You didn’t need to see more than 60 seconds of the video to know what the narrative would be when “Native American elder” and “Vietnam veteran” Nathan Phillips confronted the boys of Covington Catholic High School, who had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial after attending the March for Life.
Backed by ranting Indian protesters, Phillips approached the boys, banged what appeared to be a ceremonial drum, and chanted in his unintelligible native tongue. The short video supposedly showed the boys, some of whom were wearing MAGA hats, taunting Phillips. According to the leftist spin, they were the villains; he was the victim.
Phillips was the perfect hero for the Evil White Man-Good Red Man narrative the Left would use to manufacture the latest moral panic. Because he is a “Native American,” he is the rightful occupant of any space he chooses because his land “was stolen.” Because he was an “elder,” he was a wizened Indian sage. Not insignificantly, he was also a battle-tested former “recon ranger” in the Marines who had “served in Vietnam.”
The Covington boys, on the other hand, were cast as “privileged” white racists who were also anti-abortion and Christian. Even the smile on the face of Nick Sandmann, the 16-year-old boy who stood nose-to-nose with Phillips in the video, was repeatedly described as a “smirk” in media accounts to fit the leftist narrative.
And then the truth surfaced. A group called the Black Hebrew Israelites had shouted and yelled at the boys, the Indians, and passersby. The boys performed school chants to drown out the black radicals. Phillips ignored the real source of the trouble, the black radicals, and approached Sandmann, beating his drum.
Military records showed that Phillips was neither a “recon ranger” nor a Vietnam vet. He was a refrigerator repairman who never left the United States but was Absent Without Leave (AWOL) more than once.
Court records showed that Phillips was, many moons ago, a violent criminal who broke out of prison.
Full video showed that the boys did not shout racist epithets, or slogans such as “build the wall,” or “it’s not rape if you enjoy it.” The Black Hebrew Israelites shouted “build the wall,” and someone who did not go to Covington Catholic yelled the unconscionable rape remark.
Why did the media recklessly malign the Covington boys? In a very real sense, the boys were collateral damage. The establishment media loathes President Trump and his supporters. The boys — white, pro-life, and, again, wearing MAGA hats — were a target for the media to advance their anti-Trump narrative.
The Phillips-Sandmann story, the subject of two defamation lawsuits with more to come, is one of many from the Left that follow a remarkably consistent narrative with stock protagonists and antagonists. The protagonists are often “innocent” blacks, other minorities, or immigrants. The antagonists are often “racist” white men or cops who attack without provocation, and a “corrupt” criminal justice system that unjustly persecutes and convicts the “innocent” protagonists.
The false narrative might or might not involve race, but like Phillips, the protagonists in these elaborately staged dramas often have something in common. They are liars, phonies, and criminals. Going back almost 100 years, the Left has frequently adopted dangerous criminals and even convicted murderers as “victims” to advance its revolutionary goals.
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This article appears in the April 8, 2019, issue of The New American. To download the issue and continue reading this story, or to subscribe, click here.
Sacco and Vanzetti
Traveling back 10 decades lands one in the middle of perhaps the most sensational murder trial of the 20th century, that of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. They were Italian immigrants and anarchists who were tried and convicted for murdering two men during a robbery of a shoe-company payroll in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1920. The pair were executed in 1927.
Despite evidence that persuaded a jury of their guilt, they were two of the stock protagonists with whom the Left has spun false narratives ever since. The Left advanced myriad allegations of injustice: Cops and prosecutors framed the men because they were Italian immigrants or because they were anarchists. Cops bungled the ballistics tests. The trial was “unfair.” The fix was in.
The two Italian anarchists became a planetary cause. The Left staged protests even in Sydney, Australia. Supporters included H. G. Wells, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and, most importantly, Upton Sinclair, who wrote a fictionalized account of the murder and trial in a novel, Boston. Sinclair claimed the executions were “the most shocking crime that has been committed in American history since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.”
