Bluestem first posted Breaking Spamtown’s spiral of silence: Austin and Twin Cities activists confront neo-Nazis, a guest commentary by Indymedia writer Brian Hokanson, on October 20, and its own review of news coverage of the National Socialist Movement rallied that began in Austin, MN, in June,Backgrounder: 2009 NSM activity in Austin, Minnesota on October 23.
The story has gained much wider attention. Most recently, David Neiwert called attention to the The mainstreaming of the radical right: Conservatives run and hide from their culpability in spreading hate over at Crooks and Liars. Neiwert concludes:
Of course, we’ve been warning for a long, long time that the immigration debate has become a major recruiting device for racist radicals, enabled in large part by mainstream conservatives, including those in the media, who not only have blithely ignored the overpowering presence of real racist and nativist elements on their side of the debate, but in fact have blithely and even eagerly used these racists’ talking points and claims (such as the supposed “Aztlan” conspiracy) to try to buttress their own positions.
Bluestem Prairie is a hip (but not cynical) rural magazine for those who prefer take their corn with a progressive chaser and tongue planted firmly in cheek.
What we get in reply, consistently, is the high-pitched whine that “we just want to discuss immigration, and you call us racist for just doing that.” (See esp. Lou Dobbs in this regard.)
The answer, as we can see from this case, is simple: “No, we want to debate immigration without the racism too. But when you use racist arguments and empower radical racists in making them and promoting them, well, we’re not the folks bringing racism to the table.”
A recent editor’s column in the PostBulletin–and the response by a well-known Rochester-area Republican activist–underscores Neiwert’s point. A mainstream conservative repeats that “high-pitched whine.”
Last Wednesday, October 28, Rochester Post Bulletin editor Jay Furst wrote in P-B will cover the news, even when it’s ugly:
First, let’s call the National Socialist Movement what it is: an extreme, white supremacist organization inspired by Hitler’s Nazi Party. The Austin man involved in organizing the rally says, among other things, that “Hitler was a great man” and was unaware of the Holocaust.
So, this Austin man and his Nazi organization is racist, denies history and is inspired by a man who personifies evil to most people on earth. Our reporters have explained their agenda for months.
We use the term “neo-Nazi” in part because it’s been used for years as a way to describe groups inspired by Hitler’s organization. It’s accurate, though “Nazi” would seem to do just as well.
Our Oct. 19 story described the counter-protesters at the Austin rally as “pro-immigration,” which lacked some precision. Those people weren’t representing a single organization or cause; they were there to protest the neo-Nazi group, as well as to support Austin’s immigrant community and other related causes.
Some readers, including Twin Cities people who saw our stories online and were involved in the counter-protest, thought our coverage went too easy on the neo-Nazis. Others question whether we give too much ink to the neo-Nazi group.
Posted on 10/28/2009 at 9:30:10 PM
The P-B practices agenda journalism when it comes to illegal, yes ILLEGAL,immigration. Illegals can do not wrong and are always victims, never lawbreakers. Opponents of illegal immigration are always painted as radicals, insensitive, cruel and inhumane Nazis/neo-Nazis.
While the Post Bulletin puts its archives behind a paid subscription firewall after two weeks or so, the paper is included in the Nexis database, thus making it possible to check on the claims advanced by Mr. Furst and Mr. da Silva.
Has the Post Bulletin and its reporters boldly and bravely “explained [Johnson’s and the NSM] agenda for months” ? Or has the paper “always” painted opponents of illegal immigration as radicals, insensitive, cruel and inhumane Nazis/neo-Nazis”?
A Bluestem analysis drawn from a group of related Nexis searches discovered no examples of the Post Bulletin editors or reporters labeling opponents of “illegal immigration” as Nazis or neo-Nazis based solely on that opposition. On the contrary, the term was only used when an individual was in fact a member of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group.
Moreover, the paper twice failed to identify Sam Johnson as a member of the NSM at all, and only identified him as an illegal immigration opponent. On one of those instances, Mr. Johnson and his fellow NSM member Robert Hester were editorialized as models of public politeness.
Finally the paper did not assign a reporter to cover the October 17 rally, during which three anti-racist protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct.
Thus, the editor’s claim to have “explained the group’s agenda for months” is tepid at best, while Mr. da Silva plaintive post is entirely without merit.
Read below the fold for the results of searches in the Nexis “News-All, English” database. Mr. Furst did not answer an email query sent Friday, asking whether the Post Bulletin had published additional stories about Mr. Johnson and the NSM beyond those in the Nexis database.
