Salon.com's odd attack on The American Legion
I don’t read Salon.com, but this article was emailed to me last week. Obviously with convention going on I was a little busy to respond, but the attack is so ridiculous as to actually warrant dedicating some time this week to dissecting it.
Entitled “Assassins in the Army?!” it resurrects the old Southern Poverty Law Center canard about how there are droves of right-wing lunatics and murderers in the Army. We’ve been down that road before, and it wouldn’t usually necessitate any response were it not for some idiotic tie-in with Past National Commander Rehbein and The American Legion that author Daryl Johnson just sort of throws into the middle of his piece.
I’m going to skip the bulk of his piece and address it some other time, as it is literally a rehash of the nonsense that came up with the discredited Homeland Security report that Mr. Johnson gamely tries to defend. But then he starts taking shots at us:
In his letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, dated April 13, 2012, David K. Rehbein, national commander of the American Legion, stated that “the American Legion passed Resolution 407. It resolved, in part, ‘… we consider any individual, group of individuals or organizations, which creates, or fosters racial, religious or class strife among our people, or which takes into their own hands the enforcement of law, determination of guilt, or infliction of punishment, to be un-American, a menace to our liberties, and destructive to our fundamental law.’” Rehbein further stated in his letter to Napolitano that he believed the DHS report was incomplete and politically biased.
Let’s start off with the various inaccuracies here. First off, the letter to Napolitano was from April of 2009, over three years ago. At the time PNC Rehbein was commander, but even a quick google search, or a cursory knowledge of The American Legion would reveal that he hasn’t been our commander for the past three years, where we have been represented by commanders Fang Wong, Jimmie Foster, Clarence Hill, and currently by James Koutz. By changing the date, Johnson seems to be implying that we’re still fighting this fight. Well, we aren’t, since at least as far as the DHS is concerned, we were right, as noted by Secretary Napolitano in a meeting at the time:
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with the American Legion on Friday to apologize for a right-wing extremism report written by her agency, and the veterans group walked away from the meeting mollified.
Napolitano blamed one of her agency's analysts for prematurely sending out the intelligence assessment to law enforcement, according to Craig Roberts, an American Legion member who attended the meeting. The report says veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan could be susceptible to right-wing recruiters or commit lone acts of violence.
“She essentially admitted fault within her office,” Roberts said.
In a statement after the meeting, Napolitano said, “I pledge that the department has fixed the internal process that allowed this document to be released before it was ready.”
So, as you can tell from Napolitano’s statement, it wasn’t just PNC Rehbein or The American Legion that thought that it was incomplete and politically biased; the Secretary felt that way too.
It should also be noted that the Resolution that PNC Rehbein was addressing was one which put The American Legion is direct opposition of the Ku Klux Klan, and was passed by the convention in 1923. Commander Rehbein was making the point that the Legion has historically been out in front opposing groups and individuals who wish to harm our country or our way of government. From the context that Johnson uses that passage of PNC Rehbeins letter, none of that is made clear.
Nonetheless, having started thusly, Daryl Johnson goes on to make a series of ridiculous allegations:
Given Rehbein’s statements, I was extremely surprised, and very disturbed, to later learn that some American Legion chapters were fostering the growth of radical right-wing extremists by permitting them to radicalize and recruit within their assembly halls. For example, in December 2010, the Republic of the united [sic] States, whose members the FBI considers “domestic terrorists,” held meetings at an American Legion building in Verde, Ariz. In January 2011, according to news reports, 13 members of a newly formed militia group used the American Legion hall in Hannibal, N.Y., to conduct meetings. In February 2011, a local ABC News affiliate reported that a sovereign citizen group called the “Republic of Florida” was using an American Legion hall in Rockledge, Fla., to elect their own governor and organize their own common law court.
Mr. Johnson has a fundamental, grave misunderstanding of Legion posts, the organization of The American Legion, and the nomenclature we use. We don’t have “Chapters” like he suggests, we have Legion posts. And while he has pointed at what seems to be the perfidy of three of them (that I will address in a minute) there are (as of June) 13,840 posts in The American Legion. Even assuming that what he says is accurate, it represents 0.02% of all Legion posts, hardly a sample size that would lend credence to such global and generalized accusations.
But, let’s look at what those posts did. Bear in mind that Legion posts are privately owned, something Mr. Johnson clearly doesn’t understand from his statement when he later refers to our private posts as “American veterans’ facilities.” By changing the language here, he seems to want to implicitly implant in the mind of the reader that the facilities belong to a public class of individuals (American veterans) when they actually belong to a private organization. Nonetheless, let’s look at the three examples used by Mr. Johnson.
We’ll start with the Florida one. You can actually read about that here at this link. Now trust me, I am the last one on Earth to endorse legal theories like those of the Sovereign Citizens. As an attorney, I think such misguided legal advice causes grave harms to the people they are claiming to help. So there’s no love from me on that account. But, as is made clear in the article, this group was looking at setting up a common law court, not do work on assassinations like Johnson has in the title of this article. Besides, read the entire article and see what the Legion involvement is…..they rented them the hall. That’s it. Much like we rent out Legion Posts for weddings and anniversary or birthday parties. There’s no evidence there (or seemingly anywhere else) that the Legion played any role other than providing the premises for a fee, which is what the posts do to survive financially.
