Petraeus: Take Rebel Names Off US Army Bases

It is time to remove the names of traitors like Benning and Bragg from our country’s most important military bases.


By David Petraeus

As I have watched Confederate monuments being removed by state and local governments, and sometimes by the forceful will of the American people, the fact that 10 U.S. Army installations are named for Confederate officers has weighed on me. That number includes the Army’s largest base, one very special to many in uniform: Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. The highway sign for Bragg proclaims it Home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces. I had three assignments there during my career. Soldiers stationed at Bragg are rightly proud to serve in its elite units. Some call it “the Center of the Military Universe,” “the Mother Ship,” or even “Hallowed Ground.” But Braxton Bragg—the general for whom the base was named—served in the Confederate States Army.

The United States is now wrestling with repeated instances of abusive policing caught on camera, the legacies of systemic racism, the challenges of protecting freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights while thwarting criminals who seek to exploit lawful protests, and debates over symbols glorifying those who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The way we resolve these issues will define our national identity for this century and beyond. Yesterday afternoon, an Army spokesperson said that Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy is now “open to a bipartisan discussion” on renaming the bases. That’s the right call. Once the names of these bases are stripped of the obscuring power of tradition and folklore, renaming the installations becomes an easy, even obvious, decision.

My life in uniform essentially unfolded at a series of what might be termed “rebel forts.” I made many parachute jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, and I also jumped with 82d Airborne paratroopers at Fort Pickett, in Virginia (a National Guard post), and Fort Polk, in Louisiana. I made official visits to Virginia’s Forts Jackson and Lee, to Texas’s Fort Hood, and to Alabama’s Fort Rucker. In Georgia, I visited Fort Gordon, and I attended Airborne School, Ranger School, and the Infantry Officer Basic Course—rites of passage for countless infantry soldiers—at Fort Benning. At the time, I was oblivious to the fact that what was then called the “Home of the Infantry” was named for Henry L. Benning, a Confederate general who was such an enthusiast for slavery that as early as 1849 he argued for the dissolution of the Union and the formation of a Southern slavocracy. Fort Benning’s physical location, on former Native American territory that became the site of a plantation, itself illustrates the turbulent layers beneath the American landscape.

It would be years before I reflected on the individuals for whom these posts were named. While on active duty, in fact, I never thought much about these men—about the nature of their service during the Civil War, their postwar activities (which in John Brown Gordon’s case likely included a leadership role in the first Ku Klux Klan), the reasons they were honored, or the timing of the various forts’ dedications. Nor did I think about the messages those names sent to the many African Americans serving on these installations—messages that should have been noted by all of us. Like many aspects of the military, the forts themselves were so shrouded in tradition that everything about them seemed rock solid, time tested, immortal. Their names had taken on new layers of meaning that allowed us to ignore the individuals for whom they were named.

In the course of their professional development, soldiers often study the tactical and operational skills of leaders who fought for dubious causes. Learning how to win a particular kind of battle is different than learning how to win a war. Intellectual appreciation of a given general’s tactical genius, however, should not become wholesale admiration or a species of devotion. When I was a cadet at West Point in the early 1970s, enthusiasm for Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson was widespread. We were not encouraged to think deeply about the cause for which they had fought, at least not in our military history classes. And throughout my Army career, I likewise encountered enthusiastic adherents of various Confederate commanders, and a special veneration for Lee.

It also happens that—Lee and Jackson excepted—most of the Confederate generals for whom our bases are named were undistinguished, if not incompetent, battlefield commanders. Braxton Bragg, for example, left a great deal to be desired as a military leader. After graduating from West Point in 1837, he served in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican War. His reputation for physical bravery was matched by one for epic irascibility. Bragg’s temper was so bad, Ulysses S. Grant recounted in his memoirs, that an old Army story had a superior once rebuking him, “My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarrelling with yourself!” Bragg’s inability to cooperate diluted his effectiveness until his resounding defeat at the Battle of Chattanooga, in November 1863, precipitated his resignation from the Confederate army.

Had Bragg, like most of the rebel honorees, not been elevated by the effort to memorialize the “Lost Cause”—promoted by organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy as well as by some sympathetic historians—he would probably have been consigned to historical obscurity.

Fort Bragg and most of the other posts in question were established either during World War I, at one peak of the Lost Cause movement, or in the early 1940s, as the country was feverishly gearing up for World War II. Army leaders, to say nothing of political figures at the time, undoubtedly wanted to ingratiate themselves with the southern states in which the forts were located. They bowed to—and in many cases shared—the Lost Cause nostalgia that also sponsored so much civilian statuary, street naming, and memorial building from the end of Reconstruction through the 1930s, when the trend tapered off but did not end completely. In many cases, the Army’s sentiments simply mirrored those of the society it served.

For an organization designed to win wars to train for them at installations named for those who led a losing force is sufficiently peculiar, but when we consider the cause for which these officers fought, we begin to penetrate the confusion of Civil War memory. These bases are, after all, federal installations, home to soldiers who swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention. Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention.

It gives me considerable pause, for example, to note that my alma mater, West Point, honors Robert E. Lee with a gate, a road, an entire housing area, and a barracks, the last of which was built during the 1960s. A portrait of Lee with an enslaved person adorns a wall of the cadet library, the counterpoint to a portrait of Grant, his Civil War nemesis, on a nearby wall.

