Fake Patriots and Fake George Washington Quotes


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See this meme?

You can find it all over the net. The quote contained in it is extraordinarily popular in right wing circles. This should surprise nobody of course. It has George Washington singing the praises of private gun ownership as a means of preparing the population for possible war with their own government. The price of freedom, it seems to suggest, is the need to be ever vigilant against one’s own government, to be prepared at all times to rebel against that very government.

If you were to boil down the thinking of the Insurrectionists on January 6th, it might well be this quote right here.

There are different variations of the meme, to be sure, but the quote itself is near and dear to right wing America. They share it with each other, and with the rest of us, on a regular basis. I first encountered it when a friend posted it for my benefit on Facebook. I have seen it there many times since. The quote finds its way onto twitter every day. It certainly found its way into Parler a number of times before that crappy service found its way into oblivion. You can find the quote on Instagram. It’s all over Pinterest, compliments on websites like Zazzle and BrainyQuote. It certainly makes its way around Tumblr. You can find this quote on merchandise at various online outlets, …T-Shirts and such. I could go on, but you get the idea. This quote gets around. It’s popular.

I mean, it’s REALLY popular!

And it’s fake.

To be a bit more specific, the first 11 words of this quote are from the fourth paragraph of George Washington’s first address to Congress. Everything after that has been doctored so as to make it into a talking point for gun owner’s rights.

Here is the fake quote:

A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have significant arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might abuse them, which would include their own government.”

Here the original:

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufacturies, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

Another Variation on this Fake Quote

(Emphasis added.)

So, what happens when you call people out on this? Well, sometimes, folks get the point. Some decent people actually take the correction and get on with their lives. More often, they refuse to believe they are wrong. Some just ignore you. Some sources, I suspect, are bots, programed to simply post this and other propaganda over and over without regards to any efforts to engage them. The most common response, I get, however is to tell me that the quote above is actually a paraphrase of something Washington actually said. Some even provide me with a link to the actual speech. (Whether or not they have read the speech is another question.)

In a parallel development, I have noticed a lot of people taking to twitter in recent years to post the actual quote above. This might well be a response to the fact that some of us keep addressing the fake quotes wherever we find it. Realizing they don’t need the fake quote, they use the real thing for pretty much the same political purpose. In their minds, the real thing is still very much a statement about the importance of the Second Amendment. It may not contain an explicit prescription for revolution-readiness, but at least it makes the case for private gun ownership, ad we all know what that means…


The problem is, it doesn’t.

If you read the rest of Washington’s speech, you can see quite clearly that its overwhelming theme is the exercise of the Federal government’s newly expanded powers. Yes, that’s right, Washington was actively working to expand the powers of the Federal Government, as did many of the founding fathers now celebrated by those whose very definition of evil is encapsulated in the phrase “big government.” One of the powers Washington was most happy to have at his disposal was the ability to outfit a viable military force. THAT is what this paragraph is about. It is nestled in between two other paragraphs that are most explicitly about troops and preparations for war. Keep reading that same speech, and you find Washington speaking quite explicitly about the prospect of war with Indians in the present-day southeast.

Among the many interesting objects, which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

The proper establishment of the Troops which may be deemed indispensible, will be entitled to mature consideration. In the arrangements which may be made respecting it, it will be of importance to conciliate the comfortable support of the Officers and Soldiers with a due regard to œconomy.

What Washington is actually talking about is the ability to field an army. He sees this as an essential exercise of the powers newly granted to the Federal Government under its new Constitution. He is urging Congress to encourage the manufacture of weapons so that the armies of the United States will not have to rely on foreign powers to arm them in the event of any future war.

Just to be clear, the prospect of such future wars certainly does include the possibility of open rebellion, but Washington isn’t arguing that citizens might need to rebel against their own government. If anything, he is mindful of the prospect that he might need to put down such a rebellion. Remember, it was Shays’ Rebellion that triggered the urgent need for a constitutional convention in the first place. Its purpose was to fix perceived weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation, specifically, the inability of the central government under that plan to tax the population directly so as to give it the means of fielding an army capable of putting down such an insurrection when it happens again. That’s right. The trigger for creation of the U.S Constitution was the need to put down rebellions, and Washington himself was fully down with that very agenda. Lest anyone think this might have been idle speculation, one has only to remember the whiskey rebellion.

