All mass crimes in history start with a justification, a necessity rationalization, a sick form of nationalism and racism. This week on Intercepted: The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux talks about his recent reporting in the border state of Arizona and paints a harrowing picture of the human toll of family separations by ICE. Alice Speri lays out her investigation of sexual abuse by ICE officers and contractors in immigration detention centers. Sohail Daulatzai discusses his new book, “With Stones in Our Hands: Writings on Muslims, Racism, and Empire,” and explains why the film “The Battle of Algiers” is still relevant more than 50 years after its release. The legendary resistance singer Barbara Dane shares stories from her 91 years on earth fighting militarism, racism, and economic injustice. Plus, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen competes on Jeopardy! and we hear a cover of “The Partisan” from composers and musicians Leo Heiblum of Mexico and Tenzin Choegyal of Tibet.
[“Jeopardy” theme song plays.]
Alex Trebek: Good luck players, here we go. Let’s find out about the categories: “It’s Debatable” — certainly is. “The Book of Proverbs,” referring to the Bible. And finally, “Dropping Mad Beats.”
Kristen Welker: Why is the government only releasing images of the boys of the boys who are the being held? Where are the girls? Where are the young toddlers?
Kirstjen Nielsen: What is, I don’t know the — I’m not familiar with those particular images. But I will look into that.
Alex Trebek: Nope.
Reporter: So why doesn’t the president pick up the phone and change the policy? He says he hates it.
KN: What is — Congress could fix this tomorrow!
AT: And that would be “sucrose.”
Cecilia Vega: Have you heard the audio clip of these children wailing, that just came out today?
AT: Answer there: Daily Double. Kirstjen here in the lead with $2,600, but before I ask you to make your wager, we have a change in scoring to announce that affects Karl. Kirstjen, how much of your $2,600 are you putting at risk?
KN: $12,000. What is, I have not seen, it’s something that came out today, but I have been to detention centers.
AT: No, no, no. Here is the clue, players.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny: How is this not child abuse?
KN: Be more specific, please?
AT: You have 30 seconds. Good luck. [“Final Jeopardy” music plays.]
KN: What is — there are videos, there is TVs, I’ve visited the detention centers myself.
AT: Kirstjen, why is she looking at me that way? Because she wrote down: “What is: God?” Sorry. That’s incorrect. It’ll cost you.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and this is episode 61 of Intercepted.
Laura Ingraham: Since more illegal immigrants are rushing the border, more kids are being separated from their parents, and temporarily housed in what are essentially summer camps or as The San Diego Union-Tribune described them today, as looking like basically boarding schools.
JS: I want to begin today’s show by reading the testimony of a Red Cross official who visited a site that was described by the authorities as a “shelter for the refugee children.” After visiting the site, this Red Cross official stated the following:
“Not far from the ambulance, from another barracks, the sad cries of the children were heard. There was set, on the bare floor, four hundred children: newborns, children from a few weeks or months, up to ten years of age. How many children came, and where they were dispatched, could no longer be found out. The children in the children’s barracks cried inexorably and were calling their mothers, who were only a few steps away from the children, but the fascist criminals did not let mothers to approach their children.”
Again, this was the Red Cross official’s description of what was called a “shelter for refugee children.” But this so-called shelter was not in the U.S.; it was in fascist Croatia during World War II. In reality, it was not a shelter for refugee children: It was a concentration camp, known as Sisak, and run by Ustaše fascists allied with Hitler. It began with 900 children in 1942, most of them Serbs, and eventually there would be more than 6,600 children that were taken to the camp. Between 1,100 and 1,600 of these children would die there.
The Nazis, too, had concentration camps for children. And, in at least one case, the Nazis manufactured a small village in one of its camps, forcing its prisoners to temporarily convert their hellish gulag into a propaganda site for a visit from the Red Cross.
I bring this up because of the mind-boggling press conference on Monday of the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen when she was confronted with the audio obtained and published by ProPublica on Monday.
[Audio clip of children bawling.]
JS: What we hear on this tape are cries of children in detention, desperate, looking for their parents, promising to behave if they let them see their parents. It’s gut-wrenching and sickening. But Secretary Nielsen assured the press that the conditions in these detention centers for children are actually really good, and she can testify to that because she’s been there.
KN: We can now care for them. We have high standards — we give them meals, we give them education, we give them medical care. There’s videos, there’s TVs, I visited the detention centers myself.
JS: There’s been a lot of discussions lately about comparing the Trump administration’s family separation policy to policies of the Nazis, specifically concentration camps. Some people have objected to such comparisons, saying that they trivialize the mass extermination that took place during the Holocaust. And then, there is this answer from Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Well it’s a real exaggeration. Of course, in Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country. But this is a serious matter.
JS: There is another quote I want to share with you on this issue. Some say that Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller are adopting or utilizing Nazi tactics. But listen to what Adolf Hitler wrote about his vision of immigration in “Mein Kampf” in 1925. Hitler writes, and I’m quoting:
“At present, there exists one State which manifests at least some modest attempts that show a better appreciation of how things ought to be done in this matter. It is not, however, in our model German Republic but in the U.S.A. that efforts are made to conform at least partly to the counsels of common sense. By refusing immigrants to enter there if they are in a bad state of health, and by excluding certain races from the right to become naturalized as citizens, they have begun to introduce principles similar to those on which we wish to ground the People’s State.”
That was in 1925, Adolf Hitler saying that he was inspired by the way that the United States was handling immigration.
You see, history and context are vitally important. At the same time, the horrors being meted out by the Trump administration are their own crime. And the racism, the xenophobia, the labeling of undocumented people as “vermin,” the lie from Stephen Miller that forced separation is actually a humanitarian program — all of this deserves to be fought because it is happening and it is happening now. Yes, the tactics, the rhetoric, the white supremacy — all of these are rooted in history. That history includes the Nazis, but it also includes the history of the United States.
All mass crimes throughout history start with a justification, a necessity rationalization, a sick form of nationalism and racism. And also, that notion that we are God’s chosen people and everything we do under our manmade laws is actually divinely blessed and endorsed. We do not know what horrors are gonna come next with this criminal, human rights abusing, child-abuse factory being run by the Trump administration. But history teaches us that now is the time to be vigilant, now is the time to fight, to resist, to stop this before it moves onto its next stage — whatever that may be.
President Donald J. Trump: When people come up, they have to know they can’t get in. Otherwise, it’s never going to stop. I don’t want people coming in. Do you know, if a person comes in a puts one foot on our ground, it’s essentially, “Welcome to America, welcome to our country.” You never get ’em out.
JS: Joining me now to discuss the Trump administration’s policies and the role of ICE in forcibly separating children from their parents are two of my colleagues, Alice Speri and Ryan Devereaux.
Ryan covers Homeland Security, ICE, and the border for The Intercept. He just returned from one of the front lines of this battle, Arizona.
And Alice has been doing important work on ICE, including a story in April about rampant sexual abuse of people in immigration detention by ICE personnel. Ryan, Alice, welcome back to Intercepted.
Ryan Devereaux: Thanks for having me.
Alice Speri: Thanks for having me.
JS: Ryan, let’s start Ryan just with the bigger picture. Before Trump assumed the presidency, what was the family separation policy or what would happen under Bush or Obama in these kinds of circumstances?
