The Symbolic Death of a Symbolic Movement

The Symbolic Death of a Symbolic Movement, School Americas, WHINSEC, SOA Watch, Roy Bourgeois

The American TFP in Fort Benning, Ga. campaigning in support of our troops and the School of the Americas.

The political left has always preferred to wage its battles in the terms and the imagery of symbols. Whether they be an image such as a Che Gueverra T-shirt, a slogan such as “the 99%,” an action such as Greenpeace photo-op stunt on a coal power plant, or a flesh and blood man like Fidel Castro, symbols have the power to attract followers to a cause and inspire them with a quasi-religious fervor. But contrary to the liberal myth of “inevitability,” these symbolic battles don’t always end in victory but sometimes in humiliating defeat. One such symbolic defeat is the total collapse of a protest movement called the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch.

At its height in the early 2000s, this annual protest attracted as many as 17,000 people to protest at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga.1 Yet for a range of reasons, around 2007 it began a slow, irreversible decline until its most recent rally on November 19, 2016 when it collapsed to a mere 30 die-hards.2 It would be simplistic to pin this spectacular failure on any single cause, but it matches a general decline of socialist parties and liberal movements around the world. For Catholics in particular, the death of SOA Watch deserves to be registered in history as a symbolic victory over the deadly poison of progressivism, pacifism and heterodoxy that has penetrated into the very bosom of the Church from top to bottom. Most importantly, it represents the failure of liberalism to resonate in public opinion beyond an isolated and graying fringe of militant activists.

Founded in 1990 by a Maryknoll priest, Father Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch became a leading voice of opposition to American foreign policy in Latin America. Its most important and symbolic event was an annual rally in front of the main entrance of Fort Benning, the location of the School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

Prophecies of Our Lady of Good Success About Our Times

The School of the Americas/WHINSEC is an international organization that trains military and police personnel from Latin America with classes in leadership, ethics, medicine, counter-insurgency and civics. Since 1946 it has helped to strengthen military and diplomatic ties between the United States and the countries of Latin America. Many of its graduates have gone on to assume leadership positions in their respective countries. During the Cold War, it played an important role in helping Latin American governments defeat communist guerilla movements, and today it continues to provide vital assistance to our Latin American allies in the fight against drug trafficking.

As a far-left movement, SOA Watch rejects the historically anti-communist foreign policy of the United States towards Latin America. It ignores the hundreds of thousands of documented murders committed by communist guerillas from Mexico to Argentina, sympathizes with these movement’s attempts to impose Marxist dictatorships on their countries, and attacks American assistance to democratically-elected governments fighting to protect the lives of their citizens. It especially condemns the American embargo with communist Cuba and military aid to Colombia in its fight against the communist FARC guerillas and drug traffickers.

According to SOA Watch, WHINSEC is not a peaceful catalyst for hemispheric cooperation and security but a terrorist group itself, responsible for crimes allegedly committed by some of its graduates. SOA Watch lists a long litany of victims and human rights abuses, real or imagined and pins the blame not on the perpetrators but squarely on WHINSEC itself, calling it a “school of assassins.” Ostensibly, the primary goal of SOA Watch is to shut down WHINSEC and end American military involvement in Latin America. But as anyone who attended a SOA Watch protest could see, WHINSEC’s supposed crimes are merely a pretext for an event that promotes every leftist cause under the sun.3

Indeed, SOA Watch is not so much a movement to fight “human rights” abuses as it is a platform and vehicle for the Catholic left. And like all things of the left, it hates America’s free-enterprise economic system and everything that is traditional, wholesome, anti-egalitarian and anti-communist. Just as SOA Watch tried to turn WHINSEC into a symbol of the evils of American foreign policy, SOA Watch itself became a symbol of the Catholic left.

At its height, SOA Watch was the flagship event and umbrella movement for every liberal cause both inside and outside of the Catholic Church. The annual rally at Fort Benning included dozens of exhibitors promoting every liberal cause from liberation theology, women’s ordination, socialism, homosexual “rights,” drug legalization, abortion, Wicca, pacifism and even animal “rights.” “Workshops” were held in order to train the next generation of young radicals. Worst of all, the rally included the support and participation of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a homosexual drag queen group from San Francisco who are known for their militant public blasphemy and mockery of the Catholic Church.

