Monday, January 23, 2017

Alt-Right Event in Seattle Devolves Into Chaos and Violence Outside, Truth-Twisting Inside

The Pepe banner comes out.

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

It was a scene ripe for violence last Friday night in Red Square on the University of Washington campus in Seattle: Several hundred fans of the racist "Alt-Right" figure Milo Yiannopoulos outside the hall where he was to speak, waiting to be let in, confronted by a much larger crowd of counter-protesters, chanting anti-Trump and anti-fascist slogans, including an organized pack of masked, black-clad anarchists.
Eventually, violence did strike. An antifascist protester was shot during one of the many small melees that broke out during the evening. Police said a 34-year-old man was seriously wounded by the gunfire and was in critical condition at a local hospital after undergoing surgery.
A man earlier identified as a “person of interest” in the case – described by the Seattle Times as an Asian man in a black leather coat with a maroon shirt underneath – turned himself in to police later and was arrested along with a man who accompanied him to the station. Both were later released without charges.
Afterwards, Yiannopoulos and Breitbart News, where he is a celebrity editor, attempted to cast his supporters as the martyrlike victims in the shooting. However, Hatewatch’s eyewitness version of events is precisely the reverse: The shooter was a Trump-supporting man who had been acting as a provocateur in the crowd all night, while the victim was an anti-fascist liberal who had been acting as a peacekeeper in the moments before he was shot.
Yiannopolous event invites chaos, violence.
The chaos outside Kane Hall was directed at Yiannopoulos – the Breitbart tech editor and Alt-Right provocateur who ended his nationwide “Dangerous Faggot” speaking tour in Seattle – and his admirers who lined up outside to hear him, many bedecked in red Donald Trump “Make America Great Again.”
Yiannopoulos' talk – at the invitation of the school’s College Republicans chapter – had created a controversy beforehand, with many critics questioning the university’s decision to permit hate speech on campus. UW officials were firm in their decision, defending it as a First Amendment matter.
Would-be attendees lined up to wait for the doors to the event to open, an even larger crowd of about a thousand counter-protesters showed up to greet them. The shouts, chants, and angry behavior clearly discomfited many Trump fans, but early on, they responded by singing the National Anthem and chanting “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and “USA! USA! USA!”
When the doors to the event opened, the counter-protesters quickly moved to block any further entrance to the event. Press reports indicated that several hundred managed to make it in – the Times estimated about half of the auditorium’s lower bowl, which holds some 530 seats, was full. However, the remaining crowd with tickets to the event remained stuck outside.
Eventually, the verbal exchanges that began taking place in increasingly denser conditions became physical shoves, and then punches. One young Trump supporter made the mistake of directly approaching a phalanx of masked anarchist “Black Bloc” protesters and was punched in the mouth and hit in the face with a blue paint ball. He was later rescued by his father. 
More Trump supporters began showing their anger and frustration at being unable to get inside – many of them remaining in a long, exposed line – by shoving their tormentors and flipping them off as they chanted. Eventually, one of them unfurled a banner featuring Pepe the Frog – an Alt-Right mascot widely understood as a symbol of hate. They began chanting, “Pepe! Pepe! Pepe!”

The eventual shooting victim is seen peacefully interceding in a near-melee moments before he is shot.
Around that scene, a handful of melees began breaking out. A Hatewatch reporter was assaulted from behind by a black-clad anarchist who kicked his recording device away, while angry anti-fascists began tussling with Alt-Right fans in the area. It was amid that chaos that one of the Trump fans pulled a gun and shot one of the anti-fascists – a tall man with a black leather jacket who had been acting to intercede as a peacekeeper – with a single shot that many people in the vicinity did not even hear.
Upon being told that a protester had been shot, the Times reported, Yiannopoulos briefly stopped his talk to confirm the news, and then continued, telling the crowd: “If we don’t continue, they have won.”
“If I stopped my event now, we are sending a clear message that they can stop our events by killing people. I am not prepared to do that," Yiannopoulos said
His mostly youthful audience eagerly congratulate themselves.
Outside, the shooting galvanized the protesters, who increased their ferocity. Most of the remaining Yiannopoulos fans began clearing out. The protest crowd outside remained for most of the talk and lingered well afterward, so police wound up escorting most of the audience outside via a tunnel that exited through a nearby parking garage.
According to the Times, the man accused of the shooting told police that he fired the gun in self-defense and claimed that the man he shot was a “white supremacist.” However, friends of the victim (who remains officially unidentified) contest that characterization, saying he was a liberal anti-fascist sympathizer.
In the video recorded by Hatewatch in the moments before the shooting, the shooting victim can be seen interceding in a dispute by placing his body as a buffer between opposing factions in the crowd. (8:16-8:24 in the above video.) 
Yiannopoulos’ pronouncement at the speech clearly attempted to cast the Alt-Right as victims of the shooting. Breitbart News, where Yiannopoulos is the tech editor and chief provocateur, reported the shooting as having been perpetrated by the anti-fascist protesters. That was clearly not the case.
One of Milo’s young fans, bedecked in furs and sunglasses, afterward gave an interview – posted by Yiannopoulos – conveying that similarly confused mischaracterization of the events outside.
“He decided to let the show go on despite somebody being shot, and compared it almost to a spoiled child, showing them what’s OK. Pretty much saying it’s OK to kill people, if you are willing. ... because that would shut down our events," the fan said. "I mean, it was amazing, because it was almost like a movie, everyone stood up and clapped in accordance. It was really exciting to see that. It’s one of the best things of Milo’s I’ve ever heard, actually.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

