New ‘American Horror Story’ Season Spins 2016 Elections as the Real Horror Show

By Eileen Sepulveda

Promotional image for “Cult,” the latest installment of FX’s anthology, “American Horror Story.” Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

Although its sixth season turned out to be a major flop, the seventh season of “American Horror Story,” entitled “Cult,” has so far proven to be one of the best seasons ever. Created and produced by Ryan Murphy and writer Brad Falchuk, the psychological, gory dramatic thriller, which premiered Sept. 5, revolves around the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The show stands out for tackling issues that are detrimental to many U.S. citizens, such as discrimination against Mexican immigrants and the LGBT community, and the resurgence of white nationalism.

“AHS” fans will appreciate the writer’s careful approach. John Landgraf, the chief executive of FX told John Koblin of the New York Times via phone interview, “It’s a horror piece, so it’s a genre piece, but it’s trying somehow to locate and diagnose the essential craziness of the times in which we live.” 

Chaotic and terrifying, the first episode, “Election Night,” draws the viewer right in. It opens with the exhilarated soon to be cult leader, Kai Anderson played by Evan Peters---an “AHS” fan favorite who is also known for his role as X-Men’s Quicksilver---humping his TV screen and whispering, “The revolution has begun.” Along with his sister Winter (Billie Lourd) and their brother Dr. Rudy Vincent Anderson (Cheyenne Jackson), the three begin recruiting several members of the community into their strange and dangerous cult. By the end of episode 1, Kai’s evil cult has formed. 

Masked as hideous clowns, the cult begins to terrorize the town, going on violent killing sprees. Allyson Mayfair Richards (Sarah Paulson) is also tormented by the cult. Triggered by Trump’s victory, Allyson and her family deal with her many phobias, including coulrophobia. Her wife Ivy (Alison Pill) goes on her own psychological rollercoaster. It takes a toll on the couple’s relationship and inflicts traumatic stresses on their son, 10-year-old Oz---short for Ozymandias (Cooper Dodson), who we learn secretly loves to read “Twisty: The Clown Chronicles.” As some viewers might know, Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) also makes his appearance on “AHS Season 4: Freak Show.” 

As the plot unfolds many of the characters’ identities are revealed and the truths uncovered through many twists and turns will leave viewers dumbfounded right up till the season finale, “Great Again,” scheduled to air on Nov. 14. Beside the constant neck slicing and clown faces, the show brings to life the nightmare that’s become a reality in the U.S.

KKK Attempts to Recruit Lehman Students

By Eileen Sepulveda

Anti-KKK Graffiti. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

On Sept. 29, the Meridian received a letter from the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Addressed to the editor, the letter stated that the KKK was under “extreme fire for being a hate group.” This characterization, it said, was untrue, adding “we only wish to keep the white race pure as God intended.” The letter went on to ask students to join in protesting a new novel, “The Slave Players,” by Megan Allen, which it described as “loud-mouth literature” written “just to agitate the college educated who always think they have a better answer.” 

Novel under attack by the KKK. Photo courtesy of Burning House Publishing.

According to Wilhelmina Mount, a representative of Allen’s publisher, Burning House Publishing, “The novel is a highly controversial one which slaps pretty hard at southern white supremacists. And they [the KKK] are also targeting others as well.” Mount told the Meridian, “Other media sources have also received the letter---but mostly in the South---and we have been receiving hate emails for several months now [from] about a hundred KKK fans who periodically send us lovely emails telling us that we are the haters, and not them.” Mount said, “They have labeled [Allen] as a traitor against ‘her own kind,’ and us as a publisher beyond redemption.”

Other CUNY colleges also received letters. Anthony Medina, editor-in-chief of York College’s student newspaper, Pandora Box, informed The Meridian that York College was also targeted. A mass email sent to all York students from Russell Platzek, Executive Director of Legal Services and Labor Relations at York College, stated that “multiple offices at York College, as well as other CUNY campuses, received a letter from a national hate group, advocating for the separation of the races.” It added that the letter “appears to have been carried out in a mass mailing format, not specific to York College in any way.” Platzek did not respond to the Meridian’s requests for further comment. 

Other college newspapers around the country were also targeted. C.S. Hagen reported in North Dakota’s High Plains Reader on Oct. 11 that two college newspapers---Valley City State University’s Viking News and North Dakota State University’s the Spectrum---had received an identical letter from the KKK “asking for help.” Valley City State University’s Viking News, and North Dakota State University’s the Spectrum were the newspapers targeted. Jack Hastings, editor-in-chief of the Spectrum, told NPR, “First off, the presence of a group such as the KKK surprised me, but now they’re targeting college campuses. Seeing this delivered to our office is upsetting to me.”

The letter was postmarked Florida, the state ranked by the Southern Poverty Law Center (partnered with Propublica) as having the second largest number of hate groups in the U.S. While Florida has 63 out of a total of 917 hate groups operating in the U.S., New York has an estimated 47, putting it at No. 4. According to Propublica, “Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the New York City Police Department report a recent uptick in bias incidents and hate crimes. But with thousands of police departments failing to report alleged or even confirmed hate crimes to the FBI, we lack foundational information about many such crimes occur in any given year, where they might occur the most and least, who the targets of such crimes tend to be, and how this has changed over time.” 

