Sunday, October 26, 2014

On the Far Side of the Psychosphere Part III


"If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit."
--Rustin Cohle

Welcome to the third installment in my examination of the HBO original series True Detective. During the first part I briefly considered the curious backgrounds of the first season's two stars, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, as well as the significance of the numbers seventeen and five, which appear throughout the season. With the second installment I began to focus in on the plot line, beginning with the ritualistic murder of Dora Lange and the symbolism behind many of the articles left with her body.

Dora Lange
With this installment I would like to consider the world in which detectives Martin Hart (Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) find themselves knee deep in. With the discovery that Dora Lange was a prostitute Hart and Cohle venture into the underbelly of the feel-good 90s (as personified by Hart's suburban life) and experience a world defined by rampant misogyny, racism, class oppression, corruption and religious zealotry. Women born into poverty find themselves as easy targets for predators, more than a few of whom turn out to be police officers, who use their social status to force these women into prostitution and drug trafficking.

Many of the men who inhabit this world on the lower levels seem to have ties to the white supremacist underground: Charlie Lange (Brad Carter), Dora's ex-husband, is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood; a picture of what is possibly a young Dora Lange in her mother's house shows her surrounded by five men on horses who appear to be outfitted like Klansmen (a variation on this image appears throughout the first season, as will be discussed in a future installment); members of the Iron Crusaders, a biker gang linked to Lange's murder, are heavily outfitted with white supremacist and neo-Nazi symbols on their patches and tattoos; Reggie Ledoux (Charles Halford), one of Dora Lange's murderers and a meth cook for the Iron Crusaders, is shown with two swastika tattooed on his chest, among other things. African-Americans, who are shown in even more severe poverty than the lower class whites, are frequently described as subhuman if addressed at all in this subculture.

besides the two swastikas (one in the form of an octopus), Reggie Ledoux also has "SWP" (which stands for "Supreme White Power"), "AB" (an abbreviation for the Aryan Brotherhood) and what appears to be a German eagle tattooed on his torso as well 
At the heart of it all is the rampant Christian fundamentalism that had become a major political and cultural force by the 1990s. The personification of this in True Detective is the Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle (Jay O. Sanders), a wealthy and powerful evangelist whose cousin is Louisiana's governor at the time of Dora Lange's murder. The devastating effect the movement has had on Louisiana is displayed most prominently via Tuttle's involvement with the state's school system. Education is of course a long standing obsession of the Christian right.
"The 'pro-family' issues are derived from an ongoing ideological struggle over which sector the U.S. public will draw the official American portrait, both in the history books and in legislation. To a large extent, the Christian Right is engaged in a drive to reinvigorate fading symbols representing marital relations, parental authority and the sanctity and purity of the neighborhood movie theatre and public school. The right to determine how and by whom the minds of children are molded is the most valued prize in the tug of war between the Christian Right and secular society.
"Nowhere has the struggle for the minds of children been so great as in the Christian Right's battle against 'secular humanist' education. The term 'secular humanism' is a catch-all phrase for a human-centered rather than God-centered philosophy. Secular humanist, according to their Christian detractors, believe that human being shape their own destiny and solve their own problems through concrete physical means rather than through reliance on the supernatural."
(Spiritual Warfare, Sara Diamond, pgs. 84-85) 

