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Cost of Defiance: an Open Letter to My Future Detractors

This should have be an article announcing a big break and a milestone of sorts for the Ghion Journal. Yesterday morning, Matt Taibbi, one of the few mainstream journalists who I respect, replied back to an interview request I sent him and confirmed that he will join me tonight for a conversation on an online show I host called Seek Truth TV. Yet, my elation was immediately tempered by an uneasy feeling of trepidation.

As I contemplated what this opportunity presented, the mythology of Icarus came to mind. Each day that passes and every time a new person discovers my work brings me closer and closer to the glaring klieg light that many desire until they feel the searing heat that accompanies riches and fame. Celebrity is a double-edged sword–one that cuts both the hunter and the prey.

Often unnoticed, the first victim of notoriety are the very people who are plucked out of anonymity and kissed by the seducing lips of stardom. I used to wonder if the devil tricked Adam and Eve to take a bite of the forbidden fruit by promising them fame. “You too can be gods”, he probably uttered as he flicked his tongue–the apple they ate from was ego. Prestige metastasizes vanity and turns idealists into cultists of self. There are few in this world who have drank from the chalice of prominence and kept their humility intact.

The second victim are collateral damage as the famous and the legions who want to join them maul anyone who they view as a threat. To be invited into the private club of stardom is a privilege that many would die for. Everyone wants the status quo to change except for those who are blessed by it and prosper through it. No matter what the rich and famous say, trust me when I tell you this, no one in the top 1% wants the status quo to change. This why it is silly that the rest of humanity–the marginalized super majority–keep looking to the stars to deliver us. Those who reside in the cocoon of opulence would rather go to hell with their assets than go to heaven without it.

These things take on biblical connotations, Hebrews once prayed for a king, warned that the king would oppress them, they elected to make idols of men.

Far from delivering us, the “upper crust” of society employ gate keepers to keep people who are not co-opted by the establishment from gaining too much traction. Those who make it past the iron gates, get entrusted with fame and accorded the public spotlight are to stay in their lanes; anyone who deviates from accepted narratives or questions conventions are met with the pestilence of never ending woes. At best, people who rebel against mainstream norms are greeted with a flood of bad press, at worst, they are given the Martin Luther King treatment.

I write this to give context as to why I felt a bit of an unease the minute Matt Taibbi accepted my invitation to appear on Seek TruthTV tonight. The past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that more and more mainstream media journalists have started following me on Twitter. I’m an optimist by default, but life has also taught me to be a bit more circumspect. People who read my work know that I hold no punches when it comes to the bankruptcy of mainstream media and that I hold corporate journalists accountable for their brand of yellow journalism. So when I notice more and more mainstream personalities start to follow me on Twitter, I know something beyond mere curiosity is brewing.

During an interview on 21st Century Wire’s radio show, host Patrick Henningsen asked me if I’ve been targeted for attack due to my refusal to be a partisan lackey. I understood his question through a broader perspective, that of being singled out by media bullies who unleash coordinated smear campaigns against outsiders who speak against their hustles. I replied that I had not and that, outside of the occasional barb that is thrown my direction, I’ve largely avoided the onslaught of contempt that many people who reach a large following and insist on speaking truth to power are treated to on a regular basis.

I would have to write volumes of books in order to detail the number of independent journalists and non-corporate voices who have been taken to the woodshed for committing the unforgivable sin of deviating from media narratives. Jimmy Dore, a comedian who pivoted from jokes to doing some hefty social and political commentary, was dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist” and cunningly libeled by CNN as a hatemonger. Their proof? Paul Murphy, Kaya Yurieff and Gialuca Mezzofiore cited the fact that certain seedy commercials ran during the Jimmy Dore Show. Never mind that YouTube content providers who monetize their work have almost zero control over which ads Google chooses to display. Facts be damned; the only things that matter are clicks and clicking heels on demand to satisfy news executives and their corporate masters.

This same playbook of guilt by association and smear jobs with zero evidence has been used ad nauseam by media personalities who entered the profession of journalism with the lofty goals of speaking truth to power only to end up as power’s cold-blooded character assassins. A couple of weeks ago, Shireen Mitchell, founder of Violence Against Women, went on to publicly commit violence against women as she defamed Yvette Brown and the movement that she, along with Antonio Moore, started called American Descendants of Slaves. Yet again, without a scintilla of evidence, Shireen stated that the ADOS group was a mischievous creation of Russians. Joy Reid, who is to journalism as Caligula was to decency, sat there and let Shireen spout lies without any push back. What need is there for logic where there is a media lynching to be had!