‘Communist Takeover’ Paranoia Gets a Final Resuscitation for Trump’s Inauguration

A scene from 'Red Dawn'

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

It’s like Red Dawn all over again, but this time without the Russians. Or at least their troops.
The apocalyptic fear of a Communist takeover of the federal government is one of the longtime, original staples of the conspiracy-fueled American antigovernment movement. And with Donald Trump, the apparent antithesis of those fears (despite his own many connections to Russia), soon to assume the presidency, they’re giving that paranoia one last big hurrah.
The website of the antigovernment group the Oath Keepers, as well as its Facebook page, have been shouting out warnings all this week: “Communists Intend to Overthrow the United States Before Inauguration Day,” “10,000 Men With Guns To Prevent Coup on Inauguration Day,” “In Just 10 Days, the Radical Left Will Attempt to Overthrow the U.S. Government.”
At the Infowars conspiracy mill run by Alex Jones, the theories have been multifarious as well as frantic: “Anarchists Are Hoping To Turn Donald Trump’s Inauguration On January 20th Into One Of The Biggest Riots In U.S. History,” “Will The CIA Assassinate Trump?”, “Alex Jones' Emergency Message To President Donald Trump To Deter Martial Law.”
Other right-wing conspiracists and Trump supporters are getting into the act. The far-right “Bikers For Trump” organization, which has a permit to protest at the inauguration, says it plans to protect Trump supporters and attendees at the events from protesters.
Levin warns of coup, 'Bikers for Trump' say they'll prevent one.
Chris Cox, the founder of the pro-Trump group, told Fox News:  “In the event we are needed, we certainly will form a wall of meat.”
The fears that radical leftists might prevent Trump’s ascension to the presidency are rampant among antigovernment extremists. Ironically, many of the same militiamen vowing to come to Trump’s defense were vowing before the election to undertake armed rebellion against the government in the event of an “illegal” Hillary Clinton victory.
Now the focus of their concern – and the source of their claims of a vast Communist conspiracy to prevent Trump from becoming president – is a series of anti-Trump protests organized by a group far-left activists calling themselves Refuse Fascism. As the Oath Keepers website explained, these activists are planning a series of continuing protests against Trump’s election with the express purpose of preventing him from taking office.
Indeed, Refuse Fascism’s website is fairly explicit that this is its hope: “Nothing less than to create such a profound political crisis before the intended inauguration (January 20, 2017) that the fascist regime is actually not able to take the reins of government.
“Imagine if people, in the tens of millions, filled the streets, powerfully declaring that this regime is illegitimate and demanding that it not be allowed to rule! The whole political landscape would be dramatically transformed, every faction within the established power structure would be forced to respond—and all this could well lead to a situation in which this fascist regime is actually prevented from ruling,” reads its mission statement.
The RefuseFascism protests began this weekend, and videos from those marches revealed that it is a small organization that managed to attract only a couple dozen protesters to march SaturdaySunday and Monday in Washington.
Reality notwithstanding, the rhetoric used by Refuse Fascism apparently revived old far-right John Birch Society-style paranoia among antigovernment militiamen and conspiracy theorists, with visions of Red Dawn-style military takeovers of government institutions dancing in their heads. (The original 1984 action film depicting a Russian military takeover of the U.S. was inspired by Birch-style theories.) The warnings issued from the Oath Keepers and Alex Jones reflected the longtime “New World Order” takeover paranoia.
Infowars warns of coup attempt, Jones issues plea to Trump
Jones began theorizing even before the election that the CIA or some other “globalist” entity wanted to assassinate Trump, and after the election he began pumping these theories with even greater frequency and deeper embellishment: “Will Globalists Attempt Trump Inauguration Assassination?” read a typical headline. “Dems Plot to Stop Inauguration,” was the title of another segment.
As the days have neared, Jones himself has picked up the pitch of this rhetoric, warning that the “globalists” are “still in executive control, and might try some kind of martial law scenario.” He pleaded with Trump to expose their nefarious scheme by citing his own conspiracy theories involving a supposed hack by Chinese agents.
Supports the idea of arresting and prosecuting Trump protesters
One of the Oath Keepers’ primary sources for their information about the planned disruptions of the inauguration came from “Health Ranger” Mike Adams, a longtime conspiracy theorist and onetime associated of Jones’ Infowars. (In 2013, just before the second inauguration of Barack Obama, Adams warned antigovernment “Patriots” that the president would soon be issuing a “mass of kill orders” for them.)
“What I am hearing is that there is an actual planned coup attempt,” Jones told his audience in a video that was promoted by the Oath Keepers. He then conflated the Refuse Fascism protests with the long-announced “Women’s March on Washington,” scheduled the day after the inauguration and expected to attract 200,000, saying that the “cover story” for the coup would be “the women’s march, the labor union march, whatever it is.”
“What’s really happening is that they are hoping to foment enough anger and amass enough people on that day that it flips over into a popular uprising and they literally flood into the capitol buildings – not just the Capitol building itself, but they try to take over, perhaps, the White House,” he said.
In addition to the heavy promotion of Adams’ conspiracism at their website, the Oath Keepers’ Facebook page editors chimed in, chastising some skeptics: “Some of those commenting apparently do not realize how serious this is,” referring them to the would-be disruptors’ websites, adding: “These and other communist and anarchist groups are serious about disrupting the inauguration and the new administration.”
In their comments, a number of self-described Oath Keepers voiced their skepticism and concern. However, the majority of respondents were credulous.
“The meetings, planning, and recruiting for these groups are happening,” wrote one. “You seem to be denying the disruptions described on the groups' own websites. Are you waiting to hear about it on the mainstream media? IMHO [in my humble opinion], they are lying by omission and deliberately not reporting what doesn't fit their own agenda.”
Others actually were hoping for such an attempt: “It would be a slaughter. The people on the right have been preparing for this for generations. It would mean the literal extinction of liberals. If they are ever stupid enough to cause this they will be wiped out,” wrote another supporter.
“Wow! It looks like they're serious! It's a good thing Obama got all of those FEMA camps back up & in running order, we're going to need somewhere to put these crazy people once they're arrested,” wrote one.
Indeed, the possibility of incarcerating the protesters was foremost on Mike Adams’ mind in his video rant. He referenced the FEMA concentration camps – one of the hoariest of the militia movement’s conspiracy theories, positing that so-called  New World Order globalists planned to begin rounding up conservatives, gun owners, and anyone who resisted their regime into camps operated under the rubric of the federal emergency-management agency -- as the object of leftists’ evil desires.
And then he advocated precisely the same fate for this week’s protesters, while vowing to protect the newly elected President Trump:
It is time to reassert the freedoms and the rights of the American people as described in the Constitution. It is time to take back America from the cultural subversion of the radical left, of the Communist influence, you know, Marxist influence, radical left-wing terrorists and murderers who killed cops and so on. It’s time to shut that whole sector of society down. It is time to shut that down.
And if it takes Trump issuing arrest warrants and it takes putting police out there onto the streets for a little while, to get that done and find the treasonous subversives who need to be arrested and prosecuted, then Trump is going to have our full support in getting that done. We can no longer tolerate losing our country.
We are gonna protect America … we are gonna protect our Constitution, we are gonna protect our rights, and protect our president. End of story. Anybody has a problem with that, good luck.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Jeff Sessions' Dalliances With Extremists Includes 'Constitutional' Sheriffs and Their Insane Cohort

