The Oregon school shooting and America’s brutal society


3 October 2015

The killing of nine students and the wounding of seven others by 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon on Thursday have once again revealed something deeply dysfunctional in American society.

Harper-Mercer opened fire on students in multiple classrooms in the campus’s Snyder Hall. He was subsequently killed in the course of a shootout with police outside the hall.

In coming days, more information will emerge about the particular psychological motivations—and illness—that led to Thursday’s events. Some details have begun to come out. Social media accounts belonging to Harper-Mercer indicate that he held a confused mix of right-wing nationalist ideas. A Myspace account had numerous pictures glorifying members of the Irish Republican Army. The name he chose for an online dating website, IRONCROSS45, is apparently a reference to a medal awarded by the Nazis. In his dating site profile he identified as a conservative Republican but noted organized religion as one of his dislikes.

In a recent blog post, Harper-Mercer reveled in the attention Vester Flanagan received when he killed two news reporters on live television in August. He then encouraged readers to view the video of the killing that Flanagan had posted on social media, saying, “It’s a short video but good nonetheless.”

The killings at Umpqua Community College are the latest in a seemingly endless series of horrific tragedies. The website, which has tracked mass shootings in the United States since 2013, reports that there have been at least 296 incidents so far this year in which multiple people have been killed or wounded by gunfire.

A recent study by Harvard researchers Amy Cohen, Deborah Azrael and Matthew Miller found that between 1982 and 2011 the average amount of time between mass shootings in which more than four people were killed or wounded was 200 days. Since 2011 the number of days between shootings has fallen to an average of 64, meaning there has been a three-fold increase in the rate at which such killings occur.

The list of mass killers includes: 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, who shot Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people on January 8, 2011; 24-year-old James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded 58 in a movie theater on July 20, 2012; 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who shot dead 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012; 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers, who killed seven and wounded seven on the UC Santa Barbara campus on May 23, 2014; 21-year-old Dylan Storm Roof, who shot and killed nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 18 of this year.

Even such a limited accounting gives a picture of a truly sick society. No economically advanced country comes close to the number and frequency of mass killings in the United States.

In a rambling press conference held in the wake of Thursday’s shooting, US President Barack Obama struggled to account for yet another mass shooting during his tenure in office. “Somehow this has become routine,” he said fatalistically. “The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.” At a press conference the next day Obama reinforced his loss for an explanation, superstitiously blaming all violence on “original sin.”

As he has done many times before, to the extent that he offered any explanation, Obama blamed lax national gun control laws, a problem that he said could be solved by the passage of the correct piece of legislation. “We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence,” he argued.

Obama’s proposed solution to mass shooting—mainly aimed at increasing the power of the state and the police—will do nothing to actually address the underlying social issues that give rise repeatedly to such tragedies.

While each shooting has its own peculiarities, a phenomenon that occurs with such regularity must have deeper causes. What is the social environment that produces them? Decades of the suppression of class struggle and the promotion of individualism. An ideology that explains individual failings or successes as the product of personal characteristics, leading to deep disillusionment and alienation.

A general sense of hopelessness pervades among a generation of young people, who, if they were lucky enough to go to college, are saddled with a trillion dollars in student loan debt, with no prospect of a decent paying job that provides them with a good standard of living.

As for pervasive violence, this applies first and foremost to the state and the ruling class that controls it. Over the last two and a half decades, which encompass nearly the entirety of Harper-Mercer’s life, the United States has been at war in one country or another more or less continuously, resulting in the deaths of more than a million people and displacement of millions more. The shooter has grown up during the “war on terror,” which has been used by the ruling class to foster an atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion, and to justify all manner of violent actions by the state.

Under Obama’s drone assassination program, open murder has become the official policy of the US government. The president and other government officials publicly boast of “taking out” people placed on their kill lists, including American citizens. While the US government keeps secret how many people it has killed with drones, conservative estimates based on public reports indicate that thousands, including women and children, have been summarily executed without charge or trial.

