By M.S. Bellows, Jr. and Gabriel Beltrone
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins ...." - H.L. Mencken.
The bloody and disturbing video shown Thursday night at the Republican National Convention is not the first volley in that party's effort to shift the national conversation back to fear of terrorism (a fear which we would not have to face, of course, had not a Republican, George W. Bush, ignored multiple warnings and allowed the attacks of 9/11 to happen in the first place). And it won't be the last. The goal, is seems, to to add a "Be afraid. Be very afraid" frame to the mix of emotional appeals they're making to voters.
The RNC video, especially in it bloody aspect, is eerily, and possibly not coincidentally, reminiscent of a video display put on by a supposedly "nonpartisan" organization, scarily and artificially named "The C.E.L.L." ("Center for Empowered Living & Learning"), at the otherwise-lighthearted entertainment provided to about 15,000 journalists and bloggers at Six Flags' historic amusement park, Elitch Gardens, just before the Democratic National Convention last week in Denver.
Here's the RNC video from Thursday night - video so graphic, and so inappropriate, that MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, sincerely and almost tearfully, issued an immediate disclaimer distancing himself from it:
Now here are two short video clips we shot on the evening of Saturday, August 23, 2008 at the Elitch Gardens/Six Flags amusement park in Denver, at a party thrown for visiting journalists and bloggers -- a party with free rides, free beer, free Rocky Mountain oysters -- and a pavilion with monitors and loudspeakers broadcasting the images and sounds of explosions, screens, and images of bloody terror victims. You can decide for yourself whether they parallel the RNC's stark terrorism video:
Next, here's a video trailer pulled from "The C.E.L.L." website, previewing its "Anyone -Anytime - Anywhere" "permanent exhibit" and again reminiscent both of the footage shown at the Elitch Gardens media party and that screened at the Republican Convention (and broadcast to millions of American homes):
So what the hell is "The C.E.L.L."? We haven't been able to determine whether there is a formal connection between the troubling, and fearmongering, RNC video and "The C.E.L.L."'s similarly disturbing propaganda, but there's clearly a thematic link, and relationships among the two organizations' principals. The C.E.L.L.'s full story is hard to suss out, but here's what we were able to learn, both on location in Denver and afterward:
• "The C.E.L.L. officially opened a new museum in Denver on September 2, the week of the Republican Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul, but was open to "V.I.P.s" (including delegates and the media) the preceding week, during the Democratic Convention in Denver.
• The museum features an explicitly violent "permanent exhibit" called "Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere: Understanding the Threat of Terrorism," which includes replicas of pipe bombs, photographs of bloody victims of terrorism, video of injured people staggering away from bomb blasts, and a history of terrorism that conflates Nazism and 9/11.
• The museum also features an "immersion room" called "Hitting Home," where visitors are treated to a multi-sensory recreation of a terrorist attack in downtown Denver. Colorado's Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, even underwent the "immersion," apparently without criticism.
• The CELL's website was changed to diminish the starkness of its imagery sometime between the Dem Convention and Thursday night.
• While The CELL claims to be nonpartisan, its primary funder, Larry Mizel, is a wealthy real estate developer and lawyer who has donated approximately $1 million to political campaigns and causes -- with 94% of those contributions going to Republicans. Mizel also is a founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
• Republican Rudy Giuliani, one of the keynote speakers at this week's Republican National Convention, also toured The C.E.L.L. and spoke with the press on its behalf during the Democratic Convention. In his remarks, he claimed to be acting in a nonpartisan capacity - but he was primarily in Denver to participate in the Republican National Committee's anti-Democratic spin operation.
• The C.E.L.L.'s "News" page has links to the Central Intelligence Agency's and Department of Homeland Security websites.
We're continuing to investigate the possible connections between the R.N.C. video and The C.E.L.L., as well as how it came to be that The C.E.L.L.'s disturbing display was given prominent space in an otherwise politics-free and upbeat amusement park, and will update this post as we learn more.
Footnote: "The C.E.L.L." should not be confused with the ACLU's traveling exhibit "The Cell," which recreates a Guantanamo Bay prison cell and was in Denver for the Democratic Convention, as well.