Lee’s history is, in fact, thoroughly woven through that of West Point and the Army. Before he was the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Lee was an outstanding cadet, a distinguished chief of engineers in the Mexican War, and later the West Point superintendent. I do not propose that we erase his role in this history. We can learn from his battlefield skill and, beyond that, from his human frailty, his conflicting loyalties, and the social pressures that led him to choose Virginia over the United States. If we attempt to repress the fact of his existence from our institutional memory, we risk falling into the trap of authoritarian regimes, which routinely and comprehensively obliterate whole swaths of national history as if it never happened at all. What distinguishes democracies is their capacity to debate even the most contentious issues vigorously and in informed, respectful, deliberate ways and to learn from the errors of the past. But remembering Lee’s strengths and weaknesses, his military and personal successes and failures, is different from venerating him.

Confederate memorialization is only the most obvious expression of formerly acceptable sentiments now regarded critically by many Americans. Once unreservedly celebrated figures like Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, to name just three, held convictions and behaved in ways we now find deeply troubling. It is indicative of the complexity of the problem that while the stained-glass window honoring Robert E. Lee in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., was removed, that of Wilson, an ardent segregationist, remains (after a healthy debate).

But Confederates leaders are different from these other examples not simply in degree, but in kind: Plainly put, Lee, Jackson, Bragg, and the rest committed treason, however much they may have agonized over it. The majority of them had worn the uniform of the U.S. Army, and that Army should not brook any celebration of those who betrayed their country.

A long-standing maxim for those in uniform that one should never begin a war without also knowing how to end it. And this is a kind of war—a war of memory. The forts named for Confederate generals were established before the formulation of the rules now codified in Army Regulation 1-33, which sets the criteria for memorializing soldiers. But, as is so often the case when the Army is found to have fallen short of its elemental values, it also possesses the remedy. While the regulation states, “Rememorializing or rededicating actions are strongly discouraged, and seldom appropriate,” it also outlines a clear administrative process to follow when they are. This is the moment to pursue that process.

We could probably disqualify the rebel generals on a technicality: After all, none of them were actually in the U.S. Army when they performed the actions for which they were honored. Nonetheless, I would prefer to disqualify them on the grounds that they do not meet the letter or spirit of the regulation’s second criterion: “Memorializations will honor deceased heroes and other deceased distinguished individuals of all races in our society, and will present them as inspirations to their fellow Soldiers, employees, and other citizens.”

The magic of the republic to which many of us dedicated our professional lives is that its definition of equality has repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to broaden. And America’s military has often led social change, especially in the area of racial integration. We do not live in a country to which Braxton Bragg, Henry L. Benning, or Robert E. Lee can serve as an inspiration. Acknowledging this fact is imperative. Should it fail to do so, the Army, which prides itself on leading the way in perilous times, will be left to fight a rear-guard action against a more inclusive American future, one that fulfills the nation’s founding promise.

Confederate Military Base Names Just Met Their Gettysburg
By Kevin Baron

Say goodbye to Fort Bragg. And Forts Benning, Lee, Hood, and all the other U.S. military installations named for Confederates from the Civil War.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the four people who will replace Trump administration appointees on a Congressionally mandated commission to study base renaming. It will be interesting to see what this esteemed group comes up with, but let’s be real: this is now an exercise for show. Start thinking up some new names while you read on.

Recall why this panel exists. Last summer, Donald Trump blocked his defense secretary and other Pentagon leaders from ordering the base names changed. Trump then threatened to veto any defense authorization bill that ordered the Defense Department to change the names. House Democrats and Senate Republicans decided to require only that a commission be formed to study the issue. Four members would be chosen by the Pentagon and four by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. 

Trump’s Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller in January named four peopleto the panel, but they lasted barely a month before Austin and the newly Democrat-controlled Senate replaced them.

The new panel is a slam dunk against the Lost Cause. It includes Michelle Howard, a retired 4-star Navy admiral, who is Black; Robert Neller, the most recently retired Marine Corps commandant; Ty Seidule, a retired 1-star Army general and emeritus professor of history at West Point; and Kori Schake, director of defense programs at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in Washington. 

This is a stacked deck. Howard is the highest-ranking Black naval officer in history. Seidule is famous for posting a viral 2015 video while in uniform at West Point. It slammed Confederate apologists and revisionists and explained why slavery was the main cause of the Civil War. His book, released last month, is titled, “Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause.”

Schake, who served in the second Bush administration, is among the most respected national security strategists and historians. She’s also an outspoken never-Trumper, one of the conservatives who rejected the rebel president five years ago. Earlier this week, her fellow conservative Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, publicly quit the Republcian Party over its continued support for Trump. I asked Schake if she would be following him out the door. “I weigh changing my political affiliation often, but believe the Liz Cheneys and Adam Kinzingers deserve my continued support,” Schake said of the House members from Wyoming and Illinois battling Trumpists and their support for the Confederacy.

Neller, the former commandant, is as gruff a Marine from central casting that you’ll ever meet. Yet after his successor made the Corps the first service branch to ban Confederate symbols from its bases, Neller posted a public mea culpa about his own failure to issue such a ban. “I failed to do so. No excuses. And I will regret that failure to act for as long as I live.”

Neller explained that the Stars and Bars “represents a group of states that seceded from our Union in order to preserve the institution of slavery. Not to protect states’ rights or an economically based culture of a different region and its’ [sic] people, but quite simply the right to own another human being. This Nation fought a brutal and horrific war over this fact and those that supported the right to subjugate another human being lost that fight. Yes, they fought with courage and tactical skill, but what they fought for was not honorable. In legal terms those that supported the secession of their state committed treason against the United States.”

Neller thus joined other prominent former generals, including David Petraeusand Stan McChrystal, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, in speaking out against Confederate fetishism and hagiography.

