Waco and the Wackos

Being curious about how religious extremists come to be, I’ve watched a number of documentaries about the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas over the years. And last night, out of snowbound curiosity, I found myself watching a special on ABC titled Truth and Lies: Waco.

I’m not sure why this national network decided to dedicate two-hours of primetime television space to such a tragedy. Perhaps it’s because we are nearing the 25th anniversary of the event. Or maybe they were simply looking to capitalize on the apparent appeal of sensationalizing such tragedies and feeding fear-mongering conspiracy theorists desperate for such mainstream attention. After all, we’re now living in Trumpland, a sensationalized tragedy produced by fear-mongering conspiracy theorists (and the deep-pocket, deep state of wealthy one-percenters who, in a manipulative master deception that would make Keyser Soze proud, managed to dupe these rubes into thinking they were draining the swamp of corruption when in reality they just handed the keys to the swampmaster himself).

For what it’s worth, I have always harbored a degree of distrust and perhaps even a little disdain for authority. And I am not a particularly big fan of law enforcement, which I feel is an essential and important function in our society but one that attracts and recruits people with a certain viewpoint and fosters a culture that reinforces that viewpoint, all of which encourages the abuse of power and force. I would like to see more humane policing, better pay and training for law enforcement professionals, and frankly a complete overhaul of our judicial system.

That said, I do not fear the authorities, or my government. Nor do I adhere to all these conspiracy theories and “deep state” nonsense, the sort of stuff that is so appealing to those who thought The X-Files was a reality show. Perhaps if our government was a little less inept then I might share some of the rampant fear and trepidation that seems to fuel these people’s lives. But, as it stands, I don’t even own a tin-foil hat.

As for Waco, I still think that the Branch Davidians are responsible for that tragedy. Yes, the authorities made a number of mistakes, as is often the case (which, again, is one of the reasons I don’t share the fear and paranoia harbored by these conspiracy theorists, because I can’t be afraid of a force that is so frequently flawed and often inept, whereas a ruthless and efficient force like the old East German Stasi might actually inspire me to don a tin-foil cap and crawl into a bunker at the first sight of a chemtrail). But when a group of religious extremists starts talking about waging war against the government and then begins stockpiling automatic weapons, hand grenades, and other munitions that even the well-funded spinmeisters at the NRA couldn’t pass off as hunting gear, action needs to be taken.

And keep in mind that Koresh and his followers didn’t just oppose the government. They considered everyone who failed to heed his personal prophecy as their enemy, as tools of Satan. This wasn’t about government oppression or the right to bear arms. This was about a man who considered everyone who refused to recognize him as the one true voice of God to be his enemy. This was about a man who wanted a violent confrontation that would thrust him into the national spotlight. This was about a man who wanted he and his followers – including the children – to go out as martyrs in a blaze of glory.

Sadly, conspiracy theorists have used this tragedy as a springboard for the anti-government movement that helped put Trump, ironically the posterchild for everything that’s wrong with our government, in power. They see Waco, along with the tragic events at Ruby Ridge, as seminal moments in their vision of a “deep state” conspiracy within the government that’s working to turn America into Amerika, an imaginary authoritarian state where citizens are stripped of their rights and subjugated by those in power. And yet, again, the irony that these people still voted for Trump, already the most authoritarian and anti-American president we’ve ever had.

In the end, it was Koresh who ordered the death of his followers. He and his lackeys set three separate fires, killing 76 of the Branch Davidians who remained in the compound, including all of the children. Some died as a result of the fire, but many were shot or stabbed to death by fellow cult members, reminiscent of the murder-suicide finale of the People’s Temple cult in Jonestown, Guyana.

Recordings from inside the compound prove that it was Koresh and his fellow Branch Davidians who started the fires. And it appears to have been part of his final solution, his plan to martyr his followers. Weeks before they set their compound ablaze, the handful of children that Koresh did allow to leave had drawn images depicting the compound fully engulfed in flames. When asked by their appointed caretakers why the compound was burning in their drawings, weeks before it actually did, the children simply said, in what proved to be an ominous warning, “you’ll see.” Clearly the kids already knew how it would end – in an inferno.

Yet, despite such evidence, ABC opted to include the likes of Alex Jones in their two-hour special, giving voice to the irrational, to the factless fear mongers, who continue to blame the government for these deaths (and a litany of other nonsense). A shameless self-promoter, Jones used the tragedy to gain a national audience and a platform for spinning all sorts of baseless conspiracy theories to further his anti-government agenda. And now it seems ABC is looking to capture a little of that thunder – and perhaps a little slice of this sadly growing demographic – for themselves.

Could more have been done to safeguard the children in the compound? Yes, of course. And I’m not just talking about what happened during the assault, but the fact that all of the adults in that compound knowingly and willingly let Koresh physically and sexually abuse these children for months – even years. Those people – most of whom still blame the government – refuse to accept their role in these crimes.

