Archive for July, 2013

One of the Patriot groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as active in Oklahoma is Women’s International Media Group out of Yukon.

If you check out the website, it is hardly active. Other than an obituary for the founder, Joan Veon, there hasn’t been any updates since 2010. That said, the website is still going and the claims made on it are pretty hilarious.

Veon, a graduate of the laughably terrible Moody Bible Institute and nearly as bad Geneva Christian College, became convinced that the United Nations was a nefarious effort by the British royal family, among others, to take over the United States and destroy all of our freedoms. Yes, the same British royal family that has almost no political control in their own nation.

Apparently, Veon was one of those nutters who would show up at international meetings and ask annoying questions to people who she was convinced were evil. She was basically Alex Jones without the temper or the radio show.

Veon still has some influence among the right wing conspiracy community today. For example, there are multiple videos of her ramblings on Youtube that are still being posted well after her death.

That said, she was never much of a force in or out of Oklahoma, and her particular brand of British conspiracy nuttery was never in vogue. For example, she took the conspiracist fears about global and regional integration, and filtered it through her British royal family ideology, trying to show that there was a link between the non-existent North American Union and the coming takeover by the British. While most of the NAU nutters were freaking out about all of the brown people invading from Mexico and having to (gasp) share a currency, Veon was convinced that it was a way for Canada to take over the United States and for us to get a queen. Seriously.

If Veon does have a lasting legacy here in Oklahoma, it is with the Agenda 21 crowd. I’ve long been convinced that they are largely a bunch of senile old John Birchers, but some of them may also have been influenced by Veon and her international fears combined with Biblical end times rhetoric.

The most recent episode of This American Life looked at situations from those living them, namely prison life, immigration and race relations in Israel. The segment on prisons was basically an extended advertisement for the documentary The House I Live In, which examines America’s drug war and what’s wrong with it. I’m planning on watching soon.

Anyway, a TAL producer came out to an Oklahoma prison where the film is being shown to interview guards and prisoners on what they thought about it.

You should be listening to This American Life anyway, but maybe this will be what gets you to do so.

Stage Center memories

Posted: July 29, 2020 in Uncategorized

The local media has been discussing the merits of tearing down Stage Center for the purposes of building a new 20+ story office building downtown.

For those who don’t know. Stage Center is a very cool looking (I couldn’t find a good public domain image of it, but The Lost Ogle has a decent shot of it here) theater in the heart of the city next to the Myriad Gardens. It has been closed for years, and needs a lot of renovation due to flooding and vandalism. It is now looking like that renovation will not happen, but not for lack of trying by the architectural community.

One of my favorite live theater experiences was at Stage Center in the early 2000s. Back in college, some friends and I made the trek from western Oklahoma to Stage Center to see a performance of the Rocky Horror Show. Stage Center’s theater-in-the-round was a perfect venue for this crazy story. At least, it seemed perfect to the audience. By all accounts, Stage Center was a nightmare for casts and crews.

For this performance, narrator sat on an elevated platform overlooking a portion of the audience while holding a drink. As the scenes progressed, he’d appear to get more and more intoxicated, at one point ‘accidentally’ spilling his drink on audience members below.

The Rocky Horror Show is considered an interactive performance, and the audience was given their own props for certain moments. For example, in a scene where one of the characters proposes a toast, the audience peppered the actors with toasted bread from all directions.

The musical itself isn’t very good, but that’s not the point. People make up their own lines to shout out from the stands, and things are drastically improved by the open bar that let you take your drinks into the performance. You could even pre-order your drinks for the intermission. If I remember correctly, that was during my White Russian days. I shake my head at 21-year-old me.

I think everyone can agree that it sucks that Stage Center probably won’t be saved and made into a properly functioning facility again. John Johansen’s building looked amazing, even if it never did work properly. Maybe the Events Center can still be saved. Things were looking equally bad for the Gold Dome until just a month ago. Then again, the Gold Dome isn’t located on one of the top pieces of real estate in Oklahoma.

Note: This is the sixth in a series I’m doing on the book “An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before,” edited by Davis D. Joyce. You can see them all under the Oklahoma history tag.

This chapter, written by Marvin E. Kroeker, deals with the treatment of the Mennonite communities in Oklahoma during the first and second world wars. Kroeker recounts, particularly during the first war, the danger faced by these German-speaking immigrants who refused to join the military.