And those are just the white men. The addition of Howard to this commission is no surprise. If the military has a moral center, she is it. Howard is a revered leader who has embraced her role as a symbol of the military’s progress on advancing women and people of color — and of how much farther there is to go. Was there another 4-star woman of color that Austin could have appointed?

All to say that the era of Confederate revisionism is as good as dead, at least in the American institution of the military. Unfortunately, it will take much more for the racist sentiment at the core of Confederate fetishism to die. 

In his LinkedIn piece, Neller recounted confronting a Marine from Michigan about the Confederate flag sticker on his truck. (I’ve seen similar flag stickers on vehicles at the Pentagon and at Joint Base Andrews.) “How can you be from that same state and fly the Confederate flag? And how do you reconcile having that flag on your truck while wearing the uniform that says, ‘US Marines,’ and having taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States?” the general asked. The other Marine had no answer. They shook hands and parted, but the sticker remained.

The reality is that Confederate names and bumper stickers can be taken down and retired to the dustbins of history, by order or free will. We know better, now, what they really meant to the 20th-century revisionists who propped them up long after the Civil War. But the white supremacy and racism they represent will live on in the hearts of minds of many Americans, including some who make it into the military’s ranks. 

At the Pentagon, Austin, his fellow Biden appointees, and the Joint Chiefs face the enormous task of figuring out how big this problem really is, and showing that they are serious about cracking down on it with new rules, regulations, and punishments across the Defense Department. Too many of their predecessors have failed. Already, right-wing media personalities who have defended Confederate flag-flying and base names have turned on the U.S. military, calling the effort to ban extremism from the ranks a “purge” — Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., a Navy veteran, called it an exercise in “thought control.” 

Neller had a message for them in his June letter, too.   

“And for those Americans not serving in the military who persist in flying this flag for whatever misguided reason, I will continue to support your right to do so on your property.  But do not expect me to see you for anything else but someone who still supports the bondage and oppression of another human being who does not look like you. Period full stop.” 

Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich: Super Bowl victory a big win for Black coaches

Tampa Bay’s Black coordinators played major roles in defeating the vaunted Chiefs on the game’s biggest stage. NFL owners, are you paying attention?

By Jason Reid

TAMPA, Fla. – As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dismantled the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV on Sunday, Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles, the Buccaneers’ offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, remained in the spotlight all night.

Yes, head coach Bruce Arians received the majority of the credit, and deservedly so, for the Buccaneers’ surprising 31-9 upset victory. But the two men – the two Black men – whom Arians empowered to lead the NFC champions’ offense and defense also earned a bunch of attaboys. Make no mistake: Bowles and Leftwich played major roles in planning and executing a party that continued deep into the night at Raymond James Stadium.

That’s exactly what Arians hired them to do.

“I thought our three guys had great plans,” said Arians, whose special teams coordinator, Keith Armstrong, is also Black. “Byron did a great, great job, I thought, of just mixing up run and pass, and pounding [with the running game] when we needed to. And Todd had a great plan to keep ’em [the Chiefs’ receiving corps] in front of us and let our front four get after him [Mahomes]. They chased him around all night.”

Sure did.

And before we examine the X’s and O’s, permit us a moment to explain why what Leftwich and Bowles put on film in the Buccaneers’ upset victory could – and likely would, if NFL owners were colorblind – benefit Black NFL assistant coaches. Despite commissioner Roger Goodell’s best efforts to improve diversity and inclusion from the front office to the field at the club level, the recently concluded hiring cycle left many Black assistants feeling frustrated again about their overall lack of advancement to head-coaching positions.

For coordinators, Leftwich and Bowles delivered virtuoso performances in the Super Bowl that should elevate them to the top of the list during the next cycle. Considering the owners’ ongoing aversion to fully embrace inclusive hiring for their top-rung coaching positions, however, it’s fair for one to wonder whether owners will choose to ignore what they achieved. Goodness knows, it has happened before. Just ask Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

At the very least, Bowles said, the Buccaneers’ overall performance on the game’s biggest stage shows that Arians hires people who know what they’re doing. And when it comes to Black assistants, that point can’t be driven home enough.

“It shows that we’re good at our jobs … and it gives younger people inspiration, hopefully, to see us as coaches and to see that we can be one of these type of people [head coaches] if we put our mind to it,” Bowles said. “That anything is possible.”

Objectively, their ability to coach well cannot be in dispute.

In avenging a 27-24 loss here in Week 12 to the AFC champions, the Buccaneers – the first franchise in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl on its home field – precisely followed the leads of their offensive and defensive playcallers. The results couldn’t have been better for an organization that won its second Vince Lombardi Trophy. Leftwich and Bowles pushed so many correct buttons from start to finish, the Chiefs looked like, well, definitely not like the Chiefs.

During the historic start to quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ career, NFL fans have grown accustomed to the Chiefs producing yards and points at a dizzying pace. Mahomes has a knack for making multiple eye-opening plays on a single offensive series. And the Chiefs’ defense has done its part: The combination has enabled Kansas City to become the first franchise to host three consecutive AFC Championship Games.

Simply put, the Chiefs, who were attempting to repeat as Super Bowl champions, are as good as it gets in the NFL. But with Leftwich and Bowles doing their things as the world watched Sunday, not in the final game of the 2020-21 NFL season.

Leftwich and quarterback Tom Brady (more on the GOAT later) were clearly in sync. In the first half, Leftwich was in a playcalling groove and Brady made him look marvelous, connecting with tight end Rob Gronkowski for two passing touchdowns and adding another to wide receiver Antonio Brown. The Buccaneers led 21-6 at halftime, and with the way the Buccaneers’ defense was harassing Mahomes and blanketing his deep options, the game was all but over.

