The Lynching Of ACORN

In his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas refuted Professor Anita Hill’s sexual harassment testimony against him with these famous words:

“This is a case in which this sleaze, this dirt, was searched for by staffers of members of this committee, was then leaked to the media, and this committee and this body validated it and displayed it at prime time over our entire nation.…This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I’m concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the US Senate rather than hung from a tree.”

lynching-200x200I cite this as precedent in three realms: An African-American defining a lynching beyond the traditional mob beating and hanging of black people; a Supreme Court Justice not known for opinions sympathetic to minorities here asserting racism as the cause in a line of inquiry; and the U.S. Congress’s acceptance of this definition as they hastily approved the minimally experienced Thomas following his scathing complaints.

The history of lynching in America is considerable. From 1882-1968, nearly 5000 lynchings occurred in the United States.  Lynching is vigilantism and extrajudicial decision by a group of people, a violent act by a mob that does not believe their agenda will be met by law, aware they are acting out of the law, but in effect being the law. There is rarely accountability for those involved.  In fact, the display of the victim hanging for all to see is meant to scare off others, violators of perceived segregation or threats to authority.

A perceived wrong to white women was often used as justification. Fueled by prejudice and untruths, urged by a perceived threat or need for immediate justice, lynchings often occurred for reasons other than the alleged crime, like a land or business dispute. Lynchings occurred primarily with blacks men dying at the hands of a white mob, but white people were also targeted, for activism or outspokenness.  

This would seem to be the case in Kentucky, where a white census worker was murdered, left hanged, naked, hands taped together, gagged, his ID taped to him and “FED” scrawled across his chest.  To dispute that this heinous crime qualifies as a lynching is a very dangerous road to go down, even from people who email White House watermelon pictures. Nonetheless, some are inhumanly quick to venture any number of defamatory theories, blaming a victim who can no longer speak for himself, rather than acknowledge what is plain as day.

The manner in which Bill Sparkman was left to be found makes it clear that this was meant as a message. His body didn’t have “Bill” scrawled on it, or “Guy Who Wronged Me Personally In Ways That The Legal Process Will Not Adjudicate Fairly.” No, it said simply, “FED,” as in, what else is there to say?  He was a federal employee—how dare he?  But why on earth would someone want to kill a federal employee (outside of postal-worker-on-postal-worker violence)?  How could population counting of American citizens to allot them equitable representation and public resources make them want to kill you?

Fanatical fear mongers, such as wrist-slasher and Rep. Michelle Bachman, R-Minn., have sought to create fears of this census process that occurs every 10 years, alleging surveillance and plans to build government camps. She has been notably dodging the issue since Sparkman’s murder, but she had plenty of unfounded fears to share about the census just months ago:

As you can see from this clip, ACORN has already been conflated with the right wing paranoia about the census, with Fox’s Megyn Kelly re-enforcing these misperceptions up until Bachmann evokes the Japanese internment camps in World War II as reason for us to be suspicious today. That ACORN is raised as a specter in the same breath as the internment of Japanese-Americans by the U.S. government post-Pearl Harbor reveals the far-flung misimpressions of this community umbrella organization. ACORN sounds like COBRA.

The census worker lynching in Kentucky indicates that this violent fervor is still alive and well, and being fed some of the purest baloney that the right wing fear machine can mass-produce in their all-out efforts at relevance. The only danger presented by both census-taking and ACORN’s voter registration is the counting and empowerment of Brown people. As the population includes more minorities—on their way to becoming the majority—plenty of bigoted white people feel their sense of prestige endangered. Census data goes into districting, and thus proportional representation in government.  More Brown people voting further threatens the status quo.

By the standard of a high-tech lynching, ACORN’s travails are commensurate. The attacks on ACORN have been ongoing, involving the Justice Department, the White House, and the Republican National Committee, well before a couple of privileged white kids in costumes wandered into poor communities across the country hoping to make social workers look stupid and lose their jobs. This is a mob Karl Rove started years ago.

