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Exploring America’s faith-based politics from Chester Street to Vatican City

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Above, Ralph Waller crosses Chester St. to engage the opposition in dialogue; below, Bob Hill returns the gesture from the other side as the discussion continued. The pro-and anti-Trump sides did find common ground on a concern for the environment. Photos/Roger Bianchini unless otherwise noted

We have reported that at times the common-ground dialogue that began in April across party lines – and Chester Street – between anti-and pro-Trump supporters gathered in downtown Front Royal on Wednesdays seemed to be on the wane. That observation coincided with the arrival of a faith-based pro-Trump contingent focused on prayerful public support of the president and reproductive rights issues.

Some friendly, even playfully hostile dialogue between original pro-Trump supporters Michael and Ralph Waller and Vigil for Democracy, anti-Trump agenda organizer Len Sherp and other vigil participants continues. However, we have been told attempts to expand that dialogue to the new pro-Trump arrivals have been either rebuffed or met with an impenetrable ideological wall of rhetoric. In fact, this reporter was stonewalled in an attempt to get on-the-record comments from the new group on the nature of their support of the president and week-to-week perspectives on some of the more dramatic political developments surrounding the president over the second half of 2017.

Above, in early May 2017 Ralph Waller was still crossing the street to engage in dialogue with anti-Trump Vigil for Democracy demonstrators. Later that month the Wallers were joined by a faith-based, pro-Trump contingent of about 8 to 10 people more prone to prayer than dialogue with the other side.

Coincidentally as these situations were developing, this reporter was apprised of a commentary in the Catholic journal La Civilta Cattolica published last July. After reading the spiritual-socio-political analysis titled “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism” we contacted staff of what is described as a Rome-based, Jesuit-run, Far Eastern journal to inquire about reprint rights in part or total. We were given reprint authority with attribution and publication of a link to the original article.

Why were we interested in reprint rights? – Because of reports that some Vigil for Democracy participants were experiencing the very symptoms of this politically-driven “surprising new ecumenism” on Wednesdays, right here in Front Royal, Virginia.

First, a little background:

Ecumenism is defined as “a movement promoting worldwide unity among religions through greater cooperation and improved understanding”.

According to multiple online sources, what sets Protestant evangelicals apart from others of their respective faiths is a core, generally “born again” conversion belief in Jesus Christ as the lone path to salvation. This “faith above acts” belief is so stringent that evangelicals believe that even a good life full of good acts is futile without the corresponding “conversion belief” in Christ as the path to spiritual salvation.

Rather than good works being the groundwork for human redemption, the evangelical believes “true Christian faith” is at the root of a good life, which is therefore reduced to a consequence of faith, rather than a cause or justification for redemption and heavenly reward.

Online research identifies “Catholic Integralism” as an “anti-pluralist trend” born in 19th century Spain, France and Italy seeking to assert “a Catholic underpinning to all social and political action,” with a corresponding attempt “to minimize or eliminate any competing ideological actors”.

While falling short of criticizing the philosophy, The Josias website notes Integralism within the context of Catholicism is now “largely associated with hyper-traditionalist reactionaries who refuse to recognize the ideological realignment of the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.” Vatican II is generally recognized as an effort, circa 1962-1965, to refocus and keep the Catholic Church relevant to the modern world. One of its primary directives was ecumenical dialogue and cooperation with other faiths.

Second Vatican Council, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, the second held at the Vatican (1962-65): it is the move toward inter-faith dialogue and respect forwarded from this council that Catholic Integralists reject. – Public Domain Photos/St. Peters exterior Wolfgang Stuck; inside Lothar Wolleh

The La Civilta Cattolica commentary on the emergence of a fundamentalist ecumenical alliance between U.S. Catholics and Protestants is co-authored by the journal’s Editor Father Antonio Sparado and Reverend Marcelo Figueroa. Figueroa is a Presbyterian minister and editor-in-chief of the Argentine edition of L’Observatore Romano, a daily newspaper based in Vatican City.

Their analysis describes this strange, new ecumenism as an increasingly dogmatic and apocalyptic vision of politics as a battle of ultimate good versus ultimate evil. It is a view of politics and the world that does not leave much room for dialogue or compromise to achieve mutually satisfactory ends. This distinctly American brand of fundamentalist ecumenism is described by Sparado and Figueroa as an “ecumenism of hate”.

Introducing a new dynamic

Above, the faith-based group eventually grew to about 15 to 20, with varying numbers of children and teens joining the adults week to week. Prevalent through the summer and fall of 2017 were flags representing the Knights Templar and President Trump flanking the American flag. Below, as the 2017 counter demonstrations progressed reproductive rights issues served as a basis for tying the president to faith and God.

After that foray into religious perspectives, we find ourselves back at the intersection of East Main and Chester Streets in Front Royal, Virginia, on Wednesday afternoons. What symptoms of La Civilta Cattolica’s “strange new ecumenism” were being experienced here?

We were told an increasingly hostile, even angry attitude emanating from the faith-based, pro-Trump demonstrators, as well as anti-Semitic and racist comments made in direct conversations – conversations overheard by people from both sides of the street.

Vigil organizer Len Sherp initially told us of a conversation with a regular faith-based female pro-Trump demonstrator, off the record. He later went on the record when we explained our interest in an exploration of the “strange new ecumenism” described in La Civilta Cattolica.

