Montogomery McFate and Mary Sapone?

Given all the ad hominems that have been flung at this site of late I was reluctant to post this link, but in the spirit of contextualization — that is to say, solving an ethnographic puzzle — I think it is worth checking out. Mother Jones recently published a “Long article about Mary McFate/Mary Sapone”: According to Mother Jones, McFate/Sapone led a double life — under her maiden name of ‘McFate’ she was a gun control activist deeply involved with the movment. As ‘Sapone’ she was a research consultant who has hired by firms that had been targeted by citizen campaigns and activists — including the NRA. Apparently Montogomery McFate is her daughter in law. Here’s a large pullquote from the last page of the story:

In the 1990s—while working within the gun control community as McFate—Sapone formed her own intelligence-gathering business. And she enlisted family members for its operations. “In our business, it’s my daughter-in-law, Montgomery Sapone [who] does all the analytic reports, forecasting, and white papers,” Sapone wrote to a client in an August 1999 email obtained by Mother Jones. “She produces a very professional product.” Sapone continued, “We are warning our clients that activist groups are moving towards ballot initiatives…And it’s easy for groups like Greenpeace to emotionally shape a looming crisis in a 10 second TV spot 2 days before a referenda election. My daughter Shelley specializes in that aspect of our business. We are doing a lot of work now to help clients in the 2000 election.”

A resume that Montgomery Sapone used around 1999 describes her role within Mary Lou’s business: “Collect and analyze intelligence on European activities of major international environmental organization for a company specializing in domestic and internal opposition research, special investigations, issues management and threat assessment. Write weekly intelligence update on European animal rights and eco-terrorist activity. Assist in confidential litigation support research.” Sapone’s son Sean, a Brown- and Harvard-educated paratrooper who served with the 82nd Airborne Division, was managing director of this firm, which at one point was called Strategic Solutions Group LLC and maintained an office in Washington, DC. According to a Strategic Solutions Group invoice sent to BBI in November 2000, Montgomery Sapone—a Harvard law school grad and Yale-trained anthropologist—once billed the security firm $400 for four hours of her time, which included a “visit to target’s office.”…

These days, Sean and Montgomery Sapone are better known as Sean and Montgomery McFate, a successful Washington couple whose current bios make no mention of any past intelligence-gathering or opposition-research work… Montgomery has made a name for herself as one of the primary architects of the US military’s human terrain program, which teams social scientists with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers better understand the local culture. (The controversial program has been sharply criticized by the American Anthropological Association, which fears it may cross an ethical line, and has been described by detractors as “mercenary anthropology.”) Now a top Pentagon adviser, Montgomery also contributed to the Army’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual drafted under the guidance of General David Petraeus.

What are we to make of this article? It seems to blatantly contradict “this earlier SF Chronicle article”: which describes her as “a punk rock wild child of dyed-in-the-wool hippies” who “was born on Jan. 8, 1966 in Waldo Point, a Sausalito backwater of houseboats and hippies” to a woman named Frances Pointer?

One paints McFate as a sinister insider, the other as someone whose hippy credentials lend validity to her attempt to ‘change the military from the inside’. It seems to me that there are three options here:

  1. Mother Jones has got it wrong.
  2. The Chron has got it wrong.
  3. There is some complicated double game being played here.

Anyone have any idea how to reconcile these different reports? I’d much rather chalk it up to 1 or 2 than 3.

Or there is 4) Rex has got it wrong, which appears to be the right answer — see my comment below.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

48 thoughts on “Montogomery McFate and Mary Sapone?

  1. The Chron talks about McFate’s childhood via her parents, Mother Jones about her early professional career via her in-laws. There’s no factual contradiction–just two different sides of a biography that has its fair share of nuance and tension. And even those are pretty easily reconciled: whatever else one could say of what Sapone/McFate did, it’s definitely “wild” and “rebellious” in a way that might appeal to her daughter-in-law.

  2. I met Montgomery McFate years ago at a AAA and she then had a company (with her husband) that did “corporate intelligence,” which I took to be (legal) spying on companies for the benefit of other companies. She gave me a business card for the company, so there was nothing secretive about it.

  3. I hope field data doesn’t pose such confusion or accusations of lies and double games because of a change between childhood and adulthood! Ms Mcfate may be a strange character, and I find her a little creepy, but one could certainly have grown up a hippy and become an Ivy-leauge educated corporate consultant. I can’t even count how many of those I know on two hands!
    All of that said, the Chron article seems pretty impressionistic, and the MoJones, as is often the case, ideologially oriented.

  4. Ah I made an error in my comments that I’d like to apologize for — in the course of cutting and pasting the URLs I had somehow mistakenly assumed Sapone/McFate was Montgomery’s mother, not her mother in law. All the last name switches confused me — I guess she is now using her mother in law’s maiden name, which threw me for a loop. So you’re right, 3 is right out.