Will Jeff Sessions become the nation's first "constitutionalist" attorney general?

One of the main takeaways so far from the Senate confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's nominee to be the nation's next attorney general, is that the Alabama senator has a long history of cozying up to some of the most extreme Nativist and anti-Muslim organizations of anyone in the Senate. And we've seen that extremism bubble up in the testimony, as well as his record of attempting to prosecute people who assist blacks in exercising their civil rights.

There is one dimension further to all this -- namely, Sessions' dalliance with far-right "constitutionalists" organized under the banner of local law enforcement, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. It certainly raises the question of whether the nation's No. 1 law-enforcement officer will be sympathetic to the extremist beliefs advocated by the CSPOA.

Sessions, along with Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, all Republicans, participated in a meeting on Dec. 10, 2014, organized under the auspices of Sessions' office with a group of county sheriffs from around the country who were demanding tougher action on immigration and border security.

The focus of the event was to stand in protest of President Obama’s executive action, taken after years of congressional inaction, to offer temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years and whose children were born here and are U.S. citizens, provided they pass a background check and pay taxes.

One of the primary presences at the gathering was the CSPOA and its president, former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack. Mack's organization preaches the far-right theory, derived from the racist Posse Comitatus belief system, that the nation's county sheriffs actually constitute the primary law-enforcement officers of the land, rendering them capable of overturning and/or ignoring federal laws and dictates.

Originally billed in the National Review as a “massive gathering” of sheriffs from around the nation to protest immigration, the event was organized by two sheriffs who are active leaders in Mack’s CSPOA; Mack himself insisted he only was present as an invitee, not an organizer. Most of the sheriffs who participated, though not all, are active CSPOA members.

Mack himself is closely associated with Cliven Bundy and his sons and associates, who led armed standoffs with federal law-enforcement officers in two separate incidents -- in April 2014 in Bunkerville, Nev., and in January 2016 at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. Mack was present at each of those standoffs vocally supporting the "constitutionalist" cause that fueled the confrontations.

The extremism engendered by the CSPOA and its sheriffs was reflected in the crowd of "Patriot" supporters who gathered in Washington on the same day as the meeting with Sessions. Before the meeting took place, these supporters held a protest outside the White House that quickly devolved into an ugly mob demanding that President Obama be lynched. The protest and the meetings afterward were videotaped by Patriot figure Blaine Cooper, who later was arrested and convicted as part of the Malheur takeover gang.

One protester in particular — a bearded man toting an American flag — seemed especially intent on seeing Obama hung.

“Hang the lying Kenyan traitor terrorist piece of shit,” he shouted at one point. “He’s a traitor! Hang him!” The same man kept shouting variations of this throughout the protest.

At one point, he was joined by another protester, who remarked: “We got room.”

“There’s plenty of trees in the front yard,” said the first man. “Oh yeah, plenty of trees. There’s a fine one right there.”

“He wouldn’t be the first one hung from one of them trees.”

“We used to run them out on a rail or fire up the bad ones. Whatever happened to them good old days?”

“You know what the punishment for high treason is,” chimed in the man carrying the livestream camera.

“Written into the constitution by our founding fathers,” said the bearded man. “Death. Death.”

“By hanging,” said the cameraman.

“Upon apprehension,” said the bearded man. “You don’t snap his neck – you watch him choke to death.”