Bowles positioned Tampa Bay’s safeties superbly to help in coverage against stunningly fast wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Superstar tight end Travis Kelce wasn’t able to easily evade the underneath coverage as he usually does against most Chiefs opponents. And on the few occasions when Hill, Hardman or Kelce briefly created separation, Mahomes lacked the requisite time to link up with them.

Just the way Bowles drew it up, Arians said.

“Patrick wasn’t going to beat us running,” he said. “We let him run all day. Just keep chasing him around and see if we could make some plays.”

Besides Bowles’ top-notch plan, the Chiefs clearly missed injured starting offensive linemen Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. After injuring his Achilles in Kansas City’s AFC Championship Game win over the Buffalo Bills, Fisher was sidelined for the Super Bowl. Schwartz has been out for some time with a back injury. The combination of Bowles having had two weeks to prepare and the Chiefs’ O-line deficiencies without Fisher and Schwartz proved way too much to overcome.

The Buccaneers are one of the few teams capable of consistently generating a strong pass rush without blitzing, relying on their front four, especially outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. Bowles got exactly the pass rush he needed and made the right adjustments in the back end from the Week 12 matchup – in that one, Hill torched the Buccaneers’ secondary early and often – to keep the Chiefs out of the end zone. Really, that’s a next-level accomplishment in and of itself.

Mahomes completed only 26 of 49 passes. He finished with 270 passing yards (a paltry 5.5-yard average) and two interceptions. Tampa Bay sacked Mahomes three times, including one by Barrett.

It seemed as if Mahomes backpedaled 10, 15 yards on every dropback in futile attempts to extend passing plays that, uncharacteristically for the Chiefs, didn’t work well. Some perspective on Mahomes: Over the past three seasons, including the playoffs, Mahomes ranks first among NFL quarterbacks in victories, passing touchdowns, passing yards, 300-yard passing games, yards per attempt and Total QBR.

The rematch, decisively, went to Bowles.

“The biggest thing was trying to take away the first read,” Bowles said of sparring with Mahomes. “He can run and he can make plays with his feet. But we didn’t want him just sitting in the pocket, zinging dimes on us all day, either. The D-line got some pressure on him, was making him run and making him uncomfortable, and that was the key for us.”

Usually, Mahomes’ signature plays come from a variety of arm angles. Against the Buccaneers, however, he was forced to use his entire repertoire to merely throw away the ball to avoid sacks. With Bowles on the attack from start to finish, it was that type of night for the player widely perceived to be Brady’s heir apparent.

Now, back to Brady.

En route to winning his fifth Pete Rozelle Trophy, awarded to the Super Bowl MVP, Brady completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards and the three first-half passing touchdowns. Perhaps some would argue that Leftwich had it easy, with being the primary playcaller for the greatest quarterback in NFL history (Brady extended his record totals to 10 Super Bowl appearances and seven Super Bowl victories). Brady has played in 18% of all the Super Bowls ever played, so he definitely knows his way around at this time of year.

Leftwich and Brady, though, are in their first year together after Brady spent 20 years building his first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials with the New England Patriots. Earlier in the season, the Buccaneers had issues on offense that had to be resolved. They worked through them, obviously, very well.

As Arians previously mentioned, much to his delight, Leftwich also leaned on the running game: Tampa Bay rushed for 145 yards (with a 4.4-yard average). Running back Leonard Fournette led the way with 89 rushing yards (a 5.6-yard average), including a 27-yard touchdown run that extended Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-9 midway through the third quarter.

On Zoom calls with reporters after their work was finished, Tampa Bay’s players, one after another, praised Leftwich and Bowles as much for their leadership as men as their ability to coach. Despite being led by an outstanding head coach and the greatest passer of all time, Tampa Bay wouldn’t be on top of the mountain without Leftwich and Bowles, they said.

“Coach Bowles, he puts his players in the right position to win,” cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting said. “He believes in them [as people] and he believes in their abilities. He doesn’t go off script.

“He just sticks to it and he sticks with you. He’s always motivating you. He’s always telling you really good information that you take off the field in real life, and can use it [in] being a better man.”

Leftwich and Bowles are coaches. They’re teachers. They’re leaders of men. And after doing their parts to help the Buccaneers dispatch the gifted Chiefs and end the NFL season, they’re also Super Bowl champions. NFL owners, are you paying attention?

The True Power of Social Media Restrictions

The way in which authoritarians use social media is somewhat akin to the manner in which Adolf Hitler used the then-emerging radio technology to appeal to the German people above the heads of the traditional media of the time. Without radio, he still might have become chancellor, but at least it would have been more difficult.

By Eric Farnsworth 

Twitter’s decision to ban a sitting U.S. president raises an intriguing question for the new Biden administration: should foreign leaders sanctioned for human-rights abuses, drug trafficking and gross corruption, and crimes against humanity be booted from social media? The answer is yes. It’s time to update the U.S. foreign policy toolkit for the social media age. Much as visa privileges and access to the U.S. banking system are routinely denied for sanctioned individuals, access to relevant social media should also be treated as a privilege, not a right.

Obvious targets for social media denial would be senior officials of countries designated as State Sponsors of Terror or otherwise under significant sanction, including individuals designated under the Global Magnitsky Act. It is astounding, for example, that despite significant U.S. foreign policy interests and severe existing sanctions, Iran’s leader Khamenei is able to tweet without consequence about the destruction of Israel, and Venezuela’s Maduro can use Twitter to threaten harm to the leaders of the internationally-recognized democratic opposition. If this isn’t incitement to violence, it’s unclear what actually would be.

