by Daryl Slusher
The Austin Independent is proud this week to feature photos from veteran Austin photographer Alan Pogue. The photos are from President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa . So in a way this story is dated, but the photos still provide a view into the Trump movement, as well as some of the resistance at the Trump rally. The photos also come with their own saga.
Pogue’s Tulsa photographs do not for instance feature any shots from Trump’s speech. That’s because Pogue was arrested by Tulsa Police shortly before Trump arrived — after taking pictures of police arresting protestors who were trying to run a Black Lives Matter flag up a flagpole outside the BOK (Bank of Oklahoma) Center, site of the rally. Charges against Pogue were eventually dropped, but somehow an unspecified federal agency ended up with his phone and still has it.
Folks may remember that this was Trump’s first rally after a long, frustrating for him, break in rallies due to the coronavirus. Anyone who watches the news could tell that Trump was really excited about renewing his mass gatherings of adoring fans. His campaign got excited too and announced that they had received over a million requests for tickets.
Of course the coronavirus was still raging — as it still is today. Numerous health authorities warned of a potential super spreader event with thousands of people packed into the arena and most of them, following their leader’s example, not wearing masks. Weeks after the rally the Tulsa World reported, “Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, told reporters earlier this month that several large-scale events held in Tulsa, including the Trump rally, contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases.” Dart, added, “So I guess you can connect the dots,”
This was also the rally that former presidential candidate Herman Cain attended before being hospitalized with Covid 19 on July 2. Cain succumbed to the virus on July 30. In photographs taken at the rally, neither Cain nor most people in a contingent sitting closely around him wore masks.
Coronavirus was not the only controversial part of the gathering. It was originally scheduled for June 19, or Juneteenth, which celebrates the day a Union officer in Galveston announced that slaves in Texas were free. The holiday is now celebrated throughout much of the country.
Additionally the BOK Center is near the site of the 1921 Greenwood Massacre in which white rioters killed an estimated 150-300 Black residents and burned down the thriving Black business district, referred to at the time as Black Wall Street. This incident was wiped out of Tulsa and Oklahoma history, but descendents of those killed and others have successfully pushed to bring it to light. Next year for instance, the 100th anniversary of the massacre, will be the first year students in Oklahoma schools will be taught about the massacre. Witness accounts from the time reported bodies being thrown into the river and buried in mass graves. Current Republican Mayor G.T. Bynum ordered digging and other efforts to search for mass graves, drawing fierce anger from some white Tulsans as a result. (So far no mass graves have been found. but Mayor Bynum recently said that the City is “just the beginning of our work to bring healing and justice to the families,”.
So, to summarize, Trump’s original plan was to start his rallies again by holding one in Tulsa on Juneteenth, as that City focuses more and more on the upcoming 100th anniversary of one of the worst instances of racial violence and murder in American history. Once Trump figured out what Juneteenth was, he first tried to frame his rally as part of the “celebration,” but then backed down and switched the date to Saturday June 20.
When the rally actually happened it was a huge dud. The Sunday morning papers and news shows featured photos of a disheveled Trump arriving back at the White House late that night, his tie untied, his MAGA hat in his hand, as he trudged from the helicopter back into the White House. (Alan Pogue says the photo at the top was taken shortly before his arrest and when there was no longer a line outside of people waiting to get in. )
Alan Pogue’s Journey To Austin
Alan Pogue is a familiar figure to pretty much anyone who has been involved in Austin progressive or left wing politics for a few decades. In fact his photos provide a rich history of progressive politics and social justice struggles in Austin.
Pogue grew up in Corpus Christi. He was drafted into the Army, receiving his draft notice, Pogue explains, “while in San Francisco looking for Allen Ginsburg at the City Lights bookshop. Too bad he was in Mexico eating mushrooms. He could have talked some sense into me.” Pogue’s San Francisco sojourn was in late 1965 and early 1966.
