Politics of Fear

Center for World Indigenous Studies

July 17, 2018

By Jay Taber


Nuuca, the new short film by Algonquin filmmaker Michelle Latimer, focuses on the sexual violence against Indigenous women and girls by oil workers in the Bakken Fields. This unholy violence by the oil industry is, of course, not exclusive to the fracking frenzy in North Dakota; rather, it is symbolic of the systematic rape of the earth that has also devastated the Athabaskan people, river and landscape of the Alberta Tar Sands.

On the other end of the supply chain of fossil fuel export–linked to the Pacific coast by Warren Buffet’s bomb trains and Kinder Morgan’s pipelines–is the violence against the Coast Salish people, whose saltwater paradise stands to be gang-raped by the petroleum association. With the assistance of the US president and Canadian prime minister, this violation of these First Nations’ sacred territories is a Crude Zones sexual assault.

One of the essential aspects of leadership is the capacity to anticipate future attacks based on current threats and past behavior of one’s adversaries. Another aspect of leadership is to imagine what one might do differently in light of changed circumstances. Making plans on the assumption that what happened in a previous generation will happen again gives one’s enemies the advantage.

The American and Canadian federal governments–notably at the departments of Interior and Energy in the US–present an ominous challenge to indigenous leadership in the Salish Sea region. Unlike the challenge they faced thirty years ago, the Anti-Indian network today is more sophisticated, better funded, and fully integrated.

The culture of hate emanating from the Northwest corner of Washington State has a well-documented history. Nourished by religious bigotry and Anti-Indian racism, the politics of fear has become pervasive.

At the heart of this politics of fear is the Tea Party, now disguising itself under the alias Common Threads Northwest. And while liberals decry the entrenched racism generated by the Tea Party network, they have themselves adopted a culture of complacency.

This complacency, combined with the corruption of media, has allowed the culture of hate to not only survive, but to prosper. Allied with industries such as fossil fuel exporters, the Tea Party flies under the radar, aided and abetted by local media that is on the take in exchange for covering up corporate crime.

While Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau was publicly going through the motions of “consulting” First Nations on the Kinder Morgan pipeline fiasco, high level officials were privately instructing staff to find a way to justify approval by his cabinet. Ignoring a 150 -page report from Tsleil-Waututh First Nation on the devastating impacts of Tar Sands shipping through the Salish Sea, government officials–after meeting with Kinder Morgan lobbyists–expedited review of the contentious project.

In 2011, Northwest Treaty Tribes launched the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative, outlining the issues and offering solutions for the protection of tribal treaty rights and the recovery of salmon habitat in western Washington State. Because salmon habitat is being destroyed faster than it can be restored, salmon continue to decline, along with tribal cultures and treaty rights.

In 2014, President Obama authorized fracking for oil on 23 million acres of federal land, which led to bomb trains shipping North Dakota Bakken Shale crude to Anacortes and Cherry Point refineries in Northwest Washington. In 2015, Congress lifted the oil export ban, spurring interest in shipping Alberta Tar Sands crude to China from Cherry Point.

In 2017, President Trump issued a Presidential Statement signaling his belief that American Indian tribes should be terminated, bringing four decades of tribal self-determination to a close. In 2018, outlawing tribal sovereignty is foremost on the White House agenda. If Congress concurs, Indian tribes and salmon will be extinct.

Protesting the institutionalization of fascism and the outlawing of tribal sovereignty is most effective when combined with exposure of the individuals and organizations supporting one’s opposition. By following the money, leaders can learn what they don’t know, starting with what they do. Following the money, however, requires research.

Opposition research, in turn, requires direction and communication. Research directors determine what information is needed for leaders to make informed decisions, and communication directors put this information into frameworks that help them articulate their positions in formats that are most useful in defeating their foes.

While American Indian institutions stick with strategies developed under the Obama administration, the Trump administration is mobilizing its forces to annihilate tribal governments, especially those in the way of fossil fuel extraction and export. As my colleague Rudolph Ryser notes, treaties and courts are no longer weapons tribes can use to defend themselves from corporations.

Since 9/11, anti-terror laws worldwide have created a political climate in which journalists and activists can be assaulted, jailed and murdered with impunity. Capitalizing on this politics of fear, official repression, social intimidation and malicious harassment have established a discursive monoculture in which interracial discord and religious bigotry flourish. In the national security state, journalism and activism are increasingly high risk, life-threatening endeavors.

Crushing dissent isn’t new to the White House; Bush and Obama both had the FBI arrest innocent protesters and journalists in order to keep democracy down. Like Reagan’s AG Ed Meese, Trump’s U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears fixated on destroying free speech and lawful dissent.

As reported at The Intercept, fascists in the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s office have declared war on political dissent, in particular by tribal human rights activists. With assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice, Whatcom County Prosecutor David McEachran obtained a warrant to access confidential information on the Red Line Salish Sea (NoDAPL) Facebook page.

While editors, reporters and citizen journalists in the United States are not yet routinely murdered as they are in Mexico, the threat of strategic lawsuits against public participation, social media surveillance and wholesale arrests at protests have the full support of Wall Street and the White House. As the institutionalization of fascism proceeds, an informed citizenry—freely engaged in public discussion about the demise of democracy–is rapidly becoming an endangered species.


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