James O’Keefe III is serving Karl Rove, knowingly or unknowingly. His very identification of ACORN as what had to be taken down a notch — not Goldman Sachs, not the Treasury, not U.S. companies with off-shore accounts — why would O’Keefe even know what ACORN is?

This extensive report on the media’s failure to objectively cover ACORN, just released by the Occidental College Urban & Environmental Policy Institute shows the rampant inequity of media coverage and lack of accuracy in reporting on ACORN for the past year. If someone were to see solely this much negative press, they would probably hold an unfavorable view of ACORN as well, as some 67 percent people do, according to a recent poll Karl Rove Tweeted.

Enter James O’Keefe III to take that ball of misinformation and run with it. On Fox & Friends, James O’Keefe III is introduced at the beginning of the interview, wearing a fur coat over his preppy blazer, as he waves a cane. The host is quick to excuse his appearance: “You’re not a pimp, you’re just playing one on our show.”

O’Keefe replies: “I’m one of the whitest guys ever, I just wear ridiculous stuff and put people in ridiculous situations.” That is how he assures us he is not a pimp—he is one of the Whitest Guys Ever, therefore on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Blackest Guys Ever, who normally tend to this kind of thing.

Implicit is this: ‘I am so white, I had to dress up like a pimp caricature to look black, and it actually worked. That they acknowledged me despite my outlandish attire shows that they are so gullible and base, I was mistaken for a real pimp, which they all must know, being minorities. Once disguised in this clownish attire, they spoke to me as one of their own, so therefore this is how they all behave throughout their organization. Had I not been dressed as Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch, the ACORN employees would have known that I was white, and therefore been on their best behavior, as we can expect them to be to us white people when we come around to check on them.’

Just by walking in the door dressed like this, O’Keefe is casting aspersions that people like this would go there (not just sex workers—clueless sex workers). O’Keefe even pleaded with one alarmed ACORN worker to not call the cops for assistance, so that later O’Keefe can fault him for not calling the cops.  As O’Keefe says in the above clip coldly, “That’s who these people are.”

O’Keefe is quick to generalize an entire national organization based on a singular intrusive experience, despite other ACORN offices not taking his bait, after admitting he went in there to prove they were thugs.  If that’s who these people really are, why not release the videotapes in their entirety to show that, including those tapes shot in cities that did not humor O’Keefe, like Los Angeles or Philadelphia, where the ACORN office filed a police report about the pimp and ho spectacle?

As O’Keefe insists in the clip above, ACORN’s allegation that the tapes appear doctored is “a lie,” so he shouldn’t have a problem proving it by releasing the full unedited tapes, which would likely be part of ACORN’s lawsuit against him. Refuting the “moral equivalence,” O’Keefe decries that doctoring tapes does not even compare with child prostitution — suggesting that to O’Keefe, the ends justify the means.  Was this about the truth, or making ACORN look bad?

Lost in all of the sensationalism of O’Keefe’s hyperbole and selective truths was that there has been no other connection between ACORN and underage prostitution, until O’Keefe walked in and started talking about it to any ACORN employee he could get to listen to him.

acorn-funded-prostitution-zone-330x415Try to explain this to the anti-ACORN vandalism that appeared immediately after O’Keefe’s videos, notably at Shepard Fairy’s art studio in Santa Monica.  The stencil reading “ACORN Funded Prostitution Zone” doesn’t take into account that there has been no evidence of actual prostitution, or that Shepard Fairy doesn’t even have any connection to ACORN—but he made a poster for Obama, so they’re all connected?   This is the kind of hasty reaction that ties a bunch of unrelated things together in a mob’s mind, searching for some easy target.

Many in the crankosphere were quick to chest-beat: “To defend ACORN is to defend child prostitution itself.  No one can defend them now!” Actually, you can defend ACORN, and many have, because decades of real work in communities across our country still amounts to more than a fleeting image to a bunch of anonymous people in Gotcha Mode who do not know the reality of what ACORN is and will not bother to learn.

But once again, this is beside the point: Do I have to defend everything that ACORN has or has not done to decry this unjust process? Myself and others have attested to ACORN’s greater good, but there is a critical need to refute gross misrepresentation and be vigilant in truth to rebuff future pitchfork-wavers.

