Getting it alt-wrong
In national news and on social media, one topic dominated our attention last week: the horrifying events in Charlottesville (and President Trump’s dunderheaded response). Amid the clamor, three stories brought the subject home to Western New York.
In the wake of the Charlottesville uproar, a playground at Windermere Boulevard Elementary School in Amherst was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. The marks included a Star of David, and a botched swastika, with one of the legs going the wrong way, indicating that the vandals are both odious and stupid. A gathering of school officials, parents, and children—representing different races and beliefs—was held in the playground Tuesday evening in a show of community solidarity. A net gain for decency.
Former Western New York resident and Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, is back in the news. McVeigh was executed in 2001 for the murder of 168 people, but has emerged recently as a hero to some on the alt-right. Last Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oklahoma City charged twenty-three year old Jerry Varnell with a bungled attempt to blow up a bank using a vehicle bomb similar to McVeigh’s. Varnell is said to consider McVeigh a patriot for retaliating against American’s loss of freedom. Paradoxically, it’s the government’s response to terrorism that has led in recent years to our greatest loss of freedom.
At least three other men recently arrested for various hate crimes belong to the McVeigh fan club. One was captured in Washington, DC with an assault rifle, handgun, and ninety rounds of ammunition—while staying at the Pennsylvania Avenue Trump Hotel.
When militiamen illegally occupied an Oregon wildlife refuge last year, one protester sent out an exclamation-enriched message for Congress: "Timothy McVeigh DIED FOR YOUR SINS!!!!!!!!!"
A Neo-Nazi blogger for the Daily Stormer website—now banned from Go Daddy and Google—earnestly proposed building a bronze memorial to McVeigh. Something else to yank down.
Last March, Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino sent out an email with a meme of a truck sporting a front-mounted ram guard with the word TRUMP printed across it. The caption reads, "Get out the protester plow." The "joke" gained new gravity last Saturday as an alt-right member rammed his car into a crowd of Charlottesville counter-protestors, killing one. The following Monday, Paladino posted another "joke" on Facebook, about a Southern California man with 100,000 rounds of ammunition. It read in part: "In Michigan he’d be called the ‘last white guy still living in Detroit.’"
The posts became a catalyst for renewed protests from members of the Buffalo school community, who were awaiting an overdue decision from Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia on a petition to remove Paladino from the board. On Monday, Elia’s office got over seventy phone calls urging his removal. Thursday, at about midday, the decision was rendered; Paladino was immediately deposed.
The peace loving Windermere School folks got it right. The antidote to hate is levelheaded unified opposition. Paladino will likely appeal, but for now the public won.
No statues, but we do have Breckenridge and Porter
There are no Confederate memorials to tear down in Buffalo, but Breckenridge Street, which runs from the Elmwood village to Black Rock is kind of a memorial to slavery. So is Porter Avenue.
Under British rule, New York State was a big slavery state, bigger than most Southern states. In 1827, slavery was abolished here.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. Breckenridge Street is named for slave owner Letitia Breckenridge, who married Peter Buell Porter. You might recognize that name: Porter Avenue, Porter Road in Niagara Falls, and Porter Township in Niagara County are all named after him. Porter was New York Secretary of State, a US Congressman, US Secretary of War, and a hero in the war of 1812. He was also (what would be considered today) a racist dick.
Porter and his bride brought several of her slaves to Buffalo from her native Kentucky. This was the 1840s, after New York abolished slavery, but state law allowed them to be imported as "indentured apprentices" (wink, wink) until age twenty-nine. Porter once told the Canadian governor that the slaves made "excellent servants," that is until those pesky emancipators and free blacks of Buffalo and Canada put the crazy idea into their heads that freedom across the river was preferable to being human chattel. Porter was all for freeing slaves, if they left the US and went to Liberia, because he considered freed slaves to be "the most licentious, turbulent, and worthless part of [the] population." He even participated in an attempted Canadian extradition of runaway slave, Solomon Moseby, resulting in two emancipator deaths, while Moseby escaped.
History is full of distasteful truths, and if you look close enough, most heroes have clay feet.
(Thanks to Buffalo History Museum Librarian, Cynthia Van Ness, for her research and guidance.)
The race for mayor
Byron Brown is leading in the polls for Buffalo Mayor. By a lot. He is ahead of his nearest rival by twenty-five points. He has a seventy-four percent favorability rating. And why not? The city is in the midst of a renaissance, with a real estate boom, very popular waterfront development, economic stability, and new business. Brown has half a million dollars in his war chest.
Bad moon rising
State and Federal agents, investigating former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon for a variety of alleged corruption crimes, have widened their scope into City Hall. They’ve subpoenaed contracts, emails, text messages, and invoices related to seven firms that have done business with the Brown administration. One firm’s name appeared in emails between Pigeon and former Court Justice John Michalek, who previously pled guilty to bribery charges involving Pigeon. Earlier, agents raided the office of the Grassroots political club. Grassroots helped launch Brown into office, and Brown’s campaign fund is a major supporter.
Trouble on the way
There’s a whole lot of Pigeon smoke, and some of it is seeping under the mayor’s door. While smoke does not always mean fire—evidence of money laundering and bribery in this case—we’re watching to see if Brown comes out unscathed or singed.
Valociraptor goes pro
Valerie Masai-Aspaas has abs that look like they could deflect a well-pitched bowling ball. For the past eight weeks, leading up to Saturday, she had increased her regular training to four hours a day, with a regime including weightlifting, cycling, running, jump rope, and fighting men. It’s a different kind of beauty regimen for woman aiming at physical and mental perfection. By Saturday, August 19, she had reached peak performance. That was the day she’d been working toward for six years, her first professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight.
The East Aurora native attended the University of Hawaii, earning a degree in Japanese language, culture, and literature. She also studied martial arts. In 2011 she "more or less stumbled into" MMA with her first fight. "I was just really interested in martial arts and it seemed like the most challenging thing to do for me at the time," she says. She’s fought amateur bouts in Hawaii, Maine, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and New York. Flyweight division, with a 7–3 record. And she goes by Valociraptor.
MMA is an intense and violent sport, with hyper-aggressive attitude and bluster. The combatants are caged gladiators, who employ Brazilian Jiujitsu, wrestling, Muay Thai (kickboxing), regular boxing, and a bit of catch-wrestling—essentially, whatever it takes to pound the daylights out of the opponent. Masai-Aspaas has been seriously injured, "but," she says, "I've always bounced back hungry for more."
When not training, Masai-Aspaas teaches immigrant children at Somali Bantu Community Organization of Buffalo. She also waits tables at Pearl St. Grill and Brewery and teaches marshal arts at Buffalo United Martial Arts and KC's Fitness. In the meantime, she’s studying for a graduate degree in English as a Second Language teacher at UB.
Valociraptor is married. "When I went away to Japan [to teach English for a year], I dragged Toru Masai back to the US with me. "We believe in each other," she says. "While I want to be the best martial artist I possibly can be—my number one dream being to become World Champion—his is to become the absolute best chef he possibly can be. It's a mutually supportive relationship."
Masai-Aspaas lost Saturday’s fight. She was on top, delivering blows, when her opponent immobilized her in an arm bar move. Is she giving up pro MMA? Valociraptor? Oh hell no.
Let her know you’re proud of her on her Facebook page.
Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Spree.