By Tommy Hough
You could say it's a big deal.
Following two hours of supportive public testimony on Wednesday, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board voted in a unanimous 6-0 decision to approve a proposed Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) that will enable, at last, the "Wildest" plan for wetland restoration in northeast Mission Bay to be considered at the same level as the city's own plan.
The culmination of a two-year effort by the ReWild Coalition since the release of our Wetland Restoration Feasibility Study in Sept. 2018, water board chair Henry Abarbanel said, "This is more than a SEP, it's an approval of a goal." We agree.
Board members noted during the meeting they were impressed with the number of supporters who spoke (we had over 30), and that the enthusiastic turnout gave them confidence to support the SEP proposal knowing our ReWild Coalition members would be following the process through to completion. And seeing things through to completion is, indeed, the next step.
As San Diego Audubon Society conservation director and ReWild Mission Bay campaign director Andrew Meyer said, "This is a big win for the campaign and the 46 members of the ReWild Coalition. But while this enables the city to create a new alternative with more wetland in the ongoing De Anza planning process, it doesn't guarantee the city will choose it. That's where our focus has to go next."
Bringing the fight back to City Hall will also bring our effort before some new faces, including a new mayor and a new city council in December. We'll keep at it, and we'll reach out again soon enough on how you can help.
Thank you to EVERYONE, our supporters and all of our ReWild Coalition members and representatives who made time to dial in on Zoom or on the telephone and testify, and thank you to everyone who stayed with us throughout the morning until our item came up on the agenda. We know it was a long wait.
Photo courtesy of Everest Environmental Inc.
By Mia Taylor with Tommy Hough
The response to the recent San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action presentation with Los Padres Forest Watchlpfw.org (LPFW) on the proposed Pine Mountain logging project, in which environmental considerations have been largely jettisoned in order to facilitate large-diameter timber cutting under the long-discredited guise of wildfire suppression, electrified our attendees.
The evening's program featured a particularly powerful presentation from LPFW conservation director Bryant Baker, who revealed that logging practices occurring on National Forest lands are often far more environmentally destructive than helpful, with the work being done primarily for the benefit of commercial timber, not the public or the environment. What's more, in the wake of such logging, forests are often left more vulnerable to wildfire than ever. This scenario again played itself out over Labor Day Weekend with the catastrophic wildfires to the north in Oregon.
And in what should come as no surprise, such corrupt, misguided and environmentally devastating practices are occurring more frequently under the Trump administration and their appointees.
While large-scale logging of old-growth and mature forest was largely discontinued on federal land in the Pacific Northwest following the Clinton administration-brokered Northwest Forest Plan in 1994, the four Southern California National Forests (Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, San Bernardino) were generally left out of the those science-bounds considerations due to their lack of overwhelming stands of marketable timber. Unfortunately, under Trump, large diameter trees are again being cut en masse by the Forest Service throughout the west, and with the least amount of environmental oversight and review since the "bad old days" of the federal timber-cutting frenzy of the late 1980s.
"We're seeing this a lot. It's only getting more intense under the Trump administration, and it's getting more brazen," Bryant Baker explained.
The Forest Service's current "forest thinning" proposal in the Pine Mountain area in the Los Padres National Forest is just one example of the devastation wrought by increased logging, fueled by the breathless urgency to pointlessly destroy habitat and cut the most mature, fire-resistant trees "before the next wildfire occurs."
At Pine Mountain, the Forest Service is proposing logging and chaparral removal on some 755 acres of land made up of a mixture of old-growth conifer stands of Jeffrey and Coulter pine and ancient White fir. Located near Mount Pinos and the recreation sites of the popular Frazier Park area, Pine Mountain includes a diverse array of Southern California ecosystems in which both healthy and dead trees, called snags, would be cut using heavy equipment ranging from masticators to chainsaws. The agency has made it clear a commercial logging or timber sale is likely.
"The Forest Service has acknowledged they're looking at a commercial timber sale to do this," said Baker. "This is what we're increasingly concerned with on these types of projects. They're really aimed at trying to remove certain size trees that are marketable and can be a source of revenue either for a private company that comes in and does the work, or as a direct timber sale where the Forest Service would sell the timber and keep the money for revenue."