“You slowly lower him down to where his feet are almost touching the ground,” said the other protester.

When a large wood chipper drove past the scene, one of the protesters remarked: “Hey, a wood chipper! That gives me an idea” – suggesting he would like to run the president through the machine.

Afterward, this same group of protesters gathered in the Senate building, outside the meeting hall where the gathering took place, while the participants held a press conference with credentialed media.

Sessions used the gathering to attack Obama's immigration policies. Obama's executive action “is taking jobs and benefits directly from struggling American lawful immigrants and our native-born,” Sessions said. “A government must serve its own citizens."

When the press conference had finished, the participants were swarmed by the sheriffs’ supporters in the foyer, who cheered loudly as they exited and swarmed Sessions to express their admiration

“We love you, God bless you,” one said. “Thank you for all your work in the Senate, and thank you for all of this – fighting Obama tooth and nail.”

Sessions beamed and thanked the woman.

Monday, January 02, 2017

In 2009, the Right Openly Hoped Obama Would Fail, And Set Out to Make It So

So I see that amnesiac Republicans are very, very confused about why Democrats and other sane human beings are already standing up to voice their opposition to Donald Trump's presidency even before he is sworn in.

Well, here's a little cure for their amnesia: An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (June 2017, Verso Press). This section is from Chapter Five, discussing the rise of the Tea Parties and how the Birther conspiracy theories helped fuel them.

Even before the inauguration, Sean Hannity went on his nationally syndicated radio and announced he was organizing a would-be force to attempt to stop Obama from enacting "radical" policies, calling his show the outpost of “the conservative underground”. Fellow radio host Mike Gallagher similarly promoted an effort by a far-right online group called Grassfire to present a petition announcing that signers were joining “the resistance” to Obama’s presidency. That was soon followed by an abortive campaign to prevent Obama from being sworn into office.

The birth-certificate controversy had seemed largely laid to rest by the election results. Yet in spite of all the incontrovertible evidence proving their various theories and hypothesis were bogus, the outer fringes of wingnuttia clung even after the election – but before the inauguration – to their last little acorn of a conspiracy theory as their last hope for stopping Barack Obama from becoming president.

Some of them – primarily a pair of fringe right-wing lawyers named Leo Donofrio and Orly Taitz – even tried to take legal action to prevent Obama from being sworn in. The U.S. Supreme Court briefly considered Donofrio’s lawsuit challenging Obama's U.S. citizenship -- a continuation of a New Jersey case embraced by the birth-certificate conspiracy theorists (or “Birthers,” as they came to be known) – but peremptorily dismissed it.

The message was clear: Conservatives did not consider Barack Obama to be a legitimate president, a fact underscored by the growing “Birther” campaign. Just as the Right set out to delegitimize a Democratic president when Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, they intended to do the same to Obama. But whereas the effort to undermine and ultimately destroy Clinton revolved around his alleged sexual proclivities, the campaign around Obama would zero in on his foreign-seemingness, his name and his background, and ultimately, his blackness.

Leading the charge was Rush Limbaugh, who announced on his radio show shortly after the election his hope that Obama would fail:

Based on what we've seen with General Motors and the banks, if he fails, America is saved. Barack Obama's policies and their failure is the only hope we've got to maintain the America of our founding.

Limbaugh’s wish for Obama’s failure stirred outrage from liberals and centrists alike, but he was defiant. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2009, he justified it by explaining that Democrats did it too:

Ladies and gentlemen, the Democrat Party has actively not just sought the failure of Republican presidents and policies and now wars, for the first time. The Democrat Party doesn't stop at failure. Talk to Judge Robert Bork, talk to Justice Clarence Thomas, about how they try to destroy lives, reputations, and character. And I'm supposed to say, I don't want the president to fail?

The rant was widely distributed and was discussed in several press reports. It became, in many ways, the definitive conservative response to Obama’s election: Open political warfare, a defiance of the new president’s every objective, was to be the right-wing political project for the ensuing eight years.

And within weeks, it had created the impetus for a new right-wing movement: the Tea Party.

__ [snip]

Greta Van Susteren was not the most ardent of Fox anchors in supporting the Tea Parties, but she managed to play a critical role at key steps of its development; her February 27 show had first introduced the Tea Party movement to Fox News coverage, and five months later, on her Tuesday, July 28 program, she played a major part in turning the Tea Parties into an anti-health-care-reform movement by reporting on the first invasion of a public health-care forum.

It had occurred the day before in St. Louis, when Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s staff had hastily assembled a town-hall forum to discuss health-care reform with local constituents. The senator herself hadn’t appeared, but her staffers had found themselves confronted by local Tea Party followers who shouted at them and jeered when they were told the senator supported reform. Van Susteren brought on St. Louis radio talk-show host and Tea Party organizer Dana Loesch, who was present at the St. Louis forum, to talk about the scene there. Van Susteren asked Loesch if McCaskill’s absence was the reason her cohorts “sort of – I don’t know if hijacked is the right word, morphed maybe, morphed it into a Tea Party.” Loesch explained that the forum had come about because of a Tea Party protest two weeks before at the senator’s St. Louis offices that had ended badly with police being called; the senator then arranged the forum “along with Carl Bearden of Americans for Prosperity, and we at the Tea Party Coalition just kind of helped it out, and got some people together and got the word out.”

Loesch also claimed that “it was open to everybody, because this health-care legislation is a concern, I think, to everyone, regardless of whether or not they’re conservative or liberal or a member of any party.”