    With that straightened out we can say probably the biggest thing the MJ story indicates to me is that McFate drank the kool aid a lot earlier than I had thought. That is to say, I had speculated that she came from a countercultural leftist background, moved into the military, and was then socialized into the culture there. Now it appears that switch happened much earlier in her biography.

  5. Mary, if you think having a business card saying you are corporate spy means there is “nothing secretive about this,” you were sleeping in ethics class.

    Anthropologist spies are a big deal, and for those of us who do fieldwork abroad, it can mean life and death.

    Anthropologists should never spy. What the hell is McFate doing?

    Does anyone know what happened to Terry Turner’s motion at the AAA business meeting asking to reinstate ethics language from the 1960s outlawing secrecy again? McFate gives us all a reason to get our AAA ducks in a row.

  6. Largo,

    With all due respect, this is another misconception, compounded by an inflammatory term (“spying”). No “spying” or intelligence gathering (technically defined…that is, for “kinetic” mission purposes) goes on in HTS. Bluntly put, the army already has people doing intelligence work, and this is simply not the role of HTS.

    Best regards,

  7. Sockpuppet-Dee, My reference to spying was to Human Terrain, it was a reference to her industrial espionage and her disgraceful spying on American citizens engaged in political activities: this is far worse than spying on foreigners during times of war. I’ve never really given a crap about McFate until reading this about her in Mother Jones: but now I hate her guts and if I ever see her at the sfaa meetings againg she’s getting a piece of my mind.

    No more free rides for McFate from those of us working in applied, she’s giving all of us a bad name.

  8. Sockpuppet (I don’t know…is this your real name?) Largo,

    I can appreciate your perspective, but why loathe her for things that happened many years ago, when she wasn’t working as an anthropologist in any capacity? No, you may be speaking of the article, but you’re mind is focused front and center on the HTS controversy.

    My point remains that HTS is not about, nor was ever envisaged as, a tool of intelligence gathering.

    You might want to get your facts straight before you go bashing people in the hallways of professional meetings. Are you really prepared to accept at face value all the “fact” reported in that article? If you knew Montgomery, you might be surprised to “get” as good as you give, and you might even come away from that encounter looking and feeling more than a little foolish.

    Best regards,

  9. Largo’s question about “outlawing” secrecy alludes, ironically, to the basic dilemma. The AAA cannot pass a “law” that would “outlaw” anything. The worst sanction that the AAA could muster is banishment from the membership ranks, which already doesn’t seem to bother the majority of professional anthropologists who are not employed in academic settings. Besides, many anthropologists employ “secrecy” in the form of pseudonyms for informants, disguising the identity or location of a community, etc. The AAA would be more realistic if it set aspirational goals for individual practitioners rather than trying to use ineffective, blunt instrument approaches to a discipline as a whole. Guidelines on how to work ethically in ethnically complex settings would be more useful to most of us than empty condemnation of researchers who are not worried about it to begin with.

  10. Opps — I meant to write

    “Guidelines on how to work ethically in ethically complex settings…”

    — Dave

  11. David,

    Yes, I agree with you completely (and fully understand that it may not be reciprocal :-). When the AAA banishes (formally or informally), it defies the very ethics it purports to uphold. I fear a witchhunt within the AAA, with McFate as the first to be committed to the pyre. But, as you point out, the worst that the AAA (or anthropologists in general) can do has pretty much been done: her persona has been so completely vilified (rightly or wrongly) that she may feel that she has little choice but to abandon the organization that has abandoned her. N.B. — much of this is conjecture…I know how I would feel in her place (and, once again, I am NOT McFate). The point is, if the AAA wants to purge itself of “impure” anthropologists, those anthropologists will simply thrive in other settings where their conscientious decisions don’t become the focus of a firestorm. Again I ask, why have we heard so little about HTS from political science or sociology? Is it simply because they are “amoral” disciplines? Or could it be that there’s something peculiar about anthropology, rooted in our focus on colonial history, that drives these issues — regardless of whether we get the “ethics” correctly or not?

    Best wishes,

  12. I heard Turner at the AAA business meeting and his motion clearly said that things that archaeologists protecting locations of sites, and ethnographers protecting informants were fine.

    But what happened to his motion? (it was to restore good language that was removed from the AAA ethics code 10 years ago, it wasn’t to “outlaw” anything.) Has the AAA taken any action? If applied anthropologists are doing secret work, they should knock it off.

    What happened to John Kelly’s motion at the business meeting saying that if the AAA President didn’t take action on Turner’s motion, he needed to tell us why he didn’t take action.

  13. So Dee, on the basis of your extensive secret knowledge of Mcfate and her supporters, do you think the Mother Jones article is factually accurate?

  14. Suzanne’s note is a good clarification, but we should add that my university IRB wants me to protect the university and funding agencies, as well as subjects — and the potentials for ‘secrecy’ multiply. The AAA might take the approach of other professional/academic associations and simply encourage members to avoid engaging in illegal or unethical behavior in their research, rather than launching a True Church Inquisition.