Liberal clergy have played the leading role in organizing and attending SOA Watch. Catholic colleges and high schools—especially Jesuit ones—bused in thousands of students year after year for the rally. A very large percentage of the rally’s participants and a majority of its most dedicated followers were members of the clergy, many very elderly. Although they clearly don’t wear their habits anymore, many put them on just for the SOA Watch rally to give it a greater moral authority.

SOA Watch was in many ways the liberal counterpart to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. But unlike the pro-life movement, relatively few attendees were under 30, and most of them were not particularly enthusiastic.4 The vast majority were high school and college students bused in by their liberal professors. Most were unaware exactly what they were protesting. When questioned by TFP volunteers, only a few were able to name a single graduate of the School of the Americas/WHINSEC accused of crimes.5 Although some were dedicated socialists with an ideological stake in the rally, most students were simply along for the ride, free food and the extra-credit. Even at its height, the heart and soul of SOA Watch was always a core group of graying hippies from the sixties and seventies.

This characteristic, apathetic youth and graying leadership is not limited to SOA Watch. Unlike the 1960s, liberal causes today have faced increasing difficulty in recruiting, motivating and retaining young people. Socialist ideology fails to inspire like it used too. Liberal movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter—in spite of unlimited resources and the total support from the media—simply do not attract large numbers of dedicated followers like their 1960s predecessors. Most importantly, they do not produce young, charismatic leaders capable of inspiring a whole nation. The only liberal politician capable of drawing large crowds this election year, Bernie Sanders, is a 75-year-old career politician from Vermont with no clear successor.

In this same line, it could not have been more ironic that Fidel Castro—the very symbol of Latin American communism and the hero of SOA Watch attendees—died a mere six days following this year’s protest. The enormous outpouring of grief by leftists across the world for the communist dictator was not so much out of personal affection for Castro himself, but more a lamentation for the loss of the last truly charismatic, global figure of the revolutionary left. There is simply no one else who can represent the cause of socialism and hold its banner high like he did.

Moreover, SOA Watch faced another obstacle that contributed to its downfall: organized opposition. SOA Watch never enjoyed any substantial support from the general public in Georgia. In 2002, local citizens concerned with the anti-American message of SOA Watch founded a counter-rally called “God Bless Fort Benning Day.” Led by Dr. Jack Tidwell and his wife Eve, it consisted of military demonstrations, speeches, patriotic music and other events to strengthen relations between the military and the public. Until it changed hands and focus in 2007, God Bless Fort Benning Day drew crowds of up to 20,000 people, mostly locals, easily eclipsing SOA Watch itself and dealing a cheerful yet psychological rebuke to the liberal outsiders.6

The American TFP played a significant role in fighting SOA Watch. Every year from 2007 to 2012, TFP Student Action volunteers made the trip down to Georgia to demonstrate in support of the American military and against the pacifist protesters. Along with its lively street campaigns, the TFP entered into the ideological debate with hard-hitting statements exposing the socialist ideology of SOA Watch. These TFP statements, “To SOA Watch Protesters: Be Consistent! To the Military: Be Proud!,” “A Call to Gratitude: Who Will Thank Our Heroes?,” “10 Reasons to Protest…Against the Protesters,” and “Who Do the ‘Occupy Fort Benning’ Protesters Represent? Unmasking the 0.99%.” were published as full-page advertisements in the local newspaper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, and distributed as flyers to passers-by in Columbus and to any SOA Watch protesters interested in hearing the other side of the debate.

A final blow to SOA Watch was the excommunication of its founder, Father Bourgeois, for participating in a fake women’s ordination ceremony in 2008. After refusing to recant his public declarations in favor of women priests, on November 24, 2008 the Vatican declared him excommunicated latae sententiae, and in 2012 he was laicized and expelled from the Maryknoll order. Many liberal organizations and schools, although sympathetic to ex-Father Bourgeois and the causes of SOA Watch, nevertheless pulled their support, not wanting the bad publicity of participating in an event run by an excommunicated priest. SOA Watch rapidly declined to barely one thousand in 2012, collapsing to a mere 30 die-hards in 2016. With its leader humiliated and its followers demoralized, it is unlikely that SOA Watch will ever recover.

