December 3, 2022

Boise city officials backed up their pre-Thanksgiving promises to dig deeply into the scandal that has cast a cloud over the city’s police department—the revelation that a longtime police captain was also a pseudonymous contributor to a white-nationalist organization and scheduled speaker at its annual conference—with Wednesday’s announcement by Mayor Lauren McLean that the city would hold an independent investigation into the matter conducted by a former Justice Department prosecutor.

However, the press conference itself provided a jarring reminder that the now-retired police captain’s brand of far-right extremism isn’t relegated only to the police rolls: A well-known far-right activist, acting as a pseudo-reporter for a right-wing news website, asked flustered city officials whether the (utterly bogus) Black crime statistics touted by the officer in his writings and in videos were accurate—to which, fortunately, the interim chief responded pointedly that, manipulated numbers aside, what mattered was Matthew Bryngleson’s toxic white supremacist beliefs and whether they infected the Boise Police Department (BPD).

The investigation announced by McLean will be overseen by Michael Bromwich of the D.C.-based law firm Steptoe and Johnson. Bromwich, a onetime inspector general for the Justice Department, most recently won recognition for his investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, which uncovered years of coordinated efforts to plant drugs on suspected drug dealers, steal their money and drugs, and resell them, resulting in the convictions and imprisonment of eight police officers who ran the “Gun Trace Task Force” team.

“We need to know whether racist ideology has tainted policing, hiring and promotions, internal investigations, and community interactions in any way,” McLean said. “It is one thing to hold a set of beliefs, but it is an altogether different thing to allow those beliefs to impact the behaviors, to impact your fellow officers, to impact the community. And that is what we have to be able to determine.”

McLean told reporters she was “rocked” by the news of Bryngelson’s participation in a white nationalist conference under a pseudonym.

“I don’t believe that those ideals are pervasive in our department, but the community must know, and we must know what does exist and what’s happened in our department,” McLean said. “Our officers serve this community tirelessly and were eager to learn whether Matt Bryngelson’s ideology led to any discriminatory impact on our community members or on our police department.”

McLean explained that Bromwich and his team will be tasked with exploring the extent to which Bryngelson’s racist beliefs affected his policing—as well as whether it infected BPD staff or reflected a culture of tolerance and whether Bryngleson ever used any city resources to create or distribute racist material.

Shortly into the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, however, a far-right activist named David Pettinger—apparently acting as a correspondent for the Idaho Dispatch­piped up and asked whether the bogus crime statistics that Bryngleson cited were accurate:

Were the statistics that Captain Bryngleson stated, were they not accurate? [Which?] The crime statistics—with African-American and people of nonwhite race committing more heinous crime?

Pettinger is not a working reporter in any real sense of the term, since he has no journalistic background, and the Dispatch is a website specializing in right-wing propaganda. In fact, part of his background as a far-right activist in Idaho—beyond doxxing and targeting liberals, and terrorizing public officials in their homes—includes running a Facebook page on which he called for journalists at three Boise media outlets to be executed after likening them to Nazi propagandists.

Among his many other antics, Pettinger has gained particular notoriety for protesting outside the home of an Ada County health official and frightening her children. He was arrested at the Idaho Statehouse in February 2021, wearing a Star of David and yelling about fascism. When a right-wing Republican legislator was accused of raping a then-anonymous intern in March 2021 (he was later convicted), Pettinger went in drag to a Republican rally wearing the woman’s real name.

The subsequent report in the Dispatch, written by Pettinger’s frequent cohort Sarah Clendenon, took credit for the question:

During the press conference, Idaho Dispatch asked the question whether the statistics Bryngelson cited, which sparked this inquiry, are accurate or inaccurate. The Mayor, City Council, Police, and police union representative were not able to provide an answer to that question.

There was indeed a bit of shocked hemming and hawing at Pettinger’s question initially, and a mayoral spokesperson called it “a good question,” which she did not have an answer to. Instead, she handed it off to the interim chief, Ron Winegar, who handed it adroitly:

I don’t think we are prepared today to address whether those statistics were accurate or not. We have certainly not done an analysis in relation to crimes committed in our community. But we would hope that folks can look at those statistics for themselves and draw their conclusions. More importantly, to us, is the ideology that he espoused and looking at whether or not those feelings or those views that he has or had, whether they impacted our policing, and whether we had any disparate policing outcomes or measures in place because of the views that he may have had.

