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Tulsi Gabbard: friend of cannabis —and fascism?

Posted on August 3rd, 2019 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , .

Tulsi and BasharDemocratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard has won support from many activists for her embrace of cannabis legalization (as well as her anti-war rhetoric). Gabbard has been more fearless in her disregard of the cannabis stigma than any of the others in the Democratic field.

A US representative for Hawaii since 2013, Gabbard actually produced an opening video presentation at the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) meet-up in Kauai in December 2017, where she spoke about her recently introduced Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (co-sponsored with Rep. Tom Garrett, a Virginia Republican).

On the VoteTulsi website, she states: "By removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, we can remove the barriers to enterprising small businesses so that they can secure bank loans and insure their businesses. Medical researchers currently handcuffed by strict federal regulations can be freed up to study treatments, and doctors can freely prescribe the best treatments to their patients. Critically, this bill will transform our criminal justice system. Millions of people and their families have been impacted by the so-called 'War on Drugs,' which has boosted the private prison industry but failed our nation's communities."

And just days before she wowed her fans at the Democratic candidates debate in Detroit last week, she introduced the Hemp for Victory Act, to incentivize industrial hemp cultivation on the nation's farms.

During the Democratic' debate July 31, Gabbard was applauded for taking on contender Kamala Harris' record on cannabis prosecutions as California attorney general.

However, the facts were not really on Gabbard's side—and the affair sheds light on a side to her politics that is downright creepy. Activists owe it to themselves to take a close look at Tulsi Gabbard, and what she really represents.

The Gabbard-Harris spat—and what it reveals
In the debate, Gabbard said that as the Golden State's top prosecutor, Harris had "put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations." Gabbard's fans responded gleefully with the hashtag #KamalaHarrisDestroyed.

They should have curbed their enthusiasm. A fact-check by the San Jose Mercury News called this a "highly misleading statistic." The Mercury News noted that "the attorney general's office doesn't directly prosecute the vast majority of drug cases in the state. That's up to the individual district attorneys in each county, and it's wrong to say Harris put those people in jail."

And Gabbard's source for the figure was identified as an article that ran last year in the Free Beacon, a right-wing Tump-enthusiast website based in DC. Free Beacon even boasted after the debate that it had been the source of Gabbard's claim.

The article in question, entitled "Kamala Harris Packed California Prisons for Peddling Pot," was inherently misleading. As Freedom Leaf noted, "The story itself doesn't make the claim that Harris was in any way personally responsible for all those people being sent away, but only people who read past the subhead will realize that. In actuality, most of those people are tried by city prosecutors or county district attorneys."

In fact, during Harris' tenure as attorney general, overall imprisonment on felony cannabis charges dropped by over 80%.

After the debate Harris threw shade on Gabbard in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, calling her out as an "apologist" for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, "who has murdered the people of his country like cockroaches."

The spat has degenerated into dueling accusations of "conspiracy theories." Gabbard's supporters accused Harris of conspiracy theories for noting that the Russian propaganda machine (RT and other Kremlin state media outlets) are aggressively promoting her.

Yet in an interview with MSNBC, Gabbard herself advanced the improbable thesis that network anchor Yasmin Vossoughian was fed questions by the Harris campaign after she asked her about her coziness with Assad.

This coziness is, indeed, deeply disturbing. In a follow-up interview with Anderson Cooper after the recent Assad flap, Gabbard was flatly asked: "Do you consider him a torturer and murder?" She deftly dodged the question: "That's not what this is about. I don't defend or apologize or have anything to do with what he has done to his own people."

Yet in a tweet in October 2015, after Russia intervened in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime, she did exactly that: "Al-Qaeda attacked us on 9/11 and must be defeated. Obama won’t bomb them in Syria. Putin did."

This is a far cry from the pacifist image Gabbard has cultivated. It is also another serious distortion of the truth: it is echoing the Putin-Assad propaganda that the Syrian rebels are monolithically "al-Qaeda," which is definitely not the case. And the Russian air-strikes, which turned the tide of the war in Assad's favor, have taken a ghastly toll in civilian casualties.

Schmoozing neo-Nazis and dictators
Despite her appeal to pro-cannabis and anti-war voters, many progressives see a a big element of right-wing Islamophobia behind Gabbard's politics. The Hawaii State Teachers Association last year endorsed Sherry Campagna, who challenged Gabbard in the Democratic primary. The HSTA cited Gabbard's stance on Syria—which has long been embarrassingly soft on the genocidal Assad.

When Gabbard famously met with Assad in Damascus in 2017 it was not to challenge the dictator but to display her support. The delegation she was part of was filled with regime sycophants, including adherents of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which (as its name implies) is a neo-fascist formation, directly inspired by Nazi Germany.

The SSNP was briefly in power in Syria in the 1950s, and brought ex-Nazis to help run the security apparatus, in the style of Bolivia under the right-wing generals. Today the SSNP is a "satellite party" of Assad's equally fascistic Baath Party (which continued to avail itself of Nazi talent first brought in under the SSNP).

