Dissident rappers surface as powerful antagonists against Angola’s corrupt kleptocracy.
Longreads Member Exclusive: The American Nonconformist in the Age of the Commercialization of Dissent
This week’s Longreads Member pick is “The American Nonconformist in the Age of the Commercialization of Dissent,” a 1992 essay by Thomas Frank from The Baffler, the magazine he cofounded with Keith White in 1988.
“In republishing this bit of juvenilia from 1992—my very first exploration of an idea that I reworked and reconsidered a number of times over the years that followed—it is worth remembering some of the context. This was before the web, for the most part; it was right about when ‘alternative’ was beginning to hit the culture, and a lot of the stuff I describe here was new and surprising at the time. Today, of course, most of it seems utterly unremarkable, so far has what I used to call the commercialization of dissent advanced. It’s not something I really even think about anymore, except for the most outrageous iterations—like the ski helmet I bought last week, a model called ‘Mutiny’ by ‘R.E.D.’ And even then I’m too exhausted to bother belaboring the ironic contrast of this bragging rebelliousness with the millionairiest sport there is. I’m off to even more ironic fields. See you there.”
p.s. You can support Longreads—and get more exclusives like this—by becoming a member for just $3 per month.
How anonymity technology could save free speech on the Internet.
This article was co-published with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.
Niccole Wetherell and Paul Gillpatrick were engaged in 2012. The state of Nebraska has prevented their wedding ever since.
Wetherell is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, housed in a prison about 50 miles away from her fiance, Gillpatrick, who is serving a 55-to-90-year sentence for second-degree murder.
The pair, who met in 1998, have come to accept they cannot marry in person. Instead, they want to wed via video conference, and they want an end to a prison policy that forbids Nebraska inmates from marrying each other except in “special circumstances.” Wetherell and Gillpatrick argue they have a “fundamental right to marry.”
In June, U.S. District Judge Robert Rossiter affirmed that right. The case is now in appeal. But the legal precedent Rossiter cited has a quirky history that involves an infamous co-ed prison, an impromptu wedding, a soon-to-follow divorce and a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
That decision, Turner v. Safley, established how courts should weigh the constitutionality of prison regulations, and has formed the legal basis for prison weddings across the country—most often between one incarcerated person and someone on the outside. It opened the doors for a niche industry of officiants who specialize in prison weddings. And its clear articulation of marriage as a fundamental human right was even cited in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court decision that in 2015 affirmed the right to marriage for same-sex couples.
It all started in 1980 at a prison in Missouri. Read more…
Decades ago, Craig R. Stecyk III tagged the walls near his seedy surf spot at Pacific Ocean Park, then a crumbling pier of abandoned rides and amusement parlors straddling the Venice and Santa Monica border. Among the graffiti were the terms POP and DOGTOWN running horizontally and vertically in a cross, a rat’s head in the skull’s position over crossbones, with the warning, “death to invaders.” At first, these markings were little more -than youthful insolence, meant to stake territorial claim for his band of surfers and skateboarders, many of whom were recently glorified in the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. In the ’70s and ’80s, though, through enterprises like Jeff Ho’s Zephyr Surf Shop, Dogtown Skates and Powell Peralta skateboarding company, these images would become among the first widely disseminated skateboarder graphic art; the first icons of a radical, street-savvy youth culture that reflected the attitudes of Stecyk and his Dogtown peers. Meanwhile, in magazines like Skateboarder and Thrasher, Stecyk’s photos and essays about the scofflaw Z-Boys skateboarding team created and spread the Dogtown myth to eager adolescents across the country.
Leah Sottile | Longreads | July 2019 | 27 minutes (7,641 words)
To get to the Kingdom of Heaven, drive a long twisting road that dips in and out of wide green fields dotted with hay bales, skim alongside a crooked river and stop at the sign that says Marble Country. A wooden ranch gate — a tall archway of timber and American flags — marks the spot. Keep going past it for 20 more minutes and you’ll leave the country altogether; drive under that gate, and in a way, you’ll leave America, too.
For nearly 30 years, speculation about what goes on beyond the threshold to Marble Country has confused, scared, and angered folks here in Stevens County — a far-flung region of thick forests and dirt roads, cow pastures and low hills deep in the northeastern corner of Washington state.
Before the first barn wall could be raised on the site of a ghost town, people were already whispering. “Religious Group Says Fear Of Cult Unjustified,” a 1992 Associated Press headline read, “Pentecostal Sect Plans To Move Into Ghost Town.”
That religious group, led by a married couple named Barry and Anne Byrd, intended to create its very own Western-themed shining city on the hill: what they termed a “Christian covenant community.” They called it Marble Country, and they built houses and a church — Marble Community Fellowship — and painted “Holy Ghost Town” on an old barn. They raised families, planted crops. It wasn’t just a new town put down in an old place, but an old place resurrected. A brochure said Marble would get into all levels of politics, offer alternative civil courts and an alternative media.
“We are committed to uniting the generations to labor together to bring the dominion of Christ in every area of life,” the Byrds promised in the brochure.