When private citizens decided to rebel against the Federal government over taxation while Washington, foreshadowing so many of the themes of modern right wing politics, far from backing the rebels, Washington sent troops to put down that very rebellion.

Now there is an interesting detail here insofar as the troops in question took the form of a militia. I reckon some might say, “See! See, that’s what we are talking about,” but of course that ignores the difference between the actually regulated militias of Washington’s day, and the self-appointed weekend warriors who call themselves militias today. More to the point, it ignores the fact that the militia in the Whiskey Rebellion was not defending itself from “their own government”; it was actually serving as the arm of enforcement for that very government. You see, that Constitution whose powers Washington wants to flex here gives Congress authority over the militia, a provision quite controversial at the time, and arguably one of the inspirations for the Second Amendment still in draft form as Washington made this speech. One of the newly expanded powers of the Federal government Washington is actually trying to build upon in this very speech is power to arm and control the militia.

The enumerated powers of Congress includes the following:

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Hopefully, you caught the part about “suppressing insurrections.”

Because that’s what Washington actually did on his own watch.

This meme would have us believe Washington would side with the rebels. This meme would have us believe that Washington was hyping the virtues of an Amendment not yet ratified as a means of countering the very power he was actually seeking to build in his First Address to Congress.

This meme is a lie.

It is not a paraphrase of Washington’s actual statement, and it is not (as several folks have assured me) an honest description of Washington’s actual views. It is not an honest mistake; it’s not a different point of view.

It is a lie.


FYI. The Spurious Quotes page at Mount Vernon certainly includes a brief repudiation of the quote. The text of the speech itself is certainly worth a read.

Some Damned Infamous Ducks!


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We Americans really love our independence, don’t we?

Or at least the thought of it!

Independence can be measured in any number of different ways, but in American politics, it typically means you earn your keep. Maybe you start a business and make a profit, or maybe you have a job and earn your pay, or maybe you speculate on the stock market (without or without the benefit of insider knowledge) and turn a profit without really contributing much of a product or service. Either way, the point is that we typically define our economic independence in terms the ability to pay our bills without asking for help (or at least not asking for that help through any medium short of the highest paid corporate lobbyists). Anyway, the point is, we pay our own bills right?

This is an incredibly ironic measure of independence.

This measure enables a real-estate tycoon to say that he built a structure when he didn’t lay a single brick. It also enables the average person to find shelter without building a house, to cloth himself without making the fabric or fashioning it into a shirt and pants, and it enables us to feed ourselves with all manner of meats and vegetables that we neither grow nor harvest ourselves. We have no idea where most of these things comes from or how it got to the stores where we bought it, not our food, our tools or any of the essential supplies we used for much of anything. Some folks may know a thing or two about fixing a car or building a table, but the fact remains that most people in the developed world lives our lives surrounded in mystery at the very nature of the stuff we use to get through the day. This we count as independence!

Because we paid for it!

It is ironic.

Contrast this with the indigenous peoples of the Alaska who until relatively recent history would have housed themselves, clothed themselves, and feed themselves. To varying degrees, many still do. In times past, the skills necessary to do so were common knowledge in any of these communities, and those skills turned what non-native Americans have typically called a ‘wilderness’ into a wealth of resources ready and waiting to be transformed into food, clothing, tools, and even housing. Small wonder that people so often described by outsiders as living in poverty would see themselves as wealthy. To someone without the skills to hunt, a caribou on the hoof is nothing until it finds its way into his freezer. To someone with the necessary skills, it is fine just where it is, at least until it is needed.

I do not mean to paint a utopian picture here, not by a log shot, but my point is that this is a very different vision of what it means to be independent. Here, the question is not whether or not you can pay for your stuff but whether or not your stuff becomes yours by your own hand, or at least that of your friends and family.

I also don’t mean to suggest that this is entirely unique to Alaska Natives. I reckon it would be true of indigenous people all over the world, depending to one degree or another on the impact of colonization.


One sees this conflict between a world of consumerism and a world of subsistence activities and play out quite regularly in the relations between Alaska Natives communities and outside institutions. Also in cultural conflicts between Alaska Natives and non-natives with or without the involvement of government entities. Sometimes, you have to look carefully to see it; sometimes, it is loud and clear for all to see.

