Category Archives: History

Bletchley Park Codebreaker Obituary: Ann Mitchell

The death of Ann Mitchell, aged 97, was just announced in Edinburgh.

One of only 5 women accepted to read mathematics at Oxford in 1940, she finished her degree a year early and went on to play a key role in Hut 6 “Machine Room” at Bletchley Park.

Hut 6 dealt with the high priority German army and air force codes, most important of which was the “Red” code of the Luftwaffe. They wrote out some of the jumbled nonsense which had been received and underneath wrote a “crib” of the probable German text. Ann’s key role was the next step in breaking the code, composing a menu that showed links between the letters in the text received and the crib, with the more compact the menu, the better. As every code for every unit of the German forces was changed at midnight, each day the work began all over again to identify clues to the new day’s codes. It was an intense intellectual process, working against the clock, and the urgency provided a constant challenge. Ann and her colleagues in Hut 6, most of whom had degrees in economics, law or maths, worked around the clock in shifts, with one free day each week. As the war came to a close, the number of messages declined until there were no more. “I did go up to London for VE Day on 8 May 1945 but I remember very little about the celebrations,” she said. The codebreakers returned to normal life and, having signed the Official Secrets Act and sworn not to divulge any information about her work, Ann never told anyone, not even her husband, about her wartime role.

She led a life of great service delivered quietly — her groundbreaking WWII work in mathematics was not officially recognized until 2009.

Women, whose stories have been told far less widely than the men they worked with, reportedly made up three-quarters of the workforce at Bletchley Park.

Whatever the reason for the remarkable women codebreakers to be rarely mentioned while their male colleagues were profiled, historians lately have been trying to update and correct the message.

Food for thought when you consider the origins of cyber security had such a high percentage of women, and yet in the latest surveys “women accounted for 10% of the cybersecurity workforce in the Asia-Pacific region, 9% in Africa, 8% in Latin America, 7% in Europe and 5% in the Middle East.”

Like many veterans after the war Ann contributed to other areas. She researched social impacts of divorce and made significant contributions to Scots family law, “which ensured that the needs of children were properly taken into account in a divorce settlement”.

The BBC also has details of her life.

NRA Supports Governor’s Capitol Building Gun Ban

I’ve read so many articles about the gun-toting American protesters entering a state capitol building that I’ve lost track of the number. It’s a hot news item for sure. What to do?

However, only very rarely have I seen any mention that the NRA position on this issue has been to ban guns. They backed Governor Ronald Reagan when he said it was a necessary law.

The display so frightened politicians—including California governor Ronald Reagan—that it helped to pass the Mulford Act, a state bill prohibiting the open carry of loaded firearms, along with an addendum prohibiting loaded firearms in the state Capitol. The 1967 bill took California down the path to having some of the strictest gun laws in America and helped jumpstart a surge of national gun control restrictions.

To be fair, Ronald Reagan was a bit of a racist exaggerator, so here’s the Snopes perspective on his rush to ban guns.

“The Black Panthers had invaded the legislative chambers in the Capitol with loaded shotguns and held these gentlemen under the muzzles of those guns for a couple of hours. Immediately after they left, Don Mulford introduced a bill to make it unlawful to bring a loaded gun into the Capitol Building. That’s the bill I signed. It was hardly restrictive gun control.”

[This recount by Ronald Reagan] wasn’t true, however, that the Black Panthers had held legislators “under the muzzles of guns” for hours. They were disarmed by the capitol police soon after entering the building, and, according to most contemporaneous accounts (including that of the Associated Press) were escorted out of the chambers 30 minutes later.

Source: Sacramento Bee

Of course the NRA we know today, as I’ve written elsewhere, remains very much the same organization with the same values as this period in time when it pushed for a ban on guns.

This Day in History: 1812 Luddites Attack a Zoom Mill

“Luddites confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called ‘a fraudulent and deceitful manner’ to get around standard labor practices. ‘They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.’ The British authorities responded by deploying armed soldiers to crush the protests.
On this day in 1812 a group of a hundred or more (some say thousands) Luddites near Manchester attempted to enter Burton’s Mill in protest. Armed guards of the mill as well as British soldiers fired live rounds into the crowd, killing up to a dozen people.

