It’s amazing to me how scared Republicans, and particularly Republican white men, are of new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They attack her relentlessly. The other day when Nancy Pelosi was being sworn in as the new Speaker of the House, the GOP only booed one person when their name was called during the vote and that was Ocasio-Cortez. Conservative talking heads criticize her every move, every idea she has, they even tried to make fun of her because she likes to dance.
Oh how scared they must be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of covering politics and living in a political family is that you don’t attack someone like this unless you are really scared of what they represent and you need to try to knock them down. Unlike others in the past, however, who have been attacked this way Ocasio-Cortez gives as good as she gets and she is unafraid to clap back. And how it must bother these old white men that a young Latina is unafraid of them.
What really scares them is how much she is admired by young people. Her ideas, like a 70% tax the ultrarich (which is an idea that is supported by several Nobel prize-winning economists), resonate with young people who are struggling with student debt and only able to find minimum-wage jobs. I know my four children all between the ages of 16 and 23 feel that she speaks for them and their concerns. And that is really what has the GOP terrified.
A few years ago, when I was still working at the Christian Science Monitor, photos showing the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became public. I was writing about what the pictures told us about the US military one day when a member of our management team came by, saw what I was writing, and commented how terrible it was and this was the first time that he’d ever heard of any such thing connected to the US military.
I told him it was far from the first time that the US military had been accused of atrocities during wartime. The US war in the Philippines (in fact, the US committed so many atrocities in his conflict that then Pres. William McKinley asked the press not to write about them because it was endangering his chances of reelection), World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq all saw such atrocities take place along with an effort by the US military and the US government to cover up these incidents. We like to excuse these incidents as “the fog of war” but very often as with the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, American troops and commanders knew exactly what they were doing.
But this was a new one to me. In an attack described as “mass murder” by Human Rights Watch, US forces destroyed a building in which many Somali elders had gathered to talk about ways to find a peaceful solution to the problems in Somalia. Over 200 civilians were killed. The attack so angered Somali citizens that they attacked and killed four Western journalists in retaliation. The attack also played a direct role in the incident we know as “Black Hawk Down,” where several American soldiers were killed and their bodies dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.
At the time, there didn’t seem to be any reason for the Somalis brutal treatment of the bodies of the dead American soldiers. Now that this incident is being exposed, perhaps it gives us more context to understand this horrifying reaction.
And this, friends, is why we need good solid journalism more than ever. These two Canadian journalism students at Concordia University in Montréal, through hard work and lots of shoe leather, discovered the identity of one of the most racist and terrifying figures promoting hatred on the Internet. They did so knowing that they would be attacked by the far-right not only digitally but perhaps even physically.
With the help of a reporter on the Montréal Gazette, their hard work led them to a self-employed information technology consultant in his early 30s, Gabriel Sohier Chaput, also a resident of Montréal. Unlike the United States, Canada has laws against hate speech. In Montréal when police moved in to arrest him, he vanished and his whereabouts are still unknown.
The actions of these two students illustrate why journalists become journalists. We don’t do it because we think that one day they’ll make a movie about what we do and ask some big Hollywood personality like Robert Redford to portray us. Most of us start our careers at small papers or media outlets reporting on local council meetings or chasing ambulances. We do it because we care about the truth and we believe that people have a right to know the truth, even little truths like you learned at council meetings. Sometimes that truth makes people angry, even the people who should know about it. That will not stop us from doing what we need to do.
It’s why people like Gabriel Sohier Chaput need to know we are out there and we will not stop at exposing what they do.