The story of Dull Knife and the Cheyenne

dull_knifeDull Knife was a leader of the Cheyenne, this is the sad story of the last years of his leadership, and a reminder of what followed. It’s one of the many tragedies that go to make up the history of the USA, worth remembering as we head in to Thanksgiving, and Native American Heritage day.

As told in a series of eleven tweets.

On 25/11/1876 The US Army exacted terrible vengeance for their defeat at Little Big Horn, swooping on an unprepared Cheyenne encampment.

Some Cheyenne managed to escape as the soldiers swooped, but the attackers destroyed their food and winter clothing. Many starved or froze.

After an 11 day walk to the Lakota at Tongue River many of the half naked Cheyenne were dead. Next spring Dull Knife decided to surrender.

The defeated Cheyenne were sent south, and before too long the final Plains tribes were sent to join them. Many died of diseases there.

“There we found a Cheyenne cannot live. So we came home. Better it was, we thought, to die fighting than to perish of sickness.” Dull Knife

Dull Knife later led his people in a bloody and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to return North, many more Cheyenne were killed.

Dull Knife himself died in in 1883, in Southern Montana, bitter and grieving the loss of his wife, three sons and two daughters.

And the killing hadn’t ended: in 1890, after the reservation lands were denuded of bison many Lakota were massacred at Wounded Knee.

“When I look back… I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch…”

“Something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream…”

“the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” Black Elk of the Lakota.

How did we get here?

A brief history of events which led up to the killings in Paris last weekend, and beyond.

There was an old woman who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die.

In 1914 the First World War started. Historians agree that the causes of the war are complex, as large alliances battled for global supremacy, the diplomatic battles turned into physical ones. Millions died as the Allied nations fought against the so called ‘Central powers’.

In 1917 the Russian empire collapsed, and following the revolution which saw Russia become a Socialist republic, the Russians came to terms with the Central powers.

In 1918 the Allies overcame the Central powers, nullifying the treaty they had agreed with Russia, and peace treaties were negotiated with the various countries involved.

The Treaty of Versailles saw Germany agree to a raft of measures which included vast sums in reparation and the occupation of parts of it territory by Allied armies.

As the 1920s began, in Italy the politics headed to the right wing and a fascist party built power. In Japan a growing culture of militarism began to take hold.

With their national pride destroyed and their economy in tatters, some Germans began to follow a new leader, an Austrian born painter turned politician known as Adolf Hitler, he took power in 1933 promising to rebuild.

There was an old woman who swallowed a spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly,  I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die

In 1939 a new war began, as Allied powers took on Germany and its allies after it’s invasion of Poland. Japan and Italy too became involved.

This war was bloodier than the last one, and lasted longer too. When it finally came to an end in 1945, economies were in tatters, and millions of people were dead, huge amounts of them were Russians.

Although they had been allies in the war, relations between Russia and America, which had dramatically different political outlooks, cooled dramatically. Shortly after WW2 ended, the Cold War began.

There was an old woman who swallowed a bird. How absurd to swallow a bird!
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

The Cold War continued for decades, fought hot in proxies here and there as economies were slowly rebuilt. America fought a doomed campaign in Vietnam, and some years later, in 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The Afghans, like other countries in the same region had been pawns in the Great Game for a long time, now as the Cold War ground on they were once again in the thick of things.

Immediately following the invasion, the British and others began to work out how they could send covert military aid to Islamic insurgents who were battling against the Russians. The Mujahedeen became our proxies in the on going struggle for global supremacy.

Shortly after the invasion a radical Islamist cleric called Abdullah Azzam travelled to Peshawar to assist the Mujahedeen in their struggle. With him went a 21-year-old disciple from Saudi Arabia, an engineer called Osama Bin Laden.

There was an old woman who swallowed a cat.  Imagine that, to swallow a cat!  She swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

In 1989 the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan, but not until another million and half people were dead, and further millions had fled the country, leaving it battle scarred, stunted and deprived.

In 1988, Bin Laden who had supported the Mujahideen, decided to start his own movement, called ‘The Base’ or in Arabic ‘Al Quaeda’ which would focus on terrorism rather than ‘traditional’ military tactics. He left Afghanistan around the same time as the Russians, to raise funds for his new organisation.

The 1990s saw the start of AQ’s terror campaign, which climaxed in 2001 with an attack on the twin towers.

