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Were Confederate Soldiers Terrorists?

posted by Scot McKnight

So argues Roland Martin, of CNN.com. [Roland needs to define "terrorist." It appears to me that he's defined "terrorist" as anyone who fights for an unjustifiable cause. I don't support, however, Virginia's governor in this celebration.]

Based on the hundreds of e-mails, Facebook comments and Tweets I’ve read in response to my denunciation of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s decision to honor Confederates for their involvement in the Civil War — which was based on the desire to continue slavery — the one consistent thing that supporters of the proclamation offer up as a defense is that these individuals were fighting for what they believed in and defending their homeland…. [skipping to the end...]

Even if you’re a relative of one of the 9/11 hijackers, that man was an out-and-out terrorist, and nothing you can say will change that. And if your great-great-great-granddaddy was a Confederate who stood up for Southern ideals, he too was a terrorist.

They are the same.
As a matter of conscience, I will not justify, understand or accept the atrocious view of Muslim terrorists that their actions represent a just war. They are reprehensible, and their actions a sin against humanity.

And I will never, under any circumstances, cast Confederates as heroic figures who should be honored and revered. No — they were, and forever will be, domestic terrorists.



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Rick

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:37 pm


From American-Heritage:
Terrorism-
“The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.”
Is taking up arms to defend one’s home/land (whether a healthy society or not) “terrorism”?



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Tim Gombis

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm


“Unjustifiable” according to whom?
Read “Grey Ghost,” a superb academic biography by J. Ramage (Univ. of Kentucky Press), which documents John S. Moseby’s pioneering of guerrilla warfare in the Civil War. Fascinating stuff, which might stoke the debate.



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Tim Gombis

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm


Further, I’d love to hear what Southerners think of Sherman’s march to the sea!



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Mike

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm


1. Slavery is absolutely wrong. I want to make my stance on this issue clear.
2. Slavery was not the primary reason Virginia or any other confederate state decided to take up arms. There were other issues, especially economics and federal vs. states’s rights. Does Roland Martin not know this.
3. There’s little indication that even the “North” fought primarily over slavery.
I think we should thank God that slavery eventually came to an end in this country & that we survived a very bloody civil war. We should also move beyond middle-school history books and acknowledge that the war was fought over different issues than slavery. I mention all this because he says Virginia’s solders fought “to continue slavery.” That just misses too much.



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Travis Greene

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:47 pm


I think terrorism is a tactic: attacking civilians in order to create fear and unrest. Slapping “terrorist” on any who fight for bad causes is just bad grammar.
That said, this does bring up important questions about violence. What’s the difference between Confederate rebels fighting for independence (including owning slaves) and American rebels fighting for independence from Britain (including owning slaves)?



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Jim

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm


Just last week I watched the film ‘Judgment at Nuremberg” and thought about this issue. I am the several great grandsons of multiple confederate veterans and so that film got me to thinking about complicity and a host of other things.
First, even though I am a descendent several times over, I in no way support what the confederacy was about either in terms of slavery (certainly not!) nor in terms of an insistence over the rights of states. Maybe I should say “over-insistence”. At any rate, I am about the farthest thing from a Confederate flag waver as you can get and THAT in terms of its original use and certainly in terms of its latter uses.
Having said all that, I do think Mr Martin’s use of the term terrorist is painting with a pretty broad brush and is not really accurate. (I would say it is accurate for a certain segment of Southern society both in the distant past and not too distant past. I remember thinking after 9/11 that while most of the nation was in the grip of ‘terrorist fears’, we, as a nation, could have drawn insight from our black brothers and sisters who endured terror both in the south and around the country for years. (If you haven’t, check out the stats on lynching and also on the bombing and burning of black churches during the modern civil rights era.)
So, he’s not wrong in some aspects. However, even though slavery was a horrific institution and an evil on the face of the earth (still is!), it is not as if the whole Western world did not somehow ‘benefit’ from it. (Hence, the reference to Nuremberg) All one has to do is to see that is to read Eric Metaxes great book on Wilberforce…..Amazing Grace.
The word “insurrectionists” might be the better word. In some cases, “insurgents”. In some cases, even “traitor” might be used. However, “terrorists” doesn’t strike me as a great word to describe that.
However, having said all that, even in the South slavery and the wealth required to have property that depended on slaves was constellated in the wealthy classes. Not every Southerner had slaves by a long stretch. And, many folks might be surprised to know that many in the South were unionists…that is they did want to see the south secede from the union.
As best I can tell, none of my ancestors were slave owners. My hunch is that most of them were dirt farmers and, maybe, merchants of some sort. Some were conscripted into the Confederate Army. (If I’m not mistaken and i may be, the confederate army was the first to employ a draft.) A few joined for God knows what reason: I suspect the same reasons anybody goes to war…somewhere between blood and land.
I think Mr Martin should be heard in part because of who he is. I suspect he is descended from slaves. He will never hear me defending against his claims.
However, I don’t think you can separate Mr. Martin’s claims from Mr. Martin’s economic interests. After all, he does have a talk show on CNN. I don’t think I’m just being an old defensive southerner when I suggest that when he used that particular word he pulled one from the Glen Beck play book. He certainly does not promote the exchange of ideas and certainly does not help advance an argument. However, it does get a lot of press. And he is not only a talk show host, he’s on a declining network.
He got a lot of attention.
All that being said: I encourage all who have a dog in this fight or in any other ‘nationalistic’ fight to remember that we have been called to be peacemakers and called to follow the one who is making out of the multiple humanities one new humanity by his cross.
If I might add, several years ago I found the grave of my confederate ancestor who died as a prisoner of war in Ohio. When I called my mother, who had a great interest in genealogy and told her she asked: “Did you tell him we love him?” Sort of blew mind since, at that time, he had been dead for 135 years or so.
Not long after that I was visiting a cematery with my mother and aunt. My aunt pointed to a grave and said: “I knew that old man.” I looked and he was born in the early 1830s…So here I stood only a couple of handshakes from a many born in the era of Jefferson and Adams.
That made me realize that we should not simply count time in years but in handshakes. We are only a few handshakes removed from those horrible times. The blood of ancestors runs deep and the pain of loss still reverbrates. The anguish of those days are so far back for some folks….
Hence, Mr. Martin’s outspokenness and the defensiveness of many in light of his words. It’s family he’s talking about…his and sadly, mine.