RD: So the most recent history, if you want to go back to the Obama administration, in 2014 there was this so-called surge in Central American unaccompanied minors showing up to the border, family units. In response to that, the Obama administration basically took a position of deterrence, which is sort of an extension of a longstanding U.S. border enforcement strategy, started moving a lot of families into family detention centers or paroling families out into the community, with the expectation that they would, you know, return for meetings with immigration officials. And a lot of these family detention centers, a lot of reporting in lawsuits revealed, were pretty poorly run places and pretty dark. By no means was the Obama administration’s record with the way they handled families exemplary.
But, the difference between what the Obama administration did and what the Trump Administration did is that when unaccompanied minors would come in under the Obama administration, they were unaccompanied because they came in by themselves. Under the Trump administration, the government is creating unaccompanied minors and that is the major difference in what we’re seeing right now.
RD: I look at this situation as a continuation of a long historical trajectory of immigration enforcement in this country that’s sort of been passed down through multiple generations. You go back to the Clinton administration: In the mid-90s, a bunch of Border Patrol chiefs and planners within the Pentagon got together and they drew up a plan for how to do enforcement on the border — it was called prevention through deterrence. The idea was you would funnel migration flows out of the border city areas and into more remote regions where enforcement would be easier. And that kind of has been the guiding strategy for the last two decades.
But as this is happening, on the right, on the far, nativist right, you had a sort of hardening of anger and resentment and frustration, and this ran through the immigration enforcement agencies — ICE, Border Patrol, all of these guys. It was expressed through Breitbart. You had Jeff Sessions, then a senator, now our Attorney General, with his young aide Stephen Miller, they saw that there was this anger, this deep, deep anger in America at immigrants and in some of the law enforcement agencies that felt like what the Obama administration was doing was incentivizing people to come here. We know that that’s not supported by the facts. People are coming here from Central America because Central America has become, after, decades of U.S. interference, one of the most dangerous places in the world to live. People are fleeing extreme violence. That hasn’t figured into the calculus of the far right.
And so what they’re doing right now is: This is their fight. I mean, this is the way Stephen Miller is describing it right now. This summer is their fight.
JS: There was this situation where the New York Times interviewed Stephen Miller and they recorded it and they wanted to air that on their podcast, “The Daily”:
Michael Barbaro: We were going to hear that audio on the show today.
Julie Hirschfeld Davis: Right. We were, until I heard from the White House earlier today that they were not at all comfortable with us using that audio because we didn’t talk about any sort of alternative uses for the interview. And when they found out that his voice was actually going to be on a podcast discussing this, they were not happy about it. So, they asked us not to use it.
JS: And I listened to the episode, and what the Times’ position seems to be is that the Trump administration asked them not to use the audio and they complied. I mean, this was an on-the-record interview. But what Stephen Miller argued in that interview with The Times was that this is, in fact, a humanitarian policy.
You also had Jeff Sessions essentially imply that this policy is divined from our Lord and Savior.
Jeff Sessions: If you violate the law, you subject yourself to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.
JS: And then we had this insane press conference with the Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday. Talk about all of those responses and events, Alice.
AS: Yeah, where to start. I mean, I think first of all it’s important to remember that a lot of what is happening is not the whims of Trump, who’s crazy and he woke up this morning thinking: I’m going to do this — even though he does actually have the power to end it. I think one of the lines that the administration is pushing out over and over is like, “we’re just enforcing a law. There’s nothing we can do.” This was a crisis that was created by their decisions and by their policies. What is happening is that Trump promised his voters that he was going to build this wall, has failed to deliver on that and so he’s now trying to force immigration reform of whatever kind by hijacking causes and people and, in this case, hijacking children. He went for teenagers and youth first, and now he’s going for children.
So, fast forward that to Monday, we had, I think, possibly the most incredible White House press briefing I have seen under this administration. First of all, this press briefing —
JS: Which is saying something!
AS: It definitely says something. We have very low standards.
The press briefing was scheduled for 1 PM. It didn’t happen until 5 PM. Secretary Nielsen was in New Orleans where she gave an address, talking about all this stuff, to a very friendly audience, right? The National Sheriff’s Association and reports say that Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, actually refused to face reporters on her own after, you know, being pressed on these very issues in the past weeks, and she’s had some really tense exchanges with reporters about this very issue.
Brian Karem: Don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through? They have less than you do.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Brian — God! Settle down.
BK: Sarah, come on. Seriously? Seriously.
SHS: I’m trying to be serious, but I’m not going to have you yell out of turn. Jill, please —
BK: — it’s a law, and they have, these people have nothing.
SHS: Hey, Brian, I know you want to get some more TV time, but that’s not what this is about. I want to recognize you —
BK: It’s not about that. It’s about answering the questions, Sarah.
SHS: — go ahead, Jill.
BK: Honestly, answer the question. It’s a serious question. These people have nothing, they come to the border with nothing, and you throw children in cages. You’re a parent. You’re a parent of young children! Don’t you have any empathy for what they go through?
SHS: Jill, go ahead —
AS: So ProPublica actually dropped this incredible, heartbreaking, devastating recording just as the White House was pushing its briefing.
Cecilia Vega: Have you heard the audio clip of these children wailing that just came out today?
KN: I have, I have not seen — it’s something that came out today.
AS: When they finally started it, Secretary Nielsen got on stage and said she hadn’t heard it, which is a lie, the first of many lies she just, like, pushed through in this press briefing. They had just spent hours trying to come up with a response to this. There were actually reporters in the room that were playing the audio during this press conference, which was extremely chaotic and just very emotional and intense.
But to talk about what Nielsen said: She lied about not having seen images of kids in cages. She lied about not having heard this recording. She lied about the administration not been able to do anything about this. She lied about this being the law. This is not the law. This is a policy of the Trump Administration. She looked at the camera and said:
KN: We have high standards, we give them meals, we give them education, we give them medical care. There’s videos; there’s TVs. I visited the detention centers myself —
AS: Which is, again, a blatant lie. We just at The Intercept have done this story just a couple months ago on massive sexual assault and rampant abuse that happens it an immigration detention centers. We exposed more than 1,200 complaints of sexual assault happening in detention centers, and we know that’s just a tiny slice of what is happening out there.
JS: And that was between 2010 and 2017.
AS: That was between 2010 and 2017, and I’m happy to go into a little bit more of that report. Some of the things we found as part of that story: The fact that more than half of the alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse in immigration detention centers were ICE agents or private contractors working for ICE; an extraordinary high number of ICE officers witnessed the abuse and did nothing to end it. So, this is really rampant abuse that’s been going on for years that definitely hasn’t started under the Trump Administration by no means. But to go up and say: These kids are being well taken care off and ICE is perfectly capable of protecting the safety and well-being of the people it detains, and we have the highest detention standards — that is one of the most extraordinary lies that we heard yesterday. And we heard many.
JS: Ryan, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon tweeted this week that he had met with a man in immigration detention whose 18-month-old child, he doesn’t know the whereabouts of.
Explain why there are children so young — 56 weeks, 18 months — like, how did they end up here and why are they separated from their parents?
RD: Well, we just got a little bit of insight into that in a call that DHS, including some Border Patrol officials, had with reporters just before I walked in here. And what it sounds like is in the individual Border Patrol stations along the border, chiefs have discretion in terms of directing their personnel and how to deal with so-called sensitive populations, including little kids.
