasn’t directly linked to UC Global, but we--it seems almost certainly was.
CH: And for those of us who visited, I visited Julian a couple of times, we had to turn over all of our electronics to the UC Global security system, and we now know, from these leaks, that our information was copied, is that true?
CM: That’s absolutely right. In fact, you know, both you and I are, I think, in a situation where, you know, all the information, as well telephones has been--has been taken and given to the CIA by UC Global.
CH: So let’s talk a little bit about--and this isn’t the first time you’ve run into a confrontation with the CIA as ambassador to Uzbekistan. You exposed the widespread use of torture on detainees held at the behest of the CIA by the Uzbek government. And so you, you know, for many years, have I think been a--safe to say, a target. I know we can talk about what’s happening at this moment, but before we got to this moment, where you’ve been charged with contempt of court and we can talk about, you know, how they’ve kind of twisted legal normalities to get to that verdict, what--since you left the diplomatic service, and then especially during your long campaign, you’re quite close to Julian, have you seen other attempts to essentially criminalize you in any way?
CM: Well, very much so. And it should be said, of course, that the CIA was actively shipping people to Uzbekistan from other countries, in order for them to be tortured, that they were sending people there to be tortured, taking them on the CIA-controlled rendition flights, and one of the things that happened was Tashkent being a small place, I used to actually meet and talk with the people who physically did the renditions with the pilots who flew them in. So, you know, there’s no doubt at all that was happening, and I was able to provide with my testimony as to it happening. At that time, I was threatened repeatedly with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act which carries very long jail terms, and in many ways, it’s the equivalent of the Espionage Act which Julian is now--is now charged. Those didn’t--that didn’t happen in the end, and these that didn’t happen. It was under the Official Secrets Act. In those days, you got a jury trial, and the jury would have had to decide whether to send me to jail or not. And we have hesitance and particularly the late and great whistleblower Clive Ponting who blew the whistle on British publications that deliberately inflamed and led to full warfare in the Malvinas, or Falkland Islands, with the sinking of General Belgrano. He leaked information that the Belgrano was in fact steaming away from the islands at the time we sank it, killing many hundreds of people. He undoubtedly leaked that information and should have been jailed under the Official Secrets Act legally, strictly, but the jury refused to convict him because the jury felt he had done the right thing. And in my case, the government felt that they tried to convict me under the Official Secrets Act. It was extremely likely the jury would refuse to convict even though I was, you know, openly admitting to having leaked the material and to doing my best to whistle-blow on them and stop CIA torture. So that was a difficult period, when I was expecting potentially to be jailed for a long time. I’ve face numerous legal threats, and so like many whistleblowers, I’ve had evidence, and first-hand evidence of government interference every time I tried to get a job [INDISTINCT] with the government going and talking to potential employers and telling them not to employ me. I’ve had a great deal of surveillance and intimidatory surveillance, and those kinds of things. So it’s a climate, that in many ways, I got used to it, and which, to be honest, serious national security whistleblowers have to get used to it, it’s what is going to happen to you if you become a national security whistleblower.
CH: You have stood up for other people who are being persecuted. I mean, you’ve really become quite an important voice within the UK. And you sat in on this trial with Salmond. And just--we have a minute and a half before we have a break, but just lay out what he was being charged with, which you found to be--or you always believe was untrue.
CM: Basically, there were accusations from nine women of sexual assaults, which went at one end of the spectrum from the actual attempted rape, possible attempted rape, to the other end of the spectrum, putting a knee on somebody--a hand on somebody’s knee in a--in a car. But the circumstances of each of the accusations was staged in ways I can’t really detail here. And the--and the women all knew each other, and were all very closely connected to each other, and were--and the majority of them were extremely close allies of the current First Minister of Scotland. And they’re stories were--just didn’t work, they just didn’t match, and ultimately, he was acquitted by the jury. So that’s what made me suspicious of the entire thing when I first heard of it. There were aspects to their stories which just didn’t square with known facts, and that led me to start my investigation.