This was, of course, manifest nonsense: As with the April 15 Tea Parties, the town-hall protest was clearly populated by anti-Obama voters focused on stopping yet another policy proposal by the new president. More disturbing, in reviewing video of the whole St. Louis event, was the way the Tea Partiers used their numbers to shout down their opposition and generally intimidate the town-hall nature of the forum. What was supposed to have been an open discussion of the issues instead became a pushy shoutfest.

Within days of the St. Louis forum, Tea Party protests were breaking out at other health-care town-hall forums around the country. Similar disruptions occurred in Florida, Virginia, Syracuse, N.Y., Iowa, and Maryland. It soon emerged that the disruptions were being carefully planned and orchestrated by corporate Tea Party organizers, including Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. A leaked memo from a volunteer with Tea Party Patriots website run by FreedomWorks give tips to members on how they could infiltrate town halls and harass Democratic members of Congress.

Some of the advice being dispensed to Tea Partiers:
Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”
Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”
Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
FreedomWorks and other Tea Party organizers later tried to downplay the significance of the memo, claiming that it was not widely read or distributed. However, regardless of whether it was an actual blueprint, it fully described (or prescribed) the behavior that subsequently erupted at the Tea Parties around the country.

On August 1, visiting with constituents at an Austin town hall forum, Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas encountered a disruptive mob of Tea Party protesters. When Doggett was asked whether he would support a public-option health care plan even if he found his constituents opposed it, Doggett replied that he would. That sent the crowd into a frenzied chant of “Just Say No,” and they refused to stop. Doggett finally gave up, and was nearly overwhelmed as he moved through the crowd and into the parking lot. The congressman later issued a statement reaffirming his commitment to health-care reform and denouncing the protest.

On August 6, a crowd of jeering Tea Party protesters descended on a town hall meeting sponsored by Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor in Tampa, Florida, "banging on windows" until police and organizers were forced to end the event. The hall originally scheduled for the forum only held 250 people, and several hundred protesters showed up. Many of them – particularly the hundreds who had arrived from outside Castor’s district – were forced to remain outside, where they chanted anti-Obama slogans. Some of them pounded on windows, frustrated at being shut out.

It was even worse inside. Castor and State Rep. Betty Reed were scarcely able to make it through their opening remarks, since angry protestors began shouting at them and interrupting. Just outside the auditorium’s main doors, scuffling broke out between a couple of the participants who were jammed into the hallway like sardines, so police closed off the meeting area. A man who could later be seen on video with a torn shirt was treated for minor injuries following the tussle. Things became so intense that police escorted Castor out of the building after an event organizer suggested she leave for her own safety.

It left an impression, but not a positive one. "They think they're exercising their right to free speech, but they're only exercising their right to disrupt civil discourse," George Guthrie, who drove from Largo to attend the meeting, told a local TV station.

And the behavior fit the blueprint for action laid out early on: Disrupt, distract, and destroy any chance for an actual civil and informed conversation. In other words, demolish the entire purpose of a town-hall forum as the means to bring health-care reform to a halt. As Paul Krugman put it in his New York Times column:

It would not have been a problem if, say, right-wingers had gone marching in the streets in protest of the health-care plans; that's their right as Americans. And no one minded the fact that they chose to participate in these forums. But town halls were never designed to be vehicles for protest. They have always been about enabling real democratic discourse in a civil setting. When someone's entire purpose in coming out to a town-hall forum is to chant and shout and protest and disrupt, they aren't just expressing their opinions -- they are actively shutting down democracy.

Some members of Congress found the disruptions threatening enough to speak out. Rep. Brian Baird of Washington announced that instead of appearing in person, where "extremists" would have "the chance to shout and make YouTube videos," he would hold "telephone town halls" instead. Bair said some of the threats his office was receiving made clear that if he personally appeared, he as likely to have a mass disruption rather than an actual discussion of health-care reform, so he was going to take another approach. He added that he feared “an ambush”: "What we're seeing right now is close to Brown Shirt tactics. I mean that very seriously."

The remarks made something of a national uproar, especially among right-wing pundits, who claimed that Baird was smearing all the participants with such characterizations. However, Baird made clear shortly afterward that in fact he and his office had been threatened by some of these Tea Partiers, who faxed death threats and made them by phone as well. One phone message from Aug. 10 said "You think Timothy McVeigh was bad, there is a Ryder Truck out there with your name on it".

The Tea Party movement, in fact, was becoming Ground Zero for a revival of the Patriot movement of the 1990s, with all of the violent rhetoric and behavior that accompanies it. A prime example of this was the video that circulated among Tea Party followers titled “The Coming Civil War,” a 10-minute rant advocating a secession if President Obama enacted his "socialist" agenda:

The hard truth is, we are headed for a civil war. Nevertheless, rest assured, this will not be the Civil War of 1861. This war won’t be fought with larger-than-life generals, unless nationwide anarchy ensues.

… In spite of these dire predictions, there is still time to save America, if only the millions of Americans who cherish freedom will rise up individually and collectively and get involved in the hard work of preserving, protecting, and defending our Constitution, and giving aid and comfort to those organizations that are working valiantly on their behalf. If you want to prevent a civil war, then you had better rise up now and send a clear message to the President and the U.S. Congress. Tell them you are giving them fair warning. Tell them: We the People of the United States and the Separate States, will declare independence from the U.S. Government under the 9th and 10th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution … if the madness in D.C. doesn’t stop NOW!”