Three significant objections to implementing such a policy stand out. The first is the symbolism of denying free speech rights to foreign officials even as the United States claims to stand for free speech, as well as the “right” of the United States to take such steps. But we are not talking about free speech for people generally or censoring ideas that Washington may not like, and certainly not for U.S. citizens. We are not talking about restricting access to non-U.S. social media platforms over which the United States has no jurisdiction. Rather, the targets are foreign officials already under U.S. sanction for egregious abuses and who may be using U.S.-based social media, among other tools, to maintain power and control over their citizens and security forces and to project an image abroad that fuels the energies of international supporters and fellow-travelers, undermining core U.S. foreign policy interests.

Individuals such as Khamenei, Maduro, Cuba’s Diaz Canel, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and their respective inner circles and propaganda mouthpieces. In any event, sanctioned leaders are not guaranteed First Amendment protections under U.S. laws and can have no expectation of such rights and freedoms particularly when engaged in crimes against humanity.

The second obvious objection is that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like are private social media platforms and must remain independent from government authorities. So long as the “community standards of use” policies of each platform are generally adhered to, the argument goes, the government has no business policing who can use what platform. But in the realm of foreign policy, the government tells private entities all the time whom they are allowed to do business with. By definition, sanctions against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela, among others, severely limit the ability of U.S. corporations to engage in commercial activities there.

For their part, social media companies monetize users’ personal information and are therefore engaged in commercial activities in sanctioned nations so long as they have users there. They should be bound by the same rules as, say, energy companies and financial institutions. Where it gets tricky is in nations where authoritarian leaders exert strong influence or control over traditional media sources, and social media is sometimes the only way for opposition movements to organize and coordinate actions. Outright bans against nations and their populations would be counterproductive. Rather, the policy would better be applied only to senior individuals in targeted regimes.

Finally, there is the knotty issue of which individuals specifically should be prevented from access to social media, and whether such categories won’t expand to include officials from regimes that Washington simply doesn’t like or those who may be promoting policies that may not rise to the level of criminality or crimes against humanity but rather amount to little more than differences on social issues, say, or climate change and the environment, or other areas of disagreement, no matter how intense. There must therefore be strict policies and guidelines that focus on those who are credibly accused of legally-sanctionable behavior.

A presidential “finding” or Congressional action may be warranted to define the specific, narrow, and very rare instances when the social media sanction should be applied in furtherance of U.S. foreign policy goals. The way in which authoritarians abroad use social media is somewhat akin to the manner in which Adolf Hitler used the then-emerging radio technology to appeal to the German people above the heads of the traditional media of the time. Without radio, he still might have become chancellor, but at least it would have been more difficult. So it is with State Sponsors of Terror and human-rights abusers. Without the oxygen of mass communications, their actions, including remaining in power, become markedly more difficult. There is no legal or moral obligation for the United States, or its social media companies, to assist them in their efforts.

Eric Farnsworth heads the Washington office of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. He served at the State Department, USTR and the White House. He was a senior adviser in the office of the special envoy for the Americas from 1995 to 1998.

MLS player Jeremy Ebobisse wants white people to feel uncomfortable

‘It’s tough for me to compromise when it comes to my humanity’

U.S. forward Jeremy Ebobisse before an international friendly match against Panama on Jan. 27, 2019, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

By Martenzie Johnson

On June 1, Jeremy Ebobisse, a forward for the Portland Timbers in Major League Soccer, posted a blog on Medium detailing the anger, pain and despair he feels as a black man as protests continue to take over the country following the deaths of African Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, at the hands of law enforcement.

In the post, titled, “It’s not meant for your comfort …,” Ebobisse, whose parents hail from Cameroon and Madagascar, lays out not only his feelings of seeing yet more black people killed by the police, but also of the white resistance to African Americans’ cries about police brutality and racial inequality before Floyd suffocated to death after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25.

“The same people I’ve sat across from in class and in locker rooms complaining that I always make things about race, that I’m too serious all the time or, worse, that I’m being dramatic, are the ones all the sudden posting about how awful or surprising this is,” the 23-year-old Ebobisse wrote.

As the title of the blog post says, Ebobisse wants white people to feel the same discomfort that black Americans feel almost daily. He doesn’t want congratulatory texts or endorsements from sudden white allies. He wants black pain to be felt and understood, for white people to go beyond hashtags and tweets to truly deconstruct the white supremacy this country was built on.

That includes soccer. The sport, particularly in Europe, has been marred by countless racist incidents by fans, players, coaches and the media. In recent years, MLS has had to deal with the unfortunate public relations task of having to address its white supremacist problem. For Ebobisse, the blog post was him using his position as a professional athlete to demand change when it comes to the treatment of African Americans.

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“Through all this rage I hope that, one day, people will understand that making a change isn’t about using black bodies to feel a part of a social media movement after seeing an emotionally scarring video, but rather a constant journey of decolonizing your minds, listening to black voices, finding organizations to support and putting anti-racists in power,” he wrote.

Ebobisse spoke with The Undefeated by telephone about how the recent black deaths have affected him, what role white people play in these conversations and why he won’t condemn the looting and rioting that have marred some of the protests.


What made you want to write the post last week?

I think like many black Americans … a lot of emotions pop into mind when something like this happens, and for me it’s just, ‘Not again, or why this again?’ And then to see the social media fallout, I’m looking left and right, and I’m seeing different accounts, different people, people that have been critical in the past, all of a sudden embracing this moment as the moment for change.