During one of the efforts to dialogue with the newer pro-Trump contingent that originally appeared marching behind a portrait of Mary, mother of Jesus, in late May 2017, Sherp reported being questioned about his faith. He said a woman he later identified at subsequent demonstrations asked if he was “a Jew”. Somewhat taken aback, Sherp said he thought the question irrelevant, adding, “But yes, I happen to be Jewish.

“She replied along the lines of ‘I thought so. You’re all a bunch of Bolsheviks, and the Jews are responsible for everything that’s wrong in the world today.’ I asked her if we Jews in the U.S. – all 7 million of us – should pick up and move to Israel or maybe Canada. And though she confessed to not having considered it, it would be fine with her if we did,” Sherp recalled.

He reported one of the original pro-Trump demonstrators, Ralph Waller, as taken off guard by the exchange; later telling Sherp “how much he respected Jewish people.” Waller later confirmed overhearing the conversation, verifying Sherp’s account.

Several other Vigil for Democracy participants reported a subsequent conversation with another woman with what was described as a thick Australian accent. One woman from the vigil side asked her opinion of Australia’s native Aborigine population, to which she is reported to have replied, “They are hawff human, hawff beast,” after which she crossed the street to the pro-Trump side.

Sherp elaborated he could not be sure if the pro-Trump contingent was her intended destination or she had been a passerby who decided to engage both groups. However, another vigil regular said they were sure they had seen the woman in question on the pro-Trump side during a few more mid-2017 demonstrations, without again interacting on the vigil side of the street.

During this same period of time Sherp also noted a generalized level of hostility emanating from the faith-based Trump supporters that led some vigil participants to disengage.

“The hostility and anger emanating from the Trump side on occasion was off-putting to say the least, and down-right frightening to some. One of our usual participants, who had brought his grandson with him, has indicated that he won’t be coming anymore, because he couldn’t explain to his grandson why those people were so angry; and he feared what it might lead to,” Sherp told us.

Children have participated on both sides, though in larger numbers with the pro-Trump contingent (note: these photos were NOT taken the day of the referenced ‘Hate Makes Us All Ugly’ incident.)

This reporter observed that as the faith-based pro-Trump demonstrations continued into the summer, they increasingly appeared focused directly across Chester Street toward the anti-Trump vigil group. At the same time, for the most part Vigil for Democracy demonstrators appeared to continue their focus on passing foot and vehicular traffic. And while Sherp himself occasionally engaged in across-the-street political banter with the Wallers, he eventually cautioned his fellow “vigilites” working traffic along Chester Street from direct responses to taunts from demonstrators on the other side of the street due to the potential for rising tensions of a less than playful nature.

One incident from this period reflective of a generalized hostility, involving a perhaps 12-year-old girl accompanying the pro-Trump adults, was also observed by this reporter. While speaking with Ralph Waller on the Trump side of the street, trying to identify a spokesperson for the newer pro-Trump contingent, the girl brandishing a “Honk for Trump” sign came up to a nearby pro-Trump adult and reported, “They have a sign that says ‘Hate makes us all ugly’ – maybe that’s why they’re all so ugly.”

And while a glance across the street identified no one this observer would identify as physically “ugly”, the comment appeared to be taken in stride by the adult male the girl was reporting to.

Back to the Vatican

The type of conflict-oriented “we’re good, you’re evil” political stances described above are exactly what the La Civilta Cattolica article on faith-based American politics is about.

“Theirs is a prophetic formula: fight the threats to American Christian values and prepare for the imminent justice of an Armageddon, a final showdown between Good and Evil, between God and Satan,” the La Civilta Cattolica authors write, adding, “In this sense, every process – be it of peace, dialogue, etc. – collapses before the needs of the end, the final battle against the enemy … Such a unidirectional reading of the biblical texts can anesthetize consciences or actively support the most atrocious and dramatic portrayals of a world that is living beyond the frontiers of its own ‘promised land’.”

What do the authors make of this Americanized phenomena of a radicalized political alliance across Christian denominational lines? They call it a “paradox” that transforms a once vibrant spiritual tradition of religious cooperation and inclusion into a “xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations.” So transformed, the word ecumenism transforms into a spiritual paradox, into “an ecumenism of hate” Father Sparado and Reverend Figueroa assert.

As one U.S. terrorism expert said of the 1979 revolutionary Islamic student siege and hostage-taking at the American Embassy in Iran, “They believe they have God on their side – THAT is a powerful delusion.”

“Intolerance is a celestial mark of purism,” Sparado and Figueroa write, “This meeting over shared objectives happens around such themes as abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education in schools and other matters generally considered moral or tied to values. Both Evangelicals and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.”

‘Intolerance is a celestial mark of purism’ the La Civilta Cattolica authors write. – That sense of divinely-inspired purism doesn’t leave much room for dialogue or compromise. The radically-different perspectives on ‘truth’ across the Chester Street political divide reflect a growing political mood across the nation.

It is a political vision that is incompatible with a secular and democratically-based system of government as outlined by America’s Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps that helps explain the faith-based support for Trump – a shared dream of a non-democratic, non-pluralistic, authoritarian State as America’s future. However, it is a vision also incompatible with the beliefs and practice of faith urged by the current spiritual leader of world Catholicism.

