When we last checked in, Dennis Rodman was chillaxing with his friend “Kim,” doing Sunday morning talk shows, carrying diplomatic messages, and appealing to Kim to “do him a solid” and release Kenneth Bae. It seems that Worm is now losing his patience, indicating that “Obama can’t do sh#t” but promising to make another pitch for the imprisoned tour operator when he returns to North Korea in August.
(Once the current the NBA playoffs conclude, probably sometime shortly before the 2016 Rio Olympics commence, hopefully the White House will recruit former Chicago Bull and current TNT NBA color commentator Steve Kerr for some basketball diplomacy. Kerr, the son of prominent American Middle East specialist Malcolm Kerr, partly grew up outside the US, and might be expected to have a unique perspective, at least among former professional basketball players, or ex-Chicago Bulls, on international relations. In a David v. Goliath match-up, maybe he could even go one-on-one with Michael Rhee. Remember, in the famous words of Defense Secretary Bill Perry, we deal with North Korea as it is, not as how we would like it to be.)
Ambassador Rodman may be a kook, but at least he is a Basketball Hall of Fame kook with a certain charm. Less charming were the kooks that Nate Thayer dredged up in his exploration of American pro-DPRK groups. The ones he profiled in a piece for NK News were heavily laden with white supremacists and anti-Semites, most of whom showed considerable ideological flexibility, in one case doubling as a pro-Jihadist and another operating in parallel as a Hare Krishna.
As weird as it seems, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Probably the best public source reference on white supremacy in the US is the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report. In the aftermath of 9-11, the organization documented the attraction of anti-Semitic Islamic groups and even al-Qaeda, to some of the loopier reaches of the white power movement. One of the loonies profiled in Thayer’s piece, Joshua Caleb Sutter, aka John Sutter, according to the Intelligence Report, “held the curious title “minister for Islamic liaison,” and sat on the “high council” of August Kreis’ Aryan Nations faction” until his arrest on a gun charge. The SPLC goes on to report that “Sutter drew the FBI’s attention by trying to form alliances with anti-American Islamist groups after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, posting a “message of solidarity and support” to Saddam Hussein on the Aryan Nations Web site, and expressing his hope that “the evil regime of the United States … shall be utterly wiped off the face of the earth.” Sutter told a reporter he was in contact with Islamic extremists “by phone and Internet, because it’s difficult to get to places like Iran.”” North Korea is easier, I suppose.
And while the white supremacist movement includes operators with some organizational capacity, many of the individuals who populate this movement are clearly opportunists, hucksters, fraudsters, mentally unstable, and/or some combination of the foregoing. Take David Duke. Everyone knows that he has spent his life promoting neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan organizations (and running for elective office as a Republican), and even allying with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to promote holocaust denial, but how many of you know that under a female pseudonym Duke also wrote a sex manual titled Finders-Keepers – Finding and Keeping the Man You Want or that he went to prison for diverting political donations to personal use to cover gambling debts and home repairs? Add in that Pyongyang provides these losers with some financial support and ego-stroking visits to the North Korea (see the recent piece on the South African juche society), it’s not all that surprising that in a nation of 300 million, a handful of wing-nuts go for it.
Speaking of visiting North Korea, my colleague Steph Haggard passed along the latest from Koryo Tours, which touts visits to Sinuiju. Their flyer reads in part “We are pleased to announce that after several years of pressure on the part of Koryo Tours it is about to become possible for western tourists to visit the North Korean city of Sinuiju, situated on the opposite side of the Yalu (Amnok) river from the Chinese border city of Dandong…Visits to Sinuiju will include; the main square of Sinuiju with its bronze statue of DPRK President Kim Il Sung, Revolutionary Museum, local school and park, and so much more!!!” I’ll skip Steph’s scabrous commentary along the lines of why would anyone other than local villagers want to visit Sinuiju. Personally, wonder if the tour will visit the railroad station where a possible assassination attempt against Kim Jong-il took place, killing many people, including children, in the resulting explosion. If Koryo Tours skips it, maybe Political Tours will go there. Maybe Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un will even pay a visit in August!
More to the point, I had the honor of attending a dinner the other night hosted by South Korean ambassador Choi Young-jin in honor of his longtime friend, Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai. One of the ambassadors observed that there are now 800 flights weekly between China and South Korea, and five between China and North Korea. I was reminded of this when I saw I piece in the Maeil Business News noting that in April more than 300,000 Chinese tourists visited South Korea. Maybe the Chinese leadership should reflect on those numbers. Maybe Koryo Tours should start running visits to Seoul.
Finally, my colleague at the East-West Center, Denny Roy, has written a thoughtful essay “Give Nukes a Chance” arguing for the development of a South Korean nuclear weapons capacity. John Lennon must be spinning in his grave.