JS: You’re saying that there isn’t a blanket policy; it’s at the discretion of individual chiefs of mission in those areas.
RD: Exactly. Chiefs of station along the border are coming up with the protocol for how to deal with these kids.
And I spoke to a veteran childcare provider who has worked on these issues for 40 years yesterday, whose organization contracts with ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which takes in a lot of these young people, and she said this is something that she’s been seeing and something that she’s been concerned about. The Border Patrol agents on the ground seem to have a lot of leeway in terms of deciding what happens to the families that they separate. She described the case of a little boy whose father was taken from him, handcuffed in front of him, terrified the kid because he’s running from a country where people with badges and guns and uniforms really are the bad guys. And she said, as far as she can tell, what happened in this situation is that they grabbed the kid, grabbed the dad and they just decided: No, he doesn’t have a credible asylum claim and they quickly moved him out of the country.
I mean, we’re seeing a lot of that. The government is deporting parents before these organizations that weren’t consulted before this was implemented even have a chance to start the process of reunification. So they, there’s parents gone in countries, there are kids — I mean, little kids, I’m talking about a six-year-old blind girl separated from her, mother pre-verbal kids, nonverbal kids, indigenous kids — who suddenly are on their own track, legally, within the system, who are completely overwhelmed and terrified. And they’re basically being asked to navigate their own case as their parents disappear.
The government, their solution to this right now is a 1-800 number that’s given to parents that they’re supposed to call. But a lot of these parents don’t have access to a phone in these detention centers. Sometimes it takes weeks before the childcare provider organizations can locate the parents, or, like I said, sometimes they’re already gone. Some parents are asking to, you know, after their criminal case is settled, a lot of these people get time served — that’s another thing to remember, we’re talking about a misdemeanor. They’re separating families, they’re taking away kids, they’re throwing them into a labyrinth of a broken bureaucracy over a misdemeanor.
JS: Alice, The Intercept published an article on June 16 by Debbie Nathan, who has for decades been on the front lines on the Texas-Mexico border really reporting about the evolution of this policy and the fate of various migrants to the United States for different reasons. And her piece was titled: “Desperate Asylum-Seekers Are Being Turned Away By U.S. Border Agents Claiming There’s ‘No Room.'”
Talk about what this piece argues and reports.
AS: Yes, first of all, the thing to say, in case people don’t know, is that turning away asylum-seekers violates U.S. law and international law. So the U.S. government is breaking the law here, and has been doing that for a number of years.
There was a lawsuit that was filed a couple years ago in response to some of these incidents, and that’s ongoing. What we are seeing now is an uptick in these cases that appear to be mandated from above. There’s no real sense that it’s true that there’s no room, and even if there were no room, that is still the law and you still have to admit asylum-seekers.
But I actually think one of the most fascinating stuff aspects of Debbie Nathan’s story, and I really encourage everybody to read it, is: I think a lot of people right now are feeling extremely overwhelmed and angry. And a lot of people are trying to figure out: What is it that they can do, and you know, you can call your Representatives and you can march and rally and protest and you can go on social media and sort of pour your anger out there. But you can also — and this is what Debbie and others have been doing — go on the other side of the border and help people cross. And as Debbie Nathan’s story shows, once you have a reporter, a human rights worker or anybody with a U.S. passport and a phone recording the incident, so you have people walk through border, there’s this imaginary line on a bridge. And you know what we’ve heard is — what we’ve seen is — Border Patrol agents will kind of like, stand there as guards and try to dissuade people from entering. They can’t actually do that.
And so, if you have somebody who comes in with American privilege and helps those people cross, they can’t stop them. I mean it’s really quite incredible that it’s come down to this, but I actually would really love to see more people that live down by the border do that.
JS: Ryan, you’ve just got back from reporting, also, on one of the front lines of this. Describe where you were and what it was like.
RD: Yeah, so I was down in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, which has been sort of the epicenter of a lot of immigration enforcement for the last decade and a half. This is a place where migrants have died by the thousands as a result of U.S. policy that drives people into the desert. And, you know, I was down there looking into what comes next? What’s the process of reunification? How does this feel for the people who have spent years working on these cases? And, I mean, to a person, their response is that this horrifying; they’ve never seen anything like it.
I don’t think that that’s an overstatement at all. We’re talking about really little kids. I mean, the government claimed recently that they’re not taking babies, and that’s just not true. And I think we’re only starting to see the tip of the iceberg.
I mean, if you think about the rates at which we’re separating people — which is several hundred a week, 658 over two weeks, in the two weeks following Sessions’ order, according to DHS — if we continue at that rate, we could be pushing 10,000 cases by the end of the summer.
JS: And some of your reporting, that’s going to be published soon, that you shared with me, indicated that last week the U.S. government said it had separated 1,995 children from their parents from April through May. And then your reporting indicates earlier this month, The Intercept reported a minimum of 1,358 children were separated from their parents from October 2017 through mid-May.
RD: We had 2,235 families, comprised of 4,538 people apprehended on the Southwest border. “Children,” I’m quoting here, “children made AUCs through this prosecution initiative” was 2,342 – 2,342 kids made unaccompanied by the state, over this period from May to June. With 2,206 adults referred for prosecution.
Now, if you look at the apprehension numbers, the adult apprehension numbers and the referrals, we’re at about 20 percent into 100 percent of zero tolerance, right? Like, we’re a fifth of the way there. And the Border Patrol is talking about cranking this up by several orders of magnitude.
So the scale is kind of impossible to wrap your head around. And when you think about the kinds of — when you think about how this was already a system that was nearly broken in terms of dealing with unaccompanied kids, and adding that influx of, now, young kids? Because a lot of these people that work with unaccompanied minors are normally working with teenagers, who really were literally unaccompanied when they came to the border, not little kids whose parents had a plan, who are now made unaccompanied. How we’re going to handle this? Like, even if it stopped tomorrow, what are we going to do with all those cases? It’s really hard for me to imagine that ICE is going to back some aggressive initiative to make sure that these kids find their families again? I just don’t think so. People are going to fall through the cracks.
We have armed government agents systematically separating little kids from their parents and plunging them into an entirely broken system with no path forward as to how to reunite them with their parents.
JS: Alice, I’ll give you the last word.
AS: I mean, I don’t even know where to start. I mean, all that Ryan said. There’s — I think we should do it all. Right? Protest, rally, call Representatives, vote. I mean, obviously vote, the midterms are coming up and that’s going to be important. But then there’s so much more, and I think, honestly, in the immediate, I already said earlier, I think what people should do is go out to the border and help people cross, legally, at ports of entry.
I would like to one day look back at the ProPublica audio and say that this was a turning point. Because, up until now, we’ve heard all the stories, we’ve heard from the parents, we didn’t really hear the children. I don’t know what else it’s going to take to get people up and doing something about this. But I hope one day we’ll look at this as where it took a turn.
JS: Well, Ryan Devereaux and Alice Speri, you both have been doing some of the best reporting on ICE. And Ryan, also, thank you for your incredible work down there and your dedication to this story, reporting from the front lines. Ryan Devereaux, thanks for being with us.
RD: Thanks for having me.
JS: Alice Speri, thank you ask well.