The story of the collapse of SOA Watch should serve as a vital lesson for conservative Americans. On the one hand, in many important ways the left dominates the institutions and popular culture of America like never before. Their army of movements and organizations has indeed done much to destroy what remains of Western Christian civilization, and many Americans are tempted to believe the liberal propaganda about the “inevitability” of socialism. On the other hand, the death of a symbolic movement like SOA Watch, in spite of the full moral and material support of the American left, exposes this narrative as a lie and represents a deeper reality: that the left is not as powerful as they say it is. At a moment when many Americans are tempted to embrace defeatism or the “Benedict option,” this may serve to encourage them to wage the fight for Christian civilization with ever greater enthusiasm and vigor.

 

Footnotes

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/22/us/politics/22protest.html
  2. http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/local/military/article115949073.html
  3. http://www.tfp.org/united-in-hatred/
  4. http://www.tfp.org/united-in-hatred/
  5. http://www.tfp.org/united-in-hatred/
  6. http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/latest-news/article29060173.html

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  • Jon Landsbergis

    Was curious about TFP so looked at the web site and saw this article about the SOA( School of America’s ) in Fort Benning GA that trained para-military forces in Latin America. Now look, there were some leftist regimes we needed to bring pressure on but in the 80’s under the guise of anti-communism they stepped up horrific actions against the native people in Guatemala, death squads , mass graves and they were trained by the U.S. Anyone should be able to tell the difference between communists and Native people who were suffering under an almost 500 year genocide and in an existential crisis. But Reagan could not discern this and 12 of the 18 Guatemalan officers now indicted on genocide and crimes against humanity were trained in Fort Benning. And guess what , TFP did not stand against the genocidal murderers but praise them, protest for them. Considering the church has a cross to bear for the actions against Native people in the Americas for the last 500 years( though many spoke out especially some Jesuits against the genocide) it is wrong for this group to praise the actions of Fort Benning and its complicity in genocide.

  • Jon Landsbergis

    Was curious about TFP so looked at the web site and saw this article about the SOA( School of America’s ) in Fort Benning GA that trained para-military forces in Latin America. Now look, there were some leftist regimes we needed to bring pressure on but in the 80’s under the guise of anti-communism they stepped up horrific actions against the native people in Guatemala, death squads , mass graves and they were trained by the U.S. Anyone should be able to tell the difference between communists and Native people who were suffering under an almost 500 year genocide and in an existential crisis. But Reagan could not discern this and 12 of the 18 Guatemalan officers now indicted on genocide and crimes against humanity were trained in Fort Benning. And guess what , TFP did not stand against the genocidal murderers but praise them, protest for them. Considering the church has a cross to bear for the actions against Native people in the Americas for the last 500 years( though many spoke out especially some Jesuits against the genocide) it is disgusting for this group to praise the actions of Fort Benning and its complicity in genocide.

  • Jon Landsbergis

    Was curious about TFP so looked at the web site and saw this article about the SOA( School of America’s ) in Fort Benning GA that trained para-military forces in Latin America. Now look, there were some leftist regimes we needed to bring pressure on but in the 80’s under the guise of anti-communism they stepped up horrific actions against the native people in Guatemala, death squads , mass graves and they were trained by the U.S. Anyone should be able to tell the difference between communists and Native people who were suffering under an almost 500 year genocide and in an existential crisis. But Reagan could not discern this and 12 of the 18 Guatemalan officers now indicted on genocide and crimes against humanity were trained in Fort Benning. And guess what , TFP did not stand against the genocidal murderers but praise them, protest for them. Considering the church has a cross to bear for the actions against Native people in the Americas for the last 500 years( though many spoke out especially some Jesuits against the genocide) it is disgusting for this group to praise the actions of Fort Benning and its complicity in genocide.

  • Jon Landsbergis

    Was curious about TFP so looked at the web site and saw this article about the SOA( School of America’s ) in Fort Benning GA that trained para-military forces in Latin America. Now look, there were some leftist regimes we needed to bring pressure on but in the 80’s under the guise of anti-communism they stepped up horrific actions against the native people in Guatemala, death squads , mass graves and they were trained by the U.S. Anyone should be able to tell the difference between communists and Native people who were suffering under an almost 500 year genocide and in an existential crisis. But Reagan could not discern this and 12 of the 18 Guatemalan officers now indicted on genocide and crimes against humanity were trained in Fort Benning. And guess what , TFP did not stand against the genocidal murders but praise them, protest for them. Considering the church has a cross to bear for the actions against Native people in the Americas for the last 500 years( though many spoke out especially some Jesuits against the genocide) it is disgusting for this group to praise the actions of Fort Benning and its complicity in genocide.

