Saturday, February 27, 2021

Bloody Shirts, False Flags

Recently I saw a Twitter thread by writer David Neiwert about the history of the term waving the bloody shirt, which I don't believe I was ever taught about in school, or if I was it didn't stick. The Twitter thread is in the context of the January 6 coup attempt, as the Right tries to variously label it a false flag operation by antifa or whoever, just before they flip around and say the violence was justified because the election was stolen, blah blah blah.

In general, waving the bloody shirt means someone who uses a violent incident to score cheap political points, and of course its roots go back to the post-Civil War period. As is usually the case today, the origin story involved someone from the good guys (in those days, the Republicans) who made a speech in Congress about a man who had been beaten by the Klan. The speaker didn't actually wave a bloody shirt. But the pro-Klan, white supremacist forces of the South said he did and kept repeating the lie (does this sound familiar?) and it became — as we say these days — a thing. As Neiwert put it,

...the legend became a sneer: If any Northerner should happen to bring up the campaign of lethal terror being waged against blacks in the South in any political context, he would be dismissed as “waving the bloody shirt.” It became a common cartoon trope. Soon enough, the conventional wisdom became that this very real violence was not the problem, but rather the demagogues who dared reference it, “exploiting” the tragedy for political purposes.

And we see this all the time now with the funhouse-mirror-room we live in, full of supposed false-flag operations, which always turn out to reveal the actions or motivations of the speakers. 

It strikes me that "political correctness" and its new denigrated siblings, "wokeness" and "cancel culture" are versions of the bloody shirt, too. Chances for the Right to claim aggrievement from their perceived enemies who make something out of nothing, while they continue doing exactly what they want to do to whomever they want to do it. 

Cartoon from the humor magazine Puck, 1885. Today I learned that Puck was anti-Republican.


Today I also learned, from all of this, that the Red Shirts of Wilmington — the street-fighters who did the dirty work of our country's first successful coup in 1898 — took their name from the bloody shirt.

I also learned that Stephen Budiansky wrote the book on waving the bloody shirt (The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox). I used to follow his blog in the early years of DN3, but he stopped writing a long time ago. Here are some past mentions of his thoughts. (He's been writing books instead of blogging. Good for him.)


Two of my older posts that I came across when thinking about this post:

The slippery slope of ice cream (2017, about the Sandy Hook truthers, still one of the most depressing realities of our modern era).

Two posts from the handbasket (2018, about authoritarian mindsets and false flags).


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