The Forest Service has established a handful of limits for the project with regard to tree cutting at Pine Mountain, based upon tree diameter. The first is it will remove trees less than "24 inches" in diameter. This is intentionally deceptive.
In other words, the Forest Service will allow, without any questions asked, the removal of any trees that are less than two feet in diameter. In selecting that measurement, the Forest Service is relegating to an old public relations trick of making trees seem smaller than they actually are, and that these removals are inconsequential. That couldn't be further from reality.
Even to a casual observer the 23½ inch tree seen here is hardly small or inconsequential. "This is what the agency is calling a small tree," explained Baker. "We do not believe this is something that can be categorized as a small tree, but the agency is essentially telling the public they're only going to be removing small trees."
What's more, a 24-inch tree, as Baker explained, just happens to be the same size that commercial timber mills welcome. For a timber warrior like club co-founder Tommy Hough, who worked on logging issues with the National Forest Protection Alliance in Seattle in 2001 and as a staff member with Oregon Wild from 2012 to 2014, the similarities to arguments the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Managment (BLM), and Big Timber use to justify logging in the Pacific Northwest are all too familiar.
"The Forest Service still operates on the antiquated 1930s concept of 'multiple use,' and sawmills are still largely equipped to work with large diameter trees," said Tommy. "The timber industry never really bit at the idea of selectively removing smaller-diameter trees out of plantation forests because their mills simply aren't equipped to work with them other than grinding them into mulch."
The second parameter for the Pine Mountain project is the Forest Service will remove trees up to 64 inches in diameter. Again, the reality of what this means needs to be put in perspective visually for it to be truly understood. The photo here is merely of a 53-inch tree, not even the full 64 inches being proposed.
"The Forest Service is saying it can remove trees up to 64 inches for very vague reasons," said Bryant. "For safety reasons or if the tree is impacted by any dwarf mistletoe. But safety is undefined. They don't really talk about what that means. We've seen this before in other National Forests and other projects and these types of stipulations get abused because they're so vague."
According to Tommy, "Big Timber wants to sell 2 x 4s to China, and both Republican and Democratic administrations typically want to enable that. So they look for reasons to go cut big trees, wherever they may be accessible, even though the older the tree the more fire-resistant it is because of its thicker bark. Go walk in any mature forest and you'll see plenty of burn scars on older trees."
Lastly, the Forest Service will allow trees impacted by dwarf mistletoe to be removed. The devastation of this stipulation truly needs to be put into perspective. Dwarf mistletoe, as Bryant explained, is a native plant species that occurs in these forests naturally. It's an important component of mixed conifer forests made up primarily of Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pine, it serves a vital ecological function, and it increases the volume and diversity of bird species
As it happens, most trees in the Pine Mountain area have some amount of dwarf mistletoe, so when you also include the stipulation that trees with dwarf mistletoe growth can be removed, the Forest Service is allowing the cutting of all trees that are present in the project area – with no substantial limits.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of these so-called fire suppression projects is the way the Forest Service has been directed to circumvent the typical review process. Using the cover of "categorical exclusion," the Forest Service can proceed on a project without providing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or environmental review.
The before and after images below are of a categorical exclusion project in the Plumas National Forest in Lassen County, which was conducted using the same justifications and language as the Pine Mountain project.
The first image is an area the Forest Service claimed was too dense. The agency suggested that if a wildfire burned through the area it would destroy the forest and put communities at risk. According to the agency, the removal of "biomass," i.e. living matter, or habitat, was "essential" and would be ecologically "beneficial."
The second photo, which shows the aftermath of such efforts, speaks volumes about the environmental destruction that took place.
"This is not a low impact activity," said Bryant. "This is extremely soil disturbing. This was all done for commercial timber sale. They said this was for forest health and to protect communities. This was a backcountry project that was nowhere near communities and we're seeing this all over California."
Finally, it must be understood that these projects do not aid in wildfire suppression. According to Bryant, "You'll find a lot of non-native grasses in these really disturbed areas, which only make fire more likely and make fire spread more quickly. What we're finding is that often in these really heavily-managed areas where they're doing a lot of this logging under the guise of fire mitigation it may actually be making fires worse."