In New York, other hate campaigns have recently been carried out by mail. According to an Oct. 4 article in the New York Daily News “Anonymous hate mail filled with slurs and emblazoned with a swastika was mailed to nine city Brooklyn and Manhattan, including three law firms, an international financial firm, a jewelry store, a Starbucks, a kosher meat market, and a bakery.” The article added that these attacks are under investigation by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office, and that they are aware of “this and similar letters that have been sent.” 

One reason the KKK might have chosen to recruit via letters, Mount pointed out, is “The KKK national member site, together with Stormfront, their national media site, have both been crashed, leaving them without a channel of communication, so extremists have taken to the mails.” 

Professor Brian Levin, Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, told the Meridian “The Loyal White Knights (LWK) has been active for years in pamphleting to get publicity, and is one of the largest Klan groups in the nation...Among the LWK’s ‘positions’ is [sic] stopping immigration, Sharia law, and ‘white cultural genocide’.” He added, “Still, the Klan network overall of which LWK is a subset has only several thousand members.”

Lehman English professor Crystal Curry told the Meridian she believes that Donald Trump “laid the groundwork through his rhetoric for these kinds of much more perverse things to like spill out into the mainstream…and so a lot of this recruitment started during his campaign.” Curry, who researches alt-right narratives, also emphasized the ideological connection between their racism and misogyny. A white female novelist like Allen, she said, “would be the perfect person” for the KKK to target because they also blame women for ending the era they idealize when white men “ruled the household.” In their ideology, she said, “it’s basically women’s fault you can’t ‘genocide’ people [of color]…These are the kinds of narratives you find in people who are nostalgic for the Third Reich.” 

Michael Sullivan, Director of Campus Life, reported that the case of the letter sent to the Meridian was being handled by Public Safety. Deputy Director of Public Safety Gregory Nigri told the Meridian that, “the KKK letter was shared with the Chief of CUNY Public Safety, William Barry, who reached out to the university community to inquire whether any other campuses received similar letters.” Two other CUNY campuses, he said, received similar letters, and Public Safety believes that the letter is “benign.” 

Medina observed, “I think it’s ultimately disturbing that this group of people believe they have any right to express their discriminatory methods through any means.” 

Xiomara Vazquez, a Lehman freshman who moved to New York from Puerto Rico three years ago said she felt disturbed by the KKK’s self-promotion. “Their existence is just proof that there is much to work to be done in this country. With a president who condones this behavior, we have seen that they have been feeling more ‘free’ to come out in to the open. I feel it is an affront to the values of our diverse campus and for what the city of New York stands for.”

A copy of the letter sent to the Meridian was not available for publication due to the ongoing investigation by CUNY Public Safety, but an identical letter to the one received can be viewed here.


Bronx Native Addresses Nation with New Album

By Eileen Sepulveda

Alynda Lee Segarra and her band, Hurray for the Riff Raff, performing live. Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

Born and raised in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s lead singer Alynda Lee Segarra electrifies the ears with her Nuyorican poetic lyrics on the band’s eighth album. “The Navigator” explores the effects of the gentrification that is occurring throughout New York City. Segarra combines her Latin roots and folk music to generate a powerful message, and the band’s performance is vibrant and alive with spirit. With a combination of old-school salsa, acoustic guitar, and Segarra’s velvety voice, the album takes you on a soul-searching journey.

In the title song, Segarra shares memories of being “raised by the street.” She asks with a melancholy tone and a sense of tremendous pride, “where will all my people go?” referring to entire communities being displaced by gentrification. This song can speak, not only to a lot of native New Yorkers, but to many immigrants who currently feel unwanted in America.

Segarra told the Meridian, “I know that right now, especially in the South [Bronx], gentrification is creeping in. Lots of people are in danger of losing their homes. This album touches on that. Cities all over the country are changing for the sake of profit, not people.”

Segarra also emphasized the importance of her Bronx roots. “Everywhere I go I tell people specifically---I am from the Bronx, a borough that has soul! It’s the people of the Bronx that made me who I am. I had to leave to know what I had, and now I pray the borough does not lose the very people who made it a historic place.”

In the song “Rican Beach,” the cries of the people speak through her lyrics. “Now all the politicians/They just squawk their mouths/They say we’ll build a wall to keep them out,” she sings. “You can take my life/But don’t take my home.” Here Segarra addresses America’s new leadership, the many struggles of immigrants that want to come to America, and the reality of gentrification happening within our own communities.

The song also has a strong Latin vibe; the heaviness of the timbales and the bluesy sound of the bass guitar spark memories of legends like Willie Colón and Tito Puente. At the same time, “RicanBeach” is an example of true Americana folk music.

“Pa’lante” is powerful and upbeat. It was also the name of the newspaper of the Puerto Rican nationalist group of the 1970s, the Young Lords. Segarra includes lines from the famous poem “Puerto Rican Obituary” by Pedro Pietri, “where the mice live like millionaires/and the people do not live at all.”This blends well with Segarra’s assertion that we must “pa’lante,” or move forward.

Unlike the country folk southern feel of their last seven albums, “The Navigator” is funky, and the honest grittiness of Segarra’s voice is definitely a breath of fresh air. The album appeals to both a broader audience and the hearts of her New Orleans fans.

Following up a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan on April 20, the band will soon be touring nationwide to promote the “The Navigator.”