CH: Great. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Craig Murray. Welcome back to On Contact. We continue our conversation with Craig Murray about his trial, conviction, and appeal. So you sat in on a courtroom. It was a very brief trial, wasn’t it? And I read through twice the--what they’ve charged you with. It’s really quite obscure and not very clear. They essentially blame you for identifying those witnesses but you never named them. Just, you know, explain, you know, how they’ve essentially twisted the legal framework to go after you.
CM: Yeah. No, this is--this is quite extraordinary. I’ve been found in contempt by Jigsaw Identification. And that means not that I named anyone and not that I personally identified anyone but that I gave clues in what I vote, which put together with other information that could be found elsewhere in the public domain might enable or make it lightly in legal terms that somebody could identify someone. There was no evidence at all presented to court anybody had been identified as a result of anything I published. But the idea was that somebody could be identified. And if I can give one example, if a piece of information I’d written in reporting the defense case were added together with another piece of information which six years previously and unbeknown to me had been published on page six of the regional newspaper. And that were added together to a piece of information in a book which I had never read and heard anyone else had ever read either. If you put those three together, that would give you sufficient clues to work out who somebody was, what was--was the argument. Some of them were more direct than that, I mean, some of them saying if you put together what I said with the BBC report, then those two might give you enough clues to work out who somebody was. It’s an extraordinary thing because, of course, it makes it almost impossible for any reporter to know what somebody else knows or know what the BBC are going to report or to say anything at all about the events that happened and who was involved, without the chance that you’re giving a little bit of extra information that may enable somebody to reveal an identity. And it’s extremely--it’s called Jigsaw Identification. That’s what courts formally call it. It’s not called batting statutes. This is a construct the courts have been--have come up with in their history of finding ways to enforce contempt laws. And of course it’s not total--it’s not totally daft. The idea is is that if somebody is a protected witness, you shouldn’t be able to say that they live in such and such streets. They work in such and such profession. They drive a red car. They were born in this town. And then say, “Oh, I didn’t publish for them therefore I’m not guilty.” I mean, you can understand why there is a law that prevents you getting at an identity by publishing clues. It’s not unreasonable to have such a law. It’s just that in this case, they’ve used it at an extreme stretch to say that little bits of information I gave out and gave out solely in the context of reporting the case of the defense could, added together with other things from a wide variety of places, help be a clue that help find an identity.
CH: This sentence of, you know, this prison sentence, what’s the legal basis for it? It, you know, of course there’s no legal basis now to hold Julian in Belmarsh. One hopes this isn’t endemic throughout the UK judicial system but how do they justify the sense? And I think one of the things that struck me when I read through this is that they also said that it didn’t matter what intent was, that even if you had no intent to expose the identities of these women, you still would be found guilty.
CM: Yeah, it’s what they call in the UK and possibly they use the same terminology in the US. It’s what they call an offense of strict liability, that if you do it, even if you do it by accident, you are just as guilty. And possession of narcotics is perhaps an example of the best known offense of strict liability, saying I didn’t know I had them isn’t an excuse. You have them, you have them and you’re going to jail. That was quite extraordinary because, I mean, one thing I will say, I want to make absolutely plain, I have no intent whatsoever to reveal these identities and I do not believe I did reveal them. And I most certainly did not intend to reveal them. The judgment does says there’s no--there’s no requirement for intent in the legislation. Intent doesn’t have to be--has to be pilgrim. They did gratuitously asked--they did gratuitously add that they believed I did have intent despite there having been no evidence whatsoever given of intent. And the hearing only lasted an hour and a half. And it had no evidence for anybody had identified anybody. And no evidence of intent but then the verdict said that I had been deliberately trying to put out names or deliberately trying to identify people. And the prison sentence was because this would cause, you know, potentially serious harm to protect the witnesses or prevent other protected witnesses from coming forward based on no evidential basis whatsoever. Very, very peculiar judgment. And I should say my defense team can’t find any evidence of anyone publishing, anyone from the media, old media or new media, having been jailed for contempt for over 40 years in the UK. People just don’t get jailed for contempt of court. And there are rulings of the European Court of Human Rights to which, you know, just gotten the subject which state unequivocally that normally you shouldn’t be jailing journalists. If a journalist does do something wrong, they or their media organization should be fined. And, but it--you know, to actually jail journalists for writing things is a very serious intrusion upon freedom of speech.