    BTW I have commented before that some of the people who were outraged a couple of years ago about IRB intrusion into anthropological research now seem to be insisting on the most rigid and rigorous IRB standards for HTS work. The passion with which this issue is pursued is genuinely fascinating; in the whole long history of exploitation of traditional peoples I haven’t heard such outrage since the Chagnon/Tierney matter, and much of that seems driven by guilt over knowing for years exactly what Chagnon was up to, but larging ignoring it, until a journalist shamed us into caring.

    — Dave

  15. Hi all,

    This will certainly surprise many, but along with not “being” Dr. McFate, neither am I keeper of her conscience. I know something of HTS from a variety of people (including McFate), and have known Mitzy for a number of years…among other things, I know her to be a real professional, and very tuned into the importance of cultivating an ethical relationship between social science and the military.

    I have of course read the latest article about her alleged espionage activities. Here’s what I can say with certainty: She and her husband have been estranged from Sean’s mother for a number of years — no communication (that alone ought to give those who rush to judgment pause). I can also tell you that she will be addressing these allegations directly in the near future…in which forum I am not sure. Beyond this, it is not my place to comment, and I will defer to her.

    David again raises an important point — this time about double standards viz. IRB committees, etc. It sure would be helpful to me to help flesh out this end of the discussion, because it might indeed help people to see social science’s engagement with the military from quite a different perspective.

    Best regards,

  16. Dee I’m not sure you’ve answered my question — do you know of anything in the Mother Jones article that is inaccurate? Or do you simply not know one way or the other?

  17. Rex,

    I do indeed have an idea of how the article spins some elements of McFate’s professional history in ways that don’t accord with what I know of her personal or occupational background (so, yes, I know of some inaccuracies). Sorry if this is dodging the question, but I don’t believe it’s my place to address the allegations in any more detail, at least not now — they can and will be addressed by Mitzy herself in due course (that is, sooner rather than later). As you know, she is a friend and I’d love to speak out on her behalf. But on this issue, it had better come first from the horse’s mouth (even if others DO know a thing or two about it).

    Best regards,

  18. Because, you see, many of your posts on this blog argue that people ought to change their opinions of McFate because they misunderstand her. When people ask for evidence to support your claims they are told that they are based on information that is private or secret. Now someone has provided additional material on McFate which you say contains inaccuracies, but you cannot point out what they are. As you can imagine this is not very satisfying for people who are used to arguments which involve reasons and evidence.

  19. Rex,

    Of course! I wouldn’t for one moment expect people to change their minds or even form an opinion until they have more a more to work with! I’m simply saying that in relation to this article and its allegations, I really can’t be the messenger/defender. That’s got to come from McFate herself. But could it hurt to suspend judgment until the perspective of the Accused is aired?


  20. I don’t think so. Public discourse has to make judgments based on the information that it has to hand. The key is that we revise our understandings in light of new evidence as we receive it. For instance, this Mother Jones article reframes previous reportage about McFate in a way that (imho) significantly weakens your own attempts to narrate both her and HTS as misunderstood by the anthropological community.

    Using the subjunctive (you ‘would’ change your mind if you knew the secret facts that I knew) or the future tense (you ‘will’ change your mind once she replies/HTS gets their OA archive set up) doesn’t cut it. At worst its a way to dodge the issue or put it off until the storm passes and people forget about it. At best these sorts of claims are promises of transparency and accountability. I’m still waiting for these promises to be fulfilled.

    The best part about a free press and public discussion is that they continue to ask real questions, and this puts pressure on people to provide real answers. In 2000 she was describing her human subjects as “targets”. In 2002 she decided to make anthropology relevant to the military. Is it any wonder that Marshall Sahlins describes the purpose of HTS to be “better aim”?

  21. Rex,

    That’s fine…it seems to me your perspective had been set in concrete long before the Mother Jones piece came along. But it doesn’t bother me one bit what you choose to believe. McFate has been the subject of vilification for some time now, so current efforts to demonize her, far from being convincing to me, are rather blase. At any rate, it seems to me that when she comes along with her own rebuttal to the Mother Jones article, you’ll have no difficulty finding that far MORE difficult to believe that than the allegations raised in Mother Jones. McFate simply can’t win in the witchfinder court of anthropology. Perhaps that’s why she doesn’t care all that much anymore. It’s clear to me that you’ll be talking about her long after she’s finished talking (or thinking) about you. So, please, go ahead and reach your verdict. As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, the worst that could have been done to McFate has already been done.

    Best regards,

  22. Turner Resolution – my understanding from various personal email threads (I can’t find anything official on the AAA website) is that the ethics committee has people working on draft language to address Turner’s proposal. If anyone wants more detail, I recommend calling AAA and asking them to put you in touch with somebody on the ethics committee who can help you get more specific information.