Domestically, a society riven by growing economic inequality has at the same time been increasingly militarized, with military service glorified at every possible moment as the highest service to the nation. Police forces have been armed to the teeth with armored vehicles and assault rifles making them indistinguishable from military units. Killings and brutality are routine, with nearly 900 people murdered in encounters with the police so far this year.

The United States remains the last economically advanced country that imposes the death penalty. Since 1976, 1,416 people have cruelly and inhumanely been put to their death. So far this year there have been twenty-two such state-sanctioned murders.

The solutions routinely advanced in the wake of such shootings will do nothing to address the causes of mass killings that are rooted, in the final analysis, in America’s brutal society.

Niles Williamson

I Saw the Light (Hank Williams) and Janis: Little Girl Blue (Janis Joplin)—Popular music and its discontents

By David Walsh
3 October 2015

This is the third in a series of articles devoted to the recent Toronto International Film Festival (September 10-20). The first part was posted September 26 and the second part October 1.

Country music performer Hank Williams (1923-1953) and rock and roll singer Janis Joplin (1943-1970) were both significant figures in the history of American popular culture. Williams died at 29 and Joplin at 27. Each is the subject of a new film. I Saw the Light (Marc Abraham) is a fictional account of Williams’ life; Janis: Little Girl Blue (Amy Berg) is a documentary about Joplin.

The gifted British actor Tom Hiddleston plays Williams and also creditably sings his songs (musician Rodney Crowell worked with Hiddleston for a month). I Saw the Light follows Williams’ life from his marriage to Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen) at a gas station in Andalusia, Alabama in 1944 (the owner is also a justice of the peace) to his death, from alcohol and pill-induced heart failure, en route to a concert in Canton, Ohio on New Year’s Day 1953.

Elizabeth Olsen and Tom Hiddleston in I Saw the Light

Abraham’s effort is a fairly standard film biography. It treats some of the ups and many downs in Williams’ life. The singer drank heavily, between occasional periods of sobriety. He was often in pain because of spina bifida occulta, a condition in which the outer part of certain vertebrae is not completely closed. He and his wife frequently fought, over money, over her desire to sing, over his affairs, over her affairs. They eventually divorced, and shortly before his death, Williams married again.

I Saw the Light

Williams had his first big hit with “Move It on Over,” about a man in trouble with his wife, in 1947. In fact, it is an early rock and roll song, one that unmistakably reflects the postwar atmosphere. After a successful stint on the Louisiana Hayride, Williams first performed at the Grand Ole Opry in June 1949, where his “Lovesick Blues” was a triumph. The glory did not last long.

He was eventually fired from the Opry for alcoholism in 1952 and his famed producer, Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford in the film), stopped working with him. His life went from bad to worse … It did not help matters that a quack, who had obtained his “Doctorate of Science” for $35 began prescribing amphetamines, Seconal, chloral hydrate and morphine for the ailing and addicted singer. I Saw the Light fleshes out these various episodes. Hiddleston, Olsen and Cherry Jones as the formidable Lillie Williams, Hank’s mother, all do well. The film avoids painting any of the characters as yokels, but it also avoids saying much of anything about them. This movie is not an immense step forward from Gene Nelson’s Your Cheatin’ Heart, the 1964 film with George Hamilton as Williams and Susan Oliver as Audrey.

Williams was a remarkable singer and songwriter. His lyrics are clever and insightful about everyday life. His liveliest songs “swing” with confidence and swagger, finding a large audience in a population that had endured the Depression and the war and now, with jobs and with some money in their pockets, had no intention of returning to the darkest days of the 1930s—“Move It on Over,” “Honky Tonkin’,” “I’m a Long Gone Daddy,” “Lovesick Blues,” “Mind Your Own Business,” “Why Don’t You Love me,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Honky Tonk Blues,” “Settin’ the Woods on Fire” and more.

In one of the better scenes in I Saw the Light, Williams-Hiddleston is in New York—where he feels like a fish out of water—for the Perry Como television show in November 1951. He speaks frankly to a reporter from a big city newspaper. “Everyone has a little darkness,” he says. Williams refers to the anger, misery, sorrow and shame that everyone feels. “I show it to them [the public]. … They think I can help.”