Ballistics tests in 1961 and 1983 confirmed Sacco’s gun was the murder weapon, although one historian has suggested prosecutorial skullduggery with the bullets. That’s doubtful, given what we learned from Sinclair, who wrote a letter that described an eye-opening meeting with Fred Moore, the pair’s socialist attorney, whom they fired in 1924:
When I went to Boston the last time in October 1928, I was completely naive about the Sacco-Vanzetti case, having accepted the defense propaganda entirely. But I very quickly began to sense something wrong in the situation. There was an air of mystery about the Boston anarchists, and I saw they had something to conceal. Then in Sacco’s cross examination, I detected what seemed to be a slip in his alibi. I began asking catch questions, and ultimately I got the admission from one of the leading defense witnesses that his testimony had been framed. I got a virtual admission of the same thing from another witness. It became certain to me that Sacco at least had been concerned in the dynamitings which had occurred in New England just after the war, and I supposed that this was what was being hidden from me. I remained of the opinion that both men had been unquestionably innocent…. Their trial had manifestly not been a fair one, and on that basis I was prepared to defend their right to a new trial. That was my state of mind at the time that I agreed with The Bookman for the serial publication of “Boston.”
But on my way to Denver, where I had arranged by telegraph to meet Fred Moore, I turned the matter over in my own mind, and doubts began to assail me. Alone in a hotel room with Fred I begged him to tell me the full truth. His reply was, “First tell me what you have got….” I told him that I knew that the men were not merely terrorists, but that they were guilty of the holdup. His reply was, “Since you have got the whole story there is no use my holding anything back,” and he then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them. He said that there were quite a group of terrorist anarchists who had been supporting the movement by various kinds of pay-roll holdups.
Moore wasn’t the only defense attorney who admitted their guilt. So did Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He told me there was no possible doubt of the guilt of Sacco and Vanzetti, and that the militant anarchists had financed themselves that way for years, both here and abroad,” Sinclair wrote. “They never took the money for themselves, but only for the movement, and this constituted them idealists and heroes from the point of view of extreme class war theories.”
That “movement” took up the Sacco-Vanzetti cause. Baldwin’s ACLU, the “movement’s” subversive legal arm, helped to manufacture the martyr narrative for a reason: to depict American courts as deeply hateful and unjust, which would undermine law and order and soften American society for revolution. Such is the mythology about the pair of killers that even Tony Soprano, the main character in HBO’s The Sopranos, cited them as victims of anti-Italian, anti-immigrant hatred.
Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown
That same movement is still operating, and after Sacco and Vanzetti, it introduced the country to myriad “victims” of injustice. Two of the most recent, who caused a global racial hysteria, were Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
Brown’s death helped the Left retail another destabilizing narrative, the false white cop-black victim tale, which runs something like this: The “unarmed” suspect was innocently “walking while black,” when, all of a sudden, a white cop “overreacted” to an “innocent” gesture and shot him. Martin’s death offered the corollary armed white guy-black victim narrative. A white racist killed a black “teen” who was, again, “walking while black.” The “victims” in those narratives are Brown and Martin.
The myth that grows from the narratives is that whites, either cops or gun-toting white civilians, murder innocent unarmed blacks with impunity — and get away with it. It’s open season on blacks. The narrative’s consumers, the reading and viewing public, are supposed to believe that the principal threat for young blacks, or even older ones, is the unhinged white racist, particularly one wearing a blue uniform and silver badge.
Yet this is palpably false. FBI crime data show that almost 100 percent of murders are intraracial: blacks murder blacks and whites murder whites. But they also show that blacks are much more likely to murder other blacks or whites than whites are to murder blacks. The data also show that most blacks who wind up dead at the hands of police had weapons and were dangerous. In other words, if blacks want to know “who is killing these black victims,” as the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald has written, they must look inward. It’s “not whites, and not the police, but other blacks.”
But the media megaphone brought to bear on the news that police have killed another “unarmed black man” blocks our hearing that truth. The harangue from that bullhorn not only establishes a narrative of unrelenting racial injustice perpetrated by whites, but also undermines the authority of local police by depicting them as racially biased. That, of course, requires more federal “oversight” of the police, more subsidies for the “victimized” minorities, and, in keeping with the Left’s goal of concentrating more power in the federal government, the eventual creation of a national police force.
