What’s a few million people when counting illegal immigrants?
[Author’s Note: The Supreme Court’s ruling that America has no legitimate or valid interest in determining—in fact even in politely asking—who is a citizen in the country and who is not seems to have stunned many Americans but in actual fact it is merely the logical next step in the long but steady march to erase any meaningful distinction between American citizens and foreign nationals in America and one more step closer to eliminating sovereignty as a concept and the construct of the nation-state it implies. This prescient column was first published by the Ventura County Star and Gannett Newspapers in 2010.]
By Mark Cromer
For the past 25 years, politicians and activists have played it fast and loose when it comes to estimating the size of the illegal immigrant population in the United States. Before the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act, proponents of the amnesty insisted it would cover about 900,000 people in the country illegally.
By the time it was over, more than 3 million illegal immigrants had taken advantage of its provisions.
With President Obama and Congress vying this summer for politically safe footing in the treacherous terrain of immigration policy, one might assume that accurately assessing the true scope of the problem would be an urgent federal priority.
But it is not, nor is it likely to be anytime before the so-called comprehensive immigration reform that the president is pushing comes to a vote, as the one thing the Obama administration doesn’t want to do is spread panic.
In other words: keep the victim calm.
The 1986 amnesty triggered a land rush across the southern border that has resulted in a staggering population of illegal immigrants in the country today, though its massive size is acknowledged more in the way it is felt anecdotally across communities; through classrooms, emergency rooms and jail cells.
No one seems quite sure precisely how many millions of illegal immigrants are now here, least of all journalists covering the issue.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published a figure of 11 million illegal immigrants in one story, and then a few pages later in the same daily edition, used a figure of 12 million illegal immigrants in another story. That’s two news stories in the same newspaper on the same day identifying the same population—with a margin of error of a million or so people by the newspaper’s math alone.
Other newspapers and magazines of record have used figures as wildly divergent as 7 million to 15 million people when projecting the size of the illegal immigrant population.
Oh well, what’s a few million people—give or take—when counting illegal immigrants?
While think tanks ranging from the Pew Hispanic Center to the Center for Immigration Studies have estimated the number to be close to 11 million, Bear Stearns published a detailed study in 2005 that concluded the population of illegal immigrants could be as high as 20 million people.
The obvious-if-unspoken reality is that no one has any reliably accurate figure of precisely how many millions of people are illegally in the country. While that’s partly due to the clandestine nature of illegal immigration, much of this dearth of information is a result of government malfeasance and journalistic complicity.
Government at all levels has made it its responsibility to not count the numbers of illegal immigrants pouring into schools, hospitals, jails and the fraud-infested ledgers of its welfare rolls. With the threat of being accused of “racial profiling” hanging over its head like a Sword of Damocles, government agencies have been conditioned to simply look the other way.
And many journalists, whether by ideological concurrence or sheer professional laziness or some mixture of the two, now provide more cover than critical examination.
This can be seen in the reflexive use of the figure of 11 million illegal immigrants in stories around the country, a figure that has remained oddly static in much of the media over a period of years, as if there has been no discernable net growth in this population even as Mexico continues to dissolve into a morass of violent chaos and corruption.
Journalistic complicity can also be seen in the unchallenged declarations from the White House about its “unprecedented” efforts to secure the border, allowing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to offer vague assurances that “the numbers are all going the right way” when discussing interdiction and deportations.
It’s a complicity that allows politicians to piously declare a humane solution must be found for the millions of illegal immigrants that have established deep ties with American communities, without being challenged by questions of what should happen to the millions of other illegal immigrants that have arrived here over the past few years, whom have no deep or truly enduring ties.
Should they not be identified and deported? It’s a yes or no question, but one that is simply not asked. And what of those illegal immigrants who have ignored deportation orders, disappearing again into America. Should they not be found and shown the door?
These questions aren’t raised because the answers from the White House and the Congressional leadership are likely to further scare and enrage an already frightened and infuriated electorate. The result is a credibility gap that makes the dynamic between LBJ and the American people during the Vietnam War look like a simple misunderstanding.
Even in the absence of reliable data and in the face of journalistic acquiescence, the American people can safely bet on two things regarding an immigration reform bill: the problem is far larger than Washington will ever admit before the vote; and that illegal immigrants here just 15 minutes—let alone 15 years—will indeed be granted amnesty.
Bad policy, millions of immigrants and booming maternity wards are being used to radically alter the population size, character and culture of America.
[Author’s note: A decade before President Trump momentarily seized on the issue of birthright citizenship during the 2018 mid-terms and vowed to end the policy in what proved to be merely another one his transparently desperate and absolutely meaningless declarations regarding immigration, I was exploring the issue as one of the most fundamental yet under-the-radar elements fueling the rapid reshaping of the American demographic landscape. This essay was researched and written in 2009 and published nationally by Californians for Population Stabilization, a Santa Barbara-based think tank where I was a Senior Writing Fellow.]
By Mark Cromer
There is something sublimely grand about the term itself, evoking the notion that the most fundamental civic right an American can possess—citizenship—through which access to virtually all other constitutionally enshrined rights and protections pass, is bestowed to all who are blessed enough to take their first gasp of earthly air on American soil. It is held among our people’s core beliefs as something that is intrinsically American, an iconic reflection of the generous character of the American spirit that delivers on the Statue of Liberty’s plea to send her those huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Indeed, the United States today stands virtually alone among powerhouse industrial democracies in granting unequivocal birth citizenship. The notion of being an instant American if born on United States soil has been so romanticized at critical junctures in our evolving popular culture it is now seen by many as a fundamental characteristic of the American identity. Consequently, the growing calls to end the practice are viewed by some as a heretical departure from what makes this country a beacon of hope to so many around the world.
So there’s no small amount of irony in the fact that the policy of granting birthright citizenship in America has become a core gravitational ‘pull factor’ that has resulted in the largest sustained wave of mass human migration ever witnessed in the history of the nation-state; a human tsunami that has played a critical role in the rapid erosion of the quality of life that so many immigrants seek on these shores. It also increasingly poses a non-consensual makeover of the culture that American citizens had neither voice nor vote in unleashing.
Dr. John C. Eastman, Dean of Chapman University’s law school in Orange, California, is among the leading scholars in the nation on constitutional law and has testified before Congress on the issue of birthright citizenship. Eastman states plainly that the framers of the 14th Amendment had no intention of allowing another country to wage demographic warfare against the U.S. and reshaping its culture by means of exploiting birthright citizenship.
“We have this common understanding of when you come here to visit, that you are subject to our jurisdiction. You have to obey our traffic laws. If you come here from England, you have to drive on the right side of the road and not on the left side of the road,” he said. “But the framers of the 14th Amendment had in mind two different notions of ‘subject to the jurisdiction.’ There was what they called territorial jurisdiction—you have to follow the laws in the place where you are—but there was also this more complete, or allegiance-owing jurisdiction that held that you not only have to follow the laws, but that you owe allegiance to the sovereign. And that doesn’t come by just visiting here. That comes by taking an oath of support and becoming part of the body politic. And it is that jurisdiction that they are talking about in the 14th Amendment.”
Then by definition—and one would think common sense—legal tourists here to enjoy Disneyland and illegal immigrants who broke into the country clearly do not fall under this blanket of allegiance-owing jurisdiction. Accordingly, their giving birth on American soil does not make their children citizens.
Dr. Edward J. Erler, a political science professor at Cal State San Bernardino, has spoken out against the political malaise and the popular misconception that has blossomed around the continued awarding of citizenship to virtually anyone born in the country. Echoing the sentiments of Eastman, Erler points out that the framers of the 14th Amendment sought to reassure the Congress in 1868 that the citizenship provisions did not cover—nor were they crafted with the intent to grant—citizenship to the children of foreign nationals born in the United States. Specifically, the myriad of Native American tribes were not covered under the citizenship clause because they clearly owed allegiance to their tribes and therefore were not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. government—a clear indication Erler says that jurisdiction is indeed contingent on exclusive allegiance. And a child’s allegiance must follow that of its parents during its years as a minor.
“It’s difficult to fathom how those who defy American law can derive benefits for their children by their defiance; or that any sovereign nation would allow such a thing,” Erler said.
That it has been allowed to happen on such a massive scale and has even been encouraged by various groups gets Terry Anderson’s blood boiling. A life-long black resident of South Los Angeles, Anderson has used his talk radio show to decry not only the radical and rapid transformation traditional black neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the erosion of the black power structure in the face of explosive immigration, but to blast the government’s policy of granting birthright citizenship to illegal immigrants.
“My great grandfather was a slave in Louisiana,” Anderson said. “And one of the greatest moments in our people’s history was the day we were emancipated. But we still had to have something passed that said we were no longer property, were citizens, and any children born to us were citizens. That was written for my ancestors.”
Ticking off a list of impacts that illegal immigration has brought down on the black working class community—from increased competition for jobs to overcrowded classrooms where black students suffer under a bilingual curriculum—Anderson says illegal immigrants brazenly celebrate “hitting the jackpot” when they have a baby in America.
“It’s wrong, it’s a misinterpretation and it angers me because that was written for my ancestors,” Anderson says. “And now it is being misused. They took an amendment made for us and turned it around against us.”
While the debate boils over the Obama Administration’s massive infusion of public capital into the staggering financial institutions and its bid to move the nation’s private sector healthcare system to a government or quasi-public option, the president’s plans for sweeping immigration reforms will soon place the issue of birthright citizenship high on America’s marquee. At a roundtable discussion of immigration policy and the media at the University of California’s prestigious Annenberg Center, immigration attorney Dan Kowalski declared that birthright citizenship will indeed come to a head, most likely sooner than later. “The next big story that will be coming out over the next [few years] is birthright citizenship,” Kowalski said. “Aka the 14th Amendment, aka ‘Anchor babies’ as Lou Dobbs wants you to think of it. That’s been simmering for a couple of years now but I think it is going to pop.”
In California, not long after Kowalski made that prognostication, it has indeed boiled over.
Immigration limitation activists will be attempting a statewide petition drive to get the California Taxpayer Protection Act on the ballot. If passed the initiative would effectively challenge the practice of granting automatic birthright citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants by issuing a different type of birth certificate—one that mandates the mother to appear in person to apply for it, furnish verifiable government issued identification and submit to fingerprinting, which would then be filed with the federal Department of Homeland Security. Sweeping in its implications, the act would halt non-emergency medical aid—including the taxpayer-funded pre-natal care that has actually been advertised across Mexico by migrant advocacy groups—and would stop state welfare payments that illegal immigrant parents collect on behalf of their citizen children. If passed, the act would not revise or reclassify the citizenship of children born to illegal immigrants before its passage. Its impact would be felt going forward.
The passage of this statutory initiative in California would pave the way for long neglected federal legislation of the kind proposed by Nathan Deal and many other—all of which have never have been brought to the floor for a vote.
If the policy of granting birthright citizenship was once an affordable misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment, it has long since become a massive entitlement that has collided with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 to create a perfect storm of mass immigration to our shores.
In 1965, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy pressed hard for the immigration legislation—it was the first bill he managed through to passage—that eliminated the so-called ‘national origin’ quotas that had been used to keep the flow of immigrants into the U.S. overwhelmingly European. Confronting critics of the bill who had the foresight to question whether it would result in torrential flows of peoples from impoverished lands that would strain America’s ability to assimilate them, Kennedy dismissed even the suggestion that the ethnic and cultural balance of the nation would be impacted and, in a portent of strategy employed by the proponents of mass immigration ever since, he accused the bills critics of bigotry.
“The charges I have mentioned are highly emotional, irrational and with little foundation in fact,” Kennedy said about critics of the bill that raised the alarm it would result in a Third World stampede for American shores. “They are out of line with the obligations of responsible citizenship. They breed hate of our heritage…”
The assessment that Kennedy was so utterly off the mark in his steadfast assurances that America’s cultural balance would not be dramatically tipped by the legislation is so undeniable that even unwavering liberals acknowledge it—and thank him for it. Just hours after his death, the Daily Kos website posted a homage to Kennedy by Dana Houle that celebrated his efforts to shepherd the 1965 immigration bill to passage.
“When he was arguing for the act,” Houle writes “Kennedy tried to assure critics that it wouldn’t significantly change the ethnic makeup of the country. Obviously he was wrong, and it is open to interpretation whether he misjudged the effects or concealed his intents.” Houle notes that in 1960, the foreign-born population of the U.S. was “only 5.4 percent.” Yet by 2000, that figure had jumped to more than 11 percent—a massive demographic shift fueled by an influx of immigrants of which, Houle gushed proudly “Only 16 percent were from Europe.” More than half were from Latin America.
With every passing day it is increasingly clear that the allure of birthright citizenship has picked up steam during the past four decades, becoming a runaway train, a human locomotive fueled by Latin America’s entrenched misery that has come barreling across the Rio Grande to demographically explode in major American population centers and—with human densities in urbanized regions reaching critical mass—fans out into the heartland.
The policy has created a self-sustaining dynamic on a fundamental level; encouraging immigrants to cross the border illegally and then rewarding them when they have a child here by making said baby an instant-citizen and therefore accorded all the rights and privileges afforded Americans; including welfare payments. Perhaps even more potent is their right, once they turn 18, to petition for their immigrant family members to stay in the United States. Thus these babies are far more than euphemistic anchors: they are quite literally paychecks and a membership card into the network of social services offered in America.
This powerful dynamic is now pervasive across the nation, resulting in chaotic scenes as American citizens demand enforcement of immigrations laws while immigrants and their advocacy networks decry any effort to deport those here illegally.
In Georgia, the children of illegal immigrants that have been deported are put on stage in front of 3,000 Latinos who fill a church, gathered to listen to heart-rending stories of how their families have been “torn apart” by the enforcement of America’s immigration laws. One 12-year-old girl recounts how her mother was deported back to Honduras but chose to leave her five children, including a chronically ill 2-year-old, in the care of their 16-year-old aunt, who had to drop out of school to care for them.