I grew up living near Corn, one of the largest communities dominated by Mennonites in the state, and have regular contact with other Mennonite households through my work. I can attest to how reclusive members are to this day. This is largely because they don’t proselytize, but I assume it also has to do with some of the history of the Mennonite community in Oklahoma. Who can blame them considering the history of how they have been treated? Kroeker gives accounts of crowds marching on churches and demanding that they hold services in English. At least today, when people say idiotic things about immigrants needing to do everything in English, they usually get called out for being racist.

Discrimination over language was just the beginning. Multiple Mennonite churches were burned, and a police officer had to intervene to stop a lynching of a man who had been jailed after he complained about the closing of a German Bible school. No charges were ever filed against anyone in the mob.

In 1919, Cordell, a town near Corn that is still known in the area for its long history of racism and poor treatment of outsiders, outlawed the use of German within city limits.

Oklahoma was one of the worst states for its treatment of pacifists during WWI, but actions on the national level encouraged as much. While there was a religious conscientious objector policy written into the draft law of 1917, President Wilson failed to implement it. Mennonites were drafted into combat service alongside everyone else (as opposed to being given non-combat duties). When they refused to comply, they were court-martialed and sentenced to life in prison.

From the essay:

By December 1918 there were 150 Mennonite COs jailed at Fort Leavenworth; 35 came from Oklahoma, more than from any other state. Twelve of the Oklahomans came from Washita County. Henry Reimer, whose father had survived the lynching at Collinsville, was among those detained at Fort Leavenworth. The men remained incercarated until freed by general amnesty after the end of the war. At that time, The Oklahoma state legislature passed a resolution condemning the amnesty decree.

Oklahoma is one of those weird states with a history of mixing progressive politics with racist and religiously oppressive politics. Mind you, all of this was going on less than a decade after the strong progressivism in early Oklahoma I’ve already written about.

Kroeker attributes the level of hostility to Mennonites in Oklahoma during WWI to multiple factors. First, the demographics were strongly against the Mennonites. Oklahoma’s religious makeup was heavily dominated by denominations that bought into Just War Theology. Mennonites don’t proselytize, and they didn’t make a very strong effort to explain their beliefs to the public. Most of them were first generation immigrants who didn’t speak English well, so when they tried it led to very unfortunate misunderstandings.

Kroeker also points to Mennonite nonconformity as a possible contributing factor the the hostility. Oklahoma was the last true frontier state, and he points to historians who argued that social cohesiveness was very important on the frontier. Quoting Ray A. Billington from the essay:

…Amidst the anonymity of a city, a person might dare to be different; amidst the intimacy of the frontier, he did not.

This difference in culture between the west and the east played out in the way draft boards, media and officials treated Mennonites, alongside the broader public.

Things had changed for the better by the time WWII rolled around. Harlan F. Stone, later to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, convinced FDR that Mennonites should be given reasonable non-combat alternatives and not be required to wear the uniform. Additionally, the Mennonite community saw the war coming and had learned to be pro-active. They approached the Roosevelt administration with their concerns and suggestions for how to deal with them before the draft began. This led to the creation of the Civil Public Service (CPS), where COs were assigned to work on conservation projects, mental hospitals and medical experiments for the military. Most of the COs out of Oklahoma ended up working in mental hospitals.

While things had improved on the national level, things still weren’t great in Oklahoma. Draft boards didn’t like giving people a CO status.

The largest number of CO classification appeals of any county in the United States originated in Major County, Oklahoma. In most cases, the Appeal Board overturned the negative rulings of the Oklahoma draft boards.

There was also discrimination against those who filed for CO status. COs risked losing their jobs if it got out.

Kroeker recounts tensions between Corn and the surrounding towns of Bessie and Cordell still being high during WWII. The non-Mennonite but historically German residents of Bessie and Cordell found it hard enough to deal with discrimination, without being associated with pacifists. As a result, Mennonites were often refused services and their homes and churches were frequently vandalized.

As is still the case today, The Daily Oklahoman‘s editorial page was no friend to those being mistreated, and the Oklahoma American Legion passed a resolution calling for the repeal of the CO provisions in the draft law, and sent it to Senator Elmer Thomas. Thomas introduced a bill calling for the repeal that died in committee.

Oklahoma continued its tradition of mistreatment of pacifists into the 1950s.

During that period of hysteria about communist, the Oklahoma legislature passed a strident loyalty oath that required all state employees not only to swear that they had no Communist leanings but also tha they would be willing to bear arms in defense of the country.

It was ruled unconstitutional when a Quaker history professor at OU refused to sign.