It had suited various powers over a number of years to prop up totalitarian regimes in various Middle Eastern and African countries, political support meant access to resources vital for the rebuilding of post war economies. In 1972 the progressive political leader Saddam Hussein had won support from Russia, the Baathist coup of 1968 had seen the US supported regime thrown out. A few turbulent decades led eventually to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

As the Middle East grew yet more unstable, in 2010 the Arab spring saw violent and non violent uprisings across the region, which was widely (if nervously) welcomed by the democracy loving West. In Syria, former ophthalmologist turned politician Bashar al-Assad had won international support from a variety of right wing figures including the founder of the KKK, and the BNP’s Nick Griffin held power, and it was widely agreed that he should be toppled.

There was an old woman who swallowed a dog. What a hog, to swallow a dog! She swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.    

While some regimes fell relatively easily, Assad proved difficult to unseat, another bloody civil war ensued, governments were wary of becoming involved too directly, but military advisors and weapons found their way to those opposing Assad in Syria. As they did so, a new group began to emerge.

Now known more generally as IS (Islamic State) this group was founded by Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi an Iraqi who claims direct descent from the Prophet. His first recorded message was a eulogy to Osama Bin Laden who was killed by US forces in 2011. As they fought Assad, Al Baghdadi and his forces seized large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria and declared a Caliphate.

There was an old woman who swallowed a goat. Just opened her throat, to swallow a goat! She swallowed the goat to catch the dog, she swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

The situation in Syria had become polarised, on the one hand America and others wanted Assad out, but nobody wanted IS to prevail. There appeared to be a catch 22, support the loathed Assad in his fight against IS, or attack Assad and thereby indirectly support IS. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed out of the region, heading for the safe haven of Europe.

After the debacle in Iraq in the 2000s, Europeans and particularly the UK were reluctant to commit military support to action in Syria, all the same, British forces were fighting IS in Iraq, and British planes as part of a UN force were flying sorties in to Syria. Other countries were more strongly committed in Syria, in particular France who were strong in their demand for Assad to step down, but had also committed considerable resources in air strikes against IS positions in the country.

There was an old woman who swallowed a cow, I don’t know how she swallowed a cow! She swallowed the cow to catch the goat, she swallowed the goat to catch the dog, she swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.

In November 2015 a Russian aircraft was brought down over Egypt, IS claimed responsibility. They also claimed responsibility for attacks in Beirut, and then for the extraordinary series of coordinated attacks in Paris which saw the best part of 500 people killed or injured in a series of paramilitary attacks in the heart of the city.

The French response was understandably full of grief and bitterness, and they vowed to redouble their efforts in Syria, immediately launching more air strikes against IS targets. Other countries considered their positions.

There was an old woman who swallowed a horse, she’s dead—of course!

This is a grossly over simplified timeline of events over the last hundred years, which, among other omissions, doesn’t mention colonialism, hardly mentions expansionism, and takes no account of growing religious fundamentalism and its impact on politics. However, it makes, in a very general way, a point.

Arrested leader of Drug ‘cult’ had Wild At Heart as required reading

News broke yesterday that Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas aka El Chango (the monkey), the leader of ‘La Familia’ had been arrested by federal authorities in Mexico.

The arrest of the Cartel boss who had a $2M bounty on his head, may or may not spell the end of the group’s five year reign of terror.

La Familia was founded in 2006 by Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, who was killed in December. Gonzalez had split off from the Los Zetas cartel – a notorious group of gunmen who were originally set up as a mercenary army by former Mexican special forces soldiers. He set up La Familia as a kind of vigilante syndicate to crack down on crime in the state, but things changed very quickly, and after seizing control of drugs manufacture and smuggling routes, it became a massive organised crime body itself. Left: Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, right: Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas. 

But the story of La Familia, also known as La Familia Michoacana after the state in which they are based, is made all the more bizarre by its incorporation of evangelical Christian teachings into its indoctrination of new members.

And notably – or at least newsworthy, the bizarre inclusion of the evangelical Christian self help book ‘Wild At Heart’ by well known author John Eldredge – as a kind of ‘set text’ for gang members.

La Familia were/are known as the biggest exporters of methamphetamine into the USA. But they are involved in much more than just smuggling drugs, they have been running a kind of parallel economy in the state of Michoacan where they charge taxes and run a violent protection racket, seemingly controlling elements of local government across the state.

Their reputation is one of extreme violence, but that violence is only directed towards men (not women or children), and in particular only those who they say ‘deserve to die’. They mete out what they consider to be ‘divine justice’ via beheadings and other brutal actions, and celebrate family values through a commitment to a sort of evangelical Christianity.

The founder, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez aka El Mas Loco (the craziest one), who died last year wrote and self published a ‘bible’ of Christian aphorisms inspired by his own beliefs. These were of a kind of muscular Christianity, one which allwed for brutal killings so long as they were ‘just’ – and presumably allowed also for drug trafficking and other criminal activities, which suited a bigger purpose.