    It will be interesting to see what language is developed from Turner’s proposal. My 2 cents – no simple ban on secrecy (even with appropriate exceptions for informant confidentiality and cultural resource issues) will work unless we are willing to kick out of AAA many of the anthropologists who do applied OR advocacy work. Such work can sometimes require secrecy beyond what we normally see in research, but that does not necessarily involve harm to the involved group(s). That type of secrecy may mean a compromise in terms of peer review and contributions to the discipline’s collective knowledge, but that’s a somewhat different issue. Whatever language gets put into the COE will need to be very nuanced if we are to keep our “big tent.” If the membership decides it wants to make the tent smaller, it should make that decision overtly, eyes wide open, rather than accidentally through an aggregation of seemingly small changes. (Personally, I think keeping more anthropologists under the tent, where they have access to debate and critique and come under the COE, is a goal worthy of some patience and nuance.)

  23. Hi all,

    K. Fosher and others are touching another question that I’m glad is being aired: secrecy. I fully understand the reluctance and skepticism some people have when they don’t have the answers they want immediately (some would say “ever”). Thinking about Rex’s skepticism earlier (and I do understand the need for healthy skepticism) got me pondering whence this reluctance even to provide a space for fulsome responses to challenging allegations to be provided? Especially when a simple “that’s not true!” would never suffice? Rex’s view that future promises “don’t cut it” sounds lovely in the blogosphere. He didn’t have to wait but the blink of an eye, for instance, for ole Dee to get right back to him! But a realistic appraisal of time-management and complex sociopolitical institutions in this society would suggest that there needs to be some room for compromise here: not an endless wait, surely, but at least a tolerance for some specific period to elapse before the conclusion is drawn that subterfuge is at work.

    Which brings me to HTS secrecy: It seems to me that, army bureaucracy being what it is, it shouldn’t surprise people that making things public and open source takes time (to figure out how to manage/make usable hundreds of notebooks or recorded interviews, to develop coded databases that interface with existing databases in other organizations, to hire and train staff, to arrive at common ground about what can safely be divulged and what can’t, etc.). It’s been suggested that whoever runs HTS is just stalling, waiting for the whole debate to be forgotten. But I really don’t think that’s what’s happening here. For one, everyone I’ve spoken to understands that the debate isn’t going away. More importantly, to my mind this is just garden-variety inefficiency and bureaucratic mismanagement (or to be kinder, confusion). Will it change “everything” when this data does become available to all? Of course not, because no matter how much “stuff” is made public, the assumption will be that sensitive material is being held back. Which will be true — but only in the same way proprietary work is “secret” in the private sector, or the identities of ethnographic respondents are kept “secret” by individual ethnographers.

    Ok, that’s enough for now…


  24. Has McFate ever once publicly responded to specific criticisms? I remember her saying she’d respond in public to academic criticisms of the ethics of Human Terrain systems, plagiarism, reports of her own high salary, etc., and now this Mother Jones scandal is added to her pile but she has never explained any of these other scandals beyond glib comments in the press. All of these are serious matters, but “Dee” can’t give us links or citations to McFate’s responses to any of these can she? I don’t expect Montgomery McFate to respond to the Mother Jones story either, she’s working in a nonacademic environment where accountability doesn’t matter.

  25. Hal,

    Ah, well, McFate has responded to many criticisms, but she chooses her forums carefully…as I said, I’m hardly the keeper of her conscience, and am not going to second-guess her decisions about where and to whom she explains herself or her actions. Not my job, either, to lay them at your doorstep. My goals in these posts are and have been twofold: 1) to decry the character assassination and vilification of anthropologists holding a different vision future engagement with the military; and 2) to provide a different perspective on what HTS is about. That said, I certainly hope she comes out with something soon, and in a fairly public setting (perhaps not this blog, though).

    Hal, I think you should shop around your thesis about “accountability not mattering” in nonacademic settings at the next SfAA meetings – don’t imagine that would go down very well. McFate is, of course, professionally accountable in ways that most university faculty would find intolerable. But that’s a topic for another thread :-).

    As always,

  26. Hmmmm…anyone have any idea why that crossing out of text happens? Think I’ve seen it before on this blog, but I’m not sure.


  27. Speaking of data secrecy etc. has anyone gained/tried to gain/ access to the HTS stuff on If so how much material is available, and what is its nature? (Not interested in content).

  28. Its the em dash being misread as a strikethrough command. Fixed.

    Anyhoo, I’d be happy to read what McFate has to say, and then use that evidence to revise my current assumptions about her if/when. Building models around evidence and then revising them in light of more evidence is not a “witchhunt”, its just how human understanding (whether you want to call it ‘the scientific method’ or ‘the hermeneutic circle’) works. All knowledge is provisional, which is why we make our judgments on the basis of the evidence that we have to hand.

