“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said out philosopher George Santayana. America seems to be drowning in a tsunami of forgetfulness since Donald Trump’s election and his subsequent declaration: “I’m the only one that matters.” Trump was referring that Dec. 2017 to the slew of unfilled government posts—but that sentiment and the loyalty oath he required from FBI Director James Comey, whom he fired when Comey refused—have rippled through the federal government faster than the spread of McCarthyism after the Second World War.
Trump’s obsession for loyalty to him, not the US Constitution, may be filtering down to nervous directors and staff members at even the most tangential of federal agencies. Here, behind the scenes, out of the glare of the public spotlight, a Trump brand of McCarthyism may be taking hold with public officials developing their own versions of black lists and enemies lists or quietly breaking or denying a contract to someone they fear might cause repercussions for them with a Trump enforcer, watchdog or snitch.
How else explain what happened to Melanie Nathan?
Nathan, who lives in San Francisco, is an internationally renowned human rights activist, speaker, executive director of the African Human Rights Coalition and South African attorney who fought for the victims of apartheid. She had been invited by a largely civilian diversity-oriented group of researchers and scientists at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division ( NAVAIR) to speak at two Pride events at China Lake base near Bakersfield and Point Mugu in Oxnard on June 26 and June 27, 2018, respectively.
Their negotiations included Nathan agreeing not to get political but to stick to LGBT education based on the theme of San Francisco Pride this year, “Generations of Strength.” The group and the Division’s legal department accepted her theme, her proposed outline and her fee. She even sent in her power point presentation. In the meantime, Nathan waved off other opportunities because the Navy said in writing that they accepted her proposal.
But as Nathan was filling out the security forms to get onto the two bases, she received an email informing her the contract was cancelled. “We recently became aware of several comments you’ve made on Twitter regarding our nation’s current administration. While those comments and views are appropriate for an individual, given free speech, they are inappropriate for our agency to endorse a potential speaker of a command-sponsored event. Given our position within the Department of Defense, the President serves as our commander-in-chief. Therefore, we need to cease further discussions with you regarding our Pride Month events,” wrote a Naval EEO Manager.
Nathan was shocked. She wrote back asking for re-instatement. “We actually have a binding agreement between us – and we had previously agreed the talk would be non-political and purely educational,” Nathan said on a recent LGBT-Rated BlogTalk radio show. “They completely ignored me.”
Nathan hired Los Angeles-based attorney Lisa Bloom, who noted that only weeks earlier a federal judge ruled that Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking citizens on Twitter who criticized him.
The judge wrote that when the government “actively restricts” an individual’s right to speak and advocate freely, the impinges on the First Amendment.
“We will not stand idly by as Mr. Trump tries to turn this country into an authoritarian state and government agents follow his lead by censoring speakers who have challenged him on Twitter,” Bloom wrote to NAVAIR on June 18 demanding immediate reinstatement or the possibility of legal action.
And while the NAVAIR manger cited the events as being sponsored by the Navy, neither Nathan nor the citizen employees who invited her—presumably knowing her LGBT and civil rights activist background and having vetted her sufficiently, as, presumably did the legal department before signing off on the deal—is not an active duty service member subject to UCMJ codes forbidding criticism of the President. And the agreement stipulated that Nathan would only discuss LGBT history and the LGBT movement.
“This is not ‘Dear Leaders’ time in North Korea, Bloom said during an appearance on MSNBC’s AM Joy on June 23. “We don’t all have to bend the knee to Donald Trump to hold onto our government contracts. That is the very essence of the First Amendment….This is a blatantly unconstitutional action.”
“In 1985, when I immigrated from an oppressive Apartheid South Africa,” Nathan told the Los Angeles Blade, “I could not have imagined that my freedoms would be oppressed in the great United States of America. The world looks up to this beacon of democracy. This is truly painful and shocking.”