For most of the time Marble Country has existed, the Byrds have hosted an event each summer called the God and Country Celebration. As the Patriot movement has made more and more headlines — between the standoffs at Bundy Ranch in 2014 and Malheur in 2016, and the subsequent trials — the name Marble kept popping up in my reporting. People who’d once been in the movement told me the festival was a gathering of militia bigwigs, Patriot celebrities, and politicians with extreme beliefs. It sounded like some kind of Patriot Woodstock, but it’s closed to the media, so I couldn’t go see it for myself.
In the summer of 2018, Jeanette Finicum was a “special guest” at the festival, bringing with her the message of her murdered, martyred husband. During the weekend, children in cowboy hats and jeans waved big white flags from the Marble stage bearing her husband’s distinct “LV” cattle brand.
Finicum chose Marble as one of the first places to screen LaVoy: Dead Man Talking, a multipart film about her husband. There she delivered a speech that differed greatly in tone from the one she gave when I saw her speak in Salem, Oregon, just six months later. Someone sent me a recording of her Marble speech: She wasn’t the diminutive chuck-wagon mom I’d seen in Salem, but a pissed-off activist with a message ready for an audience who cheered her on.
“The media is not in the business of telling the truth,” she spat into the microphone.
The Marble crowd murmured approval — yes, yes, that’s right, amen.
“Their job, their motive, their mission is to create an illusion in order to blur our reality. I was label-lynched by them as a sovereign citizen, anti-government terrorist. Profiled as a domestic right-wing extremist and judged by the American public for standing with my husband,” she said. She told them she was on a watch list. The feds monitored her home.
She never used that word — lynching — when I saw her speak in Salem, but here, both she and Mark Herr, the film’s producer, spoke it as if it were a word created for them. They have been lynched, they told the crowd, again and again. Lynched.
The lynch mob, by their estimation, was the media: inflicting extrajudicial punishment to God-fearing freedom lovers. How dare anyone go after them?
“Your political opponents are using labels and the force of government to lynch you out of existence! What can you do?” Finicum asked. “You can make label-lynching a hate crime.” She told the crowd to lobby state legislators to make Patriots a special class.
“We should be a protected class,” she yelled. “After all, everyone else is!”
To that, the crowd cheered so loud it was almost hard to hear her anymore.
For decades, Stevens County, where Marble Country is located, has served as somewhat of a wooded, mountainous petri dish for conspiracy theories to grow, flourish, and find new hosts. For most of that time, one daily newspaper reporter was there to document the crimes committed by fringe groups who’ve found haven in the Stevens County’s sparsely populated areas. His name is Bill Morlin, and for decades he worked at the Spokane Daily Chronicle, then The Spokesman-Review. Now in his 70s, I first met him in the federal courtroom during the Bundys’ short-lived trial in Las Vegas.
In the spring of 2019, I called him up to get a crash course on Stevens County’s right-wing extremist history. Something that may come as a surprise to people who aren’t familiar with the Inland Northwest is that the Northwestern United States isn’t all rain showers and mountains and Nirvana records, coffee shops and weed stores on every corner.
In fact, Eastern Washington and North Idaho couldn’t be less in line with that image. It’s a deeply conservative area of the West. It’s hot and dry in the summer, cold as hell in the winter. In the past few years, some people have started to call this region the American Redoubt — the nickname survivalists and preppers have given Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, arguing that it’s a safe haven for libertarians. The term was popularized by James Wesley Rawles, who calls the people who migrated there for that reason “the remnant. Libertarians and preppers from around the country have been encouraged to make a home here. There are even “redoubt realtors” who’ll sell you a house, complete with a bomb shelter.
I came to talk to Morlin about Stevens County, but also about this region as a whole. He came prepared for our meeting with three pages, single-spaced, detailing various murders, robberies, kidnappings, and bombings committed by people from the county.
In the late 1970s, Richard Butler, who would become one of the most famous white supremacists in the country, had set up the swastika-emblazoned compound near Hayden Lake, Idaho, attracting racists from every corner of the country to the Idaho Panhandle. Butler allowed Morlin and a photographer to document the event, which the newspaper had been trying to cover, as a way of attempting to understand who, exactly, was gathering at the compound.
“There was sort of a division, like do we pay these people any attention or do we ignore them?” he recalled of his paper’s coverage of cross burnings. “In fact a columnist at the other newspaper thought we were foolish for writing about the fact that there’d been a cross burning. He was of the school of thought that if you ignore them, they’ll go away, and by writing about them all you’re doing is giving them publicity.
“I have never to this day signed on to that belief system,” Morlin continued. “Neither do major civil rights organizations. They believe that turning the lights on is the only way you can deal with hate groups.”
The cross burning was called the Blessing of the Weapons and was presided over by former Michigan KKK grand dragon Robert Miles. (In 1973, Miles was convicted of conspiring to bomb ten school buses in Pontiac, Michigan.)
“It was very uncomfortable,” Morlin said. As the group of 40 to 50 people lit three crosses wrapped in diesel-soaked burlap, “each person in the circle would walk up with with his weapon … knives or handguns or long rifles. And each of them would be blessed by the master of ceremonies. The ceremony was to signify that these people were committing to the white cause and the fight for the white race that they envisioned was coming any day.”