The La Civilta Cattolica authors, both reported with close ties to Pope Francis, write, “Clearly there is an enormous difference between these concepts and the ecumenism employed by Pope Francis … His is an ecumenism that moves under the urge of inclusion, peace, encounter and bridges … Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts, for it is at the service of all men and women.”

Pope Francis has emphasized faith as a tool of service to, rather than dominance over, others. He often has washed the feet of the sick and suffering, from lepers to prisoners and African and Muslim immigrants, as seen here. Public Domain Photo/Vatican-frankanswers.com

The 2016 election as ‘spiritual war’

However, the authors point to one platform of the new ecumenism that asserts just such a tie between politics and spirituality.

“There is a shocking rhetoric used, for example, by the writers of “Church Militant”, a successful US-based digital platform that is openly in favor of a political ultra-conservatism and uses Christian symbols to impose itself,” Spadaro and Figueroa write. “This abuse is called ‘authentic Christianity.’ And to show its own preferences, it has created a close analogy between Donald Trump and Emperor Constantine, and between Hilary Clinton and Diocletian. The American elections in this perspective were seen as a ‘spiritual war.’

“This warlike and militant approach seems most attractive and evocative to a certain public, especially given that the victory of Constantine – it was presumed impossible for him to beat Maxentius and the Roman establishment – had to be attributed to a divine intervention: in hoc signo vinces.

“Church Militant asks if Trump’s victory can be attributed to the prayers of Americans. The response suggested is affirmative … This is a very direct message that then wants to condition the presidency by framing it as a divine election.” (Well, maybe if you are prone to mistaking Vladimir Putin for Divinity)

Of a movement claiming to unite faith and politics to a supposedly spiritual end, the authors write that it is a LIE – a lie clearly recognized by Pope Francis, as it appears to have been some 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ.

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” Christ is quoted to have said. It is a statement on face value that appears to draw a clear line in the sand between the political state and the spiritual journey of mankind seeking a path to and understanding of its Creator.

“Francis radically rejects the idea of activating a Kingdom of God on earth as was at the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and similar political and institutional forms, including at the level of a ‘party.’ Understood this way, the ‘elected people’ would enter a complicated political and religious web that would make them forget they are at the service of the world, placing them in opposition to those who are different, those who do not belong – that is the ‘enemy’ …”

The La Civilta Cattolica authors point to an ultraconservative faith-based effort to tie Donald Trump’s election victory to that of Constantine becoming emperor in a long-shot victory over the Roman establishment. While one side of Chester St. may have bought into that notion, the other side has not – though that latter side may see similarities between Constantine and Trump that eludes that duo’s supporters. Constantine-‘By this sign conquer’ statue/Public Domain

But for the Protestant Evangelical and the Catholic Integralist it is a natural step – for all “non-believers” are perceived as enemies who would not be tolerated in the theocratic state they desire. But how strange is it that such religious fundamentalists have tied their political wagon to Donald Trump, by reputation and action one of the least spiritual men to ever occupy the White House?

An example of this tenuous relationship may be illustrated in how the American Christian right reacted to the 2017 reports of an extra-marital affair Donald Trump had with a porn star. Queried about the phenomena, one Vigil for Democracy participant pointed to the “mulligan” (a golfing term for a do-over) offered up by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins regarding Trump’s reported encounter with Stephanie Clifford, aka adult film star Stormy Daniels, shortly after Melania Trump gave birth to the president’s youngest child.

The Family Research Council (FRC) is a Christian-based advocacy group, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as an “extremist group” with a primary anti-LGBT agenda. It was founded in the early 1980’s and bills itself as the leading American voice for “traditional family values”. The FRC website identifies Perkins as its longest-serving president (since 2003), an ordained minister and former “leading pro-life voice” in the Louisiana State Legislature. According to its website, FRC’s mission is “to advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview.”

Family values hypocrisies aside, the promise of movement in their direction on birth control, abortion and religious rights fronts by the president seem to be enough to hold the faith-based Trump line through any kind of scandal. As Trump himself observed of his “base” during his improbable 2016 run to the presidency, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Above, Stephanie Clifford, aka porn-film star Stormy Daniels, who received a $130,000 payment from Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen during 2016 presidential campaign, ostensibly to remain quiet over an alleged sexual affair with Trump shortly after his third wife Melania gave birth to their son. Below, Evangelical-based Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who gave Trump a ‘mulligan’ (do over) on his alleged extra-marital affairs. Stormy Photo/Public Domain-Facebook, Perkins Photo/FRC website

Of the $130,000 of alleged hush money paid by Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign, one sage observer commented, “At least there is one storm Trump will pay for.”

More seriously – well there is a VERY serious point to that “storm” payment observation, especially if you are Puerto Rican, Floridian or Texan – Catholic Sparado and Presbyterian Figueroa write, “There is a need to flee the temptation to project divinity on political power that then uses it for its own ends … Religions cannot consider some people as sworn enemies nor others as eternal friends. Religion should not become the guarantor of the dominant classes. Yet it is this very dynamic with a spurious theological flavor that tries to impose its own law and logic in the political sphere … Triumphalist, arrogant and vindictive ethnicism is actually the opposite of Christianity.”