In Texas, a network television news crew is at the bedside of an illegal immigrant from Mexico who just underwent a C-section delivery of her most recent child. It’s a surgical delivery that will cost taxpayers close to $5,000 in Medicaid payments—much more if complications for either mother or child develop. The woman illegally crossed the border only a few months earlier, very pregnant, along with her husband and two other children for the express purpose of having the baby in America. “I am very glad he was born,” the mother tells the crew through a translator. “That is why I came here; so my children, my husband and I could have a better life.” In some hospitals along the Texas-Mexico border, births to illegal immigrants now account for half—or more—of all babies delivered.
In California, Saul Arellano, the small son of Elvira Arellano, appears at rallies promoting mass amnesty for illegal immigrants and reunification for parents that have been deported with their families in America. Saul’s mother was deported (a second time) back to Mexico in the summer of 2007 after she was arrested and convicted of Social Security fraud. Following her conviction she ignored a deportation order, declared she had “a right of sanctuary” and quickly became a cause célèbre among Latino and immigration activists. During her second deportation, Arellano left Saul, who was born in Oregon in 1999 shortly after she was first caught and deported back to Mexico, in the United States to serve as something of a child surrogate for her cause. Just weeks after his mother was deported, immigration activists took Saul to Washington D.C. where he was marched through the halls of Congress with other children of illegal immigrants holding a banner that read “Born in the U.S.A, don’t take our moms and dads away.”
Whether they are newborn or teenagers, children born to illegal immigrants in the U.S. are such a rapidly growing population they are driving the sweeping shift of ethnic demographics that is literally changing the face and culture of America. The specific number of children born to illegal immigrants each year is difficult to project given the reluctance or inability of the government to accurately account for the size of the illegal immigrant population (estimates range from a low of 12 million to a high 38 million men, women and children) and the mercurial subsistence existence of illegal immigrants themselves. Their numbers are difficult to track given actual apprehensions balanced with those elude detection and use of multiple identities and forged documents. But even conservative estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center put the number at a staggering 300,000 children born to illegal immigrants here annually. Other estimates have the number of children born to illegal immigrants at more than a million annually.
The impact of millions of illegal immigrants having children here has landed the hardest across the American southwest; in California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, all states that saw dramatic increases in illegal immigration following the 1986 amnesty that effectively rang like a cattle bell across Latin America. In the two decades that followed the passage of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which legalized 3 million illegal immigrants (though the government initially projected that 900,000 people would apply for the amnesty), more immigrants entered the country illegally than at any other time in the nation’s history. Far from stemming the tide of illegal immigration—which was how the bill’s amnesty provisions were sold to the American people—its enforcement provisions were never carried out and the result was a sustained land rush in anticipation that, sooner or later, another mass amnesty would be granted. The impact in the southwest was overwhelming; with public schools and hospitals bearing the sustained brunt of a Biblical-scale exodus that poured forth from the impoverished barrios and emptied many small towns across Mexico, which has provided the vast majority of the economic refugees fleeing northward. A profound result of this—though faithfully ignored by those who favor mass immigration—has been industries that had long-supplied multi-ethnic, working class American communities with critical jobs such as valets, janitorial services, busboys, landscaping and construction work rapidly became the near exclusive domain of Spanish-speaking workers.
Run, Squat & Drop
While proponents of immigration and advocates of illegal immigrants are quick to dismiss the “anchor baby” phenomena as a boogie man conjured forth by right-wing ideologues; in reality the practice is well documented in classic Chicano literature—hardly a bellwether of conservative thought. Luis Rodriguez, the noted author and poet that published his seminal work in1993, Always Running, La Vida Loca: Gang Days in LA, that chronicled his life growing up in East L.A. and joining a gang and then quitting one (a retirement that didn’t sit to well with the homeboys; instead of a gold watch they tried to kill him), casually reflected on the brazen nature of the practice that might best be described as ‘run, squat and drop.’
“By the time dad had to leave Ciudad Juarez, my mother had borne three of his children, including myself, all in El Paso, on the American side…this was done to help ease the transition from alien status to legal residency,” Rodriguez writes in Always Running. “There are stories of women who wait up to the ninth month and run across the border to have their babies, sometimes squatting and dropping them on the pavement as they hug the closest lamppost.”
Unrestrained mass immigration—with one million legal immigrants and at least three times as many illegal immigrants entering the nation each year—and the elevated birth rates among those immigrants has, in just a quarter of a century, set the stage to remake the ethnic, cultural and political dynamic of the United States. A study conducted by the Center for Immigration Studies in 2005 determined that immigrant women’s birthrates actually increase in the United States over the fertility rates in their home countries. Mexican women in the U.S. in 2002 were averaging 3.5 children per woman, verses 2.4 children in Mexico. When adjusting for legal status, the same study concluded that illegal immigrants have a birthrate that is, on average, 50 percent higher in the U.S. than the birthrate for American women. The impact of these prolonged trends is now coming into focus. Recent census data reveal that one quarter of all kindergartners in the United States are now Latino and, if the present dynamic continues, white school children will be the minority across the nation in less than 15 years. In the American southwest the racial and cultural impacts of mass immigration from Mexico and Latin America is inescapable, with Latinos now the majority of all K-12 students in California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Alarm bells in various quarters have actually been sounding over this issue for years and have drawn support at times from such a diverse array of quarters that it lays bare the lie that opposition to exploding immigration rates is confined to the social conservative wing of the Republican Party. In 1993, Senator Harry Reid proposed limiting citizenship to the children of women who were either citizens or in the U.S. legally. Reid in fact was a one-time opponent of illegal immigration who has long since abandoned his stance as illegal immigrants poured into Nevada to be used by business interests to replace citizen employees and workers at booming construction sites and casinos. Less than a decade after his signature legislation triggered a tidal wave of illegal immigration, Senator Alan Simpson, co-sponsor of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act in 1986, also voiced support for restricting birthright citizenship.
In 2005, Georgia Congressman Nathan Deal introduced his Citizenship Reform Act, which garnered 70 cosponsors and made its debut in a Republican-controlled House. Yet the GOP leadership refused to let the legislation limiting birthright citizenship come to a vote. Deal tried again in 2007 with the Birthright Citizenship Act, which met the same fate. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee waded briefly into the issue early in his 2008 presidential bid, telling a prominent anti-illegal immigration activist that had endorsed his candidacy that he would support a constitutional amendment to end the practice of granting birthright citizenship and also stated his support for a test case that would force the Supreme Court to take up the issue. But Huckabee quickly backpedalled as media outlets picked up the story, demonstrating a flair for splitting the difference by saying he did not support a constitutional amendment that would restrict birthright citizenship yet not disavowing an effort to force a test case before the Supreme Court. And constitutional literalist Ron Paul, the Texas congressman whose Quixotic run for the GOP nomination built a massive national grassroots campaign among disaffected liberals, disgusted independents and young conservatives, came out early and staunchly against birthright citizenship and announced his support for ending the practice. Unlike Huckabee, he didn’t hedge after he started taking fire from pro-immigration groups.
Despite significant support from a fairly diverse range of ideological quarters, the opposition to any effort to change the policy of birthright citizenship can draw upon a powerful consortium of ethnic and business special interests, including the Hispanic Congressional Caucus and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and effectively ensure that bills such as Deal’s are killed in committee. In the 2008 elections, central Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode (who won his seat as a Democrat in 1996 but then became a Republican, then an Independent and finally a Republican again) made his opposition to birthright citizenship a centerpiece of his popular position against illegal immigration. But Goode lost an extremely close race to Democrat Tom Perriello, who openly mocked Goode’s support for legislation that would end birthright citizenship during a debate, noting the bill was unable to garner the backing of the Republican leadership in the House. Perriello went on to dismiss continuing efforts at ending the practice as being legislative still births: dead on delivery.
Great Amendment, Terrible Policy
Chapman’s Eastman filed an amicus brief for the Claremont Institute in the U.S. Supreme Court in the U.S. government’s case for detention against Yaser Hamdi, a Taliban foot soldier captured in the opening days of the invasion of Afghanistan. Hamdi was born in Louisiana while his Saudi parents worked there, and he used his citizenship status to challenge the government’s intent to hold him indefinitely as an enemy combatant. For Eastman, the original intent of the 14th Amendment clearly establishes a threshold for citizenship at birth that is determined by whether the parents are subject to jurisdiction of the U.S.—which means that their exclusive loyalty to the country has been mutually established, i.e. through legal alien or citizenship proceedings. Today the term jurisdiction has been diluted to the point that it has lost that defining context, an erosion of meaning that has had critical results.
“There are really two issues. There is the legal issue; does the Constitution already mandate birthright citizenship? And then there is the policy issue; if it does [mandate it], then should we amend it and get rid of it? Or if it doesn’t mandate it, should we adopt it by statute because it makes good sense?” Eastman said. “We argued that that understanding of citizenship—that just because [Hamdi] was born here made him a citizen—is wrong and we started trying to lay the groundwork for revisiting it. It has been about a 50 year popular conception as to what the citizenship clause requires. But as a result of that, Hamdi ended up being sent back to Saudi Arabia and he renounced his citizenship, so the question of whether he was a citizen in the first place was never presented.”
Eastman said that as Congress pushes repeatedly for what proponents have termed “comprehensive immigration reform,” legislation that will almost certainly contain expanded ‘guest worker’ programs at the behest of business interests, the question of what will become of the children born here to these temporary workers and their families puts the issue of birthright citizenship “front and center” in the operational logistics of immigration reform. If the U.S. is admitting perhaps millions more “temporary” workers ostensibly with the mutual understanding that they will return to their home countries after a few years, then does that preclude their children from birthright citizenship?
And if the present policy of granting birthright citizenship remains in place following a mass amnesty and the expansion of guest worker programs, the impacts will almost certainly be more overwhelming than the dramatic demographic shifts the country has experienced over the past two decades.
As Eastman notes wryly, it is a quandary that’s emerged from a policy that is based on a misunderstanding.
“The text of the 14th Amendment is not quite what we think it is,” Eastman said. “It says ‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens.’ Now it’s that last phrase, ‘subject to the jurisdiction,’ where the fight is.”
There is little doubt that pro-immigration activists are reluctant at best to engage in intellectual combat over what admittedly can sometimes come off as digressions into the arcane nuances of Constitutional law. But it is clear that a legitimate debate over birthright citizenship scares the hell out of ethnocentric Latino organizations that have rightly concluded the current policy is the lynchpin in the rapid expansion of their demographic powerbase. In response to one of Representative Nathan Deal’s efforts to end the practice, groups like the National Council of La Raza unleashed a coordinated attack, using spokespeople to label any such effort the work of “extreme wackos” and a “despicable attack on immigrants.” Just what is so “wacko” about considering whether a misguided policy has rapidly delivered America to an untenable position in terms of its carrying capacity remains unclear, but Eastman said the policy’s formula is rather elementary at its root.
Eastman describes the path to our present notion of birthright citizenship a “bizarre story,” one that veers from the original intent of the framers of the 14th Amendment and the first court cases and legal treatise that emerged in the 1880s—an interpretation that hued to the bright line of “owing allegiance to” the country—through the 1898 Supreme Court decision in the case of Wong Kim Ark and into the last half of the 20th Century, when our present day interpretation of birthright citizenship really took hold. While the Wong Kim Ark case, which involved a man born in America to permanent, lawful Chinese residents, is often cited as the baseline legal decision that offers a clear interpretation of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, Eastman said the high court’s ruling does no such thing.
“You can sympathize with why they issued this decision,” Eastman said. “We had entered into a fairly despicable treaty with the Chinese emperor that deprived Chinese immigrants of their human rights to emigrate. We refused to recognize that they could ever renounce their allegiance to the Chinese emperor.” Of the key distinctions, Eastman said, is the fact that the Chinese immigrants were here legally and had demonstrated their loyalty to the United States to fullest extent they could—stymied only by the law itself. Eastman said the ruling used broad language for a narrow case, but in the half-century that followed it the decision did not pose as the final word on the issue. “For the next 50 years, no one took the broader language as dispositive, that case was limited to its narrow set of facts,” he said.
To the contrary, major domestic policy initiatives that involved large numbers of immigrants, such as the Bracero program of the 1950s, did not allow the children of participating migrant workers to claim automatic citizenship for their children, Eastman said. “The first guest workers, the ‘Braceros,’ their children were not deemed citizens and when they moved back to Mexico they took their kids with them because no one [considered] their children to be citizens.”
Birth Is All You Need
According to Eastman, the real shift in popular perception began to take root in the late 1960s, when the idea that mere birth on American soil alone ensured citizen status.
“I have challenged every person who has taken the opposite side of me to tell me what it was that led to this new notion,” he said. “There’s not an executive order. There’s not a court decision. We just gradually started assuming that birth was enough.”
Eastman attributes some of it to our nation’s loss of an intrinsic understanding of the language that the framers of the 14th Amendment spoke and used in that era, ergo a century later the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction” has been watered down in the collective American consciousness to require little more than an adherence to traffic safety laws.
“Thomas Jefferson talks about immigration in very favorable terms, but what [the framers] were trying to do then was populate a continent so it could withstand European pressures to take us back over again,” Eastman said. “The dynamic has changed now, and what we have done by having very low quotas on legal immigration and turning a blind eye to massive illegal immigration is to create this subclass and create this extraordinary drain on our social services that is bankrupting most of the state and local governments that are in the path of this migration wave. You foster an entitlement mentality but also an ignoring of the rule of law.”
Yale professor Peter H. Schuck, who teaches immigration law and is one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on the issue of birthright citizenship, lays out the question that the president, Congress and the courts have dodged decisively answering: “If mutual consent is the irreducible condition of membership in the American polity, questions arise about a practice that extends birthright citizenship to the native born children of such illegal aliens,” Schuck writes in Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity. “The parents of such children are, by definition, individuals whose presence within the jurisdiction of the United States is prohibited by law and to whom the society has explicitly and self-consciously decided to deny membership. And if the society has refused to consent to their membership, it can hardly be said to have consented to that of their children who happen to be born while their parents are here in violation of American law.”