AS: Thank you.
JS: Ryan Devereaux and Alice Speri are reporters for The Intercept. You can check out their important journalism at theintercept.com.
[“The Partisan,” performed by Leo Heiblum and Tenzin Choegyal plays.]
JS: That is the great Mexican composer and musician Leo Heiblum and the equally celebrated composer and singer Tenzin Choegyal performing their own version of Leonard Cohen’s “The Partisan,” right here in the Intercepted studio.
You might not know it from watching the news these days, but the U.S. is engaged in multiple wars across the world, both declared and undeclared. The so-called targeted killing program continues unabated under Donald Trump, and the civilian death toll has been skyrocketing over the past year in Syria and Iraq. Trump famously tore up the Iran nuclear deal, and he has conspired with Israel, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates to lay the groundwork for regime change in Iran. The scorched earth bombing of Yemen is nothing short of a genocidal massacre — one that is aided, funded, supported, armed by the United States. The U.S. also continues to conduct drone strikes in Yemen, as the Saudis pummel the poorest country in the Arab world nonstop. The war in Afghanistan is still on and drone strikes are reemerging in Pakistan.
In Iraq, recent parliamentary elections saw the fiery nationalist, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc win more seats than any other party. And there is talk of building a coalition with the once-banned and persecuted Iraqi communist party. Sadr and his Mahdi Army were one of the fiercest forces fighting the U.S. occupation and it represents a major rejection of the American project in Iraq.
In the midst of all of this, we also have Trump’s Muslim ban being challenged in courts; open anti-Muslim rhetoric emanating from the most prominent political offices in the land.
There is a great new collection of essays out that tackles a whole range of issues relating to Islam and Muslims, wars, the Palestinian struggle, women’s rights, state terror, drone strikes, 9/11, civil liberties, white supremacy, and on and on. The book is called “With Stones in Our Hands: Writings on Muslims, Racism and Empire” and it is edited by Sohail Daulatzai and Junaid Rana.
We are joined now by Sohail. He teaches in Film and Media Studies, African American Studies, and Global Middle East Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is also the author of several other books, including “Fifty Years of ‘The Battle of Algiers': Past as Prologue.” He is the curator of the celebrated exhibit Return of the Mecca.
Sohail Daulatzai, welcome to Intercepted.
Sohail Daulatzai: Thanks for having me.
JS: One of your theses in that opening essay that you wrote I found really interesting and provocative, because you’re arguing that all the discussion about radicalization, self-radicalization, post-9/11 is rooted in a much longer history and wasn’t just born of 9/11, Guantanamo torture.
So, lay out your argument that you’re making about where radicalization comes from.
SD: For us, writing this book was important for several reasons, to try and get at what we felt were some really frustrating turns of events, particularly post-9/11. We wanted to really, center because of the kind of presence of the United States and the way in which it came to form itself through native genocide and black enslavement, but also how it expanded and kind of supplanted Europe as a world hegemon in the global leviathan. We wanted to really think about: How is white supremacy operating in the current moment?
And for us, when it came to thinking about like, the figure of the Muslim, and I say the figure of the Muslim, and I’ll probably refer to it throughout the conversation, we’re not only talking about Muslims per se, and we’re not even talking about believers per se, we’re talking about those who might be deemed Muslim or who look Muslim. In fact, you know, as we know, the first person that was killed after 9/11 in Arizona was a Sikh convenience store owner who was confused or thought to be Muslim, right?
JS: And you also had the case of the Sikh temple being shot up in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and we understand that shooter also thought he was attacking a mosque and killing Muslims.
SD: Right. Absolutely.
So, this idea of the Muslim or the figure of the Muslim is about a particular look. It’s not a phenotype in terms of skin, but there is skin, and a certain kind of appearance that goes along with how race is operating.
And so for us it was important to kind of like put our finger on that and try to think about how the figure of the Muslim is shaping kind of post-9/11 security discourse and the war on terror, in particular.
One of the ways, as you mentioned in your question, is the idea of radicalism or radicalization. This is the starting point for many people when they want to think about Islam or Muslims. Obviously, the right has a response to this question, which is: Ban Muslims, don’t allow them in the country. For liberals and maybe even some on the left, the argument is: Well, not all Muslims are terrorists. It’s that argument, and maybe we can unpack that a little bit. They’re willing to accept certain kinds of Muslims. You know, witness Hillary Clinton and the Khizr Khan family, where their son is willing to pick up a gun and go kill for America. That’s an acceptable kind of Muslim to the United States, in some ways. Or one that, in some ways, assumes or doesn’t question, you know, American patriotism, its role in the world and the benevolence of the United States historically or today. Those are the kinds of Muslims that are deemed acceptable to kind of fulfill this kind of multicultural project, right?
JS: Well and every time you see someone plow a vehicle into a crowd of others or a shooting takes place and the shooter turns out to be a Muslim, as in San Bernardino, California, what you’ll see on social media, and I see this with a lot of Muslim friends of mine, there’s this expectation that A. they have to have a comment on it, and B. that that comment needs to clarify these people don’t represent the real Islam or these people don’t speak for true American Muslims.
SD: Right. Right. Absolutely. And this is part of what, in some of my current work, like looking at how the language of terrorism or antiterrorism is really racially coded language, right? In many ways, the language of terrorism or the terrorist really is a 21st century way of marking the savage, the civilization/savagery binary. It’s about excommunicating particular individuals, groups of people or even ideas outside of the community of the human, the human family. And therefore they’re seen as a threat to the human community and need to be obliterated or dealt with.
And so, what we have when it comes to post-9/11 conversations and discourse is you have the bad apples theory, when something like that happens. You have Muslims or their allies come to the rescue and say, “Well, hey, you know, not all Muslims are bad. There’s only a few bad apples.”
The other argument you get commonly is, especially when a white person shoots up a school or a concert or any number of things that takes place, where, on a mass level, it’s, we’ll see, “white people are terrorists, too.” Right? This is called terrorism.
And for me, those are both problematic, but they both play into kind of like the security apparatus or the security regime post-9/11. One, the bad apples theory doesn’t account for how racial profiling works. In order to grab the bad apples, you’ve got to racially profile the whole group. So, so you’re kind of reproducing the very thing you claim to be challenging, when you say not all Muslims are bad. In order to catch those bad ones, you gotta profile all Muslims.
The second one, where whites are terrorists too, it normalizes the idea that terrorism is a category that needs to be cracked down on. And that it gives sanction and legitimacy to the state to do so. Right?
JS: Well, it’s borne of the same mentality of the phrase “white trash,” in a sense, because what does that mean that everyone else is if these people have now become trash? What you’re essentially saying —
SD: Right. Right.
JS: — is people of color are trash.
SD: Are trash. Right.
JS: And these ones just happen to be white, but they need to have a separate category.
SD: And even if we accepted the idea that white people can be terrorists, too, just like on the war on crime, white people committed crimes in bigger numbers than black or brown communities, but when it came to the War on Crime, who was policed heavier? Who was surveilled more, right? How did an urban police state come to be created, right?
JS: Well, I’m talking to you in New York right now, our stop and frisk thing was like 90 percent people of color getting stopped and frisked.
