Derick Dirmaier

Derick Dirmaier is the Director of Product and Creative Development at TPM. Contact him at derick@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Timmy

With a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant out by the man who helped put Alexander Hamilton back in the center of 21st American popular culture, I’m late to the game to sing Grant’s praises. I have not read Chernow’s book. But I have been rereading Grant’s memoirs. I began writing this post at the end of last year when the valorization of Confederate military leaders was more at the center of our public debate. But these are issues of long standing, going on two centuries. They remain as present and consequential as they’ve ever been and Grant is at the center of that.

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Unlike any other nation’s, ours is a history uniquely and inextricably intertwined with guns. Pick any era from our past and you’re likely to find a firearm that speaks to the state of our Republic at the time. But the bargain that America has made with guns has always been a Faustian one. For every gauzy tale of Minutemen bravely firing the first shots of Revolutionary freedom with their Brown Bess muskets at the Battles of Concord and Lexington, there is the less well-told story of slave traders and plantation owners relying on those same weapons to enforce a vast infrastructure of human subjugation. The Winchester repeating rifle, “the gun that won the West,” did so in large part by inflicting massive casualties on Native Americans and helping to forcibly inter them into desolate reservations. The Thompson submachine gun that American G.I.s bravely stormed the beaches of Normandy with to defeat Hitler already had a sordid legacy as the preferred weapon of Prohibition-era gangland violence.

This historical through-line of arms continues to this day. And for the past 50 years, no other single firearm has assumed the mantle of iconic American gun — with all the dire consequences that entails — quite like the AR-15. In its military incarnation — as the M-16 and M-4 automatic rifles — its distinctive silhouette has become an internationally recognized emblem for American power and influence. Here at home, civilian sales of the semi-automatic Colt AR-15 and its many competing knockoffs have skyrocketed in recent years and now total in the millions.

AR-15 by Katesheets

The AR-15’s reach into our nation’s culture is no less remarkable. It’s appeared in hundreds of movies, and even co-starred with Hollywood’s archetype of the American gunfighter, film legend John Wayne. You’ll find its image on T-shirts, flags, and body parts. It’s spawned countless Internet memes. It’s been sold, in toy form, to untold numbers of children. You can buy a working version of the weapon with a pink, Hello Kitty design or in star-spangled, red, white, and blue livery. There are a near infinite number of ways to accessorize and customize it. A Congressman once offered one up as a campaign fundraising prize. (It’s also been banned by Congress—but not really.) It’s increasingly carried as a symbolic totem at protests and counter-protests and its presence among dozens of members of the crowd at last week’s Dallas shooting added to the chaos. And, as perhaps the ultimate signifier of modern-day American status, it now has its own TV show.

The story of the AR-15 is a quintessentially American one. Which is to say it combines the classic elements of war, cheap salesmanship, second chances, bureaucratic incompetence, and a time-honored tradition of trying to squeeze every last dollar out of a deal. From such compromised origins grows a long, checkered history, one where this weapon has often exacted a lethal toll far beyond its makers’ expectations. It’s a deadly dichotomy that began in the jungles of Vietnam and continues to plague Americans here at home to this day.

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In his first inaugural address, on January 20, 2009, President Barack Obama, highlighting how far the nation and Washington DC had come, described himself as someone “whose father, less than sixty years ago, might not have been served at a local restaurant.” But he failed to mention the black woman who was responsible for desegregating Washington DC’s restaurants in 1953, a year before Brown v. Board of Education.

On January 27, 1950, 86-year-old Mary Church Terrell had walked into Thompson’s Restaurant, a cafeteria located a few blocks from the White House. The manager refused to serve her and two African American activists who had gone with her, the Rev. William H. Jernagin, pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, and Geneva Brown, the secretary-treasurer of the United Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers Union. The manager’s reason? They were “colored.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you are not going to serve me?” Terrell asked.

The manager apologized. It was not his fault, he said. It was his company’s policy not to serve Negroes.

Terrell and her colleagues had expected that answer, and they enlisted two lawyers to help them challenge Thompson’s for violating Reconstruction-era anti-discrimination ordinances that banned Washington restaurants from discriminating by race. The laws had languished on the books for decades, not enforced and never repealed. And because the laws made it a misdemeanor for restaurants to discriminate against customers by race, Terrell and her colleagues needed the help of local prosecutors, who had long shown little interest in enforcing the ordinances and prosecuting restaurants for refusing to serve blacks.

Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in Terrell’s case, District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc. In an opinion by Justice William O. Douglas, the Court invalidated restaurant segregation in the nation’s capital, upholding the Reconstruction-era prohibition against race discrimination. From that date, Obama’s father could have been served at a local restaurant. That decision set the stage for Brown v. Board of Education and for a decade of civil rights struggles that eventually granted the country’s African-Americans full civil rights.

