On November 16-18, TFP Web Designer Gregory Escaro, and I made a trip to Columbus, Ga., to investigate an annual protest to shut down Fort Benning’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly called the School of the Americas. A leftist group called School of Americas Watch (SOAW) leads the event, which includes speeches, workshops, musical presentations and civil disobedience and is commonly attended by anywhere from 10,000 – 20,000.
For years I had read about the protest and was filled with questions. First of all, I wondered how the event could claim to be pacifist, while many of the attendees applaud terrorist organizations like Colombia’s FARC and Castro’s Cuba. How could they cheer for people like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales whose efforts and actions echo classical class-struggle themes that have wrought so much violence and death all over the world?
Next, I wondered how they were able to unify such an eclectic group of people? I had seen pictures of everyone from ecologists to anarchists to Catholic priests and nuns at the event. Being that these groups are ostensibly opposed to one another, how was it possible that they stood side-by-side at the protest?
Last, I wondered what the ultimate goal could be. A very precursory analysis of the evidence convinced me that WHINSEC stopped teaching the material to which the protesters object years ago and, furthermore, that dozens of such schools exist around the globe. Why not protest against the others as well? Clearly, WHINSEC is merely a symbol for these people. But a symbol of what?
I prepared for my trip with these thoughts ruminating in my mind. When I arrived in Columbus and saw the event firsthand, my perplexity was only deepened.
A Violent Sort of Pacifism
As I said the SOAW is officially a pacifist group. Their founder, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, clearly affirmed this at the protest, saying: “As our movement began to grow and blossom, we felt that it was very important to root it in nonviolence. Our way was going to be the way of peace.” He passionately repeated this affirmation in the following words: “God does not bless war! God does not bless killing! God does not bless violence!”
Despite his words, a large number of attendees were present who look favorably on violent ideologies and Marxists from Latin America. They distributed literature on Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chavez, wore Che Guevara T-shirts and gesticulated with the emblematic clenched fist. Even those on stage voiced support for those Marxist causes. However, the event’s booths were more radical.
One display table was covered with Communist literature, including books praising Malcom X, the violent Congolese Revolution and Fidel Castro. I was told that this was the socialist table.
Near the protest entrance, a man distributing a leftist newspaper admitted that he would not condemn suicide bombers. “Not at all!” he affirmed. When I asked him about the FARC in Colombia, he declared his full support of them. I asked if he realized that they were terrorists who financed themselves through kidnapping and murder. He nonchalantly replied: “I am not a pacifist…liberation involves violence.”
Somewhat shocked, I asked him what he was doing at a pacifist get-together. He responded: “I understand our support of the nonviolent direction, but I support it as a tactic, not as an ideology. I think it is an ideology for other people and I respect that, but for me it is just a tactic.”
Others expressed similar opinions. One man representing an organization in El Salvador said his group existed to educate the youth of that country. He labeled himself as a “nonviolence type of guy.” However, when I asked about his views on liberation theology, he responded:
When you show people what their situation is, it really has no choice but to end up in some sort of political movement…when you start to teach these people that they have a lot inside of them, they want more and they see that they should have more and that there are people in their way to obtain something as simple as learning. The end goal is freedom and how they get there is…I mean, I am not into violence and going in there and shooting people. In reality…violence is not necessary if both sides are willing. Ha, ha, ha…
Further on, I approached the table of a group called the Venezuelan Solidarity Network. When I asked a gentleman at this table about the organization’s goals, he stated that they worked to keep American intervention out of Venezuela.
Nevertheless, he referred to the advance of socialism in Venezuela as “the exciting things taking place” in that country. When I asked if Chavez was a symbol of that movement, he showed a staunch attachment to socialism as an ideology: “Chavez is an important spark plug of that movement, but he did not invent it and it will go on after him as well. We are not going to fall into these cults of personality that we have in the past.”
A group of anarchists even showed up with their faces covered. When I approached them, asking if I could take their picture, one shouted: “Don’t take pictures of our faces, man!”
I told them to cover their faces if they wished, but I was determined to get the shot. After taking the picture, I asked one why he was afraid to show his face. Flustered, he refused to answer. When another from his group interjected: “It’s solidarity man!” I asked with whom they wished to show solidarity.
“You need to think more about solidarity man!” was his only response. Baffled, I pressed the issue, only to receive this response: “There are many people out there who cannot show their faces. We are in solidarity with them.”