According to Tommy, "Caifornia does a great deal to protect communities from earthquakes, but we need to approach wildfire and climate change with the same level of science-based seriousness."
Given the pressing need for action on this issue, we've provided some immediate resources and further action opportunities.
And while a follow-up workshop comes together, here's a Treehuggers International show Tommy recorded with Rick Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute in 2008. You'll be amazed how the same bad practices are still occurring, and how they do nothing to protect homes from wildfire.
Banner photo by Tommy Hough
Photos and graphics courtesy of Bryant Baker and Los Padres Forest Watch
By George Wuerthner
Like zombies rising from the dead, legislators continue to push the flawed notion that logging can preclude massive wildfires and protect communities. The Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020, introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R–Montana) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–California), is another example of the failure of our politicians to use science to guide effective legislation.
The legislation's goal is to reduce wildfire impact on communities, but the bill is more a giveaway to the timber industry than a panacea for large wildfires.
Climate and weather drive all significant wildfires, not fuels. Extreme fire weather includes low humidity, high temperatures, drought and, more importantly, high winds. If you have high winds, you cannot stop or slow a wildfire by logging or any other "fuel reduction."
If fuels were the primary cause of large wildfires, Oregon and Washington's coastal forests would be ablaze. These forests have more fuel per acre than a hundred acres of mountain woodlands. But there are virtually no fires in these coastal forests. Why? Because the climate is cool and moist
However, when you have extreme fire weather, nothing stops fires — until the weather changes.
The legislation would reduce environmental regulations and public oversight while fast-tracking logging far from communities and homes. It calls for the creation of "fuel breaks" of up to 3,000 acres (an acre is approximately the same size as a football field). Never mind that large wildfires regularly eject embers that can cross extensive areas without any fuels. For instance, the Eagle Fire in Oregon in 2017 jumped the mile-and-a-half width of the Columbia River.
Numerous researchers have emphasized that it is the home's flammability that determines the vulnerability of houses to wildfire. Logging miles from communities provides no added benefits in reducing wildfire threat, but it does impose environmental impacts.
For example, logging roads are a chronic source of sediment in streams, damaging trout waters across the West. Since most ignitions start on or near roadways, more roads ironically will increase the likelihood of more fires. Logging also increases the chances of fire by putting more fine fuels on the forest floor and opening the forest to drying and wind penetration. Logging also compacts soils, spreads weeds and disturbs sensitive wildlife.
Logging also reduces carbon storage and releases far more carbon into the atmosphere than wildfire. Thus, ironically, this legislation will contribute to more significant carbon dioxide emissions, which are the main factor in climate warming, which creates favorable conditions for wildfire spread.
None of these "costs" of logging will get serious consideration if this legislation is passed.
Some might say all these impacts are worthwhile if logging prevented large wildfires. But the science is clear on this topic, and the overwhelming evidence is that thinning/logging can't preclude large climate and weather-driven blazes.
The Daines-Feinstein legislation is misguided. The best way to assist communities is to provide financial resources to improve the resistance of homes to wildfires and community preparedness. Long term, we must also address carbon dioxide emissions, which are the ultimate source of climate warming driving large wildfires.
George Wuerther is an ecologist who has written several books on wildfire ecology.
This piece originally appeared in the Idaho Falls Post Register.
Photo by Tommy Hough
By Tommy Hough
If you haven't taken a moment to see or comment on potential development updates and zoning changes to the Mira Mesa Community Plan, you can to do so via this city webpage. The page leads you to development options in four different areas of Mira Mesa and Sorrento Valley, including:
Mira Mesa Gateway – This is the area incorporating the Islands shopping center and Edwards Cinema plaza immediately to the west of I-15, and north of the Legacy Apartments complex and Miramar College. To address concerns I've been hearing about this one, while the Village Green and Woods senior mobile home parks along Black Mountain Rd. are included in the development proposal zone, none of the plans apparently under consideration affect those locations.