The cartel has become known for – as well as its extreme violence – establishing large scale poverty alleviation projects and encouraging people through de-tox programmes. These outlets invite comparison with the outlaw legend Robin Hood, who famously ‘robbed from the rich, and gave to the poor’ and had God on his side as he battled the corrupt authorities.

One of the strangest parts of the story is the incoporation of the book ‘Wild At Heart’ by American author John Eldredge in to the teachings of the cartel. Spanish translations of Wild At Heart, which has become a popular text for Evangelical Christians around the world who are eager to recapture an image of masculinity from an ’emasculated’ church culture, have been found in the group’s safe houses. It is thought that it was originally brought back to Mexico by Gonzalez after a smuggling trip. He went on to incorporate many quotes from the book into the group’s handbook.

Critics have pointed to Eldredge’s characterisation of masculinity, which includes the idea that men instinctively love weapons, and that they need to have a ‘battle to fight’ and a ‘divine mission’ as having fueled the fire of Gonzalez’ messianic urges.

Eldredge on the other hand has defended his book, pointing out that many texts have been misinterpreted, and later suggesting that perhaps reading his book may help gang members change their ways.

He said that if gang members actually read the book: “they would know that submission to Jesus is central to the entire message. They seemed to have missed the central point, which gives context to everything else.”

It is not clear what will happen next with La Familia, the cartel which had begun life as a vigilante group claiming to protect the state from evil, had offered to do a deal with Federal authorities, saying they would disband if Mexican government officials promised to safeguard  Michoacan. They wrote: “We have decided to retreat and return to our daily productive activities if the federal and local authorities … promise to take control of the state with force and decision.”

La Familia’s claim that if they were to disband without an agreement, then their base would be taken over by rival gangs and corrupt authorities is probably true. At any rate, there is no shortage of candidates for the post of Jefe within the cartel, and if it does collapse, it is more likely to be through internal strife than because of this arrest. So whatever happens next, things are unlikely to get much better in Mexico, where President Calderon’s drug war has seen 4,000 people die in the last five years.

Osama – the making of a myth

In the much publicised end of Osama Bin Laden’s life this week, the US military seem less likely to have pulled off a geo political coup, than to have bolstered their president’s domestic popularity.

The reported killing, which will evidently not now be officially ‘proved’ by photographs, and which will probably always be questioned by conspiracists, is not going to bring an end to anything much, but is likely to put a upwards spike in Obama’s popularity ratings. ‘Hot damn!’

While it has been lauded and applauded in some circles, and sadly accepted or even mourned in others – the fact is that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is very unlikely to change much in terms of global terrorism or the Jihadi movement. I am unaware of any major conspiracy in which Bin Laden has been sited as a key player in the last few years. Indeed if he has indeed been hiding out all this time, it seems likely that a significant amount of effort and expense has been spent by the Mujahideen to keep him hidden, presumably those resources will now be redirected.

As I mentioned of course, there have been numerous conspiracy theories doing the rounds for the last decade or so – initially that Bin Laden was a CIA stooge, then later that he was already in captivity, or even dead. Now it seems that he actually is dead – will this news end the conspiracy speculation?

Unlikely – in fact the muddy waters surrounding his death are only likely to further fuel the theorists imaginations. Why no pictures? How could he have lived there in the first place? What about the conflicting reports from different intelligence agencies about who tipped of whom about the compound and when? Why the mysterious burial at sea?

As it goes, I have no problem believing it – but in a world where nothing is real unless its televised, simulcasted, micro blogged (actually this one was almost tweeted) or captured by video on a mobile phone – is Osama Bin Laden really dead?

In some ways of course, he isn’t. Bin Laden had long since stopped being the central mover of a global terror network – Al Quaida is a movement, its very strength is the fact that it is totally decentralised and capable to working independently in small cells. In some ways, you might say Bin Laden had long since stopped being a man. Rather Bin Laden was a centralised myth, an icon, a bogey man figure who represented the very otherness of the Jihadi movement. With his well photographed beard, turban and combat jacket he depicted for many ‘the evil of the east’. Variously described as a wealthy Saudi, a desert fighter, a plotter, a devout Muslim – he was everything the west had to fear in an age when old antipathy with communist Russia had died away.

But aside from a few videos and an ongoing drip drip of reports of his suspected wherabouts, Bin Laden has had little to contribute to the narrative of the West’s ongoing struggle against evil. His killing was, a cynic might say, rather well timed for the American cause. It also leaves the stage now open for a new focus on the evil of… well take your pick – could be Gadaffi, although we’ve not heard much about Iran recently, so perhaps they are in for it next.