For the benefit of both Boise civic authorities and anyone else confused by Pettinger’s question, the most direct and clear answer is simple: The numbers spewed by Bryngleson and his cohorts are unmitigated bullshit, concocted to create a fearmongering narrative depicting Black Americans as innately violent and threatening—which has been the meat and potatoes of white supremacism since its beginnings two centuries ago.

Clendenon’s report in the Dispatch, in fact, tries to cite one of Bryngleson’s posts at the white nationalist American Renaissance website, under the nom de plume “Daniel Vineyard”:

Violently attacking your teacher in the middle of class usually results in more harsh discipline than, say, excessive tardiness or talking in class. Blacks are suspended or expelled more because they participate in FAR more heinous behavior than whites at a much greater frequency. This isn’t rocket science. Find me a video of a wild brawl in the middle of class where a white student attacks the teacher. If you find one, I’ll provide 500 of a black “student” doing it. They cannot assimilate into ANY civilized environment. I can’t believe anyone would willingly teach in a chocolate school.

These are not, of course, reliable statistics of any kind. Beyond being utterly undocumented and more polemical than factual, what he calls “heinous” crime is not any kind of known category (probably the closest to it would be “violent” crime) that anyone studying interracial crime statistics would be able to enumerate.

But these kinds of spurious claims have been one of the primary recruitment tools of white nationalists for several decades now, and particularly pseudo-academic outfits like American Renaissance. Its founder and primary figure, Jared Taylor, has been making a living from promoting the claims that Black people are innately more violent and prone to criminality as the cornerstone of a “white separatist” agenda that is his main political project. His pamphlet The Color of Crime, first published in 1999, has been regularly updated over the years as it continues to peddle this mythology to gullible right-wing ideologues.

In reality, as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Cassie Miller explored in depth in 2018, serious studies of the relationship of race to crime consistently find that “concentrated poverty has a criminogenic effect: lack of access to jobs, increased idle time and poorer educational opportunities all increase one’s chances of engaging in criminal behavior, and the effect is the same for black and white people. One study, released three years before The Color of Crime, found that when sociologists controlled for structural disadvantages, there were no significant differences between crime rates in black and white communities.”

The key factor is consistent poverty, which is a direct product of systemic employment discrimination rather than the supposedly inferior mental and moral abilities of nonwhite people:

A 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics study showed that persons from poor households experienced the highest rates of violent victimization, and that rates were consistent for both blacks and whites. When sociologists asked “Is Poverty’s Detrimental Effect Race-Specific?” they found the answer was no: policies aimed at reducing poverty effectively reduced violent crime and the crime reduction rates were similar in both black and white neighborhoods, meaning it was poverty—rather than race—that contributed to the violent crime rate in the first place.

The false beliefs that arise from these smears have consequences, too: Dylann Roof, the domestic terrorist who killed nine members of a Charleston church’s black congregation in June 2015, shouted during the rampage at his victims his belief that they were “killing us.” In his manifesto, he specifically cited Taylor’s smear pamphlet as the source of his information.

To their credit, Boise police officials seem eager to have a proper investigation as their first necessary step toward their eventual reconciliation with a community that has good reasons now to distrust their officers.

“These have not been easy days,” Winegar said. “We stand ready to support the investigation by fully providing the investigator and his team with access to the documents, data, and interviews necessary to be thorough.” He added, “There is no room in the Boise Police Department for those who allow racist or white supremacist views to negatively impact policing in our community.”

The local police union representative, Cpl. Brian Holland, said his union preferred an internal investigation to an external one. Nonetheless, its members support the investigation, he said: “We do not and cannot abide by our former captain’s ideals.”

Holland hopes his colleagues will be eventually vindicated: “We felt that some comments earlier put us all in the same bucket,” he said. “We don’t feel like (those comments) represent our union members. But since then, we’re working together to make sure that we’re moving forward as a community.”

Boise City Council member Jimmy Hallyburton told the Idaho Statesman that Bryngleson’s claims, for instance, that “every major crime here involves a Black person,” were not just “clearly racist” but also fatuously wrong.

“It doesn’t take much to go look at the news, to look at some of the major crimes ... and see that that’s an absolutely false statement,” Hallyburton said. “There’s all sorts of heinous crimes that are committed by white people as well as people of color.”

Hallyburton is most of all concerned about what Bryngleson’s longtime presence of 22 years on the Boise force says about the department.

“It’s also alarming to see somebody who’s been in the Police Department that long and has managed to share those views while on BPD, and to imagine that there isn’t a system that allows those beliefs to exist,” he said, adding: “There are systems in place that allowed this person to be here for a really long time, and that’s not OK. And we have to figure out what those systems are.”

Republished with permission from Daily Kos.

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