This unseemly, and quite frankly, wicked tactic of trying to destroy people through innuendos without substance nor a shred of proof has become par for the course. Instead of debating ideas and weighing arguments based on merit, we have turned into a society of piranhas who attack the minute blood is in the water. As we partake in this level of malevolence, we open up the pathway for people who are trying to do right to be buried with lies.

This sickness has spread like a cancer after the 2016 election; the malarkey that is the Russian interference narrative was nothing more than a way for the establishment to discredit independent voices. Charlie Peach, a “black” political writer in Atlanta, was kicked off Twitter in 2017 for being a “Russian bot”. Instead of investigating to ascertain Twitter’s veracity, a sea of mainstream media journalists picked up on this provably false assertion–people selling their souls for the sake of web traffic and top mentions. We have become a society without shame.

Judas was paid with shekels, the Judases of the 21st century are paid with media access and blue check marks.

As noted earlier, the allure of fame makes ogres out of people and normalizes violence against those who try to be truth-tellers. This is the precise reason that I sometimes get leery about getting too much recognition; I know the same arrows that were thrown at Jimmy Dore, Yvette Brown and countless other undesirables will come flying my direction like the opening scene of Gladiator the minute that I pierce through the media echo chamber.

This apprehension I felt was only magnified last night when I ran across a vicious attack piece written about Caitlin Johnstone as I was searching for Matt Taibbi’s picture. Thinking I found a perfect profile pic to use for the promo ad, I clicked on one particular image only to realize that the picture was embedded in an article written by Ben Cohen. The ironic thing is that Ben is someone who is not even considered mainstream, he is just an anonymous blogger like me who nonetheless struck gold by way of SEO.

In the article, Ben takes Matt to task for retweeting Caitlin Johnstone and then pivots to unleash an ad hominem torpedo against Caitlin. You can say a lot of things about Caitlin, sure she is fiery on occasion—as am I—but one thing you can’t accuse her of is being a conspiracy theorist or some loon peddling exotic story lines. Caitlin takes her craft seriously; she spends a lot of time researching her topics and giving context to the endless array of media narratives that are meant to confuse and befuddle the public. There is a reason that I repost some of her articles here at the Ghion Journal; even if I don’t agree with her 100% of the time, I find her work at once refreshing and revealing about our time.

No one cared about Caitlin as long as she was toiling in anonymity; the minute she garnered a wide following and rose above the white noise of social media to be considered as a source of news, she was systematically bludgeoned with all kinds of heinous assertions. Her sin? She wrote an article advocating that people should transcend the political divide and that folks on the right and the left should work together to defend their common interests. Demagogues are rewarded with riches as long as they incite emotions and lead sectional movements, but those who preach about unity and the need for a collective movement are crucified the minute their work reaches mass appeal.

There is symmetry to this article, the fact that I’m interviewing Matt Taibbi, which ultimately inspired this article, is poetic justice. Matt can attest to the countless times he has been shellacked by wielders of media force for having the temerity to actually cover news instead of joining the caravan of cults. Eleven years ago, he expended endless energy covering the financial crisis and gave light to the nefarious actions that led up to the Great Larceny of 2008 and the way Obama subsequently enriched the very criminals who bled Americans to the bone. Matt honors the tenets of true journalism; his latest article at Rolling Stone is about big banks endeavoring in the same criminality that paved the way for the implosion of 2008. Muckrakers are not extinct, we just have to stop looking on cable news to find them.

The bread and circus of the Roman empire was nothing to the brand and carnival of our time, we are being medicated with outrage into a state of collective derangement.

If you have not noticed, the need for unity and inclusive justice are the same themes I’ve been banging like a drummer in Morehouse College’s marching band. I was not always like this, before the cruel twists of life condemned me to a life of homelessness for more than two years, I used to be just as divisive as the personalities in mainstream media that I now speak against. My fight for justice was through the color line and I used to vilify “white people” for being the source of this world’s iniquities. It took a stint of homelessness and a long bout of indigence to realize that human suffering does not stop at the water’s edge of race, gender or the endless number of constructs that were imposed to ghettoize humanity.

The old me–the version who used to unleash infernos from my fingers and used my tongue as a bazooka–would have been embraced by a media industry that thrives on division and pushes conflict as a business model. But after going through my Malcolm X Mecca moment by way of homeless shelters and rescue missions, I finally gained enough wisdom to be less heat and seek more light. Yet, even this painful education that I picked while laying down on pavements and sleeping in donated bed sheets has not fully washed away my ego and my need to get the last word. I’m a work in progress.