Osama Bin Laden was less of a person, more of a talisman. He represents a personifiable evil which suits the dualistic approach of Western (and Muslim) thinking. For us to be good, someone somewhere must be evil. By focusing on him, we’ve endowed him with mythical status, the evil murdering Muslim who would slit your baby’s throat and set fire to your house as soon as look at you. They seek him here, they seek him there… But at the end it turns out he’s just a man, easily killed by the elite forces of good, who have God on their side.

I don’t know if this makes much sense to anyone but me, but I really see this whole story as much more to do with reinforcing a narrative than the death of a terrorist.

So while the man may indeed be dead (I think he is) Osama Bin Laden lives on. His name, his image, his ideology, his myth remains strong. What he represented to people on either side of the struggle remains – just in different form. Osama Bin Laden lives on in despised dictators, in turbaned Mujahideen, in council estate boys trying to come to terms with confused ethnic and religious identities, in geo political power struggles, in history which is now being written by everyone.

He was – is, a mythical figure for the digital age. Thousands of images peer out of websites into the hearts of presidents and teenage wannabes. His thin smile adorns the targets of rifle enthusiasts, who take careful aim at the spot between the eyes. His name lives on in the world where turbaned arabs are ‘rag heads’ and where an aeroplane crashlanding is automatically assumed to be a terrorist plot.

It’s a sad week really – those who live by the sword are indeed likely to die by it, but regardless – this miserable life ending means nothing in terms of bringing peace to a world full or hatred and pain. Rather we have endowed his myth with a measure of immortality, the same sort enjoyed by James Dean and Che Guevarra – and sold to another, future, generation the other myth of redemptive violence – which works for all of us, whether we believe in a martyr’s paradise or the triumph of God over his foes.

I won’t be mourning or celebrating his death, I am mourning the the ongoing death of a world which seems determined to tear itself apart, to demonise and antagonise, to find immortality in human endeavour, and to define itself by opposition and duality.

What this death reminds me of most powerfully, is the need to recall that there is no them – there is only us.

Common Prayer parties for Ordinary Radicals

This blog has taken a very religious tone of late, high time for more nonsense to appear, but until it does, I thought I’d make you aware of something good that’s happening.

A while ago a number of us were asked if we’d like to host parties to celebrate the launch of a new ‘book of common prayer’ which is described as a new monastic resource, full of songs, liturgies, prayers etc. I didnt volunteer, what with living in a very small place and all, but I’m glad to see a number of others in the Uk have signed up.

So, if you’re in or near Birmingham, Coleraine, Glasgow, Saint Andrews or Sheffield, then I reccomend you get along. If you live outside of the UK, look for your nearest party here. They are happening all over the world.

If you’re interested at looking at what the book has to offer, you can see more here. It is effectively a ‘greatest hits’ of the church traditions, something of a post modern melting pot of stuff, from the very old, to the very new. One thing you can be sure of too, is that it will be beautifully and creatively presented. You can pre-order it here, or from your internet retailer of choice.

New Monasticism – but not as you know it

Quite by chance this morning, I stumbled upon a quite extraordinary site called ‘Monkrock‘ – I dont know whether to encourage you to visit it out of curiosity or not, but just to give you an idea of what’s on there, I am sure they won’t mind me ‘promoting’ one of their ‘New Monastic starter kits’ – this one happens to be my favourite,  that’s right folks its a….


Get into the Habit! – Franciscan style
Save 15% or more!
A good gift for the feast of St. Francis (Oct. 4)
or feast of Stigmata (Sept.17)

1. St Francis “Stigmata” T-Shirt
2. Small San Damiano Crucifix Necklace
3. “St Francis The Way of the Cross” Pamphlet
4. 3 St Francis Buttons

Price: $20.00

(I’m sure Francis would have thoroughly approved… ahem.)

Stigmata eh… been there, got the tee shirt.

The Democrat candidate for South Carolina

Alvin GreeneThe Democrat candidate for South Carolina is Alvin Greene, an extraordinary character, even for a US State which has a history of extraordinary characters.

I heard Greene interviewed on the radio recently – he claimed that people would vote for him because he would bring an end to the global recession… single handedly apparently.

It seems that Democrats are so shy of the South Carolina voters that Alvin Greene, an unemployed army veteran who currently faces an obscenity charge, was able to win the open primary with apparent ease. He won sixty per cent of the vote.

There have been accusations that Greene is a Republican plant – however I must say that he didnt sound like a plant – more like a plank.

Greene has said that he raised the $10,000 + fees to run by saving up his army pay, others have suggested that he was given the money to run by ‘people who should be investigated.’

You can see the calibre of this political animal on video here at the foot of this huffington post article, if it wasnt such a sad story, it would be funny.