So why were these Luddites protesting and why were they murdered for it?

There’s a common misnomer among those who say Luddites were an anti-technology group, which the Smithsonian fortunately has tried to dispel.

The label now has many meanings, but when the group protested 200 years ago, technology wasn’t really the enemy.

Let me put it like this. To say Luddites were anti-technology is like saying Robin Hood was anti-technology.

Does anyone say “that Robin Hood really hated the bow and arrow”? No. That makes no sense. His story was about the moral use of bow and arrow (disruptive technology of his day, as proven in the 1415 Battle of Agincourt).

Robin Hood was a folk hero who popularly protested the misuse of technology by elites.

Similarly to the legend of Robin Hood, a powerful Ludd character rose out of the Sherwood forest area of Nottingham to fight for morality as a crucial factor in use of technology; Luddites then demanded quality and expertise in tech to be valued above exploitation.

The Luddites therefore were experts at using technology who disliked owners using machinery in ways known to increase death and suffering.

Think of these heavily armed mill owners in 1800s, targeted by Luddites, as the Sheriff of Sherwood Forrest from 400 years earlier. Then ask who really was on the side of the Sheriff in Robin Hood’s time?

Nottingham Forrest Sheriff, known for being “completely unsympathetic to the poverty of the town’s people, using immoral ways to collect taxes”

Or in today’s terms, think of this like people protesting Zoom’s immoral practices. Those (including myself) calling for Zoom usage to be ended immediately until their ethics show signs of improvement… we are not rejecting technology by holding it to a higher bar!

Luddites today would be the ones calling for and end to Zoom’s obviously deceitful and harmful business practices, to make technology safer for everyone.

Those who have been taught that Luddites didn’t like technology have been misled; don’t forget the entire point of a group who righteously protested against technology used immorally (wielded selfishly by owners and with obvious harms).

Even more tragically, people often leave out the fact that Luddites were ruthlessly murdered by factory gunmen and hanged for daring to defend society under a concept of greater good.

In truth, they inflicted less violence than they encountered. In one of the bloodiest incidents, in April 1812, some 2,000 protesters mobbed a mill near Manchester. The owner ordered his men to fire into the crowd, killing at least 3 and wounding 18. Soldiers killed at least 5 more the next day.

Earlier that month, a crowd of about 150 protesters had exchanged gunfire with the defenders of a mill in Yorkshire, and two Luddites died. Soon, Luddites there retaliated by killing a mill owner, who in the thick of the protests had supposedly boasted that he would ride up to his britches in Luddite blood. Three Luddites were hanged for the murder; other courts, often under political pressure, sent many more to the gallows or to exile in Australia before the last such disturbance, in 1816.

At least 8 killed in just one protest. Some estimates are double. But in all cases the government was using overwhelming force.

To be fair, Luddites reportedly also did commit violent acts against people, even though it ran counter their overall goals of social good.

Some claims were made that Luddites intimidated local populations into sheltering and feeding them, similar to charges against Robin Hood. That seems like dubious government propaganda, however, as Luddites were a populist movement and “melting away” was again a sign of popular support rather than violent intimidation tactics.

Indeed, more often there were accounts of Luddites sneaking into factories at night and cleverly taking soldiers’ guns away to destroy only the machines as a form of protest. People were set free and unharmed.

An exception was in the case above where a mill owner “boasted” of murdering Luddites and was arming guards and calling in the military… escalation unfortunately was set on a path where Luddites stepped up their defense/retaliation.

Don’t forget 1812 was a very violent time overall for the British, with tensions rising around inequality (food shortages) and protracted European war (1803–1815), including rising tangles with America over its relations with France.

Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, who extremely opposed the Luddites, was assassinated May 11, 1812 by a merchant named John Bellingham.

Bellingham walked up and shot Perceval point-blank, then calmly sat down on a bench nearby to wait his arrest. Conspiracy theories soon circled, suggesting American merchants and British banks were conspiring to end trade blockades with France.

