“Facts are stubborn things…”
– John Adams
On March 5, 1770, the Boston Massacre began as a flash mob of citizens who surrounded and heckled British soldiers quartered in the city. With the local citizenry up in arms about the incursion of British troops by England’s King George, the growing crowd of Americans-to-be threw snowballs, sticks and ultimately stones at the soldiers. Forced to defend themselves, the soldiers killed five and injured six others.
Outraged, the citizens of Boston demanded that the murderous soldiers be punished and harshly. Not long after the attack, a circular (above) was printed and distributed throughout the colonies depicting the callous and murderous conditions under which King George placed the colonials.
Into this fray steps John Adams whom author David McCullough describes in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, as “…a lawyer and a farmer, a graduate of Harvard College, the husband of Abigail Smith Adams, the father of four children… Adams was also, as many could attest, a great-hearted, persevering man of uncommon ability and force. He had a brilliant mind. He was honest and everyone knew it.”
The day after the shooting, Adams was visited by Boston merchant James Forest. According to a recollection by Adams, “With tears streaming from his eyes” Forest asked Adams to defend the soldiers. Adams realized that taking the case could, very likely, cost him his legal practice, and indeed, for a time, his practice dropped fifty percent. However, the principled Adams believed that every person deserved a defense.
According to the University of Missouri, Kansas City’s website, “Adams presented evidence that blame for the tragedy lay both with the ‘mob’ that gathered that March night and with England’s highly unpopular policy of quartering troops in a city.
“Adams told the jury: ‘Soldiers quartered in a populous town will always occasion two mobs where they prevent one.’ He argued that the soldier who fired first acted only as one might expect anyone to act in such confused and potentially life-threatening conditions. ‘Do you expect that he should act like a stoic philosopher, lost in apathy?’ Adams asked the jury.
” ‘Facts are stubborn things,’ he concluded, ‘and whatever may be our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.’ ”
As a result, the jury of Boston citizens acquitted six of the eight soldiers. Two were convicted of manslaughter and had their thumbs branded.
Writing of the incident years later, Adams called his defense of those British soldiers “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”
While the circulated poster of the incident became a rallying cry for a young American citizenry, it presented a false image of the actual facts.
The Boston incident came to mind while I was researching a more contemporary scandal, Operation Fast and Furious; a story that has not only taken on a life of its own, due to the Internet, but to some in Congress it has become emblematic of a disastrous administration which put forth a wrong-headed scheme conceived and defended by all the president’s men.
Like many, I have become overwhelmed by so many claims and counterclaims, sound bites and factoids that frankly, I don’t know what the truth is. Adding to the confusion is the Internet which has become its own ubiquitous “circular” containing misinformation which criticizes, and blames, on the one hand, while ardently defending every single word the president utters as the gospel truth, on the other.
Among the claims that that have gained considerable traction in the months following the incident:
“Fast and Furious” began under the Bush administration.
– President Obama, (Sept. 20, 2012) in an interview on Univision.
“The president is on record as having said all along knew nothing about it, didn’t deal with it, wasn’t involved. And all of a sudden the president invokes executive privilege which suggests that there was some White House involvement. You can’t have it both ways, can you?”
– Gregg Jarrett, Fox News’ Happening Now, (June 5, 2012)
“The Justice Department has refused to turn over critical documents on the grounds that they show internal Department deliberations and were created after February 4, 2011 – the date Justice issued a false denial to Congress. Contempt will focus on the failure to provide these post-February 4th documents.”
– Darryl Issa, Chairman, House Oversight Committee, (June 1, 2012)
Then, there’s the extreme, as put forth by the National Rifle Association and Rush Limbaugh (June 8, 2012):
“You know, the purpose of Fast and Furious,” Limbaugh tells listeners, “one of the purposes was to get those guns across the border in the hands of Mexican drug cartels, have crimes committed, and then say, ‘We gotta do something about the Second Amendment. How do Americans guns get to Mexico?’ Well, we got ’em there because we gave ’em. That was never supposed to be discovered. Now, the Second Amendment argument or rationale here goes to the motive for doing what Holder and the DOJ did. They wanted controversy around guns. They wanted American guns in Mexico, but the problem, they engaged in reckless tactics, and the pretext for allowing the guns to walk across the border was to be able later to trace them to crime scenes and then build a case against the Mexican drug cartels.”
Limbaugh continues to label his show “Excellence in Broadcasting.” While readers may believe I’m wasting time even citing Limbaugh, let me remind you that Arbitron, which tracks radio listeners’ habits, lists The Rush Limbaugh Show as the number one commercial radio program with more than 14 million weekly listeners, (Mar. 2014). That’s far too many likely voters who listen and possibly believe his claims.
Following a Google search using the terms “fast and furious gunwalking operation,” here are some of the more popular links:
During my initial search, I found 62,400 links to various stories and opinions about the incident. Needless to say, one could, quite literally, make a career spanning months if not years reading, fact-checking and analyzing all this information.
So, what is the truth?
Quoting Margo Channing from All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”