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The moral failure of the Boy Scouts of America
PLUS: The repugnance of Mitch McConnell and more on Mitt Romney (video commentaries)
Prince Andrew has finally been dethroned with the release of Brian Knappenberger’s “Scouts Honor: the Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America” on Netflix. Prince Andrew’s ludicrous evasions and denials around his close friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and alleged abuse of a minor child have been displaced in the pantheon of sinister nonsense in defense of predation and predators by the former Boy Scouts of America General Counsel Steve McGowan’s absurd defenses against the claims of 82,000 known victims.
McGowan’s appearance in the documentary is jaw-dropping. He is alternately smug, self-righteous, combative, and evasive. He reeks of dishonesty through the screen. His justifications and denials around the abuse are absurd, and leave the viewer with certainty that children are not currently safe in scouting. The Boy Scouts of America remains in complete denial about the scale of the misconduct and its role in abetting it. The organization is deeply committed to protecting its shattered brand reputation at all costs.
On my honor I will do my best to my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
It was the first oath I ever took. In many ways, it was the foundation of the Constitutional oath I would take later in my life. Unlike most every single person I ever worked with in Republican politics, I have never breached it.
I am an Eagle Scout and a proud Boy Scout, who came face-to-face with my predator at age 12 at Rock Hill Boy Scout Camp in Pennsylvania. It was a moment that has lingered in my life like a pestilence. For me, an encounter that lasted a few moments remains vivid 40 years later, and I remain enraged by it. Rage was a common theme in the documentary. So many men who were victimized as boys talked about their sense of being cheated and their anger that never fades. The number of victims is astonishing.
The first thing to understand about the Boy Scouts of America is the scale of the abuse. It is epic. In fact, it beggars imagination. It dwarfs the Catholic Church sex scandal by victim count, and establishes the Boy Scouts of America as the largest pedophile organization in human history. I literally can’t believe I just wrote those words. Yet, they are true.
There are no words that can ever express my gratitude towards the men whom I encountered during my years in Boy Scouts. My scoutmaster Larry Meier was one of the greatest men I have ever known, and he played a huge role in my life. All of the men did. They were tough as nails, demanding and trying as we figured out how to endure on increasingly complicated outdoor adventures from rappelling, backpacking, canoeing, land navigation, and so on.
There was a reason Lt. Colonel James Rudder wanted Boy Scouts in his newly formed Ranger units that would lead the assault on Hitler’s fortress in Europe. He valued character, and he knew that scouting was fundamental to its development. The list of Eagle Scouts who have made an impact in the United States is long and more than impressive, yet how do those contributions get weighed against the catastrophic damage inflicted on so many children over so many years? Who does that analysis? How should I think about this? What should the nation do about it?
Again, when the moment came and the phone lines were opened more than 82,000 victims registered their abuse. The hero of the documentary is a retired special victims detective from the Plano, Texas, police department, a whistleblower named Michael Johnson. He is as credible and forthright as general counsel McGowan was disingenuous. He spent his entire career trying to protect children from sexual predators. He makes the point that “sexual abuse” is a fairly benign euphemism for something terribly violent. In this case, adult men sodomizing, raping and violently fellating boys. Johnson sees the evil at hand, and he is utterly dedicated to stopping the predators and making scouting safer.
The Boy Scouts of America absolutely hired the wrong person to help them stifle the truth about childhood sexual abuse. What they got was a genuine hero — smart, dedicated and indefatigable. He makes the following point at the end of the documentary: most men will never report the abuse. They can’t. They aren’t strong enough and our society punishes the courage of its male victims of male abuse. The 82,000 is likely a fraction of the total. It is a number that is too big to fathom. There is more brokenness, pain, suffering and misery than can conceivably be contemplated, and all of it rests on the shoulders of the Boy Scouts of America.
Here is what section three of the Boy Scouts of America congressional charter says:
The purposes of the corporation are to promote, through organization, and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues, using the methods that were in common use by boy scouts on June 15, 1916.
There must be a US Senate investigation of the Boy Scouts of America. It must be investigated top to bottom, and held to account. The magnitude of the abuse makes this a whole society problem because the damage is so prolific. It is not because — as general counsel McGowan, the self-appointed Cardinal Law of the Boy Scouts claims — the whole of society is similarly infected. It’s not. The problem is the Boy Scouts. The failure is a moral and operational one that belongs to the Boy Scouts, and the Boy Scouts alone.
Last night, I talked to Joy Reid of MSNBC’s “The ReidOut” about Mitt Romney’s revelation that Mitch McConnell ignored his warnings of violence leading up to January 6. You can check it out here.
And for more on Romney’s decision not to run again for the Senate in 2024, have a watch:
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