    I think its fair to decry villification a la Max or tinfoil hat people who think the government is holding the truth about HTS in a remote Nevada test site. But at the same time, its important to realize that someone can disagree with Dee/McFate and still be a reasonable person.

    But the basic issue here is one of credibility. Dee says she wants to ‘provide a different perspective on HTS’, but what we in fact get is an uncorroborated, anonymous source who alludes to data that we cannot see but which, if we could, would provide us a new perspective. I mean honestly.

  29. Hello all,

    Rex, I think you’re absolutely right on a number of levels. Again, to be clear, I don’t expect anyone to change their minds based on what I say in these blogs. As I said in my last post, the wheels are very, very slow to turn in the army, from what I know, so the evidence that I think might satisfy is simply not going to materialize overnight. But you’re right, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, you’re perfectly justified in not buying a different spin on HTS. I do think that McFate will come out with something…I certainly hope so, and feel certain that people will go over it most thoroughly when it comes out (more reason for her to take her time, I guess!). As for me, of course you may take what I write for what it’s worth to you (and if that’s nothing, so be it!). Yeah, I’m anonymous…have a feeling that more than a few bloggers on this blog are, but that’s speculation.

    As for the “witchhunt”, I’m not accusing anyone in particular…except for MF, and (whether you agree with him or not) he’s pretty much shown his true colors in that regard. My use of that word is deliberately provocative…I really want people to pause before getting carried away by the prospect of Evil In Our Midst (as many have clearly done).

    Best wishes,

  30. Dee is full of it, Dr. McFate never answers criticisms. Notice how “Dee” can’t produce a single link to McFate ever answering academic criticism or questions of her poor scholarship. I don’t know why Dr. McFate is always silent, maybe she has no answers to questions of plagiarism, HTS’s violation of basic anthropological ethics, taking $400,000 a year from Human Terrain, spying on Americans working to control gun violence, etc., or maybe her handlers tell her to keep quiet and it will all go away. Either way her silence is the most unacademic of responses, and her inability to even try and answer academic criticisms finds her to be a weak scholar.

    Dr. McFate talks loudly with a puffed chest to her military audiences but she remains silent and unaccountable to the academic community. The military seem fine with this, I don’t think academics are ever going to want her around.

  31. Hal is right. For someone not willing to provide any new evidence, Dee is contributing an awful lot of posts. Sound and fury, my friends, which – as I recall – signifies…

  32. Maybe McFate can’t win in the anthropological “court” because she’s guilty as charged…

    And what are those charges?

    a) Working hard to transform anthropology into a spying discipline (an endeavor with a long history…)
    b) An inadequate and frankly unethical concept of consent and the welfare of anthro’s subjects
    c) putting anthros lives in danger (though I suppose the HTS people killed took that risk)
    d) maligning and misrepresenting the discipline

    None of those are hanging crimes, of course, but if McFate’s serious about wondering why she has so few friends in the halls of AAA meetings, I’d suggest that those are a good part of the reasons.

  33. Hal, LFB, and Oneman,

    Yes, you’ve all deftly summed up just about all the longstanding objections to engagement with the military that have oozed out in the blogosphere. Many congrats on retreading old terrain without proposing new ways to dialogue, which it is clear to me you have no interest in. So be it. In response to your specific criticisms:

    1)I know for a fact that in some forums McFate answers criticisms (others on this blog know this too, sorry you’re tuned out…I for one don’t much care). I could produce links, but sorry…I’m ethically obliged not to. As I pointed out to Max a while back, there are other conversations going on among social scientists about these subjects, and some of them are not for redistribution. Sorry, you’ll just have to do your own footwork. But you’re quite right that McFate doesn’t give a hoot what the bloggers think…she’d had a bellyful of the character assassination, so why should she? For the record, she’s had no input in my blogs and perhaps doesn’t even know they exist.

    2) Sound and fury, sure, sure…I’ve no problem with your p.o.v. My posts haven’t been intended to shift the demands for information made by anti-HTS people, but to civilize the tone of debate and propose other ways of looking at it. This is a tough nut to crack, and only you can decide whether this happens or not. Again, I doubt McFate much cares anymore for your scorn. Speaking of signifying nothing….

