Cloaked Website Blames Hispanic Group for California Wildfires

(This is a reblog from Thinking at the Interface.)

Linda Beyerstein at Majikthise (and via Alternet) and Katherine Zeleski at The Huffington Post are bringing attention to a website that they are referring to as a “hoax” site, but that I would argue is a “cloaked” site. And, I would argue that this is one of the prime examples of why the term “hoax” is inadequate and less accurate than “cloaked.” Let me explain the story in question and then make I’ll make my case for the term “cloaked.” Here’s the story, first reported by Zeleski (Oct.26):

At first look, “Separatists Claim Responsibility For California Wildfires” appears to be like any other story on The article claims that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger confirmed a radical Hispanic organization has taken responsibility for the fires that raged through southern California this week. The article even says there’s photographic proof “of individuals holding Molotov cocktails, then throwing them into dry brush.”

After the initial shock of the report, it then becomes obvious that it’s a hoax. To start with, the site’s URL is (note the headlie instead of headline). CNN’s url is and the url for its sister network, Headline News, is

Anti-immigrant websites picked up on the story and ran it as fact (follow this url). Before realizing it was a hoax, the author of the site “Americanandproud” declared, “I am going to wait until all the facts are in, but it appears the first major shot of the next Mexican/American war has just been fired.”

A domain name search for “cnnheadlienews” shows the site is registered to a company with a Nashville, Tennessee address called Bleachboy Heavy Manufacturing Concern. The website associated with Bleachboy,, is a homepage that cycles through four different logos. There’s no other information on the site except for a warning on sweatshop products, a note that says “thank you for the traffic,” and the ever-banal phrase, “spring is in the air.”

While this story, like Beyerstein’s, is useful for tipping off the unsuspecting to the disguised URL and the untruth of the story there, by calling it a “hoax” it relegates it to the universe of “fake news” and “truthiness” created by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and misses the hidden political agenda of such a site. As I’ve defined it, a cloaked website is:

“published by individuals or groups who conceal authorship in order to deliberately disguise a hidden political agenda.”

Although it’s not clear who the owner of “Bleachboy” and the fake “cnn” site, by choosing to target MECHA, a Hispanic group, I would argue that the creators of the site had a hidden white supremacist agenda. Using the term “hoax” doesn’t adequately describe this kind of deception, and therefore I think “cloaked” is a better, more accurate term.

These kinds of sites are even more disturbing when you look at them in light of some of the cognitive research on how people remember (or misremember) facts. Researchers found that false claims, if repeated, are remembered as true. (While there is some difference in this by age, the overall pattern seems to hold up.) This has tremendous implications for studying cloaked sites such as this one that publish false claims that are then repeated through the reverb chamber that is the blogosphere.

Catching up on Reading about Race & Racism

Been away for a weekend and caught up on some reading that I’ll be blogging about here shortly. As an indication of blog posts to come, the books I finished reading most recently both deal with racism in visual media, from the perspective of different eras.

The first is Black, White and in Color (Princeton University Press, 2003) by Sasha Torres. Torres takes on the way the civil rights movement both used and was used by television to counter forces of racism during the civil rights era; then, takes another look at the more recent version of racism displayed on tv in the form of the Rodney King video. Interesting, compelling stuff that has me thinking and about which I’ll have more to say.

And, the second book is Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture, (Duke University Press, 2004) by Shawn Michelle Smith (seriously cool site, btw). Smith explores up the photographic exhibit that W.E.B. Du Bois put together for the Paris Exhibit in 1900 as a response to the scientific racism and propaganda of that era, much of it which relied upon photographic “evidence.” Smith also includes a chapter on lynching photographs (which she expands in later work) that focuses the representation of white people in the photographs.

Like most of my favorite books, these raise questions as well as offer answers and analysis. More to follow on each of these, and I hope to raise some questions of my own about how these inform the current, digital era.

Racism, IQ Studies & the Internet

The folks at Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), where I did my dissertation research, do good work in my opinion. And, their website is a rich resource for those of us interested in issues of race and racism. Recent discussion here about the think tanks and scientific racism got me wondering about how scientific racism is presented on the web. What would the search terms be for someone looking for this information? I thought “race and IQ” might be likely terms, and I typed those in. This SPLC page on “IQ and Race: The Websites” came up. These are an interesting case of cyber racism and they seem to fall somewhere between the overt extremists, such as Tom Metzger’s on the one hand, and the cloaked sites that I’ve written about elsewhere. Given that research with adolescents who were mostly unable to distinguish the cloaked sites from legitimate civil rights sites, the SPLC page made me wonder how adolescents, or anyone really, might make sense of those “race” and IQ sites. All Friday morning randomness.