Sparado and Figueroa reference a May 9, 2017 interview published in the French daily La Croix where Pope Francis points to the example of Christ (the cross as a symbol of sacrifice), not Constantine (the cross as the hilt of a sword of conquest), as the model for true Christian values in the world:

“The contribution of Christianity to a culture is that of Christ washing the feet, or the service and the gift of life. There is no room for colonialism,” the pope told the French journal, adding, “The only crown that counts for the Christian is the one with thorns that Christ wore on high.”

Sparado and Figueroa observe that for the spiritual leader of world Catholicism, true spirituality and true faith must ultimately be used as a check on abuses of power by any socio-political elite, rather than co-opted as the tool of a political establishment seeking to elevate itself to the position of earthbound deity, above the rule of any law or beholding to any sense of a common, universal good or tolerance.

As they conclude, Sparado and Figueroa explore “fear” at the root of what they describe as a political perversion of faith. “It is fear of the breakup of a constructed order and the fear of chaos … The political strategy for success becomes that of raising the tones of the conflictual, exaggerating disorder, agitating the souls of the people by painting worrying scenarios beyond any realism.”

Boy, does that sound familiar to anyone on, say, the fronts of immigration or LGBT rights?

“The appeal to the apocalypse justifies the power desired by a god or colluded in with a god.* And fundamentalism thereby shows itself not to be the product of a religious experience but a poor and abusive perversion of it,” La Civilta Cattolica’s authors conclude.

Back home

‘Pray for Our President’ to keep his hands off any beautiful women in the neighborhood; but that one below looks prepared for any celebrity glad hands.

And so after this long detour through Vatican and European history, as well as La Civilta Cattolica’s pages where we encountered “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism”, we again find ourselves back at the intersection of East Main and Chester Streets, in Front Royal, Virginia, USA.

So, what is to be made of such faith-based political hostility and encounters described along Chester Street reflective of anti-Semiticism, notions of racial superiority, and stereotypical vilification of political opponents passed on to the children?

One might say it indicates that we are part of a world becoming not only smaller due to technological advances, but unfortunately no less mean-spirited than past empires history tells us were built upon bigotry, lies and the stereotyping of “others” as somehow less human, less worthy, less “holy” than the ruling elite and its devotees. – Devotees hypnotized by clinging to the cloak, not of Christ, but to that of an Emperor and the power of the State.

*FOOTNOTE: observe that the La Civilta Cattolica authors write “god” in this passage with a small “g” indicating their belief the “new ecumenism’s” faith is in a false god.

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Statue removal: At whose expense?

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I have read the petitions for and against the removal and relocation of the memorial on the Warren County courthouse lawn. I attended the August 4, 2020, meeting of the Board of Supervisors and heard arguments from both sides. But what I have not heard is how much will it cost to remove and relocate, and who is going to pay for it?

The memorial has been in place since 1911, one hundred and nine years; it is paid for and requires little maintenance. At a time when we need to find new ways to educate our children because of COVID-19, we do not need to waste time and money on this type of nonsense.

Relocating the memorial will only create another argument and cause more division in our community. LEAVE IT ALONE!

Will Lewis
Front Royal, Virginia

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District 29: Thank you, to everyone who came out yesterday and cast their votes

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Friends,

Thank you, to everyone who came out yesterday and cast their votes for me.  I am truly humbled and appreciate the great turnout for me or my opponent Mr. Traczyk.

For those who supported my campaign and trusted me with your vote, thank you!  For those who supported my opponent, I will work tirelessly to earn your vote in the general election and look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail.

I would like to thank all of my volunteers for the time they gave to our campaign. I appreciate them all for the many calls they made, every door they knocked, and finally for their willingness to spend more than 8 hours in the hot sun spreading our message to the voters.

Our success yesterday is entirely yours.

From the bottom of mine and Katy’s heart, we are deeply humbled by our friends who rearranged busy schedules to come out yesterday, especially on a Saturday. To the party faithful who voted and endorsed my campaign for the house of Delegates, I will be a conservative fighter in Richmond.

I like to thank the Legislative District Committee for running a smooth Firehouse Primary. The time you gave and efforts you put into are unmatched and it showed.

Now, the focus is on my Democratic opponent and defeating liberals on the ballot this November.

Thank you,

Bill Wiley

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Divergent Black Voices

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historically speaking

Today I read a post about an article from Fortune magazine that lists 19 Black economists to know and celebrate. I think it is great that we celebrate the contributions of Black Americans, but when Walter Williams is left off of any list of important economists, especially Black economists, I have to question the motives of those who made the list. Williams is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University and is one of the most important economists over the past thirty years. Why was he left off the Fortune list? Historically speaking, it is a disagreement that goes back about 150 years.

Being a Black American, Williams has faced racism. After high school, he was drafted into the Army where he was court-marshaled for fighting back against the racial practices he experienced. After the Army, he finished his schooling, including earning his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA in economics.

Williams taught at Temple University and Stanford before finally settling in Northern Virginia to teach at George Mason. More than any other professor, Williams put Mason on the academic map. He has authored dozens if not hundreds of books and articles. He became known for his syndicated column, Minority View. He has never shied away from racial issues; his most recognized books are entitled The State against Blacks and America: A Minority Viewpoint.