The Barrow “duck-in” is one such time.

This story is told best by Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson, I think, in her documentary, The Duck In. Michael Burwell’s article, Hunger Knows No Law, is also an excellent source. If the quick & dirty version I am about to offer interests you at all, then by all means, check out either or both of these sources.


What happened?

In 1916, the United States entered into treaty with Governing governing the hunting of migratory waterfowl. A similar treaty was signed with Mexico in 1937. In 1918, Congress passed passed a law enacting the term of the first treaty into Federal law. This in effect made it illegal to hunt migratory waterfowl in the U.S. from March 1th, to September 1st.

Why is that a problem?

Because that’s when those birds are here on the North Slope of Alaska.

I mean a duck or two may head south a bit late, but no, for the most part, that’s when migratory waterfowl are present in this area. To say that hunting ducks and geese are a substantial part of the native subsistence economy is putting mildly. It does not appear that subsistence hunting was ever contemplated in the treaty negotiations, nor in the Congressional actions which codified the treaties in U.S. law. Both were intended largely as a means of controlling sport hunting, much of which would take place in the lower 48. So, a law passed for the purpose of controlling the leisure activities of weekend warriors who mainly feed themselves store-bought food had effectively banned the hunting activities of people who actually need that meat to get through the year.

Alaska Natives were out of sight and out of mind when the laws were made.

Luckily enough, they were also out of sight and out of mind (for the most part) for many years when responsibility for enforcing these laws fell upon federal officials. Thus selective enforcement helped to correct the errors of selective attention, for a time anyway.

When Alaska became a state in 1959, things started to change.

To make a long story short, state officials decided to enforce the law, even in the North Slope of Alaska. According to Burwell, some of these officials were convinced that the Iñupiat population of the north slope had become less dependent on hunting as local stores made produce available. The prospect that the Iñupiat community might be using the stores in limited ways while seeking to remain self-sufficient in others (and particularly, with respect to food) does not seem to have occurred to them. Resistance, they figured, they could be resolved by educating the population (which reminds me of the Navajo livestock reductions, but that’s a story for another post). In 1961, Wildlife officials began to arrest people caught hunting waterfowl during the proscribed period of time.

As it happens, that was a rough year for the North Slope insofar as the annual whale harvest had yielded only a two catches and other likely sources of game were not yet available.

…just the birds flying overhead.

To make a long story short, one of these agents, Harry Pinkham, emerged from his room at the Top of the World Hotel to find; “every man, woman, and child standing in front of my door with a duck in his hand.” Flustered to find an entire town demanding that they be arrested, he went to the local Magistrate Judge, a native woman, named Sadie Neakok (who provided the quote above). Neakok instructed him to follow the law. In all, 138 hunters self-reported their crimes and Pinkhman ended up confiscating 600 pounds of eider ducks (it took two separate plane trips to transport them out of town). State Senator, Eben Hopson (also a local Iñupiat) wired then Governor Egan to ask for welfare personnel to take care of the children once all the adults were taken into custody. Thus, what wildlife officials had hoped would be a matter of handing out fines and lecturing a few natives quickly escalated into a case threatening to overwhelm state resources.

Nobody actually spent time in jail for this, of course.

Instead wildlife rediscovered the virtues of selective enforcement, providing advanced warning whenever their officials were coming up to the North Slope and staying only for 3 days at a time. With these measures in place and well publicized, they really couldn’t have done much more to help hunters avoid getting caught. In time, of course, the laws and treaties were changed to accommodate the cycles of subsistence hunting.

For the indigenous community of the North Slope, this was a win.

A damned good one!

Don’t get me wrong! Conflicts over subsistence hunting rights are a still common, here and in the rest of Alaska, but in 1961, at least, the Iñupiat community of North Slope successfully fought off a threat to their subsistence activities by means of civil disobedience.


One of more interesting things about Rachel Edwardson’s work on this comes at about 16-minute mark in her documentary wherein she includes a series of public statements on the issue, all of which foreground the different political economies in question. Outsiders, of course, assumed that hunting, or at least subsistence hunting, would simply cease at some point along the inevitable march toward civilization. Was it not time, even past time, for folks to simply give up the hunt and buy their food?

