Author Archives: Peter Galuszka

I Remember Stonewall

The day they drove old Dixie down. Removal of the Stonewall Jackson statue on Richmond’s Monument Ave. Photo credit: Associated Press

By Peter Galuszka

Confederate statues are finally coming down in Richmond and other Virginia cities, including one of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. There have been outcries by sentimental mythologists and apologists on this blog and elsewhere about how “mob rule” is forcing issues and so on.

Since some bloggers here have come up with their version of positive biographies about some of the figures, notably Matthew Fontaine Maury, an early oceanographer and Confederate Naval officer, I thought I’d weigh in on my own personal experience with Stonewall.

Jackson was born on Jan. 24 1824 in what was then Clarksburg, Va., and grew up about 20 miles south in Jackson’s Mill near Weston Va. Then in 1863, irritated about Richmond’s racial policies and economic favoritism, residents seceded and created West Virginia which supported the North in the Civil War.

By coincidence, I moved to the Clarksburg area in 1962 from the D.C. area when I was nine years old and resided there until 1969.

It wasn’t exactly the “Southern” experience others seem to recall. For one thing, the homeland of “Stonewall” did not have many slaves or African-Americans. The area of Harrison County, however, held fairly mixed views about slavery and allegiance. While Jackson, a West Point graduate went with the South, his sister was loyal to the North. (For more details about Jackson’s life, read James L. Robertson Jr.’s excellent 1997 biography.) Continue reading

Spanberger Vs. Trump

Rep. Abigail Spanberger

By Peter Galuszka

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th District, continues to draw international attention as a “New Look” Democrat from Virginia who is savvy about the intelligence community and global affairs.

The former CIA case officer was featured on CNN criticizing the administration of Donald Trump for ignoring reports that Russian military intelligence had paid bounties to the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill U.S. troops and members of the pro-U.S. coalition there.

Her comments were picked up by the British newspaper, the Guardian. This may be the first time that a woman Member of Congress has gotten so much exposure beyond borders of the Old Dominion.

Neither Dave Brat nor Eric Cantor, her Republican predecessors in the 7th district that includes parts of the once reliably Red Richmond suburbs of Chesterfield and Henrico, has gotten such exposure. The only other woman who has come close is U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat and former Navy officer who represents the 2nd District that includes Virginia Beach, another area that was once reliably Red. Continue reading

“Bring That Sucker Down Without Anyone Getting Hurt”

Confederate statue in North Carolina

By Peter Galuszka

In a striking sign of the times, Popular Mechanics magazine has published a how-to article regarding removing statues on your own.

The article is titled: “How to Topple a Statue Using Science: Bring that sucker down without anyone getting hurt” by James Stout.

The force need to bring down a controversial statue is not all that great, Stout writes. Most statues are bronze, with an alloy of 90% copper and 10 percent tin with a maximum thickness of 3/16 of an inch. Most people statues weigh 3,500 pounds. One that includes a horse is maybe 7,000 pounds.

For a pure muscle job, you’d need about 70 people and several high-endurance recovery straps. One should be placed across the head. Once in place, you’ll need to break the statue from its base. This can be done by two teams on either side of the statue working a back and forth motion.

As for safety, this isn’t that big a deal as long as you have done the proper geometry.

If you don’t have many protestors, you can do the job using a high temperature approach with home-made thermite. Propane torches are also good. Continue reading

BR’s COVID-19 Parallel Universe

By Peter Galuszka

Almost every morning, I wake up a little before dawn, make coffee, let the dog out and feed her and start reading the news.

I take The Washington Post in print along with The New York Times, Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian-Pilot, NBC News, various television stations and, of course, Bacon’s Rebellion online.

Later in the morning, I check out Blue Virginia, Virginia Mercury and RVA.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, every morning I step into two different universes.

One gives me the global and national view that jumps right in and explains where we are with the virus and who and what are at risk.

The other view, that of Bacon’s Rebellion, mostly paints a very different picture. This view insists that the pandemic is exaggerated and overrated, needless regulations are being enacted by a dictatorial governor, our school system and housing trends are at risk and we should open everything up right now. Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Monument Avenue

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue, a double lane, tree lined thoroughfare, has been the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter campaign that has focused on the statues of several Confederate figures one the road, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

All are up for removal, but the same foot-dragging that has for years protected the statues that some consider racist is at work today. Protestors have torn down Davis and have defaced the rest. On Sunday night, they nearly ripped down the Stuart statue as two city council members urged that it be removed on an emergency basis.

Lee’s statue has been ordered down by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the effort has been tied up in lawsuits by several property owners. One claims either that the original deed that gave the state the site for Lee included language that it could not be removed. Other plaintiffs, most anonymous,  claim that removing the statues would hurt their property values and their special tax status.

