On Occupy Wall Street, the Religious Left, and Valley Forge?

I’m very surprised by the number of liberal Catholics who have emailed me defending the Occupy Wall Street movement. They’ve done so quite adamantly, at times somewhat belligerently, calling me names and accusing me of demonizing them—even when I’m merely reporting the alarming, often disgusting things being done at Occupy Wall Street. “Thanks for demonizing us, Paul,” wrote an angry reader who responded to one of my posts at CatholicVote on this subject, and who evidently is a Catholic “occupier.”

Is it my fault that these people are acting obscenely? Could I accuse them of, say, defecating on police cars and calling for the guillotine if they weren’t, oh, defecating on police cars and calling for the guillotine?

The scene from Occupy Wall Street and its sister protests around the nation has been a picture of chaos, belligerence, and violence. Reports abound of property destruction, theft, sexual assaults from groping to alleged rape, stabbing threats, STD outbreaks due to rampant “casual sex” and “hook-ups,” widespread drug use and dealing, mass arrests, refusals to report crimes, and, yes, even defecating on police cars. There continue to be clashes with police protected by riot gear as they are assaulted with rocks and shouted down as “Pigs”. The cases of blatant anti-Semitism are sickening. There have been incidents and violent outbursts across the country, from Baltimore to Boston to Cleveland to Denver to New York to Oklahoma City to Oakland, California. In maybe the most over-the-top, truly insane moment of all, actress Roseanne Barr went to the Wall Street occupation and literally called for guillotining wealthy bankers—yes, that’s right, the guillotine. And Roseanne Barr was deadly serious.

In one case caught on video, the mob cheerfully smashed a statue of Mary (click here).

For merely pointing this out in disgust—and for rejecting the radical politics and ideology and goals underlying the occupiers—I’ve been criticized by Catholics seeking “social justice.” One reader of one of my posts at another Catholic website defended this behavior by commenting that, hey, “Jesus hated the rich, too.”

Well, I wouldn’t quite put it that way.

Jesus no doubt challenged and admonished the rich, but he wasn’t consumed by the hate and anger and vice and class envy and anarchical sort of behavior we are seeing at these protest movements.

And yet, some liberal Catholics and the Religious Left generally are trying to insert Jesus into the Wall Street Occupation. Some are even extending their literal blessings. Recall the bizarre expression by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, lifetime Roman Catholic, who offered this strange wish to the Wall Street occupiers: “God bless them for their spontaneity.”

That’s an odd request for an assemblage of gatherings that have been anything but religious. Sure, the Religious Left has appeared at these protests here and there, demanding “social justice,” but, by and large, the “occupy movement” is an extraordinarily secular movement. To my knowledge, they’re not stopping mid-afternoon to do the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet or a simple prayer or blessing. When I think of the Occupy Wall Street troops, I don’t think of George Washington on his knees in the snow of Valley Forge.

Speaking of which, that brings me to a final thought on Occupy Wall Street.

There was an especially interesting piece on the occupiers that came from Rose Tennent. Tennent was upset by the occupiers referring to what they called their “Valley Forge Moment.” Invoking the image of freezing, desperate American troops at Valley Forge at a pivotal point in the American Revolution, the Wall Street troops sought to identify with General George Washington and his men. As summed up by one of the occupiers, Michael McCarthy: “Everyone’s been calling it our Valley Forge moment. Everybody thought that George Washington couldn’t possibly survive in the Northeast.” The occupiers vowed that they would persevere, just like at Valley Forge.

Rose Tennent vehemently disagreed with this analogy. Her words strike at the core differences between the occupiers and the founders of this nation, and they constitute a worthy history/civics lesson for Catholics and all Americans. Tennent writes of the occupiers:

Their Valley Forge Moment? They couldn’t begin to handle a Valley Forge Moment. Those men—and only those men—who can claim a Valley Forge moment were part of a company of men who faced hardship like none we will ever know.

