A Little Inconvenient History

Ron DeSantis—the only sitting governor known to have both committed torture* and gotten married at Disneyland—rampaged through the Granite State recently. 

Can we say rampaged? After careful consideration, yes, we can. Other candidates—normal candidates—campaign. When you try to drum up support by threatening to slit the throats of federal workers, rampage is actually a euphemism.

DiSantis volunteered this insight into his management style at a July 30th barbeque held in Rye, just down the road apiece: “On bureaucracy, you know, we’re going to have all these deep state people, you know, we’re going to start slitting throats on Day One and be ready to go.” 

It was not an errant slip of the tongue. The week before, when asked what changes he might make at the Pentagon, he suggested that he might ask the Secretary of Defense to “slit some throats.” 

This earlier bit of bloody business seems to have been lost in the kerfuffle. Perhaps it’s because civil servants are so rarely called upon to kill, whereas at the Pentagon, next to burning up taxpayer dollars and fossil fuels, killing people is Job One.

DeSantis was invited to Rye by Scott Brown, who some may recall as the failed 2014 carpet-bagger Republican nominee for Senator from New Hampshire. Brown later served a single term as the Senator from Massachusetts before ending up in New Zealand. He’s a handsome, multi-talented guy, athletic and musical, but geographically he’s all over the map—and apparently careless in his choice of acquaintances. The Hill’s account of the Florida governor’s blood-curdling yelp does not mention any reaction from Brown. Perhaps he was busy tending bar. 

Plenty of other people did respond, few of them favorably.

Tony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which, according to the Washington Post, “represents about 150,000 employees at the Internal Revenue Service and 30 other federal agencies—called the comments ‘repulsive and unworthy of the presidential campaign trail’ in a statement. Reardon is right to take alarm. If there’s a purge, IRS workers will be prime targets.

In their own defense, the right wing goons who use this kind of language suddenly become linguistic scholars; readers of Chomsky, no doubt: it’s metaphorical, it’s hyperbole. 

It’s pick your own lame excuse, is what it is, and a fig leaf for stochastic terrorism. 

Everett Kelley isn’t having any of that “only kidding, just figure of speech” BS. “We’ve seen too often in recent years—from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 to the sacking of the Capitol on January 6, 2021—that violent anti-government rhetoric from politicians has deadly consequences. Any candidate who positions themselves [sic] within that shameful tradition has no place in public office.” Kelley is the National President of the 700,000 member American Federation of Government Employees.

We will give DeSantis credit for having the guts to show his face in this vicinity. After all, we’re pretty woke around here.

Woke seems to give him the heebie jeebies. What he and his cohort call woke is actually just a reflection of reality—and he can’t handle that. You can tell by the measures they’ll take to distance themselves from it.

Perhaps the high water mark for this effort—or low-water mark, if you prefer—is his state’s school system trying to pass off enslavement as some sort of benevolent jobs program for African immigrants who, by the way, got free passage across the Atlantic. It’s so crazy you have to laugh. Or cry.

Here in Portsmouth we have an African Burying Ground Memorial. It gracefully commemorates the lives of hundreds of Africans—some free, some enslaved—who lived, worked, and died here. Its general whereabouts were long know, but the site was ignored until twenty years ago. These days you just can’t find people buried under the street and go on pretending it’s no big deal. 

We feel a particular attachment to the Burying Ground because Primus, an enslaved African man, is almost certainly buried there. Primus worked the press for Daniel Fowle, the founder of this newspaper, first in Boston, and then up here. Without the benefit of Primus’ forced labor, over the span of more than thirty years, would Daniel have been the success that he was? We can never know, but his debt—and thus ours—is undeniable. 

From the lore we have about him, Primus was more than a worker. Though bent by his labors, he was unbowed in spirit. And the cosmos gave him one long, last laugh. We can, and do, visit Primus’ grave. The whereabouts of Daniel’s bones are unknown.

We indulge in this reverie because recently, another long-forgotten African graveyard has been in the news. Using DNA, scientists have found more than 41,000 genetic descendants of 27 enslaved people buried 220 years ago in the vicinity of Maryland’s Catoctin Furnace. We won’t presume to guess what this means for these descendants.

We’ll gleefully speculate, though, that if Ron DeSantis knew the truth about early American iron works, his head would explode. 

According to the National Park Service’s Ethnography Program, African men with iron making skills were essential in the development of the colonial iron industry. Iron workers were an elite group in West and West Central Africa. By 1775, the colonies were the world’s third largest producer of iron.

In the 1780s, Britisher Henry Cort was hailed for inventing a revolutionary process for converting pig iron into wrought iron. Recent scholarship shows that he probably filched the process from Black Jamaican iron workers.

* DeSantis, as a young Navy lawyer at Gitmo, was asked by his CO how to deal with hunger strikes. By his own admission in 2006, he recommended force feeding. Former inmates who were force fed there say he was in the room, overseeing it all and, some say, enjoying the spectacle. No Tom Cruise, he—more like Col. Jessep. Force feeding is considered torture under the terms of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The U.S. is a signatory to the Treaty. Before signing, of course, we carved out a slew of caveats, exceptions, and “understandings.”

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