“The Eskimos have claimed that the ducks leave their northern area before the legal hunting season opens. They also use such phrases as ‘hunger knows no law’ to justify their taking the ducks illegally. In this age of assimilation, where is the point at which the natives must forfeit must forfeit their old rights in favor of the rights of modern civilization?”

(Anchorage Daily Times, Editorial, June 15, 1961.)

“These people were from established communities where ample food is available. The basic conflict is the desire of the natives to continue certain primitive customs and yet live in civilized communities. All of us, including the Eskimos, must realize that the development of any country in the world brings with it advantages and disadvantages. This is true in any civilization, and it must have become obvious already to many of the native people of Alaska. Sincerely, Ralph A. Duncan, Special Assistant to the President.”

(Extract from Whitehouse Response to the United Presbyterian Church, Barrow Alaska)

Edwardon answers these statements with Eben Hopson’s statements on the subject (from his wire to the Governor, I believe). For his own part, Hopson begins by telling stories about people who feed themselves, whether by hunting or farming. He then turns the whole issue, on its head, he asks if anyone would accept a law forbidding the buying of meat at the store?

“We have survived from this land by hunting, just as any other John Dick and Harry have survived from the land by plowing the fields where they could raise crops. If there was law enacted without your knowledge making it unlawful for you to buy meat at your local store, and you continued to buy it because you needed it, I can see and hear you screaming up and down about that law being unjust, and discriminatory, the minute you found it out. If the meat was a matter of survival for your, would you stop eating meat for 3 months out of the year and wait for some disinterested person to come along and try to amend it for you without having assurance that the problem would even be solved.”

– Eben Hopson, State Senator.

I really don’t think the different visions of independence could be more clear than they appear to be in these letters. Those expecting the indigenous community of the North Slope to simply accept the laws in question clearly envision a future in which “Eskimos” buy their food at the store, just like the rest of us. This of course means that people will also get a job instead of spending their days out hunting or preparing for the hunt. It is a world in which people satisfy their needs by first first earning and then spending money. Those organizing and supporting the duck-in consistently envision a world in which they feed themselves. The modern world complicates both visions, of course, but this was a moment wherein the outside world appears to have forced the issue; as if to say; “Stop hunting and buy your food at the store.”

And the native community said ‘no.’

‘Hell no!’

A Crying Chorus, Very Lonesome!


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Am I so lonesome, I could cry?


But I sure do like the song. I recall the original from my childhood. We lived in a small redneck town in Colorado back then, and the music was the perfect soundtrack for a part of my childhood spent on the back of a horse rather than a bicycle.

Of course, the rock&roll chased almost everything else out of my musical tastes for a time, and I have to admit I was slow to put anything by Hank Williams back in my personal playlists (kicking myself there), but I don’t think there has ever been a moment I heard him on the radio, or in a movie, or on some friend’s stereo that I didn’t smile a little and enjoy the music. Hank Williams was full of amazing tunes.

But Lonesome is in a class all by itself.

Puts a lump in my throat every damned time!

I actually think what brought me back to the original was the cover by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes back in the oughts. That song did more damage to my truck speakers driving back and forth from Flagstaff to the middle of the Navajo Nation. Their version was made to be loud, very loud! They probably took a small portion of my hearing down along with the speakers, not that Black Sabbath hadn’t already vandalized my hearing well before they added their two cents of post-punk goodness.

…or badness.

All is forgiven though. They led me back to Hank.

A few years back, I added one more version of this wonderful tune to my playlist, a cover by Hurray for the RiffRaff. Moni always says this version is a little too slow for her taste, which is odd, because she loves the RiffRaff even more than I do, but their version of Lonesome is just a bit too slow for her.

I love Moni anyway.

I know this tune has been covered and re-covered by many great artists, but these are the versions I know and love.

Anyway, Three Lonesomes!

Three favorite songs!

Poe’s Law, the Civil War Edition


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Have you heard of the minie ball pregnancy?

It occurred during the civil war at a battle in Raymond, Mississippi. Apparently, a minie ball (a conical-shaped bullet commonly used in the era) passed through a Confederate soldier’s testicles and then lodged itself in a young woman’s own private parts. Though, still a virgin, she later gave birth to a baby boy, apparently impregnated by the minie ball carrying the young man’s seed along with it.

Okay, but by “apparently,” I of course mean “not at all.”

This did not happen.

Not really!