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Chad Hall

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm


Mike in #4 states my sentiments well.
I’ll add only this… by Roland Martin’s standard, anyone who fights for a cause we disagree with is now a “terrorist.” I guess all the Brits now consider Washington a terrorist. I think Martin could have found a more appropriate analogy for denouncing the governor of Va. honoring of Confederate soldiers. “Terrorists” is not appropriate.



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Joshua

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm


No, I don’t think Confederate soldiers were terrorists. At least, they were no more terrorists than General Sherman and his men were when they burned down Atlanta. Not all confederate soldiers were fighting in defense of slavery. Many fought for state sovereignty over federal sovereignty, and this distinction came to a head over slavery. Thus, a southerner may not have supported slavery, but defended the right of the state to make the decision whether or not it should be outlawed. Contrariwise, they were opposed to the federal government making that decision for the states. I don’t think that the Confederate “cause” was “unjustifiable.” You can disagree, but that doesn’t make them terrorists. I’m saying this as a Californian who has no vested interest in the South- Roland Martin needs to be more fair and read up on his U.S. History.



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Travis Greene

posted April 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm


Jim @ 6,
You bring up a good point. Confederate soldiers may not have been terrorists, but the Klan and other groups undoubtedly were and are.



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Your Name

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm


Roland Martin’s contention of Confederates as “domestic terrorists” has some validity from the vantage point of them as sessionists, those who are traitors to the Union.
John Meacham’s piece in the NY Times shows how this rhetoric of Confederate heritage has gone hand in hand with the assertion of the rights of African Americans from the Post-Reconstruction Era till now,as code speech for demagogic politicians to exploit, as is the case today by Republicans in the South in the Obama era. He rightly says that this rhetoric attempts to redefine the Civil War from a moral problem (slavery, good vs. evil)to a political problem (states rights, war of Northern agression).
If one feels uncomfortable with calling Confederates at terrorists, then some of their descendants who shared their ideological and political commitments were. The KKK and other white supremicist groups did become “domestic terrorists,” with the Cross being the symbol of a racialized “blood and soil” Christian nationalist ideology, which saw African Americans as the dangerous “Other.”



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Joshua

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm


Mike and Travis- good assessments. Well said.
No, I don’t think Confederate soldiers were terrorists. At least, they were no more terrorists than General Sherman and his men were when they burned down Atlanta. Not all confederate soldiers were fighting in defense of slavery. Many fought for state sovereignty over federal sovereignty, and this distinction came to a head over slavery (among other issues). Thus, a southerner may not have supported slavery, but defended the right of the state to make the decision whether or not it should be outlawed. Contrariwise, they were opposed to the federal government making that decision for the states. I don’t think that the Confederate “cause” was “unjustifiable.” You can disagree, but that doesn’t make them terrorists. I’m saying this as a Californian who has no vested interest in the South- Roland Martin needs to be more fair and read up on his U.S. History.