SD: Absolutely. So even if you accept that white people are terrorists, too, it’s going to still fall on black and brown communities to be heavily policed, right, because of that. And so I think the language of anti-terrorism is really problematic for those reasons, and more importantly, I think it also fractures solidarities, because then when you can label like, those fighting for Palestinian self-determination as terrorists, but then you can say, well, the Ku Klux Klan are terrorists, too.
And then for those people who don’t necessarily understand Palestine, but have a relationship or understanding of what the KKK is, and then they see that those fighting for Palestinian self-determination and the Klan are both terrorists, it kind of prevents them from creating a certain kind of solidarity. So, I think it’s important for us to be critical of that language of terrorism because I think it’s racially coded.
JS: Let me share with people an observation that I really found interesting from the latest book, and this is from the essay that you and Junaid write at the beginning: “Considering the current historical moment, in which the war on terror has expanded and intensified, this project seeks to center the United States as the dominant site of racialization around the figure of the Muslim in its current logic of empire and the ongoing war on terror, and, in doing so, we seek to interrogate and challenge the master narrative of exceptionalism that imagines the United States in what Thomas Jefferson named an empire of Liberty, a legitimizing discourse used to construct colorblind multiculturalism.”
SD: Right, exactly. Yeah, I mean I think what we were trying to suggest there is that, you know, the United States doesn’t see itself, this is what American exceptionalism, part of what it does, it says: We’re different than Europe, we’re not like the old royal monarchs and we’re not like those old colonial empires. We’re something different. America’s always thought about itself, even from the Jeffersonian ideal as something different: We’re an empire of liberty, we spread liberty around the world. Right?
And so, it sought to fracture itself from the history of European colonization and said that we don’t colonize, we don’t have an imperial footprint, we are not an empire. Right? It was very difficult for America to contend with that question of European Empire because it itself was birthed out of it.
In making that claim that we are an empire of liberty, what has kind of been birth by that idea is this notion that multiculturalism and diversity are what America should celebrate and what it shares is distinct from the rest of the world. In fact, America argues that in many ways the implicit assumption is that people from all over the world come to America; the United States, therefore is a microcosm of the world and therefore it stands in for the world. And so that idea of multiculturalism has been central to the United States in terms of, like, it thinking about itself globally. It markets itself as this diverse multicultural landscape and I think in the post-9/11 context, you know, I think we give language to a term called imperial multiculturalism. Right, how is multiculturalism being weaponized in a particular way?
And there’s a lot of faults with multiculturalism, right?
JS: Nikhil Pal Singh, who we had on this show, also, I think he put it sort of the multiculturalization of imperialism that you can have Obama as one of the best modern examples, was an imperial president who operated a global kill list, and used his legitimacy as the first black president and a constitutional law scholar to sell the idea of borderless war.
JS: And his bottom line on some of these questions that you’re discussing was: Yes, we kill civilians, but we regret when we kill civilians and we don’t intend to kill civilians and that’s what differentiates us from our enemies in the Middle East.
SD: Right. And I think Obama in many ways, and this is part of what we wanted to respond to, and that’s why chasing this moving target becomes difficult. It’s almost too easy to point to Trump as an exemplar of this kind of anti-Muslim racism.
In fact, you know this well through your own work, Obama had dropped more drone bombs than Bush before him, so Obama came to kind of symbolize a particular kind of multicultural ideal.
And let’s not forget that, you know, there was all this question of Barack Hussein Obama being Muslim.
JS: Oh, yeah. Yeah! And he’s still viewed as the first Muslim president on Fox News.
SD: Exactly. And so there’s even that specter of the Muslim was even haunting Obama’s presidency as well. And I don’t remember a time where he actually came out and said, “Well, so what if I was?” All he said was, “No, I’m not.”
JS: And remember when John McCain was running against Obama, it was in, again, somehow Wisconsin comes up, but it was in Waukesha, Wisconsin, which is a pretty right-wing part of the state of Wisconsin. John McCain was confronted at an event by a woman who was stating that Obama was a Muslim.
Audience Member: I gotta ask you a question. I do not believe in, I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, he’s not — he’s an Arab. He’s not —
JS: And McCain’s response to that was:
Senator John McCain: No ma’am, no ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not. Thank you. [Scattered applause.]
JS: To me, it was one of the best examples of what you’re saying. That it’s like, “Oh, no, no, no. He’s a good guy. He’s a real American. He’s not a Muslim American.”
SD: Right. Absolutely. It’s like, how has the Muslim become kind of the limit of what’s politically possible? It’s almost like the Muslim is the limit or the test case. You know, you hear this all the time, like a reference point for the Republican Party gone wrong, if you want to put it in those terms, that’s the American Taliban, that’s the ISIS of the Republican Party, right? The kind of draconian, you know, right-wing evangelical crowd — the language of Taliban and ISIS are used to describe them. As if, like, being Muslim, or a particular kind of Muslim, is the lowest form of humanity one can be. Like this is how far the Republican Party has gone that they’re like the Taliban now.
And so I think the Muslim stands in, in many ways as the limit of the political. Right? Like, when it comes to the question of women’s rights, it’s like: We do feminism, but we don’t want to be like those Muslims. Right? When it comes to queer and minority rights, same idea. Even the question of armed struggle or political violence, the figure of the Muslim where Muslims seem to embody the excess of political violence so that Muslims become the limit of what’s politically possible, right? That’s where politics stops and something else begins. When Muslims do what other people do, it’s somehow qualitatively different and more of a threat or more of a danger.
This why Bill Maher and Sam Harris can say: Hey, OK, we’re atheists. And that’s fine! You can be an atheist. But why is it somehow that Islam is the worst kind of religion?
JS: Well, because they do not criticize all religions equally. Islam holds this spot, and then it’s like miles below, you find number two in their crosshairs, but they’re obsessed with Islam.
SD: Right. And people have talked about this, like, we can sit here and critique, like, the way in which religions have become politicized and have been used in different moments in history, and many people, post-9/11, they talk about the dangers of political Islam.
But we don’t ask: What about political secularism? Like, what did that create with native genocide, enslavement and mass plunder across the globe, in the name of secularism? Like, we don’t ask those kinds of questions, right?
Somehow the idea of religion is separate from the running of state and its policies, and then even when it is separated, the religion of Islam is somehow deemed the worst or the most excessive or the most violent, right? And so that when it comes to the question of women and questions of feminism, like, how has the discourse of the veil come to stand in for repression or oppression and excess, and that somehow the veil needs to be taken off and they need to be modernized. And that’s an old colonial fantasy. I mean, the French in Algeria used to have public unveiling spectacles for people, right? Showing Muslim women taking off their veil, because now they’re modernized, right?
Ultimately, like, we’re talking about patriarchy as a global phenomenon. It’s not exclusive or endemic to one group of people or one part of the world, but often when it comes to talking about Islam, somehow it’s those people that carry on the worst kinds of patriarchy and whether it takes place in other religious communities or other forms of oppression around women, whether it be sexual violence, rape and what the #MeToo movement is revealing is how permanent this is as a fixture in American life, right? That forms of patriarchy exist everywhere and they need to be challenged everywhere as a result.
JS: What do you make of the language that is used by, it’s not exclusive to this administration, but when you have someone like Jeff Sessions so overtly speaking in a Christian supremacist type of a manner — yes, Bush called this a crusade at the beginning. You know, if you watch Bush on Islam, I mean it’s like night and day from now.