    3)Ah well, looks like we have a new candidate for Witchfinder General (MF held that dubious honor before). Either way the rest of your remarks don’t bear much comment on, since so much of this has been hashed out before. Here are my short responses to your points:

    a) Nonsense. No “spying” or anything like it goes on in HTS.

    b) More nonsense. All respondents who talk to HTTs know exactly who they’re talking to and generally don’t do so unless persuaded that the team is looking to help them. You (like Sahlins) will argue this is consent at the end of a gun…more nonsense. This is simply not how teams have experienced social interaction in the field.

    c) You have a lot of nerve, I’ll grant you, even raising the specter of the two individuals who died. Neither Michael nor Nicole would have wasted any time whatsoever telling you where to stick your posturing….and they weren’t even anthropologists! (Or have you once again forgotten that that all the venom about HTS seems to flow from the veins of anthropology…not sociology or political science?). They were proud of what they did (as were their families)…it took a lot of courage. So, on the old scale of depth of character, you perhaps ought to give them more credit instead of maligning their memory. I don’t expect that you will, but in my view you should.

    d) It is the discipline (including contributors to this blog) that has maligned and misrepresented her. If you think you owe her little more than a frosty cold shoulder at the AAA or other meetings, you can bet it’s returned (if she ever goes again…people on this blog have called her a coward for not going. Why oh why on this earth would she WANT to when this is the reception that awaits her?).

    At any rate, despite our disagreements, I value the dialogue (such as it has been). One day, there will be other bloggers tentatively reaching out to rattle the chains of the Old Regime in anthropology, but that time is clearly not now. I sincerely hope you all find the answers you’re looking for re. HTS, McFate, and others.

    As always, my very best regards,


  34. > Dr. McFate talks loudly with a puffed chest to her
    > military audiences but she remains silent and
    > unaccountable to the academic community.

    Well, if anyone is in the area, she’ll be speaking to the department of public policy at Dartmouth College next month:

    Montgomery McFate
    Senior Social Scientist, Human Terrain System, US Army
    “Using Social Science Research in Conflict Situations: The Human Terrain System in Afghanistan and Iraq”
    Thursday, September 25, 2008
    4:30 PM – 3 Rockefeller Hall
    A Nelson A. Rockefeller Centennial Series Lecture

  35. HA! Now I’m the “Old Regime”!!! Oh, dear, I never thought I’d see the day. Off with my heads!

    Well, it’s not fun to see Dee become totally unhinged (before you took up the mantle of McFatism, had you even *heard* of anthropology?) but it does make any further commenting a little futile. So, I’m out. But thanks to the rest of you for joining in — I share some of Rex’s original unease about this story (and had the same “oh, mother-in-*law*…!” moment while I was looking up the earlier Chronicle piece) — there’s a real seedy side to it all, and a real weird take on morality at work in that story, and in McFate’s work.

    The thing that’s bothered me most about HTS and McFate’s public pronouncements is the evacuation of theory and meaning from anthropology. In McFate’s hands, anthropology is just a set of methodologies (which is why HTS doesn’t distinguish much between the disciplines — it’s just fieldwork, and soc has a pretty good claim to that too, now. The only ethnography methods class at New School was taught by Terry Williams, a soc.) So it doesn’t matter if you know Arabic, Pashtun, or Glubbdubdribian, or if the sum total of your local knowledge is “don’t show people the soles of your feet”. Because it’s the methodology, stupid.

    In the MoJo story, we see McFate as analyst — it’s just research, right? The *content* of that research doesn’t matter. The ethical principles many of us are arguing for are irrelevant to McFate — as her feeble definition of “consent” in her debate with Price etc. showed.

    Anyway, I’ve met anthros in the military who are doing smart stuff, and I respect that. I’ve met plenty of ex-military anthros as well who have smart ideas about how anthro could fruitfully contribute to more successful interactions on the ground. I’ve taught military folks, many preparing to go back to Iraq in 6 months, 9months, who were desperate for some of the perspective anthropology provides (it’s for them that I usually spend a couple classes of my Intro just talking about Islam, even though the department no longer includes a case study of a Muslim community in its required readings).

    And then there’s HTS, shrouded in secrecy and shame. They’re not doing anything wrong, of course, they just can’t tell you anything about it. Trust them.

  36. One final deconstruction of McDefender “Dee,” and a word on Oneman and Rex seeming to miss Mother Jones point about Dr. Montgomery McFate, Ph.D. spying on Americans.

    “Dee” clearly isn’t Dr. Montgomery McFate, Ph.D. “Dee” is someone who has been to PR school, Dr. Montgomery McFate, Ph.D. can’t keep her cool like our pro “Dee” can. “Dee” knows what every public relations textbook says in the chapter on lying or what to do when you’re caught red handed (usually these these chapters are called things like “When Disasters Strike”): keep smiling and keep talking. These texts recommend that when asked direct questions whose answers would be damning, just keep smiling and acting like you are saying something germane but just say a bunch of words and keep smiling as if you are telling the truth. That is all “Dee” ever does here. When asked direct questions “Dee” just fills the screen with nonsense and platitudes and never answers questions, just like in the textbooks. When they ask you hard questions, lie and say that question has already been answered. Watch “Thank You For Smoking” and you’ll get the picture.