Cal State San Bernardino’s Erler notes that a new constitutional amendment is not necessary to restore the operational policy of immigration law to the original intent envisioned by the framers of the 14th Amendment. In 1923, there was a universal offer of citizenship to all Native American tribes, an act that again affirmed the notion of reciprocal consent. “There was an offer on the part of the U.S. and an acceptance on the part of the individual,” Erler said. “Thus, Congress used its legislative powers under the 14th Amendment to determine who was within the jurisdiction of the U.S. It could make a similar determination today, based on this legislative precedent, that children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants are not subject to American jurisdiction. A constitutional amendment is no more required now than it was in 1923.”
Eastman agrees that Congress has the plenary power to make policy judgments to determine naturalization requirements and immigration levels—a power bestowed upon Congress by the founders of the republic because, Eastman said, they realized that as the new nation took shape that regulating how many people the United States could accept from various parts of the world and bring them into the American understanding of the role of self government was critical to the country’s survival.
“People have tried to tag that with ‘They only want white Europeans rather than Asians or Latinos,’” Eastman said. “That wasn’t it at all. They wanted people coming from countries where they had grown accustomed to governing themselves because it is much easier to assimilate.” The massive waves of illegal immigration that birthright citizenship helps fuel and perpetuate now places strains on the American system never before experienced in the history of the country, including a creeping culture of law-breaking that is highly corrosive.
“The notion of the primacy of the rule of law to our system of government goes out the window. And that is a very dangerous thing,” Eastman said. “We have embarked upon a very dangerous experiment at the moment. We have 12 to 20 million people here who consider their allegiance to be to their home country.”
Already across the swath of the American southwest that foreign allegiance is dramatically on display, from the more benign slogans like “100 percent Mexican” that can been seen on ubiquitous bumper stickers, to the far more violent exhortations of immigration extremists, such as those who tore the American flag down from the United States Post Office in Maywood, California, during protests against a proposed crack down on illegal immigration. The protestors replaced the American flag with the Mexican national tri-colors and placed Old Glory underneath it—upside down. The culprits were students from a nearby high school, many of them almost certainly anchor babies.
Yet as disturbing as those events are and what they may well portend, a far more ominous threat continues to uncoil in the nation’s capital.
“There is something much more insidious going on, on both sides of the political aisle, that angers me because I think it is a repudiation of all that America stands for and all that is good; and it has the uncanny reflection of the arguments made in the old slave south,” Eastman said. “On the one hand you have the Democrats, which are the social welfare party—and the longer that you have huge groups of people that rely on government entitlements the more political power the Democrats can gain from that. They have a vested interest in keeping a subclass population. Then you have the big business wing of the Republicans, they have a vested interest in not having a new labor pool, but in having a new illegal labor pool, so they can take advantage of them and treat them like slave labor. The arguments made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Wall Street Journal have an uncanny parallel to the arguments made by John C. Calhoun and the old defense of slavery [asserting that] our economy depends on this. And it is a travesty that these two positions have gained enough of a [legislative] majority to force the government to ignore our immigration laws.”
Judging by the events which unfolded in early 2009, it might seem difficult to imagine the country suddenly afire with a citizenry demanding an end to birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants—but grassfires tend to start small and then explode. In fact, the economy’s downward spiral may make probable what seemed nearly impossible just a few short months ago. Already the long-held arguments of the business and ethnic interests that Americans won’t work in unskilled, low-wage job sectors has disappeared into a sea of Americans grasping for virtually any paycheck they can find.
For Eastman, it seems that this moment more than any other of days’ past may finally bring the mass of the American body politic to the basic, common sense conclusion that birthright citizenships is unsustainable.
To insist that one has an fundamental human entitlement to violate the sovereign boundaries of a nation, to then take up residence and claim the right to remain there in violation of its laws and then to insist that any effort to prevent this is a ‘violation of human rights’ is, to the contrary, a violation of the inalienable right of a people to govern themselves through a system that is predicated on their consent.
It also ferments a fundamental disrespect for the law that ultimately corrodes the rationale for enforcing virtually any other law, as it embraces the tenuous position that some laws are more valid than others and, in the case of illegal immigration, allows those breaking the law to set the terms and conditions for its enforcement. Demands for birthright citizenship by illegal immigrants are a brazenly unilateral claim that undercuts the very basis of the mutual consent that has long been the foundation of the American republic.
In fashionably progressive Claremont it’s not hard to imagine that the storied senior living community Pilgrim Place will soon face an involuntary rebranding if not outright demolition in this new Dark Age of Denouncement
By Mark Cromer
This Thanksgiving, the good old folks living at Pilgrim Place in the comfortable foothill community of Claremont, California, had much indeed to be grateful for; from their spacious grounds that are tucked safely inside the civic core of the tree-cloaked college town and the peaceful environs they enjoy to the fact that as Biblical-scale wildfires devoured vast swaths of the Golden State in what is now an annual inferno that this year literally choked out Sacramento, the gorgeous sweep of the Angeles National Forest that rises with Mount San Antonio behind their quaint foothill redoubt has remained mercifully un-ablaze, for now anyway.
But as its 300-plus residents carved the bird and piled on the stuffing and passed the cranberry sauce and tried to save room for some pumpkin pie and cider along with much of the nation that still gathers around the table to consider the beautiful if deeply scarred wonderland that is America and to celebrate over bountiful plates her genesis as first captured in a celebratory feast in 1621 and all that we have to be thankful for as a result ever since, there is something else the good senior citizens at Pilgrim Place must also be appreciative of in the twilight of 2018.
And that is the students at the Claremont Colleges, a nationally renowned cluster of small liberal arts schools that boast some of the largest endowments of private colleges in the nation (the 131-year-old centerpiece campus Pomona College has a $2 billion-plus savings account), haven’t yet seemed to notice that just a ten minute walk west from their own leafy archipelago that boasts all the comforts and indulgences that $300,000 for a four-year degree can buy rests a senior living community that dares to bear the collective name of America’s firsts colonialists.
Or as it is viewed today through the so-called social justice lens: provocatively brandishing a nameplate that honors European mass-murderers.
In this new Dark Age of Denouncement and the mandatory displays of virtue compliance and the associated public signaling it requires—symptoms of a strain of rabid progressivism that has infected the body politic and its cultural founts—the institution of Pilgrim Place, at least as it has been known for more than a century, in all probability is now living on borrowed time that is rapidly running out.
While there are obviously no statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, James Ewell Brown ‘Jeb’ Stuart or James Longstreet anywhere on its grounds, no plaques dedicated to those who fell fighting valiantly for The Lost Cause, no statues of ‘Johnny Reb’ with his rifle in hand and elevated high above the lush landscape and defiantly facing east toward Washington D.C., just as there are no statues or memorials to John Caldwell Calhoun, Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett or, God forbid, Strom Thurmond, the absence of such incendiary tributes can be little more than cold comfort to the peaceful inhabitants of Pilgrim Place.
For this is now the era when mobs of jubilant students cloistered in their own ideological echo chambers, along with the street goon squads of self-deputized cultural Brown Shirts, whip themselves into a fever and then descend on historic relics to annihilate them in a frenzied glee as they chant the slogans that fuel their desire not so much for national rapprochement but rather a bloody reckoning they believe has come at last. Along with offending monuments and memorials around the country, businesses suspected of non-compliance or even providing insufficient support for the grand remaking of America have come under assault and, of course, the homes of individuals that have been denounced have also been targeted by menacing squads bent on sheer intimidation.
So it only stands to reason that, well, to paraphrase an old saying: ‘First they came for the Confederate memorials, then they came for the Founders monuments, and then they came for the Colonial tributes. And then they came for…’ When they do come at least figuratively gunning for the pilgrims it’s likely that any visage of their existence outside of a museum exhibit or a classroom presentation that portrays them one-dimensionally as ‘America’s first racists’ that brought ‘white supremacy’ to the New World will be verboten. This progression of exultant nihilism that’s now harnessed for historical sandblastings may not have blossomed in Claremont far outside of its colleges just yet, but that train seems to be coming down the tracks.
And when it finally arrives in front of the Manhattan Gates of Pilgrim Place, where Harrison Avenue meets Mayflower Road, it’s hard to imagine just how an overwhelmingly white senior living community that is named for the first colonialists who arrived nearly 400 years ago can escape being damned in a hysterical rage as nothing more than another vile tribute to and hallmark of the genocidal slaughter of the indigenous peoples of North America.
Whenever that happens, it will be yet another case of the progressive Left’s progeny devouring their own elders in a euphoric state of cannibalistic entitlement.
If that sounds like hyperbole (at least to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to what has been happening on the nation’s college campuses over the past generation that has hit warp-speed since November 2016), consider that but a few years ago a student at the Claremont Colleges who was also a staff member of its radio station KSPC 88.7 fm—which remains an indisputable free-form gemstone of the airwaves that has long shone brightly among the constellation of college radio stations in the United States—penned an Op-Ed piece for the five-college campus newspaper The Student Life that declared the sweeping lawns that are an integral part of the colleges historic aesthetic, as well as so much else of Claremont, was actually an act of colonial subjugation of the indigenous peoples of Southern California.
In short, the student made the case that the grass lawns at the Claremont Colleges were an act in furtherance of white supremacy. Yep. The grass lawns are a symbolic turf war, you see, and for all intents and purposes just another extension of Col. George Armstrong Custer’s bloody campaigns against the Cheyenne and the Lakota Sioux or Theophilus Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor’s ugly thug-life under color of authority in Birmingham. Welcome to the world of high-priced academia, the student life indeed. (I don’t recall if the student author stated whether or not he texted mom and dad to tell them to stop the checks as he was dropping out of the spa, er, college, in protest of such a heinous, St. Augustine lawn driven act of historic oppression and was moving back to their summer home on Martha’s Vineyard.)
But his argument and the sentiment that gave birth to it is not an outlier on campus today, to the contrary it is the common coin of the ideological currency that passes between a radicalized faculty and the students that they groom to their own sociopolitical agenda and it funds ever more extravagant claims of moral superiority, self-righteous indignation and the self-anointed right to issue regulatory diktats to the surrounding community and society-at-large regarding everything from monuments to mass media to masculinity.
So by its very name alone Pilgrim Place is surely destined to make the social justice jihadists’ movement’s ‘to-do’ list, sooner or later—but probably sooner. That its inhabitants are as white as the colonials that first stepped off the Mayflower and that its grounds reflect a decidedly comfortable Anglo aesthetic will make it only that much more sweet of a treat for that virulent strain of progressives who find ‘old white people’ simply reprehensible at face value.
There is, of course, rich irony to be found in the looming fate of Pilgrim Place as it now exists, but one that might not be immediately apparent to those who don’t understand the sociopolitical genetics of Claremont, a quiet foothill town of 36,000 that’s nestled in the Pomona Valley on the far northeastern edge of Los Angeles County and one that remains an oasis amid a teeming Southern California that’s in the midst of the disintegration that precedes its utter collapse. Priding itself as the ‘City of Trees and PhDs,’ Claremont consistently makes national magazines ‘Best Places To Live,” ranking fifth in Money’s national Top 10 a decade ago.
But Claremont has also managed to do something amazing throughout the past half-century, a feat that most other towns and cities throughout the ever-churning sprawl of Southern California have been mostly unable to replicate: preserve its civic identity. Glendora, that ‘Pride of the Foothills’ might come close, perhaps with her sister Monrovia, and fabled Pasadena in some respects has also preserved glimpses of its past, but even the Old Money and their tastes that once defined the City of Roses that falls 24 miles west of Claremont couldn’t stop most of the makeover that has generationally swept the region.
Yet in Claremont, time has stood still. Well, almost.
Perhaps no one event reflects this quite as much as the Fourth of July in Claremont, which in 2018 was as much as it was in 1968; a city festooned with flags and bunting cavorting along with the face-painted festivities in Memorial Park and a parade down Indian Hill Boulevard for which most of the town turns out before falling back into front yard and patio parties and driveway soirees as locals who have known each other for decades drift from one shindig to another before half the town is on the march again into the college campuses with lawn chairs, blankets and ice chests in tow as well as clambering atop various rooftops to watch city’s firework show. Then it’s back to the after-parties. And rare is the moment during this observance of the national holiday when a real casualty beyond the customary DUI or two occurs.
From its character to its complexion, Claremont has remained relatively as it was a half-century or more ago, a bohemian-flavored Mayberry of sorts that still offers a quaint downtown village with a Main Street, USA, feel that’s dotted with eclectic small shops that appeal to the craft-styled sensibilities of the old-school organic hippies that remain in town and yet with enough upscale flair to capture and indulge today’s moneyed progressives that increasingly demand couch-lined, crystal-filled fire pits and appropriate mixology poured into something shiny in order to properly discourse on social justice and its hierarchal pecking order of laity(sheep), warriors, jihadists, the high clergy and the prophets.
There are still some real liberals ambling around in Claremont, old heads of the Captain Trips variety still intent on living a laidback lifestyle while holding to the old hippie credos of ‘do your own thing’ and ‘live and let live.’ The kind of liberal (this writer included) that still not only enjoy but actually relish finding themselves at tables where the voices don’t sing in choral unison but rather play swinging jazz; friendly and passionate sociopolitical discourse in free-form.
Yet some things are changing around town. The plethora of groovy little shops has diminished over the years, as defining classics like Rainbow Rags and Raku that peddled those most needful things to the offbeat connoisseur and independent booksellers like Chancery Lane and Second Story Books that enticed readers of the printed word and even real world coffee joints like Three Cs and Nick’s Cafe disappeared under the long tide of rising rents and the nouveau riche that ride it in, preferring the sanitized sameness of a Santa Monica-esque salon or concessions that cater to the cable-fed palate of the Real Housewives of Claremont.
But enough of the OG (Old Guard) joints persevere around the village to act as bulwarks of character and just enough of the more recent arrivals have a sense of history and place to maintain a going concern of what has long been the best of this small town.