By June 1966 Pogue was in the Army. He was initially stationed at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs. There he quickly learned that he did not like Army life. Raised a Catholic, Pogue,explains that “to get away from the barracks chaos I often went to the chapel to read theology and philosophy.” There he was befriended by a learned Catholic priest named Father Shea. The two spent hours discussing theology and philosophy. Eventually Father Shea asked for Pogue to be his assistant.
Later Pogue volunteered to be a chaplain’s assistant in Vietnam. He arrived in December 1967, just in time to be there for the January 1968 Tet Offensive which he spent on a large U.S. military base being shelled by the Viet Cong. In Vietnam, Pogue never found a priest with the depth of Father Shea. So unhappy with his chaplain assistant’s role, he applied to be a combat medic.
In that role, like so many of his generation, Pogue witnessed up close the brutal realities of war, and the Vietnam War in particular. Despite his search for Ginsburg and his frequent reading of philosophy, he recalls that he was “very gung-ho” and accepted propaganda such as “if the Communists took over they would be eating Catholic babies for breakfast.”
While in Vietnam Pogue carried with him a Kodak Instamatic camera that his Mother gave him, asking him to send pictures because she knew he wouldn’t write. Thus, a photography career was launched.
Explains Pogue, “In Vietnam I immediately saw that the Army, our entire government, cared not at all about the Vietnamese people. We were murdering them at random, trashing villages and fields, raping women, had no appreciation of their ancient culture. The first night that I was with my infantry company a night patrol killed two 14 year old girls. Nothing got better after that. The savagery was relentless. Most soldiers, I hasten to add, were not into killing civilians but they couldn’t always avoid doing so and that was a poison for their minds. It hurt them deeply, in ways they could never ‘get over.’ I learned how propagandized I had been, how the lies had worked on me. I was ashamed of myself. Now my job was to inform others and the camera would be my tool. Seeing is what I had to have in order to know the truth and so I carried that lesson home.”
Pogue was released from the Army in July 1968, leaving the Army and Vietnam at the same time. He came back to Corpus Christi, but, soon moved to Austin, while 1968 was still in progress. Like many others opposed to the war, Pogue found a welcoming new home in Austin. He soon began documenting Austin and Texas politics, particularly protest and social justice movements. He could routinely be found at hundreds, thousands, of gatherings around Austin and the state. He photographed protesting and striking farmworkers. He photographed protests against boat races and police brutality by East Austin residents. He showed up, camera in tow, at countless public meetings. He documented the Texas anti-nuclear movement. He took pictures of various goings on at the state Capital, and of activities at a wide range of now departed Austin institutions like Armadillo World Headquarters and Les Amis — a restaurant just off the drag that served as something of a base for him. He also photographed inside prisons.
Pogue also traveled around the world taking photographs of important events and eras, including in, Chiapas, Haiti, Cuba, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan and post Katrina New Orleans. Through it all Pogue concentrated on social justice rather than earning a living, and lived frugally. Many of Pogue’s photos appeared in the Texas Observer, which, like him, was more focused on social justice than financial success.
As the Austin Chronicle put it when awarding Pogue an “All Time Winner” Best of Austin award in 2009: “He is our Tom Joad with a Leica: Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, he’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop roughing up a guy, he’ll be there. Wherever there’s injustice or people in need, he’ll be there, camera in hand, to get the picture that lets us see for ourselves the conflicts and suffering, as well as the courage that so often accompanies them, in vivid, stirring detail.”
Boat Race protestors use a car to block traffic coming under IH 35 to attend the boat races in East Austin.
Pogue’s Longer Than Planned Visit To Tulsa
So going to Tulsa for the Trump rally was just a continuation of what Pogue had been doing for some 50 years.