CH: Okay. Let’s just from the broad picture why are they doing this and what do they hope to accomplish?
CM: I think it’s several things coming together. And, of course, there was no jury in my trial. And I sent you the note , when I became a whistleblower, they were very keen to put me in prison but that--they couldn’t find a way of doing it without the obstacle of a jury. I think they finally--the state--the establishment has finally found a way to imprison me without a jury. There’s also the fact that what this is about is that there’s a split in the independence group. And the reason, they were trying to frame Alex Salmond and I should be totally blamed. I have no doubt whatsoever that this was an attempt to fit up Alex Salmond on false charges orchestrated by those currently in charge of his--in party, particularly orchestrated by the current First Minister of Scotland. And that this attempt to frame him was foiled by the jury. The jury saw through it. And the reason for this, the split in the Scottish National Movement was behind this is that Alex Salmond and I and others believe that the movement has been hijacked by people who have no intention of actually obtaining Scottish independence. And what this is about is putting a lid on people like me who support Scottish independence actively and really want Scottish independence shortly. And I should say there are four or five other--the speech prosecutions. Prosecutions for what I would call court crime currently active in Scotland. I’m not the--I’m not the only one. And all of them against independence supporters. In fact, there are five prosecutions and four of them are of people I know, which shows you that it’s a close group being picked upon all for just saying things. So I think the motives are essentially critical.
CH: I think also--I mean, wouldn’t you agree you’ve already become a lightning rod because you are one of the most prominent and vocal defenders of Julian Assange;.
CM: Well, I think that certainly lays behind a lot of it. I mean, my relationship to Julian and my relation to WikiLeaks and my having a platform which is widely read internationally which could expose the shenanigans of the--of the court hearings against Julian. I think that certainly increased the market labor costs, willingness--the state’s willingness to try to shut me up and imprison me, yes. There’s no doubt that’s in play here.
CH: And just to close last 50 seconds, you are--you and your lawyers are appealing this decision, is that where we are?
CM: Yes, we filed our appeal to the Supreme Court today. I have a stay of imprisonment until the 6th of July in order to enable me to appeal to the Supreme Court and that’s what we’re now--we’re now doing.
CH: And if the Supreme Court decides not to hear your appeal, what happens?
CM: At that stage, I’ll go to prison. Though strongly, I will be appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.
CH: Great. Thank you very much. That was Craig Murray on his trial, conviction, and his struggle for appeal over his coverage of the trial of former Scottish Minister Alex Salmond.
[Note alternative video URL is https://youtu.be/ZtwpzqAJMBo.]Chris Hedges discusses with Craig Murray, a former British Ambassador, the hearing underway in London to extradite Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, to the United States. Murray’s exhaustive reporting, which can be found at https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/, has become one of the few sources of reliable information about a hearing that has become notoriously difficult to cover because of court restrictions imposed on the alternative press, and which is being ignored for political reasons by most mainstream news organizations. If you wonder why there is no video-coverage available of the Assange mistrial, it is because (a) Human Rights NGOs, which were promised video-access, had this cut off after the first day and (b) despite access being available to most corporate and government media, mysteriously, none has availed themself of it. That is the reason that you and I are not able to monitor this mistrial, and that is possibly the reason it has been able to continue. The public gallery is virtually empty. This is really a secret trial. Only five family members of Assange have been allowed, with Craig Murray having the title of uncle, to Assange. Craig Murray's coverage of the trial is apparently under a shadow ban from the major internet platforms; his readership has dwindled to something like 10 per cent, despite his coverage providing a unique and valuable public window, where almost none exist, into this dark political tower that the Old Bailey has become.
Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 21
October 1, 2020
I really do not know how to report Wednesday’s events. Stunning evidence, of extreme quality and interest, was banged out in precis by the lawyers as unnoticed as bags of frozen chips coming off a production line.
