Ta-Nehisi Coates on “The Million Vets March!”


Which two hundred people attended: What if they held a “Million Vets March” and 200 people came?

That’s what happened in D.C. this Sunday, if the Washington Post can be trusted. That’s why we tend to disagree with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ reaction to the day’s events.

Coates began his post as shown below. As a general matter, we agree with his comment about “lone idiots,” although we aren’t inclined to refer to regular people that way and we think his attention is somewhat misplaced.

Our main point of disagreement begins with his use of a term that doesn’t quite apply. We refer to his use of the word “crowd:”
COATES (10/15/13): On Sunday, a group of conservative radicals held a protest in Washington. Eventually they walked to the White House. One of these radicals felt it was a good idea to wave the flag of slavery, treason, and terrorism in front of the home of America's first black president. Lone idiots are often drawn to protest action. The behavior of such idiots, while alarming, should not necessarily be taken as an indicator of the aims and thrust of the protest. On the contrary, it is not so much the behavior of the lone idiot that matters—but the tenor of the crowd around him.
The “lone idiot” to whom Coates refers is Michael Ashmore, 24, of Hooks, Texas. According to the Post’s Lynh Bui, this is who Ashmore is:
BUI (10/14/13): U.S. Park Police estimated there were 100 to 200 protesters and said there were no arrests.

Michael Ashmore drove 24 hours from Texas for the march. The 24-year-old former Marine served four years in Afghanistan and said his disability benefits stopped about a week ago.

Ashmore says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is "living one day at a time" without his disability check.

Politicians, Ashmore said, "just need to get their priorities straight and look out for everybody else instead of themselves."
Is Ashmore an idiot? We wouldn’t be inclined to say that. Nor would we be inclined to call the gathering on Sunday a “crowd.”

Truth to tell, the Million Vets March didn’t rise to that level.

Who the heck is Michal Ashmore? We have no idea. According to the Texarkana Gazette, his father died this summer:
TEXARKANA GAZETTE (8/23/13): Thomas Eugene Ashmore, 69, of Hooks, Texas, died Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, in a Little Rock hospital.

Mr. Ashmore was born Dec. 14, 1943, in Clarendon, Ark. He was a retired service technician with Howtex and a member of Bowie County Cowboy Church.

Survivors include one son, Michael Ashmore of Hooks; one daughter, Michelle Carlock of Mount Pleasant, Texas; three sisters, Elizabeth Richardson of Vidalia, La., Wanda Chaudoin of Jonesville, La., and Lee Blaney of Ferriday, La.; two brothers, Robert Lee Ashmore Jr. of Atlanta, Texas, and Roger Ashmore of Mesa, Ariz.; and a number of other relatives.

Memorial services will be 3 p.m. Sunday at Bowie County Cowboy Church, DeKalb, with Tuffy Williams officiating under direction of Bates-Rolf Funeral Home.
What’s it like at the Bowie County Cowboy Church? Once again, no idea. “No people are uninteresting,” Yevtushenko said.

Back to Coates, whom we admire around here. As he continues, he suggests that the crowd which wasn't a crowd should have cuffed Ashmore around:
COATES (continuing directly): If, for instance, you witness a march against military action in Syria and see a Nazi flag among the protestors this should disturb you. But you would be heartened to see the protesters snatch the lone idiot in their midst, eject him from their party with great vigor, and give him some blows for good measure. The flag would still disturb you, but perhaps you might be able to see it as a fringe action, and not the heart of the protest itself.

It is the wisdom of the crowd that matters. The wisdom that marked Sunday's crowd was the idea that the president "bows down to Allah" and needs to "put the Qu'ran down." The wisdom that marked Sunday's crowd was the notion that Obama was not the president of "the people" but the president of "his people." The wisdom of Sunday's crowd held that the police, doing their job, looked "like something out of Kenya." It's not so much that a man would fly a Confederate flag, as Jeff Goldberg notes, in front of the home of a black family. It's that a crowd would allow him the comfort of doing it.
We disagree with the bathos and the melodrama of Coates’ reaction to this non-event from a dwindling minority of people who keep getting played by folk who are much more powerful.

Would it be too much to suggest that progressives might feel a bit of pity for Ashmore? In Stride Toward Freedom, the moral giant of the last century discussed his feelings toward people who were much more powerful and almost surely more deeply fallen than Ashmore.