A month after the May assassination was when the War of 1812 began with America.

All that being said, if you want to ensure technology improves, and doesn’t just exploit unsuspecting consumers to benefit a privileged few, read more about the populist Luddite as well as Robin Hood stories from Nottingham.

These legends represent disadvantaged groups appealing for justice against a tyranny of elites.

Also, consider how “General Ludd” was another fictional character of the Sherwood Forest by design. Here’s a quick Ludd rhyme that was turned into a ticket to entry for meetings.

“This simple stamped ticket with its message showing support for General Ludd would have allowed entrance to one of the local meetings.”

It was his (and Robin Hood’s) inauthenticity, as a face of the very real populist cause that made them impossible to kill.

The legend of Ludd kept “his” cause of justice alive despite overwhelming oppositional military forces. Allegedly British authorities invoked “posse comitatus” (it’s a thing Sheriffs are known to do) and deployed more military soldiers domestically to stop Luddites than during war with Napoleon.

Nottingham took on the appearance of a wartime garrison… authorities estimated the number of rioters at 3,000, but at any one time, no more than 30 would gather…

In American history we have similar heroes, such as the inauthentic yet also real General Tubman. She fought plantation owners in the same sense that Ludd fought mill owners; targeting the immoral use of machinery.

Surely slave owners would have called Tubman an anti-technology radical at war with their manufacturing if they could have made such absurd accusations stick (instead of her being remembered rightly as an American patriot, veteran, abolitionist and human rights champion).

Sadly people incorrectly brand Luddites as anti-technology, when in fact they very much were in favor of proper and skilled use of technology. Hopefully someday soon this chapter in history will stand corrected.

Anonymous Donates Rare Film to Bletchley Park

Codebreakers seen working at Bletchley Park in rare old film reel recently revealed.

Big news from the Park itself:

Dr. David Kenyon, Research Historian at Bletchley Park highlights the rarity of this find: “No other film footage of a site intimately connected with Bletchley Park exists. We don’t know who filmed it and the footage doesn’t gives away any state secrets or any clues about the work the people in it are doing. If it fell into the wrong hands, it would have given little away, but for us today, it is an astonishing discovery and important record of one of the most secret and valuable aspects of Bletchley Park’s work.”

The reel of wartime footage, preserved in its original canister, has been donated to Bletchley Park by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

A 5 minute documentary about the new film already has been posted to YouTube

Murder Your Darlings

Despite my best efforts to stop the practice of using such a phrase, I find people sometimes still say cloud computing is all about “cows not pets”. What they mean to say is in the harsh world of cloud you shoot the vulnerable instead of caring for them.

The truth about cows is the opposite, however. Ranchers spend a ton of money on veterinarian science and care about cattle health improving because if they can fix one they can translate that to tens or hundreds of thousands of others saved.

It’s a lot of money on the line when looking at cattle health because typically there are many cows to one owner, just like cloud but not in the way expressed.

The economics of investing to keep cows alive is very unlike pets where most people have a few at most and put them down before they’d spend $500 on care.

It’s a harsh truth but proof of it is in how little is actually known about domestic cat health.

Unlike cattle health being rigorously studied in universities around the world and funded for obvious macro economic reasons, researchers rarely if ever find a pet owner willing to pay for science studies that would improve the lives of cats… owned individually by other people.

Anyway, while the cows not pets saying drags on incorrectly in tech circles, I ran across a Cambridge lecture by Arthur Quiller-Couch in January 1914 (“On the Art of Writing”) that has a particularly famous phrase in it:

If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

Suddenly a thought occurred to me… instead of trying to untangle economics about cows and pets I should instead propose people adopt this Quiller-Couch phrase to explain cloud.

COVID19 Security Slogans

Years ago I won the TSA competition for security slogans.

I’m not proud, especially because I didn’t enter it and nobody told me my slogan had won until an external investigator pointed out that someone borrowed it from my 2006 blog post and claimed the prize for themselves.

Anyway I’ve written a little here about the strange dearth of security slogans, a missed opportunity, during COVID-19.