The court that had listened to Clair Dobbin spend four hours cross-examining Carey Shenkman on individual phrases of first instance court decisions in tangentially relevant cases, spent four minutes as Noam Chomsky’s brilliant exegesis of the political import of this extradition case was rapidly fired into the court record, without examination, question or placing into the context of the legal arguments about political extradition.
Twenty minutes sufficed for the reading of the “gist” of the astonishing testimony of two witnesses, their identity protected as their lives may be in danger, who stated that the CIA, operating through Sheldon Adelson, planned to kidnap or poison Assange, bugged not only him but his lawyers, and burgled the offices of his Spanish lawyers Baltazar Garzon. This evidence went unchallenged and untested.
The rich and detailed evidence of Patrick Cockburn on Iraq and of Andy Worthington on Afghanistan was, in each case, well worthy of a full day of exposition. I should love at least to have seen both of them in the witness box explaining what to them were the salient points, and adding their personal insights. Instead we got perhaps a sixth of their words read rapidly into the court record. There was much more.
I have noted before, and I hope you have marked my disapproval, that some of the evidence is being edited to remove elements which the US government wish to challenge, and then entered into the court record as uncontested, with just a “gist” read out in court. The witness then does not appear in person. This reduces the process from one of evidence testing in public view to something very different. Wednesday confirmed the acceptance that this “Hearing” is now devolved to an entirely paper exercise. [...] Read more at https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2020/10/your-man-in-the-public-gallery-assange-hearing-day-21/.
The real 'matrix'. Barrett Brown, publisher and journalist talks to Chris Hedges about the US government’s war on Wikileaks, Assange and other outlets exposing the inner workings of power.
Are Antifa just fascists fighting for turf with other fascists? Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook discusses the movement's perception that it is countering the rise of the far-right and responds to Chris Hedges' critique of the violent tactics used by the activists. Chris Hedges suggests that Antifa's targets and strategies play into the hands of the corporate enemy. He also makes an odd mistake in suggesting that German Communists failed to counter Hitler as strongly as they might have because their leader had been jailed, but there is no history of the German Communist leader of the 1930s having been jailed at the time. (In fact Stalin advised the German Communists not to form a united front with the Social Democrats against the Nazis and they stupidly followed that advice.) Chris Hedges thinks Antifa is dehumanising fascists the way that fascists dehumanise their targets. (i.e. Antifa are actually fascists fighting for turf with other fascists.) Mark Bray thinks it is okay to shut presumed fascists up by making them too afraid to come out of their houses. The problem with this is, essentially, that just because an Antifa thinks someone is a 'fascist' does not mean that they are, especially when Antifa is shouting too hard to hear what someone may really be saying. Bray seems to be justifying the judgement and street-policing of people on the most superficial appraisal. Everyone is entitled to a defense, but not according to Antifa. [At the beginning of this program RT Correspondent Anya Parampil looks at the origins of Antifa and gets them terribly wrong. Just bear with it.] A critical point overlooked by Chris Hedges is that Antifa is funded by George Soros. Wonder why?
"Street clashes do not distress the ruling elites. These clashes divide the underclass. They divert activists from threatening the actual structures of power. They give the corporate state the ammunition to impose harsher forms of control and expand the powers of internal security. When Antifa assumes the right to curtail free speech, it becomes a weapon in the hands of its enemies to take that freedom away from everyone, especially the anti capitalists. The focus on street violence diverts activists from the far less glamorous task of building relationships and alternative institutions and community organizing, that alone will make effective resistance possible. We will defeat the corporate state only when we take back and empower our communities. As long as acts of resistance are forms of personal catharsis, the corporate state is secure. Indeed the corporate state welcomes this violence, because violence is a language it can speak with a proficiency and ruthlessness that none of these groups can match." (Chris Hedges in conclusion).
CHRIS HEDGES: "[...] the danger comes from militarized police forces a system of mass incarceration. I teaching in a prison and my students were not put in those cages by neo Confederates, you know, from a trailer park. They were put in cages by the Democratic and the Republican Party. The wholesale surveillance the corporate kind of coup d'etat that's taken place that is eviscerating civil liberties, driving, essentially already has driven, the working class into poverty, destroying the middle class. These are the forces that already have power and that's a big difference from the 1930s."
