Frank Morales is an Episcopal priest and activist in New York City.
Morales was born in 1949 and grew up in the Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His father was Puerto Rican and his mother Peruvian.
He first became involved in politics after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King as a member of the Assassination Information Committee.
Morales became an assistant pastor in 1978. In the Bronx he worked with squatters. In one interview he recalled, "I used to walk out of services with a crowbar and we’d open up abandoned buildings...." He now works at St Mark's Church in-the-Bowery.
Wit and her partner, the artist Jeremy Blake, are currently residing in the church’s historic Ernest Flagg Rectory, where this interview took place.
Wit: So we of Wit want to hear about your years of research into a few of these covert Pentagon programs that have and are being instituted against civilian populations in places like good ol' New York and Los Angeles, particularly against these cities’ expressive and creative communities, their artists and filmmakers…
Father Frank Morales: Yes, well there's Operation Garden Plot, which is the U.S. Department of Defense code name for "U.S. Department of Defense Civil Disturbance Plan 55-2." But it's Garden Plot for short in most of the documents I've seen.
Wit: But some people say Operation Garden Plot is a myth, a paranoid invention…
FF: It's secret, but there's a paper trail, a legal trail. The legal eagles of the military, they're called Judge Advocate Generals, or JAGs. They're the legal sophists who rationalize the death machine. They've published a bunch of papers on assassination, on various things that are very interesting reading, and one of them is on the subject of domestic military operations, against civilian populations, and this is Operation Garden Plot.
Wit: So these Pentagon Programs against domestic dissent were ramped up after the popular movements of the sixties, correct? They didn't want young people rising up and ending any more of their wars.
FF: Yeah. The historical roots of Operation Garden Plot, namely the Pentagon civil disturbance plan, emerged from the Kerner Commission. This was a federal commission that was appointed in 1967 according to a President Johnson Executive Order, to examine the roots of the riots that took place. There were 109 urban uprisings that took place in 1967, and they're looking at particularly Detroit and Newark, Watts. This report mentions ways in which to prevent riots in the future, and it’s also the first document to outline how Operation Garden Plot is a preemptive concept in this regard.
Wit: So like Cointelpro, it was designed to identify people and groups before they came to be influential and sway their peers or, in the case of someone like John Lennon, their popular audiences?
FF: Yes, it's suppression of dissent, and you can find many other documents online, for those who care to, at The Center for Law and Military Operations, or CLAMO. On their publications page there's a long list of legal dossiers, legal opinions, on this and other subjects.
Wit: And these are Pentagon documents?
FF: Well, it's been a work in progress since the popular uprisings against the Vietnam War and other popular uprising in the sixties. The military guys are always tweaking it, working it and so on. Over the decades, there's been administrative shifts in terms of who's the executive agent in charge of these things. It used to be the Army; now it's Northcom, which Dick Cheney heads.
Wit: And you said since the sixties the Pentagon devotes more and more money and manpower to something called Operations Other Than War.
FF: Yes, there's an increasing focus on turning the psychological operations might, the money, the suppression of dissent toward civilian populations. You can read about Operations Other Than War in these military magazines--Parameters Magazine, Military Review, The Army War College. It’s OOTW for short--Operations Other than War.
Wit: So what sorts of measures do they suggest taking against dissenters, protestors, or just people who have unpopular opinions?
FF: The primary law of counterinsurgency is preemption, and Operation Garden Plot is the main preemptive counterinsurgency strategy. In other words, you need to move before the opposition has a chance to gather any strength whatsoever. So, what Garden Plot represents from a macro point of view is a counterinsurgency apparatus directed at the American people to preempt and prevent the rise of resistance.
Wit: And what's Operation Chaos then?
FF: Operation Chaos is an intelligence gathering apparatus that was compiling lists of people who were involved in dissent. You know, various forms of rebellion against the, quote, unquote, authority of the U.S. government. So, they kept files on people. A lot of this was exposed in the mid-70s during the Church Committee hearings. But the Pentagon's machinations in the suppression of dissent have to this day remained fairly submerged. Operation Garden Plot has not been the subject of an article in The Nation or any other liberal journals in any extensive way--and forget any kind of mainstream stuff....