Mira Mesa Town Center – This includes the shopping center areas north and south of Mira Mesa Blvd. east of Reagan Rd. and west of Camino Ruiz, and including a sliver of the southeast corner of Mira Mesa Blvd. and Camino Ruiz and the Mira Mesa Medical Mall area on the northeast corner, where the new Jollibee is going up behind IHOP.
Sorrento Mesa – This is broken down into three development options across Sorrento Valley, including the open commercial space near Qualcomm at the northeast corner of Mira Mesa Blvd. and Pacific Heights Blvd. just west of the Residence Inn; the Barnes Canyon Rd. corridor west of Lusk Blvd.; and the commercial area west of Camino Santa Fe, north of Flanders, and south of Mira Mesa Blvd. which could be zoned for dense housing.
Miramar Gateway – The north side Miramar Rd. west of I-15 and east of Camino Ruiz is an area already within the region's development footprint that could be "neighborhoodized" with some zoning changes and conversions of industrial and office park space into housing, with stories added in the course of conversions and renovations. This is also along what could be a good transit route on Miramar Rd., and could one day be an anchor for a trolley extension between UTC and I-15.
In the case of the Mira Mesa Gateway and Mira Mesa Town Center, you can select current zoning options if you want nothing to change, and there's an opportunity to leave comments at the end. While I've previously advocated for repurposed and renovated housing along the north side of Miramar Rd, no one's going to confuse me with being pro-development, and I'm generally not impressed by the "pretty pictures" that so often accompany development package proposals.
The questions to be considered for the proposals posted at the city site are how will they look in 10 or 20 years, how will they integrate into or improve their respective neighborhoods, and what kind of unforeseen traffic impacts may come with them? Some of these details can be addressed over time by a matter of code enforcement, something the city continues to lack active action on.
None of the zoning or development proposals currently being considered relate to the pending Stone Creek and Three Roots developments along Carroll Canyon. Construction on Three Roots could begin as early as next year at the southeast corner of Camino Santa Fe and Carroll Canyon Rd. The much larger Stone Creek development was just approved by the Mira Mesa Planning Group at the Vulcan quarry on either side of Camino Ruiz at Carroll Canyon Rd.
By Tommy Hough
Since co-founding San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action in 2014, I've spent a great deal of time writing, giving presentations, and making comments on conservation, in part to break the cycle of sprawl development in our backcountry.
I did much the same during the run of Treehuggers International on FM 94/9, and produced shows like the one posted here to give listeners pause about the impact of the never-ending cycle of suburban sprawl around San Diego County, mostly to build expensive housing unaffordable to most working San Diegans, far from jobs and transit.
Of course, I've been applying my conservation ethic and environmental advocacy for nearly 20 years, going back to a series of pieces I wrote for the Seattle Times detailing the need for comprehensive firefighting strategies and questioning the need to aggressively fight wildfires, or engage in prescribed burns and habitat destruction in the name of fire suppression in the hinterlands, miles from communities or private property. While managing communications at Oregon Wild I similarly had a front row seat for many of these conflicts between development, wildfire risk, and "defensible space."
I try not to carry a one-size fits all or myopic mindset with me, and I realize each proposal has its individual attributes. But since my arrival in Southern California I've come to value the unblemished open space of chaparral communities and ecosystems that make San Diego County so special and ecologically diverse, contrasted with the overdevelopment, sprawl, and denuded landscapes just to the north of us in Riverside County.
If you were to have taken a drive north on I-215 to Menifee at the time this show was recorded in 2008, and then turned east to go towards Hemet through Diamond Valley, perhaps via Domenigoni Parkway, you would've found a largely empty grassland, but still a functional wildlife corridor amid encroaching suburbia. Today, that encroachment has arrived, and the valley has come to typify the differences between our two counties toward development.
Now, road signs in Murietta, Menifee, Perris, and Diamond Valley aren't placed by municipalities or governments, but by housing speculators and developers. Rows of flags guide you to perfectly-graded, valley-wide expanses of earth like the wide shot of Marty McFly's Hill Valley neighborhood in 1955, with newly-poured concrete slabs quietly waiting for water and gas hookups. Despite what some of the giant billboards may advertise, these aren't affordable housing developments. They never will be.