This slice of Wonder Bread Americana sits just north of Pomona, the former citrus powerhouse that a century ago was the cultural and economic capital of the surrounding valley that still bears its name. But Pomona was fated to share the destiny of so much of the rest of the region and the city of 160,000-plus people was eventually swallowed whole by the chaotic and often violent dysfunction that became the hallmarks of Southern California’s transformation. By the late 1980s, the Pomona Police Department’s aero bureau was grounding its helicopters on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve due to the fusillades of gunfire that would erupt from backyards, alleys and even the avenues into the night sky, a ground show that continues today throughout Pomona annually as the booyah roar of shotguns are accompanied by the staccato ‘pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,’ of semiautomatic weapons fire and even the occasional burp of full-auto assault rifles.
Aside from the Beirut-lite like nights that can suddenly flash like paparazzi on the red carpet in old P-Towne, the everyday differences between Claremont and Pomona are immediately evident as one drives Pomona’s cratered and crumbling streets that are lined with an enormous amount of cars even throughout its residential neighborhoods, with many single-family homes harboring six or seven vehicles. The residential dwellings outside of Pomona’s historic downtown core, often two and three bedroom dwellings typical of the Eisenhower and Kennedy era and the Cold War housing boom fueled by long-gone defense industry jobs, are now not home to a proverbial nuclear family but rather two or three families with the garage converted into makeshift living quarters to better accommodate the double-digit number of inhabitants.
Add to this the potpourri that inevitably accompanies such intensifications of human population densities—shopping carts that spackle dead front yards and sidewalks as something akin to repurposed utility vehicles and/or multi-toddler strollers, loose dogs of every genus but often the always friendly pit bull and sweeps of litter that are dotted with empty Budweiser cans and the detritus of used diapers—and the darkly comic reality of Pomona’s official motto: “Vibrant, Safe, Beautiful” is impossible to deny.
Unless, of course, you live in Claremont.
In which case the San Bernardino Freeway (I-10) running between most of Pomona and Claremont has long stood as something like the Rio Grande or the Great Wall of China, a demarcation of sorts that provides a comfortable enough of a barrier or blind to allow many white liberals in Claremont a cozy cocoon in which to hold court during their breezy evening salons where they discuss the joys of their radical social engineering projects safely away from the roiling reality of their field tests; the rattle of their cocktail shakers a sweet bossa nova that offers a soundtrack to their perpetual buzz of being immune to uncomfortable facts and impervious to social policy failures.
And it is in this womb that remains resoundingly Anglo—in a state where the Census Bureau designated ‘non-Hispanic white’ population as a whole has dropped to under 37-percent—where Pilgrim Place finds itself still safely in utero today. Among people of good conscience and at least somewhat decent character, the racial and ethnic complexion of Claremont as a whole and of Pilgrim Place in particular should rank somewhere between irrelevant to innocuous, just as it should for preponderantly black, Latino and Asian communities and their senior citizen centers across Southern California, the nation and the planet. How did Depeche Mode put it? People are people. But for the woke white progressive today—for whom now everyday is a faux struggle with The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (apologies to Milan Kundera)—such a concentration of whiteness is beyond problematic, it’s viewed as symptomatic of an affliction, an infection, like an elevated white cell count. It is viewed as something that can’t be left untreated.
As one walks the streets of the neighborhood surrounding Pilgrim Place, the extent and uniformity of the sociopolitical virtue signaling on display in much of Claremont is impossible to miss. While the progressive cadres on campus haven’t started literally wearing armbands—just yet anyway—to proclaim their commitment to the cause, off campus the era of yard sign declarations of allegiance (or hopeful subjugation) has fully bloomed in a different display of ‘me too.’
In the progressive lexicon of [fill in the blank] ‘justice’ causes, like a Time-Life CD collection, all the hits are here!
Chart-toppers like ‘Black Lives Matter, showing up for racial justice’ and ‘No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor’ (broadcast in English, Spanish and Arabic for full effect) to the all-inclusive white ally signature yard sign announcing ‘In this house, we believe: black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is love, kindness is everything’ are easily found. Slightly more obscure and yet of equal sociopolitical value are the front yard sings in this verdant enclave offering such helpful little ditties like ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. – MLK’ and even the occasional lingering, wistful desire for an election victory that never was to be, summed up in two last names: ‘Clinton/Kaine.’
A little to the west of Pilgrim Place, at Claremont Presbyterian Church, the congregation has been flying the colors loud and proud for the traffic that passes north and south along Mountain Avenue with a blue banner that advises, lest anyone doubt the bleeding heart that beats amid their sanctuary’s neatly trimmed lawns: ‘We Choose Welcome for Immigrants and Refugees.’
As nearly omnipresent as these virtue signals are around Pilgrim Place—and they manifest inside of it as well—they are small beers when considered against the full pitcher pours of sanctioned political messaging on display in the Claremont Colleges, where the town’s yard signage is dwarfed by murals of Che Guevara, convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal (real, less revolutionary name: Wesley Cook) and the street-thug-turned-progressive-martyr Michael Brown. While Guevara’s revolutionary bona fides are the stuff of legitimate legend, no matter how one feels about his political philosophy or the fact that his image has been hijacked and pimped out in an obscene commercial defilement of what he fought for, Brown’s credentials rest simply in the fact that he was a black man shot and killed by a white cop, post-mortem media makeovers that transformed him instantaneously into a child-scholar executed for being black aside.
That Attorney General Eric Holder’s investigators determined the baseline narrative of ‘hand’s up, don’t shoot’ was pure fiction baked into a Maoist-like slogan matters not in the slightest, of course, and thus people traveling up and down College Avenue in Claremont today are treated to the large visage of a Michael Brown in cap and gown in an artistic imagination of a front page article in The New York Times. Next to it, evidently for context lest someone dare to not know the required political truism let alone doubt it, is an equally large and imagined front page from the Old Gray Lady that depicts Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson depicted as ‘A Profile Officer’ — i.e. an officer who racially profiles, i.e. a white officer that was hunting that fateful day for a black kid to kill, i.e. another storm trooper in Trump’s Amerikkka. Well, at least $300k for a degree apparently buys certitude along with it.
Perhaps truth is the first casualty in art.
After all, it doesn’t take long on the very same walk around the very same neighborhood to notice some very clear counter-messaging to the programming narrative. Claremont Presbyterian’s declaration that they choose to “welcome immigrants and refugees” also makes damn sure that every driver pulling their car onto church grounds understands that “unauthorized vehicles” will be towed. The church also once offered a drop-box for goods to be given to the homeless—but that was removed after the homeless started arriving at the church to collect directly. A little further north, along residential streets sporting signs of progressive ‘Welcome!’ in the front yards are signs anchored in concrete along the sidewalk that declare the streets to be permit parking only. Violators will be towed. Other signs warn against off-leash dogs. Indeed, signs at every entry point across the city advise that overnight parking is forbidden. But anyway…Welcome!
Even in Pilgrim Place proper, there are plenty of signs offering cautionary advisements to all who pass its gates as to what is not, in fact, welcome: solicitors, rollerblades, roller skates, skateboards, unleashed pets and, oh, naturally Pilgrim Place is “Security patrolled for your protection…Enjoy your visit.” Boom, there it is.
And despite the December to May age spread, there are notable similarities that connect Pilgrim Place to the Claremont Colleges, aside from the obvious state of privilege and those sweeping lawns of greenery. Both campuses are in fact security patrolled, lest the proverbial welcome mat become over-used by less than desirable elements, though Pilgrim Place doesn’t appear to have descended into the London-like Big Brother state that is forested with closed-circuit cameras, which is now a hallmark of the Claremont Colleges. And both are always welcoming new residents with the mere caveat, of course, that they can afford to be there. In 2018, a one person ‘entrance fee’ at Pilgrim Place cost a hopeful senior a non-refundable $258,240 just to make it past the gates, then another $3,232 per month for a 1,200-square-foot unit to bide their time in until the grave calls, Tai chi garden inclusive.
So in an a way, Pilgrim Place could be considered the tail end of the life that most of the Claremont College students begin, sort of a cradle to grave arc.
Of course, the reality is that it is Claremont’s fastidious commitment to the foundations that underpin its collective quality of life—something akin to former NYPD and LAPD honcho Bill Bratton’s ‘broken window’ policy—keeping its streets clear of vast fleets of cars overnight and enforcing health and occupancy codes, that actually put this small little nook of old Leftyland consistently atop the ‘Best Places to Live’ charts.
As for the Mr. Rogers-meets-Arianna Huffington pap of ‘We’re glad you’re our neighbor’ and ‘Showing up for racial justice’ that’s peddled in front of seven-figure real estate, well it’s a fine sentiment advertised by white elites who already know who their neighbor is. The rubber would meet the road the moment three families totaling thirteen or more men, women and children moved into the house next door that was built to accommodate four and brought five cars with them (in working order or not) and then converted the garage into a bunk house and let the roosters loose to roam in the backyard and wake the neighborhood cheerfully each morning. The moment that happened, the ‘We’re so happy you’re our neighbor’ crowd (which is a direct descendent of the ‘One of my best friends is black’ white dinner party crowd a generation ago) would be blowing up City Hall’s hotline demanding that code enforcement officers raid the place with all the panache of ICE agents descending on the parking lot of a Home Depot.
If the financial barriers that keep them safely removed from the hard-edged reality of places where their slogans are even more meaningless than they are on the streets of Claremont were to someday fail, and if the city’s code enforcement was unable to quash the threats to the quality of their life, then these same people proudly proclaiming that they are showing up for ‘racial justice’ and insisting that ‘no human is illegal’ would do what they have always done in America.
It’s just as simple as that. All those social virtue yard signs wouldn’t necessarily disappear as much as they would be eclipsed by a sea of signs from Coldwell Banker and Sotheby’s not a promoting ‘Welcome’ but rather ‘For Sale’—which is white liberal elite code for ‘Oh shit!’
So for all the signage, for all the public proclamations, for all of the sociopolitical sanctity that shines from the crepe myrtle, sweetgum, coastal oak, jacaranda, eucalyptus and sycamore lined streets of Claremont these days, well, one can get the feeling that it’s not so much a foundation anymore as it is a cover. Billy Shakespeare’s line about protesting a tad too much comes to mind.
And perhaps that’s what the good folks at Pilgrim Place are hoping for, maybe even praying for now, amid the pleasantly hushed lanes of Mayflower, Plymouth, Leyden, Scrooby, Alden and Avery that have sheltered them from the fine young cannibals that have not so much seized the academy as they have been turned loose by it. Perhaps they are praying they go unnoticed in this most socially dangerous hour.
Just as the San Bernardino Freeway acts as something of an illusory Forbidden Zone barrier to the south, Indian Hill Boulevard is a two-lane blacktop in the heart of Claremont that may as well be the Danube for the amount of students that manage to cross it. Claremont’s pilgrims can be thankful that most students orbit outside the camp, er, campus, ends at either The Press, a genuinely legit bar and live music venue, or Rhino Records, its vinyl repository of note. Some do indeed manage to cross Indian Hill, but usually further south in the shallows where they make their way into The Whisper House or Eureka!
Maybe Pilgrim Place is hiding in plain sight and hoping the campus compliance squads simply will continue not to notice there is a senior sanctuary named after, and indeed represents in every respect, what they’ve believe to be horrifying heirlooms of hate.
But whatever the fate of Pilgrim Place, the neighborhood surrounding it and, for that matter, the entire town of Claremont and its beloved colleges (which even in this dark hour do indeed deserve to be cherished) should take note that on the hardscrabble streets of Pomona there are yard signs to be found ubiquitous as well, albeit one that offers the same desperate message: ‘Our Family Is Praying For Pomona.’
For all the talk of ‘Welcome’ in its sister city to the north, it’s not clear that sign—like the people that plant it—would be welcome at all in Claremont these days, what with the ‘praying’ and all.
So good luck, pilgrims, you’ve always seemed like kind, decent and thoughtful people doing nothing more than trying to live out your twilight days in peace. Sadly, that’s probably not going to count for much when what’s coming finally arrives on your doorstep.
Dave Gardner has been waging a long and creative crusade against the most relentless red tide the planet has experienced since the Industrial Revolution: humankind’s deadly bloom across the globe
A conversation with a Paul Revere of our time
By Mark Cromer
It’s going to be a long December for Dave Gardner.
The annual American orgy of consumerism kicked off with the usual early-bird brawl party on Black Friday— which now naturally begins on Thursday in lieu of a more reflective Thanksgiving centered on family and friends—and rolled on through Cyber Monday as bloodied shoppers returned from the Big Boxes to work their laptops and phones like coked-up stock brokers screaming ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’
And that was just the pre-party, the opener, the apéritifs and Hors d’oeuvres before the main course.
From now until the dawn of 2019, an American horde from coast-to-coast will whip itself into a frenzy of mass discretionary consumption that has come to define a culture that’s now living on borrowed money and increasingly borrowed time.
For Gardner, who has dedicated much of his life arguing against the accelerating pace of out of control consumption and growth and warning of the consequences that will surely follow, the holidays must stand as some sort of glittering yet grim landscape of debauched retail revelry with a perverse bow on top of whatever remains of humanity’s self-identity outside the prism of mass consumers.
But the shadow of futility has not yet crept deeply into his commitment to stay the course and keep hoping for a national awakening that sustainability isn’t just a suggestion, it’s determinative between life and suicide.
It was nearly a decade ago that I met Gardner during a writers’ conference on the Potomac just across from the shady lanes of Georgetown where I was part of a panel discussion about the media’s role in mass immigration and the unsustainable population growth it propels. Gardner, looking and sounding like something of an environmental science professor morphed into a less neurotic Larry David with a dash of the acerbic wit of David Letterman sprinkled in for good measure, caught me during a break in the conclave and asked if he could interview me on camera for a documentary he was working on about the cult of consumption and its corollary of perpetual growth. I said ‘sure’ and a short while later was fielding what I recall were refreshingly candid and pertinent questions about a society that was, as Gardner framed it: “hooked on growth.”
And just how the media fit into that pusher and junkie dynamic.
