Narrator: What you are about to watch is a nightmare. It is not meant to be prophetic, it need not happen, it's the fervent and urgent prayer of all men of good will that it never shall happen. But in this place, in this moment, it does happen. This is the Twilight Zone.
It’s been an interesting few weeks.
And by interesting, I mean like the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” interesting.
Like I fell into an episode of the Twilight Zone interesting. You know, that episode where the neighborhood goes insane and turns on each other in red-eyed panic when they think the world is about to end.
After writing about the standoff with armed militants in Oregon last week, I’ve gotten a near continuous stream of virulent hate mail and threats of violence – some veiled, some less so.
Now, I’d be lying if I said I was surprised.
I’ve been doing this for a long time and the one thing you can always count on is the immediate and rabid slobbering of fanatical haters when you ring their bell. Especially if you ring it on purpose as I’m prone to do. But that’s where I like them, out in the open where I can see them, instead of skulking around in the shadows.
Many of these folks say similar things and have similar outlooks. What’s interesting to me is the source of this increasingly paranoid mindset since it’s fairly obvious they all have something in common, at least tangentially.
For example, a guy named John Pennington posted the following comment to the Refuge of Scoundrels essay:
On one hand, I have to give him props for “coprophagenous liberal dogs” (even if the word should really be “coprophagous”).
On the other hand, apparently the irony of disputing the essay’s basic assertion by threatening to add my body to a pile of dead Americans used as sandbags completely escaped Mr. Pennington.
Not content to leave a comment filled with threats of violence on the Refuge of Scoundrels essay, Pennington then began sending me emails. I shined him on a bit, just to see where it would go. He didn’t disappoint.
A charming fellow, John Pennington.
It turns out he’s damned near a cliché, a doughy over-the-hill angry conservative white man who hates Obama and liberals and gays and Muslims and, most of all, the government – all while living on government disability.
He’s a member of Mesa County Patriots, a rabidly anti-government militia of the usual stripe, Birthers, 911 Truthers, gun nuts, and government haters, and you can certainly see why he thinks the louts, drunks, fakers, and criminals occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge are just the best thing since John Hancock told King George to go fuck himself.
After I flagged his email address, Pennington sent me one more message and couldn’t resist that little veiled threat at the end.
We’ll see. Eventually.
Yes, indeed, I suppose we will.
Now, this is pretty mild compared to some of what I get. So why bring it up? Why this particular example?
Well, first because he gave me permission to do so, but mostly because two years ago John Pennington was running for Mesa County Sheriff.
Allow me a digression: Imagine that. Imagine this guy as your sheriff. Imagine your sheriff being the guy who goes home at night and sends emails to people on the internet like those above. Worthless human scat. Enjoys turning shit like you into “breathing space.” Somebody will cover you up eventually. Fuck you. We’ll see. Stack your body with the other filth to absorb the bullets. There will come a day of reckoning.
Generally, it’s the sheriff’s job to protect you from goons like John Pennington.
Try to imagine Sheriff John Pennington, a man who regards his own country as the enemy, a man who is a member of a seditious organization whose sworn goal is violent overthrow of the US Government, try to imagine calling that guy when armed militants take over your town. Try to imagine him stopping your daughter on a dark lonely road…
Fortunately for the folks of Mesa County, Pennington lost the election.
But here’s the point, here’s the real question: how do you become that guy?
How do you become a guy who talks about shooting down your neighbors? How do you become a guy who dreams about shooting down the democratically elected government you were once, supposedly sworn to defend and obey? How do you become the guy who talks about taking up arms against your own people, your own country?
How does a guy who claims he was once a Marine, and not just a Marine but an elite Scout Sniper, pledged to protect Americans with his very life, go from Devil Dog to ranting about shooting down those very same Americans and stacking their bodies like sandbags? Assuming he really was a Marine in the first place, that is (look, I’ll do him the courtesy of taking him at his word but let’s be honest here, a lot of these militia types falsely claim to be Scout Snipers and SEALs and Chair Borne Rangers and they cover themselves in enough stolen valor to give a Third World dictator a run for his money. So please, pardon my slightly raised eyebrow of skepticism here. You lay down with camels, you get bitten by camel spiders).