While northern San Diego County is particularly rugged and hilly and perhaps not as suitable for development as the flatter valleys of Riverside County north of Temecula and Lake Elsinore at the base of the San Jacinto range, the blankets of chaparral that give Southern California its cooling backcountry green as its largest native ecosystem remains naturally contiguous throughout. To say it is misunderstood and frequently maligned would be an understatement.
Which brings me to this show. This episode of Treehuggers International features my friend Rick Halsey, the founder and director of the California Chaparral Institute, who was a frequent guest on the show and, at the time, a member of the San Diego Regional Fire Safety Forum formed in the wake of the 2003 Cedar Fire and 2007 Witch Creek Fire.
This particular episode is from Rick's second appearance on the show, recorded Oct. 2, 2008, and broadcast a few days later on Sunday, Oct. 5. While I never posted this episode on this particular page, I thought it was worth sharing now, 12 years later, because we're still talking about so many of the same issues, threats, and dumb behavior when it comes to our attitudes about wildfire in relation to the state's largest natural ecosystem. So much of this conversation remains so relevant it could've been recorded last week.
Rick and I were initially planning to talk about then-Supervisor Bill Horn's penchant for "fuel clearance," and the wanton destruction of perfectly healthy natural habitat in our backcountry, but the conversation also veered toward the impact of recent wildfires on old-growth chaparral stands in San Diego and along the Central Coast, how to make communities safer from wildfire, the future of Rancho Guejito, the use of goats in fuel clearance projects, and some bad behavior on the part of the U.S. Forest Service and a brush-crushing masticator (!) that devastated a virgin stand of chaparral in the Santa Ana Mountains.
Tom Petty once said, "People may be slow, but they ain't deaf." I hope that's true. I hope if policymakers and the public hear Rick Halsey enough times they'll start to get the cotton out of their ears and think about their positions on conservation, on sprawl at any cost, and think through the long-term effects of "managing" the natural environment that nature already manages for us.
Thanks as always to Rick for being my guest in 2008, and for continuing to speak on these same critical matters a dozen years later.
Santa Ana Mountains and Hauser Wilderness photos by Tommy Hough
Chaparral masticator photo by Jeff Kuyper
By Tommy Hough
Earlier today I made remarks to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors regarding Sheriff Bill Gore's request to pursue potential bids for outsourced mental health and basic medical care services to inmates in the county's seven jails.
Ultimately, the board voted 4-1 in support of the sheriff's request, thereby beginning a process in which the sheriff's department may explore bids from private contractors – despite the fact some 300 county employees already work as nurses, clinicians, and other health professionals in the jail system, and could lose their jobs as a result.
As Jeff McDonald reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, dozens "testified during the hearing that workplace morale is poor, largely due to a perception that Gore does not value their work," but ultimately the board's Republican majority "denied Supervisor Nathan Fletcher's plan to flatly reject the sheriff's proposed outsourcing model."
My remarks today before the Board of Supervisors follow:
Good morning, my name is Tommy Hough, I live in Mira Mesa, county district three.
I'd like to ask you to vote no on this item.
It's disappointing to hear this pathological persistence on the part of some in government to outsource what, in my mind, are the most basic services that are already being capably handled by county employees. The answer is not outsourcing. The answer is getting these dedicated and able employees the support and resources they need to effectively do their jobs for the public and those incarcerated – not for shareholders.
We're not talking about who fills the vending machine, we're talking about who supplies, and who makes, mental health services and life and death decisions.
There's already been a great deal of scrutiny as to what's called the Private Prison Industry, and there should be. The idea that any entity, especially a multi-billion dollar business, is making money, hand over fist, in this nation on the incarceration of other human beings – and in the case of the sheriff’s department, individuals often awaiting trial – is not consistent with what we believe our nation's values to be, or our county's.
Incarcerated individuals and those awaiting trial must have a meaningful level of care. My neighbors deserve to keep their jobs with the county serving their neighbors in the Sheriff's Department – and for-profit companies must never run prisons or jail services.
Please vote NO on the sheriff's proposal to outsource and privatize these critical services.