Photo of Legrand G. Capers found in Wikipedia

The fact that this didn’t happen didn’t stop an army surgeon by the name of L.G. Capers from reporting on the incident as though it really did. He describes in detail coming upon a soldier staggering toward him before collapsing as a woman began screaming from the house in which he planned to conduct field operations. He treated both parties, or so he says. Later, Capers writes that he returned six months later to find the young woman pregnant though her hymen remained intact. A month or so later, he also delivered the baby, still confused about her story. After piecing the events together later, Capers says he found the soldier and explained the child to him. Of course the young man did the honorable thing, and the doctor reported visiting the lovely couple many years later to find them living happily together with 3 children.

All of this was published in a journal known as the American Medical Weekly in 1874. It was later republished in a British Medical Journal, the Lancet, and a few subsequent publications (whose editors should probably have known better) have presented the story as medical facts. Author Tony Horowitz tells us that at least one museum in Vicksburg Virginia related the story without comment as of his research for book, Confederates in the Attic, published in 1999. (The story appears on pages 199-200). Though the American Medical Journal later published a clarification explaining that the whole account had all been a joke, it seems there are always a few folks determined to take it seriously.

Also, aside from the source being a known spoof, apparently, this is a medical impossibility.

This time, by “apparently,” I mean “absolutely.”

What has me thinking about this today is Horowitz’s account. As he put it, the original account was intended as a spoof of other wildly exaggerated stories circulated by medical doctors in the wake of the civil war. If nothing else could have tipped a reader off as to nature of this tall-tale, the fact that Capers reported later removing a mini-ball from the child’s own testicles should probably have been the final “gotcha” moment of the story. Tall tales often have this, a final twist so improbable as to effectively communicate to anyone who might still be wondering that the whole thing was just an elaborate joke. This, if nothing else, ought to have tipped readers off then and now as to the nature of the Capers’ clever little yarn. Note to mention, the correction published published by the same journal.

Apparently, some people would rather believe the story anyway.

And by “apparently,” this time I just mean “apparently.”


All of which brings to mind a principle coined by an old net-friend of mine, Nathan Poe. Frustrated with debating young-earth creationists on Christian forums, Poe once quipped; “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.” In other words, you can’t make a satirical statement sufficiently outrageous to out-absurd the very people he was arguing with. But of course Christian fundamentalists are not the only bunch with a few loose canons in their midst, as others have pointed out. So, the principle has been generalized since its original formulation to apply to a broad range of topics about which satire might be mistaken for the real thing, not the least of reasons being that someone is usually just as extreme as any parody their critics might make-up to poke fun at them.

Apparently, that was also true in 1874.


This story was only a couple pages out of Confederates in the Attic, but I highly recommend the book as a whole. Great read! There are some other good sources on the internet. Wiki has a decent page on Capers, and of course that contains many good links in itself. Mark Powell’s write-up is useful and fun to read. Of course, Snopes has a good page on it as well, complete with many of the relevant primary documents.

And …winner!


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Right on this corner, I believe

For a brief period of my life (in the early 90s), I lived on the south side of Chicago. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.

I remember one day seeing a couple young men laughing at one of the local homeless guys. This particular individual was always stoned or drunk, or both. Often, when he approached me, he couldn’t even put the words together to ask for change; he just held his hand out. He was often in bad shape. At least once, I found him passed out on the street, with his own piss flowing out over the curb. This time at least he was up and moving with some purpose as he walked by the young men, both of whom were well dressed.

Laughing, one of the young men shouted back at him; “Hey do you remember me?”


“Really? Who am I?’


I’m not sure this particular individual knew he won that exchange, but the two men mocking him sure did.

An American Flag as a Weapon, Redux.


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Right wing patriots love their country in much the same way that an abusive spouse loves his wife.

“I love you baby, now do what I say or else!”

When one of those participating in the riots on the 6th picked up a flag used it to beat an officer, that struck me as rather par for the course. Independent of all the other crap perpetrated by those engaged in this insurrection, Francis Stager’s choice of a weapon might have seemed ironic to some, but for me it actually seemed rather telling. An American flag used as a weapon makes a fitting symbol for right wing politics.

It makes a fitting symbol of right wing patriotism.

Peter Stager beat Capitol Police Officer with American Flag Credit: FBI

This morning I started thinking about another image of a flag used as a weapon.