CHRIS HEDGES: "Before the break my argument that the left, actually the anti-capitalist, that actually has moral capital and by engaging in the kind of street violence that characterizes the nativist and the neo-fascist and the - they're squandering their moral capital."
CHRIS HEDGES: The question is, who's the enemy, and how are we going to take the enemy down ? And the enemy is already in power. The corporate state. The coup is already over and, yes, they may use these figures, but we are in a situation that is in essence revolutionary. We are [incomprehensible]. If we are going to bring down this power structure, it's got to be through mass mobilization of hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. And you saw, for instance, in Berkeley, where - this is often the case - where most of the majority of the demonstrators were peaceful, nonviolent, there was a small activity of violence by a small group of black bloc Antifa , whatever, you but what was disseminated throughout the corporate media and why were those images useful to the corporate state? Because, number one, it demonizes the protest movement. We saw this with Occupy, which was a non-violent movement, and it frightens people away from the movement, and these are classic counterinsurgency techniques."
CHRIS HEDGES: "My fear with the left is that it adopts that abstract hatred, the abstract hatred that racists use towards people of color or the GBLT community or the Muslim community, is adopted by the left towards the fascists. So they know there's a dehumanization there and and a kind of belief that all rational discussion is impossible therefore. And I think you write in the book quite clearly the idea is to essentially not to reach out to them as other human beings, but to make them too frightened to come out of their houses."
MARK BRAY: "I guess I'm just not terribly concerned about people dehumanizing fascists personally and we can have a difference of opinion about that. I also the other question I would pose to you would be curious to get your responses so if if it is fine to organize popular self-defense under occupation how bad does the threat of violence have to get before that becomes legitimate? Right? And people's do disagree about that, but anti-fascists argue you have to stop it before it gets ...
CHRIS HEDGES: It's the wrong question.
MARK BRAY: Well then tell me what's the right question.
CHRIS HEDGES: If you are going to employ violence or, let's say use lethal force, then you have to have to have access to instruments and weapons of lethal force that can counter the state. So that no for instance rebel or guerrilla movement ever succeeds unless they are bordered by a state by which they can gather weaponry, carry out training. I mean this for instance was the role of Tunisia in the Algerian Civil War. And my argument and criticism of AntiFa and the black bloc is that the the language the state speaks and is increasingly speaking, of lethal force: militarizing our police departments, putting tanks on the streets of Ferguson, is one that we can never compete against. We're not going to create staging areas in Canada or Mexico to carry out an insurgency and therefore we have to find tactics that have worked in the past revolutions I believe are fundamentally nonviolent movements.
Crane Brinton and other historians, Davies, have written no revolution succeeds and lest a significant portion of the ruling apparatus - in particular the security apparatus - refuses to defend a discredited regime. That's something I watched with the with the collapse of the Stasi state in East Germany, where they, Honaker the Communist dictator, sent down an elite paratroop division in Leipzig and they wouldn't fire on the crowd. It was over same when they sent the Cossacks into to crush the bread riots in St. Petersburg and the Cossacks refused to. The Czar was over. That is just true in Revolution after revolution after revolution, and that only happens when you reach out - not to all - I'm not naive enough to tell you that - you know they're plenty of sadists and torturers and within the system - but enough people within the system to create paralysis.
MARK BRAY: Well you know anti-fascist are not trying to organize an armed uprising they're trying to stop small and medium-sized fascist groups before they advance and they recognize that the business of doing that is dangerous and that even if a group does it non-violently the consideration of being attacked by them and having to deal with that is very legitimate especially when we can see that the police are often more sympathetic to the right and that as the FBI has documented there has been extensive white power infiltration into local law enforcement so point taken on that the question of insurgencies but that's not really the politics that they're trying to promote here.
CHRIS HEDGES: Here what is I mean one of I think you've you read my article I mean one of the my criticisms was the idea of resistance as catharsis. It's not about how we feel is it?