It is hinted at that the Wellspring program Tuttle's ministry supported led to countless children from impoverished families being shipped off to under-funded Christian schools in which they received a Bible-based education. This type of thing certainly happens in the real world and whether it is a boon to the families that receive this type of education is rather debatable.
"Students in Christian schools are being inculcated with intolerant, heavy-handed political doctrine on display at the rally. The Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, one of the country's three major publishers of Christian textbooks, defines 'liberal' in its schoolbooks as 'referring to philosophy not supported by Scripture' and 'conservative' as 'dedicated to preserving of Scriptural principles.' And 'Conservative Christian schools,' identified by their affiliation with one of four national school organizations that define themselves as evangelical and Christian, are the fastest-growing segment within the private school system. Such schools now represent 15.4 percent of all private school enrollment. The National Center for Education Statistics shows a 41 percent growth in the total enrollment at conservative Christian schools between 1992 and 2002...
"In texts published by A Beka, one of the big fundamentalist publishing houses, African religious beliefs are described as 'false.' Hinduism is 'pagan' and 'evil.' The lack of Christian conversion among Africans is blamed on 'Satan's stronghold on these people,' according to Bob Jones University press history textbook for seventh graders. A Beka's high school world history textbook blames the poverty and political chaos in most of Africa on a lack of faith. It skips over the repressive colonial European regimes that exploited the continent and decimated the population in countries such as the Congo, explaining:
"For over a thousand years, there was no clear Christian witness in the vast heartland of Africa; the fear, idolatry, superstition, and witchcraft associated with animism (the belief that natural objects and forces are inhabited by mostly malignant spirits) prevented most Africans from learning how to use nature for man's benefit and thus develop high culture like that of other African empires
"Another A Beka textbook argues that 'witchcraft and spirit worship' caused most postcolonial self-governments in Africa to descend in the dictatorships. Hinduism is described as 'devastating to India's history.' Hindus are 'incapable of writing history because all that happens is dissipated in their minds into confused dreams. What we call historical truth and veracity – intelligent comprehension events, and fidelity in representing them – nothing of the sort can be looked for among the Hindus.'
"The Muslim prophet Muhammad is portrayed as deceiving followers about his 'supposed encounters with angels,' and Buddha is criticized because he desired to 'leave his wife and newborn son' in search of enlightenment. The deaths of Muhammad and Buddha, set against the risen Christ, are taken as proof that Islam and Buddhism are false religions. And while the movement works alongside right-wing Catholic groups, within its own circle it spits venom at the Catholic faith. The A Beka textbook calls Catholicism 'distorted' and explains that in Catholic country such as Ireland children 'grow up believing the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church without knowing of God's free salvation.' The Catholic empires of France and Spain failed to colonize the United States, students are told, because God wanted to make America a Christian nation. 
"The college protesters of the 1960s were largely the instruments communists 'seeking to exploit youthful rebellion in order to advance their own goals.' Riots occurred in black neighborhoods because 'power-hungry individual stirred up the people.' Those dependent on welfare programs of the 1960s 'became more susceptible to politicians that preyed on economic insecurity.... In this way politicians literally bought the votes of millions of Americans. And Joseph McCarthy becomes a patriot, with a textbook stating, 'McCarthy's conclusions, although technically unprovable, were drawn from the accumulation of undisputed facts.'"
(American Fascists, Chris Hedges, pgs. 153-154)
I daresay the curriculum of Tuttle schools probably bore some similarities to that described above. In 2002, when Cohle confronts Tuttle after he has begun investigating Lange's murder again, the holy roller boasts that the Wellspring program will be used as a model for charter schools in Louisiana. Tuttle notes that: "The whole idea was to provide an alternative to the kind of secular, globalized education that our public schools were promoting. When we get the school voucher program instituted, we'll reintroduce the idea. People should have a choice in education, like anything else."

Show creator, runner and sole writer Nic Pizzolatto, a native Louisianan, no doubt meant his incorporation of Tuttle's chartered school scheme as a jab at the voucher program initiated in New Orleans shortly after Katrina.
"... The administration of George W. Bush backed up their plans with tens of millions of dollars to convert New Orleans schools into 'charter schools,' publicly funded institutions run by private entities according to their own rules. Charter schools are deeply polarizing in the United States, nowhere more than in New Orleans, where they are seen by many African-American parents as a way of reversing the gains of the civil rights movement, which guaranteed all children the same standard of education...
"In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans' school system took place with military speed and precision. Within nineteen months, with most of the city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public school; now it ran 4. Before that storm, there had been 7 charter schools in the city; now there were 31. New Orleans teachers used to be represented by strong union; now the unions contracted been shredded, and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired. Some of the younger teachers were rehired by the charters, at reduced salaries; most were not."
(The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein, pg. 5)