The unfortunate shootings of Martin and Brown provide examples.
Trayvon Martin: Martin wasn’t an innocent victim. He attacked neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who shot him in self-defense in Sanford, Florida, in 2012.
According to the media spin, Martin was innocently “walking while black” in his apartment complex, eating skittles and drinking Arizona “Iced Tea” — which turned out to be Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail — when the evil Zimmerman appeared from nowhere, followed him, and shot him to death. The New York Times helpfully described Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic,” which ensured that “white” appeared in the story to fortify its stark racial spin. The media repeatedly used five-year-old photos of Martin, who at the time of the shooting was 17, and 5 feet 11 inches tall, to suggest that Zimmerman had murdered a “child.”
In truth, Zimmerman shot Martin because the “child” attacked him and was smashing his skull into the pavement. Had Zimmerman not been armed, Martin might likely have been arrested for murder. Even three years later, however, the Washington Post published this falsehood: “Zimmerman fatally shot Martin while the unarmed African American 17-year-old was walking in Sanford, Fla.”
One of Martin’s friends testified that Martin likely attacked because he thought Zimmerman was a homosexual predator, but in any event a jury acquitted the “white Hispanic.” The Left mobilized “Justice for Trayvon” rallies in 100 cities. Black Lives Matter was born.
Then the Obama Justice Department stepped in. It hoped to convict Zimmerman for violating Martin’s civil rights by proving the “white Hispanic’s” racial animus. The Obama FBI’s gumshoes reluctantly admitted failure:
Federal investigators reviewed all of the material and evidence … including witness statements, crime scene evidence, cell phone data, ballistics reports, reconstruction analysis, medical and autopsy reports, dep-ositions, and the trial record. Federal investigators also independently conducted 75 witness interviews and obtained and reviewed the contents of relevant electronic devices…. In addition, federal authorities retained an independent biomechanical expert who assessed Zimmerman’s descriptions of the struggle and the shooting.
The federal investigation sought to determine whether the evidence of the events that led to Martin’s death were sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman’s actions violated the federal criminal civil rights statutes….
The federal investigation examined whether Zimmerman violated civil rights statutes at any point during his interaction with Martin, from their initial encounter through the fatal shooting. This included investigating whether there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman violated Section 3631 by approaching Martin in a threatening manner before the fatal shooting because of Martin’s race and because he was using the residential neighborhood. Investigators also looked at whether there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman violated Section 3631 or Section 249, by using force against Martin either during their struggle or when shooting Martin, because of Martin’s race….
Federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of these statutes.
And just who did the Left want justice for? The protagonist in this narrative was no honor student. Reported the Miami Herald:
A school police investigator said he saw Trayvon on the school surveillance camera in an unauthorized area “hiding and being suspicious.” Then he said he saw Trayvon mark up a door with “W.T.F.” The officer said he found Trayvon the next day and went through his book bag in search of the graffiti marker.
Instead … he found women’s jewelry and a screwdriver that he described as a “burglary tool….”
Trayvon’s backpack contained 12 pieces of jewelry, in addition to a watch and a large flathead screwdriver, according to the report, which described silver wedding bands and earrings with diamonds….
Trayvon was not disciplined because of the discovery, but was instead suspended for graffiti….
That suspension was followed four months later by another one in February…. Trayvon was caught with an empty plastic bag with traces of marijuana in it. A school police report … specifies two items: a bag with marijuana residue and a “marijuana pipe.”
The punishment was the third.... Trayvon had earlier been suspended for tardiness and truancy.
Even with that information, the Left made Martin the poster boy for white-on-black hate and murder.
Michael Brown: Police officer Darren Wilson’s justifiable shooting of petty criminal Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 superbly illustrates the thug-as-victim narrative the Left so expertly disgorges after a confrontation in which the cop is white and the “victim” is black.
After Wilson shot Brown in self-defense, Brown’s family and the radical Left, aided by prevaricating “witnesses,” smeared Wilson. Another racist white cop shot another “defenseless” black kid. Brown was a “gentle giant,” even too timid to play football despite his gargantuan 300-pound frame. The “teen” was “surrendering” with his “hands up,” telling the cop “don’t shoot,” when trigger-happy Wilson, looking to put a notch in his belt, unleashed a hail of bullets. “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” became a national anti-cop slogan. Black Lives Matter had another cause célèbre.