Think Tanks: Incubators of Scientific Racism

Following on the heels of the Watson debacle last week, British geneticist Prof. Steve Jones writes in the Telegraph that there <blockquote>”science has nothing to say about race and intelligence.” </blockquote> Would that this were true. Unfortunately, science is far too often implicated in the creation, perpetuation and justification of racism, as Dennis Rutledge explains in this peer-reviewed article from 1995. Tracing the philosophical underpinnings of scientific racism from the early work of Darwin, Spencer, and Sumner, to the intelligence testing movement led by Galton and Binet, and lastly to the contemporary race and IQ studies of Jensen, Herrnstein, and Murray, Rutledge demonstrates the ways that science is often used as a justification to propose, project, and enact racist social policies.

In the contemporary U.S., scientific racism is often incubated in ostensibly “objective” think tanks, such as the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Pioneer Fund. William Tucker, in his book The Funding of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund, (University of Illinois Press, 2002), explores the insidious way the Pioneer Fund has promulgated scientific racism. For example, Tucker links the Pioneer Fund’s Draper to a Klansman’s crusade to repatriate blacks in the 1930s; and, he connects later directors of the fund to campaigns organized in the 1960s to reverse the Brown decision, prevent passage of the Civil Rights Act, and implement a system of racially segregated private schools. More recently, the Pioneer Fund helped promote the scientific racism of Hernstein and Murrary’s The Bell Curve, which argues that Blacks are less intelligent than whites, and has been discredited by a number of scholarly publications, including Joe Kincheloe and colleagues’ book, Measured Lies.

Also in the line up of think tanks promoting scientific racism is the Manhattan Institute, which was created by British billionaire Avery Fisher, along with former CIA-chief William Casey. Originally the International Center for Economic Policy Studies (ICEPS), the goal of the Manhattan Institute was, according to Loic Wacquant, “to apply the principles of the market economy to social problems.” In terms of race, this meant dismantling the advances of the civil rights movement, and relocating African-Americans and poor people out of the big cities. Many of the racist policies of the Rudy Guiliani mayoral administration in New York City followed closely on the heels of Manhattan Institute reports.

It’s hard to compete with the Pioneer Fund when it comes to egregious scientific racism among think tanks, but the American Enterprise Institute certainly comes close. Lewis Brown founded AEI in 1943 to counter New Deal philosophy, and since 1986 it has been headed by Christopher DeMuth, and under his leadership AEI has taken a dramatic rightward turn. Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado in their book, No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and Foundations Changed America’s Social Agenda, report that in 1991 Bork received $150,880 from such sources; D’Souza got $98,400 plus an additional $20,000 to promote his controversial book, Illiberal Education. Deborah Toler writes about the right-wing think tank production of scientific racism for FAIR, and she pulls no punches in setting out the clear connection between AEI and overt racists:

“Still, even for the initiated, the ferocity of AEI’s work on race is quite breathtaking. Although the mainstream media are now deploring the overt racism of hate groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens…, the fact is that there is an overlap between the analyses of “respectable” conservatives, like those at AEI, and the overt racial hatred of white supremacist organizations like CCC.”

So, while it may be easy to dismiss Watson’s remarks last week as the ravings of an elderly man with dementia, this is too easy. What’s needed is a more critical view of the way science, or perhaps more accurately, scientific propaganda is implicated in the promotion of racism.

Racism, Suburban Sprawl and Imagining a Green Future

I ran across this interview with Van Jones via AlterNet. In it, Jones is talking about the new book, Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. Jones does a nice job of connecting some dots that may seem disparate to many, like the link between suburban sprawl and racism. Here’s a short bit from the interview:

Sprawl is a response to racial fear and anxiety on the part of white elites. The ‘burbs were designed as a vehicle to get away from people of color, investing more in the white infrastructure as they moved away from the city, and the neighborhoods where people of color live. The other side of that is the disinvestment for the communities that remain behind; the money follows the new suburban development. Those that remain in the inner city continue to lose in this scenario.