In another comment, cited by Colin Escott in his biography of Williams, the real-life singer told an interviewer (perhaps the one fictionalized in the film?) in 1951, “Folk songs [which are what he termed his own music] express the dreams and prayers and hopes of the working people.”

This element seems deliberately played down in I Saw the Light. Perhaps Abraham was frightened of making sweeping and too easy generalizations, and unsubstantiated generalizations should obviously be avoided. But Williams was born in immense poverty in rural southern Alabama and grew up during the Depression. His father was a terrible drunk and his mother was not an easy person. He drank, and ultimately took pills, all his brief life to alleviate physical and psychological pain. But his songs reflected something more than merely his own personal distress and striving. Their rhythms and words tapped into the sentiments of large numbers of people.

The film convincingly recreates the physical look of the late 1940s and early 1950s, but pays little attention to the larger forces at work that shaped and propelled Hank Williams and country music in general. One does not really obtain a sense in I Saw the Light of the quality and character of everyday life out of which his songs emerged.

Country music, including its very name, is full of contradictions that deserve to be explored. Like Williams’ family, which moved from rural Butler County to Montgomery, Alabama, a city of 70,000, when the future singer was 13 or 14, the genre was created and developed for the most part by those who were, in fact, leaving the “country.”

As historian Rachel Rubin notes: “In its most important early decades (the 1920s to 1940s), country music told the story of urbanization, and the genre’s relationship to rural living was more a musical epitaph for a way of life increasingly being left behind as both black and white Southerners fled the rural South for the promise of good jobs in the city.”

Neither is the question of Jim Crow segregation touched upon in the film. Abraham’s may have had the healthy notion that I Saw the Light should not become prey to contemporary identity politics, but simply sidestepping complexities is not helpful either.

One of Williams’ earliest influences was the African American street musician Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne, who apparently showed the eight-year-old how to improvise chords on the guitar. Williams had many African American fans. The final shot I Saw the Light is newsreel footage from the day of Williams’ funeral in January 1953 in Montgomery, and one sees many black faces in the crowd milling about on the street.

Claudette Colvin was one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement in Alabama. She was arrested for opposing segregation on Montgomery’s buses in March 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks was taken off a city bus by police, sparking the famous boycott. Speaking of her childhood, Colvin told her biographer Philip Hoose, “I listened to the Grand Ole Opry, too. The star of the show was Hank Williams, a famous country singer from Montgomery. When he died, his funeral drew the biggest crowd in the history of the city; Hank Williams’ wife invited the black community to attend since so many of us liked his music, but Mom wouldn’t let me go because the funeral was segregated.”

These are the sorts of fascinating dramas and conflicts that a more serious work on Hank Williams’ life and times might have raised. As it is, I Saw the Light is a pleasant film that does not go terribly deep.

Popular music has played, and continues to play, an immense role in American life. There are many reasons for this, including the extraordinary heterogeneity of experiences, traditions and nationalities that jostle against one another in America and seem worth calling attention to. But is it not possible as well that a population so politically disenfranchised and excluded as the American people must find some outlet, which social democratic, “Communist” or labor parties have provided to a limited extent in other countries, for its feelings and sufferings?

Janis Joplin

Amy Berg is making a name for herself as an interesting documentary filmmaker. Her Deliver Us from Evil (2006), about a Catholic priest who admitted to molesting and raping 25 children, and West of Memphis (2012), about the frame-up of a number of young men for the supposed “satanic” murder of three eight-year-old children, were both systematic and compassionate.

Janis: Little Girl Blue

In Janis: Little Girl Blue, Berg turns to the life and career of singer Janis Joplin, who was immensely popular for the last several years of her life until her tragic demise from heroin and alcohol in October 1970.

Joplin grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, a sea port on the Gulf of Mexico and at the time the center of a large oil refinery network. Her father was a mechanical engineer in the oil industry. In high school, as Little Girl Blue details, Joplin felt persecuted and an outcast.