And there’s absolutely no excuse for this. There’s no passage in the Bible in which Jesus tells a 12-year-old girl that he wants to fill her with God’s seed before raping her. These “Christians” were complicit in these crimes, in this evil, and now want to deflect that harsh reality by trying to make this about an aggressive government interfering with their rights. That’s a much easier narrative for them to swallow compared to having to admit that they were suckered by a drifter who claimed he was the voice of God and then stole their wives and raped their daughters.

For those of you who still think the government overstepped its bounds in this instance, ask yourself this: if the Branch Davidians considered Koresh a prophet of Allah instead of a prophet of God, would you still feel that way? Be honest, now. Would you want the government to stand down if there was a compound of heavily armed Muslim fanatics in the heart of Texas who considered America evil and were preparing to do battle against us? Let’s be honest, folks. Heavily armed religious fanatics who routinely sexually abuse children and have vowed to wage war against anyone who doesn’t follow their faith? In many ways, Koresh and his Branch Davidians were like a Christian version of ISIS.

Look, you may not agree with all the laws of this land. And I certainly have a few I’d like to see changed. But we still have to abide by them, even while we lobby to change them. Koresh and his cult broke the law, and preached of doing battle with anyone who challenged their freedom to do so. Yes, the authorities could have used different tactics, and more patience, but the people truly responsible for that massacre are Koresh and the adults who blindly followed him. The only conspiracy here is the one that has convinced you otherwise.

By the way, next Thursday, ABC will be airing Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story. Because, hey, why should the supermarket tabloids have all the fun, right? Like those Branch Davidians, I fear our society may be getting exactly what we deserve.

Drone Strikes & Terror Attacks: Debating Collateral Damage

iSkyI went to see the movie Eye in the Sky the day before the terrorist attacks in Brussels. I’m not giving away anything you won’t see in the trailer, but the film focuses on the moral dilemma of whether it’s acceptable to jeopardize the life of one civilian (via a drone strike) to save the lives of dozens of other innocents (via suicide bombers).

I’ve never had a problem with our drone attacks. And the savagery in Belgium only solidified my beliefs. I would risk the lives of a few to save the lives of many, especially if it would eliminate the long-term threat posed by terrorist leaders.

But what prompted me to write this piece is a fact that is frequently overlooked in this debate about collateral damage, whether in a film such as this or in the discussion of attacks like those in Belgium. And that is that there is a distinct difference between terrorists and nations like the United States. Terrorists deliberately target civilians whereas we do our best to avoid killing them.

Sure, there are some notable, and extremely significant exceptions to that rule. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden come to mind. Though one could argue that those atrocities were necessary to hasten the end of World War II, the costliest war in human history.

World War II killed as many as 85 million people, with approximately 50 million of those casualties being civilians. And any discussions of those three unprecedented aerial bombardments should take into consideration that the recipients, Japan and Germany, not only started the war but were also responsible for the vast majority of those civilian fatalities. Most are familiar with the horrors of the Holocaust conducted by Germany, but Japan brutally butchered almost as many innocents in its reign of terror.

The thinking – right or wrong – was that the fire-bombing of Dresden and the nuclear destruction of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki would help put an end to the war, thereby putting an end to the staggering loss of life – both for soldiers and civilians. Whether or not these tactics were successful, or even necessary, remains a matter of debate.

PattackFor the most part, though, the United States does its best to avoid civilian casualties. Our opponents in this new global war – Al Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk – purposefully target civilians. They live to kill the innocent. It’s what they do. And it’s all they do. Whereas our soldiers will face an inquiry and the possibility of some very harsh penalties even for accidentally harming civilians, our enemy will celebrate such shameless acts and treat the perpetrators as heroes.

So, no, I don’t have a problem with drone strikes. Yes, they occasionally cost innocent lives, and that is absolutely regrettable. But we do our best to avoid that, even when our enemies surround themselves with civilians, operating out of schools and hospitals in densely packed residential neighborhoods.

It’s a price we have to pay, and a price that the civilians of countries who harbor these terrorists have to literally pay – occasionally even with their own flesh and blood. It’s regrettable and tragic and necessary. Because these people, our enemies, our setting off bombs in crowded airports and subways, killing people who never did them any harm. That’s not collateral damage; that’s murder. And it’s got to stop.

Thought of the Day: Islam

Muslims claim there is only one God, and his name is Allah. Apparently Allah is cool with Muslims burning fellow Muslims to death in his honor, as ISIL recently did to Jordanian POW Moaz al-Kasasbeh.

I’m not a big fan of any religion, but I have to wonder how Muslims can be so incensed when some knuckleheads make a cartoon in which their Prophet does or says something silly yet turn a blind eye when fellow Muslims burn a man alive in the name of their God. They locked a human being, a fellow Muslim, in a cage and set him on fire, rejoicing as he burned to death.

These are the same fucktards who murdered 13 teenage Muslims in Mosul last month simply because they dared to watch a televised soccer game between Iraq and Jordan. They were dragged outside and shot in public, their bodies left to rot as even their families feared retaliation for trying to give them a proper Muslim burial.