Kroeker says that documented cases of Mennonite discrimination and challenging of CO statuses during Vietman were there, but not as high. Part of that has he attributed to the change in views of war in other denominations, and the rise of non-Mennonite conscientious objection as a way to protest what was an increasingly unpopular war.

This book was published in 1994, and even back then Kroeker ended it on a relative sour note, saying that he suspected that the decent treatment of Mennonites that exists today in Oklahoma only lasts “until the next war breaks out.” We’ve had two wars since then, both without a draft. I know an Anabaptist lawyer who works to help those in the military who have a change of heart get CO status. If his stories are any indication, I’d guess that Kroeker is probably right.

The Southern Poverty Law Center came out with its annual report on hate and extremist groups in the United States during the spring. I’m just now getting around to covering it, but I’m going to spend a few posts looking at what groups in Oklahoma are on it, and how those groups have changed in the last few years.

Of particular interest is the rise in Patriot groups, not just in Oklahoma but around the nation. Regular readers will remember Al Gerhart and his blackmail charges, or the Overpasses to Impeach Obama group. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll be looking at what some of these groups are doing, and where they are out of. Also, much like the Bigfoot community, with people who have tendencies toward conspiracy theory and strong personalities, you get a lot of internecine fighting. I’ll probably cover some of that in the future.

Bigfoot blog out of Tulsa

Posted: July 24, 2020 in Uncategorized

For better or worse, better if you enjoy a good laugh and worse if you weep for the state’s future, eastern Oklahoma is a hotbed for Bigfoot culture.

Inevitably, some of these Bigfoot hunters are going to turn up with their own websites and blogs documenting their own activities. I have a morbid fascination with Bigfoot culture, so this makes me very happy. My fascination has very little to do with the evidence these guys and gals point to or the encounters they claim to have had. I gave up on all of that when I was still a teenager. Bigfoot is so drastically implausible, that for all intents and purposes he is impossible. As someone who has spent a decent amount of time in the Oklahoma woods, I don’t take the idea seriously.

What fascinates me about the Bigfoot culture is the personalities and internal squabbles that go on within and among the various organizations, and often boil over onto internet. Seeing one faction of Bigfoot believers denounce another for believing that Bigfoot is a human hybrid, or seeing one faction make fun of another for claiming that Bigfoot can transport between dimensions, is better than watching fellow geeks at the comic book store debate who would win in a fight. At least geeks realize that what we are arguing about is fictional. These Bigfoot researchers take themselves seriously.

On that note, I’d like to point to Bigfoot Crossroads, a blog out of Tulsa by a researcher that is steeped in these arguments. If you find them as fascinating as I do, you might enjoy giving it a read. On the blog, he basically goes after all of the big names in the community. You might have to familiarize yourself with recent history of the movement to get some of the inside baseball references.

Oklahoma, like a number of other states run by the far right, has a Stand Your Ground law.

In case you live under a rock, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is why George Zimmerman, the racist who initiated a confrontation with an innocent black teenager, and then gunned him down when the kid stood up for himself, isn’t in prison right now.

Florida’s law is extremely stupid. It reads in such a way that a person is encouraged to kill the other person in a fight, because who started the fight is the deciding factor on whether or not it is ‘defensive force’. Since the other person can’t possibly testify against you at the trial, it becomes very easy to convince a jury that there is a reasonable doubt. That Zimmerman started the whole thing by being a racist asshole doesn’t matter under the law. If he can convince the jury there is a doubt about who began the fight, he gets off.

Oklahoma has the exact same idiotic legal situation, and it gets worse.

The Martin family may try to sue Zimmerman in civil court for wrongful death. I expect they’d like to, since the Martin family already settled a wrongful death suit with the homeowners association of which Zimmerman was the head of the neighborhood watch. But Oklahoma and Florida both have rules in place that complicate such a case.

In Florida, if the Martin family sues in civil court, his lawyers could move to have the case dismissed under the same Stand Your Ground law that got him off in criminal court. If they were successful, the Martin family could actually get stuck with all of Zimmerman’s legal fees.

Oklahoma has the same problem. If you sue for wrongful death and a Stand Your Ground claim passes muster, then the judge can award the person who is being sued can even receive compensation, along with court costs and attorneys fees. It’s pretty terrible.

Mike Shelton, the Oklahoma House Representative from District 97, is trying to get Oklahoma’s Stand Your Ground law reexamined, and has said he is planning on looking at it in the next legislative session. He has about as much chance of getting it repealed as Sally Kern does of winning an award for science advocacy from the National Center for Science Education. Still, I’ll support him in his efforts, if only because it is the right thing to do.