Was it the hard had riot of the Nixon era?


After digging around a bit, I fount it. This iconic photo, “The Soiling of Old Glory,” captures a moment in the busing riots of 1976. This time the flag wielder was a student upset that his friends would be bused away in an effort to desegregate the schools. His target wasn’t a cop, it was a random African-American.

Luckily, he missed!

I don’t know if Joseph Rakes, the flag-wielding student, fits the right wing stereotype quite so well as Francis Stager, but the meaning of the moment seems comparable enough. As does the outrageous nature of the action. You’d be hard-pressed to avoid seeing in either conflict some sense of the defense of privilege; harder to still to find any meaningful excuse for the decision to turn the arguments of the day into a physical assault against a momentarily defenseless victim. Whatever the cop might have done in some other context, he was hopelessly outnumbered when Stager attacked him. Ted Landsmark, the black man in the 76 photo hadn’t done a damned thing; he too was hopelessly outnumbered and already realing from another blow. Neither deserved to be attacked with a deadly weapon.

Not any weapon.

Still, the weapon in each of these cases does seem to make a statement.

It’s just not a very good one.


The photo of the Capital Hill riots is taken from Yahoo News.

The Soiling of Old Glory is taken from an NPR story about it.

Two Green Manalishis (Each With a Two Pronged Crown)


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I grew up listening to Green Manalishi, the Priest version of course.

To say that I loved that song is hardly the half of it. I recall waiting by the stereo with a cassette recorder, hoping it would play soon, and hoping the damned DJ would announce it in time for me to his record. That and “You Got Another Thing Comin'” led me to Judas Priest. Combined with a few other things, it led me to Heavy Metal. To say that I took an interest in the genre is putting it mildly. For an adolescent male back in the 80s, Heavy Metal was more like a religion than a musical genre. I didn’t just embrace metal on account of this song and others like it, I instinctively renounced others. To love music from another genre just felt wrong; metal was my music. I made exceptions, but they were few and far in between for a few years there. My interest in metal back then was an oath of allegiance. Remembering now what it was like to sit in front of my dad’s old stereo with a tape-recorder waiting for a Green Manalishi to make an appearance, I can’t help but chuckle at he foolishness to come even as I wish I could have (just for one moment even) the magic and the intensity of my initial interest in this song.

I don’t know when I first learned that one of my favorite Priest songs was actually a cover. I imagine, I must have responded with something like; ‘cool’, but I don’t think I sought out the original. As with Diamonds and Rust, I was happy to know that there was a history to this song, but I didn’t make too much of an effort to learn what it was.

I think I listened to the full version of this song only recently. It was a Fleetwood Mack song, made long before Stevie Nicks brought her own haunting vocals to the band. This was one of Peter Green’s final contributions to the band.

What is a Green Manalishi?

To Green, it was a green dog, if you can imagine that, a green dog and a dead one at that, dead but still barking. The dog, according to Green represented money.

Yes, drugs were involved.

In its own way, the Green version of this tune is just as hard hitting as the Priest cover. It’s slower, more minimalist, and yet so much more haunting. Anger always came through loud and clear in the Priest version; in the original it’s dread. I always imagined Rob Halford angry at some old flame who wouldn’t go away. I would never have imagined the Green version was an old lover; every note suggests something more sinister, more arcane. I wouldn’t have guessed it was a dog or a money, but listening to the tune now, death and worse seems quite likely the point of the song.

I have two versions of this song in my favorites list now.

Love them both!

Religious Freedoms


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Russian orthodox Church in Anchorage

Here is an interesting question (to me anyway). What legal mechanism prevents the Federal Government from banning your church?

(Hopefully, they don’t want to, but humor me…)

That would be the First Amendment, right, or more precisely the ‘free exercise clause’ of the First Amendment.

Okay, so what stops your state government from banning your church?

It’s not the First Amendment, not alone anyway. The relevant text of the First Amendment reads as follows; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” So, that prevents CONGRESS, and by extension other Federal entities operating under the authority of Congress, from banning your church. It doesn’t say anything about the actions of state governments.

What would prevent a state government from doing such a thing?

That would be the Fourteenth Amendment, or perhaps the First Amendment, as incorporated into state jurisdiction via the Fourteenth Amendment.