The men who fought at Valley Forge did not receive donations daily that included blankets and clothing. Some were half naked and some had no blankets for warmth. They didn’t have the military tents like the weatherproof ones that OWS has pitched. That was a luxury the army at Valley Forge did not enjoy. As a matter of fact, there were many who had no tents to sleep in at all.

George Washington said, “For the want of shoes, their marches through frost and snow might be traced by the blood from their feet. And they were almost as often without provisions as with them.”

The brave men of Valley Forge did not have a fancy former hotel chef preparing gourmet meals for them from food donated by organic farmers. They didn’t have iPhones, iPads, or iPods. They didn’t have half a million dollars sitting in a bank for a rainy day. When they were hungry, and they were hungry often, they didn’t vandalize grocery carts or inns for food they felt entitled to.

By December 1777 there were 2,899 men in camp that were unfit for duty because they were without shoes and clothes. Because of the weather and lack of provisions, many men’s legs and feet froze, turned black and were ultimately amputated.

By February of that same year, over 4,000 soldiers were rendered helpless because of the elements, sickness and under-nourishment.

To the OWS crowd, I say, don’t you—or anyone—dare compare yourselves to even the least of the men who truly lived a Valley Forge moment…. [T]hese men knew why they were there. They didn’t leave Valley Forge at night for the warmth and comfort of their homes and families. They stayed on in spite of their circumstances. They stayed on because they knew without a doubt what needed to be done and why….

These were noble men. No one should ever, ever presume to be “like” them. There are none “like” them. And to make that comparison is the highest insult to some of the most sacrificial men that this country has ever known. 

Indeed. And the analogy fails at even deeper level. Consider:

George Washington readied himself for the first and only Valley Forge Moment by dropping to his knees in the snow, begging God for His blessings and protection in the utterly vital moment that lay ahead. Ronald Reagan would refer to this image of Washington on his knees at Valley Forge as “the most sublime image in American history.”

Quite the contrary, the images coming from Occupy Wall Street are not sublime.

And yet, the occupiers continue to claim George Washington’s mantle. As one occupier put it: “I welcome the challenge of this cold weather. This is like war. You know, soldiers do it when they occupy a place.”

Yes, they do. And George Washington and his troops did just that. Can the Wall Street Occupiers even approach that standard? Can they rise to that level?

We’ll learn soon enough. The period of the real Valley Forge Moment was the winter of 1777-78. Well, the Wall Street troops have a winter ahead of them right now. Here it is.

And as Americans nationwide continue to marvel at this spectacle, Catholics might ponder the wish of Nancy Pelosi and the angry “social justice” Christians that I continue to hear from, and will again with this article: Is Occupy Wall Street something we should bless? Did Jesus “hate” the rich? Would Jesus be in New York right now with the occupiers, shouting down with capitalism? Would Jesus not criticize Roseanne’s call for the guillotine? What would he think of the smashing of the statue of Mary? How about the STD outbreaks?

These are not isolated incidents of violence and debauchery. These are the real moments that are too often characterizing these protests around the nation.

I ask liberal Catholics: Is this really a movement that you endorse?

Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press) and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.



  • cynthia curran

    Well, this is my agrument with Glen Beck, Texas also has a lot of occupy movement as well and Beck just keeps on pointing out to New York Or California. Anaheim is in Orange County which is usally to the right of Houston or Austin in Texas. In fact the Occupy are going to hit hard the heavily hispanic towns in Texas, Arizona as well.

  • cynthia curran

    Actually, Jesus and Paul would not advocate the Occupy movement since Judea was oppressed more by the Romans than bankers do the US. Jesus never called for arm rebellion against Rome and Paul never call for the overthrow of the Roman Empire while Occupy movement would since Rome was an imperialists conquer. For example Julius’s Conquest of Gaul led to the death of maybe 500,000 to a million people and enslavement as well.