Photo courtesy of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department
By Tommy Hough
I was delighted to co-hosted an informational forum opposed to the proposed Fanita Ranch development with my friend Samm Hurst, who is a candidate for the Santee City Council District 4 seat on the November ballot.
The forum featured a presentation from biologist Rick Halsey, founder of the Escondido-based California Chaparral Institute, on the hazards and environmental degradations of sprawl, threats posed by wildfire, and the complete misunderstanding of wildfire dynamics by policymakers. Using recent examples in the Santa Rosa and Paradise wildfires to illustrate his point, Rick's presentation was followed by questions, as well as thoughts from long-time Santeean and Fanita Ranch opponent Van Collinsworth.
By Tommy Hough
It was great to see a lot of familiar faces and reconnect as part of the inaugural Clairemont Family Service Day in August as I joined the team from the Clairemont Town Council with Congressman Scott Peters and Councilmember Jennifer Campbell at Balboa Ave. and Moraga Ave. to pick up litter and clear weeds.
Later I stopped by Balboa Ave. at Eckstrom and Hathaway to remove litter and weeds at the bus top opposite the Islamic Center of San Diego (ICSD). Great to see so many friends, neighbors, and familiar faces, albeit masked. Thanks to everyone who took part in the neighborhood improvement events around Clairemont this weekend.
By Trip Jennings
Federal agents shot me in the face last night while I was covering the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland. It should be obvious to everyone by now that black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) face a higher risk of violence at the hands of police than I do. I'll never know what it's like not to be white, but protests do provide an interesting moment for white people when our privilege doesn't protect us.
Friends feel free to share. Media, do not repost without permission.
To everyone who believes that the only people who get hurt at protests are those who have been violent, that's wrong. To those who think it is only "other people" not like you, that is also wrong. I am a professional journalist, a father-to-be, I run a business, I create jobs for other people. I'm a landlord, a neighbor, a friend, and I want to live in a world where black people and all BIPOC feel the freedom I normally do. I hope to help by telling stories and bearing witness.
On the night of Saturday, July 25, I was shooting photos from the center of the crowd when federal agents suddenly became more aggressive, firing lots of tear gas and impact munitions into a large group of people.
I retreated with the group, stumbling through Chapman Square and across the street in clouds of tear gas. When I reached 4th Ave. and got out of the thickest tear gas, I stopped to figure out my next step. A line of federal agents (and possibly PPB) walked through the tear gas cloud on Salmon St. toward the very dispersed group of people around me. We quickly walked away on Salmon, following dispersal orders.
Then, there was a sudden barrage of impact munitions fired around me. I ducked behind a car. Protesters in the street were positioned behind shields being pelted with pepper balls, foam balls, and maybe some sort of paintball and/or rubber bullets. I captured a few images and waited. Once the shooting stopped, I used the moment to try and get a safe distance from the advancing federal agents. I walked swiftly, hands and camera in the air, ducked behind a tree some distance down the block, and turned to see if I was far enough away to be safe.
As I turned, I was pelted with what I think were pepper balls. One hit the lens of my gas mask on my left eye. The plastic broke, lacerating my eye, eyelid, and cheek. I knelt down to assess and when I realized I could walk and see, I ran to 5th Ave. and began asking folks to help me find a medic. Shortly, three medics responded. I took my gas mask and helmet off and one said, "Oh my God, that's bad." I cannot say enough good things about these medics. I am beyond grateful for their work, but that reaction wasn't my favorite part.
In a moment we were in their car on our way to the hospital. Unfortunately, the car was facing downhill toward the troops. They had advanced and we had to pull forward to leave the street parking. In a moment they were surrounding the car, pointing flashlights and guns at us. I pressed my face close to the window, pointed to my now very bloody face, and yelled "hospital." The medics slowly backed up as the feds shot the vehicle with more impact munitions. No windows were broken. On the way to the hospital, we drove through clouds of tear gas so the windows stayed shut and the pepper spray on my clothing and bag choked us all.
In urgent care, the doctor left the room multiple times as the pepper on me caused her to cough uncontrollably. She wore a respirator to stitch my eye. As I left the hospital near sunrise, another protester was being admitted with the same injury.