In fact, what Mr Johnson suggests be done would be to assess the political make-up of a group that wants to rent the hall, and then determine whether to do so on that basis. If the Legion were somehow public, or somehow required to follow the same guidelines for free speech as the Government (which Mr. Johnson seemingly suggests above) then NOT-renting the hall would have been view point discrimination. Ostensibly Mr. Johnson would like to set himself up as the arbiter of who should or should not be able to rent out a Post. That task is already taken by the Post Commander, and if Mr Johnson would like to run for it, he’ll have to submit his DD214 and become a member.
The “Hannibal Militia” inclusion is even more ridiculous. You can read all about them here, including how they talked to Oswego County Undersheriff Bob Lighthall who told the group they couldn’t use the name “militia.” And so they changed it to the “Hannibal Community Watch.” The proposed charter of this (per Mr. Johnson) scary militia group was hashed out at Kim’s Diner, which did not make the Johnson screed as “yet another eatery fostering right wing extremism.” It contains no threats of violence, no attempt to overthrow the government, and again seems to have no Legion involvement whatsoever:
[the “Hannibal Community Watch”] proposed charter states the group's mission is "in order to make the town of Hannibal a safer and stronger place to live, our mission is two-fold -- to assist in the preparation for disasters by focusing on emergency preparedness and to promote public safety by enhancing the capacity of county and state law enforcement through volunteerism within the Hannibal community."
Compare that with Johnson’s claim that Legion posts “were fostering the growth of radical right-wing extremists.” In what way exactly does promoting volunteerism in Hannibal, New York foster extremism? Disney Corporation does the same thing. So does something called the “Cheekie Monkies”. Are they both engaged in fostering extremism? Assuming for a minute that the Hannibal Community Watch was engaged in some sort of evil agenda, why would the Undersheriff attend to meeting to tell them not to use the name “Militia”? Wouldn’t he infiltrate or arrest them or something? Contrary to Mr Johnson’s assertions, we do still have a system of laws here where you have to act counter to those laws before you can be shut down and/or incarcerated. It’s what we in the Legion pay homage to during the recitation of the Preamble to the American Legion Constitution:
FOR GOD AND COUNTRY WE ASSOCIATE OURSELVES TOGETHER
FOR THE FOLLOWING PURPOSES:
To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America;
To maintain law and order;
To foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism
Alas, after about an hour of searching, I still can’t figure out what Mr Johnson is talking about in Verde, Arizona, but I’m sure it is something in line with the other two groups. Until I get something more concrete on that one, I can’t really address it.
And then Johnson includes this gem of a paragraph:
It is surely hypocritical to accuse DHS of portraying U.S. war veterans as potential terrorists (a blatant mischaracterization of what was actually written in the report), yet encourage and permit the very radical ideologies that further right-wing extremism and domestic terrorist activity to flourish and grow by allowing them to use American veterans’ facilities.
So…..a private organization can’t complain to the Federal Government that it funds through taxes about a report that targets the people who paid for it? Wouldn’t that be in the Constitution under “petitioning the government for a redress of grievances”? And how is it hypocritical of a private organization to rent its premises to another party which is not alleged to have engaged in any illegal activity? They aren’t “American veterans’ facilities”, they are American Legion properties. And the funds derived from those rents go towards things like Operation Comfort Warriors, the Child Welfare Foundation, scholarships for the children of our OEF/OIF fallen, National Emergency Fund or any of the other charities that The American Legion spends millions on each year.
Apparently under Mr. Johnson’s reading of how The American Legion should work, he would personally designate someone to vet each and every potential party that seeks to host an event for a fee in one of our posts. Just how this would happen is unclear as each of our Departments and Posts operates in an autonomous manner. However, he closes his rambling diatribe with this suggestion:
The American Legion certainly should denounce, scrutinize and further prohibit sovereign citizens and militia extremists from using their facilities.
Perhaps Mr Johnson is just trying to drum up business for Kim’s Diner. Or, perhaps Mr. Johnson could join the Legion, draft up that resolution and do the work to get it passed at a National Convention, the same way we get every other position we hold.
But just as a sort of closing rhetorical thought: What organization which sets an aim to overthrow the US Government would advertise their meetings to be held at a specific place? Wouldn't that sort of defeat the point of people a shadowy group avoiding law enforcement? Pretty sure local law enforcement also eats at Kim's.
PNC Rehbein writes to add about his meeting:
Craig Roberts, Peter Gaytan and I were invited to a meeting with Sec. Napolitano approximately a week after the controversy over the report began. Prior to the meeting, we did not know what her position would be on the report since she had earlier stated publicly that she stood behind the report and its conclusions.
At the meeting we were very surprised and greatly pleased when she began with a personal apology to me and to The American Legion on the premature publication of the report. I don't remember her exact words but she stated that a person who she did not name had "pushed the send button too soon." I believe those were her words or at least to the best of my recollection. You can check the transcript of the 2009 Spring NEC for my remarks on the subject. Whoever that unnamed DHS employee was has not been revealed to me at least not officially by the Department. I could easily speculate however that since I know that the author of the Salon article worked for DHS in that area and is now trying to discredit The American Legion three years later for our position in 2009, that Mr Johnson if not being the primary author of the report at least had a major role in that writing.