THE WHITE ALBUM
The Pacific Northwest. The bastion of progressive thought. Land of Subaru-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, dope-smoking environmentalists. A place where all are welcome regardless of race, color, or religious identification. A region where it’s all about what’s best for all of us; not just the rich, white, and powerful. A sort of utopian-progressivism that our hippie friends from the 1960’s would be proud of. But not so fast. Why are we hearing about renegade Republican senators fleeing the statehouse and taking refuge with armed separatist militias? And what about the Proud Boy men’s rights marches met with masked Antifa operatives and their oh-so-frightening vegan milkshakes? And that the Portland Police Bureau itself might just be working hand in hand with right wing white supremacist movements? In other words, what the hell is going on out in Oregon? Could it be that the last stop on the way to our very American dream of Manifest Destiny might not be what it seems, or what we thought we believed?
As Jeff Marzick explores in his piece, “It’s complicated. While there certainly are elements of the aforementioned progressiveness here, just like in much of America, it’s a lot more nuanced. But it’s kind of like eating an apple. You grab it and start eating. Eventually, you get to the core. But once you get there, you find something totally different than what you just consumed. It’s no different when you take a look at a city or a region of the country. We may think we know what it’s all about, but we really don’t. So while we make certain assumptions about the Pacific Northwest, one of the most beautiful places in the continental United States, its real founding story remains an ominous cloud that even the most inclusively minded hipster cafés can’t escape from. Oregon for one, has a past that if you didn’t know any better, could be compared to a state from the Jim Crow Deep South. There’s a history of racism, a history of not being kind to either blacks or immigrants, mixed with the settlers' erasure of their own role in Indigenous genocide. And of course there’s also a deep mistrust and animosity towards the federal government. Militias and white supremacy groups have called this region home for generations. In fact, over 300 of these groups have operated here since the mid 1850’s.” Read Don't Tread On Me
But there’s also a progressive spirit that emanates from Portland, Oregon’s largest and most culturally diverse city in the state. It’s the hub of economic activity. While Salem is the state capital, there’s no doubt that the real power in the state resides in Portland. Most of the legislation coming out of Salem surely has the blessing of it’s large neighbor to the North. Thus, those in rural Oregon feel abandoned and kicked to the curb. It’s a clash of cultures, a clash that’s been going on as long as Oregon has been a state. Yet the hypocrisy of those progressives casts a shadow that even the most suped up VW van can’t shake. Liberals in the Pacific Northwest can run but they can’t hide from their past or their maddening liberal refusal to acknowledge their own origin story, which inevitably ties them up tight with their white separatist neighbors. Some of the same independence and individualism that has spurred exclusionary policies in the past have also fueled the movement to make weed legal. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. See All The Pictures Here
In general, fear of the other people is what drives many of the red-hat wearing Americans. The same ones who cram auditoriums to hear the conman in chief tell everyone that there are caravans of very bad people ‘invading’ America. It’s getting ugly. Fear breeds exclusion. It’s in America’s history. Certainly, Oregon is no different. One separatist group built on this fear of other is a secessionist movement to create a 51st state called the State of Jefferson, in which 23 counties in Northern California would merge with 4 counties in Southern Oregon to create a state of its own. But what is the State of Jefferson movement and what do they hope to achieve? It depends on who you ask. There’s been some debate as to whether the State of Jefferson is anything other than a bunch of white people trying to create their own version of a Libertarian utopia. According to Mark Baird, the primary spokesman, juris coordinator, and historical researcher of the organization, that’s just not the case. In fact, when asked if his organization is Libertarian, he answered with an emphatic “No.” And when asked if his movement is associated with White Nationalism, he was even more forceful. “That always comes up in these conversations. And when these articles come out, it’s always about the largely white rural North."
To get an even better sense of what the SOJ movement is all about, there’s no place better to look at than Yreka, Ca. In 1941, there was a rebellion by a group of young men brandishing hunting rifles just south of Yreka in which they handed out copies of a Proclamation of Independence, stating that the SOJ was in “patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon.” It was in this original proposal that Yreka was named the provisional capital of the proposed 51st state. So Yreka is a place where SOJ blood runs deep. Sitting approximately 15 miles south of the Oregon border, the views from Interstate 5 are breathtaking. According to Southern Poverty Law Center, there are members within SOJ who adhere to an anti-government philosophy. And, there are other anti-government groups that have endorsed SOJ in the past; groups such as the Three Percent, and the closely related Oath Keepers–a group comprised primarily of military veterans, law enforcement, and emergency first responders. So it’s not so far fetched to consider the questionable activities of the Portland Police Bureau.