Now I’m really getting curious why US officials are trying to encourage things like mask wearing, yet nobody has come up with basic jingles to promote it.

A quick search has only turned up a 1918 example from San Francisco.

Obey the laws, and wear the gauze. Protect your jaws from septic paws.

Seems applicable today. If I don’t find posters of this soon I may just start making them myself. With luck, someone at TSA will notice and then submit to their next competition as their own.

Speaking of being owned, while reading the news about security flaws in popular video conferencing my mind wandered onto the rhyme… gloom and doom for a chat room vacuum. How soon could it ruin the zoom boom?

Not quite “loose lips sink ships” but maybe if I work at it a little I could get closer with chat room vacuum ruins zoom boom. The problem is it’s too specific to one company, but hopefully you get my drift.

Speaking of drift, the US Naval History Blog in 2019 posted a very graphic warning about pandemic risks, and it starts by quoting a 1918 children’s rhyme:

I had a little bird,
And its name was Enza.
I opened the window
And in-flu-enza.

Ok, I couldn’t resist. Here’s a simple security education poster from WWII, which I’ve updated simply to reflect COVID-19:

It’s become infuriating to me every time I hear someone say they’ve seen 0 deaths so far, or who ask why worry if they don’t know someone personally affected. Education campaigns are sorely missing here.

Security professionals ought to be good at predicting likelihood and severity of harms. Prediction is what the industry is supposed to be doing in order to put controls in before it’s too late (as well as clean up afterwards, but let’s not go there). So let’s have some slogans going and get word out maybe?

A simple viz shows why the 0-deaths-so-far-crowd need quickly to get a clue, but it doesn’t make for a pithy phrase or poster.

Let me know if you can think of any good way to condense that graphic into a rhyme…

Red and Green Ballots: How the CIA Poisoned Vietnam’s 1955 Presidential Elections

Today is National Vietnam War Veteran’s Day, set on March 29th because in 1973 it was the last day American combat troops were in the Republic of Vietnam. The White House in 2012 gave a Presidential Proclamation to create a national day for Vietnam War veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day.

Congress then wrote a “Vietnam War Veterans Day Act” for March 29 recognition, which in 2017 was signed into law.

The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. The bill passed the Senate last month and the House last week.

In an odd twist the a man who signed it was gifted five deferments from service in the Vietnam War; four were academic and one was lying about his fitness.

“They were spurs,” he said. “You know, it was difficult from the long-term walking standpoint.”

He played football, tennis, squash and golf through his deferments; he even later boasted about his health as “perfection” and “bone spurs” being not an issue, yet somehow he pulled the 1-Y “disability” deferment (qualified for service only in time of war or national emergency) a year before the lottery draft system began.

The 1-Y status kept him out of the draft until 1971 when that classification was abolished generally. He was then given a 4-F “disability” (unable to meet physical, mental or moral standards) and no longer eligible; soon after his business was sued by the Nixon administration for widespread racist practices (violating the Fair Housing Act).

This is the same guy who in 2018 at the Aisne-Marine American cemetery cancelled with no warning because allegedly he didn’t want to be in the rain, instead of paying respects to the 1,000 Marines killed in the important Battle of Belleau Wood.

They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate [long-term walking spur] couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to the Fallen.

Anyway, today got me thinking about presidential election tampering, and in particular reminded me of the corrupted 1955 national referendum in Vietnam that arguably is what set America on a path to war.

A man named Ngo Dinh Diem essentially was chosen by Americans in 1954 to lead the country, and his access to American aid helped position him as Prime Minister under the ruling “French Puppet” Bao Dai, who he then deposed.