That night, Morlin didn’t know who exactly all those men were that had their guns blessed in the name of a white war — but soon, he would. They would become known as the Order. It was an all-white underground domestic terrorist organization established by an anti-government extremist and racist named Bob Mathews, who had been actively recruiting people to create a “White American Bastion” in the Pacific Northwest and was motivated, in part, by an extremist ideology called Christian Identity.
It’s an ideology that relies on the belief that Jews are descendants of Cain, and people of color are soulless and “beasts of the field,” while whites are the true “House of Israel.” Some Identity adherents believe Jews are the spawn of Eve and Satan. Butler, too, preached Christian Identity from his very own church at the compound. Around the nation, neo-Nazi groups and the Ku Klux Klan also believed in the radical ideology.
Nationwide, as violent white supremacist fires flared, Christian Identity — time and time again — was the pitch wood making it burn hot and constant.
The men of the Order met at a cabin on Mathews’s Northeastern Washington property which was located in the county next to Stevens County. They “stood in a circle secretly and pledged a blood oath to each other to jointly fight this race war that they believed was coming,” Morlin told me.
Morlin believes the men were inspired by a work of racist, apocalyptic fiction, a novel called The Turner Diaries that details a race war, and that, later, compelled Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
According to Morlin, the men at the ceremony eventually committed “a litany” of violent acts, most notably the 1984 assassination of a Jewish radio host named Alan Berg, who’d mocked a tenet of Christian Identity — that Jews were evil incarnate — on his Denver talk show. They committed a robbery in Spokane, bombed a synagogue in Boise, and robbed armored cars in Seattle. But investigators were baffled, unable to figure out who was responsible for so much violence.
“This is in an era before the term ‘terrorist’ meant anything to anybody. I mean it’s like ‘Domestic terrorism? What’s that?’” Morlin said.
During a Northern California robbery of several million dollars from an armored car, Mathews left a handgun behind — a mistake that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Order. Mathews died in a shoot-out before the group’s 1985 trial in Seattle, which Morlin covered for the Spokesman-Review.
“A lot of the East Coast networks and newspapers had pretty much ignored the fact that the Order trial had occurred,” he says. “It was really a big deal, but it had happened on the West Coast and it didn’t get the news coverage, in my view, that it would have received if it had been in Florida or New York or Ohio or Pennsylvania.”
In fact, the Order created a new legacy for up-and-coming racists to follow: Today, violent white supremacist groups still cite an adherence to a mission statement called “The 14 Words” — “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” — which was coined by one of the Order’s members.
The men of the Order weren’t exactly quiet about the ideas that drove them: Mathews and other members of the group were known to convene at a Colorado Christian Identity church led by an anti-Jewish, anti-homosexual, and racist preacher named Pete Peters. Despite its small population, by the 1990s, Stevens County was home to at least two Christian Identity churches: the Ark, near the Canadian border, and another founded by a former Ark acolyte, the Christian Israel Covenant Church. (The Ark is now called Our Place Fellowship; the Christian Israel Covenant Church disbanded in the early 2000s.)
“Those churches taught that white people are the superior race, that Jews are biologically satanic,” Morlin told me.
The churches were small — and though the pastor at the Ark, Dan Henry, told The Spokesman-Review in 1992 that he rejected the “hate mongering” of the Aryan Nations, he also acknowledged preaching antisemitic ideas.
But word had gotten around. People knew who was attending services. So it was common knowledge that the couple trying to start that new Christian covenant community called Marble Country — Barry and Anne Byrd — had attended the Ark for years.
It was like the county knew what was about to happen — that this tiny bastion of hateful ideas was about to cross the rubicon, producing a number of followers who would spill blood in the name of Identity ideology all around the American West.
The racist services at The Ark were attended not only by adults who wanted to hear the sermons of Henry and other extremists, but also often by the children of those people, too. Chevie Kehoe fit the profile of one of those kids. Raised in part in Stevens County, his parents, Kirby and Gloria Kehoe, brought their children to services at the Ark, likely around the same time the Byrds attended. As his children grew older, Kirby Kehoe, an adamant racist, grew increasingly skeptical of the government, pulling his kids out of their Colville, Washington, public school, viewing schools “as a threat,” according to his son. In a 1999 New York Times interview, Chevie said his parents were interested in the notion of a whites-only region preached by the Order’s Mathews, and over time Chevie believed that he himself could bring the plan to fruition in the Northwest. He called the region the Aryan People’s Republic, and began committing robberies and acts of violence in devotion to the concept.
In the late 1990s, he launched a cross-country trip to recruit people to his white region — a trip that turned into a spree of murders, shootings, and robberies.
In 1996, Chevie Kehoe robbed and murdered a man, his wife, and her 8-year-old daughter in Arkansas, then tossed their bodies into the Illinois Bayou. The next year, when police officers in Ohio pulled over Kehoe and his brother, Cheyne, and in two subsequent shoot-outs, Kehoe fired 33 bullets, seriously injuring a pedestrian before fleeing. Both were arrested after a brief manhunt, and Chevie was later sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Even decades after Chevie Kehoe’s imprisonment, the whites-only nation idea that invigorated him, Mathews, and the Order before him, would keep surfacing in new ways and in new forms.