If anything smacks of white privilege and entitlement, this is it. But for more perspective, this article in The Atlantic neatly sums up the history behind the statues and the Avenue, noting that the issue has everything to do with rewriting Richmond’s history and making a marketing play to sell expensive and exclusive real estate decades after the Confederacy was suppressed. Continue reading

The Very Real Threat of “Boogaloo”

By Peter Galuszka

White protestors have smeared a statue of Arthur Ashe, the African-American tennis star who faced systemic racism when he was growing up in Richmond.

True, the Ashe memorial had earlier been defaced by “Black Lives Matter” messages spray painted on its base. On Wednesday, a small band of protestors painted over the “BLM” statements with “White Lives Matter” pronouncements.

One of the protestors, a white man who called himself “Everybody,” claimed he had grown up in Richmond and drove off in a sedan with South Carolina plates, according to the Richmond-Times-Dispatch.

What is disturbing is the prospect of violent conflict, perhaps involving fast-firing, assault-style rifles, between opposing camps.

Much has been made of the so-called threat posed by ANTIFA, said to be a radical left group that is prepared to use violence at protests, which have been largely peaceful in Virginia and across the country. Continue reading

The ACP Wins One But The War Drags On

By Peter Galuszka

The $8.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline has won a significant legal victory but the war is far from over.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ruled in favor of project operated by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy saying that its 42-inch pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.

The Court ruled that the pipeline can pass 600 feet underneath the trail and that the U.S. Forest Service has the right to allow a right of way. The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the Forest Service had no such authority.

Dissenting, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Minerals Leasing Act does give the federal government the right to regulate federal land, including trails. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority ruling, said that plans to bury the pipeline under the Appalachian Trail represent an easement which is not the same as “land.”

The project still faces eight other permitting issues involving the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Continue reading

Libertarians Need Not Apply

By Peter Galuszka

The Virginia Republican Party had a big shock Saturday.

Far-right candidate Bob Good snatched the party’s nomination in the fifth congressional district from incumbent Denver Riggleman, who was backed by President Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr., the head of Liberty University.

The remarkable twist could presage an arch-conservative backlash against Trump’s populism in the run up to elections this November.

University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato tweeted early Sunday morning that “the Virginia GOP has gone so far to the right that a congressman backed by (Trump and Falwell) isn’t conservative enough to renominate.”

The 5th District includes the cities of Lynchburg and Charlottesville and covers broad swaths of highly socially conservative rural areas. Riggleman’s problem was that he had Libertarian tendencies and had officiated at a gay wedding. Continue reading

The Time Has Come to Rename the Bases

A.P. Hill

By Peter Galuszka

Momentum is growing to rename three Virginia military bases which bear the monikers of Confederate generals. It is part of a movement to reassess Confederate symbols within the military nationwide.

The three bases are Ft. A.P. Hill, named for Confederate Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill Jr.; Ft. Pickett, named for Gen. George Pickett; and Ft. Lee, named for Gen. Robert E. Lee.

This comes in the middle of a controversy between military leaders and President Donald Trump, who says he won’t even consider renaming bases.

There has been a growing rift between Trump and numerous military leaders, notably James Mattis, a decorated Marine general and Trump’s former secretary of defense, about accusations that Trump has tried to politicize U.S. armed forces.

Part of the tension involves Trump’s controversial plan to use federal units, such as the Army’s famed 82nd Airborne Division, to crack down on demonstrators after the slaying by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed African-American accused of passing a phony $20 bill. Continue reading

The Ups and Downs of Felix Dzerzhinsky

Felix Dzerzhinsky toppled. Photo credit: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko.

By Peter Galuszka

For three decades, a 15-ton statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky loomed over a square in downtown Moscow. He rose high near the Lubyanka building, a turn of the century, yellow-colored one-time insurance office that served as the national headquarters for the KGB.

“Iron Felix,” born of Polish nobility, is best known as V.I. Lenin’s henchman, the leader of the Red secret police who orchestrated the deaths of hundreds of thousands during the Russian Civil War. He became regarded as the grandfather of various Soviet security agencies, including the MVD, NKVD, KGB and now the FSB and SVR.

Then in August 1991, Soviet hardliners attempted a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, the reform-minded Communist Party chief. The coup failed, touching off a storm of retribution.

As many as 1,320 statues of Lenin cross the country came down. Leningrad became St. Petersburg, the Kirov Ballet reverted to its old name, the Mariinsky Ballet, and the city of Moscow ordered the statue of Felix taken down.