In the wake of the fallout from the Pimp-Ho videos, the first government tie to drop ACORN was the Census Bureau, even though they do not pay ACORN for their service.  Rep. Daniel Issa of Orange County introduced a measure to strip ACORN of all federal funding, which quickly passed with few questions. It passed so quickly, no one realized it could apply to all defense contractors, as it might should.  Now, Democrats are falling over each other trying to score a major win for Republicans and enact a new measure to re-de-fund ACORN, just to be safe.

This is another characteristic of lynching: That it is not just the hate mongers doing it. This was carried out by the community.  James Allen’s Without Sanctuary, a book of postcards from the turn of the 20th century when lynching photos were like trading cards, includes this observation from Pullitzer Prize-winning historian Leon F. Litwack wrote:

“The photographs stretch our credulity, even numb our minds and senses to the full extent of the horror, but they must be examined if we are to understand how normal men and women could live with, participate in, and defend such atrocities, even reinterpret them so they would not see themselves or be perceived as less than civilized. The men and women who tortured, dismembered, and murdered in this fashion understood perfectly well what they were doing and thought of themselves as perfectly normal human beings. Few had any ethical qualms about their actions. This was not the outburst of crazed men or uncontrolled barbarians but the triumph of a belief system that defined one people as less human than another. For the men and women who comprised these mobs, as for those who remained silent and indifferent or who provided scholarly or scientific explanations, this was the highest idealism in the service of their race. One has only to view the self-satisfied expressions on their faces as they posed beneath black people hanging from a rope or next to the charred remains of a Negro who had been burned to death. What is most disturbing about these scenes is the discovery that the perpetrators of the crimes were ordinary people, not so different from ourselves — merchants, farmers, laborers, machine operators, teachers, doctors, lawyers, policemen, students; they were family men and women, good churchgoing folk who came to believe that keeping black people in their place was nothing less than pest control, a way of combating an epidemic or virus that if not checked would be detrimental to the health and security of the community.”

James Allen himself reflects on the postcards of lynchings as pornographic fodder:

“I believe the photographer was more than a perceptive spectator at lynchings. The photographic art played as significant a role in the ritual as torture or souvenir grabbing — a sort of two-dimensional biblical swine, a receptacle for a collective sinful self. Lust propelled their commercial reproduction and distribution, facilitating the endless replay of anguish. Even dead, the victims were without sanctuary. “

On James O’Keefe III’s Facebook page, one of his many new supporters posted, “Is there some way to outlaw ACORN? And then anyone giving them money would be breaking the law.”

While such strong federal government intervention seems to be counter to the Right’s constant outcry of preventing such intrusion, it does aspire to bend the law to punish those who disagree, and set an example.

In no way am I suggesting that O’Keefe was, or is, consciously promoting racial violence, or even responsible for any that occurs in the wake of his smear job.

But at a lynching a hundred years ago, James O’Keefe III would have been the one taking the picture.

John Wellington Ennis is a filmmaker whose most recent documentary, FREE FOR ALL! was hailed by critic Roger Eberg as “engrossing, even enraging.” His production company Shoot First Inc., in Beverly Hills, specializes in unscripted entertainment, such as documentaries, reality TV, comedy, and live music. He blogs at

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14 Responses for “The Lynching Of ACORN”

  1. TomC says:

    On the lynching of ACORN postcard pictured there all around the tree are the smiling faces of everyone from both Houses of Congress, minus just a few. Executives from CNN,ABC, CBS, NBC, and also, prominently in the foreground proud and happy, is Ailes, the CEO of FOX. In the crowd, if you look closely at the back, you can see the silhouette of Karl Rove, George Bush, and Dick Cheney seeming to be loitering or lingering on after the hanging is over, but happy.

  2. Thanks, much appreciated. Reminds me of Greg Palast’s phrase, “lynching by laptop,” only now we’d have to call it “lynching by video,” eh? ‘Lynching’ is the perfect word to describe the attack on ACORN.