When asked in a follow-up question what’s preventing environmentalists and inner-city residents, who both have an interest in stopping sprawl, from working together, Jones does not hesitate to name the issue:

“Racism. It is the reason that people move away from each other. People don’t want to talk about why people call this a “good” neighborhood or that one a “bad” neighborhood, but often it has to do with the race of the people that live there. White people divorce themselves from the bad neighborhoods and move to the suburbs. The black community has a lot of built-up feelings about our history, about the racism we experience. There is some healing that needs to take place there, so these communities have some issues, and don’t want to work with each other, necessarily. There are a lot of feelings there.”

And, Jones goes on to make the connection clear between racism, the current system of incarceration, and what this means in terms of working for a green future :

“The incarceration industry is the new Jim Crow; you don’t have to call him the “N word” if you just call him a felon. There are the same amount of drug problems in the ‘burbs that there are in the inner city, but in the ‘burbs the white kids get counseling, they don’t go to prison. Generally speaking, they only call the police in the ‘hood. The system has responded with compassion to white kids. …Again, the new Jim Crow is incarceration. This is the barrier that separates people from the lives they want to live. You go to the back of the line as a felon. You lose your voting rights, can’t get a good job, you’re denied student loans. It is devastating. We spend less money on public schools than on locking people up; it’s far easier to go to prison than to get a scholarship. … This distorts economic development. The current economic strategy is to take poor black kids, put them in jail in rural areas, and give poor white kids jobs as guards in that prison. That is the economic strategy. Rural towns can’t compete with industry, farms are all going away, so prison is an economic boon for rural communities. Come on, we can’t come up with a better strategy than that? In California, for example, nearly 10 percent of the state budget goes to the prison system, and that could grow to 15 percent or even higher. When you lock up a state budget like that, where is the money to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency? … We can have a Gulag or a green economy. But we can’t have both. If we train former prisoners and guards to put up solar panels, they are already on their way to becoming electrical engineers. If we train them to double pane glass, they are on their way to be a glazer: a good union job and green path out of poverty. Bamboo, it’s so different than timber, you can cut it and it grows back quickly. If we can train folks to do the green thing, they can then walk to the front of the line in an economy based on green jobs instead of an economy from pollution-based jobs. That is where these issues connect. What we need is a green wave that can lift all boats, that can lift folks out of poverty.”

Jones’ is much-needed voice. If there are any folks in the Bay Area interested in these issues, Jones’ Ella Baker Center is hosting an event on November 14, called “Green Cities, Brown Folks,” as part of their on-going “Solutions Salon.” And, if you can’t make it to the event, try that Donation button and drop a dollar. These folks are doing good work.

A New Noose and a Critique of ‘Free Speech’

It seems we can’t go a day without a report of racial terrorism in the shape of a noose. The news here in NYC is reporting on the appearance of another noose, this one sent to a high school principal in Canarsie, Brooklyn, along with a note advocating “white power.” At the same time, the NY State Senate unanimously passed legislation that would make it a felony involving harsher punishment for people “who etch, paint, draw or otherwise place or display nooses on public or private property,” (quoted from the Newsday article linked above). And, even though that legislation passed unanimously, I fully expect that it will run into trouble in the House and in the public sphere as people defend it as a form of “free speech” protected by the First Amendment. The sort of knee-jerk defense of nearly any form of racism as “protected speech” is characteristic of what is by now a decades-long backlash against very modest gains by women and people of color, particularly in the academy. (I find it not at all surprising that so many of these incidents are happening in educational institutions, where these modest gains toward equality seem most evident.) Legal scholars Matsuda, Lawrence, Delgado and Crenshaw writing from a critical race perspective in their introduction to Words that Wound, merit quoting at length on this point:

“Contemporaneous with the recent outbreak of gutter hate speech and racial harassment, there is an emerging and increasingly virulent backlash against the extremely modest successes achieved by communities of color, women, and other subordinated groups in our efforts to integrate academic institutions run by and for white male elites. The chief spokespersons for this more refined sentiment against persons and voices that are new an unfamiliar to the campus and intellectual discourse are not purveyors of gutter hate speech. They are polite and polished colleagues. The code words of this backlash are words like merit, rigor, standards, qualifications and excellence. Increasingly we hear those who are resisting change appropriating the language of freedom struggles. Words like intolerant, silencing, McCarthyism, censors, and orthodoxy are used to portray women and people of color as oppressors and to pretend that the powerful have become powerless. …Stripped of its context this is a seductive argument. The privilege and power of white male elites is wrapped in the rhetoric of politically unpopular speech. …The first amendment arms conscious and unconscious racists — Nazis and liberals alike — with a constitutional right to be racist. Racism is just another idea deserving of constitutional protection like all ideas. ” [emphasis added] (Matsuda et al., 1993:14-15).