Mary Church Terrell, who initiated the test case, had been the most prominent woman in the civil rights movement for over fifty years. An Oberlin College graduate and the daughter of former slaves, she was once known as the female Booker T. Washington. She was also a militant feminist, a founder of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. In 1904, she gave remarks in English, German and French at the International Congress of Women in Berlin. That same year, Lewis Douglass, the oldest son of Frederick Douglass, called her “the greatest woman that we have.” After World War II, she was a very early leader of the campaign against racial segregation in public accommodations.

Yet while almost every student of American history knows about Harriet Tubman or Rosa Parks, almost no one knows who Terrell was. After her death in 1954, she simply vanished from history. That may be because in the early part of the twentieth century, when Booker T. Washington and supporters of racial separation held sway, her open defiance of racial discrimination became an irritant. Or it may be because she was also an early supporter of women’s rights among men who preferred that women play a servile role. Or it may simply be because she was too far ahead of her time. At a time when activists from Black Lives Matter are pushing the boundaries of respectable protest, it’s worth revisiting the story of Mary Church Terrell.

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Almost a century before the 2016 protests about the lack of minority representation among Academy Awards nominees, a group of African American entrepreneurs sought to transform the predominantly white American film industry. Among the very first was Oscar Micheaux. The son of slaves and an autodidact, Micheaux became the first African American to produce a full-length feature film.

Micheaux was a revolutionary filmmaker who wrote, produced, and directed groundbreaking movies with all-black casts that countered stereotypes and explored explosive racial issues. His films addressed interracial relationships, “passing,” and lynching, taboo subjects that were central to the black experience in the early twentieth century. Micheaux sought, he later explained, to “present the truth, to lay before the race a cross section of its own life, to view the colored heart from close range. . . . [in order to] raise [African Americans] to greater heights.”

Despite limited access to capital and equipment during the Jim Crow era, Micheaux became a prolific producer of “race pictures” that were primarily restricted to theaters for African American audiences. All in all, he directed more than forty black-and-white silent or “talking pictures” over the course of his lifetime.

In spite of these impressive accomplishments, Micheaux died in poverty in 1951 at age 67 and his name gradually faded into obscurity during the decades that followed. After his death, Micheaux’s wife burned his business papers and many of his powerful films were lost over time. In recent years, however, historians have finally begun to recover much of the story of one of the nation’s earliest black filmmakers.

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ISIS is undeniably talented. Despite our unwavering endeavors to demolish the group, we have not. Although our efforts have significantly impeded some of ISIS’s operations, and helped drive it out of parts of Iraq and Syria, ISIS-inspired attacks persist – and at an alarming frequency. Its perpetual existence is partly due to the group’s vast support base and remaining physical holding. Above all else, however, it is due to its masterful use of the Internet. Its utilization of cyberspace keeps its radicalization global.

The group uses the Internet to spread poisonous doctrines, militant tactics, and graphics displaying their violence or their ability to govern. It maintains a comprehensive media machine, including a unit dedicated primarily to Westerners. Each of ISIS’s two-dozen operational territories across the Middle East, North Africa, Central and SE Asia houses a media team that shadows fighters in battle, records and propagates executions, publicizes upcoming local events, and then edits and distributes content according to the group’s messaging objectives.

When fighters worldwide flocked to the group’s strongholds, ISIS leveraged their linguistic skills to translate propaganda materials and leadership statements into many foreign languages. ISIS has compartmentalized the group’s video dissemination and assigned media teams to focus on various segments of the target audience, whether Western populaces, local Syrians and Iraqis, Kurdish forces, or its own fighters and supporters. The group then delivers its radical ideology to the global masses using the very technology billions of people around the world depend on.

Regardless of how much territory ISIS loses, its messaging will still reach and likely convince a massive audience that it is effectively playing “David vs. Goliath” against the world’s largest military coalition. It works through the obvious public sources like Twitter, but when it has been impeded from doing so, it has resorted to what is called the “deep web” and to a Russian-created massage service called Telegram, to elude the eyes of the intelligence agencies. It has even found a way to use the cloud services offered by Microsoft and Google.

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North Carolina has had a difficult few years in the media. Maybe back in 2014, the headlines about the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid to 500,000 low-income North Carolinians caught your eye. Maybe you heard about the state’s ruthless Voter ID law that, according to a federal appeals court, targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Or maybe you know of the state’s shameful “bathroom bill,” House Bill 2, that eliminated anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ citizens and mandated that in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates.