Throughout True Detective the exploitation of Louisiana by corporate interest is ever present via the constant appearance of oil rigs and refineries. These interests ensure the comfortable lifestyles police officers like Marty Hart enjoy in exchange for their suppression of the masses. This occurs in different ways, such as the prostitution ring supported by a county sheriff near Spanish Lake; or the numerous cover ups officers at all levels of local and state law enforcement engage into to protect the wealthy and powerful. The great unwashed masses, who find their children to be easy prey for police-protected pimps and drug dealers, are fed Christian fundamentalism to soothe their discontent. This is about par the course in the real world.
"The movement has sanctified a ruthless unfettered capitalism. In an essay in Harper's magazine titled 'The Spirit of Disobedience: An Invitation to Resistance,' Curtis White argued that 'it is capitalism that now most defines our national character, not Christianity or the Enlightenment.' Although the values of capitalism are antithetical to Christ's vision and the Enlightenment ethic of Kant, the gospel of prosperity – which preaches that Jesus wants us all to be rich and powerful and the government to get out of the way – has formulated a belief system that delights corporate America. Corporations such as Tyson Foods – which has placed 128 part-time chaplains, nearly all evangelicals or fundamentalist, in 78 plants across the country – along with Purdue, Walmart, and Sam's Wholesale, to name a few, are huge financial backers of the movement."
(American Fascists, Chris Hedges, pgs. 22-23)
an "prosperity theology"... 
Most disturbing of all, however, is the fact that the world depicted in True Detective has a clear historical basis. During the aftermath of the JFK assassination one of the most enigmatic figures to appear in it, prostitute and some time drug mule Rose Cherami, alleged that a ring engaged in drug and arms trafficking as well as prostitution existed throughout the Gulf States and was protected by powerful figures.
"... On 20 November 1963, Rose Cheramie was found on a Louisiana Road, dazed and bruised. She was taken to a private hospital where she told the doctor the JFK was going to be killed during his forthcoming visit to Dallas. Later that day, Cheramie was released in the custody of Louisiana state policeman Francis Fruge, and while Fruge was taking her to the state hospital Cheramie said she'd been traveling from Florida to Dallas with two men who 'were Italian or resembled Italians.' She didn't know their names, but they'd stopped at a lounge for drinks. An argument ensued, Cheramie was evicted and, as she stood outside the lounge, she was struck a glancing blow by a car. She also repeated to Fruge her claim that President Kennedy was going to be killed. But because she was a prostitute and a drug addict, neither Fruge nor the doctor believed her – at least, not until the afternoon of 22 November. 
"On 27 November, Fruge interviewed Cheramie again, and she expounded on her story. She said the Italians were taking her to Dallas to obtain $8000, so they could buy eight kilograms of heroin from a seaman. The seaman was to meet them in Houston after disembarking in Galveston. Cheramie gave Fruge the name of the seaman and the ship. As they were on the way to Houston to check out her story, Cheramie told Fruge that she was a stripper at Jack Ruby's nightclub in Dallas, and that she had seen Ruby and Oswald together. She said she was part of a Mafia operation in which call girls were rotated between cities, and that Ruby had sent her to Miami on 18 November. 
"When contacted by Fruge, the Customs agents in charge of Galveston verified that the seaman was being investigated for drug smuggling. The Coast Guard likewise confirmed that it was interested in the ship named by Cheramie regarding its role in drug smuggling operations. But the state narcotics bureaus in Texas and Oklahoma found Cheramie's information 'erroneous is in all respects,' and when the HSCA asked Customs to produce the agents she had name, and their reports, Customs officials said that neither the agents nor reports could be found. 
"The HSCA let this promising lead drop without attempting to talk to Customs agents like William Hughes, who vividly recalls 'Nutty Nate' Durham as the feckless agent in charge of Galveston in 1963. Nate may have been alive in 1978, but the CIA did not allow Customs to identify him or provide his reports to Congress. The reason for this subterfuge comes as no surprise: some of Nutty Nate's colleagues on the Galveston case were CIA officers operating under Customs cover, as part of the special unit organized in Houston by David Ellis. Members of this unit facilitated the activities of anti-Castro drug smuggling terrorist groups in the US, which is why the FBI also 'decided to pursue the case no further.
"Neither Customs, nor the Coast Guard, nor the FBI, nor any state narcotics bureau revealed the existence of the Galveston drug ring to the FBN. But Fruge did tell congressional investigators that the Cuban Revolutionary Council's delegate in New Orleans, Sergio Arcacha Smith, may have been one of the men who had accompanied and abused Rose Cheramie. Smith's CRC office was located in the same building as Oswald's notional Fair Play for Cuba office at 544 Camp Street in New Orleans, and Guy Banister, a former FBI agent in Chicago, had gotten Smith his office space. Smith and one of Banister's employees, David Ferrie, 'were also believed to have ties with organized crime figure Carlos Marcello.'"
(The Strength of the Wolf, Douglas Valentine, pgs. 312-313)
a young Rose Cherami during better days
Much more information of this Gulf Coast-based crime ring, which allegedly involved the prostitution and trafficking of underage girls, and its ties to the Kennedy assassination can be found here.