How do you get from being a Marine, an elite warrior who places honor, duty, discipline, and loyalty above all, to throwing in with wife beaters and drunks and thugs and stolen valor? How is that possible?
How do you get from Semper Fidelis to sedition and outright hatred of the citizens you once served?
The simple truth of the matter is if John Pennington was a Muslim and he talked like this, he’d already be in custody.
So how does it happen?
Well, I’ll tell you.
Pennington’s election Facebook page, Pennington for Mesa County Sheriff, is still up, and the last entry dated October 10, 2014 is the reason I chose this particular example:
Wake up, you fools!
They’re here, in America!
They’ve slipped through our borders and they’re colluding with “un-loyal” Americans – got that? Un-loyal Americans and who might those people be? Why, people like me, of course. I don’t have to guess, Pennington told me so. You and me, we’re “human scat.”
Be careful who you have as a friend! You can’t even trust your family. Why, anybody could be one of them! Anybody!
Take what corrective action you deem necessary to protect your family.
Go armed everywhere, you fool! Everywhere!
In their minds, it’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets the Twilight Zone narrated by Tailgunner Joe.
As I said in Refuge of Scoundrels, these people, they aren’t arming themselves to defend America from some foreign invader. Not really. They’re arming themselves to shoot down you and me.
“...until such time as your body is needed, that we may stack it atop the other filth here in order to absorb bullets and fragment. There will come a reckoning...”
We are the enemy they fear most of all.
Man: Why don't we get some kind of battering ram?
Frank Henderson: Yeah, we could go over to Bennett Avenue, Phil Cline has some heavy pipe in his basement, I've seen it.
Man: No, no, that would bring him into the act too, and who cares about saving him? No, if we do that, we'll let all those people know we have a shelter on our street. We'll have a whole mob to contend with, with a whole bunch of strangers.
Mrs. Henderson: Sure, and what right have they got to come over here? This isn't their street, this isn't their shelter.
Jerry Harlowe: Ohhhh, this is our shelter, and on the next street that's another country. Patronize home industries, you idiots, you fools, you're insane, all of you.
But where does it begin? How does this start? How do you reach a point where you see your neighbors as the enemy? And everything as a conspiracy?
In the Facebook post above, Mike Albear says he got a “message from a very good active source that was confirmed on Fox News.”
Ah, yes. The source.
I thought this paranoia smelled familiar.
Wayne Shelby Simmons. Former CIA operative with 27 years of experience in covert operations all over the world. Intelligence expert. Defense Contractor. Author – hell, Donald Rumsfeld even endorsed Simmons’ novel about a retired CIA agent called back for yet another clandestine operation saying “Simmons doesn’t just write it, he’s lived it!” Pentagon consultant via the Military Analysts Program. And finally and most importantly, Fox News consultant who made more than a hundred appearances on various shows as an authority on everything from foreign policy to counter-terrorism.
Simmons claims to have "spearheaded deep-cover intel ops against some of the world's most dangerous drug cartels and arms smugglers.”
He retired from the CIA in 2000 and became a consultant for Fox News. He was a hawk who became a regular face at various roundtables and panels on terrorism and war, a favorite of the Pentagon’s Public Affairs Office who in 2004 was trying desperately to rally support for the floundering war effort in Iraq.
He was a Fox News darling. The perfect anti-liberal, a distinguished tough-talking no-shit expert with a handshake that could crush rocks. You couldn’t argue with him, because he’d been there and done that – or in CIA vernacular, he was never there and that never happened. Wink wink. Wayne Simmons was the guy, the real deal, a man with the grit and the expertise and the experience to take on the generals who were telling Donald Rumsfeld he was wrong. Simmons in his own grizzled words “wanted to slap” those generals, and he did, verbally, over and over, backing up Rumsfeld again and again – which might explain why the Secretary of Defense himself was enthusiastically willing to blurb a fiction novel.