MARK BRAY: Well I think that most anti-fascist and I interviewed 61 anti-fascist from 17 different countries most of the people that I spoke to don't fit the sort of media stereotype of some sort of crazy bloodthirsty of person but are people who are environmentalists and unionists and activists a variety of backgrounds who would much rather be doing that work than having to confront the far-right but they believe that there is a threat in their communities that they need to respond to and so I think the notion that these are thrill-seekers and that these people love to just sort of engage in violence isn't borne out by any evidence and certainly didn't reflect the interviews that I conducted.
CHRIS HEDGES: So what's the endgame? If you manage to get the fascists or the neo-fascists off the streets, we're still in trouble, right?
MARK BRAY: Right, which is why that many anti-fascists think of militant anti-fascism as essentially a firefighting operation dealing with an immediate emergency of the organized far-right on the streets and so if you push them off the streets, then you simply go back to doing the other kinds of movement building and organizing that you and I to some extent agree on what that could look like and and go back to that so we can see that the rise and fall of militant anti-fascism in the US and elsewhere over the past decades has everything to do with the rise and fall of the far-right so it's it's not generally conceived of as a politics that can solve all problems it's about addressing a specific.
CHRIS HEDGES: What role does violence have when we are confronting the true engines of oppression which is corporate power?
MARK BRAY: Well you know people will disagree with with what to do and Antifa is not designed to change all of society, right. It deals with this specific part of it, but I think the notion that the the ruling class will voluntarily hand over their wealth to create a social society is not true what we agree with and so I think that you know revolutionary politics does have to have it on the menu at a certain point. People will disagree on what that looks like when that comes but I think, you know, one of the historical lessons is it's often hard to turn on militant resistance when it's too late and so that that I think needs to be borne in mind as well.
CHRIS HEDGES: But it's also you know can be deeply counterproductive. Rosa Luxemburg who was assassinated in Berlin in the uprising did not support the uprising.
MARK BRAY: That's correct, and so uprisings are not always a good idea. In fact they're usually not a good idea but they can be sometimes and so the question is in my mind not to condemn a specific tactic or politics or strategy in the abstract universally but to look at the context.
CHRIS HEDGES: But I would go back to weaponry because you know in the French Revolution the the crowds, the san-culottes were carrying muskets and so was the Swiss Guard that were protecting the royalty, right? There's a disparity now in weaponry that doesn't make that possible.
MARK BRAY: Right. And so you're right from what you said before that some of it has to do with with the need to turn certain parts of the military against the state to have them put down their weapons to not not open fire on populations and in that sense it is a question of popular politics but what we're talking about here is not. Antifa is not a recipe for changing all of society. It's a politics aimed at self defense around a specific threat.
CHRIS HEDGES: I guess that definition of self defense is one we're gonna have to quibble over. I mean the Southern Poverty Law Center has said when these far-right groups, especially in open carry states, and these people are heavily armed, we could have had a bloodbath worse than we had. You know, just don't go.
MARK BRAY: Well I think that's terrible advice. I think we do need to organize against them. We can disagree on how to do that, but I think that one of the best takeaways from the politics of anti-fascism is to stand in solidarity with each other across different political and tactical and strategic lines, because when we get divided that's when we're weakest.
CHRIS HEDGES: Okay great mark thanks that was Mark Bray, author of Antifa the anti-fascist handbook.
CHRIS HEDGES: Street clashes do not distress the ruling elites. These clashes divide the underclass. They divert activists from threatening the actual structures of power. They give the corporate state the ammunition to impose harsher forms of control and expand the powers of internal security. When Antifa assumes the right to curtail free speech, it becomes a weapon in the hands of its enemies to take that freedom away from everyone, especially the anti capitalists. The focus on street violence diverts activists from the far less glamorous task of building relationships and alternative institutions and community organizing, that alone will make effective resistance possible. We will defeat the corporate state only when we take back and empower our communities. As long as acts of resistance are forms of personal catharsis, the corporate state is secure. Indeed the corporate state welcomes this violence, because violence is a language it can speak with a proficiency and ruthlessness that none of these groups can match. Thank you for watching you can find us on rt-dot-com slash On Contact see you next week
"Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men’s minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?" Francis Bacon
"Deprive the average human being of his life-lie, and you rob him of his happiness.” Dr. Relling in Ibsen's play "The Wild Duck"
I have a confession to make. On March 4th, I watched the full 43 minutes of CBC's "The Hour" hosted by the inimitably nauseating "Strombo" (George Strombopolous) and I managed to retain my stomach contents in the process. To be frank, I was transfixed. His first two interviews were gripping. The theme was religion. Was it a positive or necessary force in our lives, or a dangerous and outmoded delusion?