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Pat

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm


I think Roland’s statement is a little too far-reaching. We can’t say that all soldiers of the Confederate were terrorists because we don’t know these men’s hearts and whether each and every one of them willingly signed up to fight and whether they did so primarily to keep slavery alive. The 911 terrorists on the other hand were willing participants. Will we now make the leap that every soldier of an unjust war is a terrorist? I think Roland is starting to match some of the extreme language of the right. The holiday, if the sole purpose is to celebrate an attempt to keep the South “the way it was”, should not be celebrated. However, it is not necessary to unfairly castigate people. We lose credibility when we do this.



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Naum

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:15 pm


Violent rebellion against a democratically elected government? Terrorism? I don’t know, it’s a squirrely word used to label those of a different skin color and religion, it seems? ?white abortion doctor killers and extremist right wing bombers (McVeigh) not terrorists, but many rot in prison (Gitmo), ascribed as “terrorists” for simply being in wrong place at wrong time, or to serve up a bounty for enterprising Asian warlord.
Civil War was all about slavery. Slavery was the defining issue and to claim otherwise is to purposefully obfuscate history. State’s rights was just a euphemistic blanket for justifying a barbaric practice that continued on even after the war ended.



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AHH

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:25 pm


I think it mainly serves to hurt the prospects for dealing with things constructively when a loaded word like “terrorist” is thrown around in an anachronistic manner, even for something we think was bad.
This reminds me at least a little bit of the rhetorical abuse of the word “socialist” in the recent US health insurance reform debates.



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Unapologetic Catholic

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm


“What’s the difference between Confederate rebels fighting for independence (including owning slaves) and American rebels fighting for independence from Britain (including owning slaves)?”
Victory. The normal distiction made beteen terroists and freedom fighters.



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Andy Holt

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm


I hate to be cynical (actually, I don’t!), but it seems to me that Roland Martin used the word ‘terrorist’ to simply generate traffic to his article.



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Joshua

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:37 pm


I don’t think understanding history wholistically is “purposefully obfuscating history” (good word by the way). I do think saying that the Civil War was purely about slavery is minimizing history. Slavery was not the defining issue- it became a defining issue in the larger issue of federalism vs. anti-federalism, a debate that had been going on since after the Revolution (the Federalists were Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, etc. against Anti-Federalists: Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and others). I think that distinction must be understood and appreciated, lest we minimize the Civil War so that it fits into our presupposed ideals. I agree- slavery is wrong, but in my opinion, so is Federalism (“Big Government”), and men that were devoted to their state cannot be deemed terrorists anymore than Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War could be considered “terrorists”. Furthermore, using the term “national security” has been used more often then “state’s rights” in order to justify “barbaric practices.”



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Mich

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:38 pm


1. The South seceded because of slavery–read Jefferson Davis. Of course after the South lost the war, he changed his mind and tried to couch the secessionist cause in states rights
2. Robert E. Lee knew this well, but couldn’t bring himself to fight against Virginia
3. Dirt farmers or not, many southerners refused to fight for the South, conscription or no conscription
4. Doing the right thing is difficult, and this issue divided the entire country, but the South seceded because of ideological reasons-slavery. To ask a Black man to quietly sit still while idiots proclaim Confederate appreciation month is beyond the pale.



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Joshua

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:48 pm


Mich, as I said- it came to a head over slavery, but the issue was state vs. federal sovereignty. Southerners were on the whole more devoted to their state than the federal government, hence Lee’s decision to fight for Virginia, even though he was asked to lead the Union. Asking southerners to wallow in guilt over losing the Civil War rather than celebrate their heritage (which for many includes celebrating their family members who fought) is equally beyond the pale.



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Robert

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:51 pm


This premise is that the Virginia move for independence was based on the desire to protect slavery as an institution. Such thinking overlooks the facts that the slave trade was both illegal, and broadly unpopular, in the Commonwealth, that Lincoln had not only stated that he had no intention of opposing that institution, and that the secessions were precipitated by a current inequity in the tariff structure, by which imported goods (as most goods at that time were) were kept at an artificially expensive level to subsidize shipping ports in New England. When S. Carolina seceded, there was a treaty made, and signed by Mr. Lincoln, agreeing that the US would vacate military bases and would honor the sovereignty of that state. This treaty, and the peace between the Lincoln gov’t and the Confederate states, lasted until a naval force, under sealed orders from Lincoln himself (in violation of the Constitution as well as the above-mentioned treaty) landed an invasion force at Ft. Sumter.
As for treason against the Union, bear in mind that the Union, per se, did not exist prior to that time, and that each individual state in the Union as it was (and, technically, as it is) was recognized in the Constitution as sovereign, and therefore a member of “these United States” on a fully voluntary basis. It is also noteworthy that, until after Lincoln had refused Davis’ third and unconditional offer of surrender, the battles were all fought on Southern soil, in an effort to defend homes and families against Federal, and European mercenary, marauders. Would you admit a man was a terrorist if he were fighting to prevent his goods being stolen, his home being burned, or his wife and daughters being gang raped? If so, then I would agree that you have a basis, at least in your own thinking, for calling these men “terrorists.”