He arrived in Tulsa the day before the rally and checked into a hotel. To establish press credentials and ensure entry to the rally, Pogue, from Tulsa, contacted Texas Observer publisher Mike Kanin. Kanin provided Pogue a letter stating that he was affiliated with the Observer. Pogue then checked out on Saturday morning, planning to head back to Texas after the rally. He parked his car in a different part of town from the rally to ensure not getting his car towed or otherwise entangled in the scene downtown. He then headed downtown, photographed people who, like him, were lined up to enter the rally. He made it through security well before the rally was to begin.
He only sought to get into the upper reaches of the auditorium, not down on to the floor. As he waited on the rally to start, Pogue heard that something was going on outside. Already having a badge, or pass, he was free to come and go. So he went outside to check on the reports of activity there. He arrived as police were detaining Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors who had been trying to scale a flagpole and hoist a BLM flag onto a pole flying the American flag. The police proceeded to arrest these protestors and Pogue took pictures as they did.
Once the police finished loading the protestors into a van, relates Pogue, they turned around and began to focus on him. They searched his bags and, among other things, found a bullet proof vest. Pogue explains that he brought the bullet proof vest because he might end up photographing street protests and wanted to protect himself as much as possible. He adds that he wore it through security, then took it off once inside because it was hot and he did not think he would need it there.
The bullet proof vest caught the police’s attention, but Pogue believes that what really ensnared him was a Veterans for Peace T-shirt in his bag. He also noted a difference in approach between younger and older cops. For example, says Pogue, several of the younger cops had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, “They had many questions about my time as a combat medic in Vietnam and they compared being a medic then with what that is like now.” They told him that he could go, but an older cop interjected and said he could not. That was followed shortly by the older cop saying, “You’re under arrest.” The only reason Pogue was given for his arrest was “obstruction,” which he denies.
Pogue was then loaded in with the folks trying to fly the BLM flag and hauled to the County Jail. His two cameras, several lenses, his bullet proof vest , cash, credit card, identification and other possessions were confiscated. He says he saw the President’s motorcade arriving shortly before he was put in the van.
Pogue was arrested around 5:40 PM and arrived at the County Jail shortly thereafter. Around 11 that night a guard came to his cell and told him that he had been bailed out. Pogue says he was not sure who bailed him out, but did not protest. During his release, he learned that his possessions were not at the County Jail, but at the City Jail and he would not be able to get them until Monday; this was Saturday. It turned out he could not get them then either.
Pogue was released along with four others who had been arrested at the rally site. They exited the jail to find well wishers waiting to greet them in the parking lot. Pogue had no money and no place to stay, Folks in the parking lot, however, quickly befriended him. When they learned of his situation one activist offered him a hotel room from a block of rooms her group had reserved at a local hotel. Another activist pressed a $100 bill into his hand. He originally thought he had been bailed out by Black Lives Matter (BLM), but later learned it was a group called the Tulsa Bail Project.
Pogue stayed in the hotel room then headed back to Austin the next day without his confiscated belongings. A pro-bono lawyer, David Bross, represented him and got his stuff for him, two months later after the charges were dismissed, and shipped it all back to Austin — except for his iPhone. Pogue’s iPhone was turned over to an unnamed federal agency which still has it.
How the Independent Came to be the Publication Running These Photos
A reader contacted the Independent and suggested running Pogue’s photos, saying the Texas Observer was not going to run them. Knowing Pogue and his long history in Austin, and having seen one of Pogue’s Tulsa photos on social media, I was happy to oblige.
In the course of writing the accompanying article I learned from Pogue that he was very unhappy with the Observer for refusing to run the photographs. At first I planned just to run the story and the photos and not cover the disagreement between Pogue and the Observer. As the story progressed, however, that seemed less tenable so I wrote this section.
As noted earlier Pogue obtained a letter from Texas Observer publisher Mike Kanin saying that he was affiliated with the publication, which he has been for many years. Pogue did not call on the Observer to help at the time he was arrested, but shortly after the incident contacted Kanin and provided details of what had happened. Kanin wrote to Pogue on June 22, introducing him by email to recently hired editor Tristan Ahtone, and asking that Pogue not talk to reporters until he and Ahtone had talked. Kanin elaborated in the email, “Though we get that there is more than a little bit of nuance here, we’re a bit concerned about the direct connection that could be implied by BLM having bailed you out as a representative of our media organization.”
