analysis of US ‘Occupy’ protests and the curious case of Patrick Howley

“This is an incredibly significant moment, I think, in U.S. history. In fact, it might be a turning point, because this is the first time we’ve seen an emergence of a populist movement on the left since the 1930s.”

says Dorian Warren, assistant professor of political science and public affairs at Columbia University, who was invited by Democracy Now! on Monday to put the events of the last three weeks into historical perspective:

It is the first anti-authoritarian populist movement in this country. The previous populist movements had leaders, usually charismatic leaders. This is very different. We’ve never seen anything quite like this, and I think we’re in uncharted territory… I think it’s unique, and I think it’s quite promising to be a transformative social movement, if they can keep those progressive groups out of the decision making and hold onto what’s the core democratic nature of this movement.

In response to Herman Cain, one of the front-runners for nomination in the Republican Presidential campaign, who has accused the protesters of being anti-Capitalist and even anti-American, Warren said:

Well, there’s so much to say about Herman Cain. First of all, if the protesters are anti-capitalist and anti-American, that would mean the Tea Party protesters a few years ago are also anti-American for protesting the seat of American government and the presidency.

But more important than that, all the time, whenever populist and left-wing people get involved in protesting and making demands for social justice, it’s always painted as anti-American. So that was the case in the 1930s. That was the case in the 1890s. So this is a continual trope to discredit those legitimate protesters throughout American history.

Democracy Now! also spoke with Kevin Gosztola, independent journalist who writes for a blog called “The Dissenter” at the Firedoglake website. Gosztola, who has been reporting from the occupations in Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., said:

It’s part of a wider movement that they call Occupy Together, and they have inspired cities. So, in Chicago, Occupy Chicago started, and they went out in front of the Federal Reserve, and they tried to establish a space there. Now, the police have been harassing, and they haven’t allowed them to be there. …

In D.C., they’re in McPherson Square. Occupy DC is in McPherson Square. And there’s a little synergy that came from this weekend with the October 2011 action in Freedom Plaza. But there’s mostly 75 to 100 young people who just sleep in McPherson Square. And the one thing I would tell viewers is that they are woken up every morning at 5:00 a.m. by police for—for no reason. They can’t come up with a justification for this. …

Gosztola also spoke about the remarkable case of the assistant editor of The American Spectator, Patrick Howley, who, having clashed with security guards at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on Saturday [Oct 8th], later revealed in an article that, as Gosztola puts it, “he himself had consciously infiltrated the group to discredit the movement”. Here is a report on the same events published in the Washington Post1:

Patrick Howley, an assistant editor at the American Spectator, says that he joined the group under the pretense that he was a demonstrator. “As far as anyone knew I was part of this cause — a cause that I had infiltrated the day before in order to mock and undermine in the pages of The American Spectator,” Howley wrote. (The language in the story has since been changed without explanation.)

Yes, apparently Howley’s original article keeps on disappearing – here are two updates added to the bottom of the same Washington Post article:

* Update: This post has been updated to clarify who was involved in the pepper-spray incident. The American Spectator also appears to have taken down the story, which is no longer available online. I have contacted both Howley and the Spectator’s editor-in-chief for comment. You can read the full text of Howley’s original story here. [you won’t find it – I’ve looked]

* Second Update: Howley’s original story is still not available online. However, a second, edited version has been posted in the blogs section of the Spectator’s website. There are changes to Howley’s narrative, but it retains his claim to have been the sole member of the group to enter the museum itself: “They lack the nerve to confront authority. From estimates within the protest, only ten people were pepper-sprayed, and as far as I could tell I was the only one who got inside the museum.”

Click here to read the full article.

Monday’s Guardian also reported that Howley’s story “has since been altered”, presumably to remove his incriminating admissions, and that some are calling for him to face a criminal prosecution:

Removed from the new story is any mention of Howley’s motive to “mock and undermine” the protesters, or his disdain for their “lack of nerve”. Instead, he says his involvement was intended for journalistic purposes, and that he rushed inside the museum “to find a place to observe.”

Charlie Grapski, a citizen journalist and activist, accused the American Spectator and Howley of breaching journalistic integrity, and of criminal acts – and called for them to be investigated and charged.

Grapski said: “It is not journalism. This goes against every tenet of ethical journalism. Howley was doing it in order to ‘mock and undermine’. His actions shows that the protesters were not out to disrupt, but that chaos and disruption followed his actions. Not only has he distorted the story to discredit others, he has engaged in criminal acts.”

“They should be charged with criminal acts and inciting a riot.”

Grapski added: “The changes to the story are designed to eliminate the admission of guilt and to eliminate his role as provocateur.”

Kenneth Lipp, an activist at Occupy Wall Street, also called for Howley to be charged with inciting a riot.

“If any of the protesters had done that, they would be charged,” Lipp said.

He said that there were “obvious provocateurs” in the movement, and that a committee had been set up to identify them, and to warn others about them.2

Click here to read the full article.

Click here to read a full transcript of the broadcast.

Yesterday’s Russia Today also featured a debate about the ‘occupy’ protests now sweeping across America: Peter Lavelle hosting a lively (if at times chaotic) discussion about whether or not the Occupy Wall Street protest movement represents a new force in politics on Crosstalk, with Jason Del Gandio, an Assistant Professor of Public Communications at Temple University in Philadelphia; Kevin Zeese, a political activist and one of the organisers of; and, Tony Katz, a radio talkshow host and Tea Party organiser:

1 From an article entitled “Conservative journalist says he infiltrated, escalated D.C. Museum protest” written by Suzy Khimm, published in the Washington Post on October 10, 2011.

2 From an article entitled “Washington Protest: American Spectator condemned over article: Patrick Howley claimed he infiltrated Saturday’s DC protest in order to discredit it – but account has since been altered.” written by Karen McVeigh, published in the Guardian on October 10, 2011.


1 Comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, Uncategorized, USA

One response to “analysis of US ‘Occupy’ protests and the curious case of Patrick Howley

  1. This is not a populist movement from the left or right,

    Kenneth Lipp


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