While we're on this topic, its also interesting to note the use of the Texas town of Beaumont in a key episode of season one. Beaumont was said to be a key base of operations for a cult known as the "Hand of Death" by serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. It was alleged by another convicted serial killer, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, to be a location used by members of a cult he claimed to have been involved with, sometimes referred to as "the Children". Beaumont is also one of the only areas in Texas to possess the ever mysterious Indian mounds, which have attracted so much high weirdness throughout this nation's history. The Native American tribe who built them there seem to have been cannibals to boot.
"... Another mound site, of possibly less importance, lies in Beaumont, Texas – a site that shows up in both the Son of Sam case, as well as in the Henry Lee Lucas case. According to Lucas, the 'Hand of Death' cult that he insisted existed in Texas, and was responsible for murders throughout the United States, was based in or around Beaumont at one point, and was responsible for the murder of a lawyer there. Beaumont, a suburb of Houston, and is where Sam cultist John Carr's ex-wife lived with her daughter. Berkowitz visited Beaumont when he obtained the famous .44 Charter Arms Bulldog revolver that was used in the Sam killings. Houston has been identified in the same literature is a cult center for the group rivaling Los Angeles; Minot, North Dakota; and New York City.
"According to Beaumont: A Guide to the City and Its Environs 'compiled and written by the Federal Writers' Project of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Texas' and published circa 1939, the area had been home to a tribe of Native Americans known as the Attacapas. This name, we are informed, comes from the Choctaw words hatak (man) and apa (each). In other words, they were cannibals. On page 25, the anonymous but federally-funded writers go on to state,
"'They told of a deluge that once destroyed the world except for those people who live on high land. The women of the tribe, using the shoulder blades of buffalo for spades, were made to build great earthen [sic] mounds with their hands, and atop these mounds the big chiefs had their lodges.'
"Some of these mounds still exist in the Beaumont area, or did at the time the book was compiled. 
"Thus, we have cannibals and mound-builders in the same breath. We are told that the Attacapas (like the ancient Sumerians) believe their origin was in the sea, so they tended to stay near the water as much as possible, building their mounds on the banks of the Neches River that winds through Beaumont like gentle persuasion. In fact, the Attacapas mounds are the only evidence of a mount-building culture in the entire State of Texas, aside from a set of mounds on a farm near Nagodoches." 
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pgs. 421-422)

More information on the mysteries of Indian Mounds can be found here while I touched briefly on Berkowitz's alleged "Son of Sam" cult before here.

Needless to say, it would seem that Nic Pizzolatto has more than a passing knowledge of some of this nation's strange history. But beyond the use of the Louisiana Gulf and Beaumont as locations, there's also the fact that, as noted in the second installment, the cult behind the ritualistic murders is dominated by the Tuttle family. Indeed, its hinted at that at the heart of Tuttle's ministry is some type of occult underground. Consider, for instance, the tale former Tuttle minister Joel Theriot (Shea Whigham) tales Rust Cohle concerning the fictious grimoire called The Letters of Telios de Lorca he discovered in the library of minister close to Tuttle that also contained photos of nude children.