Williams has received many prestigious awards in economics and is considered a leading voice in his field. So why was Williams excluded from a list of prominent Black economists by Fortune? That is easy: he is conservative. I completely support the concept behind Black Lives Matter, yet, as with so many organic movements, I fear BLM may be hijacked by divisive politics. I also start to question the motives of a movement when only liberal Black Americans are celebrated. Historically speaking, conservatives have suffered the same racist attitudes as all Black Americans and at times even more. Many Black conservatives not only struggle with hostile racism but resentment from their own community for not being Black enough. If you want evidence of this, you need look no further than the fact that Fortune magazine does not consider Walter Williams important enough to mention in their pages.

This divide is as old as Jim Crow. If you go back to around the beginning of the 20th Century, the two most influential Black Americans were W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Washington, born a slave in Virginia, put himself through the Hampton Institute, one of the first black schools set up after the war. He eventually rose to become the head of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Washington, having to fundraise to keep his Institute alive, tried to work with the white population. Tuskegee was a trade school and Washington taught that, through hard work, Blacks could raise themselves up out of their circumstances and eventually be accepted by whites. In Washington’s most famous speech he said, “No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized.” He believed if Blacks proved themselves, they would be treated as equals. Washington was celebrated by the white population, but was often attacked by members of his own race.

Du Bois was born free in the North and excelled in education, being the first Black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard. Du Bois, who was extremely critical of Washington, believed Blacks should receive the same education as whites and did not want to wait for acceptance from whites. He wanted Blacks to push for civil rights and formed the NAACP to organize that cause. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois wrote of Washington, “From birth till death enslaved; in word, in deed, unmanned! Hereditary bondsmen! Know ye not. Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?”

Jump forward several years and these two trains of thought were being still debated during the Civil Rights crusades of the 1950s and 1960s. This time the principle figures were Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.  While King took the Washington role of preaching non-violence and integration with whites to work for civil rights, Malcolm X channeled D Bois with his teaching of Black Power. Mr. X once said of King, “The white man pays Reverend Martin Luther King, subsidizes Reverend Martin Luther King, so that Reverend Martin Luther King can continue to teach the Negroes to be defenseless.” All four men wanted to achieve the same destination; they just took different paths to arrive while being critical of the other.

The same is true with Dr. Williams and conservative Black voices today. They want the same ends as the Black Lives Matter movement; they have experienced the same racism. However, as the movement is becoming a political movement as much as a racial one, important voices like Dr. Williams are being silenced by the same voices calling for people of color to be heard.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog

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Gun laws – Front Royal August 3 Town Council Work Session

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The Democrat controlled Virginia legislature passed a law enabling jurisdictions, beginning, July 1, 2020, to control the carrying of firearms in public places or approved public events. Previously any non-felon citizen could carry a visible firearm or a concealed firearm (with a permit) in any public place except schools and courthouses. At the August 3, 2020 Front Royal Council work session they considered a citizen offered resolution that declared the Town would not exercise any authority granted under the new law. It would leave things as they have been. No problem existed thus no solution was warranted.

I watched the Royal Examiner video of that meeting and was appalled. I encourage all to view this beginning at minute 16. First, the Town Attorney rambled about the new law and offered inaccurate counsel on the issue. He failed to acknowledge that firearms were indeed legal to carry presently in government buildings, when specifically questioned by a Councilman even when the Town’s Chief of Police mentioned that citizens were not restricted from bringing firearms into the County Board meeting room. The Town attorney suggested that the public probably deduced that carrying firearms into Town Hall wasn’t allowed because it was across from the courthouse. The Town Attorney impugned the character of town employees by commenting that some might not be trusted to carry firearms during work hours.

I wonder if he will be required to specifically identify the untrustworthy employees he referenced? I wonder if the Interim Manager will chastise the Town Attorney at the next Council meeting like he inappropriately did to Mayoral candidate Mike McCool recently?

The Town Attorney suggested that employees who collected taxes and fees would be more at risk from potentially angry citizens if they were not limited in the future from bringing firearms into Town Hall. The fact that in the Town’s history I’m not aware of such an event ever occurring was conveniently overlooked. The Town Attorney pointed out that currently law enforcement was only present at Council meetings and not at other public body meetings. I believe the Town Attorney’s comments demonstrate a clear bias against citizens carrying firearms in public and that his performance on this issue was far below what should be expected from a supposed, objective legal expert. This is not the first time I have witnessed questionable judgement from the Town’s attorney and maybe the Town would be better served by obtaining fresh views.

Listening to the comments from Council I was shocked at how uninformed some were regarding firearm issues when just several months ago they passed a resolution declaring Front Royal to be supportive of the Second Amendment. Not a single Council person offered that the new State law was possibly in conflict with the US and Virginia Constitution that I recall. Several Councilmen failed to engage in any constructive comments about the topic at all! Instead, the resolution was kicked down the road for further discussion. Do not let it be said that this Council is not expert in can kicking!

This should have been an easy issue for the Council. It should have been passed unanimously with limited discussion. That Councilman Holloway, a Mayoral candidate, did not champion this resolution is either an indication of a shortcoming with political savvy or has a hidden belief that citizens cannot be trusted to be responsible with firearms in public. In either case, it would give me something to consider when voting in November if I was a Town resident.