The rant came courtesy of a man named Ron Ewart, a western Washington resident who operated the National Association of Rural Landowners (NARLO), which was built off the bones of the organizations left behind by the late right-wing agitator Aaron Russo, who had made large sums selling a “documentary” touting Posse Comitatus-style tax theories titled America: Freedom to Fascism. NARLO was not only a big "Tea Party" supporter, it was also a listed sponsor of the Glenn Beck-inspired “9/12 March on Washington” being planned for Sept. 12.

The extremism also began showing up in the form of guns at the town-hall forums. Outside an early-August health-care event in New Hampshire featuring President Obama himself, a Tea Party follower named William Kostric showed up with a sign declaring: "It Is Time To Water The Tree Of Liberty” – an invocation of Thomas Jefferson’s famous remark: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." (When he was arrested in 1995 for blowing up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Patriot-movement follower Timothy McVeigh was wearing a T-shirt bearing the quote.) And strapped to his leg was a loaded handgun in a holster.

The next day, Kostric was invited onto MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, who laid into the man with some tough questions about just what he hoped to accomplish: “Why did you bring a gun to an event with the president?” Matthews also pointed out that in addition to a threatening sign, “you're carrying a goddamn gun at a presidential event.”

Kostric tried to claim that he meant no threat by suggesting that blood needed to be shed, and was otherwise just exercising his rights under the Second Amendment to bear arms. Why he felt he needed to make that point at a town-hall forum on health care, though, he could never really explain. Instead, he insisted: “I'm not advocating violence. Clearly, no violence took place today.” Matthews asked him what he was advocating. Kostric answered: “Well, I'm advocating an informed society, an armed society, a polite society. That's all there is to it.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

No, We Can Never Just Ignore Them Away

'Jim Ramm' gives a racist speech at a neo-Nazi rally in Olympia, WA, in July 2005.

We'll be hearing a lot, from Republican apologists primarily but also "mainstream" journalists looking to find "common ground" with the incoming Trump Administration, that we shouldn't be paying any attention to those racists behind the bright red "alt-right" curtain, such as those who let the curtain slip in Washington, D.C., the other day, because doing so just gives them attention and helps them spread their message. What we should be doing, they suggest, is ignoring them, denying them oxygen, and then they will just go away.

This line of argument gives Donald Trump a free ride from having to address the wave of hate crimes that has swept the nation since the election, since doing so might "give oxygen" to the young thugs waving Confederate flags and threatening minorities with chants of "Trump! Trump! Trump!"

Trump did, finally, address the alt-right gathering in D.C. today in his sit-down with the New York Times, but in doing so, he claimed that he had nothing to do with the rise of the alt-right:
President-elect Donald Trump denied Tuesday that he did anything to energize the "alt-right" movement through his presidential campaign and sought to distance himself from it, even though many of the movement's leaders have sought to tether their political views to Trump's rise. 
 "I don't want to energize the group, and I disavow the group," Trump told a group of New York Times reporters and columnists during a meeting at the newspaper's headquarters in New York. 
"It's not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why," he added, according to one of the Times reporters in the room, Michael Grynbaum.
In case anyone has forgotten, here is Trump's tweet of Oct. 13, 2015, still live on his Twitter feed:

Indeed, as Sarah Posner and I explored in depth last month for Mother Jones, Trump has an extensive history of encouraging support from the alt-right and other extremist elements, including neo-Confederates and traditional white supremacists. Of course, it doesn't help that this reportage largely went ignored by the rest of the mainstream press -- Trump loves to operate in that vacuum of information that is at the heart of the modern media narrative.

So the Trump apologists have been busily promoting the idea that we should all be like Trump and just ignore the problem, because if you just don't pay any attention to these people, they will shrivel up and go away.

We got a sample of this yesterday from Real Clear Politics' Rebecca Berg on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, while weighing in, alongside David Gergen, on the "alt-right" controversy -- and received an adroit rejoinder from Gergen:

BERG: ... But I would just make the point that you know, we are giving this outsized attention right now in the media. These few incidents with neo-Nazis, with white nationalist. But this is still a very small share of Trump supporters. 
And I think that's an important point to make, because certainly we haven't expected Barack Obama to come out as president every time one of his supporters says something hateful and address that, and I'm not sure that we can expect that of President-elect Trump every time a room of a few dozen people says something hateful like this.  
LEMON: David, is there a parity here between those two things? 
GERGEN: Listen, I respect what Rebecca said, most of what she said. But the fact is, that Mr. Bannon represents and has sent out a lot of signals to people, as someone you should be scared of, as someone who supports policies that are going to represent this administration, that it's going to be harsh on Muslims, that's going to withdraw basically support for criminal -- social justice in a criminal system, it does not and it's going to downgrade that.  
That is going to go after people in various ways. I have people crying in my classroom, I have people who were, you know grieving about what's happened, but mostly they're scared. They're scared for their families, they don't know what this means.  
And I'm sorry, when the alt-right is taken as seriously as it is, and we begin to normalize this conversation, to say, it's all right to do neo-Nazi kind of rhetoric and we're just going to accept it, it's just part of who we are as Americans.  
No, it is not all right to be neo-Nazi in this country. And we -- just as -- if we're going to raise those specters, let's remember when people didn't rise up against the Nazis, when they were in their midst. 
And it is not right, and the president himself has to be the standard bearer of this, he has to be seen as a president of all the people, that's what we want. And I think we can support Mr. Trump in a lot of what he does. 
BERG: I totally agree with that, David. 
GERGEN: But he has to be embracive and inclusive.  
BERG: But at the same time, you also don't want to give unnecessary oxygen to some of these hateful rhetoric. And there is the potential for that to happen.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Look, there is always a fine line when it comes to the work of monitoring hate groups, right-wing extremists, conspiracist, white nationalists, and the lot -- namely, there is a point of obscurity where this principle (denying them oxygen will make them wither) works very well. If a crackpot or a racist crank is just wheezing out copy in his basement that no one reads, then it's a bad idea to shine the spotlight onto their activities in the way we do established racists like the Klan, because it raises them out of obscurity and may actually attract readers.