    There are two more words I would use to describe all lynchings. As a poet and devoted student of comparative mythology, lynching looks to me more like human sacrifice than pest control.

    If I may suggest, there’s a salient shared characteristic among the lynchers: their mythology, their metaphorical ideas of what the cosmos is and the proper role of humans in it.

    The story of slavery, for us, goes back to ancient Sumeria (in the region we now occupy militarily). Once upon a time, the gods found themselves in a crisis: they faced a famine because no one wanted to work. Then the party god, the forerunner of Bacchus/Dionysus/Kokopelli et al., had a brilliant idea (or so he thought).

    Aot said, ‘I’ll create from mud a race of beings who will do nothing but work for us: tend our vineyards, herd our animals, etc., so that we divines can keep our standard of living.’

    To this day, the religions of the Levant preach the same myth. Their priests consider themselves the agents of god, and they jealousy guard that distinction. The rest of us can consider ourselves fortunate to toil for god’s own landlords here on earth until we die. Then, if we pass judgment, we can go to heaven and continue our servitude there. We were simply made to be slaves, period.

    The traditional image of the god of the Levant is as a cosmic architect/engineer/carpenter/tyrant, one who builds or creates by kinetic force and fiat. It’s a thoroughly political model of the cosmos, as feudal as feudal gets. And as the cosmos is the construct of this cosmic tyrant, it is perforce his private property.

    Thus royal subjects are the property of the king, and they must obey his commandments on pain of death.

    Which brings us back to lynching. The plantation was intended to replicate on earth the divine design: as above, so below. In this light, it is easy to see how so many humans were treated like dirt.

    God took dirt, formed it, blew into it the breath of life, and placed the plantation owner on earth as his agent. Thus to defy Massa was to defy god. “Onward Christian soldiers, marching off to war!” Where’s our Prince of Peace?

    We don’t really believe in peace, not under this mythos. Life itself is conceived as an eternal holy war with an absolutely evil and implacable Other with whom peace is unthinkable. War is how the world was made to work, and so war is what we do.

    When the West by and large abandoned the traditional image of god, we nevertheless kept its construct. We still conceive of ourselves and our source as a constructed mechanism, an artifact. Nowadays, we take the earth as granted, as god-forsaken dirt with which we may do as we please. We have substituted Newton’s laws, and the priesthood of science, for the old order. But we still believe in the rule of force. The same myth still moves us. We’ve simply substituted scientists as the priests, and elevated above all others the science of war.

    That’s why we treat military men as if they were weather men. We believe we can create the world we desire by force of arms (“kinetic activity”) and fiat. As such, society is god’s own war machine, and preaching peace is heresy.

    This is a most crucial point about human behavior: facts don’t move electorates, myths do. Just look at the health care reform “debate.”

    The facts are much less important than the narrative’s effect on the polity. The guilt or innocence of the lynching victim was less important than the ritual of human sacrifice that vividly re-enacted the mythos of the community.

    Today we see latter-day Massas conspiring to lynch the despised, loathsome, subhuman Other as a sacrifice to their god, reinforcing in blood the old order of white male supremacy, whether it be in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, or Baltimore. How many more troops should we sacrifice? We show our love for our god and its myth, American Exceptionalism, by advocating human sacrifice, and the greater the sacrifice, the greater the love, right? In this way, war for us now is peace. That right there is the power of myth.

    I repeat: Facts don’t move electorates, myths do. What is the myth that moves the Left?

    I propose that we abandon Newton’s old mechanism and replace it with the metaphorical image of all life, the entire cosmos, being one great growing being, in which we aren’t each others keepers; at root, we simply are each other. In the old order, competition reigns; in the new, compassion is the proper basis for being human.

    So, for these reasons, I don’t call the narratives of the Right “baloney,” my brother. I call them myths that sanctify acts of human sacrifice, as vast as our perpetual bogus holy wars, or as personal as the the laptop lynching of minority voters, or now the video lynching of ACORN.