And I’m asking myself, ‘Why now? Are you for real? Is this authentic or are you part of a quote-unquote progressive community and now’s the moment that you need to show that you are in support of these values in order to maintain that public image?’ Because while there are a lot of genuine people that I’ve met over the years and that I’ve interacted with online and in person over the years, I know that there are also a lot of people that have caused me a lot of stress in forcing me to have these challenging discussions or just dismissing my concerns altogether.

So I needed a place to vent and that’s how it all started.

What type of reaction have you received?

The reactions have been very positive, but I break that down into two categories.

The responses that meant the most to me were the people that said, ‘That struck a chord with me. You’re talking to me here. You’re telling me that I haven’t taken this seriously now, and I probably won’t take this seriously in a few months, that I’m caught up in a moment, and that made me feel poorly about myself, knowing that I’m potentially taking advantage of a moment, whether I know it or not. I have to make this commitment to myself, and to you, and to you as my friend, and to society, that I’m not just getting caught up in a moment and this gonna be a lifestyle change that has been long overdue.’ That perception, from, I’d say, about 50% of the people, that’s what I’m looking for.

And then there’s been, I’d say, another 50%, that have said, ‘Wow, that’s a great message. That’s so powerful. That’s amazing. Thanks for your bravery and for your honesty. That’s just awesome. Thanks for that.’

The piece wasn’t meant to make people feel good about anything. That’s why I call it, ‘It’s not for your comfort.’ George Floyd’s murder is not for your comfort, and what I’m saying isn’t to make you feel good either. It’s to make everyone feel critical about where they’ve been in the past, because, again, this has been happening whether we see it or whether it’s something that goes under the radar, whether it’s someone who dies or whether it’s someone who is just brutally beaten or just harassed or just a victim of the system in different areas, this has been here.

So that self-reflection I felt was missing from some of the positive responses that was very bland.

Playing in a sport in America that you’re the minority in, have you ever, or did you ever, find it difficult before this to talk about race?

I would say toward the beginning of my career there were definitely moments where I found it difficult to talk about politically leaning subjects because I was younger, I didn’t know what would happen if I spoke out. There were rumors that some people would prefer that I didn’t speak out. So balancing that was an act that, more and more as I’ve gotten older, more comfortable in my position, decided to be less and less apologetic about what’s going on, because me beating around the bush doesn’t help anyone. It wastes my time and energy, and it just makes other people feel good about themselves and deflect about what I’m actually talking about. On a personal level, with teammates and in the locker room, I would say most people, in general, are receptive to that kind of conversation.

But there’s a time limit for sure. They don’t want to be hearing about it all the time. So where I’m thinking about it most of the time, they don’t want that to be the norm. Now, more than ever, they’re reaching out to me, asking for my approval on things, which frankly they don’t need. I think everything that people do needs to be authentic for it to be sustainable. Because I can’t coach someone through this. But in the past, I would say there were only a handful of nonblack players that I can consistently talk to about race and that would listen and engage and were genuine.

You have a line in the story where you said, “reception to advocacy is often times contingent on it being comfortable for the listener.” Can you expand on that more?

I follow some really strong and intelligent and passionate advocates on Twitter, and I wish they didn’t spend the time that they do going back and forth with people that, frankly, don’t agree with them at all and are just there to troll, but they do. I also applaud their ability to maintain their emotional sanity through that, because it’s challenging, as people run on their own time. What I’ll say to that is advocacy — it’s easy for people to point the finger at someone else. When I normally talk about issues, I try not to point too many fingers. The unspoken group that I’m speaking about is usually a group that ‘progressive people’ will feel comfortable pointing the finger at.

But the second that I hypothetically point the finger at progressives, who are now leading these movements — and I’m superappreciative of the constant energy that continues to be on display right now — but if and when, and however I do point the finger at that group of people, all of a sudden I know that some people will take that well and take that critically and take that to heart. But I also know that some people will say, ‘No, I’m on the right side of things. Maybe you’re pushing the line too far this time.’ I understand that fine balance.

I mentioned Malcolm X in that piece and how he said the South is anything south of the Canadian border. Because when you see throughout this country — I’ll speak particularly to New York City, because that’s what I’ve kind of been looking at recently. When we’re talking about school diversity, segregation, integration, New York City schools look as bad, arguably if not worse, than what they might’ve looked like around the [Brown v. Board of Education] decision. And I’m following kids, a group called Teens Take Charge, trying to address that system of inequity, and [New York Times reporter] Nikole Hannah-Jones had a great The Weekly video interviewing and articulating people that feel they’re on the right side of these issues — that they’re all for diversity, for helping improve the system — get very defensive and very stubborn when it comes to changing a model that they have benefited from for so long. And it’s the same way that it was in the past when schools first started undergoing busing. Now that fight over public schools in New York has the same dynamic.

When you saw what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and what’s going on with the protests and what law enforcement is doing with the protests, how do those things make you feel?

It makes me feel hopeful. It angers me as well at times, just seeing the reaction of certain policemen out there. The teargassing of largely peaceful protests. I know that there’s been some moments of looting and more aggressive rioting. But I’ve also witnessed a peaceful protest here in Portland. I’ve been a part of it, and I’ve spoken to people who have been a part of very peaceful protests and have been agitated by the police there to supposedly protect the people that are protesting. So, I feel a range of emotions. I know that there was energy too, though, when Trayvon Martin was killed, when Eric Garner was killed, when Tamir Rice, whoever it is, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown. I know there was energy then too. Maybe the combination of coronavirus and people being out of work and people being at home more has given an opportunity for others to make more time to contribute to the protests.