What’s at stake here is, as these scholars point out, “our vision for this society,” not merely how to balance one individuals’ freedom of speech against another individual’s freedom from injury but what the substantive content of that freedom and equality looks like. What they’re calling for – have been calling for, for some time now – is a radical shift in perspective so that it is the victim’s story that’s at the center of our response.

So, to take the current example, the laws should be written from the perspective of those who are on the receiving end of the noose. And, while the NY State Senate has taken a step in the right direction here, it ultimately falls short because this is not a problem that’s isolated to New York state or to a particular region of the U.S.  Racism, and the racist terror that the nooses represent, is a national problem that requires a collective response; and, yet the federal government remains predictably silent on the issue.

More Nooses and the Return of Jim Crow?

The New York Times has a piece in today’s Regional section about the recent rash of noose-related incidents, and amazingly for the paper of record, offers some fairly critical analysis that suggests the return of Jim Crow. Here’s a snippet from the article by Paul Vitello:

At least seven times in the past few weeks, nooses have been anonymously tossed over pipes or hung on doorknobs in the New York metropolitan area — four times here on Long Island, twice in New York City, once at a Home Depot store in Passaic, N.J. The settings are disparate. One noose was hung in a police station locker room in Hempstead, where the apparent target was a black police officer recently promoted to deputy chief. Another was draped over the doorknob of the office of a black professor at Columbia University.

Vitello goes on to particularize the incidents, locating them within the context of Long Island, a suburban area just outside New York City, and writes:

Like many other parts of the country, Long Island is not without a history of racial bigotry. Black people were barred from buying homes in Levittown until well into the 1960s. Some Long Island school districts are still among the most segregated in the country. The black population is about 12 percent of the total, but is highly concentrated in a half-dozen communities that are 95 percent minority. In 2004, in Suffolk County, it was still possible for an interracial couple to wake up in the night to find a cross burning on their lawn — it happened in a hamlet called Lake Grove. Lynching was not part of that history. But to some of those sifting the evidence, the nooses of 2007 represent much the same impulse as lynchings did in the Jim Crow South.

What Vitello misses, of course, is the related, and well-documented, history of Nazism on Long Island, through institutions such as the Yaphank-based Camp Siegfried. And, these expressions of white supremacy have continued on Long Island through teen subcultures, as Lorraine Kenny describes in her Daughters of Suburbia (Rutgers, 2000).

The collective amnesia of many whites about racism in this country is not new, but it seems particularly glaring here. As one white guy in the story is quoted as saying,

“What’s the big deal, it’s only a noose?”

Assistant Professor Rachel Sullivan responds to this and gets it right when she says that most (white) people don’t understand what lynchings were:

“They think it was a few guys coming in the night, in their hooded sheets, taking you away. But in reality these were whole, big community events. Children and families would come to watch. Hundreds of people attended. They would watch a man being burned and mutilated before he was hung. They would pose for pictures with the body.”

While Vitello may have to explain the significance of the noose for readers of The New York Times, the symbol’s significance is not lost on the folks it’s directed at, as Willie Warren a target of a noose on the job, says:

“It’s hard to explain, but it made me upset the whole day.”

The fact is that the research demonstrates hate crimes hurt more than assaults or harassment absent the racial terror. This is why Williams has referred to these as “spirit murder.” Thus, these types of crimes require a greater collective response from all of us. No arrests yet in any of these noose-related incidents.

Latinos Advocate Tolerance for All Languages

According to the Bureau of the Census estimates, the Latino population reached 44.3 million in 2006, which represented 15 percent of the nation’s total population. Many whites have responded to this population growth with alarm. They see the specter of a foreign Latin American surge as a menace to ‘American values’ and the U.S. “core culture.”

Language lies within that core, and the dramatic growth of the Latino population is viewed by many members of the ruling racial group as a direct threat to the survivability of English, what is often termed by them “the official language of the country.”