  3. JupiterSuite says:

    Going Nuts

    ACORN: Alien Children Offered Regularly Nationwide
    ACORN: Authorities Caught One Registering “Napoleon”
    ACORN: Assembly of the Complacent: Organized, Registered & Non-productive!
    ACORN: Association of Criminals Obama Represented in the Nineties
    ACORN: Assorted Crazies, Oddballs, Reprobates, and Nincompoops
    ACORN: “Audacity” and “Change” that Obama Represents Nationally
    ACORN: A Crooked, Offensive, Repulsive Nut
    ACORN: Agitators, Cheats, Offenders, and Repugnant Nonentities
    ACORN: Association of Crooks O’Keefe Revealed in a Nanosecond
    ACORN: Advising Criminals, Organizing Radical Nutjobs
    ACORN: Assisting Call-girls, Obama, Reid & Nancy
    ACORN: Advancing Collectivism, Obamamania, Reparations Now!
    ACORN: After Clinton, Obama Retards a Nation
    ACORN: Alike Carter, Obama is Regretful and Negative
    ACORN: America, Could Obama Resign Now??
    ACORN: Against Conservatives, Order, Republicans, and the Nation
    ACORN: American Cash Outflows to Rathke’s “Nonprofits”
    ACORN: Apparently “Community Organizing” Really is Nefarious
    ACORN: Awarding Capital to Objectionable Rent-seeking Noncontributors
    ACORN: Apathetic, Crybaby, Odiferous, Rejected Nothings
    ACORN: Andrew Clearly Outplayed the Resentful NYT
    ACORN: Always Cheating, Often Ruining Neighborhoods
    ACORN: Addled Crack-heads and Obnoxious Race-baiting Neurotics
    ACORN: Appalling Cesspool; Obscene Revolting Nightmare
    ACORN: A Clan of Odious, Ridiculed Nitwits
    ACORN: Another Corrupt Obama Run Network

    Others? Please suggest!

  4. dobropet says:

    That’s awesome, nothing like a good acronym to spoil the mood.

  5. Thank you for supporting my thesis through name-calling and your enthusiasm for off-topic negativity.

    When you can’t beat ’em…call them names and change the subject before the truth sets in. I take it as a compliment, and an affirmation that my work transcends dispute.

  6. Hey, what am I: chopped liver? ;-]

  7. dobropet says:

    “Lynching is vigilantism and extrajudicial decision by a group of people, a violent act by a mob that does not believe their agenda will be met by law, aware they are acting out of the law, but in effect being the law. There is rarely accountability for those involved.” – By John Wellington Ennis

    I completely agree, can anyone remember the Duke Lacrosse team that was “lynched” by the University, the media, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson:


    None of the accusers in the Duke-rape case made an effort to apologize for their accusations that proved to be lies despite their methodical “lynching” of innocents. And within the same time:

    “Channon Christian and Hugh Christopher Newsom were victims of a horrible crime that most certainly did happen, but for some reason, their names wouldn’t ring a bell with the average American, no matter how well informed. –Christopher Plante”


    Or the severe beating of a news anchor who appeared in the Oliver Stone movie “W”, she never regained consciousness after the attack:


    Questionable actions, as she favored the “Mission Accomplished” theme Bush displayed after the Iraq invasion.

    “Fanatical fear mongers, such as wrist-slasher and Rep. Michelle Bachman, R-Minn., have sought to create fears of this census process that occurs every 10 years, alleging surveillance and plans to build government camps. – By John Wellington Ennis”


    Yes, completely unfounded rumors.


    And referencing Goldman-Sachs isn’t so helpful as they were a leading contributor to the campaign of B.O. were they not? Occidental college, the same college that refuses to release B.O.’s records of education/attendance there? And once again, Karl Rove, the product of neo-con idealism.

    Did I mention that the accused Duke teammates were implicated by:

    “(not just sex workers—clueless sex workers). – By John Wellington Ennis”

    Although you’d have to remove the plurality in that statement.