On her Syria junket, she toured Aleppo, the city which just months earlier had been retaken by the regime from opposition forces with such savagery (including massive bombardment and massacres of non-combatants) that the UN called it "a complete metdown of humanity."

But Gabbard said not a word about this. She only blamed the Syrian people for rising up against the dictator, and portrayed their revolution as a US-fomented charade. Read her press release after the trip: "My visit to Syria has made it abundantly clear: Our counterproductive regime change war does not serve America's interest, and it certainly isn't in the interest of the Syrian people."

Gabbard has sponsored legislation that would bar any US support to the Syrian opposition—not just arms, but any support at all. And not just to the armed rebels but the pro-democratic cvil opposition.

She also sponsored a bill that would bar the US from arming groups linked to al-Qaeda or ISIS in Syria. In announcing the bill, she said: "If you or I gave money, weapons or support to al-Qaeda or ISIS or other terrorist groups...we would be thrown in jail. Yet the US government has been violating this law for years, quietly supporting allies and partners of al-Qaeda, ISIL...and other terrorist groups with money, weapons, and intelligence support, in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government."

Sounds good? Think again. These are groups that the US has certainly not been arming but, on the contrary, has been bombing. This is legislation as propaganda—again, portraying all Syrian opposition as jihadist.

In 2016, Gabbard voted against a resolution that condemned Assad for his war crimes—yet she supported a similar one condemning ISIS, revealing a curious double standard.

Last year, Gabbard called Idlib, the last province of Syria still controlled by the rebels, an "al-Qaeda stronghold"—despite the fact that it was home to a patchwork of opposition groups, including secular and pro-democratic ones that have been actively resisting the extremist yahoos. Such talk again legitimizes the bombing of civilians (Idlib has been savagely bombed by Assad and Putin over the past months), and tars the Syrian Revolution as monolithically jihadist. So again—echoing Assad's dishonest war propaganda.

The Tulsi2020 website has an entire page dedicated to real, ugly conspiracy theories about Assad not being behind the serial chemical attacks in Syria—contrary to the findings of every bona fide investigation. (The claims on her page are debunked by the investigative Bellingcat blog, which has been intimately following the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war.)

A survivor of torture in Assad's prisons, whose family was massacred by the dictator's forces, Omar Alshogre, excoriated Gabbard in a CNN interview for her refusal to call Assad a "war criminal." After a clip in which Gabbard told a reporter there was insufficient "evidence" to label Assad a war criminal, Alshogre said: "There is a lot of evidence. There [are] the wounds on my body. There are survivors, not a lot, who can tell you about the prisons, how many people have been killed..."

Is Tulsi on Team Trump?
So, is Gabbard a paradoxical peacenik who is enthusiastic for massive bombing of civilian populations? Does this make sense? Actually, nope. Gabbard is really a hawk—and she admitted it. In 2016, she told West Hawaii Today that "when it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk. When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove."

She has certainly not opposed Trump's massive air-strikes on ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq, which have taken an horrific toll in civilian casualties.

After Trump's victory in 2016, Gabbard was among those to meet with the president-elect at the Trump Tower—a schmooze later reported to have been arranged by Trump's ultra-right then-strategist Steve Bannon.

In the aftermath of the 2016 elections, she also dissented from Democratic calls to abolish the Electoral College and have presidents directly elected by popular vote. "I think it's unfortunate that too often these calls for changes come about by the side that has lost or suffered as a result of the Electoral College," she told Fox News.

And after the Mueller Report was released this year, Gabbard praised its failure to indict Trump for colluding with Russia as "a good thing for our country."

Gabbard's positions are often closer to Trump's than you might assume. In a 2014 interview, she said she felt "conflicted" about the use of torture in interrogations: "[I]f we were in a situation where our family, our community, our state, or our country is in a place where, let's say, in an hour, a nuclear bomb or an attack will go off unless this information was found, I believe that if I were the president of the United States that I would do everything in my power to keep the American people safe."

In 2015, Gabbard was among a handful of turncoat Democrats who voted for the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (SAFE) Act, which would have imposed restrictions on Iraqi and Syrian asylum-seekers.

For such positions, she won support from figures like Arthur Brooks, president of the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute. In a gushing 2015 piece in the right-wing establishment organ National Review, "Meet the Beautiful, Tough Young Democrat Who's Turning Heads by Challenging Obama’s Foreign Policy," Brooks said: "I like her thinking a lot. She could be a very powerful new voice on the D side."

She has won praise from far more unsavory voices still. White supremacist mouthpiece David Duke plugged Gabbard on his Twitter page as standing up to the "Zionist neoCons and neoCommies who subvert our nation and lead us into insane wars for Israel." He also praised Gabbard as a "candidate who will actually put American First rather than Israel First."