The influential Harvard professor Samuel Huntington has recently articulated a deeply xenophobic and naïve assessment of Latinos’ use of Spanish at home and in public places. This situation, in his view, portends aggressive bilingualism and the growth of two distinct segments of U.S. society unable to communicate with each other. Huntington and other monoglots have neglected a basic step, namely, asking ordinary Latinos about their views on the issue. If Latinos are embarking on a Spanish predominance campaign, this should be reflected on their views on language.

Joe Feagin and I collected data from 72 in-depth interviews of mostly middle-class Latinos carried out in 2003-2005 in numerous states with substantial Latino populations (Ethnic and Racial Studies, July, 2007). Our interviewees did not voice any derision toward English. In point of fact, not one of them advocated that Spanish should replace English as the standard language of the U.S.

They asserted, however, that language diversity should be encouraged. As one of them put it:

“The more languages you know, the more culture you have.”

Cultural groups struggle to keep their language because it is fundamental to social life and expresses the understandings of its associated culture in overt and subtle ways. Many Latinos prefer to use Spanish because it affords them a richer form of communication. Analysts like Huntington accuse Latinos of being a threat to the “American way of life,” which for them means Anglo-Saxon ways of doing things. On closer examination, this is a peculiar accusation because many Latinos are accenting the virtues of language diversity and pluralism, values that reflect one of the pillars of the dominant U.S. ideology : “melting pot” imagery.

~ José A. Cobas

Hate Crime on Staten Island

Four white men have been are being questioned in an attack on Black man that is being investigated as a hate crime, The New York Times is reporting. The attack occurred Tuesday night on Staten Island, a borough of New York City.

For those interested in reading more about hate crimes in the scholarly literature, I’d point you in the direction of Jack Levin and Jack McDevitt’s work. Their 1993 book, Hate Crimes: The Rising Tide of Bigotry and Bloodshed, and their 2002 follow-up, Hate Crimes Revisited: America’s War Against Those who are Different, really set the standard in this field.

In my reading of this literature, a few of things are worthy of note. First, the perpetrators of hate crimes are most often not members of organized hate groups. Second, the perpetrators are most often individual or small groups of young, white males. And, third, there’s very little in the literature about how to effectively “rehabilitate” perpetrators, not to mention “intervene and prevent” (to use the language of public health) hate crimes. For example, in a 2003 article by Steinberg, Brooks and Remtulla, they found that:

Although limited information is available about the causative factors of hatred, a variety of prevention and intervention strategies have been employed. Yet, little has been done to evaluate these various initiatives. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of literature available to guide mental health professionals in the identification, evaluation, and treatment of offenders, despite increasing concerns and awareness regarding the profound consequences of acts of hatred and extremism.

In other words, there’s very little evidence that the kinds of sentences that hate crime offenders are frequently given – such as talking with Holocaust survivors – are at all effective in preventing future offenses. While there’s certainly a critique to be made about a “mental health” approach to hate crimes, I find it striking that there’s so little research in this area. Sounds like a great dissertation idea for someone.

UPDATE: Prosecutor fails to indict on ‘hate crime,’ charges simple assault instead.  Protest planned.  More here.

Scientific Racism

Dr James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, claims that “Black people are less intelligent” than white people, according to a story in the London Times. The article, by Helen Nugent, continues:

The 79-year-old geneticist said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.” He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”

In the wake of this controversy, Watson’s sold-out talk at London’s Museum of Science has been cancelled. The London Times article goes on to quote Dr. Steven Rose, a professor of biological sciences at the Open University, who said:

“This is Watson at his most scandalous. He has said similar things about women before but I have never heard him get into this racist terrain. If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically.”

There is excellent scholarship, including Rose’s book Not in Our Genes, with co-authors Lewontin and Kamin, that refutes the scientific racism of claims such as Watson’s. Of course, Troy Duster’s Backdoor to Eugenics is a more recent addition to this scholarship, and looks explicitly at the racial politics of the DNA-argument. And, in a very approachable text, Barbara Katz Rothman takes on the same issue in her The Book of Life: A Personal and Ethical Guide to Race, Normality and the Human Gene Study.

What all these scholars (Rose, Lewontin, Kamin, Duster and Katz Rothman) agree on, and what Watson fails to grasp, is that there is more variation within so-called “racial groups” than between them. Of course, Watson also misses the fact, as so many of those espousing scientific racism do, that “race” as a category fails to stand up to basic, scientific standards.

UPDATE: James D. Watson, …apologized “unreservedly” yesterday for comments reported this week suggesting that black people, over all, are not as intelligent as whites. more here from the NYTimes.