This is the way Dr. King spoke about the people who bombed his home and about those who enabled them. He describes his feelings late on the night after his home was fire-bombed in 1956:
DR. KING (page 138): I could not go to sleep. While I lay in that quiet front bedroom, with a distant street lamp throwing a reassuring glow through the curtained window, I began to think of the viciousness of people who would bomb my home. I could feel the anger rising when I realized that my wife and baby could have been killed. I thought about the city commissioners and all the statements that they had made about me and the Negro generally. I was once more on the verge of corroding anger. And once more I caught myself and said: “You must not allow yourself to become bitter.”

I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners. I said to myself these are not bad men. They are misguided. They have fine reputations in the community. In their dealings with white people they are respectful and gentlemanly. They probably think they are right in their methods of dealing with Negroes. They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they have been taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior. Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers, often taught them that; and above all the very concept of segregation teaches them that. The whole cultural traditional under which they have grown—a tradition blighted with more than 250 years of slavery and more than 90 years of segregation—teaches them that Negroes do not deserve certain things. So these men are merely the children of their culture. When they seek to preserve segregation they are seeking to preserve only what their local folkways have taught them was right.
“Even their ministers” taught them these things, Dr. King sadly declared. In effect, he lamented the fact that the leaders of white Montgomery hadn’t received the good home training he had received in his home.

Much as Lincoln did in his Second Inaugural, Dr. King “pitied the poor immigrant.” These are the giants the world remembers down through the annals of time.

A chance for rumination: Do you pity the poor immigrant? To consider the question, click here.


  1. Liberal writers' hate for the South extends to southern democrats such as Hillary and Bill, who could not say anything against Obama that was not spun to be "racist". Remember the "Fairy tale" comments? That's racist!

  2. it's not what the Confederate States battle flag represents to Black Americans, it's what it represents to Michael Ashmore.

    I was unlucky enough to have spent my high-school junior year in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.

    Back then, the junior curriculum included state history.

    I learned that the Civil War was NOT about slavery, but about the rights reserved to states by the constitution.

    The civil war was about defending individual rights, even if those rights included owning individuals.

    I had to speak up to the teacher, and I soon felt like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.

    Clearly, these good middle-class White kids had never seen a student challenge a teacher before. It just wasn't done!

    There were no Black kids in the class to rely on. There were no black people in the entire student body OR the faculty OR the administration. It just wasn't done!

    There were a few in the cafeteria and maintenance staffs.

    These good White kids were taught the CSA "Stars and Bars" was a symbol of resistance to an evil central government whose actions would, and did, destroy their way of living.

    It was years before I could accept White Southerners as sane, intelligent, even-handed people. Having a few marry into the family helped.

    Most white Americans can intellectually understand how Blacks feel about the Confederate flag, but few can FEEL how they feel.

  3. As for that crowd -- and I'd call 100-200 people a crowd, though a small one given the marquee speakers, the location, and the timing -- listen to that crowd on the video linked to here (and, while you're at it, read the Lieutenant Colonel's reaction):


  4. If Ashmore is really suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he deserves lots and lots of sympathy. PTSD can be a very serious condition.

  5. Mr. Somerby likes to quote MLK, Jr. as if the great and remarkable man never felt any anger, any outrage, any feelings of grief at injustice and agony. As if there wasn't a whole lot for King himself to work through to arrive at his insights about love. (As if there weren't moments like, "My god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?") And as if there were not others around him constantly doing the work of expressing openly the anger and outrage, in tandem with which King's insights on love gained their traction and profound resonance.

    I was at an Episcopal christening last weekend (Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, liberal WASPS from the Northeast and conservative WASPS from a western state), and many of us agreed the sweetest part of the service was the impromptu singing of "Jesus loves me, this I know." Sweet because we we all know that this (or some form of it -- did I mention that one of the godparents is an observant Jew?) is the baseline. And sweet because we also know it will get a lot more complicated for this wondrous baby. The complications matter, too, and there's no shortcut through them.

  6. "We disagree with the bathos and the melodrama of Coates’ reaction to this non-event from a dwindling minority of people who keep getting played by folk who are much more powerful".

    Confederate flag outside the WH. Obama and his children inside the WH.
    I want security. Security, that's what I want. (Otis).

    God love you, DinC and Lionel.


    1. If he was harming Constitutional rights, he'd have better off taking his 2nd amendment rights, since GZ is the LAST guy who should possess a gun.