SD: Right. Right.
President George W. Bush: The face of terror is not the true face of Islam. That’s not what Islam was all about. Islam is peace.
JS: But what do you make of — you know, Sessions talks about the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement. He recently said that these forced separations of the family basically is divine intervention from God to bless the laws of this country, even if it means separating kids.
There’s a lot of, what I think you would call Islamo-fascist if you were on the right, if it was a Muslim. But it’s a form of theocracy that is being articulated by these guys in defense of something that has very little to do with religion at all; it’s political-power grabbing and white supremacy.
SD: The fallacy of a secular logic was something that we wanted to kind of point out. That never has secularism actually existed. That the West is in many ways founded upon the notion of Christian ethics — the individual and sacrifice — right? And those have been woven through how citizenship and those questions get expressed.
What we’ve had at different moments in time, and you’re pointing out what Sessions is saying, are particularly more visible versions of how then the religious undertones of government come to the fore and get articulated.
And clearly they’re playing to their base, right? Clearly they’re playing to their base and they’re playing to this idea of a kind of civilizational war. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that what Sessions and them are appealing to is a particularly idea of a kind of civilizational war of Judeo-Christianity against the rest of the world, right?
And, yes, is religion being instrumentalized in this particular instance? Absolutely. We know that the United States has a deep history of separating children from their parents: from natives, indigenous folks, to black people and slavery. Right? Like, that history is something that’s endemic to America. It’s not exceptional. And you hear that response, like, what the United States is doing at the border, that’s just not American. It’s like, “Well, you don’t know the history, if that’s what you’re going to claim, right?”
And I think there’s something about the Trump administration that lays bare the truth of what the U.S. political state is really about.
JS: You’ve written a book about the importance of the film “The Battle of Algiers,” which of course dealt with French imperialism and the uprising in Algeria against French colonialism, and I think it should be required viewing for everyone. And I said that a lot when I was reporting on drone strikes around the world.
[Short scene from “The Battle of Algiers” plays.]
JS: For a new generation of young people who maybe haven’t seen it, what’s your case for why it matters to them now?
SD: I open the book by saying: The Battle of Algiers is still being waged, only now on a planetary scale. Right? That the hunt for Ali la Pointe is still on; the figure of the Muslim still structures global relationships today.
But when it comes to a lot of young people watching “The Battle of Algiers,” you’re right, they don’t necessarily know about it in the way that many did, right? This became the kind of touchstone for thinking about radical politics and cinema and that convergence. But as I talk about in the book, it was also a tool used by the right wing, and, in fact, it’s required viewing in the Pentagon now, in military training schools in the United States.
JS: Oh, Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command said when they were preparing to go to Iraq, he had his men watch “The Battle of Algiers.”
SD: So, I talk about how the film got re-appropriated in the post-9/11 context as a way to do counterinsurgency, as opposed to a film that was about a people fighting for dignity and resisting a colonial occupation, right? So I talked about how history, through the Battle of Algiers in many ways, got recuperated or re-appropriated for the interest of imperialism, right?
The film will remain relevant as long as the conditions that necessitated the making of it continue to persist. So as long as there’s Gaza, as long as there’s Iraq, as long as there’s Ferguson, as long as there’s Compton, like the Battle of Algiers is going to remain a relevant film, because it’s a film that does, in a very poetic way, it gives dignity to people’s resistance to these everyday structural forces.
JS: The latest book is separated into four categories if I recall correctly. And the last is “Possible Futures: Descent and the Protest Tradition.” What do you see as the future and protest tradition carrying on?
SD: We’re trying to think about how have past protests traditions, different ways of thinking about politics, how can they be useful for us moving forward and creating radical futures that will help challenge the kind of conditions that many of us find ourselves in. What we’re finding, which is kind of heartwarming in many ways, is a lot of people are hungry for this right now. I mean I think that’s one thing that maybe Trump did that’s maybe different than maybe what Obama and Bush before him, and I think in many ways Obama was a kind of calming salve with the dissent, one thing Trump did was really stoke the fires. And so people are really hungry, especially young people, for thinking about how do we move forward now, and what we tried to do was provide a kind of way of looking back as a way to then chart a course forward?
Well, it’s a really important collection, and I think also people will learn of new voices that they can also check out the other work of. So, Sohail Daulatzai, thank you so much for being with us on Intercepted.
SD: Thanks for having me.
JS: Sohail Daulatzai is the editor, with Junaid Rana, of the new book “With Stones in Our Hands.” He also teaches at the University of California, Irvine.
JS: My next guest is a legend in the field of resistance music and an incredible trailblazer in fusing traditional folk music with jazz and blues. She has used her remarkable voice to sings songs with Pete Seeger on picket lines fighting for workers rights:
Barbara Dane: [singing with Pete Seeger] Solidarity forever, solidarity forever, solidarity forever, for a union we are strong.
JS: She has used her voice to fight for racial equality and economic justice:
BD: [Singing] I’ve been travelin’ on the road to freedom. I’ve been lookin’ for the road to freedom, I’ve been travelin’ to the road to freedom. And I’ve been travelin’ on.
JS: She has traveled to coffee shops near army bases around the country and around the world, singing GI resistance songs:
BD: [Singing] If you love your Uncle Sam, bring ’em home, bring ’em home. Stop the war in Vietnam, bring ’em home, bring ’em home; 45,000 dead and gone, bring ’em home, bring ’em home. Uncle Sam is in the wrong, bring ’em home, bring ’em home. We want to end the war right now, bring ’em home, bring ’em home. Don’t take a genius to figure out how, just bring ’em home, bring ’em home. Let ’em fly, let ’em float —
JS: This legendary voice is, of course, that of the great Barbara Dane. She has lent her voice to resistance movements around the world for nearly all of her 91 years on earth.
And she is still going — touring, adapting songs to address the issues right now, the issues of today. She is going to be performing on June 21 at Joe’s Pub, in New York, and she joins me now to talk about her life’s work and how she keeps on keepin’ on.
Barbara Dane, it’s an honor to have you here. Welcome to Intercepted.
Barbara Dane: Jeremy Scahill, I am flabbergasted to be sitting right across from you.
JS: I wanted to ask you, the Smithsonian Folkways recordings this year released “Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs” and it’s a retrospective of 60 years of music?
BD: Well, the first time I recorded in a studio was ’57.
JS: So you were like 30 when you first recorded in a studio. What had you been doing before that?
BD: Well, like always singing. Just singing. I always sang because of: who’s in front of me, what do they need? We’re at a picket line, you got to get people together, you got to make people feel good and get to make them feel energetic and positive, and actually the fact of making the record, that first one, I was a kind of phenomena, right? Thinking nobody was singing the old classic blues, Bessie Smith.
[“Do Your Duty” by Bessie Smith plays.]
BD: And Ma Rainey.
[Ma Rainey plays.]
BD: Ida Cox
[“Hard Time Blues” By Ida Cox plays.]
BD: Great women who took the blues from the back porch to the stage. The reason that I jumped to that was that I had a problem with the folk music scene.
JS: What was the folk music scene like? Presumably, you’re talking about the 40s, 50s at the time?
BD: Yeah, right after World War II, you know, Pete Seeger got the idea, when he got out of the service he got the idea of forming kind of a national network of singers who could exchange songs, could help each other gather material and write material for the current moment.