What comes next? Only God knows. If the worst that will happen to me is a flood of personal attacks and aspersions about my past, I hope and pray that I have enough fortitude to withstand that. If a crueler fate awaits and I join my forefather into the night because I chose to speak up against power like he did, though I desire a long life and to provide for my wife and an expected blessing that I never thought possible when I was sleeping on my own in shelters, I am nonetheless not afraid of death. I will not spend my life worrying about consequences, I put my faith in a God who is greater than the cowardice of snipers who shoot in the night and the malice of those who pay them to spill blood. I’m not moved by fear, I am moved by the love in my heart.

I write this letter to my future detractors, many of who will come from mainstream media if my writing hits the network effect and really takes off. I do not write this to discourage scrutiny. If your objective is to question my positions or to criticize my actions if they hurt others, that is fair game and I will welcome your condemnations and pray that I learn from them. The same way I question Rachel Maddow for being a purveyor of propaganda, I too should be held accountable if my words inflame passions instead of smoothing out the coarseness public discourse.

All I can ask is for you to be fair and to put an end to this vicious game of destroying people’s lives. On this front, I too must do better, but as harsh as I can be, I try my hardest to contain my judgement to people’s professional actions and don’t delve into their personal lives. Maddow, for example, has talked about her struggles with depression publicly; I pray for her wellness, I would never use her condition to prove points. I too have struggled with depression multiple times in my life. Rebuke that lacks empathy is evil.

Live up to your aspirations when you were in college and be muckrakers exposing corruption and malfeasance of those in power instead of diving down into the muck and being the courtiers of the powerful.

Think twice before you pick up your pen to revel in gutter journalism for the soul sake of taking me down a notch. Judgment is not only in the after-life; all of us pay for the cruelty we pass on to others. I’m not being pious about this, though I decided a long time ago to hand to God the reasons I became homeless instead of seeking vindication, I can tell you that in a lot of ways I opened up the door to my own tribulation because I insisted on being vengeful. Our words, and how we choose to use them, are all powerful. No amount of riches and cache can comfort a distressed mind; the spite you dole out consciously during the day will consume you subconsciously throughout the night. This applies not only to mainstream media journalists but all of us; troll at your own risk, as you torch others, you will eventually burn yourself.

I am thankful for everyone who has propelled me over the past two years, what started while I was living in a farm mission called Harvest Farm in Wellington, Colorado has blossomed into something truly special. Despite the heaviness of what I wrote in this article, I am going to celebrate this milestone. It is an honor to interview Matt Taibbi tonight; I hope that I use this occasion and my life going forward not to make things about myself but to seek inclusive justice. I know there will be times where I fail and let my ego get the better of me, when those moments come, I hope people remind me of the words that I wrote here and take me to task as needed. This article is not just an open letter to my future detectors, it is my hope for all of us. Let us not be cowed by intimidation, let us rise above rancor and let us be light instead of adding logs on the fire. #CostOfDefiance Click To Tweet

Above all, I am truly happy for the first time since my father transitioned in 2001. The feature picture you see above is one that was taken while I was homeless living in Colorado less than 19 months ago. I’ve come a long way, gone are the days of regret and sorrows, the love that eluded me most of my life found me when I stopped looking for her. This is the poetry of life; when I least expect it, a star as bright as the one over Bethlehem rescues me from the dark. In 2008, I attempted to become an Ethiopian community organizer and spent six years trying to prove that I was better than everyone else. The ego is a bedeviling friend. When I ran into a friend named Seyoum six months ago and he saw me with my wife, he said “you can stop trying to organize Ethiopians now, Betty is your Ethiopia”. Even through its mess, life is beautiful.

Roses have petals and thorns about them, you have to accept both::

As you are able, I’m asking you today to contribute not to the Ghion Journal but to Nikki Noeller. You can read more about Nikki here. She is currently facing the same plight that I faced less than two years ago. I would not be here writing this if not for the kindness of strangers, I ask you to be friendly stranger to Nikki and help her as you are able. Love is the change we have been waiting for. Click HERE or on the picture below to contribute, the GoFundMe account is set up by her and 100% of the proceeds go to her.

Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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Lij Teodrose Fikremariam

Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the co-founder and former editor of the Ghion Journal. He is currently the chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.

Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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