Kehoe is now incarcerated at the ADX Florence supermax prison in Fremont County, Colorado, alongside McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols and 1996 Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph, who was inspired by Christian Identity to bomb abortion clinics, a lesbian bar, and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
In 2012, serial killer Israel Keyes, who grew up with the Kehoe brothers and who also occasionally attended the Ark as a child, confessed to committing robberies and murders from coast to coast before reportedly dying by suicide in a jail cell. It’s unclear if his crimes were inspired by any sort of ideology, but during the 1990s, his father wrote a letter of support for both the Byrds and Pete Peters that was published in the local paper.
Keyes wrote that it wasn’t illegal to practice Christian Identity: “It is my understanding that the Marble Community Fellowship has very little to do with the Christian Identity Movement, but so what? Haven’t we as Americans a right to exercise a belief in God and celebrate our white heritage and Christian religion? After all, many Jews consider their race to be God’s chosen people. Is this not racism at its zenith?”
Morlin told me that he reported from a meeting of the Stevens County Assembly — an anti-government militia — in 2012, in which neo-Confederate Pastor John Weaver spoke. Weaver gives racist sermons from the pulpit — sometimes in front of a Confederate flag, sometimes wearing a Confederate flag–printed tie — railing against interracial marriage, and advocating for slavery. By the time of the meeting, he was no stranger to Eastern Washington. In the early 1990s, he appeared at a Spokane conference of white supremacists, during which he promoted his book that urged Americans to break laws should the government become occupied by Jews.
In 2015, Weaver was back in Stevens County to give another speech — this time, he was onstage at Marble Country.
Marble’s God and Country Festival wouldn’t be what it is without a speech from a Washington State House Representative from a district two hours away.
His name is Matt Shea. A clean-cut Army veteran with a law degree, Shea wears thin glasses, dresses in crisply ironed shirts, and smiles tightly. He positions himself as a voice of rural people, but actually represents a district that includes Spokane Valley, a largely suburban city of almost 100,000.
Shea, over the course of six two-year terms, has become a fixture at the far-right edge of what Washingtonians consider Republican. He rarely speaks to reporters — unless they work for publications that have the words “liberty” or “redoubt” in their name. I know more people who’ve done in-person interviews with President Trump than with State Representative Shea, and for years, I worked at newspapers that covered his district.
In order for Shea’s constituents to get an understanding of his ideas, they need to tune into his podcast. The show always takes the same format: Shea reads off some headlines from right-wing news sites, then interviews a guest, while often piping up in agreement with their outlandish theories.
Those guests tend to hold views reflected in the bills Shea introduces in the Washington House. They’re unflinching Second Amendment advocates. This spring, a woman on the program preached abstinence-only sex education and an anti-vaccine “researcher” claimed that child immunizations are contaminated with aborted fetuses.
Mostly, they’re conspiracy theorists and bigots with views Shea parrots. This spring, the legislator hosted a representative from an anti-abortion and homophobic group that has participated in burnings of the Quran. He interviewed a man who spouted talking points from conspiracists who believe in Agenda 21 — a theory that sustainable development is a shady plan hatched by a “New International Economic Order” to control people and take their freedom. Recently, he hosted a conspiracy theorist who believes the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks were actually a “controlled demolition.”
You could say Shea is a lot like Bill Keebler — except he wears a suit and taxpayers pay him a salary.
Shea, for years, has seemed at home among the creators of fake news and conspiracy theories that turn violent. As early as 2009, he made several appearances on conspiracy king Alex Jones’s InfoWars show, where Jones introduced him with reverence. “Representative,” he says, “good to have you on with us.” In that February 2009 interview, Shea and Jones spoke of their belief that the federal government was setting up camps to imprison Americans.
It seems as though in Shea’s world, the country is on the verge of collapse. People will have to fight for their lives. And he intends to be prepared: “If you do not have 5,000 rounds of .223, 5,000 rounds of .22 and a thousand rounds of handgun ammo as a minimum, you’re wrong!” he called from an Idaho stage in 2013.
“We want to prepare for the inevitable collapse that’s gonna happen. And yes, I said that as a politician here onstage. It’s gonna happen! We all know that! The question is, and I think the question should be for all of us, what are we gonna do afterwards? What are we gonna do with that opportunity?”
Apocalypse, government collapse, anarchy — in his world, these are exciting prospects. Opportunities even. A chance at a fresh start, a time to get society back on track.
In this fantasy apocalypse, perhaps being well-prepared and well-armed will be so necessary that the person you were in the past — in the pre-collapse — won’t matter. Money will be obsolete. Laws won’t be enforced. Maybe a violent past will suddenly be seen as an asset.
