At about 9:30 pm on Friday, January 11, the IVAW’s bus caught fire at a truck stop in southern New Jersey. Nicknamed “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, the vehicle was a total loss. Fortunately the driver, Vietnam Veteran and anti-war activist Jim Goodnow was not hurt, though he was on the bus attempting to take a nap when the fire started. While the bus is often referred to on the Net as IVAW’s bus, there are also statements that Mr. Goodnow himself is the owner-operator. Whichever the case may be, Mr. Goodnow and IVAW have my condolences for what must be a substantial loss, especially Mr. Goodnow. He lost personal possessions along with his livelihood, at least temporarily.
Over the days following the fire the story had “been posted all over the place” in the words of our IVAW friend ‘army sergeant’ writing at Active Duty Patriot.
However, what was written about the bus fire was light on what could be important details. This post from OpEd News.com was reposted in many places and is a good example. The site of the fire is identified only as a South Jersey truck stop. No town or city was identified. It speculates that the fire could have “been anything from ARSON, to ATTEMPTED MURDER.” [Caps theirs] There is nothing about what fire department was on site and whether they were investigating an arson or recommending that such be done. It ends by stating that Mr. Goodnow was planning to contact the ATF Arson Squad the next day, and that readers should “Stay tuned”.
I have stayed tuned, for over two weeks, but there has been nothing to tune in to. However, the seeds were planted for what followed. That this bus was festooned with overtly political signs and slogans, from “Impeach Bush-Cheney” to “Don’t Invade Iran” makes it at least within the realm of reason to speculate that it was possible that someone torched the vehicle out of a political motivation. What was and is not reasonable was to conclude, without evidence, that it must have been arson, an intentional attack and that folks could be sure of the ‘type’ of party responsible. What follows opens me up to a charge of nut-picking, but is done here for another reason: as a guage of the intense reactions the story, as given, fueled.
From the Democratic Underground, a sampling:
“They'd have killed Jim just for sh*ts and giggles. We need to treat the rethug bastards the way we dealt with the Confederates and the Nazis, with rifles and soldiers. Welcome to the Second American Civil War!”
“BUSINESS AS USUAL in USAmerika. Just ask anyone who worked for Civil Rights in this f**ked up country...Or anybody who was active against the last Vietnam war...USAmerika is a f**ked-up, violent, racist outfit. That ain't gonna change soon...”
“I live in south Jersey and I don't know what is more troubling to me:
1. The very real possibility that some fanatical Bushites attempted to harm a peace lover; or
2. The fact that not one single local news station or newspaper has even mentioned this incident.”
“If I was a betting man, I'd wager my life savings it was a Freeper Nazi who did this. We know it was a pro-war thug who did it. The government needs to watch these people like a hawk.”
“Paranoia, proud and unafraid, here on DU! Many of these posts assume that George Bush himself gave orders for his black ops team to destroy the bus. How about a Bartcop Chinaco tequila shot of reality here? He was at a FREAKING TRUCK STOP! Truck stops are full of right-wingers, usually working 48 hour shifts, high on coke or ecstasy to stay awake and complete their runs, listening to Rush Limbaugh and Faux News, out of their minds. Isn't it more likely that some of these truck drivin' zombies freaked out and decided to torch the hippie liberal bus?”
And someone answering that last post:
“I read through them all and I hadn't seen that ["Many of these posts assume that George Bush himself gave orders"]. Seems like most people are thinking that if it was arson, it was probably a right-wing nutjob, like you suggest. Comments like that set up a strawman argument where people feel they have to say, "Oh no, I wasn't implying George Bush did it. Golly." When instead we should be noting that the Bush-sponsored fascism has created a**holes who think this is a reasonable response to people who protest their government's illegal wars. So while he probably had not done it, the subtext to all this is that he might as well have done it.”
“I wonder if the Justice Dept will treat this as an act of terrorism?..I'm sure the FBI will now bring its vast resources to bear on this new threat to national security, the bus-burning branch of Al Quaeda.”
DailyKos was, of course, similar:
“Burning peace buses? Someone remind me what freaking time we're living in.”
“It keeps astounding me that the self righteous, hyper religious folks in our nation are the ones that resort to violence in the face of someone else's opinion.”
“It doesn't astound me a bit, unfortunately Those who feel that they have righteousness on their side, or feel that they are "standing up for God" will always believe that the ends justify the means for if the end result is that God's will (as they see it) is done, then they may, and in fact must do anything and everything to make it so.”
There were many others, including:
Peace Bus, The Yellow Rose Torched
IVAW Bus Torched
IVAW bus, nicknamed "Yellow Rose," burned by arsonists in NJ
IVAW Bus Firebombed
'YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS' Peace Bus Destroyed In Deliberate Arson Fire
Attempted murder and arson in order to stop the advancement of peace!
IVAW Bus Firebombed - Author: Veterans For Peace
Even though our IVAW friend Army Sergeant at Active Duty Patriot made some attempt at tamping things down, he also simply concluded that it had to have been a deliberate fire:
“... I suspect that the culprits, if in fact my theory is correct, likely didn't give a thought to his presence either way…it was most likely a cruel and violent act, perpetrated on the spur of the moment by ignorant people…Whether these people had devious and dastardly plans or not, they still deserve to be found and charged.”