Lastly, every one of the many stands selling bumper stickers at the protest were full of stickers and pins promoting abortion. My suspicions had been confirmed. This was not a group of pacifists.
An Odd Conglomeration
As I mentioned before, the event participants were quite eclectic in their views, methods and backgrounds. Surprisingly, even the drug legalization movement was present. Passing one of the “drug-friendly” booths, a heavy-set man with glassy eyes saw that my colleague, Mr. Escaro, was holding a video camera and began to scream at him with slurred diction: “Videotape me! Tell everyone about our event! Look at our poster! Give me publicity!”
In addition to the communists and anarchists, homosexual advocates were also there. They sold bumper stickers favoring “diversity” and homosexual “marriage.” They mingled, wearing T-shirts promoting their vice.
Even a member of the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” a radically homosexual and blasphemous group of men more commonly seen in San Francisco, demonstrated wearing a traditional nun’s habit. He participated in the main event, a mock funeral procession for the supposed victims of the School of the Americas.
Tribal and indigenous movements were also present and took center stage, from which a pagan Mayan “blessing” was offered. Earlier, an Indian had invited all to join her in a prayer to “Mother Earth,” who she claimed was “watching us all.” During the “funeral” procession a woman, burning incense, offered another indigenous “benediction.”
The presence of other pagan participants was evident from bumper stickers sold with messages such as: “In Goddess We Trust,” and “The Goddess Is Alive and Magic Is Afoot.”
The daily “puppetista” show also created a tribal atmosphere. These consisted in performances of giant puppets, made only of rudimentary materials, set to a tribal drumbeat. The monotonous rhythm would continue for nearly an hour after the show and mesmerized the protesters, who mindlessly moved their bodies and clapped to the beat.
There were also animal rights activists in attendance. They held signs reading: “When a human kills an animal for food, he neglects his own hunger for justice. Man prays for mercy but is unwilling to extend it to others.”
One such activist was a Vegan who refuses even to wear wool or eat honey. When I asked him about this, he responded: “I don’t really know how much bees feel or how much it harms them to be farmed or exploited for their honey. I prefer to remain on the safe side.”
However, I was most disconcerted by the hundreds of religious, usually elderly, who took an active role in the proceedings. Two nuns in habit even participated in the “puppetista” shows mentioned above.
It was sad also to see droves of both high school and college students at the event. After speaking with many of them, I realized that, for the most part, they were utterly uninformed. In fact, the vast majority was unable to cite the name of a single person trained at the School of the Americas!
A Common Goal?
As I scanned booth after booth, listened to speech after speech and interviewed protester after protester, I still could not answer the questions I had framed.
Rather, I was further convinced that something did not make sense. In fact, SOAW did broadcast a staunchly pacifist message, yet it also extended a welcome to individuals and organizations who favor violence. Figuring out how they were able to unite such an eclectic group and deciphering their ultimate goal seemed as elusive as ever.
Then it dawned on me that they were united in one thing, their opposition to American foreign policy. Their passion revealed a veritable hatred of what America represents in the world. This hatred was the glue that held together the leftist nuns, communists, anarchists, homosexuals, vegan extremists and drug legalization activists who demonstrated side-by-side in the streets of Columbus.
The communists hated the American paradigm of economic freedom and wealth; the anarchists and tribalists detested the order and sophistication of American rule of law; the narcotics promoters hated the idea of a policy that held drug use to be immoral and abusive, and the positive effect America has when stopping drug trafficking throughout South and Central America.
They all deem repressive, the very notions of morality and authority in American society. Indeed, one activist affirmed this. He said:
Our people do not even realize what it is that they need to be liberated from. They don’t know that our power structures are oppressive…that is why School of the Americas connects to that…It can give them a glimpse of something that relates to liberation theology, criminal justice, the military or police brutality.
A Rejection of My Own
When this reality came into focus, I was inflamed with a rejection of my own, which I still possess.
I reject the idea that any form of restraint is oppressive. I reject the position that proportional and harmonious inequalities of wealth and position formed organically in a free market are injurious to freedom. I reject the notion that the wise use of animals for nourishment, sport or any other reasonable purpose is wrong. I reject the idea that pagan tribal customs are in any way superior to the remnants of Christian Civilization that still exist.
I realize that America has its failings. As an American, these are a continual cause of regret. However, I love my nation for all the good that it represents here and throughout the world.
With this in mind, I respond to all those present at this year’s SOAW protest in Georgia: God Bless America! God bless our Armed Forces! And God bless Fort Benning!