Pogue says that when he subsequently talked with Ahtone, the editor said that the Observer would not run any of Pogue’s Tulsa photographs because being bailed out by BLM violated the Observer’s ethics and impartiality rules.
Pogue was dismayed and later replied with updated information, stating that he had learned that he was actually bailed out by the Tulsa Bail Project and that the woman who gave him $100 was from Manhattan and affiliated with The Blackout Collective. Pogue also related at length a number of other instances over the years where he had received help on expenses from various sources, but the Observer still published his photographs.
Ahtone replied by email that the basic issue remained the same and added an additional reason — that the photographs had no Texas connection:
“I appreciate the clarification about the Tulsa Bail Project. Regardless, the accepting of gifts, favors, fees, and free travel goes against our ethics policy and compromises the Observer’s integrity, impartiality and credibility. As well, the images were taken in Oklahoma with no clear links to Texas which puts them outside our coverage area. I’m sorry, we will not be running the photos.”
Ahtone confirmed the above account to the Independent. He said by email that Pogue’s photos were “compelling” and that he was glad they were being run in the Independent. He said the main reason the Observer chose not to run them was that there was “no Texas angle.” He also confirmed that he believed Pogue’s actions after his arrest were “out of line with our ethics and standards which was an additional factor.” He also said, “Our publisher gave him the letter as a courtesy given his long standing relationship with the Texas Observer. He was already in Tulsa when he reached out to us.” He added that Pogue “was not there on assignment for us in any way.”
Ahtone also wrote that he wanted to be clear that “what happened to Alan was unacceptable and outrageous. We have a lot of respect for Alan’s work and we do not in any way condone the unacceptable actions taken by the police.” Ahtone added, “had he contacted us about his arrest we would have provided necessary support and we offered that to him once we were able to make contact.”
Pogue remains dismayed that the Observer would not run the photos and dismisses the no Texas angle reason for not running them. He says that Observer editor Ahtone is “simply throwing out a fog of weak reasons to cover for his fear of association with Black Lives Matter.” He adds that this Observer is not the same one as that of the legendary earlier years. And, that’s where the issue remains as the Independent goes to press.
Perhaps at this point some readers might expect the author to take a stand on this dispute. After all I have had experience in media, the City Council, and as a municipal water utility executive. In all those positions I sometimes had to enforce organizational policies and in the process sometimes angered both friends and supporters.
At the same time, and perhaps less known, I made three trips to jail earlier in my life — all well before the three roles I list above. My maximum stay was three days in the Harris County Jail in 1972 for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana — a two years to life felony at the time, although changed by the legislature to a misdemeanor before I went to trial. As a result of those experiences I know that if you are in jail and a guard comes to your cell and tells you that have been bailed out, it is rare to question who is bailing you out, and even rarer to refuse to leave once you find out — that is if the guards are even willing to tell you. In 1972 Harris County the guard shoved my bail papers through the bars and when I started reading them, he yelled, “Don’t read them, sign them.” I complied.
So I also understand from personal experience why Pogue would take the opportunity to get out of jail without asking who was bailing him out. And, I understand why he would accept $100 and a hotel room from people who share his commitment to social justice — especially far from home and with many of his belongings confiscated.
Beyond that I would just say one more thing, and here I think many Austinites will agree with me. I hope that through mutual action, there is some way that the current leaders of this historic Austin-based publication and a legendary photographer and social justice advocate who is so much a part of that publication’s history can find a way to reconcile.
This story was updated to correct that Alan Pogue did not return to the rally site after being released from jail, but instead he and others were greeted in the parking lot by well wishers. I regret the error.
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