    “As O’Keefe insists in the clip above, ACORN’s allegation that the tapes appear doctored is “a lie,” so he shouldn’t have a problem proving it by releasing the full unedited tapes, which would likely be part of ACORN’s lawsuit against him. – By John Wellington Ennis”

    How about the lawsuit ACORN has filed against a former employee who is alleging that the activities at this community organization are illegal? She was fired by the organization for concerning herself with the questionable activities there:


  8. JupiterSuite is a troll. Don’t feed the trolls. And Dave, thank you, as always, for adding to the discussion. Your comments are always insightful and on point.

  9. Jim G says:

    “Nearly 5,000 lynchings…”

    Impressive. And that’s throughout American history. The numbers I’ve seen put black lynching victims at a touch under 4,000, but either way, that’s still a lot.

    But are you aware that every year in America, blacks murder more than twice as many blacks than were lynched throughout history? I think it’d be wiser to focus on that statistic, but then again, it would put a lot of the race-guilt hustlers out of business.

  10. dobropet says:

    Yes, the “Color of Crime” comes to mind, the Washington Post is cited in an article from 2007 revealing a disturbing trend:

  11. Very kind of you to say, JL.

    Jim G.: Your words echo in a grand canyon of historical ignorance.

    So if we ignore the fact that whites brought to America, under insanely inhuman conditions, all the blacks in the first place; and if we ignore the fact that we enslaved them brutally for over 2 centuries, denying them by law representation in courts, education, health care, etc.; and if we ignore the millions–yes, millions–of non-white people we whites have killed since coming ashore, and the many more millions we whites have killed in our world wars (they started in Europe, right?); then we could make specious diatribes like you do, is that it? No thanks.

    Looks, to me, like bellicose, self-righteous whites are the most dangerous people on the planet.

    “There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.” –Mark Twain.

  12. Jesse Hemingway says:

    Fascisms war drums are destroying Acorn why is that?

    Acorn is an agency that protects the lowest class in the United States of America does Acorn really present that great of a threat to the corporations; remember you can’t have fascism without corporations. Or are we witnessing a new creation of a sub-lower class. The useful rightwing idiots that lack the mental capacity to realize that they are getting set up for their free willing arrival to the new subclass in society thinking and praying that the Sara Palins’ of the world will save them.

    Did I miss Jesus beatitudes about self castration to impress your corporate master?

    The only threat Acorn manifests is ability to counsel the new rightwing sub class arrivals and explain just how they were manipulated into corporate slavery. Even the illegal aliens see the writing on the walls and are leaving in droves. LOL LOL LOL !!!

  13. PJBurke says:

    It seems awfully odd to me that the attackers of ACORN both completely miss, and then continue to ignore (even after having been told numerous times), two critically important facts here: first, there never was any child prostitution ring… it was fiction invented by the videographer-criminals; second, the only actual crime committed here was by the videographers themselves.

    Yet it is the crime victim — ACORN — which is pilloried, while the real — and only — criminal is lauded?

    That there is a credulous and largely non-rational cadre in American society which is fundamentally incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction is nothing new. What is new is for that credulous, non-rational cadre to have a television nutwork all its own, dedicated to both exploiting and reinforcing that cadre’s lack of critical thinking ability (it must be a bonanza for marketers of all manner of useless, overpriced junk) and willful, abject ignorance.

  14. Creg Case says:

    Blacks are feeling that they have been taken advantage of for the last 400 years in this country. They don’t get any breaks cause everyone thinks just because 65% of the jailed pop is black that they can’t be trusted. This country should give them more money , education and jobs. They are always crying out for attention. This is why they commit all these crimes . This is also why they ignore the black woman (most are fat and ugly so you can’t blame them for this either) to go out with the more beautiful white women. The white woman , I guess, goes out with them because women feel much more guilt than men . They take up the guilt trip for the entire white race . Blacks also feel embarassment because they have been here for 400 years and still can’t
    speak english (most) white Koreans and Japanese speak perfect english after just a few years. I must admit I don’t know if this is because blacks are rebelling against their white master or they are just still 400 years behind everyone, thanks to slavery ! ! To wrap up white America must give blacks more because they have proven they can’t really do anything right, even after 400 years of being around the white man. Maybe, white racials, it is your fault because you have been very poor teachers to the black man, it is obvious, no??

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