It's unquestionable, moreover, that there is always the danger that you will help extremist ideologues recruit people by shining any kind of light on them at all. There will always be a percentage of people who may wind up being attracted to the groups as a result of the exposure given to them.

This danger, however, is really only acute when you do a poor job of reporting on them -- when you fail to make clear their underlying extremism, or the toxic nature of their ideologies, but instead report on them in a "he said/she said" style of reporting in which analysis from the SPLC is given the same credibility as racist spouting from Richard Spencer.

In general, shining a clear spotlight on racists and extremist activity has the main benefit of more broadly informing the public on these issues so that they are better equipped when confronting its inevitable manifestations in their real lives. A well-informed public is the best cure for this ailment.

Secondarily, it has the socially beneficial aspect of sending a message to the hatemongers and racist thugs and would-be hate criminals: This is not acceptable. Society condemns this behavior. You may believe you are standing up for "America" or white people or whatever notions you've worked up in your head, but you cannot do it with our assent.

As I explained in The Eliminationists:
I’ve had some personal experience with this. When I was the editor of the Daily Bee up in Sandpoint in the late 1970s, we were faced with the tough decision of how to handle the increasing visibility of Richard Butler’s neo-Nazi Church of Jesus Christ Christian, based at the Aryan Nations compound some 30 miles down the road in Hayden Lake. After much hand-wringing, we decided it was best not to give them any coverage, since publicity was what they craved, and it would only encourage their radicalism. 
 What we didn’t understand was that the silence was (as it always is with hyper-nationalistic hate groups) interpreted as consent. And so, over the next several years, the Idaho Panhandle was inundated with a spate of hate crimes – enough so that Idaho became one of the first states to pass a bias-crime law – as well as a flood of extraordinary violence, ranging from the multi-state rampage of murder and robbery by the neo-Nazi sect called The Order to the pipe-bombing campaigns planned by their successors. All of these acts emanated from the Aryan Nations. 
By then I had moved on to other papers, but the Bee changed its policies vis a vis the Aryan Nations in fairly short order, as did most other newsrooms in the area that had taken similar approaches. I certainly never forgot the mistake.
Hate crimes are one of the ultimate manifestations of right-wing extremism's spread into the mainstream; only a small percentage of all bias-crime perpetrators are actually members of hate groups. The vast majority of bias crimes are committed by a certain profile of perpetrator: A young white male between the ages of 16 and 25, poorly or moderately educated, prone to other kinds of violence. He is typically motivated to "defend his community" from "outsiders" and most often commits the crime believing he is doing so with the silent support and consent of the community. 

Repeat offenders are far more likely to engage in recidivist crimes if the first offense is treated only as a criminal matter and not as a hate crime; they frequently interpret the light sentence as a wink-and-nod kind of encouragement. 

That's the key thing: All right-wing extremists, including the thugs out there committing hate crimes, see themselves as heroes. They believe they are engaging in the heroic defense of their homes and their communities from pollution by the incoming brown/gay/Muslim/whatever tide. And they love to tell themselves that the silence from their neighbors is actually a pat on the back.

Don't take my word for it. Here's Andrew Anglin of the neo-Nazi "alt-right" website The Daily Stormer:

Trump still hasn’t spoken out against his anti-Semitic supporters, who also threatened New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman, called for the death of conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro and his children, and told conservative writer Bethany Mandel she deserved “the oven.”
That silence has both Trump’s neo-Nazi fans and his Jewish supporters convinced the candidate is secretly on their side.
 “We interpret that as an endorsement,” Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, named for the Hitler-era tabloid Der Stürmer, told The Huffington Post in an email.
That's why standing up to them in no uncertain terms and denouncing them clearly and irrevocably is so deeply necessary when it comes to our leading authority figures. The social condemnation is then unmistakable. And the silence is always, always, always interpreted as assent.

Will Donald Trump make that stand? Tragically, I think we would be foolish to hold our breaths waiting for it.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

When Obama Was Elected: An Outpouring of Hate in 2008

Klansman Randy Gray, protesting Obama's election in November 2008 in suburban Detroit

I'm in the middle of writing my manuscript, Alt America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (due out this summer from Verso Books) and I wanted to share this excerpt (derived from previously published text) to remind people that what is happening now with regard to the recent outbreak of hate crimes is starkly reminiscent of what happened immediately after Barack Obama's election in 2008.

And yes, I'm offering this somewhat in repudiation of the Trump defenders who are angry about anti-Trump protesters taking to the streets immediately after Trump's election without "giving him a chance." It's true that it took several more months before we saw "Impeach Obama" and "Where's The Birth Certificate" signs showing up at Tea Party rallies, but then, it did take awhile before the Koch Brothers and other corporate sponsors who footed the bill for those events to get their acts together. (And no, there is not a scintilla of evidence that George Soros is funding the current anti-Trump rallies.)

