General John Kelly: A history of xenophobia from Miami to DC

In many ways, Donald Trump’s chief of staff, retired General John Kelly, complements the commander-in-chief’s numerous racist and xenophobic gas lighting attempts and dog whistles. Kelly’s recent comments that some 1,110,000 undocumented immigrants who were eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, were either “too afraid to sign up” or “too lazy to get off their asses” reveals an attitude rarely seen in today’s military. In fact, the military led the way in establishing a zero-tolerance policy for racism and sexism and that policy has now been extended to homophobia.

Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, represents a throwback to another era. Kelly, a native of a predominantly Irish neighborhood in the Boston area, should not have carried into the Marines the racist attitudes so endemic among working class whites in the Brighton-Watertown section. Kelly was a teen in the Boston area when whites rioted over school busing to achieve desegregation in public education. The matron saint of those like Kelly and his family was South Boston’s racist firebrand Louise Day Hicks, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Boston twice but was elected to a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970 on a wave of white backlash to school busing.

Hicks also served as a member of the Boston City Council, representing her South Boston district. Journalists of the era likened Hicks to Birmingham, Alabama’s racist Sheriff Bull Connor, with columnist Joseph Alsop calling her “Joe McCarthy dressed up as Polyanna.”

When Kelly became the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami in 2012, he took over the operations of a military facility with a long history of xenophobia and racism extending back to the days when SOUTHCOM was headquartered in Panama. The combination of Kelly’s racist underpinnings from Boston and SOUTHCOM’s legacy of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints became a toxic brew. In 2015, U.S. Navy activities under Kelly’s command were cited by the Navy’s Inspector-General for not being fully compliant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Program, the Civilian Discrimination Complaints Management Program, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).

As White House chief of staff, Kelly praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee and cited Confederate leaders as men of “good faith.” Kelly said the reason behind the Civil War was a failure to “compromise,” as if slavery was on the table for a compromise solution. It should come as no surprise that Kelly was recommended to Trump as Homeland Security Secretary by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a hardliner on immigration and someone who is no stranger to embracing neo-Confederate causes.

While commander of SOUTHCOM, Kelly felt at home in meetings with Colombian defense officials and military officers, many of whom who were accused of carrying out genocidal attacks on Colombia’s indigenous peoples—including Afro-Caribbean people along the northern Colombian coast—and poor farmers. Among Kelly’s closest of friends in the upper ranks of the Colombian military were those accused of being in league with Colombian narco-traffickers. Ironically, as Secretary of Homeland Security under Trump, Kelly constantly spoke of the need for a U.S.-Mexican border “wall” to stem the flow of drugs from Mexico into the United States.

Kelly also oversaw the operations of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which hosts the infamous U.S. detention camp. Kelly tended to look the other way as U.S. military and civilian defense attorneys criticized inhumane conditions at the camp, particularly in the section reserved for prisoners captured by the Central Intelligence Agency—Camp Delta or Camp 7. [pictured, right] Kelly, on the other hand, testified to Congress that Guantanamo was the “model of detention for the world.”

Kelly rejected any special consideration for inmates because of their Muslim religion, including a previous prohibition that female guards were not to touch male Muslim prisoners. Kelly also ordered that the number of Guantanamo detainees who had gone on hunger strikes over U.S. guards desecrating the Quran be kept secret. Kelly routinely rejected press coverage of such issues at the detention center.

In a March 2015 press statement at the Pentagon, Kelly foresaw Guantanamo being used in the future for mass migration-type detention scenarios, such as the previous use of the base to house Haitian immigrants rescued at sea by U.S. Naval and Coast Guard ships.

Kelly criticized President Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo prison camp, a rare mark of insubordination from a general to his commander-in-chief. By 2015, Obama finally had enough of Kelly’s insubordination and he ordered him relieved of his command.

As SOUTHCOM commander, Kelly was opposed to U.S. normalization of relations with Cuba. He often referred publicly to Cuba’s government as the “Castro brothers,” taking a cue from Miami’s right-wing Cuban expatriate community—including U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)—from among which Kelly selected numerous advisers at SOUTHCOM.

Kelly ran what was effectively his own foreign policy out of his Miami headquarters. He often went around Secretary of State John Kerry to speak directly to the right-wing presidents of Honduras and Colombia. Kelly also backed Honduras’s CIA-installed junta in carrying out extrajudicial assassinations of political opponents. Without the approval of the White House or State Department, Kelly, in 2014, called the influx of migrants from Latin America to the United States an “existential threat to the U.S.” Kelly tried every way to circumvent U.S. restrictions on providing equipment and training to Guatemalan military and police personnel. The restrictions were imposed by Washington after Guatemala’s armed forces and police were found during the 1980s to have carried out genocide against Guatemala’s Mayans and campesinos.

Eager to pick a fight with the leftist governments of Venezuela and Suriname in 2015, Kelly testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Islamic State fighters had traveled to Syria from the two countries. The director of Suriname’s Bureau for National Security (BNV), Melvin Linscheer, rejected Kelly’s assertion, declaring that “no one from Suriname” joined Islamic State cadres in the Middle East. Alva Baptiste, the foreign minister of St. Lucia, a Venezuelan ally, also rejected Kelly’s claim that St. Lucians were joining the Islamic State, stating, “St. Lucia’s image has in no way been compromised because no St. Lucian is involved.” After Kelly’s remarks about Islamic State recruitment in the Caribbean were shown to be false, he changed the terrorist “threat” to Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran having a presence in the region, even though Hezbollah was a member of Lebanon’s government and Iran maintained a number of embassies in the region. Kelly’s intelligence came not from any U.S. government agency but from the pages of the staunchly pro-Israel Miami Herald. Based on Kelly’s inaccurate and misleading comments at SOUTHCOM, he complements the constant lying by his present boss, Trump.

In October 2017, Kelly accused African-American Representative Frederica Wilson (D-FL) of lying. Kelly was responding to Wilson’s charge that the wife of an African-American Army sergeant—one of Wilson’s constituents, who was killed in combat in Niger—was not properly consoled by the commander-in-chief during a phone call from Trump. Kelly, angered by Wilson, claimed that during a 2015 dedication of a new FBI field office in Miami, Wilson erroneously claimed she secured “$20 million” in federal funds for the building. However, Wilson claimed no such thing, but that did not stop Kelly from calling the congresswoman an “empty barrel.” Kelly attended the 2015 dedication ceremony representing SOUTHCOM, which had just been cited by the Navy for improperly carrying out federal policies aimed at racial discrimination in the workplace. When Kelly was told that Wilson never made the comments he alleged, he responded that he would “never” apologize to Wilson and that, “I stand by my comments.”

Wilson was not the only female official Kelly has had trouble dealing with. As SOUTHCOM chief, Kelly often failed to heed advice from senior female U.S. diplomats assigned as ambassadors in or envoys to the Western Hemisphere, SOUTHCOM’s Area of Responsibility or “AOR.”

In so many ways, Kelly represents an anomaly among Marines. The Marine Corps has led the other services in adopting and adhering to policies aimed at stamping out the sort of racism, xenophobia, and sexism Kelly has so wantonly displayed while in uniform and as a retiree.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2018

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One Response to General John Kelly: A history of xenophobia from Miami to DC

  1. For as much as one or two people on television last night and the night before said that Kelly was oh so an honorable man while in the military .. that to me smelled like a nonsensical crap… Kelly had to be the same bad crap then that he is now … only, maybe the military allowed him to somehow hide his racist, mysoginistic crapula of a self and Donald Trump has allowed it to flourish–as you have so wonderfully and eloquently pointed out. I am so glad someone is speaking truth to power.