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I know we're living in sort of a different world after 9/11. In what recent events do you see an opportunity for activists to reclaim some of what the government seems to be stealing away?
When it first happened, I had just come back from the UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. I got back the night of September 10th and woke up to this news. All of us who were there – 50,000 activists from around the world, mostly people of color – were so angry at the United States for walking out of the conference that it seemed to me that we must have done it to ourselves.
I could see how people could believe in a conspiracy theory that we must have done this ourselves. It fits so well to this administration's advantage. What this administration and the whole right wing is trying to do seems to be very authoritarian and police state-like, and at the same time self-righteous. "We've been victimized." When 8,000 people died in Bhopal, India, for Union-Carbide, people did not mourn. Why are American lives worth so much more?
I could see the writing on the wall, and I was awfully glad that I had this book to work on. We had to delay it because nothing was coming out in the fall. That kept me busy, but since I've been going around reading and travelling through March and April into May, I'm finding that the stuff that's coming out and being read, like Michael Moore's Stupid White Men and Chomsky's 9/11, is a little inspiring. 9/11 is a best-seller in New York even though it's never had a single review. It's from Seven Stories Press, which is even smaller than City Lights. And then there's Gore Vidal's book Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace and Howard Zinn's book on terrorism – people are eating this stuff up.
When I vowed not to pussyfoot around when I give readings but be very bold about what I think, it just opened this space for people to have discussions. Down at Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica, I swear the reading started at seven and at midnight I couldn't get rid of these people. We were sitting there talking and talking and talking. It just frees them. People are afraid. I started seeing it as important wherever I could just to break the ice and break the fear. People are self-censoring a lot these days. You will be attacked. Some of my right-wing colleagues at Hayward attack me when I post things on our listserv but I think it's giving courage to some of the people who aren't speaking out, who feel intimidated, and then I feel that this new anti-war newspaper that we started is so much in demand.
They just can't keep enough copies in stock and it's on the Internet. It's called War Times and it's bilingual, Spanish and English. It's a little tabloid, and it's free. We just have to raise the money for printing and shipping but it's very low cost. It was just an experiment to see if this works. The third issue has just come out and it's everywhere. People are welcome to translate it into different languages. It's not copyrighted, just use the material for whatever they want. It has really been encouraging to see that all over the United States. Churches and schools are getting and using that newspaper. Its writers are all fairly radical people. It's pretty blatant about our beliefs on the Palestinian question and US interventionism. It was originally meant for organizers; they thought 5,000 copies would be enough. I think the first run went through 100,000 copies.
People like Noam and Michael Moore are drawing thousands and thousands of people everywhere they speak. I think there's a real hunger for this information. I think people really, really meant that first question they asked, "Why do people hate us so much?", and they still want to figure it out. It's just logical, you know, to think "Well, there must be something there. They seem to hate us." We're told all the time how loveable we are and there's a disconnection there because people know that they're kind of loveable. Most Americans haven't done any harm to anyone personally and certainly not to someone in Afghanistan. It's kind of hard to make the connections when there's such a void of knowledge and information, and because they don't know why, they want to find out what these "terrorists'" reasons are, even if they're not valid, what are their reasons for doing this? I think just that natural curiosity has made people open in a way that they haven't been in the past. I think 9/11 did blow a big hole in the smokescreen that camouflages the United States. It's interesting how the right-wing dissidents who are so filled with white supremacy and Christian fundamentalism who made up a large part of the militias, these people are not the ones who are able to pick up the slack. It's the left that's actually able to make some explanations for this. I think it has put the right wing in kind of a disarray.
It has. At the same time, just from working at a bookstore, I know that you have more people coming in and asking for copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other right-wing tracts.
That's true. In Stockton, after I had talked and read from the book for about an hour, this one woman piped up and asked, to what extent do you think the Illuminati were involved with this. It was a friendly question, that's what was scary about it. I said, "Ugghh, to no extent." Then I spent about an hour talking about this and I thought, I better remember to bring this up next time, because people are probably assuming that 9/11 is part of these larger conspiracies like "the Protocols." That's Pat Buchanan's message. He's a real anti-Semite. He can be talking along – he's against intervention in Afghanistan, he's for a Palestinian state, he was against the Gulf War and you think, "Wow, Pat really sounds good," but underneath it all there's this rabid anti-Semitism.
The right has no problems making alliances with groups it hates; the left often times will not do that even with groups it feels are slightly racist or slightly sexist or anti-Semitic. I was wondering where you thought the boundaries are.
I think there are certain principles but I do think one can make interventions and not just toss everyone away. For instance, young white men are really sought out by the right wing for recruitment. Trying to seek them out and educate them about anti-war or feminist causes, and not just throw them away just because they're more likely to be targeted by the right, is probably a good idea. Similarly, women in the suburbs in the Central Valley, or are one generation away from being rural, are targeted by anti-abortion rights groups because they have certain tendencies but that doesn't mean that the women's movement shouldn't try to attract them. What I think we shouldn't do is pander to the prejudices that exist within these groups but really confront them, but actually aligning with groups that espouse white supremacy and the like, I think it's a bad idea. They're usually very corrupt. They're usually not very spontaneous. I think the militias were more spontaneous and had more potential, but now they're all in disarray. White supremacists were really trying to take them over but their initial sense came from the whole rural movement against agribusiness coming in and taking over.
I noticed all the books behind you on Timothy McVeigh. He's a name that's been sort or roused from the dead lately, especially with Gore Vidal's new book.
I was very interested in McVeigh because he was not a nut. He was an Army boy. He said very clearly that what he had against the US government was that they made him kill people who he had no problem with, that were not enemies. He was a tank gunner and he personally had the highest kill rate of any single gunner. He didn't even know how many unarmed Iraqi soldiers – the ones coming in to surrender – he killed under orders.