Diem was no champion of representative democracy. His political philosophy was a not entirely intelligible blend of personalism (a quasi-spiritual French school of thought), Confucianism, and authoritarianism. He aspired to be a benevolent autocrat…Diem’s idea was to create a cult of himself and the nation. “A sacred respect is due to the person of the sovereign,” he claimed. “He is the mediator between the people and heaven.” […]

To secure his winnings, Diem called for a referendum to determine whether he or Bao Dai, the former Emperor, should be head of state. Diem won, supposedly with 98.2 per cent of the vote. He carried Saigon with 605,025 votes out of 450,000 registered voters. [CIA’s Major General Edward] Lansdale’s main contribution to the campaign was to suggest that the ballots for Diem be printed in red (considered a lucky color) and the ballots for Bao Dai in green (a color associated with cuckolds)… this simplified Nhu’s instructions to his poll watchers: he told them to throw out all the green ballots.

Throw out all the green ballots.

On top of that, Diem used legal threats to prevent Bao Dai from running any campaign material, while his own campaign mostly ran personal attacks and smears including false claims like Bao Dai had a “preference for gambling, women, wine, milk, and butter“.

Just to re-iterate, their 1955 anti-communist campaign platform was that red meant go, green meant stop and… a preference for milk and butter is immoral just like gambling, booze and sex.

If all that isn’t crazy-sounding enough, apparently 150,000 more votes were cast in the capital city of Saigon than the actual number of people listed on the electoral roll.

Diem declared himself President with much public fanfare as a result of an obviously fraudulent “election”, labelled anyone else claiming rights or power to be a dangerous threat to stability, and slid South Vietnam into a cruel and undeniable totalitarian state.

Thousands of Vietnamese suspected of disloyalty were arrested, tortured, and executed by beheading or disembowelment. Political opponents were imprisoned. For nine years, the Ngo family was the wobbling pivot on which we rested our hopes for a non-Communist South Vietnam.

This election was a crucial turning point as President Eisenhower the following year ordered the first American military advisers into South Vietnam to train Diem’s conventional Army, used in harsh repression of the country, while the French prepared to exit completely by 1956.

Getty Images 4/24/1955-Saigon, South Vietnam: “Troops of American backed Premier Ngo Diem and the rebel Binh Xuyen sect fought a breif street battle with machine guns. A nationalist soldier stands guard over a suspect after the fighting had died down. At least three persons were killed and eight wounded in the short clash. The fighting took place on the opposite side of the European residential district from the boulevard Gallien, meanwhile the general anarchy increased as gangs of thugs roamed the streets of Saigon kidnapping civilians and extorting ransoms.”

Repression by the new government fomented and grew resistance within South Vietnam and eventually a small faction on July 8, 1959 opened fire in an Army mess hall. The first American casualties in South Vietnam were two advisers (Maj. Dale Ruis and Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand) killed while watching a movie at Bien Hoa.

In 1960 JFK narrowly defeated Nixon (Eisenhower’s Vice President) at the polls, and all candidates said they would deliver anti-communism by supporting South Vietnam’s regime.

While Eisenhower of course had been an early proponent of information warfare, given his success in WWII’s North Africa campaigns. JFK’s strategy expanded involvement with Diem further into novel direct military counter-insurgency training, including American boots on the ground working in rural communities.

You can imagine why for Diem that represented a major difference between support from Eisenhower and JFK. The latter was literally enabling South Vietnamese people, especially minority groups, to defend themselves from an oppressor, not simply backing top-down regime tactics.

Thus, despite overall expanding commitments and years of increased aid from America, not to mention escaping multiple prior coup attempts, on 1 November 1963 Diem’s brutally repressive autocratic regime was abruptly deposed by South Vietnam’s own military and he was assassinated.

It was Diem personally losing the support of America, within JFK’s administration but not necessarily including LBJ, that often frames how the South Vietnam regime ended and when and why America threw itself deep into a Vietnam War.

The ultimate effect of United States participation in the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem was to commit Washington to Saigon even more deeply. Having had a hand in the coup America had more responsibility for the South Vietnamese governments that followed Diem. That these military juntas were ineffectual in prosecuting the Vietnam war then required successively greater levels of involvement from the American side. The weakness of the Saigon government thus became a factor in U.S. escalations of the Vietnam war, leading to the major ground war that the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson opened in 1965.

It had to be Vice President LBJ who opened the major war, as by that point he had become President. 21 days after Diem’s assassination, JFK himself was assassinated.