Yet a grand jury refused to indict Wilson, and the Obama Justice Department released a report that proved the narrative utterly without merit. Forensic evidence proved that witnesses lied and Wilson shot Brown in self-defense after Brown attacked the cop inside his SUV. The DOJ reported its results this way:
Some witnesses claim that Brown’s arms were never inside the SUV….
Those witness accounts could not be relied upon in a prosecution because credible witness accounts and physical and forensic evidence, i.e. Brown’s DNA inside the SUV and on Wilson’s shirt collar and the bullet trajectory and close-range gunshot wound to Brown’s hand, establish that Brown’s arms and/or torso were inside the SUV.
After the initial shooting inside the SUV, the evidence establishes that Brown ran … and Wilson chased after him. The autopsy results confirm that Wilson did not shoot Brown in the back as he was running away because there were no entrance wounds to Brown’s back…. Witnesses who say so cannot be relied upon in a prosecution because they have given accounts that are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence or are significantly inconsistent with their own prior statements made throughout the investigation.
Brown ran at least 180 feet away from the SUV … then turned around and came back toward Wilson, falling to his death approximately 21.6 feet west of the blood in the roadway. Those witness accounts stating that Brown never moved back toward Wilson could not be relied upon in a prosecution because their accounts cannot be reconciled with the DNA bloodstain evidence and other credible witness accounts.
Several witnesses stated that Brown appeared to pose a physical threat to Wilson as he moved toward Wilson. According to these witnesses, who are corroborated by blood evidence in the roadway, as Brown continued to move toward Wilson, Wilson fired at Brown in what appeared to be self-defense and stopped firing once Brown fell to the ground. Wilson stated that he feared Brown would again assault him because of Brown’s conduct at the SUV and because as Brown moved toward him, Wilson saw Brown reach his right hand under his t-shirt into what appeared to be his waistband. There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety….
Although there are several individuals who have stated that Brown held his hands up in an unambiguous sign of surrender prior to Wilson shooting him dead, their accounts do not support a prosecution…. Some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements…. Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported either to federal or local law enforcement or to the media. Prosecutors did not rely on those accounts when making a prosecutive decision.
While credible witnesses gave varying accounts of exactly what Brown was doing with his hands as he moved toward Wilson … they all establish that Brown was moving toward Wilson when Wilson shot him.
The obvious question is why the “gentle giant” attacked Wilson. Answer: Wilson was trying to catch Brown for robbing a convenience store. Video showed the “gentle giant” pushing around the shopkeeper from whom he had stolen a box of cigarillos.
So yet again, the Left had adopted another criminal to peddle a subversive, inflammatory message. “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” became the message of protesters and a sort of curse upon local police as untrustworthy and in need of more intrusive federal controls and supervision.
Of course, Brown was a petty criminal who attempted to murder a cop. But sometimes the Left adopts actual murderers, and it doesn’t much care what color they are as long as they fit the narrative. A few examples:
• Mumia Al Jamal, born Wesley Cook, a former Black Panther who murdered white cop Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death. A federal court overturned the ultimate penalty, and Jamal was sentenced to life in prison. Without doubt Jamal is guilty, but the Left’s tenacity in pushing the Sacco-Vanzetti defense — he was “framed” and convicted in an “unfair” trial — for more than three decades finally paid off. Last year, another judge said he could appeal his conviction again. The Left says Jamal is a “political prisoner” of a corrupt system.
• The Jena Six were the black boys who in 2006 viciously beat a white boy for no reason. The discredited Southern Poverty Law Center was among the boys’ defenders. The six claimed the white boy uttered racist remarks, and 20,000 protesters showed up in Jena, Louisiana, after prosecutors charged five of them with attempted murder. Each of the Jena Six eventually confessed, but served virtually no time in jail.