The big thing that was going on right after the war was union organizing, and everybody was trying to get themselves together. And we were, I was in Detroit, you know, so it’s a UAW-CIO, makes the army roll and go.
[“UAW-CIO Makes the Army Roll and Go” by Pete Seeger plays.]
BD: You know, Pete had this Peoples’ Songs Bulletin, he called it. It was like a little mailer, four-page thing, it grew and grew and it eventually became Sing Out! Magazine.
JS: That’s how it started! I didn’t know that.
BD: Uh huh. That’s right.
Well, Pete, anyway, came to Detroit. I was 18. I was singing in front of picket lines and things, and recruited me to be the Detroit organizer.
Well, I was pretty ill-equipped for that because I didn’t have any money. I was basically, you know, I just left home and I was trying to figure out how to get my feet on the ground.
[“900 Miles” by Barbara Dane plays.]
JS: So you meet people Seeger when you’re around 18 years old in Detroit, and he presumably, he hears you sing.
JS: And then enlists you.
BD: It was the other way around.
JS: You enlist him, yeah.
JS: But how was it, at that point in history, a high school student gets involved with struggles for racial equality? Like, what was it in your life that steered you in that direction before you met Pete Seeger?
BD: Well, probably the fact that my dad who is the product of a town in Arkansas called Paragould, which even today is known as Klan country. And he was raised with a very — that mentality, you see. But, on the other hand, he was a very kind man. He was a pharmacist, he was a barefoot farm boy and he really managed to get himself a pharmacist degree, somehow, and got to Detroit and got himself a little store way out on the outskirts of town.
Well, something happened — a very specific incident happened when I was about ten years old and I was working in the store. It was Detroit. It was Depression — deep Depression. A whole road gang of black men was outside with pick and shovel, making a roadbed right next to the drugstore, making a side street and it was really hot. And one man had the courage to come in this place, in the store, and he asked for a Coca-Cola — Coke-Cola, they called it, people from the South called it Coke-Cola.
And he had his nickel in his hand, it cost a nickel, and I motioned him to sit down. Well, of course, he was from the south and he had only recently come up North, he didn’t know which way to go. He didn’t know if I was allowed or not allowed. And I’m a child, he doesn’t know whether to accept my instruction. Just, at the point where he’s trying to decide, and I’m beckoning, my dad comes running from the prescription room where he’d been compounding some prescription, and yelling, “Get out of here — you know you can’t drink that in here.” And then he went off all over the guy and all over me, and the man left very quietly and, you know, no problem. And then my dad said, “Well, you know, you can’t do that. You can’t have, can’t have them in here because that way we’ll lose all of our other customers.” I realized then my dad was afraid of losing any customer because of Depression time, right?
Somehow in that moment, you see, what happened was I knew it wasn’t fair. I was horrified. And I was humiliated because I had done exactly as I’d been told and I was humiliated in front of another adult. Then I thought about the man who had been kicked out. What about him, you know? And something happened. And I actually, I took his side — he was right. He was completely right. My dad was wrong.
So that led me to question that kind of interchange for the rest of my life.
JS: How did that then segue to singing, though?
BD: Well, I always sang.
JS: Political singing.
BS: Well, I always sang, and then as I began to be part of movements, be standing in front of a shop gate somewhere, you know, and I’m singing roll the Union Out and I’m realizing that there are these other issues, starting to add other things in, and then this is well before the lunch counter sit-ins, but we decided to have a test case. We put together an interracial group and we went in the hotel bar alone, which is right on Cadillac Square, the famous — Catholic Square is where all a great union rallies were and all the protests and everything, it’s like Times Square but in Detroit.
By the hotel, right there, the big hotel on the far side — that hotel, two years before, I think, had refused a refuge to Paul Robeson of all people. So we decided we would test the coffee shop. We were seated over by the bathrooms, of course. And we sat there, we sat there; they never would serve us. Eventually, we were just thrown out.
[“It Isn’t Nice” by Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers plays.]
BD: After that, it was one after the other occasion to sing about that kind of thing.
JS: You also did a lot of speaking out and singing out around the issue of GI resistance. Coming out of World War II, I mean that was supposedly the good war, and also there was Uncle Joe Stalin, and, you know, there was this strategic relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, that very quickly then turned into something other than a friendship and then the Cold War really started in force.
That issue, though, of GI resistance at that time was very different from Vietnam.
JS: When then it became an extremely public stance, people burning draft cards. What was your gateway into the GI Resistance Movement?
BD: I know people like Dave Dellinger.
JS: He was a friend of mine, and I was very young, but I got to know Dave and I traveled with him for five years or so.
JS: For people that don’t know, Dave Dellinger was the eldest member of the Chicago 8, and that’s sort of the line about him in history. But his memoir was called: “From Yale to Jail.” He was in Spain during the uprising against Franco, as a journalist, sort of activist, and was one of the most noble, active pacifists.
BD: Very, very open. But he went to jail as a conscientious objector in World War II.
Oddly enough in California, when most of my singing was done at the Ash Grove in LA, I was looking for a piano player, kept telling everybody I needed a blues player who has a certain touch, and a guy came in and just blew me away, Kenny Whitson was his name, he was my piano man. Well, Kenny was also a conscientious objector in World War II, which I didn’t know, until we’d been together quite a long time. I was so proud of that.
So, as soon as I saw actual GI’s actually resisting by putting together some kind of a hangout, where they could be themselves and talk about their own issues and all that, and I thought: Well, I have to be part of this. This is the place to hit the whole thing. Because those are the most vulnerable. Those are the ones that are going to — these are the ones where the choice is life and death right now. They’re going to go there and either live or die, right? So I’ve got to go do what I can do.
OK, so these coffee houses sprang up in several different places, near the army bases — you couldn’t get it on the base.
JS: And were they Army bases in the U.S. or around — ?
BD: They were near army bases all over. The one that I went to most and remember the most is Fort Hood because Fort Hood was, it’s one of the biggest bases in the country.
JS: In Texas, yeah.
BD: And as far as, you know, sending people off to Vietnam, it was huge.
JS: So you just mentioned Fort Hood, but when you would go to these coffee houses, positioned near these military bases, what would sort of an average evening or day or what would you say?
BD: Well, I had one thing — it went all over the map, but I would always had this one long piece that I constructed out of “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
BD: Well, this is a song that’s been jumping around the country since before the Civil War. A long time. It’s been used in all kinds of struggles, big ones and little ones, and it’s back on the scene again. And it goes like this: [Singing.] “We shall, we shall not be moved. We shall not, we shall not be moved. Just like a tree, that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved.” Oh, you know the song, all right!
BD: They always knew the chorus, and they could sing the chorus. I could put all these different historical points and spread it out around the world, all through this one song vehicle.
BD: [Singing.] We’re not afraid of gun thugs, we shall not be moved. We’re not afraid gun thugs, we shall not be moved. Just like a tree, that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved.
When I was a kid growing up in Detroit. [Audience member yells, “Detroit, yeah!”] Yeah! I used to sing outside the shop gates while the auto workers were trying to fight for pay raises right after World War II, and we used to sing: [Singing.] “The union is behind us, we shall not be moved.”