His resulting work would be released a couple years later in 2011, aptly entitled GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth, a 54-minute romp through the wilds of an America amidst its accelerating disintegration that features a wide array of voices on the subject, including author and Worldwatch Institute Fellow Robert Engelman, former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, legendary California Congressman Pete McCloskey (co-author of the watershed Endangered Species Act in 1973) and the Papa of the atomic Population Bomb himself: legendary Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich.
But far from being a one-and-done documentary that captured a particular late moment of our collective deck party aboard the Titanic that is now our ship of state, Gardner followed GrowthBusters with what has been a long-running crusade to keep the lantern of alarm lit as the deadly threats to the planet and our nation continue to approach by land and by sea.
The professional filmmaker turned eco-activist now runs from Colorado a lighthouse of knowledge at GrowthBusters.org, a sleek and smartly presented web platform that offers something appealing to the most optimistic eco-concerned newt to the fading grizzled cynic still up for an intelligent second-opinion (confirmation) of humanity’s terminal prognosis. Backed by a board of top-shelf environmentalists and human-impact experts, Gardner produces regular podcasts and the Growthbusters site features an online store that offers very clever products with wonderfully subversive takes on our odd pride of transitioning from a nation of people with lives into ever larger masses of cultists of consumerism occupying little more than space in a landscape defined solely by markets.
After staying sporadically in touch over the years, the twilight of 2018 just seemed about the right time for an in-depth conversation with the man that has been doing all that he can in a very genuine way to make the world a better place for all of us.
How did you become a ‘growth buster’? Assuming you weren’t bitten by a radioactive spider or didn’t fall under the spell of a genius-if-mad scientist bent on reforming the world to his own will, what led you to transform your life into something of a Paul Revere raising the alarm of runaway human growth?
The seed was planted in my teens when I read Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. I didn’t really get on my steed and start tilting at growth windmills, however, until 2002 when I became concerned about my hometown being “hell bent for leather” to grow as much and as fast as possible.
I’d moved back to Colorado Springs after 20 years in Dallas, because my wife and I wanted a better, quieter, slower quality of life. Dallas had swollen to the point that running a few errands meant hours in the car. Manners had taken the last exit off the freeway. Gunfire was the nightly soundtrack.
Colorado Springs, unfortunately, had a real growth boom in the 1990s after we arrived, and I watched the slow erosion of that higher quality of life we’d sought. It was as though we’d bought a Corvette, but day-by-day it was gradually turning into a beat-up old pickup truck.
In 2002, Colorado was in the midst of its most serious drought in modern history. I thought to myself, “water is going to be the obvious limiting factor to our population growth; maybe it is possible to get Colorado Springs into a recovery program from growth addiction.” So I appointed myself the city’s sustainable population advocate. I spoke out against growth subsidies at city council and utilities board meetings. I wrote opinion pieces in the local newspapers. My first, published in the alternative weekly, was titled Growth – Just Say No.
As a professional filmmaker I was also at this time ready to stop producing propaganda for Fortune 500 clients and put my skills to work telling more important, meaningful stories. I decided to produce a documentary about population growth.
While in the midst of producing that film, I decided to run for city council, with the platform, “Growth created our problems; it can’t be their solution.” My message was: “The era of growth as a prosperity engine is behind us. Growth has become ridiculously expensive (financially, environmentally, and in quality of life). Pursuit of growth (economic, population, community) is diverting our attention and our resources from what truly matters to us. If we can get unhooked from our addiction to growth, we will finally be free to achieve true prosperity and real happiness.”
It was a bold experiment, to see if a candidate can get elected promising to stop pursuing growth, rather than the typical promise of endless economic growth and jobs, jobs, jobs. That campaign and election ended up being the human-interest story in my documentary. After the release of the film, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth in 2011 (on the day world population blasted through 7 billion), GrowthBusters evolved into an ongoing public education and advocacy project.
What was the ‘alternative weekly’ where you first published Growth—Just Say No and how was it received?
That piece was published in the Colorado Springs Independent. I don’t recall that this particular op-ed generated much conversation. But it was the first of many. Today, I’m often thanked – sometimes by complete strangers – for all the op-eds and letters to the editor I’ve sent in over the years. The one result I’ve noted is that the economic development folks in town (the growth boosters) have altered their language a bit, to be a little less obvious about what they’re trying to do to our town.
You ran for City Council, how did that go? How was your campaign platform received and how was it opposed by other candidates?
I’ll never forget the first meeting of my campaign committee, and I’m so glad I asked a film student to capture it for the GrowthBusters movie – it’s one of the most important scenes. Pretty much everyone in the room tried to convince me that I could not run and win being against growth. They were right, but I HAD to try. Would they be right today? I’m afraid so. Progress has been slow.
Is another run for political office in the future?
After my council run, one of our county commissioners told me he thought I could be more effective as an outsider. He was probably right. I don’t think I have the patience to hold office today.
As 2018 draws to a close, from your perspective where do we now find ourselves—globally and nationally—as it pertains to human growth? Where are we now? It’s hard to imagine 2019 offering much of a marked difference than this year, last year, the last decade and the last quarter-century for that matter, but are you expecting any departures or just more acceleration?
I’m seeing positive signs. I think we’re seeing the erosion of the longstanding taboo on discussing overpopulation and population growth, on reluctance to attribute problems and crises to population growth, and on avoiding consideration of action to move the world into population contraction. It’s happening slowly, but it’s definitely underway. Of course that must accelerate if we’re to have any hope of a bright future.
The other multiplier in the sustainability equation is the size of our economy (our consumption). The good news there is that degrowth and steady state economics are also beginning to get traction in the media and public dialog.
The progress I’m seeing, slow as it is, keeps me energized and requires that we double our efforts to amplify those conversations. At the same time, I’m afraid it’s highly unlikely we’ll give up our economic growth obsession soon enough to avoid large-scale collapse of human civilization.
Just yesterday I watched an anchor on a progressive news network tell us that “maintaining or growing the population is an economic imperative.” His message was if we aren’t making enough babies (workers/consumers) then we had better import more workers, because GDP growth is the Holy Grail. The public is fed a steady stream of these unexamined assumptions about the goodness of growth. No one in the mainstream is yet questioning it.
I consider our (in the U.S.) increasing fascination with Doomsday scenarios, as evidenced most prominently in Hollywood offerings such as World War Z, I Am Legend, Intersteller and too many television zombie flicks to name, to be some sort of subconscious projection not so much of dystopian fantasy but rather a grim and all too real approaching future merely adorned with Tinsel Town’s stylistic flourishes. It seems to me a mass acceptance of sorts that we indeed are staring down the barrel of calamity that runaway population growth and the rapidly expanding human footprint that it invariably brings. What’s your take on the idea that Hollywood is effectively programing as entertainment our collective estimation of the twilight of our species?
It’s only natural that our entertainment reflects what is happening in real life, including in our collective psyche. It doesn’t seem to be making a difference, however, in the public’s reaction to reality. I don’t think the general public is, in any way, beginning to accept that we’re on a course that has no happy ending. We really do think we’re invincible.
We’ve had four major, very serious warnings from scientists in the past year about what we’re doing to our home planet. Those warnings have gotten very little attention. I do see, however, growing acceptance and resignation among the scientists, philosophers, ethicists and others who – like me – were born without that invincible/denial gene. This subject comes up more and more often in my GrowthBusters podcast. Some days I’m tempted to stop my activism and join the party as the ship goes down.
You mention ‘four major, very serious warnings from scientists’ that received very little attention. What were they and why did they fall flat?
Living Planet Report 2018 – published in October of 2018
IPCC Report: GLOBAL WARMING OF 1.5 °C – published in October of 2018
Global Footprint Network’s announcement that Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 1, 2017: http://www.overshootday.org
World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: Second Notice – published in the fall of 2017: http:scientistswarning.org
Each received a lot of attention among those with heightened concerns about human civilization and our “spaceship Earth.” But the seriousness of their content warranted being the lead story on the evening news. It warranted being the page one headline in the New York Times. Heads of state around the world should have addressed the public and called for emergency measures. Of course none of that happened. Why? That’s a topic of ongoing theorizing and speculation. I suspect it is largely because we’re still too comfortable. And the threat is moving in slow motion. And the links are a little too nebulous. Did the recent catastrophic fires in California cause even the families who lost homes or loved ones to adopt extremely low carbon lifestyles because climate change is intensifying our fires?
In terms of Hollywood reflecting our collective psyche and yet not having much of an impact in triggering a real crash aversion among the masses, do you feel that perceived hypocrisy might play a role in the limited reach of the message? Specifically, Al Gore can make a film like An Inconvenient Truth but then people read stories about his own carbon footprint and fairly jet-setter ways, or a constellation of A-List Hollywood celebrities can virtue signal the correct environmental message via their films and social media accounts, but then the masses see them arrive at the red carpets in armored-up SUVs and return to any one of five or six 17,000-square-foot homes? Doesn’t the real lives of the messengers effectively step on the validity of the message, the authenticity of it? And how do we get around that? Ask for a massive moment of collective self-awareness and plead for very real ‘downsizing’ from a class of people for whom living larger than life is indeed life itself?
I’m sure that plays a role, I’m not sure how significant. I do think it would be worthwhile to try a massive role-model action of those celebrities who have millions of Twitter or Instagram followers. They do have the bully pulpit. But I can understand how difficult it is, if you’ve “made it,” to give up the trophy house and the private jet.
The 1970s is now frequently recalled as a ‘golden’ era for a variety of cultural signposts, from network television programming to porn (thank you Norman Lear and thank you Linda Lovelace), and it was also an age when the environmental movement in the United States really came unto its own as a movement. We saw the formation of Greenpeace (albeit in Canada), the birth of Earth Day, the reinvigoration of the ‘back to the land’ sensibility, experimental communities like Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti and part of all that was a widespread sense that human population—and the growth it fuels—had reached a tipping point. Zero Population Growth, both as a philosophy and an organization, developed a certain cachet in popular culture. My question is: What happened??? It seems like there was this beautiful moment where the light bulb went on—and then burned out into the 1980s: Reagan, coke, greed, wild growth and the triumph of Gordon Gekko. What’s your take on that and why it happened? How did America lose interest even as it stood at the cliff’s edge?
I know what happened to me. I graduated from college and got focused on getting a good job. Then I got married and focused on being a good provider. I had two children (stopped at two because of my overpopulation concerns) and focused even harder on being a good provider. I completely lost touch with my conservation ethic, and I was too busy running on the rat-race treadmill so I’d have a house as big and a car as nice as the next guy. There was a black hole for me in my 20s, 30s, and even 40s.
We keep getting new generations of young activists (until they get sucked into that vortex of pursuit of “the American Dream”). For some reason environmental sustainability hasn’t been their thing. There is a groundswell of support for the shift to renewable energy, but that seems to be born of a belief that technology can solve our problems; we don’t have to examine our own lives and alter our individual behavior. We’re busier than ever, and that apparently means too busy to dwell on what sustainable living really is. I don’t have a satisfying explanation.
I have written professionally for years about mass immigration and the human population issues that fuel it and yet I am still amazed at how both the general public and the political officials that govern conveniently bifurcate population and the growth it fuels from virtually every other social ill or issue that those twin elements play a fundamental role in; be it ecological degradation, wildlife impacts and extinction level events for a growing list of species (particularly large apex predators that need space), water availability and competition for that vital resource to the more obviously immediate impacts in everyday human life like traffic congestion, local pollution, crime, economic impacts and jobs, housing stocks and on and on. You don’t need a PhD in physics to grasp the linear connection or to understand where the trend line is heading and yet with the public-at-large you frequently encounter narcolepsy and with politicos it’s often a head-nodding, furrowed brow rendition of “Hey, I get what you’re saying, and that’s why I believe my plan for job creation, new home construction and a balanced budget with debt reduction goals will help this nation turn the corner and make the 21st Century truly the American Century.” Left or Right, Blue or Red, they seem to instinctively, like a Pavlov dog, start drooling talking points and sound-bites that ultimately say nothing. What’s your take on the failure of our bipartisan political system to seriously address the devastation of perpetual growth? What’s your take on the mass public who abet it every election cycle?
There is a lot at work here. Greed, selfishness and short-termism play a role. The hundred-year history we have of what looks like success and prosperity from growth feeds it. We’re brainwashed from birth to believe in prosperity from growth. Limits to growth feel very uncomfortable to people living “the good life.” Who wants to believe they should be walking to work, earning and spending less money, NOT buying and flying to that vacation ski or beach condo? Of course, that is all fairly vacuous in terms of real meaning, happiness and life satisfaction. But again, we’re too busy to stop and contemplate that. And it’s challenging to have that conversation via an Instagram post.
You cite ‘greed, selfishness and short-termism’ as contributors to the bipartisan failure of America’s (in particular) political establishment to seriously address growth and sustainability issues and how tech has neatly dovetailed into that by making the necessary conversation even more difficult to have by the very nature of the platforms (i.e. Instagram), and your answer reminded me of watching Ralph Nader address a thousand students at the Claremont Colleges back in 2006 and when he was asked about immigration and its various impacts he offered a nuanced, thoughtful, ten-minute answer that was completely digested by riveted students. That was more than 12 years ago and I can’t help but think that today Nader’s very cogent answer would have been quickly and rudely interrupted by many of the students on campus now; either for being insufficiently orthodox or, just as likely, unwilling to speak in the sloganistic sound bites that platforms like Twitter demand. Colleges have a role to play in shaping students intellectual expectations. Have they abandoned it, particularly as it relates to issues as immediate and vital as growth? I’d point out that universities are recruiting students increasingly through rather lavish campus comforts—the building sprees of spa-like accommodations is head-spinning—and that would seem to run completely counter to a more genuine example of asking students to check their appetites and open their minds.