I have the option of going to a protest and putting myself at risk of police violence. Or I can choose to stay out of harm's way. For black Americans, there is no opting out of the risk of police violence in everyday life. This was incredibly scary and stressful for my wife and I, but we know we only have to experience this once in a while, and when we do it's often by choice. Many people in our community live with this fear every day. This has to stop, and we have to make this change. Black Lives Matter.
Trip Jennings is a producer and videographer with Balance Media and National Geographic. He and his wife live in Portland.
By Tommy Hough
With the naked display of state-sponsored fascism on the streets of Portland as the Department of Homeland Security wages a terror campaign against the citizens of an American city, and the threatened deployment of federal paramilitaries throughout the U.S. by President Trump and the unprecedented step it brings toward police state authoritarianism, consider Martin Niemöller's cautionary poem "First They Came," written in 1946 following the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II.
A theologian, pastor, and opponent of the Nazi regime, Niemöller led an influential Lutheran congregation in the Berlin suburbs at the time the Nazis came to power, and wrote his poem about the cowardice of German intellectuals and his fellow clergymen during the rise of the Third Reich, and the regime's incremental undoing of the rule of law, especially after the violence and summary executions of the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, and the implementation of the racist Nuremberg Laws in 1935, which robbed German Jews of all aspects of citizenship and civil rights. We know what followed.
Niemöller was first arrested by the Nazi regime in 1937, and was a tried by a "special," i.e. kangaroo court for crimes against the Reich. While the court eventually released him due to the number of months he'd already been in jail, Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess had him seized by the Gestapo immediately afterwards, and he was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and later Dachau concentration camps until the end of the war in 1945.
Since Niemöller wasn't formally arrested, as he had been before, there was no recourse to his seizure. There was no due process either, despite the fact Niemöller was a lawful citizen. He was simply snatched away extrajudicially and detained, without a trace. The Nazis called this "night and fog."
After a trial run on the streets of San Diego in June, that exact same behavior is now being applied by federal paramilitaries in Portland, and the administration freely admits this model will soon be applied in other cities.
This administration is taking hostages with little legal recourse, and making examples of "disloyal," almost entirely Democratic-run cities. In this manner, the administration may bargain their way into concessions for the November election in a protracted and deliberately exhausting legal procedure. In Trump's mind, this is the art of the deal.
We are facing our greatest constitutional crisis since the Civil War, which ended 155 years ago in 1865, but never really ended. It takes demagogues like Trump to follow the examples of despotic regimes and his own inner toxicity to use our nation's faultlines and divisions as a means of enhancing his power, rather than working to bring our nation together the way a normal, responsible human would be inclined to do.
But should Trump lose the November election, or otherwise be removed from power, he's well aware he will no longer be protected by a cloak of presidential power. He, his family, and many of his subordinates will deservedly face trial and imprisonment on multiple fronts and charges. And given Trump's own words and the extraordinary machinations of state power already being given free rein, set against the backdrop of the deadliest pandemic our nation has faced in 100 years, there is no reason to expect the president won't use every despotic means available to remain in power, even as every authoritarian move he makes belies his own impotence and lack of real power.
So where are the Jade Helm conspiracy theorists now? Where are those who claim wearing a face mask is "tyranny?" Pay attention to those remaining silent at this moment of actual tyranny.
If you're unable to stand against the authoritarian tide being incited by a decadent executive branch, which isn't even pretending to take "incremental" steps anymore in dismantling 244 years of our democratic traditions as it attacks non-violent protesters, you may bear a resemblance to the narrator of "First They Came."
Because someday, perhaps sooner than you think, "they" may come for you, in the midst of night and fog. And who will stand for you then?
The original version of Niemöller's "First They Came" is:
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Actor Rafael Casal wrote an updated version of the poem for the Trump era last year:
First they came for the immigrants
And I did not speak out
Because I was not an immigrant
Then they came for the children of immigrants
And I did not speak out
Because I am not a child of an immigrant
Then they came for the brown and black
And I did not speak out
Because I am neither brown nor black
Then they came for the politicians
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a politician
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak for me.
A former San Diego broadcaster and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.