My first search, using the search terms “neo-Nazi” and “Post Bulletin” for all available dates.
Note how all of the articles were published after the Twin City Indymedia covered the protests and arrests, and that the final article is a PB article reprinted in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The next set of search terms was “Nazi” and “Post Bulletin”. Only the top six hits come from the time during which NSM leader Sam Johnson has been active in Austin:
The fifth hit is unrelated to the Austin story. Let’s take a look at the use of the word “Nazi” in the sixth hit:
Aug. 5–An Austin man’s request that city council members sign a petition demanding the sheriff enter into an agreement with federal authorities to enforce immigration laws was rebuffed Monday.
Instead, the request by Samuel Johnson, an Austin man who’s organized anti-immigration rallies and says he’s a member of the National Socialist Movement, created a few heated moments at the meeting. . . .
. . .After the meeting, [Mayor] Stiehm explained the comments he’d made to Johnson.
That’s it. Sarah Doty, the PB reporter, quoted Austin’s mayor calling Sam Johnson a “Nazi.”
Another set of search terms, “National Socialist Movement” and “Post Bulletin,” yields one additional hit, coverage of Johnson’s initial Austin rally in June:
Note that hits number four and five are from other publications. Only the seventh hit is a new find.
In that article, the paper mentions Johnson’s membership in the National Socialist Movement, but does not explain the group’s core beliefs. I post the entire article below so that readers might judge the claims about the paper’s coverage by both Furst and da Silva:
Jun. 4–An immigration rally on the front lawn of the Mower County Courthouse turned into a debate Wednesday, with counter-protesters carrying signs that called the protest racist.
Authorities estimated that 80 people filled the sidewalk and grass around the Veterans Memorial to attend the rally, organized by Sam Johnson and Robert Hester, both members of the National Socialist Movement.
“I am here because I am sick and tired of illegals taking American jobs,” Hester said. “They come and come and come, and no one does anything about it.”
However, the majority of the crowd that showed up shouted over the speeches by Hester and Johnson, with chants of “What do we want? Human rights. When do we want it? Now,” and “Si, se puede,” which translates to “Yes, we can.”
Jenna Weber, 18, was one of the many chanting. She held a sign that said, “Fight ignorance, not immigration.”
Her hope by being there was that people would pay attention.
“I want to open people’s eyes, that people who are young and not Hispanic even support this,” she said. “I am here to support rights for all human beings, regardless of race, nationality, etc.”
Steve Simon, who stood silently listening and nodding with Hester’s speech, said that for him, the rally wasn’t about race.
“This has nothing to do with racism,” he said. “This is strictly about legal vs. illegal immigrants.”
He also was concerned because he has “seen a great retirement community turn into a community where my wife and kids are scared to go to the park.”
The rally lasted about two hours — 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. — and remained peaceful. Conversation between the two sides did become heated when they were allowed to talk face to face; the police on the scene never had to step in.
Edward Gonzales Jr., a resident of Austin, was excited with the turnout.
“It’s good to see people get involved in their community,” he said.
While he was there to “fight against racism,” he was excited that he got to talk to Hester and Johnson.
“I enjoyed the conversation I had with them,” he said. “I support freedom of speech, and I support them saying what they have to say as long as they hear what I have to say.”
Johnson said that the turnout at the rally was all right, considering it was in the middle of the week. He plans to organize another rally sometime next month.
A search for “Sam Johnson” and “Post Bulletin” yielded the following list:
Again, a familiar list, though two additional articles float up that were not revealed by the earlier searches. In the July article, “Companies challenged to verity identification documents,” the Post Bulletin made no mention of Johnson’s leadership role in the NSM nor of the nature of its beliefs:
Going after businesses
Sam Johnson, an Austin man who has organized rallies downtown against illegal immigrants, said he thinks it’s great law enforcement now is aggressively pursuing forgery cases. But, he said, they also need to go after the companies where those people are working.
Johnson said he believes Austin companies knowingly hire illegal immigrants, who he thinks take jobs from U.S. citizens.
“Something’s got to be done about this,” he said.
That’s the entire passage on Johnson. More troubling in the light of Furst’s claim to have had Johnson’s agenda explained for months is the June 4 editorial, “Austin proves that we can politely disagree.” I printed the entire piece for clarity and context:
Jun. 6–If Austin must be the site of rallies, counter-rallies, protests and speeches concerning immigration, then we’d prefer that such events play out the way they did Wednesday on the front lawn of the Mower County Courthouse.