In order words, there is a strong similarity between what happened just before the Soviet Union fell apart in December 1991 and what is going on today in this country, especially in Virginia. Continue reading

They Are Coming For Your Family, Your Strip Malls

Sen. Amanda Chase with sidearm

By Peter Galuszka

State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield County, has always played the clown.

The conservative politician grabbed attention a year or so back when she addressed a meeting at the General Assembly wearing a revolver in a holster on her hip. She’s also feuded with the county Republican Party and was defrocked.

Now Chase is striking again by spreading fears of ANTIFA attacks on mostly white and middle class suburban areas. She says the loosely organized far left group is targeting strip malls at Meadowdale and Hancock Village in Chesterfield County and in Hanover County at Mechanicsville.

She said that members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun lobby, would be patrolling some of these areas.

A few problems here:

Chase said her source for source for the ANTIFA tip was Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz. Contacted by the Chesterfield Observer, Katz said he was not her source. “At no time did I share any active criminal intelligence with her,” Katz told the Observer. Continue reading

“Systemic Racism?” Damned Right!

By Peter Galuszka

There has been much debate on this blog regarding whether there is “systemic racism” in Virginia and the rest of the country.

It’s a crucial question in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed African American who was killed on video by a white Minneapolis police officer two weeks ago. The killing sparked nationwide demonstrations, some rioting and a big rethink of race relations.

Regarding is “system racism,” my answer in a resounding “yes” although I agree there has been significant progress in race relations since the since the 1960s.

A few examples:

  • Virginia was the embarkation point for American’s first slaves.
  • Slavery was a key social, economic and political institution for several hundred years.
  • The Civil War was fought over slavery. Most battles were in Virginia.
  • The state embraced Jim Crow laws and kept them for years. These made it crimes for people of different races to go to school together, go on public transit together, sit together in restaurants, get married and so on.
  • There were plenty of lynchings in Virginia. Many went unpunished.

Continue reading

Gunning Up Virginia’s Cops

By Peter Galuszka

 In 2014, the Sheriff’s Department of York County and Poquoson got their very own tank-like vehicle, called a “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).”

Fully armored and tan in color with steep sides, it looks like something out television footage of the war in Iraq where U.S. troops needed to get through mine-infested streets and terrain safely.

But why do such generally sleepy communities such as these need a high-powered armored car? Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Digs told The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press that it isn’t meant to “intimidate people” but can be useful during adverse weather when trees are down. Really? Wouldn’t a pickup truck work?

The newspaper story is important since it combs through what Virginia law enforcement got after the “1033”Defense Department program started to sell surplus military gear to local law enforcement in 1997.

It notes that military surplus sales in Virginia went from $216,000 in 1999 to $853,824 in 2019, according to Defense Logistics Agency statistics. The latter number included the cost of another MRAP so Virginia Beach could get its very own armored truck. Over time, the City of Portsmouth got 87 M-16 assault rifles. Other goodies include night vision glasses. Continue reading

Our Gutsy Governor

By Peter Galuszka

On June 24, 2015, Nikki Haley, a Republican who was South Carolina’s first non-white governor, called for the removal of a Confederate flag that had been flying over the state’s capitol grounds for years.

“This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” she said. Her action came a few days after an avowed white supremacist walked into an African-American church and opened fire, killing church members attending a service.

I was watching the news on TV when she made her gutsy move. I was deeply impressed.

And now, Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is governor of Virginia, has taken a similarly gutsy move. He has ordered that the state-owned statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee be removed from its stand on Monument Avenue in Richmond. It has been there for about 130 years, erected by white supremacists with deep sentiment for their romantic myths of Southern history.

“I believe in a Virginia that learns lessons from our past and we all know that our country needs that example right now,” Northam said. Continue reading

Beware Fake Tweets

The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia

By Peter Galuszka

Around midnight Monday, reporters in downtown Washington D.C., stood by ready to cover the next round of protests about the slaying of African Americans by police.

They started getting tweets marked #dcblackout suggesting that internet service was being interrupted because of a secret program presumably run by the government that would cut them off.

The curious thing, NBC News reported, is that the reporters’ cell phones worked just fine. Later Twitter was contacted and began to investigate. It was curious that the questionable tweet seemed to be coming from the left-wing ANTIFA group that is said to have helped organize protests around the country.

A tweet labeled as been sourced with ANTIFA proclaimed “Tonight’s the night, comrades. Tonight we say F&*^The city and we move into the residential areas, the white hoods and we take what’s ours.”

Twitter quickly uncovered the problem. The tweets were fakes put out by a far-right white nationalist group called Identity Evropa. Twitter took down the sites because they violated the company’s policy against using social media to incite violence, NBC reported. Continue reading