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Jim

posted April 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm


Mich @ 18…Just to be clear I wasn’t justifying the fight based on conscription. I have no idea why my ancestors fought…Certainly not interested in justifying it. the one who died in Ohio was 42 and left behind 8 children. I can’t imagine what in the heck he was thinking.
I don’t think anyone’s asking RM to be silent…Wouldn’t matter if they did.
And, I for one, could give a rip for Confederate history month..and I’m about as southern as they come.
Many southerners are conflicted. That came home to me several years ago when I visited Andersonville. There’s a monument in that little village to Henry Wirz. It was placed back in the 30s by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. He was the commandant of Andersonville. He was also the only person to be hanged for war crimes after the Civil War.
Maybe stuff like that is why we gave birth to the blues and country music and certain forms of gospel…Hard drinking, hard livin’, church going folks. ha!



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DRT

posted April 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm


I grew up in a large northern city and now live in rural Virginia and most of the people their fly the confederate flag as one would use the middle finger in the north. It’s an attitude of defiance toward “the man”. It is also an act of superiority over “the other”. It is everything bad you can imagine it to be. My neighbor across the street flies the flag every day…..and then goes to church on Sunday ……
I don’t know if the soldiers were terrorists, but the people who act the way I see these people act today are.
Dave



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Allan R. Bevere

posted April 12, 2010 at 4:06 pm


I have to give more thought to this, but off the top of my head, I do not find Martin’s connection to be helpful. I am not sure how it furthers the important discussions of slavery nor terrorism.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted April 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm


One point I forgot. Neither do I find it productive in attempting to make sense of why Confederate soldiers took up arms. By the way, I think at the beginning of the Civil War every able-bodied male Southerner was required to serve. If I am wrong, I hope someone corrects me.



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gingoro

posted April 12, 2010 at 4:12 pm


What was Benedict Arnold, a traitor or a patriot who saw the light and switched sides? In London he seems to have been a hero to some and from my history I know that he was considered a traitor by the USofA. It depends upon your viewpoint and so with the term terrorist as it has come to be sloppily used today, it depends upon who is writing the history.
However clear instances of terrorism often involve “the use of violence against noncombatants (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noncombatant) for the purpose of gaining publicity for a group, cause, or individual.” Blowing up a bridge by guerrillas can be terrorism or not depending upon the intent of the guerrillas. If the timing of the incident was intended to also destroy a civilian passenger train then it is terrorism to me. If the timing of the incident was such that no trains should be on the bridge then it is not terrorism even if it so happened that a passenger train was running hours late and was destroyed. IMO the fire bombing of Dresden was a terrorist act committed by the British and allied Air Force just like the 2nd atomic bomb dropped on Japan was an act of terrorism by Truman. It all becomes a really hard issue when the civilian population is used as a cover for some militarily important target. My take is that in such situations care should be taken to minimize civilian casualties but that the military target should be destroyed if it is important enough.
Dave W



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Jennifer in Chicago

posted April 12, 2010 at 4:17 pm


1 – Slavery wasn’t *the* issue – it was a part of a complex group of interwoven and interdependent issues.
2 – Slavery existed in the North (and those slaves were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation).
3 – Robert in comment 20 has it right. The South acted legally, and Lincoln in fact acted illegally in disbanding the Supreme Court in order to pursue enforcement of the union. (Legally, by the way, doesn’t equate with ethically or righteously.)
4 – At it’s peak in the 1920′s, the Klan was larger and more active in Indiana than in the South. The Klan as we know and remember it was more urban than rural, as anti-immigrant as anti-black, and as Northern as Southern. It had little to know connection to the Confederacy or the Klan of the reconstruction.



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agayulirta

posted April 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm


I consider slavery an abomination, but attitudes in the north were not much better. Slavery was a convenient and real evil for the north.
More to the point was Lincoln’s observation that if the war was not prosecuted and won there would be two inveterate (my word) enemies on the border from then on. I think he was wise in that regard. We avoided many wars.
I also remember his comment when the Northern advisers wanted to put to trial the defeated Southerners to “destroy our enemies”. Lincoln responded, “We will destroy our enemies by making them our friends.” He had them reseated in the Congress.
This terrorism talk now is an abomination and a digging up of smelling corpses.