The right to protect yourself, your family and your property is a human right, not to be managed by any government. The US and Virginia Constitution clearly affirm that it ‘Shall Not Be Infringed’. Hopefully Town residents will be giving their Councilman a piece of their minds about their support on this resolution and it will be unanimously passed at the earliest Council meeting possible and by Warren County’s Board as well.

Gary Kushner
Bentonville, Virginia

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The courthouse soldier’s statue and our history – not as simple as some portray it

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I think Mr. Bianchini’s recent article on the Confederate statue/memorial was well written, even if I didn’t agree with everything in the article. I think I can speak for not just myself, but many others in Warren County, in saying leave our statue and history alone! I am so sick of this “cancel culture” and the current push by some to seemingly try to erase a vast majority of American history. As we have seen in recent months, it was never just about Confederate soldiers, they were just easy targets. But how much does the average American actually know about the Civil War?

There are many facts that either aren’t taught anymore, or have been swept under the rug on purpose. First, the right of secession was a very important topic in the US for the 70 years prior to the Civil War, so much so that New York, Rhode Island and Virginia would not ratify the US Constitution unless the right of secession was included. In fact, several New England states tried at least 4 separate times to secede from the US: 1804, 1814, 1844 and 1848, over everything from the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, to the Mexican War. Soldiers at West Point were even taught in their textbooks up to 1860 that secession was legal.

Also, why is it never discussed that states in the upper south, like Virginia, voted in early 1861 to remain in the Union, and only voted for secession when Lincoln called for 75,000 soldiers to march through the South and put down the “rebellion”? It was even stated in the Virginia Constitution that no army could march through the state without permission from the state, which is why many men joined the southern armies. They took this as an invasion.

The Confederate soldier on the WC Courthouse lawn since 1911. Why did ‘he’, representing this county’s foot soldiers, fight? They aren’t here to answer – but can we be trusted to answer for them, so as to justify their collective image and names removal from our public property? One reader says the answer may not be as simple as some would have us believe. Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini

Why is it never discussed anymore that 75% of white men living in the South in 1861 didn’t own any slaves? How ironic is it that the top 2 Union generals in the war, General’s Grant and Sherman, both owned slaves before and during the war, yet there are no records of General Lee or Jackson ever buying a slave! General Lee inherited slaves from his father-in-law in the late 1850s, and they were freed as instructed in the will 5 years later in 1862, right in the middle of the war! Stonewall Jackson’s wife also inherited several slaves who were later freed as well. The vast majority of Union soldiers stated they were fighting to preserve the Union, and not to solely end slavery. General Grant said if he thought the war was fought only to end slavery then he would have taken his sword to the other side.

Statues and memorials, like the one here in Front Royal, weren’t erected for decades after the war for one major reason, money. The South was in ruins after the war, and it took many years to raise the money to construct them. The statue at the courthouse is a memorial to the men from Warren County who fought and died in this terrible war, and not just a Confederate monument.

History is never as simple as black or white. We also as a society cannot look at, and judge people from the 18th and 19th centuries while looking through our 21st century lenses. It is also easy to attack people who have been dead for 100 years and can’t speak for themselves. Are we a perfect nation with a perfect history? No. But we sure have it a lot better than most others.

Billy Robinson
Front Royal, Virginia

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Opinion

Commentary: Is there a better way than targeting the Courthouse lawn Confederate soldier for removal?

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Let me open by apologizing for the length of this piece – but I feel at a pivotal point in our collective socio-political history both locally and nationally, I need to be precise and clear on my perspective of the issues addressed.

After being told about a month ago by one of the organization’s principals that at the time Front Royal Unites had no design on the removal of the statue on the Warren County Courthouse grounds, that has apparently changed.

A petition posted on the FR Unites website cites a change in state law implemented July 1, authorizing localities to remove or relocate Confederate memorials from public properties and calls for the tall monument dedicated, not to any Confederate military or political leader, but to the average citizen-soldier of Warren County, to be removed and relocated off public property.

As Samuel Porter and colleague led this June 20 FR Unites ‘March for Justice’ the statue commemorating the sacrifice of Confederate soldiers from Warren County in the background was not a matter of concern. Things have changed as the organization has refocused its attention, as have others, on the statue’s removal. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini & 1b from FR Unites website

The Front Royal Unites petition states, “We must support the removal of the Confederate monument at the Warren County Courthouse. Confederate symbols on public land, in effect, endorse a movement founded on white supremacy. If our government continue(s) to pay homage to the Confederacy, people of color can never be sure they will be treated fairly. And we will never solve our community’s problems if an entire group of citizens is alienated or feels targets for discrimination.”

Front Royal Unites Vice President and Director of Communications Samuel Porter authored the petition, adding of its impetus, “We must show other citizens of not only Warren County … and the nation at large that we give no safe harbor to such hatred … I urge you to support this petition because one day in the future they’ll look back to see what we did – the time to act is now, not later. Will you help bring about good and positive change? Let’s do it together. Together we are united. Together we are Front Royal.”

But will those looking back from a future perspective actually see a positive, uniting move toward justice for all in this specific effort in one small Virginia community, or will they see something, while unintended, very different?