Wit: And what about this missing two trillion dollars from the Pentagon? Donald Rumsfeld gave a press conference at 5:30 p.m. on September 10th, 2001, saying this vast sum could not be accounted for. Do you think this is funding these vast covert programs?
FF: Of course. Those are special access programs, "SAP programs", within the Pentagon, which are acknowledged as being highly classified and where there are trillions of dollars that are put in…into these special access programs, which are very secret. Black budget. They don't hide the fact that they're secret. More than likely that's where the Garden Plot monies are coming from.
Wit: Why would a Pentagon program countering internal dissent need so much funding?
FF: Well, the important thing is that the Pentagon, which is the entity of force par excellence globally, they've set up an enormous apparatus to police internal security in the United States, to suppress internal dissent. In a wider sense, what it represents is a kind of domestic dialectic of militarism that used to be aimed abroad. It's what Eisenhower referred to the "military industrial complex" and what I refer to as Pentagon Incorporated. Pentagon Incorporated has an agenda to take over the world, militarily. Rationalizing any way they can. They have their front people, Rumsfelds and Cheneys and all these people, right? But the munitions manufacturers and the banks and the oil people and these other people, they've had this plan. And now we are seeing a massive mobilization of people and money involved in these plans, which have been sort of practiced and war gamed for decades.
Wit: Well what kinds of programs specifically does it fund?
FF: Things like SWAT that appeared in the early seventies. The Special Weapons And Tactics concept in local police forces in America. This grew out of Operation Garden Plot's Operations Other Than War, as just one example of the militarization of the police. And this has been pretty much illegal, because Link: Posse Comitatus Act limits the use of military forces within America. The American Revolution, the one that formed the United States as we know it, created rules of engagement under this act--not forcing troops into an individual's home, no quartering of soldiers. Warrants were necessary for entry onto private property, for search and seizure. This is no longer true. A founding democratic principle has been overturned.
Wit: Well, these programs seem to have been pretty effective. The lack of any vocal entity to oppose them or even understand what we're witnessing—even from traditionally Left Wing communities like the art world—is embarrassing. What could possibly account for this passivity?
FF: Well, as I’ve been saying, it’s preemptive, so they would identify “insurgents” in any community well in advance. Surveillance or keeping files or what have you on people. If you were sitting around some Strangelovian table in the Pentagon with General Jack D. Ripper saying, "We're going to take over the world,” and Buck Turgidson pipes up saying, "Well, you know, there's some people in this country that might resist." They say, well, we have to have an apparatus for that: Garden Plot .
Wit: And this would include the lunatic fringe stuff like spying, black ops like cults and so forth, psychological operations, smear campaigns against private citizens?
FF: Yes. The Council on Foreign Relations published a white paper in the mid-1990's, hyping the need for all these so-called "non-lethal weapons": wooden bullets, rubber bullets, sound cannons. But "non-lethal" is a misnomer. Because they can kill you. But they're all designed to go up against non-combatants.
Wit: Well, what about the really, really weird stuff? MKULTRA and Black Ops and Mind Controlled assassins and all these kind of paranoid conspiracy things we've been hearing about in B-movies since the 1970s?
FF: My guess is that many of counterintelligence sections of Garden Plot still remain very deep, deep secrets. Just a fraction of the MKULTRA stuff has been declassified, and this small amount of material is kind of mind bending. Regarding the documents that reveal these secret programs that I have in my possession, the discovery of these programs comes from secondary sources, like the LAPD documents from the 1992 riots which refer to Garden Plot.
Wit: So Garden Plot was actually used to counter the L.A. riots?
FF: Or enflame them. In '92 in L.A., when the Rodney King explosion took place, there are various documents linking the Los Angeles Police Department to Operation Garden Plot. To the engagement and the interrelationship between military units and LAPD. So, there are documents there, much of the time these programs like Operation Garden Plot are so secretive that you can only see them referred to in documents where they overlap with some less secretive program. So in the '92 riots in L.A., the LAPD was working with the National Guard in a secretive way, and you can see in the LAPD documents. This overlap between the military and the police was in accordance with Operation Garden Plot. There were LAPD guys who actually busted a carload of National Guard soldiers who were coming into Los Angeles.