Strombo's first guest was what he aptly described as "The Pope of Atheism", Richard Dawkins. As usual, Dawkins was incisive and entertaining. His message was that evolution was so wondrous that we should stop to bask in its glory and enjoy this life to the fullest rather than invest our hopes in a post-corporeal existence of our imagination. Scientific theory, he argued, is not to be equated with "theory" as understood in popular parlance. It is much more than that. It is not a speculative conclusion to be ranked with equivalent credibility to other speculations. It is built upon evidence that must pass a much more rigorous standard than the assertions of competing beliefs. The ''theory " of evolution, must be granted the same credence as the "fact" that the Holocaust happened or that Dawkins was sitting in a CBC studio in Toronto. Dawkins is right. Fundamentalist Christians, in my experience, seem to think that any scientific "theory" is something that must serve a probationary period sitting in a waiting room until it is anointed as "fact" and given a pass to enter the kingdom of Truth. This attitude reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the scientific process. All scientific theories offer themselves to challenge---they set out a means by which they can be tested and found incorrect. Religions, on the other hand, demand acceptance in the absence of proof.
Dawkins was asked if belief in evolutionary theory was enough to "get us through the night". Irrelevant. Whether a belief gets us through the night or not has no bearing upon its truth. I might dispel my worries by fervently believing that following my expiration, I will be resurrected as the taste-tester in a chocolate factory for all eternity, but such a firm conviction does not constitute proof that my expectation is a reasonable one. If 500 million people passionately believe something to be true, that does not make it true. And if just one individual believes something to be true, that alone does not make it false. The arbiter must be evidence that meets scientific requirements. Yes indeed, scientific 'theory' is a different animal than mere 'theory'.
Chris Hedges, the next guest, took issue with Dawkins' "New Atheism" however. Just as he found Christian fundamentalists dogmatic in their belief that truth cannot be found in another religious tradition or a humanist realm, Hedges finds the New Atheists dogmatic in their assertion that truth cannot be found in religion. Atheists fail to understand our spiritual needs and affect a confidence in science alone to quantity important things that cannot be quantified. Even Freud, he said, could not define "love". The chocolate heaven that I dream of may be a fantasy, but whether it is or not does not address my inherent predilection to imagine heaven. I think that Hedges is on to something here. I recall that archaeologists once found a Neanderthal grave in Israel where implements that the departed individual had found useful in his life were placed beside him upon burial. In the other words, even these "mentally" handicapped brutes---as we used to perceive them---thought of life-after-death. I don't imagine that chimpanzees or horses have such preoccupations.
Hedges speculates that sometime in our two or three million year run-up to becoming homo sapiens, we developed this spiritual dimension. It is now part of our equipment--- like it or not. Dawkins may sincerely claim that he has no need of religion to get through the night, but like the rest of us I suspect, along with his thirst for knowledge there is quest for meaning. Can his exploration of nature be explained only in terms of seeking personal "satisfaction'? How can anyone be satisfied with any accomplishment unless one harbours a belief that leaves a durable legacy? Why write a book like "The Blind Watchmaker" or "The God Delusion" if you don't believe it makes an impact of lasting importance? Why would I contribute to the "populista" movement if I didn't at some level believe it important? And is not this belief absurdly illogical? As Alan Weisman argued in "A World Without Us", the human race and its attainments will one day perish without a trace. Books and articles and podcasts included.