For years the conspiratorial right and Christian fundamentalists have been obsessed with the notion of an occult underground spanning across the United States and dealing in drug and sex trafficking, especially children. During the late 1980s and early 1990s this notion reached a fever pitch and spawned a "Satanic cult hysteria" that ruined more than a few lives and careers during that era. True Detective mocks this frenzy via the task force the Tuttles have created to investigate alleged Satanic crime in Louisiana. These crimes include things such as dead cats nailed to church doors and "Satanic graffiti" and it is here a major push is made for the Dora Lange investigation to be turned over too.

the West Memphis Three are one of the more notorious examples of the Satanic cult hysteria
While this researcher has found very little evidence for the conventional claims made by the conspiratorial right in this regard, there is some evidence of an underground network involved in the trafficking of minors with ties to the national security apparatus. As noted above, the outline of such a network can be discerned in the Kennedy assassination and one of the players in this network seems to have been the American Orthodox Catholic Church, as noted before here.

This is of course hardly the only instance of a Christian institute turning up in such bizarre circumstances. Consider, for instance, Colonia Dignidad --the "Colony of Dignity" or "Dignity Colony." Based out of Chile, this compound was founded in the early 1960s by a German immigrants led by Paul Schafer, a man who seems to have had some type of tie to the Nazi regime. For decades there were rumblings that a host of strange things were happening at the Colony: torture of Chile's political prisoners involving a host of strange methods that bore more than a few passing resemblances to "techniques" being explored by the CIA's Artichoke and MK-Ultra programs during the same era; inhabitants whose behavior was described as "robotic" by more than a few visitors to the Colony; allegations of bizarre occult-centric ceremonies and rituals; and claims of child abuse and abduction.

the Colony
Many of these claims were later proven in Chile's criminal justice system, most notably that Herr Schafer was an arch pedophile. It is important to note, however, that rather than posing as some type of New Age commune the Colony in fact presented itself to the world as a community dedicated to pure Christian living along the lines of the Mennonites. Day to day life at the Colony was based around the wearing of traditional German attire, fourteen hour work days, a rigid separation of the sexes during the night time and regular church services. The weird stuff was kept very, very far from the eyes of the public. More information on the Colony can be found here.

And of course this is only scratching the surface. There is the celebrated Franklin incident (which may have been slyly referenced by Pizzolatto via the use of Franklin, LA as the site of Joel Theriot's Friends of Christ Church Tent Revival) which deeply involved the legendary Catholic orphanage Boy's Town. And then there's the Unification Church, an only somewhat superficially Christian sect with ties to the US intelligence community and indoctrination methods also bearing a resemblance to CIA behavior modification techniques. While there is no damning evidence of sexual abuse with the Unification Church, there have also been rumblings there for some time. More information on the Moonies (including the possibility that they funded rather obscene amounts of the Christian fundamentalist movement with drug money) can be found here.

Sun Myung Moon, the highly controversial founder of the Unification Church
What I'm getting at here is that there is compelling evidence of some type of pedophilic ring within elements of the Christian right and aligned forces. Of course few would dispute that such a thing would exist within the Vatican in this day and age, but "traditional" Catholic (as my article of the American Orthodox Catholic Church noted) and Protestant sects have also been implicated. Some of the more extreme Protestant sects such as the highly politically connected and oh-so cultic Dominionists only stoop to mere "Biblically-based" child abuse.

Needless to say, some very strange things have been happening to children within Christian fundamentalist sects of all stripes for quite some ties and the inevitable military and intelligence figures are frequently lurking nearby. And these were of course the same people behind the "Satanic cult panic" and the myopic gaze it cast upon the New Age movement.

And as True Detective seems to present just such a scenario throughout its first season, I don't feel much hesitation in suggesting that Pizzolatto is also aware of this peculiar history. And with that I shall wrap things up for now. In the next installment I'll address Marty's increasingly bizarre home life and the rites of the Tuttle clan. Stay tuned.