The dramatic power shift in both countries escalated American involvement in South Vietnam and brought ever more direct military intervention that eventually accounted for 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties, over 150,000 wounded… before the March 29, 1973 final day of withdrawal.

As a footnote, the Vietnam War very nearly ended five years earlier in 1968. Nixon at that time cruelly campaigned on ending the war, while he also scuttled American peace talks to intentionally increase casualties.

Unclassified tapes have since proven his secret strategy was more Americans should die because it would help him get elected President.

Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.

Election interference is definitely not new territory for the US, whether it be abroad or at home or some combination of the two. This National Vietnam War Veteran’s Day is perhaps a good time to reflect on what that means in the past as well as future.

Update March 30th: The man in the White House today openly stated that he believes suppression of votes gives him power and will continue to do so:

…admitted on Monday that making it easier to vote in America would hurt the Republican party. …made the comments as he dismissed a Democratic-led push for reforms such as vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting as states seek to safely run elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic. …Republicans have long understood voting barriers to be a necessary part of their political self-preservation.

Kipling on COVID-19 in America: “You Can Not Hustle the East”

The Works of Kipling
All the talk I hear in America lately about the necessity of naming a virus for Asian origins — to play racist blame games instead of saying COVID-19 or even 2020 pandemic (both obviously superior choices) — has started to remind me of the 1960s CIA “training” for Vietnam with Kipling’s book “Kim” and how they got it and another of his works completely wrong:

Americans back home became impatient for results in Vietnam, proponents of the war were always quoting—or, rather, misquoting—a little-known poem of Kipling’s (just four lines, written as a chapter heading for “The Naulahka”), saying that “you cannot hurry the East.” The phrase, Benfey writes, “wormed its way into the very highest levels of decision-making.” But what the poem actually says is that you cannot “hustle” the East, and even then, Benfey demonstrates, the word had connotations of cheating and deception. You come away from his book thinking that it might be a good idea to stop your ears whenever someone in authority starts invoking Kipling, unless it’s to quote from his “Epitaphs of the War”

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

The doctor who was principle architect of aggressive and successful South Korean response to COVID-19 put it like this, when reviewing the current US and UK approach to a pandemic:

…refusal to implement mass testing for the coronavirus in the United States will have “global repercussions” […] “The United States is very late to this,” he said. “And the president and the officials working on it seem to think they aren’t late. This has both national and global repercussions […] We in Korea were thinking, ‘Are these people in their right mind?'”

See also the new Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) timeline of South Korea’s response.

White House Proposes America Try To “Sundown Town” COVID-19

Modern “Sundown Town” sign by a county’s “elected sheriff…in the position for 23 years who personally paid for the $553 sign, which includes an image of the county’s official seal.” Source: RawStory

I see reporters trying to find a normal angle when they write about a very abnormal announcement today on American risk management during a pandemic:

…a new plan to reopen swaths of the country shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic via a targeted, county-by-county mitigation effort…administration would categorize counties as “high risk, medium risk and low risk.” This would allow areas less impacted by the virus to put in place looser restrictions than ones that have been ravaged by the illness. It’s uncertain how effective such labels may be in containing the virus, however, given that asymptomatic carriers may move from region to region undetected…

Uncertain? It’s pretty clear just like using racist taunts to distract from a global pandemic this is not about containing the virus, it’s about restructuring power in America.

Looser restrictions in a county would encourage movement into it by the most contagious people (the asymptomatic). ScienceNews warns, for example. “Coronavirus is most contagious before and during the first week of symptoms“. Low risk counties would allow movement of the most high risk, which sounds plain stupid and dangerous.

So it begs an all too important question of how counties surrounded by high risk could even be expected to enforce tests of the asymptomatic at borders; how would they stay low risk while encouraging those most at risk to move about more? But wait one minute, what if that’s the wrong question entirely and there’s no intent to stop the spread of the virus?

Who gains new enforcement powers, and why, is the real key to this story.

