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Gary Webb, former investigative reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, passed away December 10, an apparent suicide.  mourns his passing.  In 1996 Webb broke a story detailing how CIA and DEA “assets” used cocaine shipments that ended up on the streets of black Los Angeles to fund the Reagan administration's mercenary armies in Nicaragua.

That the Reagan and elder Bush administrations financed their murderous proxy war in Central America in part with drug money after Congress cut off official funding was old news.  Charles Rangel (D-NY) and John Kerry (D-MA) chaired House and Senate subcommittees, respectively, in the late 80s which uncovered ties between drug rings and the sharp knives of US foreign policy in the region.  It was one sordid corner of the global web of arms trafficking and official criminality called Iran–contra.  Rangel and Kerry called for further and deeper investigations, and both were shut down by their fellow lawmakers.  The establishment press, so-called watchdogs of democracy, distorted Rangel’s and Kerry’s statements, ridiculed their allegations, and refused to examine their evidence or conduct probes of their own, effectively killing the story.

But in 1996, after a year's investigation, Gary Webb was the right man at the right place and time.  The Mercury News was one of the first to put its content on the brand new world wide web.  Webb convinced his editor to include significant amounts of his source material including court transcripts, audio clips, photos and more on the paper's web site.  This time the story could not be contained.  Between talk radio, especially black talk radio, and the web the story of how government-sanctioned operatives with immunity from prosecution played key roles in sparking the crack epidemic of the 80s achieved breakout dimensions.  The Mercury News web site logged more than 1.2 million hits a day and the story was widely reprinted, quoted, distributed and discussed, especially in black communities across America, where popular outrage was immediate, incandescent and overwhelming.  Black pastors, politicians and civic leaders and ordinary citizens demanded answers and action from an establishment prepared to give neither.

Gary Webb was attacked and viciously smeared in the mainstream media from the time the article appeared to his Los Angeles Times obituary last month.  His editors cravenly apologized and took the story off their Website. By 1998, Webb combined new research with material that couldn't be used in the original series and authored Dark Alliance:  The CIA, Contras, and the Crack Explosion, but his career as a reporter was over.  Fired from the Mercury News and blackballed from employment at any newspaper, Gary Webb’s life began the downward spiral that ended in his suicide last month.

But with the story having assumed a life of its own, discrediting its messenger would not be nearly enough.  Hiding, losing, fibbing about and classifying bits of incriminating data were not enough, either.  Some way had to be found to render the story illegitimate on its face – at least in white America – regardless of its mountain of damning facts, despite its constellations of interconnected dots.  To fulfill this need on the part of our nation’s ruling elite, a brand new, allegedly widespread and ethnically specific psychiatric disorder was invented.  It was called “black paranoia.” 

Thus a flood of media pundits, white opinion leaders, editorial page writers and scholars-for-hire rushed forth to comfort white America with the news that their black neighbors, practically all African Americans, suffer from a peculiar case of chronic mass paranoia.  A gargantuan, racist lie was deployed to swallow and conceal the truths that Gary Webb had labored so diligently to bring to light. “Black paranoia” was a very useful diagnosis, tailor-made to convince the white public that further examinations of the CIA connection to crack cocaine were pointless.

More than eight years after Gary Webb’s courageous reporting, millions of outraged citizens demand probes into exit poll manipulations, selective purges of voter lists, widespread vote fraud and ubiquitous voter suppression efforts in the minority communities of battleground states during the recent presidential election.  We should expect to see complainants mislabeled as “conspiracy theorists” – as if it were remarkable or unusual that Republicans cooperate in the furtherance of criminal acts.  Tens or hundreds of thousands are serving time in US prisons for “conspiracy” of one kind or another, so it can’t be that rare or that difficult to prove.  But when all else fails, predicts that editorial pages, lazy scholars, media pundits and dittoheads everywhere will trot out their favorite race-specific psychiatric disorder to explain why the mere facts are not worth looking at. We will be told that “black paranoia” is the culprit, as if African Americans have not been denied their voting rights in recent decades through any number of ostensibly race-neutral mechanisms from California to Connecticut.

In fact, what the pundits call “black paranoia” is really what the Black Consensus looks like from inside the bubble of white American racism.  Metaphors are dangerous, but bubbles are usually delicate and fragile things.  An immense weight of lies and denial are already pressing down on the bubble of white racism and the load is about to get heavier.  While African Americans and the rest of humanity outside the bubble are always hoping, praying and working for its collapse, we know not to count on it any time soon.  And we know that even paranoiacs have some real enemies.


January 6 2005
Issue 120

is published every Thursday.

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