Wit: Busted. Really? What for?
FF: They had a carload of dynamite.
Wit: National Guard soldiers as agents provocateur, you’re saying?
FF: Yes, it seems that way. The destruction in L.A. was not solely caused by people burning their neighborhoods down.
Wit: So you've been active in the squatter movement and are involved through your work as a priest at St. Mark's In The Bowery Church with the homeless, with housing. You told me earlier that the displacement of the poor is actually an Operation Garden Plot counterinsurgency strategy.
FF: Yes, the Kerner Commission Report, Chapter 17 is on housing. It talks about how to solve the civil disorder problem in the long term. Remember, the initial executive order from Johnson that led to the creation of Operation Garden Plot was trying to stop riots in the future. Get rid of the people, disperse them--and then FEMA is set up in '79 to reconcentrate these people in homeless shelters. The homeless phenomena of the '80s, all the crazy people on the street, is not accidental. It's counterinsurgency. It’s a military operation against the poor and those perceived as mentally ill.
Wit: Yes, and FEMA famously rose to national consciousness with the botched job in New Orleans. Is there evidence that this was a deliberate botching?
FF: I started getting involved in Pentagon domestic operations via the creation of homelessness detention centers by FEMA. FEMA still oversees the shelter system nationally. Federal Emergency Management Agency, yes, comes to mind in terms of their well done job in New Orleans.
Wit: But how is the New Orleans disaster linked to Garden Plot?
FF: What they did, they did well. The National Guard turned away all the aid--the food and clothes sent into the city, right? The Federal government contracted with Blackwater who are supplying mercenary soldiers to Iraq and everywhere else to handle the rescuing...
Wit: Well, there were reports they were deliberately trying to create riots, enflame the remaining population and things like that too in New Orleans.
FF: Well, yeah, I mean, that's…the strategy of counterinsurgency.
Wit: Well, the stadium scene was something out of Hieronymus Bosch...
FF: Yeah, exactly.
Wit: Perhaps preparing us for what it was going to be like when the dissenters are herded together here, as in Chile in the 1970s.
Wit: So, what are they doing, for example, against local police unions or civil liberties organizations that might resist the militarization of their local police force?
FF: Bush in the 2007 Military Defense Authorization Act, which is the big let's give the Pentagon 500 billion dollars annual thing—within this very long piece of legislation, there's a section in there which rewrites the Insurrection Act, which deals with these subjects, and allows Bush for the first time, the executive, to station troops anywhere in America without the consent of the governor, without the consent of local law enforcement, whether it's union people, police people, whoever. But The Governors Association, when this legislation was being considered voted 51-Zip against it.
Wit: Yeah, I remember that. Why do you think there's so little domestic resistance to this program? Because they've so successfully hidden it?
FF: Well, I researched the death of John Lennon pretty extensively. And there's a report called "Crisis in Democracy", which is a hundred-page report authored by all these future presidents and these Defense Department characters and Sam Huntington, who also wrote the Clash of Civilizations. And in this report it says that the real danger, along with the students and the workers and the women's movement and all the popular movements of the period, the biggest danger were people who had media sway. People like John Lennon who were progressive, but who could command a vast audience. They were really afraid of these sort of charismatic, talented people—of all the groups and individuals they name, this was the big one to them. So these Pentagon domestic operations have targeted these kinds of people as early as 1975.
Wit: Yes, but one thing that I believe, that I've seen with my own eyes is that the creative capabilities and creative products of Americans are one of the things that led in part to the global hegemony of the United States. There's a book called How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, and "culture" used to be a European idea, so that if you had an avant-garde or influential thought, it was European. And so, after World War II, you had people like Jackson Pollock posing with his world-changing abstractions in Life Magazine. And there was no better advertisement for America. Do they not understand or care that a vibrant intellectual and creative class is necessary to the health of a nation?
FF: I think their experience with this vibrant creative class is that they opposed their agenda.
Wit: But, even in terms of real estate and things like that, artists and other supposed countercultures always generate wealth. So, what they want basically, and I guess it's what we're actually seeing in the art world. Is that they want to create right wing artists.