Section I of the Fourteenth Amendment reads as follows (emphasis added):

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This is significantly more ambiguous, of course, but I do believe most people, and more importantly, most of the relevant legal authorities, generally take this to mean that state governments have been operating under the free exercise clause (or some principle like it) since the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Okay, good fun, right?

Now here is a question, most Americans might not think about. What prevents a tribal government from banning a church on their own lands?

By tribal government, I mean the government of any Federally recognized tribe within the United States. We are talking about American Indians or Alaska Natives here. So, I am asking what legal mechanism would prevent a tribal government representing one of the indigenous peoples of the United States from banning a church under the own jurisdiction?

It isn’t any explicit measure in the U.S. Constitution itself.


There is nothing specific in the text of the U.S. Constitution which limits the authority of a tribal government to restrict the religious activities of anyone subject to their jurisdiction. Congress has of course asserted plenary power to alter the relationship between tribal governments and the Federal Government at will since Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903). (At least that is when the doctrine of ‘plenary power’ received its most explicit expression under the Federal courts.) Still, absent any explicit action from Congress restricting the authority of an Indian tribe, indigenous people are assumed under U.S. Law to retain any sovereign powers they had before colonization began. So, in the absence of any clear Federal statement to the Contrary, a tribal government may resolve the matter of religion and religious freedom as they deem fit. (Some would argue, that is exactly how it ought to work.) In any event, the Tenth District of the Federal Courts ruled in 1959 that no such law existed. According to the decision in Native American Church v. Navajo Tribal Council (1959), neither the U.S. Constitution nor any Federal Law obligates tribal governments to respect the free exercise clause or any principle like it.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, some would say that is how it should be. Let indigenous people settle any questions about religious freedom for their own members (or others subject to their jurisdiction) themselves! For good or for ill, it’s their business.

Well, that’s not what happened.

What happened was The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

In other words, the answer to my third question is The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

What stops a tribal government from banning a church is The Indian Civil Rights Act. This was part of a larger Federal Law expanding civil rights in a number of areas (most of which were of more direct concern to African Americans at the time). The Indian Civil Rights Act applies most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights to the actions of tribal governments. Significantly, it does not incorporate the establishment clause of the First Amendment into tribal jurisdiction. Tribal governments are free to establish their own religions, but they are not free to restrict the religious activities of those subject to their jurisdiction.

You can see this in the relevant text.

“No Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall—

  1. make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition for a redress of grievances…”

Note that there is a clear reference to the principle of free exercise, and yet, there is no mention of establishment. So, you can see it in the text. The Indian Civil Rights Act only incorporates 1 of the 2 basic religion clauses of the First Amendment into the context of tribal government. This somewhat belies the thinking of America’s founding fathers who might have suggested that the two clauses work together to ensure that religion will not become a source of abuse, or more to the point, to prevent an establishment of religion from becoming the reason religious freedom is restricted, but of course all of this ignores the context of colonialism here. The power of any religious establishment that might occur under tribal jurisdiction is significantly blunted by the presence of a larger Federal government which has already compromised a great deal of tribal sovereignty,not to mention state governments eager to eat away at what might be left of tribal sovereignty. In any event, the thinking at the time the ICRA was passed is that traditional tribal government is far too entangled with the ceremonial systems and spiritual narratives of the people in question to introduce the proverbial “separation of church and state.”

Of course, the ICRA has other significant limitations, particularly insofar as anyone might attempt to apply it to civil disputes, but that’s another matter.

All of this is to say nothing whatsoever about the religious freedoms of Native Americans facing regulations by the Federal and State governments. That’s a whole other messy history in itself.

Damned ugly one at that!

Finally, one reason I think this little exercise is worth doing is it helps to illustrate the way that religious freedom sits in the context of American law. Most people just think they have a right of religious freedom. They don’t really distinguish the establishment clause from the free exercise clause much less make a serious effort to think about how these measures relate to one another. More importantly, folks tend not to think very carefully about the way that concepts of religious freedom play out in different layers of American government. Of course far too many people, think government is government is government, until they are pushed to start making distinctions, but the point at the present is this, religious freedom is not simply an abstract concept under the U.S. Constitution. It takes the form of specific limitations applied to specific levels of government through different legal provisions. Religious Freedom takes different forms in relation to different layers of American government.