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Posts tagged Timothy Madigan

Veterans Against Individual Freedom

Usually, if somebody chooses to decorate his business in a way that you don’t like, there are a lot of ways that you could try to deal with the situation. You could grit your teeth and ignore it. Or you could try to have a talk with the business owner. Or you could mount a pressure campaign or a boycott of the business.

Or you barge your way onto somebody else’s property, whip out a huge knife, and use it to deface their private property in order to fix the problem.

Normally, if you acted like this just about everyone would figure you for a two-bit thug and dangerous nut. As well they should.

Unless, of course, you’re an Anglo dude defacing a Hispanic bar-owner’s private property in order to force everyone to follow your own military etiquette towards the flag of the United States. See, there’s this Hispanic bar up in Reno, and a few days ago the local news got a tip that something terrible was happening there. To wit, the owner chose to fly a Mexican flag above an American flag on his own private flagpole. After they rushed out to cover this absolutely riveting breaking story, local two-bit thug and dangerous nut Jim Brossert decided to deal with the situation by grabbing his old army knife and going down to the bar, with a camera man following him. Against the owner’s will, he cut down the flags, then stole the bar owner’s American flag and threw the bar owner’s Mexican flag down onto the ground. Just for good measure, he went on a tirade for the camera about how having been a soldier gives him the right to trash other people’s property for the sake of his flag-worship power trip, and, just for good measure, he bellows that he wants one of the (unarmed) bystanders to fight him. All the while swinging his huge combat knife around.

I’m Jim Brossert and I took this flag down in honor of my country with a knife from the United States army. I’m a veteran, I am not going to see this done to my country. if they want to fight us, then they need to be men, and they need to come and fight us, but I want somebody to fight me for this flag. They’re not going to get it back.

Of course, this bit of inquisitorial theo-nationalist violence has earned this unhinged prick a sympathetic mention from InfoWars and a steady stream of praise from the Great Americans at the local news station’s message board, on Digg, etc., who apparently believe that, in the Sweet Land of Liberty that they are so keen to defend, this barkeep’s right to freely express his own cultural or political priorities is worth less than nothing against the delicate sensibilities of a retired government thug about how flags that don’t belong to him ought to be displayed. Along the way, several of the bellowing blowhard brigade dutifully cite their own military records, as if that proved anything. Several are appalled by the local authorities’ statements that Brossert could be prosecuted for his actions, if the barkeep presses charges, and indignantly assert that Brossert has a First Amendment right to express himself by destroying or stealing other people’s property.

Almost all of the commentators insist on repeating a lie, which originated with the local news report, to the effect that the bar owner was violating federal law by flying another flag above the United States flag. (One of them goes so far as to say that the bar owner is guilty of the federal crime of treason.) In fact there is no such federal law. The Federal Flag Code (4 U.S.C. §Â§ 4–10), which has no enforcement section and assigns no penalties for non-compliance, explicitly states that it is a set of voluntary guidelines for the use of such civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the United States. Now, if there were any federal law against flying your own flag however you see fit to fly it, that law would be an obvious and stupid form of tyranny, and every one of us would have a perfect right to defy and resist such a law on our own property. But the fact that so many of the self-appointed Home Guard have a manifest felt need to believe in a State that can and will use violence to punish offenses against the dignity of their flag, the visible incarnation of the State, should tell you something about what sort of America these creeps hope to protect against the scourge of peaceful migrant workers.

Ten years ago, Timothy Madigan interviewed Barbara Ehrenreich for Free Inquiry, on Blood Rites, her recently published book on the religious roots of war. Along the way, she had this to say about the emergence of the civic religion in modern Europe, Japan, and America:

EHRENREICH: … With the invention of the gun, of course, the foot soldier became preeminent. It was the end of the mounted elite warrior, and so the religion of war had to change, too. It had to become much more inclusive. … Ordinary people were encouraged to identify with a new kind of deity–the nation-state.

FI: This, as you point out, models the conventional religions.

EHRENREICH: And can replace them. In my book there are two very striking cases that I look at briefly. One was state Shintoism in Japan in the 1930s and 40s, where you have an existing religion, Shintoism, that sort of grafts onto it European-style nationalism to form something new. It becomes emperor worship. It has the old religion in it, but it really is something new. In the case of Nazism, Hitler displaced Christianity. He very consciously set out to make a free-standing, new religion out of nationalism, which would be centered on him, just as the Japanese were centered on their emperor.

FI: You say the American version is not as virulent as Germany or the Shinto case, but I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about what you call the cult of the flag?

EHRENREICH: We make a fetish out of our flag; we treat it as an object of veneration. Every year a proposed amendment to the Constitution comes up that would make it illegal to desecrate the flag. Fascinating word, desecrate.

I think that, like the Japanese and the Germans in the 1930s and 40s, we are equally wrapped up in nationalism as our unofficial–and unexamined–religion.

We certainly saw that coming to a frenzied peak in the Gulf War with flags being waved everywhere. It became actually dangerous or at least perhaps just a little awkward to express dissent because there was such a powerful onrush of feelings at that moment.

–Timothy Madigan and Barbara Ehrenreich, Free Inquiry. (1997-12-22): Dissecting the passions of war

There is an elaborate and formalized liturgy of theo-nationalist rites surrounding the military colors of the United States–a liturgy replete with hymns, recited creeds, high holy days, and solemn processions officiated by a uniformed military priesthood. The liturgy is instilled and practiced with great care through government schools, in federal bureaucracy buildings, and (of course) throughout the intensely ritualistic culture of the government’s military cadres. But that is hardly enough for the state and its minions. Busybodies and prigs ensure that an officious and rigid reverence for the flag, based directly on military etiquette and codified by the federal government, is practiced in social clubs, sports matches, and even carried into putatively Christian churches, where the flags of a worldly nation often occupy more visual space in the sanctuary than the Cross. Any lack of reverence for these arbitrary rites is painted as the most despicable sort of vice, and indeed an affront to all the true believers, if not an outright crime against God Himself.

Update 2007-12-03: Minor edits for clarity.

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