FF: Yeah. But that's an oxymoron.
Jeremy Blake: Not if you're Frederick Remington, or…
FF: Well, yeah, Hitler did his art.
Wit: His victims were his art! Like the corny line in one of the shitty serial killer movies they're making so frequently just now.
FF: But they have their aesthetic. To me it's like the Christian thing—and I'm getting a little preachy here. But, you know, it's like when I hear Falwell—may his soul rest in peace—you know, coming on, his Christian this and Christian that. I don't give him or anyone like him that term. He's not a Christian.
Wit: And somebody right wing is not an artist. Jeremy says John Currin is a very good painter, but I say it's dessert topping on the Apocalypse. He wears his Republicanism on his sleeve and all these ancient creepy old guys go mad for him at Gagosian.
JB: Yeah, but Gagosian himself is incredibly entertaining. An old fashioned ‘70s street con.
Wit: His victims are his art! But with an artist like that, or these kind of art world observers, the chubby academics, the thoughtless trendy curators—it’s what Nietzsche called The Last Man. It's somebody who wants only coffee without caffeine and jogging only on a treadmill, all simulated exercise and experience. And most of all they want thought without risk. And that's what we see often now in the art world actually. Not so much from the artists, but from the huge bureaucratic apparatus that has arisen. But without risk, it's not thought!
FF: Yes. They can try to splash those kind of contradictions out there and make them fly in the abstract or something, but it doesn't work that way.
JB: The covert people that we've met, the people from Iowa who show up to ask questions about Theresa's old FBI file for protesting plant closings in Detroit—the biggest thrill in their lives is to be around liberal people.
Wit: Yes, squares with a new paisley shirt and some little wire rim glasses frames. There was a frottage, like a rubbing up against us, that was clearly attraction. They would get to our house in Venice and whisper into the cell phone "I'm inside their house!!" Like they had achieved some thrilling penetration.
FF: Bad conscience.
JB: It's like the children’s book Where The Wild Things Are, when the forest creatures say “We'll eat you up, we love you so!”
Wit: So I was going to ask you something else here. What about the rise of the Christian Right? Do you think that came out of some position paper, some CFR coffee klatsch?
FF: The Christian right was orchestrated politically, yes, I think so. Back in the early 1970s, there was an emerging discourse on the relationship between Christian ideology, between the figure of Jesus and the New Testament, which represented apparently radical lifestyles and values.
Wit: I hadn't heard anyone talk about the poor and poor people's movements in a very long time until we moved here. Until we met you and some of the people who work at St. Mark’s and the people in your congregation.
FF: But a commitment toward the poor...
Wit: ...Liberation theology.
FF: When I became a priest, there were pamphlets published that spread like wildfire. One was called Communism In The Bible, by Jose Miranda. A beautiful book, it's about 80 pages. For me, it was very inspirational. But the Christian Right was orchestrated by secular finance. It didn't emerge out of the grassroots, our of any classic sort of revivalist tradition.
Wit: Falwell and his “Christian” ministry were bailed out by the Moonies. More cults. His ministry was bankrupt and Moon came along and paid the bills.
FF: Falwell was totally artificial, totally against freedom. This is why I say it's a fraud, theologically. It is the ongoing attempt to suppress, you know, what I refer to as like the underbelly of the church. What the Latin Americans call the church in captivity. Right?
Wit: Well, consumerism isn't a cause worth fighting for. And the recent spate of books absolutely insisting on atheism—Hitchens and Dennett who are so brilliant—but it's the new whey-faced fundamentalism. The idea that most wars are religious wars is frankly absurd, and not borne out by any real military history.
FF: That’s true.
Wit: But there's almost an embarrassment that people have about Christianity. Some of the daredevil readers I know, where no idea is spooky or forbidden for them…
FF: Because they've bought the fact that Christianity is identified with people like Jerry Falwell. Which is deliberate aversion therapy. You see, that's why we have to go at that. Falwells are financed by secular Right Wing foundations and other fascists. The Christian right is neither right nor Christian, as they say. To be more specific, we need to uncover just what the utility of justice and love made real in the world is. And what that implicates us in. But I'm used to being in this role--the kind of Fool For Christ thing.