The civil rights movement and the social developments of the late 1950s and early 1960s were obviously critical to the course of her life. One of her first musical memories, Berg’s film notes, was hearing folk singer Odetta’s version of “Careless Love.” Joplin tried folk singing in Austin, Texas, before first moving to San Francisco in 1963, where she sang but also developed a methamphetamine habit and became “skeletal.”

After a brief period back home in Port Arthur, Joplin returned to San Francisco in 1966 and became the lead singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company, a “psychedelic rock” band. A major breakthrough took place at the Monterey Pop Festival, one of the first of the large, well-publicized music festivals, in June 1967, where she sang a memorable version of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain.”

Berg’s film follows the vicissitudes of Joplin’s professional and personal life. She left Big Brother in 1968 and went out on her own as the leader of her own bands. She continued to use serious drugs. A friend says blithely, “We shot heroin for fun.” She eventually took for Brazil to clean herself up, where she fell in love with an American tourist.

Janis Joplin in 1970

Berg treats Joplin’s life with a great deal of sympathy. The singer, who exuded confidence and bravado on stage, was beset by anxiety and insecurity. She told a Montreal reporter in 1969, “Send me your review. I agonize over all of ’em. Man, I’m really neurotic. I really want people to love me.”

Joplin’s recordings are not generally as good as they could be and she tended, as filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker remarks, to “shout and scream.” It will elicit cries of outrage from some, but, in my opinion, there is very little of the “San Francisco Sound” that stands the test of time: too much self-indulgence, too many drugs, too much self-delusion.

However, anyone who saw Janis Joplin in person, especially in a more intimate space, is not likely to forget it. This writer saw her in concert three times in 1968 and 1969, including on a bill with B.B. King only a few hours after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968. I have never from that time to this seen a performer as generous and as giving—and as vulnerable. One almost inevitably fell in love with her.

Her last boyfriend David Niehaus comments in Berg’s film that Janis “could feel everybody else’s pain.” She could not be oblivious, Niehaus explains, to suffering, her singing represents an “entire honesty.”

Laura and Michael Joplin, Janis’ younger siblings, participated in the making of Berg’s film and are interviewed in it. They were present at the public screenings in Toronto. Each makes a highly favorable impression. They spoke with considerable affection, four decades or more later, about their elder sister. Laura described Janis’ emotional life as a “roller coaster” from early on. She made clear that her sister hated “racism” (Port Arthur had an active branch of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s) and felt strongly about “integration” and “equality.” Footage of Janis’s mother, after Janis’ death, reading one of her daughter’s letters, is also very moving.

The final and most apt comment in Little Girl Blue comes from John Lennon, on a talk show following Joplin’s death. Lennon observes that no one is asking the most important question, why people take drugs in the first place. He suggests that it comes from a “problem with society. People can’t live in society without guarding themselves from it.”

Gillian Armstrong’s latest film

Australian film director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, High Tide, Oscar and Lucinda) has made an intriguing and original documentary, Women He’s Undressed, about the legendary Hollywood costume designer Orry-Kelly (1897-1964), born Orry George Kelly in Kiama, New South Wales.

Women He’s Undressed

Armstrong has actor Darren Gilshenan portray Orry-Kelly in various slightly camp reenactments of episodes from the designer’s life. Sent to Sydney by his parents in 1917 to study banking, Orry-Kelly developed a love for the theater, before emigrating to the US in 1922. He shared an apartment with the future Cary Grant, then Archie Leach, in New York City, where they sold ties together.

Orry-Kelly moved to Hollywood in 1931 and eventually found work at Warner Brothers. In the end, he had 300 film credits, including as costume designer for such films as Juarez, When Tomorrow Comes, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Sea Hawk, The Little Foxes, An American in Paris, Oklahoma!, Auntie Mame, Sweet Bird of Youth, Gypsy and Irma La Douce. During certain periods, he worked on as many as 50 films a year.