But I just hope that the image, the power of many coming together to defend our human and civil rights, translates into a continuation of learning the history of this country. … This shouldn’t be a political issue, but frankly it is. I don’t believe you can be out protesting saying that you want justice for George Floyd but also simultaneously be voting for Trump or a large majority of the GOP [Grand Old Party] platform in the fall. I don’t believe that at all. And I also don’t believe that — because I’m seeing this as well — I don’t believe that you can separate what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and all the other men and women that don’t get as much attention or get you just a moment of attention. I don’t believe you can separate what happened to them with the systemic injustice in education, in corporate practices and in the criminal justice system. Those things go hand in hand for me.

For a lot of people who have spoken out in support of the protests, a lot of them have then also been forced to, or a lot of detractors will force them to, condemn the looting and the violence. You didn’t do that. I was wondering why didn’t you feel the need to have to condemn the other aspects of the protests.

Because it’s not about the looting, the rioting, it’s about the failure to address the problem, the failure to address systemic injustice, police brutality, the treatment of black and brown bodies that has gone on since the founding of this country. That is why we are where we are today. We would not have any of the issues, the rioting, the looting, even the protests, had this country chosen to reconcile its original sin.

And so I’m not here to give that argument weight, frankly. It’s just an argument meant to dismiss what’s going on in this country and what will continue to happen if we shift the narrative to one about looting, riots, which frankly haven’t even been the majority of protests in this country. I understand people in power who need to maintain order. I understand their need to speak for George Floyd and also speak to the safety of their community. But in my position that’s not where I find myself. I need to focus on keeping the narrative about systemic injustice beyond George Floyd. I pray for his family, and I honor him, because he didn’t deserve any of this. Neither did Breonna, neither did Ahmaud.

But this country needs to reconcile with all of the injustice that’s present. And I’ll say that there have been periods where this country has attempted to do so. I would say Reconstruction was a big one. The civil rights movement was a big one. I think Obama’s election was a big step, but with each of those steps, there’s come an equally powerful backlash that has set our country further back, in my opinion. And we need to focus on what’s going on and how this country can move forward so that we don’t have the scene that we have right now.

You were born in Paris and raised in Montgomery County, Maryland. What have you learned about racism, whether it’s happening here in America or abroad?

I had a unique education through that because, given that my parents weren’t from this country, I didn’t have the stories passed down from generation to generation of black Americans about the civil rights movement, about Jim Crow, about the period of mass incarceration and war on drugs. I had to learn about that as I was coming of age — I would say early teens — because my parents settled into a quiet neighborhood and had been able to shield me from a lot of the harsher realities, but inevitably, you can’t hide with your skin color.

My first relatively traumatic experiences were on the field playing against teams — where a team from South Carolina, where defenders called me the N-word repeatedly throughout the second half of the game. And that was just so shocking to me, traumatic. I just started crying on the field as I kept playing. And that’s when I realized that it didn’t matter where I grew up, it didn’t matter how smart I might be or whatever other qualities are inside of me, that I would be reduced to my skin color for specific people. So that’s how I started to learn. From that moment on I really took it upon myself. Some of my teachers challenged me to be critical about the way I thought about the world and in the country, but slowly but surely I found my place, and I learned more as I started getting older and becoming more and more of a threat in people’s eyes. I saw the harsh reality even in my quiet suburb.

But from a world perspective, my parents understand the difficulty of being black and in this world, because it’s not just limited to America. They fought real hard to get to where they are now, especially my dad going from Cameroon to making it into the university system in France. That’s where he met my mom and they worked through college, and ultimately my dad’s just been breaking glass ceilings in the infrastructure investment world. And now he’s focused on giving back and making sure that his whole career has been about trying to bring the continent of Africa up to speed through infrastructure development. I’ve had a cross of the international and American domestic lens for my black experience, I would say.

Whether it’s your white teammates or just white people in general, whether they play sports or not, what do you think their role is right now?

I think they have a critical role to play in this. Racism has often been framed as a black problem, which, understandable — I mean, we’re the victims. But also it’s a plague on the white community. As black people, it’s a challenge to be taken seriously by certain white people. And that’s just the brutal honest truth. I think that they have the opportunity to speak to their family members, to their friends on a consistent basis, and bring them along and make them engage in the material, because there’s no excuse for being ignorant about these issues. There’s no excuse for the line that I’m seeing right now, where people say, ‘I’m normally silent because I don’t want to weigh in. And I don’t know so much about this stuff.’ There’s no excuse for that.

The groups I’m talking about have Netflix, have books, have access to the information, have the internet. There’s no excuse for not having that information. And they need to share it with their less forward-thinking friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, because, again, I’ve alternated between how I want to communicate. And I used to respond to people who just had no sort of agreement with me. And ultimately we were just talking past each other. And I don’t think they valued anything that I had to say. And frankly, it’s tough for me to compromise when it comes to my humanity and my rights. That’s where I think white people who are genuine can really make an impact, because I’ve seen the result.

I have a lot of white friends, and I’ve seen what they can do when they have these discussions on a regular basis with their friends, and in a nonaggressive way, but in a way that also doesn’t do a disservice to the facts and to the situation. As a black person, it makes me feel that I have the right people around me when they come to me and they say, ‘Hey, listen, I’m not here to have you hold my hand through this, but I just wanna let you know that, through what you’ve spoken to me over the years, I’ve been able to bring that attempt to the attention of my friends who grew up in areas that had very contradicting views, and I’ve been able to bring them along.’ And I know that they’re committed to the righting of their previously-held ideologies.

