City of the Living Dead

Anyone covering Capitol Hill knows that congressional hearings can be deadly — deadly boring and deadly predictable.

But when a reported Iraq war veteran exploded into a House Armed Services Committee hearing this month as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was reading his prepared remarks, for a split second it was like a test to see if someone blinked. Better yet, it was a test to see if anyone was human enough to respond.

One person reportedly burst out laughing, right after the veteran, who was screaming “We murdered people! I saw what we did to people!” was dragged from the room by security. But the rest of the chamber was silent, faces turned stoically forward. The vet was followed by two silver-haired antiwar women decrying the war. They were also manhandled out of the room in short order. Seven people altogether that day were arrested for interrupting the proceedings — one charging that the veteran had been laughed at — while a number of others outside in the hallway chanted, “We are the 99 percent, and we don’t support these wars!”

But like something out of a Kevin McCarthy movie, the chamber’s inhabitants impassively waited until the would-be rabble-rousers were silenced. Aside from the reported spark of laughter — probably born out of nervousness or condescension, or likely both — and a couple of stolen sideways glances, the business of war went on.

This is what the current “Occupy” protests are up against. This is what the antiwar protesters have battled since 2001 — a persistent indifference, which in some cases is very real but in other ways is merely used to mask more volatile feelings: disgust and fear of the protesters, confusion about what they stand for, even self-loathing and regret for the passion the indifferent no longer feel about anything outside of themselves.

The good news: According to Kevin Zeese, founder and executive director of Come Home America and organizer behind the October 2011/Stop the Machine demonstrations, which are running parallel to the Occupy D.C. protests in Washington this month, the antiwar movement has gotten more traction than any time in the last 10 years, particularly in Washington, the proverbial belly of the beast.

“There’s no question, when we started working on this [last year] we didn’t know if there would be 50 people out here or anyone joining with us,” he told Since Occupy Wall Street began in New York and then the launch of Occupy D.C. corresponded with Zeese’s group’s rally to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Afghanistan War on Oct. 6, “we’ve had several thousands of people out here. This is just the beginning.”

The message, Zeese said, is resonating with folks who might have come down to Freedom Plaza for Occupy D.C.’s anti-corporatist agenda but understand how it all fits into the stunning growth of the military-industrial complex over the last half-century. Nowhere is this more explicit than in Washington, D.C.

“The dominant message is economic insecurity, and it’s bringing people out, and people are recognizing that the unbridled spending on weapons and on war has a big impact on why we have this economic insecurity,” he added.

On Oct. 8, the protesters in effect shut down the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. They were rallying against the glorification of drones and warplanes in front of the building when a scuffle with police brought out the pepper spray on the front steps. A right-wing provocateur instigated the situation. More on that later.

But aside from the protests at the Smithsonian and the Armed Services Committee, Zeese said the group has been leading teach-ins on various aspects of war and peace, including the enduring drum beat for war by the city’s hawks against Iran. For obvious reasons, the antiwar theme (which at its core, is really about America’s unrestrained post-9/11 militarism) is much more prevalent in Washington than in New York and the many other cities that are hosting similar Occupy demonstrations. The question is whether Zeese and the others can sustain any sort of focus on it as Occupy becomes more of a political force on the mainstream’s radar.

All Types of Zombies

Everybody knows that zombies eat brains. George Romero set the scene in Night of the Living Dead, and Hollywood never looked back. Before that, zombies in movies typically involved reanimation and mind control through so-called African-Caribbean voodoo. In films like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie bad actors with the magic enslaved poor mindless fools to do their bidding.

We see all types of zombies reacting to Occupy and its various manifestations. It’s not much different from how antiwar protesters have been treated throughout the last 10 years of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now that the mainstream is actually paying attention to what is going on in Zuccotti Park — in a way it never did for the dozens of major antiwar protests in Washington and New York over the decade — zombiism is rampant and quite easily discernible.

Most prevalent are the zombies talking about and mostly criticizing the protests in language that suggests only mind control could be at work. These zombies include all manner of talking heads, political courtiers and operatives, politicians, status-quo junkies, and haters — but also mindless corporate newspersons who typically just put their heads down and repeat what they’re told.

On a trip last week to the Northeast, I was bombarded almost immediately with the charge that Occupy Wall Street protesters were engaging in anti-Semitic chants, violent behavior, open sex, and flagrant drug use. One man had crapped on a police car. According to a family member, the whole thing had devolved into a dystopian nightmare with shades of Woodstock — Woodstock ’99 that is. At the beginning — according to the evolving meme — these demonstrators might have been well-meaning, but now the whole thing has been taken over by anarchists and criminals. Who, by the way, really hate America.