The talking heads include Angela Lansbury, Jane Fonda and award-winning costume designer Ann Roth, all of whom speak about Orry-Kelly with great respect and affection.

The designer, who was gay in what he described as a “homophobic city” (Hollywood), never found personal happiness. He drank a great deal, and when drunk was apparently “foulmouthed” and “mean.” Orry-Kelly won three Academy Awards for his design work (the most won by an Australian until costume designer Catherine Martin surpassed his total in 2014).

Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach, is a biographical film about the trials and tribulations of American screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976), blacklisted and sent to jail in 1950 as one of the “Hollywood Ten,” screenwriter and directors who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee.


Roach is best known to this point for directing the Austin Powers series of films with Mike Myers and the Meet the Parents series with Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. He also directed the execrable Borat, with Sacha Baron Cohen. None of this is very auspicious or seems a serious preparation for taking on one of the most complex and fraught political periods in American history.

One’s misgivings are largely confirmed. More can be said about the film when it eventually comes out to the movie theaters, but Trumbo represents the writer (played by Bryan Cranston), a Communist Party member from 1943 to 1948, as little more than a tepid liberal. Granted, the Stalinist party presented itself during this period as the most fervent supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and the war effort, but there was more to Trumbo and his adherence to the CP than that. His 1939 novel, Johnny Got His Gun, about a shell-shocked World War I veteran, was a quite ferocious attack on imperialist war and its horrors. In any case, Trumbo is a weak effort.

Sunset Song

More should also be said in the future about Terence Davies’ Sunset Song, based on the well-known 1932 Scottish novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Davies (The Long Day Closes, The House of Mirth, Of Time and the City) is an immensely sensitive filmmaker, but his adaptation of the novel is oddly dissatisfying.

The story, set in the early 20th century, involves a farming family eking out an existence in northeast Scotland. The patriarch (Peter Mullan) is as hard and unsympathetic as a closed fist. His wife, worn out by painful births, eventually takes her own life and those of her two youngest children. Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), the eldest daughter in the family, is deserted by her beloved brother, the victim of their father’s brutality, who takes off for greener pastures in Canada.

After her father’s death, Chris marries Ewan Tavendale, a young farmer, and the pair spend some happy time together. However, the shadow of World War I falls across this isolated region too. Under the pressure of public opinion and against his better judgment, Ewan enlists and is sent off to France, where he experiences the horrors of trench warfare. When he comes home on leave, he is a transformed human being. One tragedy follows the other. Sunset Song is a lovely film, but its focus and center are not at all clear. The first line of the film, spoken by Chris to a school-friend, is this: “Is your father a socialist?” And a discussion of equality and the French Revolution soon takes place. However, much of the film is devoted to the sadism of Mullan’s character, which the actor, frankly, overdoes and which becomes a bit tedious.

World War I, a central fact of the story (and the period!), one would think, comes in rather late—almost as an afterthought. When a WSWS reporter asked Davies, who seemed somewhat demoralized by the state of the world, at a public screening whether his film was intended to be taken as an “anti-war” statement, the filmmaker looked bemused and replied, no, no, it was merely about “forgiveness” and such. Something is muddled.


The significance of the “no” vote at Fiat Chrysler


2 October 2015

The tentative contract announced just over two weeks ago by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams and Fiat Chrysler (FCA) CEO Sergio Marchionne has suffered a landslide defeat at the hands of autoworkers in the US. On Thursday, the UAW officially announced that the deal had been voted down by a 65 percent margin, though at many plants the percentage of “no” votes was significantly higher.

The vote is a milestone in the development of the class struggle in the United States. It is the first time that autoworkers have rejected a national contract in 33 years. Workers have overwhelmingly defied the combined efforts of the auto companies, the UAW and the corporate media, using lies, threats and intimidation, to push through a contract that expands the hated two-tier wage system, initiates a major attack on health care for current workers, and paves the way for a further downsizing of the US auto industry.