Wit: So being a priest and being political are inextricable for you?
FF: Well, yeah, again, you know, I don't want to get preachy. But Christianity is not about otherworldliness. You know, it's exactly the opposite. Ideologically, the whole shtick is about how the divine power manifests itself in the world. That's the whole point of the ideology. The cross represents the intersection of these two dimensions. Post-resurrection, in other words, Jesus comes back—we all know the story—but what that represents is a complete shattering of those two separate dimensions. As Martin Luther put it, in Jesus Christ you have the infinite emptying itself into the finite. Everything is changed after the crucifixion and resurrection…
Wit: You know, Philip K. Dick is really interesting on this, too, because he had a conversion experience in California—he famously lived next door to Disneyland—and a woman came to the door. She was wearing a fish sign, a Pisces sign that the early Christians used. And he claims he had this sort of mystical experience that was across dimensions of time. And he actually suddenly felt like that time was an illusion. So he said ever after he had the feeling time was essentially created by Satan to prolong and delay the return of Jesus Christ, the Second Coming. So, under all of the supposed progress and all of the change, he says it's just an overlay over the same unchanging reality. It's still like the day that Christ died, and he felt the anticipation of resurrection, the thrill, he says, constantly.
FF: I totally agree with that.
Wit: So other than the hucksters, the Falwells and the L. Ron Hubbards of the world, there are these startlingly generous and original religious thinkers. P. K. Dick—obviously, he's a little wiggy, but he's an original thinker, and this old narrative was just completely alive for him. And Slavoj Žižek is great on the continuing radicality of Christian love and forgiveness, particularly in his book The Puppet and The Dwarf, which is also thankfully very good on Freud and Marx.
FF: As a matter of fact, to use that metaphor again, without sounding preachy, reminds me of Buckminster Fuller's comments, why do you think they call the basic element of time “the second,”? Because it's not the first.
Wit: Well, because P.K. Dick lived next to Disney World, he talked about the animatronics there—the servo operated puppets and the moving pirates and the fake birds—a place everything was artificial. And he said that that's like the second reality. But he said, someday a real bird was going to sing at Disneyland and uncover the first reality.
FF: Ah, beautiful.
Wit: "We see now as through a glass darkly…"
FF: Yes, St. Paul. What the resurrection, what Christ represents is an immediacy. The first, as opposed to the second. For me this is the whole category of risk, to live with a primacy, the wonder of seeing things face to face. You know, the surrealists talk about a sort of mystical materialism…
Wit: There’s a lot of Christianity shot through the intellectual tradition of France, whether it's Lacan or Andre Breton or Badiou. And Žižek and Walter Benjamin both philosophize about different aspects of the mystical and materialism.
FF : Well there's the dogma of the “company church” and then there's the inescapably subversive nature of Christianity. It's like in a sculpture where they have the beautiful picture of, you know, the Virgin Mary and the Three Kings and so on, and then below, they'll have these little gargoyle figures—the managers and bureaucrats, I guess.
Wit: [Laughs] Wherever there is a powerful force you get the gargoyles. The guardians and gatekeepers. The people who were driven mad by the ring in The Lord Of The Rings, corrupted. There are people who are corrupted by the thing that they are holding, I guess, and then there are people who can be trusted to carry it.
FF: Yeah. Yeah.
JB: Trusted to carry it no matter what the consequence.
FF: I like to think in terms of the non-corruptible. What can't be corrupted? Now, Herbert Marcuse said in a speech once, he said, well, you can even commodify the forces of love. This was in 1969, 1970. We all said, "No, impossible!" 'Cause we never dreamed that Jimi Hendrix would be doing a Ford commercial. You know, we didn't believe that was possible. To quote Jesus, or at least to quote somebody who was apparently quoting Jesus, “See, and then you'll see. Hear, and then you'll hear.”
Wit: Yes, back to Paul. I think.
FF: Paul, yeah. Corinthians 13.
Wit: Which is a spectacular piece of writing.
FF: Yes, but getting people to read the Bible. To see or hear. You encounter this kind of resistance. It's just like pushing away the 9/11 Truth tape. You know? You can agree or disagree, but they don't even want to look. It's what Erich Fromm called Escape From Freedom.