    I hope Oneman and Rex didn’t misunderstand Dr. Montgomery McFate, Ph.D’s role as a spy in using subterfuge and a covert mission name “Montgomery Sapone” to infiltrate and damage the Brady Campaign. The Mother Jones article isn’t some trashy story about someone’s mother in law, it is a story about about an anthropologist spying on American citizens engaging in political dissent. McFate disgusts me for doing this and no amount of professional spin control from all the “Dee’s” in the world can protect McFate from serious questions about this spying, her war profiteering, Human Terrain’s no bid contracts, plagiarism, unethical design of Human Terrain, and whatever else some other journalist turns up in the public record. She has no answers to these questions and she appears cowardly when she hides like this. I hope to catch the train up to her talk at Dartmouth and think I can make it, but if I don’t see her there, I will confront her at the AAA meetings or SFAA meetings if she has the nerve to show her face around real anthropologists.

  37. Hal: No offense, but I think *you* missed my point, which was roughly the same as yours — the research she assisted with was morally wrong. But if you strip anthro down to a handful of research methods, there’s no room left for ethics. And I have a problem with that.

  38. —Because it’s the methodology, stupid.—

    McFate has a lawyer’s talent for identifying slipping signifiers; she’s simply playing upon anthropologists’ tendency to conflate ethnography and anthropology, or at least to treat fieldwork as the discipline’s sine quo non. I don’t say this to defend her work but rather to suggest that it is something more anthropologists should reflect upon. One of the later chapters of Schneider on Schneider has a provocative discussion of the issue.

  39. Imagine if you were faced with a choice between:

    (A) Maintaining a principled commitment to stripping false pretenses of civility away from the “deeper” reality of zero sum ideological battles; approaching unaligned voices as covert pawns in the hidden machinations of your enemy; converting your institutional media of collective discussion into ad hoc tribunals for the exposure of diabolical conspiracies, in which all allegations of individual guilt are considered factual until conclusively disproven.


    (B) Holding yourself to practical standards that exemplify your own highest ethical and epistemological ideals; welcoming all voices into a community of discourse based on common commitment to the progressive potentials of human intellectual endeavor; building institutions of civic discourse in which rigorous adherence to highest standards of logic and evidence ensure that conclusions are reached possessed of factual integrity robust enough to provide clear compass for the efficacious realization of our common ideals under actual historical circumstances.

    Boy, that would be a tough choice, huh?

  40. GP Prudence.

    It seems to me that people are jumping to a lot of conclusions based on that MoJo article. All we know from that article is that McFate has a hell of creepy mother-in-law (you can’t choose your mother-in-law, or your own mother, for that matter) who claimed at some point that her daughter-in-law was working for her as an analyst. But from what I recall reading the article, there was no independent source aside from the clearly not honest or reliable Mary Lou Sapone/McFate to corroborate whether Montgomery actually ever did any work for her. If she really did work as a corporate spy before turning her hand to the military, then that would certainly be interesting information to pair together and analyze as evidence of what anthropology means to her. But is there any proof? Mary (comment 2, this post) says that MM had a company that did “corporate intelligence” — does anyone know any more about that? It might or might not have anything to do with the kind of corporate espionage her m-i-l did.

    And whoever Dee is (Oneman, what make you think s/he’s not an anthropologist? McFate is an anthropologist, after all), s/he’s obviously not a Mother Jones investigative journalist nor is s/he Montgomery McFate and so it’s not her responsibility to provide info about MM’s relationship with her mother-in-law. S/he says that s/he admires MM, but mostly it seems like s/he’s just cautioning people against being too simplistic in the way that they jump to conclusions. To me, as someone who neither knows nor admires MM, that doesn’t seem like such a radical proposal. It sounds rather anthropological, really.

    Anthropology is a discipline that is more interested than most in deities and demons, and watching these comments and debates play out, I find it fascinating to watch the process by which anthropologists paint Montgomery McFate as a kind of demon, or some minor goddess of destruction in the disciplinary pantheon. And then poor Dee as MM’s handmaiden becomes imbued with magical PR skills just because s/he can maintain a courteous tone during debates.

  41. LL Wynn: You need to tell the truth. It is not true that as you claim: “All we know from that article is that McFate has a hell of creepy mother-in-law (you can’t choose your mother-in-law, or your own mother, for that matter) who claimed at some point that her daughter-in-law was working for her as an analyst.”

    This is not true. We also know from two independent people that Montgomery infiltrated the pro-gun control group, the Brady Campaign, while working for her dishonest mother-in-law.

    “Around 2003, Montgomery volunteered at the Brady Campaign, according to Becca Knox, the group’s research director. Occasionally, Montgomery would also sit in for her mother-in-law at Washington strategy meetings attended by officials of the gun control movement, according to the Violence Policy Center’s Kristen Rand.”

    The article does not just claim Montgomery McFate was an analyst for “a hell of a creepy mother-in-law,” it claims she spied on American citizens for her “hell of a creepy mother-in-law”.

    You don’t believe it? Contact Becca Knox and Kristen Rand, and while you are at it, ask Montgomery McFate what her personal views on gun control are.