The “no” vote is the beginning of a counteroffensive against relentless attacks that have spanned decades, from the first Chrysler concessions contract in 1979 to the Obama administration’s forced bankruptcy and restructuring of the auto industry in 2009. During this period, the organizations calling themselves unions have abandoned all pretense of organized resistance and ceased to carry out even the most basic functions with which they were traditionally associated.

Since the late 1970s, the trade unions as a whole have worked to eradicate any open expression of opposition to the dictates of the corporations and the government. Contracts have become synonymous with givebacks. Any connection between rising productivity and improved wages and benefits has been completely severed. This has been a major factor in the devastating decay of living conditions for the working class throughout the country.

Workers in the auto plants have known nothing but concessions. The mounting anger and frustration have engendered a growing mood of resistance.

The shift in consciousness has ignited the wildfire of opposition at Fiat Chrysler. So complete is the alienation of the unions from the workers that the massive “no” vote took the UAW leadership entirely by surprise. Following the rank-and-file rejection of the agreement, the union and its allies in the media are treating the debacle as a question of public relations—a failure to communicate.

A persistent theme in the media commentary is fury over the role of “social media,” by which the commentators mean the widespread discussion of the contract among rank-and-file workers, a process that was facilitated by the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter. Over the past two weeks, the Newsletter has been followed on a daily basis by several thousand autoworkers. It has told the truth about the contract, countering the lies of the UAW and exposing the union-corporate conspiracy against the workers. It has provided a platform for the workers themselves to speak out. Its call for the formation of rank-and-file factory committees independent of the UAW has found a substantial response.

Now that the contract is defeated, the auto companies, the UAW and the Obama administration are engaged in intense discussions over how to respond to the workers’ rebellion. Regardless of the workers’ vote, they intend to push ahead to achieve their aims. Under these conditions, the question of an ongoing struggle, organized and coordinated by rank-and-file factory committees, assumes immense importance.

More than 75 years ago, Leon Trotsky, the co-leader of the Russian Revolution and founder of the Fourth International, explained the significance of factory committees in the development of the class struggle. Deeply critical of the conservatism of the trade unions, even during a period in which they were involved in major class battles, Trotsky called for the formation of such committees in every workplace in the founding document of the Fourth International, written in 1938.

“The prime significance of the committee,” he wrote, “lies in the fact that it becomes the militant staff for such working class layers as the trade union is usually incapable of moving to action.” Factory committees “open the doors, if not to a direct revolutionary then to a pre-revolutionary period—between the bourgeois and the proletarian regimes.” That is, they open the doors to a struggle by the working class against the capitalist system.

Since these words were written, the unions themselves have undergone a colossal degeneration, particularly over the past four decades. These organizations, which even in their heyday worked to subordinate the working class to the capitalist system, have responded to the globalization of production and the decline of American capitalism by integrating themselves ever more directly into the framework of corporate management.

The UAW and the AFL-CIO as a whole can no longer be termed workers’ organizations. They function as a labor police force, which seeks to impose the demands of the corporations while pursuing the interests of the privileged upper-middle class stratum that controls them.

The WSWS and Socialist Equality Party anticipated that the development of a struggle in the working class would inevitably assume the form of a clash with the trade unions. The call advanced by the Autoworker Newsletter for the formation of rank-and-file factory committees is aimed at overcoming the dictatorship of these organizations on the shop floor and developing in every way possible the independent initiative of the workers themselves.

This perspective has received a powerful confirmation. The middle class and pseudo-left organizations that have insisted it is impermissible to challenge the authority of the unions stand politically exposed. The WSWS is routinely denounced by these organizations as “sectarian” for refusing to work with the union apparatus and the Democratic Party with which it is aligned. What they mean by “sectarian” is fighting for the political independence of the working class, which is possible only by breaking the stranglehold of the unions over the workers.

The rebellion of autoworkers is one expression of the reemergence of class struggle in the US. This has profound international significance. The American ruling class, with its aspirations for global dominance, is confronting at home an increasingly angry, hostile and revolutionary social force. It is a process that must, and will, take on an increasingly open political form directed against the foundations of class rule and the capitalist system itself.

