The First Book of the Week is “Killers of the Flower Moon, The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann, published in 2017. This volume described in suspenseful anecdotes– a political, social and cultural system suffused with evil– and it highlighted what happened to just one of countless families whose members were victims of the conspiracy.
In 1870, the Osage Native Americans were forced by light-skinned Americans to flee from their homeland in Kansas, to wasteland in northeastern Oklahoma. In 1893, the United States government’s Indian Affairs Department ordered that all children on the Osage reservation attend school. One consequence was that the young people in the area adopted the ways of the “white man.”
On September 16, 1893, the U.S. government shot a gun to kick off a land-grab. The Cherokee Outlet, territory bordering on the Osage’s that was bought by the U.S. government, was handed over to the Cherokees on a first-claimed via physical presence, first-owned basis.
About 42,000 members of the Cherokee nation waited on the border for days until the appointed time of the free-for-all. The fight for land ended in a massacre galore. The government didn’t bother to repeat the above process with the Osage reservation.
Yet, by the very early 1900’s, oil was discovered on the Osage’s land; this opened a Pandora’s box. In 1912, the Department of the Interior auctioned off the then-super-valuable parcels, to which the Osage had mineral rights. The Osage became millionaires overnight, paid royalties by the oil barons.
The local (white) politicians of the oil-rich lands stuck like leeches to the Osage residents, under the guise of regulating commerce. They deemed that (white) guardians of the property be appointed for full-blooded Osage people, as the Native Americans weren’t sufficiently educated or competent to manage their own money. Unsurprisingly, the guardians were thieves and worse.
Read the book to learn about a statistics-defying (but not uncommon among the Osage) rash of deaths (by poisonings, shootings and explosives) that occurred in one Osage family due to the “system” and the growing-pains the Wild West experienced as it evolved into a civilized, law-abiding society with the help of a national law enforcement organization now known as the FBI.
A more recent example of exploitation of Native Americans was described in the Second Book of the Week, “Heist, Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington” by Peter H. Stone, published in 2006. Yet again, the hypothetical board game “Survival Roulette” could be applied to this scandal: Native American Exploitation Edition (See “Highly Confident” post).
There have been countless ultimate winners of this game through the centuries: all the people never caught for committing crimes against Native Americans. The vast majority have gone unpunished, including several people mentioned in the book, whose names have already faded from the public’s memory.
However, the most famous hypothetical losers of the game in this book were lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, and Congressman Tom DeLay. Instead of a Monopoly board, in keeping with the casino theme, the central structure of the game could be an actual roulette wheel, whose ball could land on spaces that describe the financial crimes of: bribery, money laundering, fraud, disclosure failures and influence peddling. Plus tax evasion. Just for good measure.
In short, with Abramoff as the ringleader, during the course of three years, the gang milked six Native American tribes for $82 million– that paid for political bribes, funding for a school, lavish gifts, and entertainment and recreation expenses– disguised as lobbying and public relations services on behalf of the tribes.
In this slim volume, the author dispensed with suspense by revealing up front that, when they got caught, Abramoff and his sidekick Scanlon accepted plea deals for their unethical opportunism, unconscionable greed and unmitigated hubris. The author then failed to explain why the Texas state government closed a casino run by the Tigua Indians in February 2002, but did explain later on.
Nevertheless, the story thereafter unfolded in more or less chronological order, starting with backstory from the 1990’s. The Tigua casino actually stayed closed, despite Abramoff’s fat fee, part of which he circuitously funneled through nonprofit organizations that ended up as political donations, and paid for a luxurious golf vacation in the United Kingdom for himself and his cronies.
Abramoff’s shamelessness knew no bounds. He had his friends, in order to service one of his tribal clients, marshal support from the likes of the Christian Coalition to convince the U.S. government that gambling was against their religion, and a reason to close the Tigua casino. At the same, he was lobbying on behalf of the Tiguas through illegal means, to reopen the casino (!) For that, he made megabucks from both sides.
Abramoff also helped to quash legislation that would have taxed his Choctaw client, and would have imposed tougher labor laws on his offshore client that manufactured clothing in the Marianas.
Kevin Sickey, who represented an Indian tribe that hired Abramoff, described the lobbyist’s propaganda thusly: “They exaggerated political threats and they exaggerated economic threats. Then they exaggerated their ability to deal with threats.”
Read the book to learn what led to the start of investigations by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the Justice Department; Abramoff’s and Scanlon’s early-career adventures; and details of their and others’ punishments, among other nothing-new-under-the-sun type political opportunism, greed and hubris.
As an aside, the dollar value of political wrongdoing has reached dizzying heights in the past few decades, and it has been the same kind of wrongdoing, over and over again– committed mostly by alpha males. People who have an insatiable need for power and money apparently never learn from others whose stories have been well-publicized!