Hedges maintains that religion is not the problem. The problem can be found in people of all religious affiliations, including the New Atheists. The problem is not in an ideology, but in our own minds and 'hearts'. Fundamentalists of all persuasions, humanist as well, have the habit of 'binary' thinking. There is a right and a wrong. Black and white. Good and evil. They all set up a caricature of evil incarnated in an oppositional straw man. If you are a fundamentalist Christain, that straw man is a "secular humanist" or a Muslim. If you are a fundamental Muslim, your straw man is a Judeo-Christian or atheist. If you are a New Atheist, it is organized religion of all stripes and the infantile belief in a Supreme Being or beings who exercise authority over us and the natural world. Hedges finds all of these mental constructions dangerously problematic, because they make real people into abstractions. But then, we are tribal animals, and tribal war demands that we perceive our enemies in a way that firms up our resolution to defeat them. We must in some sense, "de-humanize" them. Hedges should accept that as a fixture of human nature as well, I think. We are 'hard-wired' to love those most like our selves, and to emotionally disengage from strangers who would threaten them.
I have argued for some time now, that we are neurologically flawed. We are a prototype of a better model that needs an opportunity to roll off the evolutionary assembly line. Our salvation cannot come from a moral revolution, an advance toward rationality or a funadamentally utopian political or economic arrangement. We will not find safety in some kind of socialism or steady state economy. Even if a rump of hunter-gatherers were to emerge from the rubble of overshoot, there is a very strong possibility---no, a strong probability--- that they or their descendants would tread down the same path of unsustainability that we did. Eventually we would once again take the fatal turn toward cultivation agriculture, the root of our undoing. Our flaw is, simply, an inability to acknowledge limits and grasp the long-term consequences of our behaviour. We are greedy myopics by nature, and not one of the "isms" in the marketplace offer an everlasting cure for our nature. While I too am fatally spiritual, I am not in awe of God. If He had been an engineer at General Motors, He would have been canned long ago. Nader would call us unsafe at any speed. We should have been recalled.
Dawkins error, in my judgment, is his failure to understand that "religion" is ecumenical. It consists of all delusional thinking, not just that found in a mosque, a church or a temple. Succinctly put, religion can be defined as hope without evidence. By that standard, we are all religious. Despite my 'scientific' world view, I persist in the belief that there exists a Ms. Right sculptured like a 30 year old Hollywood movie star who will materialize at the local supermarket and fail to notice my age or my station, despite nearly five decades of experience that argues for the contrary. I also believe that if I buy a lottery ticket I will be that one in 14 million people who wins the jackpot. I even believe that the Montreal Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup, even though they are currently fighting just to get in the playoffs. I have faith, despite a paucity of evidence. But I am not alone. People like Richard Dawkins still believe in Wall Street's man, Barack Obama, to lead us to the promised land. Even a $12 trillion dollar debt does not cause them doubt. Financial planners believe that we can build financial security that will survive the collapse of the oil economy. Cornucopian socialists believe that there is enough to go around if only society was efficiently and fairly administered. Greens assert that if the affluent cut their consumption, enough resources will be available for the burgeoning poor of the developing world. Growthists believe that scarcity will only encourage innovations that will abolish it. Like Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, they believe that even in the face of collapse, 'something will turn up'. Environmentalists, for their part, still believe that we can "manage" growth, and that there exists a technological fix for mass extinctions and critical resource shortages. And authentic Chrisitians believe that no matter how many more billion mouths set up shop, God will provide for those who believe in Him.
All of us live in some state of denial. Most of the time, we actually think or behave as if we were not going to die, and that our civilization will endure. But in our sober moments, we know that all good things must come to an end . Nothing you ever accomplished will survive the passage of time. So why then are you happy? Because you are, at some level, delusional. You 'got religion.' You are a true believer. "Positive thinking", as it is called, may be the recipe for personal success, but applied collectively, it has transformed us into blind sleep-walkers racing to the precipice. Nature does not care about our morale, or whether we feel good about ourselves. It only cares if we can limit our numbers and our appetite within its ability to carry us. So far, we flunked the test. Big time.
It is my contention that unless we can reform our brain structure, we will not survive for much longer. We are just too dumb to live.
As you would expect, that thought doesn't get me through the night very well. A clear apprehension of reality is not a proven sedative.
Also published on countercurrents.org.