Published by WTM Enterprises in 2006.
Copyright 2014 by Andy Nowicki.
All rights reserved by author.


Notes from Underground


Thrice banished, twice shy
How I was exiled, again and again and again,
from the “respectable” conservative blogosphere




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Call me schizophrenic. Or more reverently (and perhaps blasphemously), call me tripartite, thrice the blessed fool. Somehow I got myself banned forever, exiled to cyber-Siberia not just once but three times, under the auspices of three separate alter egos, all of whom were really me, each time banished by a wrathful, vengeful, ideologically sound Keeper of the Online Faith — the bloated, blustering, blogging deity of modern-day Catholic apologetics, the well-established and well-connected master of the cheerily titled website "Catholic and Enjoying It," Mark P. Shea.

Though my identity was triune, my crime was singular. I was tried, indicted, and summarily dismissed (though I once technically dismissed myself in a preemptive move), all because I asked questions that — even if pertinent — shouldn't be asked and made points that — even if true — shouldn't be made.

Being hatefully branded a hate criminal and getting called rude names for going outside the bounds of "acceptable discourse" is surely par for the course these days, as most readers of The Last Ditch are aware. What makes my experience at www.markshea.blogspot.com (Catholic and Enjoying It!) so instructive is that it shows how the sanctimonious, censorious mentality, long prevalent on the Left, has thoroughly infiltrated the "respectable" Right as well. Political correctness reigns, even among true-blue pro-life Catholic conservatives, as does the odious propensity to prove one's bona fides by going on a righteous rampage and stomping dissidents with a crusader's zeal, as if abusing people whom everyone has already been trained to hate shows one's true courage and fortitude.

Make no mistake. Mark Shea is a conservative, and a respected one. He is an author and much sought-after public speaker, with a wide fan base. His blogsite gets hundreds of hits daily. He appears to be friends with Richard John Neuhaus and the rest of the gang at First Things, the prominent neoconservative Catholic journal, and he has ties to neocon flagship National Review Online as well. Yet Shea is no knee-jerk neocon; he takes pleasure in being a kind of vexing gadfly to the straightforward Hannity-Limbaugh Republican type. On his site, Shea regularly criticizes the war in Iraq and lambastes the Bush administration for not openly opposing torture in all guises. He even has some use for widely reviled "paleoconservative" writers such as Pat Buchanan and Joe Sobran.

Still, in spite of his admirable aversion to the Bush-con party line, Shea often reacts to intellectual challenges with prickly defensiveness. He is prone to what I have categorized elsewhere as the "How Dare You" approach to debate, wherein one starts from the premise that one's opponent can't be anything but evil or disingenuous. Thus his responses to defenders of torture, the war in Iraq, and other neocon staples often take on an ugly, smarmy tone, rife with question-begging evasions and snarky indulgences in ad hominem rhetoric.

Such was my assessment until recently. Now I realize I didn't know the half of it. I was little aware of the extent of Shea's smarm, snarkiness, and sanctimony until I (along with my identical friends, me and myself) was virtually arrested, and convicted, on the charge of being a member of a uniquely evil species, the "holocaust denier."

Of course, it wasn't and it isn't true. None of the separate identities jostling for control inside my head have ever doubted that Hitler and the Nazis murdered millions of Jews, among others. Nor do we, as adherents of the same Christian morality that (presumably) animates Shea, condone murder, much less mass murder. Yet Shea knows otherwise, because — like so many others burning to sniff out un-PC heretics and thus prove their own worth these days — he knows how to "read between the lines." Between the lines of my posts on his site, apparently, I said that Jews weren't really killed by Nazis, and that it wouldn't even be a bad thing if they were, since after all they're only Jews. Maybe an unknown fourth identity was all along encrypting such messages into my posts; who can say? If one pays attention to what I actually wrote, however, as opposed to what I was presumed to have "meant," no such conclusion could logically be drawn. But who needs logic when you're fired with hatred at those deemed to be "haters"?

The whole sordid saga began when, in the midst of an extended discourse on the permissibility of linking to authors who are correct in some ways but dangerously (in his opinion) wrong in others, Shea launched into his trademark self-righteous bluster against ideological deviants. People who deny the Jewish holocaust, he declared, would not be allowed to take part in any conversations on his site. In the name of tolerance, certain points of view would not be tolerated. It was a message cribbed from left-wing campus speech codes, for which any expression of ostensible "racism," "sexism," or "homophobia" is deserving of punitive action, up to and including expulsion, and for which the definition of such concepts generally amounts to, "If we think you're racist/sexist/homophobic, then by golly, you are!"

Shea's implied ad hominem attack against everyone with a certain point of view of a historical event, as if they are all "evil" (making no allowance that some of this persuasion may be decent people who are simply, let us say, misguided, deluded, or eccentric), rubbed me the wrong way, and I jumped into the fray with the following post:

"It's my understanding that George Orwell questioned whether the stories about people being gassed at the Nazi concentration camps were true. I guess he'd be kicked off this blogsite in short order as a despicable, murderous anti-Semite, were he to visit here...."

I thought I'd made an interesting point. Orwell, after all, is a man whom no one could accuse of bad faith or Nazi sympathies. Yet if he came back from the grave, logged in, came aboard "Catholic and Enjoying It," and expressed doubt with respect to the official story told about gas chambers at the concentration camps, Shea would have ungraciously removed him and would not have hesitated to sully his name as a genocidal Jew-hater.