    LL Wynn, do you believe that Montgomery McFate joined this group because she personally wants increased limits on access to guns? This wouldn’t fit with the rest of her career or her marriage to the “musical mercenary.”

  42. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not especially interested in the creepy doins of MaryLou/Montgomery/Mitzi/McFate/Sapone or the equally creepy doins of the AAA. The process of this discussion is interesting to me, in particular the rates, thresholds, and intensities of reaction. I’m also interested in the rhetorical strategies being deployed and their relationship or lack thereof to ‘facts’ and ‘ethics’.

    I support but do not have high hopes for Prudence’s and LL Wynn’s reframing gestures. Understanding and advocacy are distinct projects, although they may be defined as inseparable according to some systems of ethics. Prudence’s point about ideological zero-sum games points to one problem here; it’s been a subtext. How much has advocacy shaped understanding? This is a Bourdieuian mirror trap.

    Rex has accurately described existential position-taking in information-poor environments and Dee has responded somewhat ingenuously by assuming he means he’s made up his mind. Perhaps, but IF persuasion is to occur without charismatic conversion, evidence will have to be presented and parsed according to shared and convincing conventions. Dee has done nothing but say you’re wrong, trust me. Good luck with that.

    This problem is always in principle reciprocal, but the burden is not. So while Dee has done little but persistently assert a contrary position, she occupies a status quo and so can allow brute facts to stand behind her. This is what the propaganda strategies described above by Hal boil down to. So information may or may not exist; McFate may or may not be providing it in uncitable venues (the fact that she exclusively chooses such venues is of course part of the problem). Dee’s leverage here is the ordinary charisma of discursive courtesy backed up by an agenda that requires no more than the maintenance of things as they are. Her position is consistent with the pragmatic mission closure that any effective institution will tend to develop, for exactly the same reasons that the Brady Campaign doesn’t want gun nuts on their board. When it’s time to do some work it’s not the time to keep debating basic principles with knuckleheads. You delegate a flack to wave a hand in their faces and you get on with it.

    The lack of substantive facts on the other ‘side’ is much more damaging. If you want things to change and you’ve got neither facts nor charisma working for you you’re really screwed, a classic recipe for impotent snarling. Asking Dee for facts is worth a try, but c’mon. Tabloid chasing the traces of McFate’s complicated little life may tell us a bit about how she became creepy, but it does little beyond a staffing microanalysis to unpack the big brute facts of policy-making and the division of labor in modern formally-organized militaries marginally sensitive to demagogic pressures. Basically not liking the military is pretty thin as interpretive schemata go, but it does seem to effectively intercept any of the sort of eager curiosity that normally informs the substantive fieldwork that yields robust and persuasive analysis in ordinary anthropological practice.

    LL Wynn makes a good point about demons. All of the stuff about professional ethics and theories makes sense within a truth-generating regime that divides motives and methods into sacred and profane. McFate is an agent of pollution, check. That’s how people organize their worldviews and emotional responses, so no surprises there. When do anthropologists catch themselves at it? Having done so, what would a reflective practice that wasn’t just guilty navel-gazing look like? Burkeian existentialism, perhaps, or Prudence Plan B….

  43. This is pretty far away from the thread at this point, but somebody pointed out to me that my comment (#22) about the Turner resolution and secrecy was confusing. For what it’s worth, the 2nd paragraph was supposed to be a general musing based on earlier comments, NOT to suggest that Turner proposed a general ban on secrecy. Again, I cannot find the text of it, but my recollection is that he and his supporters made it clear that things like informant confidentiality, protection of archaeological sites, etc. would be preserved.

  44. This is pretty far away from the thread at this point, but somebody pointed out to me that my comment (#22) about the Turner resolution and secrecy was confusing. For what it’s worth, the 2nd paragraph was supposed to be a general musing based on earlier comments, NOT to suggest that Turner proposed a general ban on secrecy. Again, I cannot find the text of it, but my recollection is that he and his supporters made it clear that things like informant confidentiality, protection of archaeological sites, etc. would be preserved.

  45. This is bizarre. I am not an Anthropologist, and as I have said elsewhere, I could have been swayed by a convincing statement addressing questions like those raised here.

    I only became interested in HTS a few weeks ago. It’s clear that information on the Internet makes McFate look like a weirdo, but even her available academic material is entirely unimpressive. I can’t imagine anyone believing that highly-educated individuals could be convinced by such material. I can only believe the real aim of this Anthropology-War PR is not to construct a persuasive argument or even to use Anthropological methods to aid the military.

  46. As a minor aside, as somebody who knew Mitzy (several name changes ago) back in her Marin County days, I can vouch for the basic accuracy of the SF Chronicle article’s description of her in her youth. Although the punk rock/counterculture background is basically surface detail – anybody who knew her at the time would probably not be at all surprised that she ended up going as far as she did academically, but also wouldn’t be surprised that she would become a spook or a spy.

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