That’s Simmons on the left, standing next to Donald Rumsfeld in the Secretary of Defense’s Office at the Pentagon.
Simmons was so trusted and so influential in 2006 the White House invited him to be present in the Oval Office when George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act – which among other things granted the Executive unlimited power to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely at Gitmo, something Simmons had been loudly demanding on Fox News. The Pentagon listed him as one of its "most prolific retired military analysts" and given his experience they wanted him in Iraq as an expert military consultant advising commanders and the troops.
He became a regular on the Republican speaking circuit and landed himself a lucrative book deal.
And so, naturally I suppose, it’s unsurprising Simmons eventually became a member of the “Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi,” (CCB), a group of experts formed by a media watchdog group called Accuracy In Media to independently investigate the events surrounding the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed Ambassador Stevens and three employees of the US State Department. Simmons and the CCB produced a widely circulated report extremely critical of the Administration and laying the blame for Benghazi squarely at the feet of Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile back on Fox News Simmons made no bones about his politics. On the air he called President Obama a "boy king" and Nancy Pelosi a "pathological liar” and his words were repeated verbatim by Republican politicians and conservatives on the street and by this point Simmons was essentially narrating the conservative consciousness.
And then in a 2014 appearance on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show, Simmons declared with total assurance there were "at least nineteen paramilitary Muslim training facilities in the United States." Cavuto nodded his head in agreement and responded “wow!” Simmons’ declaration, at least nineteen known Muslim paramilitary facilities training terrorists right here in America, went unchallenged because this was Wayne Simmons after all – one of the nation’s most respected experts.
Simmons looked at Cavuto with his distinguished icy stare, and said, "They're using paramilitary exercises to plan and execute these types of operations all over the United States. And when it happens, it will just be you and I saying, 'We told you so.'"
And there it is. The source.
Oh others had made similar statements, but Simmons on Fox News is what gave the hidden terror legitimacy. And it confirmed the worst fears of those militiamen up above. They’re here. They are right here among us. They are training to kill us all. They could be anybody. They could be anywhere. Your friends, your family, next door, the next block, the bank manager, the grocery store cashier. Trust no one. Arm yourself. Take action. It’s the only way to be sure.
And how could you argue?
If there’s anybody who knows about the Islamic State, it’s Wayne Simmons.
Except there’s just one problem.
It’s all – all of it, every single word – it’s all complete and utter bullshit.
Wayne Shelby Simmons is a fraud.
Simmons never worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Simmons was never a spook, he was never a secret agent, he was never an analyst, he was never an operator.
In actuality, he really was never there and it really did never happen.
He’s not an expert on military intelligence. He’s not an expert on terrorism. He’s not an expert on anything.
What he is, in point of fact, is a bullshit artist of extraordinary hubris.
Wayne Simmons is nothing but a conman.
Which makes his assertion calling Nancy Pelosi a “pathological liar” doubly ironic, don’t you think?
Behind Simmons is a 30 year long trail of wreckage and failure. He ran a limousine service, a gambling operation, an AIDS-testing clinic, and tried to start a commuter airline – all of which failed. He sold hot-tubs and carpeting and very briefly had a contract to play defensive back for the New Orleans Saints. He’s got a criminal record for multiple DUIs, illegal weapon possession, and assault. In 2007 he was arrested for attacking a Pakistani cabdriver in Annapolis, Maryland, and tried to bullshit his way out of it by claiming he was a CIA operative and the cabbie was a Muslim terrorist. The police called the CIA. The CIA told the police to arrest him. Somewhere along the line, Simmons started believing in his own bullshit. He got a job with defense contractor BAE Systems as a "Human Terrain System team leader." But he was forced to resign when it became apparent he had no idea what he was doing. A year later he applied for a job with the State Department, but was rejected when GSA Human Resources looked into his background and realized he was a complete fraud. Simmons is nothing if not persistent in his duplicity. In 2010 he got hired on as a Senior Intelligence Advisor with another defense contractor and was sent to Afghanistan to advise military commanders. Fortunately, he failed his background check and his interim security clearance was revoked and he was sent home before he could get any more Americans killed.