On January 20th, in the comments at this very site with VVAW's Bill “Watermelon Slim” Homans, I called Mr. Homans on it when he claimed that “IVAW's bus was torched in New Jersey this week. SOMEBODY is trying to intimidate IVAW...”. He admitted there was no proof of that.
In nearly three weeks there has been no follow up and nothing to confirm that this was indeed arson. To be fair, in the discussions at DU and Kos, there were folks asking if there was any confirmation that this was arson and an attack, yet those voices were frankly driven over by the mob. Reasonableness need not apply for many.
In a 2000 report on arson investigations, the DOJ reported that there were nearly 400,000 vehicle fires in 1997 alone. The overwhelming majority were not arson. The report states that almost 16 percent of fires were considered actual or potential arson, and that includes ‘suspicion’ of arson. Even though the report states that that figure is likely conservative, due to the potential destruction of evidence of arson by the fire itself, that would still leave hundreds of thousands of vehicle fires that were not arson. I pointed out to Mr. Homans that almost coincidental with the IVAW bus fire, there were others that were not arson, including a school bus, a city transit bus and a college sports team bus.
With that lack of follow-up and no regular media reporting on what would be a significant story if it indeed were a politically motivated arson, I tried to find out on my own. Photos of the bus being towed showed that the tow truck belonged to Riehl's Towing & Maintenance, which I found out was in Clarksboro, NJ. Riehl’s told me that the responders were members of the Carney’s Point Fire Department. When I contacted them, the Deputy Chief told me that there was no arson investigation and would not be. The fire began in the closed engine department and burned outward, and was believed to have been caused by an equipment malfunction or failure. There was no indication of, much less evidence of arson.
They knew that weeks ago. The day after the fire Riehl’s towed the truck to a salvage yard, not a facility where criminal evidence would be kept.
So why has IVAW and others let the story and assumption of an intentional crime linger, when they could have cleared it up?
Most of the sites that tell of the fire also give information on how to make contributions to replace the bus. There is nothing wrong in that. Yet charitable giving and contributions are often motivated by appealing to emotions, and the greater the emotion - the greater the giving.
This over-the-top screed comes from Virginians for Peace and Accountability – Larry’s World:
“During the evening hours of Jan. 11, 2008, another event destined to enter Amerika's Political Hall of Shame occurred at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. There, the venerable Yellow Rose of Texas Peace Bus, owned and driven by Vietnam veteran Jim Goodnow, was set ablaze by perpetrators yet to be apprehended...it suddenly had become too much of a threat to those cowards who have no means of discourse other than abject violence...they chose to kill our messenger of Truth-and-Hope as expressed by Goodnow and his fellow members of Veterans for Peace...Those of us who value that message now have the opportunity to help Goodnow resurrect the Peace Bus -- by sending a donation...In this world of political unrest, there's only one thing worse than assassinating a patriot activist: assassinating the IDEA that motivates his commitment and spirit.”]
This similar rant appeared on OpEd News.com on 1/16:
“Who's Afriad of the Yellow Rose Peace Bus?
Jim was headed to South Carolina to hook up with some peace activists there...Jim pulled into a rest area...and decided to take a short nap. While he was preparing for his nap, he saw a man walk by the bus, to the edge of the parking lot, look carefully all around him, and walk back towards the bus. When he went around the back of the bus, the man was out of sight and Jim didn’t give it much thought. He had turned off the engine and was ready to settle down for his nap when the back of the bus was quickly engulfed in flames. Jim escaped unharmed, but the bus is almost certainly a total loss and he lost most of his clothing and bedding which were near the engine compartment. Jim has received lots of threats over the years as he has boldly staked his claim of free speech, and while investigators have not yet determined if this was an act of arson or not, it only fits in with the new atmosphere of brown shirt style intimidation that the Bush/Cheney regime has engendered with vile rhetoric and criminal actions.
But Jim Goodenow will not be silenced and whether repaired or replaced, The Yellow Rose will rise again. You can help by going to yellowrosepeacebus.com and contributing...”
So what do we have? If age and wisdom come to a person, they will generally come to understand that even in the little things a person or an organization will reveal how it will act in greater things, a pattern of behavior and a window into character. We had a story that was light on details, so light that it took considerable effort to follow-up. We had insinuations and claims of crime and pronouncements of the guilty parties by association, with no proof offered. That fired up the emotions in this small cause, which was to raise money to replace the bus lost due to a not terribly uncommon and not criminal event.
Is there a pattern here? Will the Winter Soldier Investigation next March be light on details, making it hard to verify charges and insinuations? Will that WSI intend to fire folks up through emotions, so as to further a cause as opposed to, say, further understanding of the truth? From the IVAW website:
"IVAW will also arrange to make available copies of the Winter Soldier transcript highlights to support the various efforts of the antiwar movement."
That's the cause.
All we had with the torched bus was - highlights!
As they say, stay tuned!