Perhaps Duke was unaware that in 2015 Gabbard spoke at a Christians United for Israel conference (alongside such figures as Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee). And just this summer, she voted in favor of the House resolution condemning the use of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel.

From Hare Krishna to fascism?
Some light may be shed on Tulsi Gabbard's strange politics by looking to her roots. She was born in American Samoa to a Samoan father and a white mother. It was her mother who was apparently a convert to Hinduism, the faith that young Tulsi chose. Upon moving to Hawaii, she appears to have fallen into the orbit of something called the the Science of Identity Foundation, an offshoot of the fractured Hare Krishna movement centered on a charismatic leader named Chris Butler. The Hawaii Free Press in 2016 detailed Gabbard's links to Butler and his outfit.

It may seem a odd leap from Hare Krishna, with its hippie associations, to right-wing political positions—but that appears to have been Gabbard's trajectory. For starters, a cultural-conservative streak was evident early on. Gabbard is still dogged by recollections that she worked for an anti-LGBT organization run by her father and opposed a civil union bill during her time in the Hawaii state legislature.

CNN recalls
 that Gabbard cited her stance "backing traditional marriage" during her run for the legislature in 2002. Her dad's organization, the Alliance for Traditional Marriage, even supported gay "conversion therapy." Gabbard now says she regrets her past views on the question. But some are skeptical, noting that they seem in line with other points of her politics.

The Hindu-Muslim rivalry in India, which periodically erupts into nightmarish volence, seems to have especially left a mark on Gabbard. In addition to having a soft spot for Bashar Assad, Gabbard seems similarly enamored of India's reactionary prime minister, the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi.

Back in 2002, when Modi was chief minister (governor) of Gujarat state, mass riots broke out there which left at least 1,000 dead—overwhelmingly Muslims who were set upon by Hindu mobs. Modi was accused of abetting the mob violence, with his police not only failing to interfere but actively directing the attacks. Modi was eventually cleared of charges by a high-level investigation, and went on to become prime minister. But under his rule in India today there is a growing atmosphere of terror against both Muslims and secularists.

Gabbard was instrumental in the 2013 defeat of a House resolution that would have called on India to improve the human rights situation of its religious minorities. Gabbard has repeatedly praised Modi, saying in a 2016 interview after her meeting with the right-wing ruler (in which she gifted him a copy of the Bhagavad Gita): "Modi impressed me as a person who cares deeply...and as a leader whose example and dedication to the people he serves should be an inspiration to elected officials everywhere."

Gabbard was among the few to criticize the US government's decision to deny a visa to Modi when he was under investigation for the Gujarat genocide, calling it a "great blunder."

Some secularists in India term Modi's official ideology of "Hindutva" as "Hindu fascism," seeking to impose the supremacy of the majority faith on a multicultural nation—and especially stigmatizing Muslims.

Gabbard famously volunteered for a tour of duty in Iraq as a member of the Hawaii National Guard in 2004, apparently swept up in the post-9-11 surge of patriotism. We may surmise that she was disillusioned when the justification for the Iraq war (Saddam's supposed weapons of mass destruction) proved to be bogus—but that she maintained her embrace of the Global War on Terrorism. This turned her into the peculiar amalgam we see today—against what she calls "wars of regime change," but not the GWOT. And forgiving (at the very least) of dictators and strongmen who cloak thier rule in opposition to militant Islam, like Assad and Modi.


Tough choices
While Gabbard is aggressively courting the cannabis vote, it should be noted that some of her rivals for the Democratic nomination have also laid it on the line for our favorite plant. As a senator, Kamala Harris signed on to Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act last year, which also aimed to de-schedule cannabis. She also supported its re-introduction this year, as well co-spornoring the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement Act with New York's Rep. Jerrold Nadler.

"Right now in this country people are being arrested, being prosecuted, and end up spending time in jail or prison all because of their use of a drug that otherwise should be considered legal," Harris said in a press release upon introduction of the Justice Act. "Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. I know this as a former prosecutor and I know it as a senator."


Harris also supported another Booker-sponsored bill that sought to eliminate drug convictions as a bar to student financial aid.

However, Harris has also been harshly criticized by progressives over her time as California attorney general for more legitimate reasons than those invoked by Gabbard in the debate—for instance, her opposition to a state bill requiring her office to investigate shootings involving police officers.

And Harris' own coziness with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has massively bombed civilian populations in Gaza, undermines her moral authority to call out Gabbard on her coziness with Assad.

With the nation arguably more polarized than it has been since the Civil War, this is an historically critical moment in American politics. The 2020 election is almost certainly going to mean some hard choices for progressives. But, despite her pro-pot peacenik image, Tulsi Gabbard is just as problematic and compromised as the competition—if not a whole helluva lot more so.


A different edit of this story first appeared on Freedom Leaf

Photo of Narendra Modi and Tulsi Gabbard via Freedom Leaf  

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