Joseph Kishore

Vatican says private ‘audience’ in D.C. was with gay ex-student, not Kim Davis

Tom Kington

A week after Pope Francis met Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, the Vatican on Friday suggested that she exploited the meeting to promote her views, denied that the pope fully supports her and cast doubt on her account of the encounter.

The Vatican later noted that the only “audience” Francis had at the gathering in Washington was with a former student of the pope, Yayo Grassi, an openly gay Argentine who along with his longtime partner and some friends met with Francis.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement that Grassi, “who had already met other times in the past with the pope, asked to present several friends to the pope during the pope’s stay in Washington, D.C.”

A video posted online shows Grassi embracing the pope and introducing him to his partner, as well as an Argentine woman and some Asian friends.

The statements together seemed intended to distance the pope from Davis.

Davis spent nearly a week in jail after she defied a Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in the United States. Last week, she said she had met Francis at the Nunciature, the Vatican’s U.S. office, in Washington on Sept 24 during his U.S. visit, where she said he told her during a 15-minute meeting to “stay strong.”

“Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we’re doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything,” she told ABC News.

Reports of the meeting between Davis and the pope were taken by conservative groups as evidence that Francis fully supported her refusal to authorize same-sex marriages. Backers of such unions charged that the pope had been used by Davis.

Vatican assistant spokesman Rev. Thomas Rosica said Friday that Francis had not invited Davis to a gathering that included dozens of people and suggested that the meeting may have been manipulated by her and her lawyer.

Asked if she had exploited the encounter to promote her beliefs, he replied, “One could say that.”

In an earlier statement, Lombardi added: “The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”

Rosica said Lombardi had issued the statement after meeting with the pope Friday morning, and added that he doubted Davis had spent 15 minutes in a private meeting with Francis at the Vatican’s embassy in Washington.

“I have difficulty believing 15 minutes was spent with one individual, because there simply wasn’t time,” he said.

“It would have been done on the first floor as the pope is coming down the stairs to leave — ‘Holy Father, these people would like to bid you farewell as you go to New York’ — That is the scenario,” he said.  “It could have been 15 minutes [with] this grouping of people to say goodbye.”

In his statement, Lombardi added: “Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City.

“Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability,” he said.

In response, the Florida-based Liberty Council, which is providing lawyers for Davis, released a statement Friday defending the Davis camp’s characterizations of the meeting.

The invitation to meet with Francis “was first conveyed to Kim Davis and her lawyers” on Sept. 14 and confirmed by the Vatican on Sept. 23, the statement said. The Vatican sent a car for Davis and her husband on the following day to take them to the embassy.

“Kim and Joe Davis waited for the private meeting with the pope,” the statement said. “There were no other people in the room. This was a private meeting between Pope Francis and Kim and Joe Davis.”

Rosica called Davis’ situation “a very complex case, it’s got all kinds of intricacies.”

“Was there an opportunity to brief the pope on this beforehand? I don’t think so,” he said. “A list is given, these are the people you are going to meet …. Just to have an idea of whose hand you are shaking. Was an in-depth process done? Probably not.”

Asked who invited Davis, if not the pope, Rosica said, “Those are questions for the Nunciature.”

Kington is a special correspondent.


BLOGGER COMMENT:  Kim Davis is a manipulative bitch. I should have considered this truth first before my very negative reaction to the initial news. I think the Pope was used by Davis and her lawyers, and the whole incident was a shabby business. If Davis were a courageous person of principle, she would quit her $80K position if she had moral problems with execution of her duties. What she is is an American hustler looking for attention and bucks.

As for me, I was hurt by the initial news of the Pope’s meeting with Davis. As Elie Wiesel wisely said: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” I am obviously not indifferent to questions of church and faith. Although I no longer believe, I value belief and holy people and wish I did have faith. I’m happy the Vatican clarified this situation. I don’t wish to have feelings of hate, or worse, indifference to this holy man. It’s easy to manipulate people like the Pope.