    2. Yes, Berto, Obama harmed Zimmerman's Constitutional rights. Nixon was criticized for commenting on Charles Manson. How far we've sunk in respect for Constitutional rights and this president feels free to exercise his racism.

    3. To state the obvious, Lionel's interpretation and mind-reading of Obama's comment is the REAL racism here. Obama was merely expressing solidarity with parents who'd just lost a son. There wasn't a shred of racism involved. But Lionel will keep telling himself that it's OBAMA who's the racist, and will keep twisting simple reality to make it conform to this narrative.

    4. Lionel, you clearly, like so many others who just read or hear words without giving much thought to the task, have misunderstood what Obama meant when he made that statement. Think hard, remove your blinders, and try to find some deeper meaning in "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

    5. It's remarkable how enraged some people became when the president expressed sympathy towards a family whose son was chased down and shot because he was "walking around, looking about". But remember, it's not the guy waving the flag of white supremacist violence who is the racist! Nor is it the man who insists that black people are "satisfied with food stamps". No, it's the black president, who notices that a black kid who is gunned down while walking home from the store was black.

      That's the *real* problem of racism today, black people noting their own skin color.

    6. Imagine a white president sticking his nose into a self defense claim by a black defendant. All holy hell would break lose.

      Of course it was racism on Obama's part. What did he mean picturing Martin as his own child? The correct thing for him to do was to refuse to comment at all. It was wrong for him to draw attention to that particular case or any case.

      Can you think of any white presidents talking about any white people killed by black people? Has Obama talked about any white people killed by black people?

    7. Lionel, like the white racists who bombed Dr. King's house, I have learned from writings of the great one
      to take pity on the ignorance caused by the way you were brought up.

      We should all love you.

    8. Anonymous 2:07
      And for all I know, you are a Rolex-wearing, womanizing Elmer Gantry charlatan type, just as King was. Imagine the people who knew King for what he was and how they felt like vomiting. It was a little dirty fantasy for King to talk about his "love."

      We'll never have a saintly figure like King again, for sure, because all his women would be on Maury Povich's show.

    9. "All his women would be on Maury Povich's show."

      Yes, and if Al Gore hadn't taken the initiative to create the internet, Carlos Danger would be Mayor of the Big Apple and nobody would be the wiser.

    10. Oh, come on 11:51. We can all hear King protesting in his sonorous baritone, "Its a high tech lynching!"

  7. "Would it be too much to suggest that progressives might feel a bit of pity for Ashmore? In Stride Toward Freedom, the moral giant of the last century discussed his feelings toward people who were much more powerful and almost surely more deeply fallen than Ashmore."

    What he said.

    Oh, what he said.

    1. Pity for those who wish me dead?


    2. Well, yes, I feel pity for Ashmore, a person with a name and a history, as (I believe) would Ta-Nehesi Coates. So? That's a different question from the politics of this situation.
      I pity Ashmore in part for his complete misunderstanding of which politicians actually want to keep the government open (not Ted Cruz), so he might get the help he needs.

  8. Its too bad Martin Luther King was treated as a saint while he lived as well as in death because there was an opportunity there for black people but it was squandered with the attack on white people that their motivation was pure evil. It would have been very helpful to have had Martin Luther King put on the record - repeatedly and in detail -about the high crime rates among blacks and the rioting that was on-going throughout the 1960s. Those crime rates did not start suddenly; they were a feature of American life and just as they are the reason for the de facto segregation of today - the segregation real estate agents code name "good schools" - they were the reason for the official segregation and restrictive covenants.

    The NYC police commissioner, no tea partier, says blacks commit 70% of violent crime in NYC.

    Coates is a liar. He doesn't go up to strangers and take their property from them and attack them. Has he ever appeared on MSNBC and has he ever spoken out about Al Sharpton's very unsavory history? What did he have to say about Obama meeting with Sharpton? Sharpton has done a lot more harm than some guy with a flag.

    1. Lionel,
      Read about the drug war and then try to tell us Jim Crow is dead.
      Good luck!

    2. Anon 8:08
      Read the crime statistics. Not hard to find them.

    3. Anonymous, I see things differently. You apparently think that blacks use drugs more than non-blacks, so a war on drugs is disproportionately a war on backs.

      The way I see it is that drug usage is bad for individuals and bad for their communities. If blacks use drugs more than non-blacks, then a policy that reduces drug usage will benefit blacks disproportionately.