Surprised that I had heard none of this before, I realized then I hadn’t been listening to the right ZRF (zombie radio frequency), that is, any station carrying Rush Limbaugh, or reading the correct zombie guru texts, coming in over the ether from Andrew “Dr. Caligari” Breitbart (a man so righteous with the limited-government mojo, he sources zombies whose main occupations are to hack into private emails and feed the juice to protest-shadowing FBI and NYPD).

I soon find the so-called “Jew go home” frenzy was a concoction, a well-used sleight-of-hand to turn the movement in and against itself. The rest — the defecation, the “free love,” the violence, the purple haze, and the stink — turned out to be hackneyed hippiephobia delivered as clunkily by its lesser purveyors as a horde of zombies trying to shuffle across a bumpy country road. But for a time it seemed to be working. Not only did it successfully create an impression that the protests are as divisive as the rest of Washington politics today, keeping things in manageable, us-versus-them encampments (apparently, only the Ron Paul types know better than to be hip to that jive), but all the fearmongering has emboldened political leaders never inclined to support the protest to fling the worst hate-filled rhetoric while keeping the potentially sympathetic skittishly at bay.

So now we have the most foolish right-wing pander-zombies spewing Orwellian newspeak as casually as waving the flag on the Fourth of July. Rep. Paul Broun, Republican from Georgia, called the protests an “attack on freedom” in a recent interview from the U.S. Capitol. So he understands a demonstration of free speech to be an “attack on freedom.” Is this not the ultimate voodoo zombification?

Swollen Svengalis like Limbaugh and Breitbart are zombies, too — the aggressive, brain-eating kind. They are victims of their own small single-mindedness, but like the weirdly alert zombies in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, they sprint for the kill just the same.

And they are clearly more focused and agile than their slow-moving, brain-eating counterparts, those who get disturbed and turned on to their prey by sudden noises, lights, or the scent of blood, like in Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead. These zombies typically shuffle along haplessly, and violence can usually be avoided if they aren’t aroused (see AMC’s The Walking Dead). More on these in a second.

The aggressive ones aren’t hard to spot. They are the most wild and vicious — even gleeful— in their attacks against the protests. For example, Limbaugh called the demonstrators a “parade of human debris” on Oct. 5, not long after Occupy Wall Street started surfacing in the mainstream media. Political egoist Rep. Peter King, Republican of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, had no compunction racing in and calling his own constituents a “ragtag mob.” In recent days, both Breitbart’s Big Government and Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller have engaged in blatantly McCarthyite tactics, not only whipping up the already berserk voodoo zombie hordes, but getting at least one woman, so far, fired from her job.

Remember that “standoff” between police and protesters at the Air and Space Museum, the one where the museum “was closed Saturday after antiwar demonstrators tried to enter the building to protest a drone exhibit, and at least one person was pepper-sprayed”?

Turns out that Patrick Howley, an assistant editor at the right-wing American Spectator, was the “one” pepper-sprayed. How do we know? He bragged that he “infiltrated” the protest and broke through police lines in an online account his magazine later altered (luckily, the evil liberal media caught a screen grab of the original story). But The American Spectator editors didn’t mess with what is clearly the funniest line in the bit:

I deserved to get a face full of high-grade pepper, and the guards who sprayed me acted with more courage than I saw from any of the protesters. If you’re looking for something to commend these days in America, start with those guards.

Guess we forgot to mention “the passive-aggressive zombie.”

These rapacious zombies look almost virtuous compared to the slow-moving ones, however. Establishment types — those who have “made it” and whose identities and livelihoods depend on the corporate wheel turning in rhythm with the political powers and authority invested in Washington, Hollywood, and New York — are typically slow to bare teeth over such issues, but they smell their own lifeblood at risk now and have responded with sanctimonious lectures and smug, condescending putdowns of the Occupy rallies.

These include people like New York Times editor Bill Keller, who in essence said the protests are boring, and the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum, who claims they will “hurt democracy.” Even naughty Howard “King of Media” Stern, typically a beacon for the disaffected fringe, has dismissed the demonstrators as “foolish dirty hippies who have no idea what is going on in the world.” But with an estimated $400 million Sirius XM radio contract, he certainly knows where his bread is buttered, and it’s clearly not on the side of the rabble screaming “oligarchy!” at the base of his penthouse tower.

But there’s good news for the non-zombies. Despite the grim reports, you are not alone. And, according to The Washington Post on Sunday, there has been an extraordinary collision in the universe, and Tea Partiers and Occupiers are finally finding common ground, resisting the urge to eat each others’ brains. And don’t forget the Marines. These guys hate zombies, too, and they just might be headed to a city near you. Scarier things have happened.

Happy Halloween.

Follow Kelley Vlahos on Twitter @KelleyBVlahos.

Author: Kelley B. Vlahos

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine. Her Twitter account is @KelleyBVlahos.