BD: The idea that I felt very important for me to convey in that is that you’re not alone, because the Army was very good at trying to feel make them feel isolated and small. And knock it off! You know? Sending him out. put him in the brig, send him into another base, send him off to Vietnam, whatever, get rid of these guys.
I would get into a little conversation with them afterward, you know? And a lot of times it would be, I could sense — OK, they’re talking to an older woman, sorta like their mothers, surrogate for the moment, and they’re wondering, you know, I gotta make this big decision. Am I going to resist? I could go to Canada, I go to Sweden, I could go to — I don’t know what I could do. I could good run away from here. I could get out of here.
So my advice was very simple, very simple. I just said: “Listen, you know, you’re a human being and you’re an individual. You have your ideas. You have your heart and your ethics. And you’ve got to live with that your whole life. So follow yourself. Follow your own instincts. What you think is best for you. Now maybe your dad, your mother, your grandma your girlfriend are all going to say, ‘Oh, he was a coward — he didn’t go. Or he, you know, he changed his mind, and he isn’t the big hero we thought he was going to be or whatever.’ But believe me, when all that’s over and the war is over and people are back to getting their heads together, they’re going to think of you as a hero. Because they’re going to see you did the right thing. So, and even if they don’t, you will look in the mirror and know that you did the right thing. So it’s up to you. I’m going to tell you what to do.”
[“The Resistance Hymn” by Barbara Dane plays.]
JS: I want to ask you about the founding of Paredon records in 1970, which you founded with Irwin Silber, your late husband. One of the things that fascinated me when I was reading about it was that you were looking for international voices, and trying to support singers around the world and bring their music and the politics of their music and the culture of their music to a broader audience.
But how do you how do you remember it, and what’s the legacy of Paredon records?
BD: Well the legacy is simple. I was invited to the Cancion Protesta Encuentro, which happened the year after I went there. And they gave me a little bit of credit for kind of bringing the impulse to create that.
JS: This was in Cuba?
BD: In Cuba. And the reason they pulled that together was because of the fact that Cuba understood that there’s a lot of music being made coming out of the movements that were going on for liberation, just for justice of one kind or another in different countries. They pulled together some representation from over thirty countries — a lot of places. A guy came from Africa, someone came from Australia.
So what did I do? I went back home from that all fired up, with all this music from all these people whose — talk about blood sweat and tears, man. I mean these people have to go through hell. They can’t, they can’t really make a living from it. They got to figure out some way of staying alive, and you got to do your music and you got to confront all sorts of repression at the same time, and keep up on the issues and keep your craft together, and always think, “OK, so I went back and I said I got to do something with this, and I first tried to translate, make singable lyrics. I did from two to three songs. That, that was an interesting experience, and I learned something, and I got some of the good songs out of it.
But I realized: No, they need to hear it in the original languages, from the people who made it. I have to have a record label, and put this stuff out. So, I just went around telling everybody that I knew I was going — what are you going to do now that you’ve done all this travel and Cuba? And I said, “Well, I’m going to start a record label.” I just said it as a fact. I didn’t know how I was going to do it.
And I wanted something from Northern Ireland, for example. I was in England, and I was having dinner with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, and I said, I talked about that. And Ewan said, “Well, I can put you in touch with these Northern Ireland people, but they’re all underground, so I can’t give you their names.” And I still to this day don’t know their names. They put out two albums. But they just sent me the stuff clandestinely.
JS: Where were they recorded?
BD: Wherever. I mean, underground. Most, a lot of it underground, somewhere, in some country.
JS: And how would you get the recordings?
BD: Well, like I did the ones from Northern Ireland. One day, the Guardian — somebody got to the Guardian and asked for contact to me and called me blind, and said: “Would you meet me in this coffeehouse? I got some Chilean material.” And I met him, and the guy that shows up is missing a couple of fingers from torture, and he’s handing me a couple of boxes of tape. But I never knew their names or their organization or who was in it.
Later on, I found out it was well-known artists on there, some of them.
JS: But you also, in ’73, “I Hate the Capitalist System.”
BD: That’s one of the ones I’ve been getting orders for lately.
JS: Your music has the burden of being both timely and timeless.
BD: Mmm. Unfortunately, it is timeless.
And, of course, you know, when you see that title, I just put it out there boldly, no decoration, because I wanted it to be as blatant and just in-your-face as possible. Some people: “Oh, ‘I hate’? Why do you want to say you hate anything?”
And I said, “Well, because I do!” [Laughs.] “I hate this system — not this country, not these people, my people! My country! I don’t hate that at all. I love it! Who do you think I’m doing this for? I hate the system it’s being run under. And that’s what we got to get straight.”
So, OK, the song was written by a miner’s wife. Her husband had gotten TB from working in the mines from lack of milk, as it says in the song. Her mother is dying or dead from starvation. Her whole family is falling apart, because of the conditions in the Appalachian are they were in, and her name is Sarah Ogan Gunning, that goes a little bit like this: [Singing.] I hate the capitalist system, and what it has done to me.
[“I Hate the Capitalist System” by Sarah Ogan Gunning, performed by Barbara Dane.]
BD: It goes on like that, she didn’t make any of this up, this is straight out of her life, all right? So there it is! So take it or leave it, look at it in the face, though. It’s your country! It’s your people! It’s your brothers and sisters. that are living like that.
JS: You know, your legacy, also, is resistance.
BD: Yes, it is!
JS: It’s resistance. So how do you see where we are right now? Given all of your life experience.
BD: Well, I’ll tell you. It’s always the calm before the storm and the storm before the calm. And, you know, you can get pretty gloomy. But if you think of it instead as a spiral, and you see, in increments it goes maybe a little bit, but each time it goes around, and it’s a little bit more, so we have to believe in the fact that things can get better, and it is, in fact, the only thing that will keep you feeling positive and optimistic is to keep your eye on the fact that there are human beings all over the globe who feel the same as you do, who are working toward the same ends that you are. There are peace and justice lovers and fighters in every country, and even in every class.
JS: But it must also give you inspiration that your music is now, here we are in the year 2018, you were born in 1927, your music is resonating with young people who are facing down what they view as an authoritarian government.
JS: And a world where fascism is once again on the rise.
BD: That’s right. Yeah. Well, that’s why I keep mentioning this idea that it does go around and hits the other side and pretty soon it’s, I mean Hitler, with the horrible scourge and terrifying thing in my youth, but he’s dust now. He’s dust! In fact, he’s merde, you know? Nobody cares about him anymore, except to point him out as, you know, we don’t want that anymore.
But it— all of that, all of that horror of the 40s and all of the horror of the McCarthy period and that nasty stuff then, and the horror of the Vietnam War, all of these things are behind us — one after another we get behind that and we get somewhere a little bit more higher in the spiral.
JS: Well, Barbara Dane, I want to thank you for all of the passion, the resistance, the music that you have given to all of us, and may it continue on for another 91 years and beyond.
BD: Thank you.
JS: Barbara Dane is a singer-songwriter, former club and record-label owner and a hell-raiser. The Smithsonian Folkways recordings recently released “Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting songs,” a collection of 60 years of Barbara Dane’s music.
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log on to theintercept.com/join. You can follow us on Twitter. Our handle is simply @Intercepted.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We are distributed by Panoply.
Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Emily Kennedy does our transcripts.
Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.