I have spoken with a few county residents, white county residents, who can trace their lineage in this county and region back to the Civil War era, about the potential of the Courthouse lawn Confederate Soldier Memorial becoming a target for removal. Pointing to the “average man” nature of the statue, they have generally taken a hardline stance against its removal. They feel a personal connection to the statue unveiled at its current Warren County Courthouse site in 1911 to honor locals who fought in a brutal war that left more Americans dead than any fought with a foreign adversary.

They are not history’s heroes – but can their collective experience of the 1860’s war teach us anything of worth in the 21st Century – perhaps pointing two opposing perspectives toward compromise for a common good? Below, the known names commemorated on the monument’s west side.

From those conversations, while admittedly a limited number, I fear that moving locally against this particular monument may do more to divide this community than unite it. I believe it could lead to an aggressive counter-movement to defend the statue at its site, leading some who have stayed as observers of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and push back to it, to come out in stark opposition over this one symbol.

In fact, on Sunday, July 26, I was made aware of a counter online petition titled “Act Now: Save Warren County’s Civil War Statue” with 736 supporting signatures by the time I visited the website.

As of the same time late afternoon Sunday, the FR Unites petition had 719 signed on in support of removing the statue. I was also pointed to a concurrent remove the statue petition titled “Warren County United to Remove Confederate Statue” sporting 573 signatures.

Okay, it’s sideways and the wrong statue (I think). But the ‘Save Warren County’s Civil War Statue’ website petition has taken on a public opposition role to petitions in favor of moving the statue honoring the service and sacrifice of Warren County’s Civil War soldiers.

So, here we go – but what are we fighting about?

Unlike the vast majority of Confederate statues targeted in the anti-racism, equal justice for all Americans movement, those honored by the Confederate statue at the Warren County Courthouse are not major players in the Civil War. Other than locally they are historically anonymous figures. Even with most, if not all, their names attached what is really known about the average Warren County citizen-soldier of the 1860s?

To this observer’s knowledge, none memorialized on that statue left any historically documented messages in support of the root cause of the Civil War – secession from the Union over a state’s right to maintain slaves as free labor to prop up the Confederate states’ economies.

One is left to wonder how many named and unnamed on that statue left their homes and families voluntarily to go to war, or may have been conscripted into the Confederate military as were a large proportion of that army’s soldiers? Would any have actually been from slave-owning families or grasped the political impetus that set their state against other states militarily in a non-24×7 news cycle era where information, accurately reported or not, was NOT available at the flip of a switch at everyone’s fingertips??

I do sympathize with the impulse to want to remove ANY symbol glorifying the dehumanizing and amoral policy of defining any group, much less an entire race of people, as fundamentally inferior to one’s own in order to justify the use of free, slave labor for self-enrichment. However, I find myself wondering at the wisdom of including this particular statue in this particular community as part of that effort.

Could a community’s sons sacrifices, even on the wrong side of history, become a positive teaching tool for us all?

No, we do NOT want symbols of a “wink, wink” acceptance of continued racism in our nation, states and communities to continue to stand. But as I noted above, those I spoke to with an emotional attachment to the statue, appeared attached to honoring one’s predecessors, one’s ancestors who fought in a war – on the wrong side of history or not. Absent was any expressed emotional attachment to slavery or argument that in the long run slavery’s end as an economic-cultural institution was a bad thing.

Another way?

So, I had a thought – why not approach Front Royal Unites leadership, and other like-minded groups, and supporters of the Warren County Courthouse site of the Confederate Soldier Memorial about a compromise solution – a solution that perhaps has more potential for uniting this community than simply lumping this one statue in with all the others earmarked for removal efforts.

Yes, Front Royal Unites and others aligned with the “Black Lives Matter” and equal-justice movement, keep your sights set on those monuments or boulevards erected or named for those who are documented for their blatant racism, aggressively cruel slaveholding, belief in the preservation of slavery or more recently, efforts to preserve racial segregation in American society into the late 20th Century.

But is a blanket assault on historical markings and personages born into a different era going to teach us any more about who we were, and who we WANT to be as a people moving forward, than is the close-minded stance of those who don’t accept that institutional racism continues to be an issue in American society or worse are perfectly comfortable with institutionalized racism?

If we want to advance and truly unite to the common cause of human equality and balanced economic opportunity for all, don’t we have to be better than our opponents on the other side of our own historical epoch?

Could we as a community unite across racial, philosophical, even political boundaries and leave the statue where it is – BUT use it as a tool of education for the entire community and those who visit us? Yes, the statue at another location as proposed in the Front Royal Unites petition – Prospect Hill Cemetery, the Daughters of the Confederacy, or Warren Rifles Confederate Museum property – could be used as an educational tool. But once moved, how many on the “get the thing out my sight” side would actually remain engaged in such an effort to teach and learn from that statue?

The county’s Confederate soldier gazes north, most directly at the Afton Inn, the shadow of which is visible at the bottom of the FR Town Hall’s Crescent St. wall. Perhaps a citizen compromise on the monument might point the town government toward compromise on its Afton, EDA issues, or propel a November election result that would promote such compromise.

However, if those from BOTH sides of the debate had to explain why they agreed to leave a Confederate statue on the Warren County Courthouse property, that might lead to some serious background research, conversation – and UNITY. But what could that statue, remaining in the center of Historic Downtown Front Royal on public property, teach us all, you might ask.

