The War Nerd, The Punk And The American Supporters Of Irish Freedom

Speaking of laudable Irish-American journalists, the War Nerd (aka Gary Bercher, aka the protean John Dolan) has recently unlocked his 2015 articles for the Silicon Valley current affairs website, Pando, examining the closure of a much-publicised US Army project known as the Human Terrain System (HTS). This was a counter-insurgency programme initiated during the mid-2000s by a team of social scientists locked into Washington’s incestuous think tank circuit. Subsequently plagued by accusations of fraud and outright quackery the HTS was very much the flipside of the same Pentagon-Langley quest for a winning formula in the “War on Terror” that turned American psychologists and doctors into practitioners of torture for the CIA and other ethically dubious acronyms. However in this case it required the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars and several of its researchers in violent attacks before the plug was finally pulled.

What makes John Dolan’s two-part account so interesting is his personalisation of the story, based upon his former relationship with one of the project’s associates, Montgomery McFate (previously known as Montgomery Sapone, and before that, Mitzy Carlough). The product of a glorified hippy commune in northern California, student “Mitzy” was introduced by Berkeley lecturer Dolan to the closed world of Irish republican supporters in San Francisco during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Through these experiences and others she gained some knowledge of the (Provisional) Republican Movement in the United States and Ireland, eventually emerging several years later as an academic expert on the subject of insurgencies. Dolan’s description of his own politicisation in the Irish-American community before the Belfast Agreement of 1998 is equally fascinating, and at times tragic-comic. If you are familiar with the NORAID scene during the period you will probably recognise many of the characters and situations, in the abstract if not the exact.

With so many outstanding paragraphs I hope I can be forgiven for quoting at least a few to give you a flavour of what are must-read pieces. Honestly, if you are interested in the level of Irish-American engagement in the armed resistance to the British occupation in the north-east of Ireland in the 1980s and ’90s, outside of activist powerhouses like New York or Chicago, this is it.

Here is Dolan on the local support-group in San Francisco, who met (but of course!) in an Irish bar:

“The people who gathered there every week were happy to have me, if no one else was. New recruits were rare enough, let alone Berkeley “professors” (I was a mere lecturer, but you can’t explain the hierarchy to civvies). So I joined the amazing faces gathered around that big table upstairs, while schmaltzy rebel songs wafted up from the bar.

There was Jane Pratt, a Quaker, earnest and plain, who was eager to explain she had no Irish blood at all and was doing this for some other reason, something like justice (though she was also, queasily enough, President of the local U2 fan club). There were the Malley brothers, three bruisers from Kerry who scrounged a living as illegal house painters, wore military parkas, and dropped a lot of hints about their connections. There was Gerry, the permanently angry Belfast tyke who was more Republican than any of us, in the grotesque sense that he was both a physical-force revolutionary when we were talking about the Six Counties and an enthusiastic supporter of President George Bush, Sr. And there were other, more drab creatures, washed into this eddy by family pressures or sheer boredom. Or, in god knows how many cases, a nice Federal snitch stipend.”

During the so-called “Troubles” the FBI, and to a lesser extent the CIA and NSA, developed something of an obsession with Irish-Americans who expressed concerns about the conflict in Ireland, as many people have testified down through the years (including numerous journalists who found themselves victims of precursor-Patriot Acts decades before the traumatic events of 9/11).

“It made sense they’d be watching. Not that we were serious enough to merit it, but the Feds took us insanely seriously, just like they did the Palestinian support groups. You could buy Israel a nuke and your local congressman would happily pose for a shot with the two of you grinning over the 10-megaton contribution to “The Middle East’s Only Democracy”, but if you tried to help Palestinian widows or send Sinn Fein one penny for campaign posters, you could be in serious trouble. A couple of years before I joined up, Chris Reid, a Silicon Valley engineer, got more than three years in federal prison for talking about avionics with somebody who allegedly had “IRA ties.””

In certain sections of American academia during the 1990s one did not discuss Irish matters, let alone Irish republican matters, in polite company. Especially in the ivy-clad halls of Yale (one should of course also make due note of possible animus on behalf of Dolan in his opinions on McFate’s trustworthiness):

“The first year sounded grim, the collision of Marin and preppie manners, but sometime in her second semester, she figured out that what had been puzzling her about the Yale faculty was a reluctance to believe they were as gullible and stupid as they were.

For the next year she was overjoyed at the convenient ignorance of her tie-wearing colleagues. They knew nothing. It was like they lived in a box; you could do anything to them.

She moved fast, sticking with the Irish stuff, a little shocked to see the old snobberies still operating. She wrote me once that when she asked the department chair how she could learn Irish, he sneered, “Try the janitors.” At that time, she was still ostensibly on our rebel side, but that seemed to change fast as she moved into the creepy, well-funded world where the three-letter agencies meet the patched-elbow and pipe crowd.

She started boasting about going to their conferences. That was a shock. These were port-sipping pigs who’d given suggestions to the British Army how better to win over hearts and minds in Ballymurphy, while continuing to point muzzles at kids buying milk on the corner.

She still ran with the fox occasionally, though; going to Belfast and Derry for the Sinn Fein tour. She charmed them as usual in West Belfast, supplied with introductions from all our friends from Geary Street. But after each visit, she’d be off to another East-Coast conference talking to Kennedy-style academic quasi-spooks from both sides of the pond, and I knew her; I knew she loved to boast, to show off. She’d spill everything she knew, and those decent, straightforward IRA guys, because that’s what they were like, most of them, had probably told her way too much.”

On the violence which plagued the HTS programme:

“Loyd, her notebook or recorder ready, asked a man named Abdul Salam about the price of kerosene. Salam happened to be carrying a tin of kerosene. The temptation must have been too great; he poured it over Loyd and set her on fire.

After she fell screaming in agony, the grotesque comedy continued. Loyd’s bodyguard, angry that he’d failed to do his job, clotheslined Salam, tied him up. Some soldiers told the bodyguard Loyd was horribly maimed. The bodyguard took out his sidearm and shot Salam in the head. For which, believe it or not, the bodyguard was tried for murder.

…the bodyguard was convicted of murder but only got probation… and a $12,500 fine.”

Dolan’s two part essay starts here with, “My Human Terrain, Part One: Me and Mitzy Carlough.” The second half is here, “My Human Terrain, Part Two: “Which way to the bombs?

 

 

 

 

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