The idea of county authority being used to stop the spread of a virus, thus bypassing the legal authority of states in favor of its counties, makes no sense until you move into a completely different frame of reference.

The White House giving a nod directly to county law enforcement for the special position to trap and keep people away who pose a “threat” to their jurisdiction…has a particular significance in politics and in American history.

America’s Black Holocaust explains how someone accustomed to exclusionary thinking might settle on counties being the preferred unit to handle boundary enforcement powers in America.

Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs. Others passed laws barring African Americans after dark or prohibiting them from owning or renting property. Still others just harassed and even killed those who violated the custom. Some sundown towns also kept out Jews, Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans, or other groups. Sundown towns range in size from tiny villages to cities. There are also many “sundown suburbs” and neighborhoods -– and even entire counties.

Even entire counties.

How have counties handled enforcement of borders, especially when it comes to keeping non-whites out? The answer is a colonial-era concept of the Sheriff, an elected and very political position without accountability.

Don’t believe anyone who suggests Sheriffs are automatically somehow representative of their county population’s best interests, given they may be elected without any real qualifications at all. Also, when we look across America, the data says 80% are white and only 41 out of 3,000 are women.

Here’s an example of a Sheriff’s bizarre response to the pandemic:

…the government had forced the unnamed [infectious COVID-19] man to stay in his home. But this week, Nelson County Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa told the Kentucky Standard that deputies will park outside of the man’s home for 24 hours a day for two weeks.

Parking multiple deputized people outside a man’s home 24 hours a day is a taxpayer-funded protest, not a quarantine. They might as well be burning a cross on his lawn to send him a message about what happens if he leaves his home.

In case you missed the other news in the past year or so, it has been that Sheriffs in America are agitating for even more unaccountable power. They sometimes have a particularly virulent strains of extreme right-wing thinking and see themselves as militants at war with other Americans.

With his red “Make America Great” hat prominently displayed in his office here in Titusville, Ivey is part of a wave of county sheriffs who feel emboldened by [the White House occupant’s] agenda, becoming vocal foot soldiers in the nation’s testy political and culture wars.

The 2018 National Sheriffs Association event also recently brought forward some gushing commentary about how the White House and American political seats of county law enforcement are in lock-step.

“[Shaking hands with the White House occupant] was a highlight of what I have been doing all these years,” [Dickson County Sheriff] Bledsoe added. “It was a privilege and honor to be a part of that and meeting other sheriffs and having some common goals…”

A Sheriff having common goals with the current White House should concern everyone in America, if history is any guide.

Of course you might say not all Sheriffs are bad in America, and you’d be right. But think of it this way instead, Sheriffs who are the most loyal to the White House agenda would get discretionary powers while Sheriffs who don’t offer enough fealty get ranked as high risk until they are voted out.

I’ve written about problems like this here before in regard to a particular 2019 Sheriff in Iowa who arrested two men as they were working on a security project, because he didn’t like being audited and didn’t respect any higher authority than himself:

Sheriff Arrested Coalfire’s Pentest Team. Was it a Case of Posse Comitatus?

I’ve also written about it here before in regard to a particular 1960 Sheriff in Arkansas who murdered an innocent black man, fabricated a story about it with fake evidence and intimidated witnesses into silence, and faced no consequences:

1960 Police Murder of Marvin Williams. How is This Not a Movie?

And I’ve even written about it here before in regard to a particular 1917 Sheriff in Arizona engaging in militant “culture war” (ethnic cleansing):

Ethnic Cleansing in America: 1917 Bisbee Deportation

A bonus reference is that last blog post includes yet another example, the 1897 Lattimer massacre:

…Polish, Slovak, Lithuanian and German miners killed by being shot in the back by a Sheriff who decided to end legal protests by murdering everyone.

Sure there are good Sheriffs, but this is really about shifting dramatic new amounts of power to the bad ones.

There’s little positive outcome I see ahead from an America First platform of the White House when it uses a cover of pandemic concerns to propose more labeling and discriminatory power go directly to counties for their Sheriffs to enforce. Let’s be clear here that America First in 1916 meant KKK, in 1936 it meant Nazis…today it still means the same things.

