All the News that’s Fit to Post

(Veteran’s anti-war and peace group embroiled in censorship issue)

Thought control hides behind Veterans For Peace (VFP) flags on the VFP Discussion Group site and this is causing consternation among members.

At a glance, the banner at the top of this page showcasing fluttering VFP flags emblazoned with its widely recognizable dove and olive branch logo appears to be an official VFP link, but it’s not. Below the banner on another line is a vague addendum informing readers that the link is a “Group by Willie Hager” and two lines under that in smaller, soft grey lettering it says “Private group.”

This spring I visited the site to learn more about the group’s controversial decision to ban articles from RT. Detractors were arguing that readers should be able to marshal out facts for themselves and that alternative media venues have traditionally been one of the few places where dissenting voices including VFP members could find platforms.

After attempting to post an RT article listing awards they’d won at a prestigious New York festival I was kicked off the page for about a day. One award was for a story about drought in India and another on the plight of homeless children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Later during the first week of June, I was not allowed to post a story about censorship published by Consortium News. A couple days later I posted this — “Hi VFP discussion group moderator, I submitted a link a few days ago to this site from Consortium News and still don’t see it. Is the article still under review or have you decided not to publish it?”

The comment was removed about five minutes later, but it was republished shortly after I messaged Hager on FB. However, I wasn’t allowed to comment or respond to it with an emoji. When I messaged Hager again and asked him to explain this, he said he’d look into it and get back to me. He also said that he’d decided against having an interview with me and that’s the last I heard from him. The comment was deleted again too.

Discussion group moderator Joey B King did agree to an interview. He believed Hager was largely responsible for the rules and said the discussion page administrators didn’t meet on a regular basis to discuss policies. He wasn’t sure about the differences between moderators and administrators. When I asked him a little later about the clamorous background noise present throughout our scheduled interview he said he was loading dishes and pots.

Twice during the brief interview he assured me allegations about censorship were overblown and there was “no story.” He laughed when I asked him to address concerns former National Board President Gerry Condon and others had about the page having an anti-Russian bias. “Gerry went to Syria and visited the president” he said alluding to Condon’s participation in a peace and fact-finding delegation that traveled to Syria in 2016 to meet with religious leaders, NGO representatives and big wigs that included a personal meeting with President Basher al-Assad. King ended the interview shortly after with another laugh saying he had “better things” to do.

Condon’s frustration with the group is evident in his post below from early June:

Two articles I posted on VFP Discussion today were removed with the flimsiest of explanations “lacking 3 sources” and “unsubstantiated.”

Both articles were by respected writers and academics, Ted Snider and William J. Astore. Both articles warned about the negative consequences of sending more high-powered weapons to Ukraine.

One can only conclude that this is an opinion that the managers of this Facebook page do not want people to hear. The sooner they drop the “VFP” from their name, the better.

VFP member Gene Marx believes the discussion group has a pro-NATO and Russophobic bias and its speech regulations are out of an Orwellian Ministry of Truth playbook. He further states:

Censoring any anti-war content from social media or cable news is playing into the hands of US pro-war narrative managers, and for it to occur on a  Veterans For Peace platform is not only dereliction of duty but violates the first provision of the VFP Statement of Purpose: To increase public awareness of the causes and costs of war.

Garrett Reppenhagen, Executive Director of VFP mentioned in Minneapolis last month he was tired of hearing about the issue and felt there wasn’t much of anything he could do because FB allows the Willie Hager group to use the VFP name. In a chain-message he wrote:

The board is currently working to disconnect the national organization from the facebook discussion group. These minor personal platforms don’t have the impact or attention worth concentrating energy and resources from the VFP office and directors. I feel the most we will get from the situation is a disclaimer on the page ensuring visitors the opinions in the discussion group are not the official position of VFP.

In a note back to Reppenhagen, Independent VFP member Mike Madden thinks the page crossed a line when Marx and others were censored. He also criticized moderators and administrators for suppressing information and urged the Board to take action.

On June 8, VFP national Board member Jeff Paterson weighed in with a disclaimer requesting that administrators of private VFP groups adhere to core national principles while acknowledging that the national VFP Communications Committee has no ability to ensure this occurs. He also posted an eight-point code of conduct. Accusations of censorship were not addressed.

So far, VFP Board President Susan Schnall hasn’t responded to my request for an interview although she said she’s open to revisiting the issue at the next Board meeting.

Until then, those with gripes about censorship seem to have two choices — ignore the site or hold out for a management that doesn’t try to steer the narrative by restricting comments and blocking or removing contrarian links. Behavior that’s generally interpreted by critical thinkers as disrespectful (and embarrassing to many VFP members) — especially to those who take the open interchange of ideas seriously. Perhaps those concerns can be added to the recently released code of conduct under a new category — Tolerance For Other Points of View.

Craig Wood is a Minneapolis writer and member of Veterans For Peace. He can be reached at craig2mpls@yahoo.com Read other articles by Craig.