Simmons was arrested last October and charged with multiple counts of fraud. He’s been charged with not only lying about his fraudulent CIA past to gain employment and audiences with Rumsfeld and Bush, but he’s also charged with running a real-estate scam that bilked $125,000 from a woman he was romantically involved with.
He’s currently under house arrest with his daughter as his court-appointed guardian. Even if he could go outside, he’d have to take a cab because his car was repossessed and his house is next given that he’s a deadbeat who hasn’t made a mortgage payment in going on five years.
His trial begins on the 23rd of this month and if he’s found guilty he’s going to spend a number of years in prison.
Oh, and that Citizens Commission on Benghazi? Well, that was more like a commission of Birthers, 911 Truthers, Kooks, and Conspiracy Theorists. The report they produced, the one quoted endlessly on Fox News, was nothing but a list of long debunked and provably wrong falsehoods – though it did make Michael Bay’s job easier. And that watchdog group? Accuracy in Media? Well as it turns out, “accuracy” in that context means “needs more frauds like Wayne Simmons to tell us what we want to hear.” AIM is really a partisan outfit with a conservative political goal.
It’s not just Simmons.
It’s the media who didn’t bother to vet his nonsense before making him a public figure.
It’s Rumsfeld and the Pentagon Public Affairs office who let this go on even though they knew Simmons was a fraud because it furthered their own agendas.
And most of all, it’s the public who ate it up without question because he told them what they wanted to hear. Guys like John Pennington and his friends in their little militia clutching their guns and their bibles waiting for the end, those paranoids out there in Oregon? These people have been had. Not by government, not by Muslim terrorists, not by liberals, not by their neighbors, not even by con-artists such as Wayne Simmons, but by their own small fears.
Jerry Harlowe: Hey that's a great idea, block party, anything to get back to normal, huh?
Dr. Bill Stockton: Normal? I don't know. I don't know what normal is. I thought I did once. I don't anymore.
Jerry Harlowe: I told you we'd pay for the damages, Bill.
Dr. Bill Stockton: Damages? I wonder. I wonder if anyone of us has any idea what those damages really are. Maybe one of them is finding out what we're really like when we're normal; the kind of people we are just underneath the skin. I mean all of us: a bunch of naked wild animals, who put such a price on staying alive that they'd claw their neighbors to death just for the privilege. We were spared a bomb tonight, but I wonder if we weren't destroyed even without it.
And what happens when these people, these lunatic paranoids, finally work up the courage to begin their revolution of false patriots and fake marines? When they finally do take up arms against their own countrymen and come to batter down our doors? What happens after they shoot us down? Or die trying? And stack our bodies like sandbags against the bullets which exist only in their minds?
What happens after they give in to fear and panic and the endless black terror which gnaws at their withered souls?
When it’s over, when the howling mob is finally sated ... and they look up from the wreckage like those in Oregon are doing even now and find that it was all a false alarm?
What happens when they discover their entire worldview is based on a fraud?
Will they have the courage to face it?
Or will they turn away in denial and cowardice?
Narrator: No moral. No message. No prophetic tract. Just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight's very small exercise in logic from the Twilight Zone.
- The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episode 3: The Shelter, 1961
Correction: I originally said Mesa County was in Arizona. It’s not, it’s Colorado. That’s what happens when you spend all night on militia websites reading about “Al Qaeda” training camps in Arizona. It’s fixed. // Jim