Practice What You Preach
Religious people tend to define themselves by their beliefs, yet everyone else defines them by their actions. And in most religious, Islam included, God judges you by what you do – not what you profess to believe in. Imagine how better our world would be if religious people spent all their time and effort trying to live up to the ideals they so earnestly are trying to force others to live up to?

Peace in the Middle East

POEBefore the tragedy in Ferguson became the story du jour, I found it sadly amusing to see conservative pundits clamoring to claim that if the Barack Obama hadn’t pulled our troops out of Iraq, we wouldn’t have to deal with these ISIS douche bags. Well, if George W. Bush hadn’t invaded Iraq – under false pretense, mind you – we wouldn’t be dealing with these ISIS douche bags either. Heck, if Bush’s flunkies hadn’t disbanded the Iraqi Army after that illegal invasion, we wouldn’t be dealing with these ISIS douche bags either. And let’s not forget the 4,500 American lives lost – along with the nearly 80,000 wounded or injured – thanks to both of those stupid decisions by the Bush administration.

More sad than amusing is the fact that these are the same fucktards who whine about government spending. According to Reuters, the Iraq fiasco cost U.S. taxpayers $2,190,000,000 (that’s $2.19 trillion) as of 2012, with an additional $6 trillion projected over the next 40 years to support the veterans sent to fight there. And, again, let’s not forget the horrific human cost I mentioned above. You’d think those conservative cranks would be grateful to Obama for stemming the bleeding – both fiscally and literally.

And as bad as it was, Saddam Hussein’s psychotic rule, and the size and power of his military, kept Islamic fundamentalists like ISIS out of Iraq. In fact, they also kept countries that foster such douche bags (yeah, I’m talking about you, Iran) relatively in check.

Of course, these right-wing pundits aren’t concerned with things like logic, reason, reality, etc. All they care about is attacking the opposition party, which happens to be in power. It’s attack and destroy politics, as opposed to consideration and compromise, and it’s tearing this country apart.

And speaking of attack and destroy, and tearing things apart, I have a ludicrous suggestion for peace in the Middle East. It’s not exactly practical, let alone moral. But it might set the kind of example that would make these radicals think twice about reaching for a weapon instead of an olive branch.

I’m turning 50 next year, and as far back as I can remember, my government – the United States – has been using my tax dollars to try and broker some sort of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Our government has tried hard, investing countless hours, dollars, and other resources into solving this issue. Heck, the entire world has been bending over backwards trying to get these two sides to learn how to live together, to no avail. No fewer than 30 peace proposals have been negotiated between the Palestinians and Israelis in the past 65 years!

I know that neither side has always been acting in good faith. And the US doesn’t exactly have clean hands either. Not to mention the frightening fact that the Religious Right, who have the support of many Republican politicians (George W. Bush included), actually want to provoke a war in the Middle East because they believe it will hasten the end of the world and thereby accelerate their own personal trip to heaven – or some bullshit prophecy along those lines. And let’s face it, that’s about as ridiculous as blowing up a bus full of innocents to expedite your trip to heaven and a champagne party with 40 virgins. Lunacy!

So what to do? I’m at wit’s end. My government is at wit’s end. Arguably the world is as wit’s end. Perhaps this time we should all say, “Folks, you’re on your own now.” And then tell them they have 12 months to sort things out amongst themselves, or we – the world – will sort it out for ourselves. In other words, sort your shit, or someone else will sort it for you.

And if they fail to find their own peace after a year’s time? We’ll assemble a massive international fleet of military aircraft and surprise them all one night with a carpet-bombing campaign that begins at Israel’s southern border on the Sinai and destroys everything between the Jordan River and the sea – Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank – all the way up through Lebanon (like you bastards have been any better) and then fans out over all of Syria (because you motherfuckers are the real reason we’ve all got to deal with these ISIS douche bags) before pulling up just short of the Turkish border. We’ll level it all, with wave after wave of bunker busters followed by incendiaries. Scorched Earth 101.

LeMayHolePractical? No. Moral? No. Effective? Well, we’ve tried being diplomatic – for nearly 65 years – and things haven’t improved one bit. That’s a lot of time, energy, and money that could have been spent elsewhere, preferably (though, if we’re being honest, highly unlikely) bettering mankind. Plus, as I said earlier, it would send a message to other hot spots around the world that they better sort their shit out – quietly, and fast – because the rest of the world is tired of this bullshit. Where’s Gen. Curtis LeMay when ya need him?

Seriously, though. Peace in the Middle East? We deserve it. But – after all of this fighting, the countless deals that have fallen through, the decades of bickering and bloodshed, the hatred and horrific acts of violence – do they really deserve it?

OK, everyone deserves to live in peace. But my patience is wearing thin. With the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as with the pundits and preachers. And while I loathe the likes of LeMay, even a punk like Putin would think twice about being such an international asshole if he knew we had a nutjob like LeMay roaming the halls of the Pentagon, pushing for ludicrous plans like the one I have proposed here.

Purity of essence, my friends. Purity of essence.