This might have special appeal for Shea. His ex-wife, who filed for divorce in 2007, alleged that Shea grabbed her so hard during two arguments that he left bruises on her arms. In those same divorce filings, she told stories of a controlling man; by her account, he commanded her to always walk on his left side because a soldier needs to be able to draw his sword from the right. (Shea was in the Army and served in combat, but his wife said he did not traditionally carry a sword.)
Shea did not respond to requests for comment, but when asked a decade ago about his divorce by the Spokesman-Review, he denied any violence and said, “I love my wife and, when I married, I intended it to be for life. Unfortunately, my former wife didn’t and decided to pursue her third divorce.”
In 2011, Matt Shea was involved in a road rage incident in Spokane, in which another driver alleged Shea pulled a gun. In a police report, Shea told officers that as an Iraq war veteran he had to use “evasive techniques” to avoid hitting the man’s car (which Shea described as engaging in “Baghdad driving”), and proceeded to follow it. Shea admitted to officers that he had a gun in his car, that he produced it from a glovebox during the incident, and that he had an expired concealed carry permit. The other driver said he saw the handgun and was afraid Shea was going to shoot him. Later, Shea’s attorney made a deal with prosecutors that resulted in the charges being dropped.
Even now, in a time he surmises is the end of civil society, all of this has become standard Shea stuff. None of his past did real damage to his standing with voters. But it didn’t mean the things he said didn’t set people on edge.
In the spring of 2014, a woman was eating at a Spokane Valley Mexican restaurant when she overheard a conversation between two men at the next table over. Later, she found out those men were Shea and the head of the Oath Keepers militia, Stewart Rhodes.
But sitting there, hearing them, she became so concerned over what they were saying that she took their picture and called the police. According to a police dispatch, the woman overheard “a conversation from a group of males talking about snipers, Clive [sic] Bundy, and public militias.” One of the individuals, she told the police, had “thermal imaging binoculars,” and the group sounded “like they were planning something.”
Still, Shea won the election that year with 57 percent of the vote.
If he could sit in a diner with one of the biggest militia leaders in this country and openly talk about military tactics, it seemed like Shea could be as extreme as he wanted — and it wouldn’t cost him any support. And even some of the most conservative Republicans in Eastern Washington were baffled by how Shea stayed in office.
Two of those people are Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and a former Republican state legislator from Stevens County, John Smith. In a three-part podcast on white supremacy in the region, the pair suggested that Shea’s involvement at Marble Country was something voters should worry about. It was a part of a deep history of racism and hate that had found a home in this region going way back.
Smith was raised by his grandparents in southern Idaho — and his grandfather was friends with people in the Aryan Nations and in the Order. Their home often had new people coming through the door. He remembered his grandfather laying maps out in the kitchen nook and drawing up plans for “an armed revolt.”
Smith realized on his own the ideology he’d been raised around was rotten and that he had to find a way out of it. He took a job as a ranch hand when he was 16 years old, and as a young adult, he attended church at the Ark. He was later married there, though he says he and his wife have since cut their connections with the church.
But he told me that it’s become something of a mission for him to speak up when he sees ideas rooted in Christian Identity catching on here. Stevens County has a history — he knows it, everyone does, even though racists have always been a fringe minority. And in a podcast with Knezovich, Smith hoped people would hear stories of his childhood as a cautionary tale.
“I grew up in that environment, and that stuff doesn’t wash off you. I acknowledge that darkness might still be inside me,” he told me. He maintains that he’s constantly trying to make sure he’s free of it, that he root out any part of him that might still carry what he learned as a kid — asking friends who aren’t white, who weren’t raised around neo-Nazis, if he’s changed.
“I actively go to them and say, ‘Look at me and tell me, is it still in me? Am I still saying the wrong things? Am I still thinking of this in the wrong way?’ I’m trying to not have that be in there anymore. And maybe part of that is standing up and saying this is not OK.”
Smith, in the video versions of the podcast was small and diminutive next to Knezovich. The latter is a tall, hulking man with a bald head and a sidearm, who shook my hand firmly and didn’t smile once when I interviewed him in a conference room at the Spokane County Sheriff’s office last summer.
He told me he sees Shea’s increasingly conspiratorial rhetoric and the allegations of aggressive behavior against him through a lens of one reality his department deals with regularly: that racism is alive and well in his county. He talked about getting a call one morning that KKK flyers had appeared plastered all over a suburb called Millwood, and about teenagers spouting white nationalist talking points in the hallways of local high schools.
He also talked about threats. Since Knezovich — a member of the local Republican party and a man who twice endorsed Shea — started speaking up about Shea, he has received death threats from people associated with the legislator.
“I’ve got my estate in order. I’ve got my will done. The kids have all been briefed. And don’t take this as me being flippant. Nobody wants to die. I came to grips with death a long, long time ago,” he says. “And there’s been more people than I that have died for this country. And if that’s what it takes for people to wake up to what’s happening around them. All right. I love my nation. And if it takes fighting these people on these terms? Bring it on.”
In 2015, Shea was at the God and Country Celebration again, this time next to John Weaver — the neo-Confederate preacher. The next year, many of the legislators from around the West who sympathized with the Bundys in both 2014 and 2016 showed up to Marble, too.