Hearing the story from photojournalist and Indigenous artist Josué Rivas, “Traveling up and down the Pacific Northwest from Portland down to California was quite an interesting journey because there was part of me that knew the land and had been there before with Indigenous folks, and I had done work up there but had never really experienced being around other folks that lived there and have settled there. So, when we went, and to just go through the landscape, there was a storm, there was this snow storm, and then all of the sudden it got really clear when we got into Northern California. Once we got to Yreka, things had shifted. For me as a storyteller and photojournalist and most importantly as a human, it was really hard to see. For me, this whole mythology of the pioneers and the settlers being these great people that were able to make that place better, tamed, and had a given right to explore it and settle it and own it. It was really hard to do that. Obviously because I’m a person of color and an Indigenous man, but also because what I really saw was that we often uphold lies so high they’re in history books, and they become the narratives that we tell ourselves to feel comfortable.” See The Film Here
And herein folks lies the irony of a “we're so liberal” city like Portland. Their superficial open mindedness is often a result of the very American privilege they enjoy as they deny not only their own origin story, but also that of those who might have been there before them. As Rivas describes in his essay, “when I moved here it was just an interesting process, because as much as there was a lot of progressive thinking and progressive values, which is what kind of drew me to it, it is also a place where I would go into spaces where I thought I was supposed to be welcome, in such a supposedly liberal city, but I still didn’t feel welcome. Even though people say the right words, I didn’t feel welcome. I think there’s a lot of the times where we have intentions where we’re trying to be inclusive to people, but then we still don’t fully understand what inclusion means, or what it looks like here. I’ll go into a restaurant that’s supposed to be like, you know, very very inclusive and I just feel something. I can just feel from either the waiter or just the way that I’m talked to or the way that I’m looked at, that some of those folks still have a lot of judgment about someone like me.” America the beautiful, America the free, America the complicated, that can't just let it be.
photographs by Josué Rivas
The White Album is one of the most influential records of all time. Historically, people have always enjoyed projecting symbols, urban legends, myths, and magic onto the Beatles. And who can blame them? Even now, there’s a new film dedicated to a made up world where no one but one lucky man can remember the iconic foursome. And such projection is also true with The White Album — creating a legacy that still lives on to this day, and not only for the music inside it, but the myths that surround it.
But detrimentally, The White Album would also go on to influence an unlikely someone who would probably be a big proponent of separatism and The State of Jefferson. Someone who didn’t believe in races living together in harmony. Someone who definitely was convinced the land was his for the taking. We’re talking about Charles Manson, of course. He believed the Beatles were warning him in The White Album’s track "Helter Skelter" of an upcoming race war. It played a key role in his warped ideology. According to Manson Family member Paul Watkins, "Before "Helter Skelter" came along, all Charlie cared about was orgies." But those were simpler times. When the album came out, he started to find subliminal messages from the Liverpool lads, believing that "Rocky Raccoon" meant black people and "Happiness is a Warm Gun" was a song about guns and a revolution, rather than a song about sex. He believed in following his own manifest destiny that he psychotically perceived from The White Album, and as we all know, would go on to commit mass murder.
Obviously, Manson had the album all wrong. First off, it is actually self-titled as The Beatles but was nicknamed The White Album due to the plain, white album cover that encased it, not because The Beatles were pro-white people. They wanted something different from their previous loud, busy covers and liked the simplicity of the white and the lettering. But although the cover was simple, making this album was not a simple time for the boys. The band went to India to create the album and meditate, but it ended up being the beginning of the end for them. Harrison felt spread thin, Ringo felt left out so he actually left for a bit, Lennon was beginning to break the cardinal man cave rule, and Paul was actually not Paul at all.
Besides Manson, the album also influenced people in, well sort of, less sinister of ways. And it accidentally lead to one of the greatest pop culture legends of all time. Which is: current Upper East Side resident Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1966, and the rest of the band and management was covering it up (and still are). Paul did on-camera interviews in an attempt to squash these rumors, but that didn’t matter, because that obviously was just his look-alike talking.
This rumor is all thanks to The White Album, which contained an infamous song titled "Revolution 9." A couple of college students decided to, naturally, play the record backward, and heard what they thought sounded like a car crash followed by a telling message: “turn me on, dead man.” This somehow went viral in the days before virality, and the world went crazy. Every album cover, every interview, every nervous twitch meant Paul was dead. His shoes were off in the Abbey Road album cover - dead. Black walrus on the 1967 cover of Magical Mystery Tour - obviously dead. Number 9? Ring the church bells, Paul is dead. The Paul post-1966 simply wasn’t the real Paul McCartney to these Revolution 9-truthers and there was no proving to them otherwise. Paul's crafty, sneaky doppelganger would even go on to fool the Queen in 1997, achieving knighthood and everything.
According to the alleged real Paul McCartney, when asked about the legend, he said the rumors don't really bother him. “To the people’s minds who prefer to think of them as rumors, then I’m not going to interfere,” he told Life magazine. “I’m not going to spoil their fantasy.” It’s a wonder why The White Album caused so much projection, fantasy, and unfortunate, intense warped ideologies, but from then on the Beatles would be cemented in history for not only their music but their use of subliminal messaging. Wait until you hear Led Zeppelin IV.