I am regularly invited to address college classes, so I know there are professors out there giving these topics their due. Meanwhile, this is done at universities that measure their success by the growth of the student body and the physical expansion of the campus. (sigh) One of the reasons I’m putting so much energy into the GrowthBusters podcast (and, coincidentally, The Overpopulation Podcast, which I host for World Population Balance), is that the podcast form seems to be one of the last vestiges of longer, deeper, more thoughtful exploration. Today’s young adults are voracious podcast consumers. So, maybe podcasts like:
Having spoken with most of the marquee players of the population reduction and mass immigration restriction movement at one time or another over the past couple of decades, I’ve noticed that a significant number of them could be accurately identified as proponents of a ‘no growth’ policy—whatever that would look like in actual application—but they fear to say so outside the pleasant company of fellow travelers given the allegedly radical nature of that stand. More than a few quietly lectured me about using terms like ‘smart growth’ or ‘managed growth,’ apparently believing that the time for employing such vernacular is long over and now only serves to perpetuate the ongoing fantasy that we can continue to indulge really any further significant growth whatsoever. What’s your take? Is it ok to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre if the crowded theatre is on fire?
One of my favorite bumper stickers is one I created (it’s available in the store at growthbusters.org). It reads, “What’s so smart about growth?” “Smart and Growth” are in big, bold letters. In an emergency, when the theater is on fire, it isn’t the time to say, “If you’re getting a little warm, why not take a break? Let’s all go to the lobby.” The emergency is here, and we need to be honest about it.
But I will admit there are all kinds of approaches, with theories behind them. Some espouse that really bad news paralyzes people and you need a Pollyanna approach to inspire action. I believe each approach has a role. Different types of people at different stages need different messages. Personally I try to be optimistic enough to avoid having too many doors slammed in my face, without out-and-out lying about how dire our situation is. I want to get people into the tent so they can hear the whole sermon.
It is very tiring, though, to see so much attention given all these little adjustments at the margins, which have no hope of making human civilization sustainable. What I do is support them (without putting too much of my own energy into them) while reminding everyone that they need to be accompanied by bigger, more impactful changes. I designed a sign for people to carry at climate change rallies. It reads, “#1 Carbon Reduction Action: Smaller Families (Add it to your list).” I created stick-figure family stickers for autos that brag “Stopped at Zero,” “Childfree,” “Stopped at One,” and “Stopped at Two.” I’d like to think I’m pushing the edge of the envelope and making it safer for the more timid to follow into this space.
Over a decade ago I was on a panel discussion/debate on immigration at USC, I recall it was moderated by Matt Welch who was at the Los Angeles Times back then but is now an editor over at Reason, and one of the students in the audience asked me if I thought it was time for the United States to implement a one child per family policy akin to China’s, to which I replied that the good news was I didn’t think we were there yet. But I look back now and recall that nearly thirty years ago I hung out with Paul Watson while working on a story about his break with Greenpeace and his launching the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and he explained his rather convincing take that the sustainable human population globally was around two billion people, so I’ve wondered at times whether I should have just answered that student’s question with a simple but straightforward: “Yes.” The ramifications of such policies, even posed as academic hypotheticals—particularly when what’s required to implement them, to say nothing of the proverbial slippery slope of what other policy initiatives could logically follow—can still be unsettling. But the current situation seems to beg the old rhetorical question Reagan famously uttered: “If not us, who? If not now, when?” So, how do you look at what China did, and now somewhat un-did, and are there any takeaways for the United States and the rest of the world for that matter? Did China have the right idea? What would you say to the student at USC were you asked that question today?
Thanks for this question. The legendary Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich has for 60 years been very outspoken about overpopulation and overconsumption. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and doesn’t pull any punches. He’s been called on the carpet for being abrasive about it. Has he done the sustainable population movement more harm than good? I don’t think so. We need someone like him today who can get on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert time after time, like Ehrlich did on The Tonight Show back in the Johnny Carson days. But I digress.
The horrific abuses in implementing China’s one-child policy have really set us back. To this day they make it hard to have productive conversations about sustainable population, because people fear that you want nations to enact that kind of policy. So my answer to that question is always to allay those fears. We don’t need a one-child policy. We need a one-child norm. If every couple around the world is armed with the knowledge that we’re in overshoot, and understands the implications of their family-size decision on the quality of life – even the survival – of their child, then I believe they’ll do the right thing without any outside compulsion.
We do need to keep raising the bar on this. By that I mean that we need to get to a point where it’s not offensive to talk about it being “irresponsible” or “immoral” to conceive multiple children. Right now we seem to be hung up on the idea that procreative freedom is an inalienable right. Well, that right may be taken from us if we don’t exercise that freedom responsibly.
Today, everyone should know we’re in overshoot, but sadly that’s not yet the case. But anyone who does know has a responsibility to have at most one child. If we can make one-child families the norm, and get the global average fertility down to one and keep it there for 100 years, then we’ll be back near a sustainable population without enacting any laws. That will require political will, good public communication campaigns, free or low-cost contraception, lots of education, gender equity, and possibly some tweaks in tax law and welfare policy to incentivize smaller families. But it won’t require any violations of human rights. It’s humane and it’s voluntary. A few nations have already demonstrated that this works.
It is a shame we didn’t understand we were approaching overshoot early in the twentieth century. It would have been so much easier to stop growing human numbers at a sustainable level. Instead we’ve blown way past the mark (studies indicate we did that in the 1970s), making it harder now to get where we need to be, and causing serious injury to our life-support systems, actually chipping away at their carrying capacity. It’s almost too late to correct our error, so we do need to stop tap-dancing around the issue.
I feel I must be clear that I firmly believe we need to put just as much effort into achieving one-child families in the overdeveloped world as we do in the developing world. The reason should be obvious. The impact of one additional child in the overconsuming world is huge and immediate. And an additional child in the developing world adds to the number of people who want to be overconsumers (and have every right to at least live decent lives, which do have significant footprints). We have little reason to celebrate getting down to replacement fertility rate in the U.S. The trend is good, but we can’t stop there since we’re unwilling, apparently, to live very simple, monastic lives.
Speaking of Paul Watson and his break with Greenpeace, what’s your take on those who have been drawn into more direct action, confrontational tactics against some of the more ghastly impacts of human population and the runaway growth and consumption it fuels like a flywheel running on its own momentum, be it the slaughter of whales and horrors wrought by the shark finning fleets across the world’s oceans or the clear-cutting of forests and mountain top removals? Watson decided it was time to start ramming the Japanese whalers and the monkey-wrench man himself, Edward Abbey, drafted what became the manifesto of sorts for Earth First! with their tree-spiking hijinx. Then came ELF and their own eco-anarchistic actions, albeit often with a Tyler Durden-esque flair. Do you feel such actions are dead-end streets that do more harm than good or do you feel that they’ve just arrived at a last resort scenario faster than the rest of the movement?
I’m not really sure. I admire them for their courage and commitment. But their issues have been downstream from the root cause of the problem – population and economic growth. I wonder where we’d be if Greenpeace, Sierra Club, WWF, The Story of Stuff, 350.org, etc. had all been focusing on these big-picture root causes for the past 50 years. At the very least, the average world citizen would be aware of the problem. I’m reminded of a very candid statement by Sir Peter Scott, the founder of WWF: “You know, when we first set up WWF, our objective was to save endangered species from extinction. But we have failed completely; we haven’t managed to save a single one. If only we had put all that money into condoms, we might have done some good.”
In early 2004 I was living in Flagstaff and I had read an essay from Mike Davis taken from his impending opus Planet of Slums, I think it was excerpted in Harpers, and as I had with Watson I had also interviewed Davis back in the early 1990s after his epic take on Los Angeles, City of Quartz, had been published and it struck me that Davis had been chronicling in a roundabout way humankind’s hell-bent race to a very crowded end. And how and where I was at the time resonated with me and still does sometimes, because I was a writer in a nice spread in this still rather quaint mountain town amid the forests of Northern Arizona and reading this early dispatch from hell by Davis with my boots up before ambling down the hill from my Cherry Avenue pad and into a favorite bar or two to ponder what it all meant. Sure it was informative and even inspiring, but what it most immediately inspired in me was the idea that drinks and a cigarette at the Monte Vista or the Weatherford was definitely the first action item on the agenda. There was a casual disconnect in play and I think part of that is rooted in the sense, one perhaps even more prevalent now, of what really can be done? ‘Oh, there’s 38 million people jammed into the vast sprawl of Lagos and the inhuman conditions there are so abhorrent that even seasoned teams from the UN were stunned by the hellish scenes they encountered? Wow man, what drag! Great read, but an incredible drag. Whew! Who needs a drink?’ Just gauging my own reaction to it in that moment I see a parallel to where a lot of people are today; educated, informed and active people. Overwhelmed? Hey, a least I didn’t start building a bunker, yet. Mainly because I tend to be more comfortable in a bar. But what’s your sense of information overload and engagement fatigue? And as such, how often do you need a drink?
A) My decision to do the film and podcast and crusade for a sustainable culture made me a starving artist. So I’m bummed my budget doesn’t allow me to head down the hill to a local watering hole on a regular basis. Darn! (Living simply really IS a joy, though, I assure you.)
B) It’s 9:30 a.m. here, and I’m wondering if I SHOULD go sit by the fire with a glass of wine right this minute. Way too early. I frequently start my day at my desk at 4 or 5 a.m., and spend an hour or two just taking in all the relevant news, new perspectives, and taking note of the latest pro-growth propaganda. Then I launch into my to-do list, which often grows during the day as much as it shrinks. So in all honesty, by 5 pm every day I feel a need to shift gears and reward myself for getting through another day. It’s a long slog. But I don’t have to do any fracking to fill up my tank with passion about this.
C) I do feel a little burnout, but it’s mostly fatigue from having to spend time on fundraising. I’d much rather just be doing the work of reporting what I see, and enlightening people, and inspiring change. I’m not yet burned out on that part of my “job.”
D) Seriously, Colin Jost had a very apt line in Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update after the latest IPCC report told us we are seriously fucked (I’m not crazy about using that word, but that’s how friggin’ serious this is). Jost said: “It’s like if you owe your bookie $1,000, you’re like, ‘Okay, I gotta pay this dude back.’ But if you owe your bookie a million dollars, you’re like, ‘I guess I’m just gonna die.” Enough said?
Back when I was in college in the mid-1980s Warren Johnson’s seminal book Muddling Toward Frugality was required reading and a couple of decades later I had the good fortune of spending some time collaborating with him on an essay we envisioned as revisiting the alarm he had raised in 1978 and the answers he proposed as ‘a blueprint for surviving the 1980s’ with an eye on what an updated perspective would suggest for the opening years of the 21st Century. [A draft of that of that essay may appear here at some point.] But Warren cautioned that my enthusiasm for a reevaluation of the ‘back to the land’ movement as a viable alternative to reimagine for this brave new world we find ourselves in now might result in stripping away much of the fond cultural mythology that has since glossed over the hard realities that those early, counter-culture communes actually found themselves confronting. “The fact is,” he told me over lunch one afternoon, “Most of those early ‘off-the-grid’ communities didn’t make it. They didn’t last. They didn’t work. And for a lot of reasons.” Further, he pointed out that some of the higher profile communes, like Wavy Gravy’s (Hugh Romney) ‘Hog Farm’ up in Tujunga became portraits of drug-addled dysfunction, more portraits of excess and hedonism than profiles in experimental living. But we concurred that the prevailing dominant culture of consumerism—the very soul-corrupting structure that the hippies and theirassociated agrarian sympathizers sought to drop out of—was even more insidious now than it ever had been in the 1960s and ‘70s. And that was our assessment a decade ago, before the rise of the mobile devices had reached their present stupefying level of saturation. So what do you make of the micro-home movement and its associated level of off-the-grid or semi-off-the-grid lifestyle? Does it correspond with what you are doing at GrowthBusters? It seems to me a viable alternative that is hindered primarily by the near religious conversion that Westerners need to make in order to downsize their lives and curtail their desires of want. How do you see it?
I admire and applaud anyone’s brave effort to unplug from this unsustainable mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. But I know the answer to this existential crisis is not for 8 billion people to live in the woods, off the grid. We can’t spread out that much, unfortunately.
I see the eco-villages, tiny houses, etc. as experiments to try to find long-term sustainable models we can adopt. We may end up taking the best of one and combining it with the best of another, and another. Who knows? I do believe, and I try to promote this idea regularly in the GrowthBusters podcast, that there are great benefits from more and more of us skinnying up our lives as much as possible:
A) Social influence: if you walk out the door every day and see your neighbors hopping in their Hummers with their 4 kids and acting like there’s no emergency, then you’re less likely to behave as if there is one. In fact you may question the validity of your interpretation that there is an emergency. After all, if we are in drastic times, how come no one is taking drastic measures?
B) Elected policymakers are going to go in whichever direction the wind is blowing. We create that wind by living what we believe. We must lead the leaders.
C) Imagine if those we elect came from families, homes, or communities that had the values we need to be adopting. If they can avoid being corrupted, or at least avoid it for a while, we might actually start getting enlightened public policy. So the more of us living these values, eventually we’re going to be infiltrating the system.
Dream world scenario: Dave Gardner is asked to address a full session of the United Nation’s General Assembly with heads of state leading their delegations. You get twenty minutes behind the dais to lay it on the world’s leaders. What is your rap in summary? What are the narrative heartbeats? What are the key takeaways? What must they hear?
It’s time to face the music, stop the tap-dancing, and tell the truth. The iceberg is right before us. Turn the Titanic now, and turn it sharply. If you do the right thing, we’ll make great, epic movies about what heroes you were. If you don’t, we won’t be around to make any movies and there won’t be anyone to turn on the projector or watch the movies.
Fresh from his address to the world’s leaders at the UN, Dave Gardner is invited on the late night talk show circuit, much as Paul Ehrlich was in the wake of The Population Bomb. Sitting on Jimmy Kimmel’s stage, on Stephen Colbert’s stage, on Jimmy Fallon’s stage, what would you tell their audiences before they had to break for commercials selling them more stuff?
Yay! This is just what we need. I hope I can maintain my composure. This is exciting. It’s my moment. What would I tell them?