In some years, Anne Byrd posted photos to Facebook of the people who came to Marble. In the caption of a picture of Val Stevens, a former Washington state rep, Byrd wrote that Marble was “blessed” for legislators to be “standing in the gap” for the people.
By the summer of 2018, in the months before the election when many legislators campaign in their districts, Matt Shea appeared alongside Jeanette Finicum at the God and Country Festival. He talked about an idea he’d been shopping for years in the Washington statehouse: He wanted to secede Eastern Washington and create “a safe haven,” a 51st state called Liberty.
Shea insisted people east of the Cascades just didn’t agree with the values of “downtown Seattle,” so why even try to get along? “I would submit, here in Eastern Washington, we believe in the right of self defense. We also believe the constitution means what it says,” he told another crowd. Seattle doesn’t because, he says, it is filled with communists. “And communism, real communism, has killed more people as an ideology than any other ideology in this history of the world — atheist communism.”
All this time Shea spent up here in Stevens County, far from his district, he wasn’t recruiting any new voters. But it did appear he was amassing a following for a political movement, of which he was a leader and visionary.
I wanted to ask him about that, but last summer he didn’t respond to my email requests for an interview. In his personal security detail (having one is atypical for a state rep), Shea is known to employ a man who lives at Marble, and who once tried to bring an AK-47 onto the grounds of the Spokane federal courthouse, but he has no press liaison.
So I figured if I really wanted to ask him a question, and get any kind of an answer, I should show up to a gun rally where he was slated to be a featured speaker.
It was a hot August day — a dry heat, as people in Eastern Washington like to say. The rally was to be held at a large, grassy green park on the northside of Spokane — much closer to his district than Stevens County, but still not in it. A place where people play softball and lay out picnics. On this day, a small crowd gathered. For the most part, they wore shirts emblazoned with proclamations of love for guns and freedom, but several wore militia gear and carried militia flags. Several carried AR-15s.
I listened to Shea give a speech, one that would go on to make headlines around the West, in which he called journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people.” The small crowd — which included leaders and members of the 63rd Lightfoot militia and a local politician who once stomped on the United Nations flag in front of Spokane City Hall — loved it. They cheered Shea on as he yelled, wide-eyed, pumping his fists.
When he was finished, I trudged across the grass, introduced myself, and said I was hoping to ask him some questions: about this 51st State idea and his affinity for speaking at Marble each year. To my surprise, he agreed to talk.
I don’t remember how I first met her — did I catch a glimpse of her shimmying through a gap in the fence? — but I know that it was love at first sight, at least on my end. Part of my joy, I think, came from the fact that I never expected to see a rabbit within 10 feet of my kitchen window. At the time, I lived in a house on the corner of a small-town neighborhood street, and my backyard was relatively plain. No brush or trees shaded any part of the yard from the Oklahoma sun, trucks regularly revved past, and a number of kites and hawks threaded patterns in the sky above. Why would a rabbit visit a balding patch of fenced-in lawn rather than take cover in the murmuring field of tall grass nearby?
After that first sighting, years ago now, I searched for her within the movement of shadows at sunrise and sunset. Sure enough, she returned. I began learning her patterns: clover by the kitchen window until the sky painted itself into the color of morning, clover near the back corner of the lawn just before sunset, and occasionally, a nap near the fence post to escape the late afternoon heat. One morning while she was out, I eased the back door open and stepped in slow-motion, out onto the patio. Her ears perked up and swiveled, marking the source of the sound. She drew her feet close and twitched her nose. I took a seat on the concrete and, before long, she returned to eating.
As the summer months wore on, I sat with her often, and I also began buying carrots that I would throw in her direction. Timid at first, she crept closer and closer to me until I could feed her from an arms-length away. She would let me sit in the yard nearby while she rolled around in a sandy spot, her way of bathing, and when I returned from my morning runs, she would often sniff the air, stretch her body like a cat who’s just risen from a nap, and then hop in my direction. I named her Bugs.
After she disappeared that first fall, I didn’t fully expect to ever see her again, but Bugs returned for two summers. Sitting with her day after day, morning and night, encouraged me to engage with parts of the natural world I otherwise would have ignored. Over the course of our time together, I watched a pair of kites build a nest in a tree overhead, hoping that I’d never catch the sight of their shadow if they decided to swoop down one day. I studied the nuances in what I thought had been a plain lawn: purple flowers speckling the space in spring, dandelions during the height of summer, a flurry of minute insects hovering and crawling in the heat. I watched the sun melt down over powerlines and neighboring roofs, starlings and skeins of geese alternating overhead.
Over the years, my relationship with Bugs prompted me to think more critically about how I treated the natural world. I fed Bugs carrots daily and began videoing our encounters for Instagram, so that even strangers became invested. The second summer I knew her, she had a baby, and the two of them frequented my yard. There, Bugs taught her offspring to crouch low when the form of a hawk passed overhead, roll in the sand pit, and wriggle lightning-like through the slats in the fence. Though my intentions were borne from love and respect — and a desire to be close to another creature — was I harming Bugs by giving her food? Would she think other humans were safe or did she only know my scent? By inserting myself into her routine, was I disrupting an ecological web I had no right to be part of?