  • jaScott

    This essay prompts me to relate something that happened to me in the mid 90s when I first was made aware of the protests against the ASOA.
    I was attending a retreat weekend for oblates of St. Benedict in Missouri. An older couple from CO virtually hijacked a session by standing up and denouncing the U.S. army and its work with foreign soldiers at the ASOA in Ga. They encouraged us (in dire terms) to sign a petition to have the school shut down that they brought with them. The things they accused the Army of were very disturbing. One of the other oblates had just returned from a deployment in the middle east. I was dating a former Marine who was now a civilian employee of the Army. We were speechless. I remember asking her if she thought what they were saying was true. All she could say was, “I don’t know. I hope not.” We laid low and didn’t sign, but the Sisters holding the retreat didn’t stop their imposition and I’m sure the majority of attendees did sign. I never forgot that little episode and my antennas began to pick up other signs the Chuch wasn’t being very discerning in its politics.
    A few years later a good friend of my mother’s, also a member of a religious order that taught my grade school, proudly attended a protest in Ga. That attitude toward the armed forces held tremendous sway in those circles as well as towards large corporations that held military contracts, as I found out a bit later at another retreat when I mentioned the name of the worldwide company I worked for then. It was as if I were a bad Catholic who should be ashamed of herself, poor thing! And to tell the truth, for some time, I was.
    I’ve stopped going to oblate meetings tho I have not broken off my affiliation with my Benedictine community (for over 30 years now!) I’ve objected to the study of writings by Sr. Joan Chittester. My concern was politely dismissed and I was thanked for my input but I still feel the hint of moral superiority in the exchange. After all these years I doubt this community will change its, well, as I see now, Leftist views. Except for my financial support, they’d probably rather I’d leave. These are sad and dangerous times for my Church. Thank you, ATF, for your honesty about the situation.
    God bless you and Mary Keep you.

  • Aint So

    This article unintentionally illuminates something which is rarely addressed in such discussions. So called political convictions are always based squarely upon moral convictions whether held legitimately, or falsely in ignorance or with malicious intent. Just because a particular cause or conviction has been hijacked by socialists, leftists, fascists, communists or other enemies of humanity does not insure that that particular conviction or cause is entirely illegitimate or unworthy of being the object of opposition. It is worthy to note that it is precisely the most effective tactic of the Father of Lies to hijack legitimate concerns only to distort our response to them leading us away from God. The author here assumes that because, in his estimation, a great deal of good has come out of the establishment and operation of the SOA that multitudes slaughtered at the hands of some of its graduates can be ignored. I’m sorry they cannot be ignored and their murder will not disappear no matter how much one wishes and hopes. Each encounter of the public with graduates of the SOA must be evaluated upon its own merits and a significant number have been documented to have resulted in tortdure, carnage, death, and destruction for a great many. You may argue that these victims were insurgents and ideologues. Some were, manys weren’t. Of those who were, only those in the armed conflict could have been legitimately killed. A great many were not armed, not insurgents, not even involved and slaughtered because they were simply an inconvenience as so many were in that other place where this sort of carnage never happened but is well documented, Viet Nam Denial of the documented facts will not make these victims or the evidence of the inhumanity of their treatment go away. At one time I became a war resistor after I received accounts from friends who were involved in that conflict of what their activities with respect to non combatants over there really were. I have been involved in pro life activism, work and support conservation efforts, defend against the vile, unnatural, and predatory homosexual activity agenda, and I own and carry firearms for defense and sport shooting. I engage in these seemingly divergent activities because I long since shunned the cognitive corruption which plagues our society which suggests that there any other way to evaluate the causes or actions of others except by proven results. The fact that considerable “good” can be extracted from the activities of an organization does not at all legitimize its entire existence or mean that travesties committed with its assistance can be ignored. If you believe it does, you must also accept the arguments postulated by Planned Genocide for the legitimacy of its existence or even the legitimacy of such stellar performers as Hitler. There is a God who is the source of all truth and all goodness. If you really wish to know the truth forget about political dynamics and allow yourself the moral vulnerability to submit your concerns to Him. You will soon understand who is lying and who is not, and when, no matter what you are being told by propagandists, this author, or the Pope.

  • John Horvat II

    Excellent discussion of the failure of the left