Wit: Yes, that or creeping chicken shit-ism.
JB: Terminal Mama’s Boy-ism.
Wit: Yes, people that resist every form of 9/11 Truth seem so juvenile to me. Silly. But they’re all kind of nuts because they secretly—unconsciously—know Dad Did It.
FF: In this neighborhood, here in the East Village, the shutting down churches, removing services and shelter for the poor. In order to make condos. It epitomizes evil.
Wit: Especially the condos with wall to wall carpeting.
FF: A friend of mine once pointed out to me--who does Jesus curse out most in the Bible? Rich people. "It's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into heaven." He went to the temple and threw out the money changers. First thing, he comes into town on the donkey, comes into the big city as a country guy. He's already wanted by the authorties, 'cause he's making speeches out in the hills. This guy is dangerous! Because he’s different than everyone who has come before. He's not saying the kingdom is coming. He said, I am the kingdom, it's here. And the first thing he does—boom!—they do a direct action. Straight to the temple! Throws the money changers out, and by accounts I’ve read—holds the place for days. This most assuredly earns him his happy designation as an insurrectionist.
Wit: Yes, that's what G.K. Chesterton says in Orthodoxy. In Jesus’s life there’s an example for every rebel—"a boast for all insurgents everywhere.”
FF: I refer to it as risk. We need to get more people to do it. It's shedding a certain security. We must seek insecurity!
Wit: That's what an artist is supposed to do. An artist is supposed to be a land-based astronaut. You're supposed to be walking out in front of people, avant garde, reporting back, if you make it.
Wit: You're not supposed to be on solid ground as an artist. Risk!
Wit: Why not question every single thing you believe? Why not consider things that you're embarrassed to believe? Maybe 9/11 is an inside job. Maybe love and forgiveness are the most brave and radical ideas...
FF: Oh, yeah. I work with all different kinds of people. So I'm often surrounded by cynical hip capitalist types, whether they consider themselves Left, you know, or Smarter Than Left—a whole new designation.
Wit: Well, there's a lot of liberals, like I said, in the academy or the art world especially, it's like the petting zoo for ideas. Everything's been defanged in advance.
JB: Well, there's a similar emphasis in Abstract Expressionism on overcoming time. Painting in the present.
JB: There's stuff in music, too, particularly for me in punk rock. In Abstract Expressionism there's this push to overcome thought as a, you know, in as much as it is a barrier to new forms. There's a deep-rooted effort in some of the DC punk rock that I like, and also in all the good Ab Ex artists to overcome what you've been talking about. Overcome the second, get to the first. Clement Greenberg's early thinking is interesting on this, because he was trying to preserve something theological in a secular, or formal way, through painting.
FF: Right. Exactly. Yeah.
JB: Now all that stuff has a new shell. There's only one thing a painting can really mean in the new MOMA, and I love the new building. But to me everything now reads as, "This artwork is expensive. It is well insured and well guarded."
JB: These things used to be really alive for me. But the primacy is lost in the context of this new New York City that's been laid down over the vibrant old one. Since 9/11 maybe—which may be the whole point of such a spectacle—now these amazing creations have become for me kind of…inert.
FF: It’s like removing risk and radicality from Christianity. But it’s back to these programs like Garden Plot, these schemes against Americans, their cities and their people, their art and thought and vitality. Garden Plot exists to prevent art and religion from assuming any kind of liberationist stance.
Wit: Oh, God…it’s so bad.
FF: Because that's the thing. They're trying to suppress what they perceive as dangerous. Whether it's Scientology as an intelligence operation or the Institute for Religion and Democracy, which is the secular foundation which finances a lot of the Christian Right stuff, this potential for subversion is what is being covered up.
FF: Just like they kept the stone on Christ's crypt. Garden Plot is another version of that stone that keeps the rebellion against this stifling of truth and free expression from rising.
Wit: The barrier that separates the second from the first.
FF: Exactly. And real Christianity eliminates that distinction. You know, it's like the Lord's Prayer. “On earth as it is in heaven.” That's unambiguous. It's not later. It's now. Paradise Now.