  • cynthia curran

    The Occupy movement was involved with the Anaheim vandalism with radical hispanic groups like the mexican movement. When police killed and shot a hispanic gang member in Anaheim the occupy OC and young hispanic radicals went and vandalized about 20 business. Anaheim west even though its home to Disneyland is not high on the income level like the hills, so the Vandalism makes Anaheim problems worst. Nancy lives in a nice part of the Bay Area far from hispanic gangs. On the other hand, her daughter Alexanderia did a special on Anaheim about 3 years ago called the Hotel kids of Orangee County. A lot of low skilled whites and second generation hispanics have to compete against illegal immirgants for jobs so the wages tend to be low to afford to live in an apartment in Anaheim.

  • John B.

    I watched that video, and I really cannot tell if that is a person acting as member of occupy wall street (rome) or independently. The other examples you site have little to do with the official goals of the movement. Rather, they seem like mistakes that the movement would not condone and would try to prevent like the Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse charges.

    As for the official goals of the movement, they seem to be strongly aligned with the goals of the Church as outlined in this press release from the Vatican. What do you guys think?


  • Lewis Kapell

    To be fair, the smashing of a statue of the Blessed Virgin took place in Italy. I don’t think you can use that as a criticism of Occupy Wall Street, in spite of some similarities between the American protests and their overseas counterparts.

    Other than that, I think your comments are right on target.

  • tz1

    MKLjr was an adulterer.
    The term “Hooker” came from the army of the Potomac, fighting the civil war.
    Then there were the priestly scandals – which in itself ought to keep the first stone from entering the slingshot.

    There are a bunch of idiots in every organization, and the Catholic church is big on this, both on the right and the left. Black Cherry Picking the idiots, the grave sinners, and their stupid or evil statements is a sin against the truth.

    It has been done more often TO Catholics more seriously and continually. They find dissenters and prop them up. Some silly working group economic document comes out and they say Pope calls for Supernational banking regulation. And the TRUE, but still evil repetitions of the mantras over the abuse scandals.

    The catechism, under the section on 8th commandment does have something to say:

    2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

    – of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

    – of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279

    – of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

    2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

    Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280

    2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.

    2480 Every word or attitude is forbidden which by flattery, adulation, or complaisance encourages and confirms another in malicious acts and perverse conduct. Adulation is a grave fault if it makes one an accomplice in another’s vices or grave sins. Neither the desire to be of service nor friendship justifies duplicitous speech. Adulation is a venial sin when it only seeks to be agreeable, to avoid evil, to meet a need, or to obtain legitimate advantages.

    2481 Boasting or bragging is an offense against truth. So is irony aimed at disparaging someone by maliciously caricaturing some aspect of his behavior.

    If you wonder why God permits so much mud to be thrown at his bride, it is because the bride’s members have slung the first blob.

    As to “valley forge”, I don’t know of anyone here who is imitating the desert fathers in penances. You are living in even more luxury. You probably waste more food than you would have eaten in your grandparent’s days.

    William Sturgis Lind talks about 4th generation warfare, and that is what is happening. It is fought at the moral level. Big fat, content, condescending, RICH, catholics have nothing to say.

    The next anniversary of Roe v. Wade is coming up. Will there be ANY occupy for life? Any catholics in comfortable tents saying rosaries but demonstrating in civil disobedience? Any fasting?

    No. We have a holocaust in our midst, but the “righty” conservative, content, complacent, condescending catholics just whine about Obama cutting federal funding to the USCCB. But we’ve had the holocaust for 38 years, and like the Laodecians have become lukewarm since it has been a long time and it is out of sight.

    The #OWS may have taken on small penances to try to make their voice heard.

    Catholics have not done even that recently. Yet the moral high-ground is there to be taken. #OWS would respect people who were willing to suffer MORE than them.

    But if you aren’t willing yourself even to do what #OWS does, much less do what those in valley forge did, you have no cause to criticize.



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