“Here’s the thing: we, the human race, got carried away. We’re now so big we are crushing our planet. It is not going to support us much longer, especially not in the style to which we’ve become accustomed. If you doubt me, there is plenty of evidence to support this statement. Run that clip, please, Jim.” [QUICK MONTAGE OF CLIMATE DISRUPTION, FISHERIES COLLAPSE, OCEAN DEAD ZONES, MAJOR RIVERS AND AQUIFERS PUMPED DRY, CROPS FAILING DUE TO INFERTILE SOIL, ETC.]
“Now, what are we going to do about this? Unplug from this system. Get out of debt. Simplify your life. Enjoy the good things – they don’t cost a lot of money and they’re easy on the planet. More porch-sitting, more love-making, more walks, more talks. Lose the ATVs, the speedboat, the jet travel, the McMansion. Stop working so damn hard. Play. Laugh. Spend some of your newfound time growing some food (since your paycheck will shrink, this will keep your family fed). Find other people doing what you’re doing and hang out with them. Support each other. Loan and borrow tools, etc. Substitute manual labor for burning fossil fuels. You’ll be in better shape and won’t need that gym membership. You will find a lot more joy in this than you ever found at the office.”
And finally: “Now, I’ve been talking to your audience up to this point, Stephen (or Jimmy). Now I want to ask something very important of you. YOU have this incredible bully pulpit. People care what you say, what you think, and what you do. Will you please join all of us in this reset of the American Dream? Be a role model. Be a spokesman. We could use your inspiration. And donate several million dollars you won’t be needing, to the public campaign encouraging us all to shrink the family, shrink our footprints, shrink the population and shrink the economy. It’ll be fun. And that way you get to live instead of racing off the cliff into a mass grave.”
We live in a culture now in the United States where growth is no longer just good, but rather growth is God. And from that cultish orthodoxy springs a host of ills that cloud the scientific reality that the party can’t last forever even as the band plays on. When increasing human densities as a solution becomes more preferable than actually reducing the never-ending outflow from the wellspring of human population growth, we are way past just in serious trouble. Increased density only amplifies everything about humanity’s condition; most notably crime, congestion and competition for resources. How do we break a cultural religious dogma? What will trigger an enlightenment that will lead to a reformation? Or are we just destined to wait for an Armageddon of our own making?
Well I’d go back to what I’ve been saying and let me add that it’s not just the United States worshipping at the church of growth everlasting. We may be the Vatican of this religion, but there are followers and parishes worldwide; there are priests and cardinals around the world leading the flock toward that cliff. You’ll find them at Davos, at the UN, the World Bank, Wall Street, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the Club for Growth, chambers of commerce, parliaments, congresses, think tanks (both conservative and progressive), and the G7. Many of us are trying to catalyze that needed culture shift. We’ve tried myriad ways to get that going. It doesn’t seem like anyone has hit upon the answer. There must not be an easy button for this. Heck, there may not even be a hard button. It could be impossible for us to be collectively enlightened enough to make the necessary course correction. Most of your readers probably don’t realize how close we are to running out of time, how close we are to the cliff. It may well be within a few decades. But if as many of us as possible live as sustainably as we can, we can tell our children we’re giving it all we’ve got. In the process we’ll be living more meaningful lives and we’ll experience more joy. Maybe we’ll accomplish the shift. But if we go down, we’ll go down with integrity.
Jim Jones and his death cult of social justice warriors had little idea that much of their philosophy would become policy as Sacramento passes out the punch for the Golden State’s accelerating ‘revolutionary suicide’
By Mark Cromer
Maybe Jim Jones should have stuck around after all.
While this year marks the 40th anniversary of the mass murder–suicide by the self-declared socialist revolutionaries that followed cult leader and Bay Area Democratic Party power player Jones into a Guyana jungle where they would murder more than 300 children before killing themselves in an orgy of death that left more than 900 bodies bloating in the sun on a November day in 1978, the core ideology of Jones and his slogan-shouting collectivist cadre survived to now prosper across the very state they had fled for salvation turned savage oblivion.
Much has changed in California since Jones strode the streets of San Francisco in the mid-1970s as a respected reverend whose support was coveted by the liberal establishment’s politicos who were hungry for his community organizing skills and his ability to deploy crowds on demand from a ‘church’ that was far more of a political organization than a theological sanctuary.
In 1975, California’s population numbered about 21 million people, or just about half of the number of humans that have been shoehorned into the state today. Four decades ago, there was still a sense of breathing room that prevailed around California, even to some degree in its great cities along the coast.
But some things in the Golden State indeed look much as they did back in the 1970s, not the least of which is Jerry Brown is still in the governor’s mansion.
As a supporter of Jones in the mid-1970s, Brown and his own band of fellow travelers in 2018 are increasingly sounding more and more like the overlords of the Peoples Temple of California, preaching their own progressive gospel of salvation to the masses while painting any opponents or dissenters—either real or perceived— as well as skeptics and even the merely less enthused as closet racists and crypto fascists seeking to sabotage the glory of their crumbling rainbow state.
For all of the times that President Trump has been asked if he disavowed neo-Nazi David Duke, or for that matter all of the times President Obama was asked if he disavowed Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, when was the last time the sitting governor of California was asked if he disavows his political slow dance with Jim Jones? (Note: While there is as of yet no photograph of Trump cavorting or colluding with white supremacist Duke, there is now a very real news photograph of a beaming Obama alongside Farrakhan that was snapped back in 2005. Still, the hectoring of Obama about Farrakhan was and remains, in a word: bullshit.)
Gazing upon the general landscape of California today, Jones would surely be pleased as punch to hear the hallmarks of his old feverish rhetoric not rejected as dangerously manipulative exhortations designed to groom followers and prepare them for violence but is now embraced and employed by public officials in Sacramento and city halls around the state. When Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf denounced recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions and declared that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lawsuit against so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies in California was an act in furtherance of white supremacy, well she should have had to cut a royalty check to Jones surviving kids for covering their dad’s old siren song.
Though the Democrats are loathe to acknowledge let alone address it in any meaningful way today, lest it raise serious questions about what may actually motivate their social policy initiatives, Jones carried considerable cache with a constellation of Democratic public officials that ranged from Brown in the governor’s office to fabled assemblyman Willie Brown and Lt. Gov. Merv Dymally as well as San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the pair of public officials that were destined to be murdered in City Hall just days after Jones and his cultists killed the kids and then themselves. Jones work in California also caught the eye and support of black radical Angela Davis, who would later send dispatches of support to Jones during the final days of his jungle apocalypse. And Jones’ street cred amid a then very competitive California political landscape also brought him into the orbit of national party heavy weights like Walter ‘Fritz’ Mondale and First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
Those were days of milk and honey for Jones, but they were not to last.
On August 1, 1977, the watershed bi-monthly magazine New West (Clay Felker’s California sister publication to New York magazine) published an investigative feature story by Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy headlined ‘Inside Peoples Temple’ that spelled out the extent of Jones power among progressive circles in California, noting “He is one of the state’s most politically potent leaders” while posing the question “Can you win office in San Francisco without Jones?” (Answer: Not Really)
Kilduff, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, and Tracy, an editor at New West, carefully charted the pervasive reach of Jones from the power center of Bay Area Democrats as it radiated throughout the state, compiling a ‘Who’s Who’ of liberal public officials that came to Jones’ so-called temple to kiss his ring. Then governor Jerry Brown arrived at Jones San Francisco compound to pay a formal homage while Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who himself would come within an eyelash of the governor’s mansion years later, would pay Jones’ LA annex a visit to meet with the Rev and seek his blessing.
“The source of Jones political clout is not very difficult to divine,” Kilduff and Tracy wrote. “He controls votes. And voters.” As to the question of whether a lefty politico could prevail in the city by the bay without Jones blessing, the article quotes none other than Assemblyman Willie Brown, then a Moscone ally, to put it in perspective: “In a tight race…forget it without Jones.” Moscone himself put Jones on San Francisco’s Housing Authority Commission and then maneuvered to ensure Jones became its chairman.
Jones also held court with the law enforcement figures in San Francisco that embraced him, including San Francisco County District Attorney Joe Frietas, who dropped by Jones temple at 1859 Geary Boulevard on one occasion when Jones was leading his followers in what was described as ‘the shit chant’—a mantra in which his congregants were ordered to shout ‘shit’ over and over again as an exercise in humility. Frietas later denied hearing the cultists chant ‘shit’ during his visit.
The New West article was published just seven years after Jones had landed in San Francisco with perhaps a few hundred adherents in tow from Mendocino County. Jones paranoiac proselytizing about the joys of socialism—a common theme from the earliest days of his temple was the claim that Neo-Nazis were poised to seize power in Washington D.C.—raced like a prairie fire out of the radical fringes and into larger circles of the California left. By the middle of the decade Jones commanded more than 20,000 congregants from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
And with a small army of fanatical zealots at his command, the Democratic Party’s ostensibly mainstream politicians concealed any misgivings they may have harbored as they sought friendship and favor with Jones. But even as he was being courted and consulted by powerful elites, the danger signs were already there for all to see, or at least anyone who cared to pay attention.
Kilduff and Tracy’s exposé noted that Jones feverish sermons decrying an inherently evil, racist American system were exalted as unquestionable truths by a congregation that was 80-percent black and one that elevated a white Jones from street preacher into divine prophet.
Yet as Jones clout grew so to did his detachment from reality and it wasn’t long before he was sporting a retinue of armed bodyguards and held his Sunday political rallies dressed up as a church service in a temple that was sealed off to the general public—unannounced visitors seeking shelter in the Lord were not welcome at Jones’ inn. And Jones financial dealings, fueled by the largess of his followers that signed over their property and possessions to him in pursuit of the socialist paradise he promised, generated nearly six-figures a month and according to Grace Stoen, who ran the books for the temple, Jones bragged to her that the move to San Francisco and the temple’s political work would prove to be a jackpot. And after that Los Angeles, which Jones told Stoen “would be worth $15,000 to $25,000-a-weekend.”
And Stoen was no country bumpkin or inner-city hard luck case that latched on to Jones in desperate search for a better life, as Kilduff and Tracy’s feature story points out. A white liberal cut of the classic mold, Stoen’s husband Tim Stoen was a lawyer and another Bay Area power player who became San Francisco County’s Assistant District Attorney under Freitas (the D.A. who never heard the ‘shit chant’ while visiting Jones fortified compound in the city.) Stoen and her husband were part of Jones inner-circle and she told New West that by the time Jones landed in San Francisco and was expanding into LA he was already riding around in bus caravans with followers as he made time with liberal politicos, none of whom seemed to notice or care that Jones personal carriage featured an armored plating interior.
Stoen and her husband effectively signed over custody of their son John to the temple just weeks after he was born in the early 1970s by claiming that Jones was the actual father in a signed affidavit, even though he wasn’t. It was an ultimate act of social justice submission—Jones enjoyed being called ‘Dad’ by temple members—but one that proved to be a death sentence for their young child.
On February 19, 1978, nearly nine months to the day before the slaughter unfolded in Guyana, San Francisco County Supervisor Harvey Milk fired off an official letter on county letterhead to President Carter, demanding that Grace Stoen end her efforts to recover her son John from Jones, accused her of blackmail and praised Jones as a father. “Not only is the life of a child at stake,” Milk prophetically wrote even as he bizarrely argued who was endangering it. “[The child] presently has loving protective parents in Rev. and Mrs. Jones.”
Milk went on to inform President Carter that any Congressional or State Department investigation into Jonestown could harm the United States relationship with Guyana—that’s the kind of pull Jones could still effect among his progressive politico friends in California long after he’d left the country. One wonders what Milk thought when he learned that the loving and protective parents he had so admired and written the White House on behalf of had murdered Stoen’s child and more than 300 other kids?
But by the time Kilduff and Tracy had begun investigating Jones and his burgeoning cache among the liberal elite in California, Grace Stoen had fallen out of the command staff of the Peoples Temple as a result of its escalating violent enforcement of its orthodoxy and she cooperated with the reporters for their story. She noted an interesting paradox Jones encountered as his political power mounted in the Bay and LA: the more power he amassed, the more paranoid he was becoming. On his progressive jihad, success for Jones equated neatly with rising fear and hate. Stoen detailed the hyper-regulated schedules of temple members, which Jones had cribbed from North Korean practices with a dash of Maoism thrown in for good measure (interestingly, Jones sided with the Soviets during the Sino-Soviet split and apparently considered Moscow’s brand of Communism preferable, but felt North Korea and China exercised better control over their populations), and this ultimately entailed the classic utility tool of sleep-deprivation salted with constant doctrinal enforcement sessions.
“We were going to more and more meetings,” Stoen told New West. “If anyone was getting too much sleep, say six hours a night, they were in trouble.” She revealed to Kilduff and Tracy that one temple member that was reported for apparently getting too much sleep was vomited and urinated on as punishment—one he submitted to.
That total if not seamless sense of complete obedience to not only their self-declared socialist savior Jones but his rabid political dogma—like rabies, it advances from mild flu-like symptoms to a frothing, hallucinatory state that leads to death—would lead Jones’ cadre to follow him into the jungle of Guyana in order to build their progressive paradise safely away from the scrutiny of either journalists or public officials who could not be politically bought off or cowed by them.
When the exact 40th anniversary of the socialist slaughterhouse of Jonestown arrives on November 18th, America will once again be treated to numerous retrospectives throughout the mainstream media, with the aptly entitled ‘death tapes’ that captured the horrifying final hours of the doomed encampment as the true believers murdered those who refused to literally drink the Kool-Aid before they killed themselves played once more. Despite the frenetic death throes that gripped the compound, the progressive slogan-chanting cultists had dutifully been preparing for it for months; death drills that were dubbed ‘White Nights’ that saw cult members suddenly summoned in the middle of the night to their respective battle station-meets-gravesite in what the collective had actually voted to do if ‘attacked by the capitalist pigs’: revolutionary suicide. Jones dressed it up as something akin to a socialist Alamo and at one point staged a phony six-day ‘siege’ in which he claimed the compound was indeed under assault by imperialist forces that had converged on it. During the fake siege, the social justice allies of the Peoples Temple back in California were raised on the camp’s radio-phone and leftist luminaries like Angela Davis and Huey Newton phoned in exhortations to the cult members to resist the imaginary capitalist pigs surrounding the camp. It’s unclear whether Davis or Newton actually knew the faux battle was a wholly staged event in order to increase the group’s paranoia and improve their readiness to die, but it’s worth noting that even if they didn’t understand what was actually happening on the ground in that Guyana jungle they certainly were onboard with Jones basic political theology and were dead-set in helping him maintain and advance it among his followers. It’s worth noting that neither Davis nor Newton inquired over the camp’s PA system: “Wait a minute, Jim, just what the hell is going on down there? What fascist army do you feel is hiding along the jungle perimeter of your camp? What the hell are you doing?”