    4. Not at all, DinC. I know, you're incorrect. Shocking (not really). I don't think blacks use drugs more than non-blacks. I KNOW they do more prison time than non-blacks. That's a fact. and all the white-washing of this fact will not make it disappear.

    5. "Read the crime statistics. Not hard to find them."

      Read them. I see blacks are arrested at a higher rate than non-blacks, get more prison time than non-blacks, etc.
      That's why I (and others who pay attention) call the drug war the new Jim Crow.

      Check it out. Michelle Alexander spells it out for you.

    6. Here's a real world example. When my daughters were in high school, a janitor there was arrested for dealing drugs. From my POV, his removal from the job and being sent to jail was good for the high school community. He was a threat to all the students, including my daughters.

      Similarly, when a black drug dealer, is arrested, that's good. for the black community. His arrest prevents him from selling drugs to other black youths. And, the arrest discourages other blacks from becoming drug dealers.

    7. D in C, most of the drug arrests that pump up the Jim Crow statistics are for things like one friend selling another some pot on the street. It does the black community no good when a man is convicted on such a charge, his girlfriend or wife and children lose his presence and financial support, and, once he's out of prison, his record makes it hard for him to get a decent job, not to mention the ill effects of his prison time on his psyche.

    8. Why would a friend sell another some pot on the street? That makes no sense. If they are friends, they don't transact drugs on the street.

    9. Lionel, whether or not it makes sense in your world, that is the world out there. Learn about it before you pronounce.

    10. It doesn't make sense in any world, mch. First offenders don't go to prison and theres normally - maybe always - a plea bargain down to a lesser offense.

      But that's going off on a tangent. Black criminality is too much violent criminality. That's why integration with blacks is resisted by whites and by the immigrant groups as well. Its not heroic to pretend that's irrational or evil; its survival.

      The impact of the Zimmerman case will be more de facto segregation. The logical reason that blacks at all levels up to the president and attorney general of the United States felt that Zimmerman was obligated to let Martin kill him or turn him into a vegetable are either (1) they hate whites or (2) they all have a "Trayvon" in the family, a juvenile delinquent with a propensity for violence.

    11. " First offenders don't go to prison and theres normally - maybe always - a plea bargain down to a lesser offense."

      So true for whitey.

  9. Superb post, Bob, I am grateful to have read this.

  10. What an unregenrate wretch !

    "We disagree with the bathos and the melodrama of Coates’ reaction to this non-event from a dwindling minority of people who keep getting played by folk who are much more powerful."

    If this blogger ever,ever,ever says anything against the Confederate flag, that would be the day. He won't because it gives him the warm and fuzzies.

    Take your sheep's clothing off already and reveal your Tea party membership and land a high paying right-wing-commentator position and get on with your life.

    Hey idiot - SENIOR Texas office holders talk openly about secession - the confederate flag is the symbol of a clear and present danger to the country.

  11. I thought yesterday the Howler told us the confederate flag guy was 23.
    Today he is 24. And he spent 4 years in Afghanistan in the Marine Corps? Given the way tours of duty are rotated that seems highly unlikely. It depends, as a wise blogger once said "if the Washington Post can be trusted."

  12. This is a seriously ill-advised post from Bob.

    On what planet is it wrong to say 100-200 people is a "crowd?" Yes, it is a vastly smaller crowd than sometimes gathers on the Mall. But to say it's an exaggeration to call 100 people a crowd is, well, ridiculous. There's simply no more direct way to say it: Bob is making s*** up here. Here's so sensitive to lazy exaggerations, generalizations, and convenient symbols -- a crowd, a sign, a tweet -- -- that he's convulsed himself into writing that you can't call a group of 100 people a crowd. Dispatches from Planet Somerby.

    And while it's bad form to call any veteran an "idiot," a guy who waves the Confederate flag around at a rally in front of the White House is behaving like an idiot. His sacrifice and service deserve respect, but it's belittling to treat him or any other veteran as if they can't ever act like an idiot or refrain from ever calling one an idiot. I don't think that helps with reintegration in the long run. And I don't see anything about his quoted feelings that offset the idiocy of bringing a Confederate flag to the White House.

    Capping things off with a little Dr. King is just a way to burnish two or three hollow paragraphs with two legendary paragraphs.

  13. Y'all want to know why I brought the Dixie flag to the white house?