Out in the open. Spirited, but peaceful. Law enforcement officials present, but not intervening.
While we don’t agree with the anti-immigration message brought by Sam Johnson and Robert Hester, we give them due credit for not renting out a room somewhere and orchestrating a one-sided rabble-rousing affair. Austin has seen more than its share of those meetings, which do little to promote meaningful dialogue and simply add more fuel to an already inflammatory situation.
Furthermore, we applaud those on the other side who took the time to make signs and defend the rights of people who live next door, shop at local businesses and whose children attend Austin schools.
The fact is that Austin and Mower County need immigrants. As of July 2008, nearly 3,200 Hispanics lived in Mower County, and without them, the local economy would suffer. Want proof? Look at what’s happening in Postville, Iowa, where deportations of illegals working in a meatpacking plant have decimated the town.
We’re optimistic that President Obama can help lead us to a new federal policy that will encourage would-be immigrants to come here legally, and to crack down on employers who exploit undocumented workers and thus keep wages lower for U.S. citizens.
But until such policies are in place — and probably even after they’re in place — the debate will continue in Austin and across the country.
It’s OK to disagree, but let’s keep it civil.
By Oct 20, the editors of the Austin version of the paper began to take a different line, evidenced by the editorial, Editorial: Immigration reform requires dialogue, not protests.
Next, I searched the database using the search terms “illegal immigration” and “Post Bulletin” for the last year. The search yielded the following hits:
Altering the search term slightly to “illegal immigrants” and “Post Bulletin” netted the following list:
Mr. da Silva’s claim that the paper “always” labels those protesting illegal immigration as “Nazis/neo-Nazis” while the “illiegal immigrants are portrayed as victims simply has no basis in fact. The paper sporadically identified Mr. Johnson as a member of the National Socialist Movement, much less a neo-Nazi, and twice simply called him an opponent of “illegal immigration.” The paper’s Austin reporter asked Johnson about his beliefs only after those Twin Cities activists brought the paper’s coverage to public notice.
Furst also notes in his Furst Draft blog that the Post Bulletin did not send a reporter to the Austin NSM rally that led to the arrests of anti-racist activists:
I’ll just note that this e-mailer’s account is based on friends who were at the event…how would that be different from our relying on authorities and other witnesses at the event? (We had a photographer at the scene but not a reporter…wish we had, as it turned out.)
In a earlier post on the blog, Furst scolded Hokanson–who had covered the NSM rally and counter protest with another Indymedia citizen-journalist:
— We’ve been covering activities of anti-immigrant and neo-Nazi gatherings in Austin for as long as they’ve been active — for years (would need to double-check the precise date).
— We’ve clearly described these activists and what their political goals are.
— We’ve editorialized on the issue.
— And we’ll continue to report on them and tell the community who these people are and what they believe, long after Mr. Hokanson and TC Indymedia move on. We can always do better, put more time and resources into good stories, and this one’s a good, on-going story.
Welcome to the pool, Mr. Hokanson.
Bluestem’s review of the cover suggests that Furst and the Post Bulletin reporters might do better, indeed, and that he might have curbed the scorn directed to Mr. Hokanson had he actually taken time to review the paper’s morgue.
One of the ironies of da Silva’s complaint against the paper’s treatment of NSM leader Johnson is that Johnson doesn’t believe that da Silva–a naturalized American citizen born in Brazil who is of African ancestry–should enjoy American citizenship, live outside of a segregated neighborhood, or even be considered as a member of the same species as white folks. The National Socialist Movement itself would have Mr. da Silva and all non-white Americans stripped of their citizenship and deported to their ancestral homelands.
That proposed policy–drawn as it is from Nazi ideology–is what earns Johnson and the NSM the label “neo-Nazi,” rather than opposition to the presence of undocumented immigrants in Southern Minnesota.
Mr. da Silva does the immigration debate–and his seven children–no service by ignoring that central truth. The conservative blogger mentioned in the Crooks and Liars, Blog of the Moderate Left, and Mercury Rising posts at least had the good sense to distance himself from the NSM and Johnson when called on his ignorance.
A final irony.
While Mr. da Silva objects to the Post Bulletin identifying members of the National Socialist Movement as neo-nazis, on his own blog, the Republican activist has had no hesitation in using Nazi imagery to run down Democrats. See for instance, Hillary’s Brownshirts and A Civilian National Security Force? Why Not? It Worked Quite Well for Hitler.
Photos: Sam Johnson (top); Othelmo da Silva (bottom).