Instead, the liberation theology icons stirred the collective mania and their madman’s delusions with their mutual exhortations to the Peoples Temple to resist. And in doing so helped prepare them to die.
Jonestown’s final hours were captured in part on film by the television news crews that had flown into Guyana with California Congressman Leo Ryan on a fact-finding mission, one that proved to be a fatal miscalculation by the Bay Area congressman and much of his entourage, as Ryan’s arrival triggered the final chain of events that would lead the Peoples Temple to stage their last stand for revolutionary socialism at Jonestown and forever emblazon their cause in the largest single slaughter of American civilians in the modern era before the September 11th attacks in 2001.
There is footage of Ryan taking the microphone and speaking in the camp’s pavilion, where members sang songs and praised their socialist leader Jones as he sat overseeing the choreographed show from an elevated chair, and it’s a surreal spectacle indeed to listen as Ryan praises the troop and acknowledges that many of the camp’s occupants declared it to be the best thing that had ever happened to them—a line that brought a roaring applause from the progressive parishioners. Surreal because Ryan was less than 24-hours away from being gunned down before he could leave Guyana with a handful of defectors in tow. In all likelihood Jones and his inner-circle had already made the decision to kill the congressman, his aides and the reporters that had accompanied him, and watching the tape one gets the sense that Ryan may well have understood he was neck-deep in serious trouble by the time he picked up the microphone and perhaps was attempting to soothe the homicidal rage that was coursing through Jones and his leadership.
On the other hand, as the New West investigative report had so richly chronicled the year before, much of the liberal establishment’s power players had actively cavorted with and supported Jones and his social justice agenda in return for the ‘boots on the ground’ deployed by Jones highly motivated socialist operation, so it’s also possible that Ryan tragically believed what he heard from the Peoples Temple members he was allowed to speak with and meant what he told the cheering, singing, clapping, dancing social justice cult members, oblivious that he was already marked for death.
If he didn’t understand what was to come during his last night on earth, he surely got a taste of it when he was stabbed as he sought to usher out the few members who decided to make a break for it with Ryan (the immediate aftermath of his stabbing at the camp was also captured by the news cameramen), boarding the stake bed trucks that were to ferry them to the remote Port Kaituma airstrip that was the cult camp’s only real connection to the outside world. The knife-wound was not life-threatening, but it foreshadowed what was coming.
As Ryan and his cohort began their death ride to the airstrip, Jones and his crew initiated the protocol they had so diligently practiced and prepared for, summoning the entire camp into the pavilion for their final act of revolutionary justice. Some members sensed that this time the death drill was for real and attempted to flee into the jungle but were shot down as traitors, others simply sheltered in place and attempted to hide, and there were a handful of survivors. But the vast majority of the more than 900 social justice warriors simply did as they were told and dutifully assembled.
Much of the ensuing mass murder-suicide was captured on audiotape, as Jones clearly intended for his work to be saved for posterity and we should be thankful that his homicidal narcissism led him to record the last hours of his cult’s handiwork, as again it proves quite instructive.
As the tragedy unfolds, Jones holds center stage and in full manic mode swerves in and out of delusionary declarations as his followers can be heard praising ‘Dad’ and thanking him for leading them in their efforts to build a socialist paradise. As the chaotic scene unfolds, cries and shrieks are heard as mothers usher their children up to be murdered, and Peoples Temple member Irene Edwards declares “This is nothing to cry about!” as she thanks “Father” for all he has done, bemoaning how much Jones has “suffered” for his social justice crusade.
In one audio recording among the tapes that were later recovered by the FBI, Jones wife Marceline Jones gushed that the couple’s jungle utopia was the purest incarnation of social justice, a place “dedicated to live for socialism, total economic and racial and social equality.”
Jones takes a moment to reflect on just who the traitors were who attempted to flee the camp with Congressman Ryan, bellowing: “Who walked out of here today? Did you notice who walked out? Mostly white people…Mostly white people walked. I am so grateful for the ones that didn’t.” As the chaos mounts with a cacophony of weeping and wailing and praising audible in the background, Jones returns to rage at the occidentals who dared to try to bail on the Final Act of his socialist death trip.
“It broke my heart, to think that all of this year the white people had been with us, and they’re not a part of us,” Jones says. “So we may as well end it now…It’s all over. The congressman has been murdered.”
As the frenzied cries of the killers and the dying filled the jungle air, Jones declares that death was the only alternate destination if their socialist paradise on earth had failed: “I tell you, I don’t care how many screams you hear, I don’t care how many anguished cries, death is a million times more preferable than another ten days of this life. If you knew what was ahead of you, you’d be glad to be stepping over tonight. Death! Death! Death…Are we black, proud and socialist, or what are we?…Hurry, hurry my children. Hurry!”
The FBI’s transcript of the tape then notes the reaction: ‘Applause.’
It was a response that would be repeated throughout the night of death.
“Where’s the vat? The vat? The vat?” Jones demands at another point on the tape. “Where’s the vat with the green ‘C’ on it? Bring the vat with the green ‘C’ in, please. Bring it in here so the adults can begin.”
By the time morning dawned on November 19, 1978, Jones’ progressive cult had finished with their mass revolutionary murder-suicide pact and other cult members had murdered their children and then killed themselves in the Guyana capital of Georgetown on the same night after being radioed instructions from the Peoples Temple. Jones, it turns out, skipped the Kool-Aid and chose to put a bullet through his head instead. As survivors from both the airstrip killings and those who had escaped the compound eventually struggled their way to safety, the Guyanese government discovered the vast carnage at Jonestown and as the media descended the scope and scale of the psychotic mayhem unleashed by the social justice warriors became gruesomely apparent.
And as Jim Jones had undoubtedly hoped, it shook the world. Well, for a little while anyway.
As fast as Jones and his Peoples Temple has acquired real political capital in California, in the aftermath of the slaughter in Guyana suddenly it seemed no one really knew him, endorsed him or believed in him. If it weren’t for the photos, the eyewitness accounts and the media reports from the mid-1970s, it’s likely not one member of California’s liberal establishment would have admitted to having ever met the good reverend, let alone bestowed upon him awards, accolades and the high admiration that they in actual fact did. It’s reminiscent of the Manson Family after Charlie got collared, connected and then convicted for the slaughter of Tate-LaBianca. Suddenly LA’s rock establishment didn’t know who the cat was and the few who couldn’t deny it were adamant that they’d only met him in passing and they never liked the little creep. So over time the popular narrative of the rock n’ roll factor of Charles Manson and his Family in Los Angeles 1968-69 was sanded down and reduced to a couple of lines officially noting that Charlie hung out with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson and recorded a few demo tracks with famed producer Terry Melcher.
But facts have a funny way of remaining resilient.
And the fact is that through Wilson, whom Manson lived with for about six months and hung out with for much longer than that, Charlie was introduced to, hung out, partied and played with a rather stellar constellation of LA’s rock establishment, including not only the Beach Boys (whom hired Manson as a song writer for their Brother Records label) but also Neil Young, John Phillips and David Crosby, to name but a few. Not only did Melcher and the Wilson brothers record Manson repeatedly and the Beach Boys record his ‘Cease To Exist’ for their 20/20 album (retitled ‘Never Learn Not To Love’ and credited to Dennis Wilson, which enraged Manson) which they later played live on The Mike Douglas Show, but Young got Charlie an audition in front of Warner Bros. honcho Mo Ostin. Cass Elliot also listened to Charlie audition his songwriting wares in consideration for her solo record following the breakup of The Mamas & The Papas.
The fact is prior to directing his own mass murder spree, Manson had entrée in LA and among some of its most influential and fabulous scene-makers. But after the gore was cleaned up on Cielo Drive and Waverly Drive and his homicidal hippie ‘Love and Terror Cult’ was at least somewhat under heel behind bars, well, the collective memory of Charles Manson among LA’s rockeratti looked more like something out of a Soviet-era photo retouching lab with Charlie getting the hasty brush out of the viewing stand.
But unlike Manson, Jim Jones wasn’t just making time and music with rockers.
Far more relevantly for where the state stood forty years ago as well as where it finds itself today, Jones wielded a pervasive and very public relationship with powerful politicos across California, summoning public servants to his San Francisco and Los Angeles ‘churches’ where he would barter their power and influence in return for his blessing and access to his organizational street operations. While Manson would go on from his prison cell to loom ever larger as a dark icon of the counter culture from a bygone era, the legacy that Jones left behind has now bloomed like a poisonous flower across the state’s power structures, one that is fed by the same root system that once nourished Jones and his Peoples Temple.
Public universities across the state have in many respects devolved from academic institutions that demanded open discourse and intellectual curiosity among the students to something more akin to Jonestown outlet malls that have been updated for the millennial generation: complete with all the dead-eyed repetition of slogans and social justice virtue signaling, all the hysteria, all the paranoia, all the head-nodding group-think and all the fanatical adherence to a rabid political dogma that holds throughout every intersectional interface they invent that white America is the foundation of all that is wrong and must be destroyed or replaced (or both). But these branch camps for the New Jonestown are no insect-filled shacks built on a swath of land in the middle of a jungle, not at all, for the socialist revolutionary on campus today is committed to pursuing the crusade for justice from decidedly bourgeois campuses that increasingly look more like La Causa by Ritz Carlton Spa & Resort.
As it was in Jonestown in 1978, Hollywood today is dominated by white ‘allies’ of the social justice movement that employ their social media accounts between their eight-figure-a-film paydays to extol the virtues that the Peoples Temple actually lived out to its ultimate finale. Anne Hathaway recently took to Instagram to chastise white America en total about its structural privilege, an indictment she served on people from the blue hills of Kentucky to the blue bloods of Kennebunkport, using both language and logic that was common currency among Peoples Temple members back in the day.
It’s worth noting, however, that unlike the Kamikaze squadrons of Jonestown, Hathaway did not and never will do anything more than post her alleged allegiance to the social justice cause before jetting off to wherever for whatever has caught her fancy for the moment. When Hathaway hit ‘post’ she had paid her dues and done her part by dropping a deuce on white people, for now. As far as her next film role goes, one might expect her to sport a BLM wristband around the set, but in terms of demanding a dramatic narrowing of the wage disparity between her and the 99% of the rest of the production crew, well…not so much.
Among the skeletal remains of the legacy print media throughout the state much of the very premise of the ideological engine that fueled Jones and his followers has not only made its way onto their editorial pages and become enshrined there, but has also become a standard issue filter for what remains of their staff writing journalists, whether or not they actually believe it or are just going through the expected/required motions for the withering payday.
Yet aside from the pillars of academia, Hollywood and the media, perhaps Jones’ greatest legacy is what is carved like granite into so much of California’s governments, from the state house to the county seats to the city halls of its once great cities that punctuate its coastal belt. For it is in these cradles of political power where the Ghost of Jim Jones still resides. With the Republican Party effectively dead in the state for over a decade now, the more than 40 million people that are jammed into California are treated to the Democrats intoning from Sacramento as well as transmission towers in San Francisco and Los Angeles whatever the theological lesson is for the day, even as the infrastructure like the public pension system erodes to the point of total collapse.
While the distinctions are still clear, for now, the similarities are undeniable.
More than a decade into unfettered one-party rule from Sacramento and in the major cities for much longer than that and with social spending at an all-time high, the Golden State is in free fall and the progressives at the power levers have no idea what to do about it. They don’t even have a good idea that won’t work. They’re out of ideas and reduced to, in the finest Jonestown vintage of ’78, chanting their mantras even as tens of thousands of bowel movements explode onto public streets everyday in Los Angeles and San Francisco as the homeless populations grow. If the homeless start raising their fists as they deliver a Number Two special on the boulevards, it’s at least even money that the power players that Jones once swam with will declare such intestinal warfare to be a ‘revolutionary act’ in pursuit of social justice and thus protected—right after they finish ensuring the imminent threat of Ann Coulter is scrubbed from appearing at state funded universities.
So yeah, maybe Jim Jones should have stuck around after all to see how his ideology would play out in the state he succeeded in making much his own before splitting off to play Col. Kurtz in his jungle utopian hell.
But though Jones ventilated his cranium in Guyana, many of his ring-kissers remain in California yet and New West rightly raised the ultimate question about them a year before the massacre.
“Finally, something must be said about the numerous public officials and political figures who openly courted and befriended Jim Jones,” Kilduff and Tracy wrote in the closing of their epic story in New West. “While it appears that that none of the public officials from Governor Brown on down knew about the inner world of the Peoples Temple, they have left the impression that they used Jones to deliver votes at election time and never asked any questions. They never asked about the bodyguards. Never asked about the church’s locked doors. Never asked why Jones followers were so obsessively protective of him. And apparently, some never asked because they didn’t want to know. The story of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple is not over. In fact, it has only begun to be told.”
Tracy and Kilduff had no idea in that seminal hot August of 1977 just how prescient their words would be. But the story, which prompted Jones to flee California to his jungle redoubt that he had been working on for years by the time he arrived with the bulk of his followers, would not find its ending in the slaughter the progressive prophet would unleash in Guyana.
No, the story of Jim Jones and his homicidal merry band of social justice warriors is still playing out today forty years later.
And one must wonder just how much longer will it be before helicopters enter the airspace above California and capture the vast carnage of the wasteland below.
Indeed, maybe Jim Jones should have stuck around after all.