Unlike some of these kind of canned statements that have been put out by brands or teams or leagues or individual players, you actually mentioned what people are protesting against, which is the state, the police, those types of things. I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on the role of law enforcement in society, particularly how it affects African Americans.

Law enforcement, it can be a pillar of society and it can be here to protect everyone. But, frankly, we’ve seen what abuse of power looks like too often. And that’s something that continues to hurt the black Americans and starting to hurt white Americans too, as they start to empathize with our pain. There has to be honest reflection in what’s going on, and, listen, I’m not here to shame any law enforcement officials or departments. I don’t think that’s the way to go, but at the same time, we have to acknowledge that there is the bad apple theory — that theory needs to be dissected, because ultimately when it takes however many years it took to fire the police officer who killed Eric Garner, there’s a problem with that system. I understand due process — black Americans understand due process more than anyone in this world. But that’s unacceptable. There was a killing in broad daylight and it took, I want to say, at least four years to fire that officer.

So there is this idea that there are bad apples, but ultimately is this system rewarding people that hold bad apples accountable? That’s the question that I think we need to ask. And if it is, then why aren’t people holding these bad apples accountable, and how does that make them complicit? Because it ultimately does make them very complicit. If the system isn’t shaped in a way to reward people holding other ‘bad apples’ accountable, then that’s the fundamental flaw to the system right there.

I think it was Bryan Stevenson who said the system isn’t broken, referring to the criminal justice system, it’s working the way it’s supposed to. That’s a powerful line. And that’s one that needs to be taken into account when we look at our law enforcement apparatus and our court systems as well, sentencing guidelines, etc. But, listen, I know there’s a lot of funding that goes into the police and how that money is spent. The militarization of the police, with some of these weapons that are out in the streets, doesn’t feel like they’re there to protect you when they have some of the resources that they have, and who am I to say what they do and don’t need to feel safe in their job, because ultimately they are doing a thankless job and a difficult job, but it deserves scrutiny as well, because we’re talking about a lot of money, which, frankly, a lot of other programs can also use that money. And maybe that might make the police’s life a little bit easier, to know that some opportunities could be extended to people, to hypothetically prevent the growth of the stereotype of black men and women.

Why do you think what happened to George Floyd garnered this type of response from white people when other black deaths over the last few years hadn’t?

That’s what I ask myself a lot. I think the combination of coronavirus, that has really severely impacted our society and put a lot of things to a halt. So I think that people are more easily intaking information. I think the rapid succession of national attention on Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd created this sort of capitulation effect where it was like, this is happening too much, too often, too quickly, in too quick succession. I think those two combined probably accounts for a good amount of it.

But as we said, there was outrage, there were riots back for Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald too. So it’s about gauging and measuring what happened after these, because ultimately it won’t really matter if these got a lot of attention, if it doesn’t translate to something meaningful after the fact, it’ll just be another historic rallying where people rallied to the defense of unarmed, black, brown men and women but nothing happened of it. And it’ll just be until the next one, unfortunately. Now I just expect, I expect another, uh, national tragedy; it’ll be until the next one for people to reignite that energy. I want to believe that this is authentic, and that this new energy or renewed energy is meaningful and is the start of something new, but I find it dehumanizing a little bit to the previous victims that they weren’t enough as well. So I think we have to do them all justice.

You recently retweeted something that you wrote in December 2016, which was, ‘If we protest, we’re violent. If we wear shirts to warm up in pregame, we’re disrespectful. If we kneel before an anthem, we deserve to die.’ Looking back on that now, and what’s happened in the recent days, how do you feel about that statement that you made four years ago?

Not that I need to feel justified in the things that I put out, because I go through a pretty overextreme vetting process of rewriting, rethinking and reframing before I put stuff out. But I feel 100% justified in that tweet. I don’t remember what it was exactly that led to that tweet. Maybe [Colin Kaepernick] was kneeling at the time. But a lot of people who are complaining about the protest and then whatever chaos has ensued on certain days and in certain places, did not take Kap seriously. And so the reality is there is no appropriate way to protest.

Trevor Noah said it himself in his shows and in his addresses, the criticism of the manner of protest is a deflection to avoid talking about the systemic issues. If people had taken peaceful protest seriously, there could have been change by now. That was over three years ago. And I’m not saying change happens overnight or over a year, but measures could have been put in place to start to address the system, whether the system needs an overhaul or just needs to be reformed, that conversation could have happened if we weren’t having the conversation about should Kap kneel or not. And the idea that some athletes or some people still think that either they don’t owe him an apology or that they were justified in criticizing his manner of protest is appalling when we see how they criticize nonpeaceful protest. So that qualifies, what is peaceful protest to them? And which one is acceptable? Because when LeBron and the rest of his teammates wore “I can’t breathe” shirts, they were spoiled professional athletes, that’s how they were labeled when they were still standing for the anthem, they just wore a T-shirt that said, ‘I can’t breathe.’

And so every time we try to find a compromise in our manner of protest, we are still talked down upon, belittled, our intelligence is called into question, and our character is called into question. And that’s unacceptable. That’s why we continued to have this problem. So whoever it is, their criticism of protest, especially based on where they’ve been chronologically through history, it’s disingenuous, and they’re probably not people searching for reconciliation and for justice and for creating a more equitable system, whether we’re talking about the people being killed in the streets or ultimately the wider system that I was alluding to, from education to political to corporate.