NOT that “wink, wink” racism is acceptable here!

Rather, perhaps the Confederate Soldier Memorial remaining ON our historic courthouse lawn could serve as a timeless lesson and warning to all Americans. I say “all” because I believe this community will get a LOT MORE national attention if such a compromise is reached than it will if another Confederate statue is removed from a small, southern town’s public property – unless of course, that removal brings violence here from either or both sides of the issue. But I am talking about POSITIVE attention.

What lesson, what warning so timely at this very moment in our collective history could Front Royal and Warren County’s citizens, AND our long-dead Confederate citizen-soldiers, teach this nation, and perhaps the world?

The lesson would be: DON’T get lost in your own worldview to the exclusion of all others. Talk to, listen to those whose perspective is not identical to your own – maybe they are NOT the enemy; maybe there is common ground for meaningful discourse and compromise.

The warning would be: NOT to enlist, NOT to submit to conscription, or if already enlisted, NOT to simply follow orders to implement things that upon closer, objective examination are not in the best interest of your community, your state, your nation, or for that matter, NOT in the best interest of the human race of which we are all a part.

Perhaps an addition to the monument explaining this “Compromise of 2020”, including the names of the principal negotiators and their organizations, could be locally funded by the County and Town and added to the memorial display for future generations to read about and be inspired by.

‘We believe’ – a message worth sharing found in a local yard. This writer also ‘believes’ there is a better way than demanding public site removal of all Civil War markers without acknowledging specific differences in Civil War and historic personage displays.

If not now, when?

When, better than now for us to talk WITH each other, rather than AT each other about our varying social and cultural perspectives? We find ourselves at a point of aggressive partisan political hostility some historians have described as the greatest in this nation since the run-up to the Civil War. It is a time we now see militarily clad, unidentified federal agents deployed to U.S. cities in a partisan political show of extra-legal force, against the will of state and local elected officials from the opposition political party.

It is a show of force targeting this very anti-racism, equal-justice-for-all movement, aimed not only at sporadic vandalism or graffiti writing at federal buildings or statues but at peaceful protesters against racism, murder, and hypocrisy. One peaceful demonstrator in Portland, Oregon was nearly killed when shot in the head with a so-called “non-lethal” projectile. Others have been seized into federal custody with no due process, no explanation, even to local officials and law enforcement.

But back on our courthouse lawn, it is a different response we must worry about. That is the response of our neighbors, our fellow citizens who may trace their family heritage, not to the ownership of slaves, but just to a walk-on roll in a war the average foot soldier may not have completely understood the reason for.

Will some racists, some with neo-fascist sympathies embrace a “save the statue” movement? Surely, but it is NOT them I am urging to the table for discussion. And it is that discussion between differing but well-meaning perspectives that has the potential of, not only truly UNITING us, but also of disarming the opposition of those of a less wholesome perspective on the issue.

Front Royal Unites wants to be a uniting community force. But is it running the risk of creating a new “group of citizens” feeling “targeted” and “alienated” – NOT for being modern-day racists or supporters of slavery, but for simply wanting their predecessors, their ancestors who fought, were wounded or died in America’s Civil War to be remembered for their sacrifice?

A photo of the Confederate soldier statue from a 1956 publication by local historian Laura Virginia Hale, sponsored by the Warren Rifles United Daughters of the Confederacy, acknowledging the developmental history of this community’s four primary Civil War monuments. Those include the pictured Confederate soldier statue now under scrutiny (1911), as well as Soldiers Circle (1882) and Mosby’s Monument (1899) at Prospect Hill Cemetery, and the Battle of Front Royal marker placed at the intersection of Chester St. and N. Royal Ave. (1927).

Yes, those ancestors fought on the wrong side of history. But as stated above, most, if not all, were not slave owners. And little may be known of their thoughts as to why, when called, they chose to fight for their state amongst a confederacy of states against an American Union viewed by many at the time more like Europeans view the European Union today.

So, can we all just step back and take a deep breath? – Look at it as THAT breath George Floyd was not allowed to take. And if not Floyd’s life, maybe that breath can save OUR unity of purpose in moving this community forward as an example for others.

For if those who want to see equal justice and opportunity for all in this nation begin taking on the same sort of uncompromising, hardline stances as those who harbor racist, neo-fascist totalitarian tendencies, then what chance as a nation do we have to survive as the Founding Fathers envisioned? That vision was of an imperfect, but constantly improving nation and people – people capable of learning, evolving, of uniting over false barriers created by those who would divide to suppress, control, and dominate.

United we are stronger!

So, let’s stay united across the broadest spectrum of people in this community that we can. Because outside its active membership and support base, I fear that Front Royal Unites and any other associated group’s move on the Confederate soldier statue’s place on the Warren County Courthouse grounds has the potential to create a level of division in our community that has not thus far been apparent. I said I had the idea of approaching the leadership of Front Royal Unites and others wanting the statue moved and locals opposing that move, about a compromise resolution.
I guess this commentary is that approach.

So what do you think people, is there room for meaningful conversation about this statue, its location, and preservation as a timeless warning and teaching tool for us all? Can we just take that deep breath George Floyd never got to take in Minneapolis, and move forward together rather than at each other’s throats, figuratively or literally?

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