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Michael Stone is the creator and CEO of the Progressive Secular Humanist Examiner, a popular Facebook page amongst progressives, with over 177,000 likes. He also writes for Patheos, a website which hosts the discussion about religion. Today, in his blog on Patheos, Stone took aim at Marissa Jenae Johnson, one of three protesters who interrupted Sanders’ rally in Seattle on Saturday, August 8, 2015. What follows is an analysis of Stone’s article and a critique of his methods.
First, in the headline of his story, Stone states that Johnson is a radical Christian and a Sarah Palin supporter, only to subsequently state in the lead of the story that Johnson was a former Palin Supporter. There’s a difference between past and present, and it’s disingenuous for Stone to equivocate tenses, in what I’m assuming is an effort to get more circulation out of his story.
Next, Stone accuses Johnson and the other protestors of “hurling racist insults at the progressive crowd gathered to hear Sanders speak.” Yet, with the video link provided in his Patheos article, and other videos available on the Web, this writer could not find any moment where Johnson or the other protesters used any racial epithets. Furthermore, the context of the video makes clear that the “white supremacist liberalism” comment was directed not at everyone in the crowd, not at all white people, but at those who were heckling her.
Then Johnson made what will likely be her most infamous statement from the protest. “I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is – with all its progressives – but you’ve already done that for me. Thank you.” Stone characterizes the reaction as “the crowd did not take kindly to the childish insults.” What Stone neglects to share with the reader is that Johnson went on to talk about the Seattle Police Department, which has been under federal oversight for 3 years due to their level of police brutality and racial profiling, a fact which is easily verifiable and lends credence to the accusation that Johnson made against the city of Seattle and its citizens.
But this isn’t the only instance in his story where Stone neglects to mention relevant facts to the Seattle protest. Stone quotes Johnson as saying “If you care about BlackLivesMatter, as you say you do, you will hold Bernie Sanders specifically accountable for his actions.” Stone goes on to say “Apparently Johnson is unaware that Bernie Sanders was marching with Martin Luther King Jr before she was even born.”
However, what Stone neglected to mention was that his previous civil rights activism was not the “actions” to which Johnson was referring. Bernie Sanders and Democratic candidate for President Dennis O’Malley were interrupted by BlackLivesMatter at the NetRoots Nation gathering in Phoenix, AZ in July and asked both candidates to produce concrete policy and platforms for dealing with the racial inequality in America. O’Malley responded by publicizing his policy soon after the protest. Sanders did not. This is the action (or lack of action) to which Johnson was referring when making this accusation.
Stone goes on the state “This fact is that of all the current presidential candidates, Sanders is probably the most sympathetic to the concerns expressed by the BLM movement.” This is hardly a fact. It is the opinion of Mr. Stone. This statement is completely subjective, and not in any way objective and quantifiable.
But it’s not just facts that Stone has a problem with. Analogies seem to trouble him as well. “This fact, the fact that she once supported Sarah Palin, is in itself indicative of poor judgement [sic] and faulty character, and provides a larger context for her more recent moral failure.” There’s a lot wrong with this statement that will require some unpacking.
First, if we use the logic that holding an illogical viewpoint were exclusively indicativeindicative of future poor judgment and character deficiency, then all secularists who were once religious would be equally incapable of sound judgment and would be equally deficient in character. People’s viewpoints and their political support change over time, and people have supported candidates who didn’t live up to their expectations and that later in life, they regret. What matters is Johnson’s political opinions now, not eight years ago.
Second a persons support for one candidate in one election eight years ago is not sufficient to derive any context … for anything! Nor is it grounds to critique one’s morality or even claim that the Seattle protest was itself, a moral failing on the part of Johnson or the BlackLivesMatter movement.
Stone then goes on to state Johnson’s Twitter profile describes her as a “Radical Christian Mullatanist.” And while Stone makes it clear that he isn’t clear about what the term “Mullatanist” means, he then goes on to say “although some have connected the term with white genocide.” And who would these people be, Mr. Stone? Why don’t you mention where you got this information or a link or anything?! The statement itself is suspicious. And the phrasing of the statement is that of an empirical fact. So when I tried to verify this statement presented as fact, I wasn’t at all surprised when I couldn’t verify it at all.
Then Stone goes on to talk Johnson’s demeanor being the lynchpin to her being “yet another unapologetic and obnoxious Christian.” This is yet another unsubstantiated claim made by Stone. The evidence actually shows that her religiosity doesn’t have all that much to do with her protests with BlackLivesMatter. I’m pretty certain that her religion informs her motivations for being involved in the movement, but unless Stone can offer some evidence, actual evidence, that supports what he’s saying he cannot make this claim with any degree of logic.
Stone tries to bolster his claim that Johnson is an “unapologetic and obnoxious Christian” by posting a screen shot of Johnson’s Facebook wall. Stone states that this post was “an apparent justification for the embarrassing spectacle she made of herself at the expense of Bernie Sanders and the BLM movement.” Only, it’s not apparent that the Seattle protest is at all what she’s talking about. This is a matter of interpretation, which requires sensitivity to context. And given Stone’s history with not being sensitive to context in terms of this matter, we must question his assessment of this Facebook post until evidence arrives that can support his claim.
Then Stone segues into a discussion of the conceptual incoherency of a black person “clinging to Christianity”. Stone makes the claim that Christianity was the “tool of the slavemaster, the religion that justified the enslavement and subjugation of African Americans … Jim Crow … segretgation, the religion that continues to keep Americans of all color ignorant and uninformed at once frightened and beseeching of a God that does not exist.”, I can say without reservation that I wholeheartedly agree with Stone on these points.
However, I fail to see the relevance of her religiosity or her choice of religion with the merits of the #BlackLivesMatter movements complaints against Sanders. And let’s not forget, that is what these are. These aren’t Johnson’s own personal complaints regarding whites and racism and the state of the Seattle police department. She is not the only person in Seattle involved in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. She was just the person delivering the message on behalf of the movement. And to imply otherwise would be to straw-man the organization..
The question then arises: What is relevant to the Seattle protests? Well, the fact that Sanders hired Symone Sanders, an black woman active in the criminal justice reform movement as his press secretary. In fairness to the Sanders campaign, this announcement was made earlier on the day of the Seattle protests. Oh, and that he also announced his detailed platform on combating racial inequality at a rally in Portland, OR (Go Ducks!) on Sunday, which also received high praise from members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. As one supporter of Johnson puts it on her Facebook page:
And it is also “extremely less-than-smart” to write a piece about white progressive sensibilities being victimized by assertive protest tactics that have proven more effective at getting results than the entire blogosphere has ever.
I’m Michael, and I’m the Philosophical Gaytheist. Gaytheist? Is that a gay theist, or a gay atheist? Well I like f*#ikng men and I don’t believe in God. My philosophical sophistication will intrigue you, and then make undergrads everywhere realize to never major in philosophy.