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Jon

posted April 12, 2010 at 4:30 pm


so Robert E. Lee was a terrorist?
to use the term ‘terrorist’ is to remove someone’s humanity. While certainly some people deserve the moniker it is way too easy/lazy to label someone a ‘terrorist’ as it stripa away the complexity of events that led them to where they are/were. And I am not so concerened (in general) about those who are/would be labeled. Instead I am concerned that by oversimplifying individuals down into such a neat little word we dismiss the opportunity to learn what we can from them…and thus we may doom ourself to repeat history or doom others to repeat it.



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The Engineer

posted April 12, 2010 at 4:47 pm


Slavery was wrong, but it was not the cause of the war. Taxes were the cause of the war. If the South was allowed to win its freedom, taxes in the north would have gone up about 400%.
If slavery was an issue, why did not Lincoln free the slaves in the north? Why did he re-enslave the freed slaves in Missouri? Why did he let his wife own slaves? Why did he not stop the (primarily northern) slave traders?
It was Sherman who fought women and children. He burned churches, homes, businesses. If the South’s War for Freedom was fought today, Lincoln, Grant, Sheridan, Sherman and dozens of other northern generals would be guilty of war crimes.
The war was fought primarily on Southern land. How did the Southern soldiers “terrorize” the northerners?
Chicken Noodle News completely blew it again.



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Travis Greene

posted April 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm


Oh good, here come the brigade of “it wasn’t really about slavery” people.



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dan

posted April 12, 2010 at 6:59 pm


Senseless and dishonest to use words without defining them.
Terrorism is the threat or use of violence against non-combatants and civilians. It is different from warfare. One can object to the cause of the Confederate army. That cause, however wrong it may have been, does not automatically equate to terrorism, and to use that word cheapens the language and makes communication about difficult issues harder. It obfuscates issues very critical to our nation now and makes sensible policies harder to articulate because the language has been twisted by inuendos, implications and connotations.



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kirk

posted April 12, 2010 at 7:29 pm


1: it was not about slavery
2: CNN just lost a viewer permanently.



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Jjoe

posted April 12, 2010 at 7:30 pm


I am more worried about the right-wing terrorism we’re currently dealing with.
Over the weekend I read that about half of Americans pay no federal income taxes. What that means is that probably half (at least) of the Tea Party protesters aren’t paying any federal taxes.
For example, in this very conservative and poor Southern State, we get back $1.50 for every $1.00 in federal tax we pay. That means the average person is actually not paying any federal taxes but instead is getting someone else’s money redistributed to them. But you cannot walk down the street without hearing complaints about taxes.
What that means is the current unrest and mob violence isn’t about taxes and money at all. It’s because we have a black Democrat in the White House. Angry white men are still fighting the Civil War, and threatening our nation.



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Matt Edwards

posted April 12, 2010 at 8:25 pm


When I was in fifth grade, my family moved from York, Maine to Chesapeake, Virginia.
My fifth grade social studies class in VA took a field trip to our state capital, Richmond, where we saw statues of famous Confederates. I asked my teacher why we were honoring traitors against our nation.
Needless to say I wasn’t among her favorite students after that.



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Your Name

posted April 12, 2010 at 8:42 pm


Jjoe – Interesting statistic from your state. Can you provide a link to those stats?



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Common Sense

posted April 12, 2010 at 9:32 pm


Jjoe-interesting comments concerning the taxation. Then your dunderheadedness slipped through with the ‘Black man in the White House comment.
I know it’s hard for some to believe that others would actually want to stop an over-reaching governmen. But then they were just farmers; business owners; etc who fought for and secured the freedoms that we are so quick to hand over to those in power today. The signers of our Declaration of Independance are surely rolling over in their graves!
Those who refuse to learn from history are destined to repeat it.



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Drew

posted April 12, 2010 at 9:57 pm


Wait – I could have sworn that it was Sherman’s March that was an act of terror. I could have sworn it was the North who invaded the South. How do we turn into terrorists the country that was invaded for defending a right that they had under the Constitution that the North decided to ignore, and then saw their men executed by the invading force’s weapons, their lands pillaged and burned while their women were raped and children tortured?
So if I come into your house, execute you, rape your wife and torture your children, and then burn it down, I’m not a terrorist if your wife and children decide I’m right that what they had been doing was wrong?
DOES ANYONE SEE A PROBLEM WITH THIS LOGIC?



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