• Jack Henry Abbott, a communist and violent career criminal, was in prison for forgery in 1965 when he killed another inmate, which earned him another three to 23 years. In 1971, Abbott escaped prison and robbed a bank, which added another 19 years. But then he wrote to leftist scribe Norman Mailer, who, impressed by Abbott’s writing ability, helped him publish a prison memoir, In the Belly of the Beast, which describes the prison system as unjust — a leftist narrative. Mailer also lobbied for Abbott’s parole. Against their better judgment, prison officials freed him in June 1981. Six weeks later, the newest star in New York’s literary firmament stabbed a man to death. Amazingly, celebrities such as Susan Sarandon defended him again, even though Abbott was, Mailer wrote, a “calculated risk.”
• Indian activist Leonard Peltier, a member of the radical-left American Indian Movement, was wrongfully convicted, the Left falsely claimed, for the murder of two FBI agents in 1975 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Wanted for the attempted murder of a policeman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Peltier was at the reservation at the behest of AIM, which was fighting with tribal leaders who wanted the group removed. The FBI agents, investigating an assault and robbery, were following Peltier’s car when it stopped and its occupants, including Peltier, got out and opened fire. Peltier’s guilt is beyond doubt, and he admitted, in 1991, to firing at the agents. But the Left still retails the lie that federal prosecutors framed him.
Why Adopt Criminals? Ends Justify Means
The Left’s adoption of thugs, criminals, and murderers for its causes would seem something of a mystery. Why not enlist the law-abiding more often, such as the black youngsters and their parents seeking to desegregate the public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957?
Why, so often, a criminal or even a murderer?
Because a principal means of the Left’s proving society is unjust is demonstrating that cops and courts routinely arrest and convict the innocent, particularly racial minorities, or in the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, immigrants. So the very nature of what the Left wants to prove by demonizing cops and courts requires conscripting those involved with cops and courts — i.e., criminals. Because most (but not all) of those accused of serious crimes and brought to trial are found guilty — and the prisons are bulging with innocent victims, after all — the Left is forced to present serious criminals as “victims.”
Remarkably, the Left doesn’t care that its narrative about unjust police and the courts is false, ridiculous, self-refuting, and redolent of hypocrisy. For one thing, an irredeemably unjust society would not enshrine in its primordial law an ancient canon of principles that includes the presumption of innocence, the writ of habeas corpus, protections against search and seizure, or a speedy jury trial requiring a unanimous verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Not to mention free defense attorneys and an explicit explanation of rights upon arrest. Nor would an unfair or corrupt court system have permitted three decades of pettifoggery and a farrago of appeals, for instance, on behalf of the obviously guilty Jamal and Peltier. Those men had more than a fair day in court.
Yet the Left didn’t want one for Wilson or Zimmerman, and adjudged them guilty before the facts were in or before trial. That’s the hypocrisy. Thus, the guilt of a given “victim” the Left defends is immaterial, particularly given its ideological prime directive — the ends justify the means — and its alienation from the normative principles and convictions of a healthy society, which includes acknowledging and obeying lawful authority. The Left’s willingness to use violence in the streets to achieve its ends suggests an ideological predisposition to forgive and sympathize with someone who uses violence, even to commit a crime, which for the alienated Left is something other than a crime. For the leftist — lacking what Joe Sobran called “normal social affections” — crime is not the result of a disordered choice or disposition. Rather, it is the natural and appropriate reaction to “structural injustices” or “systemic racism,” the “root causes” of everything from inner-city poverty to low academic achievement among minorities. Thus, “social injustice,” not the violent criminal, is the problem. Criminal violence cannot be removed from the context of “poverty” or “racial tensions.” “Rage” and “lashing out” are “justified.”
And so we had Nathan Phillips, “Native American elder” and “Vietnam veteran,” the perfect protagonist for the latest narrative to inspire a national moral panic. Of course, no one knew about his military fakery and going AWOL and other crimes when the narrative began, but those small matters were not surprising given the Left’s uncanny knack for picking phonies and criminals to represent its causes.
Phillips was found out, and the narrative collapsed. Nicholas Sandmann and his pals did nothing wrong. Phillips wasn’t so perfect after all.
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