America First political rally participants in their traditional garb.

These are the people who thrive on social unrest coming from high unemployment and who use fear-laced xenophobia to seize excessive powers through militant actions in what they see as their “culture war” (ethnic cleansing) to preserve white supremacy.

…a neo-Nazi movement leader based in northern Europe, said that he welcomed the pandemic as a necessary step to help create the world that his group wants to see. …it’s possible that a member of the target audience will decide to take action and commit an act of violence.

To me the announcement today has every appearance of turning America backwards 150 years towards the kind of white police state organized at the county-level that extremist right-wing violent groups like “Posse Comitatus” and “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom”, let alone America First, have very long dreamed about.

Ari Ne’eman, a scholar at Brandeis University, put it best when she said:

What this is really about at the end of the day is whether our civil rights laws still apply in a pandemic. I think that’s a pretty core question as to who we are as a country.

Anyone who knows a little Sundown Town history, or has spent time inside white supremacist groups, probably heard some very familiar and distinct sounds being whistled today.

Published 2018 by The New Press
(ISBN13: 9781620974346)

“…although many former sundown towns are now integrated, they often face ‘second-generation sundown town issues,’ such as in Ferguson, Missouri, a former sundown town that is now majority black, but with a majority-white police force.”

And now this…

The Influenza, 1890

A poem written in 1890 by Winston Churchill

Oh how shall I its deeds recount
Or measure the untold amount
Of ills that it has done?
From China’s bright celestial land
E’en to Arabia’s thirsty sand
It journeyed with the sun.

O’er miles of bleak Siberia’s plains
Where Russian exiles toil in chains
It moved with noiseless tread;
And as it slowly glided by
There followed it across the sky
The spirits of the dead.

The Ural peaks by it were scaled
And every bar and barrier failed
To turn it from its way;
Slowly and surely on it came,
Heralded by its awful fame,
Increasing day by day.

On Moscow’s fair and famous town
Where fell the first Napoleon’s crown
It made a direful swoop;
The rich, the poor, the high, the low
Alike the various symptoms know,
Alike before it droop.

Nor adverse winds, nor floods of rain
Might stay the thrice-accursed bane;
And with unsparing hand,
Impartial, cruel and severe
It travelled on allied with fear
And smote the fatherland.

Fair Alsace and forlorn Lorraine,
The cause of bitterness and pain
In many a Gaelic breast,
Receive the vile, insatiate scourge,
And from their towns with it emerge
And never stay nor rest.

And now Europa groans aloud,
And ‘neath the heavy thunder-cloud
Hushed is both song and dance;
The germs of illness wend their way
To westward each succeeding day
And enter merry France.

Fair land of Gaul, thy patriots brave
Who fear not death and scorn the grave
Cannot this foe oppose,
Whose loathsome hand and cruel sting,
Whose poisonous breath and blighted wing
Full well thy cities know.

In Calais port the illness stays,
As did the French in former days,
To threaten Freedom’s isle;
But now no Nelson could o’erthrow
This cruel, unconquerable foe,
Nor save us from its guile.

Yet Father Neptune strove right well
To moderate this plague of Hell,
And thwart it in its course;
And though it passed the streak of brine
And penetrated this thin line,
It came with broken force.

For though it ravaged far and wide
Both village, town and countryside,
Its power to kill was o’er;
And with the favouring winds of Spring
(Blest is the time of which I sing)
It left our native shore.

God shield our Empire from the might
Of war or famine, plague or blight
And all the power of Hell,
And keep it ever in the hands
Of those who fought ‘gainst other lands,
Who fought and conquered well.

And a map of “Impact of the Russian Flu on the United States, 1889-1890” by Tom Ewing

E. Thomas Ewing, Veronica Kimmerly, and Sinclair Ewing-Nelson, “’Look Out for La Grippe’: Using Digital Humanities Tools to Interpret Information Dissemination during the Russian Flu, 1889-1890.” Medical History Vol. 60, Issue 1 (January 2016), pp. 129-131. DOI 10.1017/mdh.2015.84