A few posts later, Shea responded, admitting he "(didn't) know about Orwell" but implying that his "ignorance" could probably be forgiven, since Orwell didn't know what we know today about the events of World War II. Then Shea turned his attention to me, and his tone changed from speculative to punitive and threatening. In the manner of a high school administrator talking tough and waving his finger in the face of a young ruffian, he wrote:

"People visiting my blog today don't have the luxury of ignorance. That includes you. One more such post and I will take it you are angling to be the next person dismissed from my blog. Comprende?"

Those who know me know that I don't deal well with ultimatums. As I saw it, Shea had given me a stark choice. If I continued unrepentantly making my point, he would bluster ahead and let the axe fall on my neck, perhaps resorting again to his grating, pseudo-tough Spanish lingo ("Comprende?"). But I wasn't about to meekly apologize just so I could go on posting on his lousy blogsite. So I took preemptive action, met bluster with bluster, and sent myself packing:

I hereby "ban" myself from your blog; I have no need for your bullying attitude. I think for myself, thank you very much. From now on, I'll think for myself elsewhere. This is your site — very well, you enforce your own Stalinist orthodoxy here. You go ahead and see fit to dictate to people what they can and can't say. I'll go where there is freedom to discuss issues without fear of being smeared or called names.

"Comprende," comrade?

Before I left, Shea had called me "ignorant," even though he had been the one ignorant of the Orwell fact (found in his essay "Notes on Nationalism"). After I left, Shea became even more abusive, snarling that I was an "illiterate moron" and a "skinhead." (I'll admit that in a sense he is correct in flinging out the latter epithet; I'm what you could call follically challenged, i.e., bald.)

That's probably where things should have ended. But I'll admit, I don't always know when to let something go. I followed the comment-box posting on the site for a little while longer, from exile, as it were, until one poster mocked the holocaust-revisionist Institute for Historical Review (IHR) for calling Ernst Zündel a "political prisoner." I should have known better, but I wandered back from cyber-Siberia and took part in the conversation again, this time under an assumed identity. Since I was writing from my wife's home e-mail, I this time called myself "Woman Among the Ruins." Now in cyber-drag, I pointed out that in fact Zündel was in prison for his political views and asked, Why then is it inappropriate to say he's a political prisoner?

At work the next day, as "Man Among the Ruins," I responded to a poster who held that Joe Sobran was evil for speaking at an IHR conference, since the IHR was little different from NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, a notorious pro-pedophilia organization. My reply was to the effect that comparing the two groups was specious, since NAMBLA openly advocates evil acts (namely, child rape), while the IHR does no such thing. This assertion proved to be the last straw for my interlocutor, who practically wet his pants in outrage and screamed for Papa Shea to have me removed. Shea, playing the role of paternal protector of his little flock, was fast on the scene and took decisive action. This drawing of distinctions between NAMBLA and the IHR was just too much to bear. He wrote:

IHR's attempt to diminish the reality of the Holocaust is, as I have already said, morally filthy and completely agenda-driven. Apparently you thought I was kidding when I said I find it extremely difficult to credit the possibility of innocent ignorance on this topic.

However, as a demonstration of my good faith, I am making you the first defender of Holocaust denial to disappear from my comboxes. Find someplace else to peddle your wares.

When I went home from work that day, I discovered that my "Woman Among the Ruins" persona had ungallantly also been banished. All three of my identities had been prevented from ever putting their two cents in to "Catholic and Enjoying It" ever again. All because I had, a) as Andy, pointed out that Orwell wondered whether people had truly been gassed in Nazi camps; b) as "Woman," asserted that Ernst Zündel was in prison for his political beliefs; and c) as "Man," objected to drawing a moral equivalency between a group that openly stumps for the freedom to molest boys and a group that does not stump for raping, much less robbing or killing, anyone.

Apparently, without my knowing it, in between making three reasonable points I had been heard screaming "Death to the Jews!" "Heil Hitler!" and "Cool! There's a sweet deal on Amazon for Mein Kampf and 'Triumph of the Will' at half price!," thus showing my true colors.

Mark Shea's presumptuous arrogance and ungracious behavior, however, is hardly the most disheartening aspect of my experiences at his blogsite. Instead, it is the almost monolithic, sheeplike conformity of his "Catholic and Enjoying It!" fellow travelers. Of all the other posters on the board, only one brave and hardy soul, a man with the handle of "Seamus," questioned Shea's ham-fisted tactics and hinted, subtly, that some hypocrisy was on display:

Far be it from me to expose myself to accusations of defending the defenders of Holocaust deniers, but is it really the case that the man who quoted C.S. Lewis back in October on the subject of thinking your enemies as bad as possible (and being reluctant to entertain the possibility that they might not be as bad as initially thought) now holds that people can be banned, not just for questioning the Holocaust, but also for entertaining the possibility Holocaust deniers might merely be mistaken whackjobs (along the lines of those who believe the Apollo moon landings were all faked or that O.J. Simpson was innocent) rather than evil? And even conceding that Holocaust deniers are indeed evil rather than merely mistaken, must we now conclude that those who entertain a contrary view must themselves be evil rather than mistaken? If so, then we've certainly come a long way from October.
Shea never answered Seamus, of course. Why should he, when most of his readers appeared to be solidly in his corner?

Soon after these ignominious events took place, Shea voiced his displeasure with National Review Online's "The Corner" section for abusing and piling on one of its writers who expressed an unorthodox, politically incorrect opinion. One recalls certain wise words about removing the mote from your own eye to see the speck in your brother's eye, and one wonders whether Shea, who is no doubt a sincere and devout man, and probably a decent fellow in plenty of ways, will ever reflect on the extent to which even he has been corrupted by the contemptible Zeitgeist of our day, to the detriment of the better angels of his nature.

February 3, 2006

Published in 2006 by WTM Enterprises.
Copyright 2014 by Andy Nowicki.
All rights reserved by author.

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