North Carolina’s General Assembly has spent the last six years painting the state such a bright shade of Republican red that it’s difficult to see the vivid shades of Democratic blue that lie in the state’s past and could very possibly resurface in this year’s election, giving the state to Hilary Clinton and electing a new Democratic governor, senator, attorney general, and state supreme court justice. North Carolina was once a leader in the South in its liberal approaches to civil rights and labor disputes, and a national leader in access to and quality of public higher education. But the state remains deeply torn between conservative traditions and progressive ideals. To understand where these progressive ideals originated, there is one man whose story speaks volumes.
Frank Porter Graham was president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) for almost twenty years. Graham was an active advocate for civil rights, poverty alleviation, public service, and access to higher education. His liberal reputation bled into that of the university he led, which had been transformed, under his leadership, from a provincial state college into the leading institution in the South.
In 1949, North Carolina’s governor tapped Graham to fill an empty seat in the U.S. Senate, and in the next year, Graham attempted to win election to the seat. Initially favored, Graham was set back by a growing controversy over civil rights and was defeated by an ugly, race-baiting campaign. Over the next 66 years, liberals in the state, including Democratic governors Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt, have continued to battle Republicans like former Senator Jesse Helms and the current governor, Pat McCrory, for the state’s future. But it began with Frank Porter Graham.

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The white horse she straddled stamped impatiently in place as Inez Milholland, cloaked in a white cape that draped over the animal’s broad back, awaited the signal to start the march on the afternoon of March 3, 1913. When the bugle blew, her horse “Grey Dawn” trotted off so quickly from the Capitol Building that the five thousand costumed women marching along Pennsylvania Avenue in the first national suffrage parade lagged several blocks behind. The “beautifulest” suffragist did not know a howling mob awaited her around the corner. Characteristically, she charged into the fray, awing reporters who proclaimed her the suffrage Joan of Arc. No one watching the robust young lawyer would have predicted that just a few years later she would die fighting for votes for women, making her the nation’s sole suffrage martyr.

Nearly forgotten today, Vassar College-educated Milholland—suffragist, lawyer, journalist, socialist, athlete, free lover, pacifist, atheist, labor activist—was the most controversial and celebrated proponent of women’s suffrage during her lifetime.

In the 1910s she was the media’s poster girl for the New Women, the first feminists of the twentieth century, according to historian Nancy Cott. The New Women loathed limits and cherished choice, seeking professional fulfillment and personal pleasure. They were a seminal link between the earnest nineteenth-century woman’s rights activists and the free-spirited women’s liberationists of the late 1960s. It is difficult today to conceive how Milholland dazzled the press and her followers. Princess Diana comes to mind, although Gloria Steinem during the women’s lib years comes closer.

“No one watching the robust young lawyer would have predicted that just a few years later she would die fighting for votes for women, making her the nation’s sole suffrage martyr.”

The centennial of Inez Milholland’s death at age thirty in November 1916, right after a woman was almost elected president for the first time, is a fitting occasion to remember that millions of American women labored for seventy years just for the right to vote.

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Richard Spencer says it hurt. Not the punch he received last January during an on-camera interview in Washington—that sock-heard-round-the-world, a protester sending Spencer flying, flipping the white nationalist from a force to a farce. The pain from that punch, says Spencer, was superficial. A deeper hurt, a lasting, snow-balling ache, came elsewhere, from the man who helped usher Spencer to prominence, who helped inject white nationalists with a momentum they hadn’t seen in a generation. From the man who coddled white nationalists during a presidential campaign, turning dog-whistles into air-horns, spinning white nationalists into fits of giddiness—promising a hope, and a change, of the kind that would make Bull Connor blush.

The man now in the White House. Donald Trump.

“I do feel, maybe betrayed is too strong a word, because it’s not like Trump signed a contract with the alt-right,” Spencer told Talking Points Memo in May. “I do feel a little bit—I don’t know. God, this is going to make me sound pathetic, but it feels a little bit like getting dumped by your girlfriend. It feels a little like that. It also feels like I can’t trust someone. It’s like someone whom I thought was moving in the right direction makes a strange move to the point where I don’t look at him the same way as I did before.”

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Mick Mulvaney, in his battle with Leandra English over the acting directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, asked staff to forward “additional communications from her … in any form” to the Wall Street watchdog’s general counsel. It looks like somebody did, and today he is upset. This is an annotation. You can put anything here, including links and images

New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci speaks to members of the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 21, 2017. (Photo by Oliver Contreras) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***(Sipa via AP Images) In a Tuesday email to CFPB staff obtained by TPM, Mulvaney apologized for having to reiterate that he is the true acting director and told staff to disregard emails or instructions from English:

I understand that Ms. English sent out at least one additional email today wherein she purports to be the Acting Director.

Consistent with my email from yesterday, please disregard any emails sent by, or instructions you receive from, Ms. English when she is purporting to act as the Acting Director.

I apologize for having to send this instruction again. And I feel terrible about you folks being put in this position, as I understand it can be both confusing and disruptive. However, I hope we won’t have any more misunderstandings moving forward.

Please feel free to reach out to me here or in person if you have any questions.

Thanks very much.

Mick M.
Acting Director

English has filed suit seeking both a temporary injunction and a restraining order against Mulvaney to prevent him from assuming the acting directorship of the government agency, which the very conservative former South Carolina congressman has often criticized.  U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly heard arguments on Monday in Englishs case in Washington but did not immediately hand down a ruling; he is expected to do so Tuesday.

Mulvaney, who was appointed as purported acting director by President Donald Trump, is still serving as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

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