There are bigger questions that arise from those encounters, too. How have animals adapted to survive in a world increasingly overrun with humans? What kinds of relationships exist between humans and animals, and what well-intentioned actions from humans bring harm? The following essays address the oft-complicated connections between animals and humans, explore fascinating forms of adaptations that have sprung from living in increasingly inhospitable environments, and wonder about the future of us all.
1. Are Cities Making Animals Smarter? (Paul Bisceglio, August 16, 2018, The Atlantic)
Night after night, goldfish and koi began disappearing from an office pond protected by concrete walls. Worried, the landlord installed security cameras, only to find that the intruder was a surprising one: a fishing cat, better known for living in swamps than in the center of a bustling city.
In this fascinating read, Paul Bisceglio chronicles the work of Anya Ratnayaka, a conservationist who started tracking several fishing cats in the heart of Colombo, and wonders about how — and which — animals will successfully adapt to life as cities continue to infringe on natural habitats.
Mizuchi’s GPS-collar data had placed him not only in local ponds and canals, but also in the parking lot of a neon-lit movie theater and in the middle of a multilane traffic circle. His territory, which stretched about two square miles, was mostly covered with asphalt and packed with cars.
2. Horseshoe Crabs Have Survived All of History – and Remind Us How We Could Too (Lenora Todaro, July 3, 2019, Catapult)
Lenora Todaro meditates on intersections between human life and the natural world in New York City in her monthly Sidewalk Naturalist column. In this riveting installment, Todaro writes about horseshoe crabs, who somehow continue their “450 million-year-old lineage” despite “ice ages and asteroids,” low survival rates, and currently, in New York City, harrowing encroachments by humans on already too-small hospitable environments.
So here is New York city water, not at its best: a swirling mass of plastic bottles, glass shards of airplane size liquor bottles, coffee cups, candy wrappers, plastic straws, abandoned IHOP sugar packets. To find horseshoe crabs, we had to peel aside the sewage to see if any creatures were stirring beneath, oblivious and perhaps impervious to the garbage.
3. The ‘Othering’ of Animals and Cultural Underdogs: Debut author Pajtim Statovci on Kosovo, migration and cats (Pajtim Statovci interviewed by Carolina Leavitt, April 27, 2017, Electric Lit)
Pajtim Statovci, author of the novel My Cat Yugoslavia, speaks with Caroline Leavitt about the othering of people and animals; ways animals are used as symbols in literature and life; and his attempts to undermine conventional means of representation in his work.
We place animals in different contexts, such as literary works, where they are anthropomorphized and interpreted through the human world, for example as symbols of human characteristics, even though we don’t have access to animal consciousness, and we certainly don’t know what it’s like to be an animal.
4. How rats became an inescapable part of city living (Emma Marris, April 2019, National Geographic)
With urban rat populations on the rise, Emma Marris visits several cities around the globe, meets with rat experts, and studies the history of the rodents to give a better understanding of their immense capacity for adaptability, as well as the ways they mirror the way we as humans live.
Some of the things we hate most about rats—their dirtiness, their fecundity, their undeniable grit and knack for survival—are qualities that could describe us as well. Their filth is really our own: In most places rats are thriving on our trash and our carelessly tossed leftovers.
5. The Man Who Made Animal Friends (Ian S. Port, September 21, 2015, Rolling Stone)
At The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) in South Carolina, visitors can pay to take pictures with lion, tiger, and liger cubs, and visit apes, elephants, and other animals during tours through the park. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the founder and director of T.I.G.E.R.S., views his establishment as a community where animals and people live in harmony. Others, like zoo experts, view his park as being harmful to animals.
All of T.I.G.E.R.S. staff members must complete an intensive apprenticeship. No formal education is required, but recruits must be single and childless. They cannot expect any time off for any reason. They must be within 20 pounds of their “perfect athletic weight or working to get there,” able to do push-ups, pull-ups, and run a 12-minute mile.
6. Animal magnetism (David P Barash, May 13, 2014, aeon)
Why are humans fascinated by animals? How do our interactions with animals change depending on the context in which we observe them? What do we see of ourselves in other species? David P Barash, in considering animals in zoos, in veterinarian offices, as pets, in the wild, and across time, hypothesizes a variety of reasons why we remain enthralled by other creatures.
We are living, breathing, perspiring, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, eating, defecating, urinating, copulating, child-rearing, and ultimately dying animals ourselves. It is plausible that deep in the human psyche there resides the simple yet profound recognition of a relationship between Us and Them.
7. Can Elephants Be Persons? (Sarah Kasbeer, Summer 2019, Dissent Magazine)
Does only harm come from anthropomorphizing animals, or can respect for other living beings stem from the inclination? Are zoos an ethical place for creatures to reside, or is it better we let them free, even while we destroy their natural homes? What makes a person a person instead of an animal, and where do we draw the boundary between the two?
Sarah Kasbeer considers these questions and more in this nuanced and vital essay, one that centers around the predicament of Happy, an elephant living alone at the Bronx Zoo.
It has long been said that to anthropomorphize—ascribe human characteristics to animals—while intuitive and enjoyable, is unscientific and misguided. But given the recent research into animal consciousness, what was once considered a cardinal sin of ethology has since returned to favor, so long as it’s implemented responsibly.
Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir about running and neurological illness. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, Guernica, Tin House, and elsewhere. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @jacquelinealnes.
Under Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, drug dealers routinely get assassinated on Manila’s busy streets. Dead bodies get dumped in the bay and on city sidewalks, with signs reading, “I’m a pusher” hanging from the deceased’s necks. Those who resist, including clergy, have been shot in broad daylight. For Virginia Quarterly Review, Adam Willis examines the president’s brutal war on drugs, and how this Catholic nation seems torn between support and outrage. Many Filipinos applaud Duterte’s efforts to curtail the drug trade, while many Catholics have actively started resisting them and his violent, dictatorial rhetoric, risking their own lives in the process.
In the Philippines, the church has emerged as the most prominent voice of dissent against a drug war that has claimed, by some estimates, more than twenty thousand lives. It is also under perpetual assault from a president intent on contesting the very essence of Philippine Catholicism. Having framed his 2015 campaign as a referendum on the legitimacy of the church, Duterte has forced religious leaders to choose between coveted political capital and their moral mandates. It is a familiar dilemma, exacerbated by deep historical fissures between conservative and liberal clerics, and it has heightened pressure on the church’s most prominent prelates. In particular, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the country’s most influential church authority, who splits his time between duties on behalf of the Vatican and leading packed services in the cathedral of Intramuros—the Catholic heart of the Philippine capital—has been criticized by activists and clerics alike for his deferential approach to dealing with Duterte. Such soft-pedaling, they argue, seems blind to the country’s suffering and risks degrading the moral integrity of the church. Meanwhile, Jun and a small crop of the church opposition have reoriented their lives around a mission to document the drug war while helping to seek accountability for those responsible.
In a country where vigilante executions have become commonplace, this work is perilous at best; Catholic leaders who speak out are often inundated with death threats, sometimes from Duterte himself. In the last year and a half, three Filipino priests have been killed under mysterious circumstances. One was ambushed in his car after negotiating the release of a political prisoner; another, while saying blessings on a group of children, was shot dead by a motorcyclist; a third was murdered at the altar in front of parishioners just before Mass. In 2017 and 2018, such violence against clergymen prompted more than two hundred priests and religious leaders to petition for licenses to carry firearms.
Yuval Taylor | An excerpt from Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal | W. W. Norton & Company | March 2019 | 30 minutes (8,692 words)
Ornate and imposing, the century-old Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Passenger Terminal in downtown Mobile, Alabama, resembles a cross between a Venetian palace and a Spanish mission. Here, on St. Joseph Street, on July 23, 1927, one of the more fortuitous meetings in American literary history occurred, a chance incident that would seal the friendship of two of its most influential writers. “No sooner had I got off the train” from New Orleans, Langston wrote in The Big Sea, “than I ran into Zora Neale Hurston, walking intently down the main street. I didn’t know she was in the South [actually, he did, having received a letter from her in March, but he had no idea she was in Alabama], and she didn’t know I was either, so we were very glad to see each other.”
Zora was in town to interview Cudjo Lewis, purportedly the only person still living who had been born in Africa and enslaved in the United States. She then planned to drive back to New York, doing folklore research along the way. In late 1926, Franz Boas had recommended her to Carter Woodson, whose Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, together with Elsie Clews Parsons of the American Folklore Society, had decided to bankroll her to the tune of $1,400. With these funds, Zora had been gathering folklore in Florida all spring and summer. As the first Southern black to do this, her project was, even at this early stage, clearly of immense importance. It had, however, been frustrating. “I knew where the material was, all right,” she would later write. “But I went about asking, in carefully accented Barnardese, ‘Pardon me, but do you know any folk-tales or folk-songs?’ The men and women who had whole treasuries of material just seeping through their pores, looked at me and shook their heads. No, they had never heard of anything like that around there. Maybe it was over in the next county. Why didn’t I try over there?”
Langston, meanwhile, had been touring the South for months, penniless as usual, making some public appearances and doing his own research. He read his poems at commencement for Nashville’s Fisk University in June; he visited refugees from the Mississippi flood in Baton Rouge; he strolled the streets alone in New Orleans, ducking into voodoo shops; he took a United Fruit boat to Havana and back; and his next stop was to be the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It was his very first visit to the South.
When Zora invited him to join her expedition in her little old Nash coupe, nicknamed “Sassy Susie,” Langston happily accepted. (The car looked a lot like a Model T Ford, and could only seat two.) Langston adored the company of entertainers, and Zora was as entertaining as they came. Langston did not know how to drive, but Zora loved driving and didn’t mind a whit. They decided to make a real trip of it, “stopping on the way to pick up folk-songs, conjur [sic], and big old lies,” as Langston wrote. “Blind guitar players, conjur men, and former slaves were her quarry, small town jooks and plantation churches, her haunts. I knew it would be fun traveling with her. It was.” Read more…