This is what happened immediately after Barack Obama's election. See if it sounds like anything happening currently.


On the day Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, much of the nation – particularly those who supported and voted for him – celebrated the election of the first African American to the country’s highest office. For those who voted for his opponent, John McCain, there was naturally the usual bitterness and disappointment.

Among a certain subset of those Americans, however – especially those who opposed Obama precisely because he sought to become the nation’s first black president – it went well beyond the usual despair. For them, November 5, 2008, was the end of the world. Or at least, America as they knew it.

So maybe it wasn’t really a surprise that they responded that day with the special venom and violence peculiar to the American Right.

Like the noose strung in protest from a tree limb in Texas. Students at Baylor University in Waco discovered the noose hanging from a campus tree the evening of Election Day, near a site where angry Republican students had gathered a bunch of Obama yard signs and burned them in a big bonfire. That same evening, a riot nearly broke out when Obama supporters, chanting the new president’s name, were confronted by white students outside a residence hall who told them: “Any nigger who walks by Penland (Hall), we're going to kick their ass, we're going to jump him." The Obama supporters stopped and responded, "Excuse me?" Somehow they managed to keep the confrontation confined to a mere shouting match until police arrived and broke things up.

Then there were the students on the North Carolina State University campus in Raleigh, who spent Election Night spray-painting such fun-loving messages about Obama as “Let's shoot that Nigger in the head” and “Hang Obama by a noose.” The N.C. State administration was so upset by this behavior that it protected the students’ identities and refused to take any legal action against them or discipline them at all.

But those were just warm-ups from the student cheering section. The real thugs, exemplars of the dark side of the American psyche, were shortly making their mark.

That night, four young white men from Staten Island “decided to go after black people” in retaliation for Obama’s election. They first drove to the mostly black Park Hill neighborhood and assaulted a Liberian immigrant, beating him with a metal pipe and a police baton, in addition to the usual blows from fists and feet. Then they drove to Port Richmond, where they assaulted another black man and verbally threatened a Latino man and a group of black people. They finished up the night by attempting to drive next to a man walking home from his job as a Rite Aid manager – he was actually white, but this crew of geniuses managed to misidentify him as a black man – and club him with the police baton. Instead, they simply hit him with their car, throwing him off the windshield and into a coma for over a month.

All four of these men wound up convicted of hate crimes and would spend the duration of Obama’s first term in prison.

In Midland, Michigan, the day after the election, a discarded Ron Paul activist named Randy Gray (he had been peremptorily dismissed from the Paul campaign when his white-supremacist activism was revealed) stalked the sidewalk in the middle of a heavily trafficked intersection in town, dressed in full Ku Klux Klan regalia, waving an American flag. He also was toting a handgun. Police approached and talked to him, but let him continue his display after he told them it had nothing to do with Obama winning the presidency.

A busful of schoolkids in Rexburg, Idaho, started chanting “Assassinate Obama” just to tease the tiny minority of their fellow schoolkids who were Obama supporters. In Rexburg – where the population is over 90 percent Mormon – that’s about three kids in the entire school. District officials didn’t discipline the children who had led the chants, but it did send out a letter to their parents reminding them that students are to be told such behavior is unacceptable.

Then there were the arsons.

On election night, a black family in South Ogden, Utah, came home from volunteering at their local polling station to discover that their American flag had been torched.

The morning after the election, in Hardwick Township, New Jersey, a black man taking his eight-year-old daughter to school emerged from his front door to discover someone had burned a six-foot-tall cross on his lawn – right next to the man’s banner declaring Obama president. It had been torched too.

Another cross was burned on the lawn of the only black man in tiny Apolacon Township, Pennsylvania, the night after the election. A black church in Springfield, Massachusetts, was also burned to the ground the night of the election; eventually, three white men were arrested and charged with setting the fire as a hate crime.

And if the election itself wasn’t enough to bring the haters out of the woodwork, there was always Obama’s inauguration on January 21, 2009.

Two days before the big event, arsonists in Forsyth County, Georgia, set fire to the home of a woman who was known as a public supporter of Obama. Someone painted a racial slur on her fence, along with the warning, “Your black boy will die.”

On inauguration day, someone taped newspaper articles featuring Obama onto the apartment door of a woman in Jersey City, New Jersey, and set fire to it. Fortunately, the woman had stayed home to watch the inauguration on TV and smelled the burning, and she was able to extinguish the fire before it spread. If only she could have done the same for the hate that sparked the act.

The day after, a large 22-year-old skinhead named Keith Luke decided it was time to fight the “extinction” of the white race, so he bashed down the door of a Latino woman and her sister and shot them both; one died. Police cornered and arrested Luke before he could pull off the next planned stage of his shooting rampage, which was to have taken place at a local Jewish synagogue towards which he was driving when arrested. According to the DA, Luke intended to “kill as many Jews, blacks, and Hispanics as humanly possible ... before killing himself.” When he appeared in court a month later, Luke had carved a swastika into his forehead with a razor blade.

But the pain and violence inflicted by these haters was just beginning.

In all, the Southern Poverty Law Center counted more than 200 “hate-related” incidents around the election and inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Press and Donald Trump's Army of Haters

The press has come in for a great deal of well-justified criticism for how it covered the 2016 election, especially the way it focused on trivialities and non-events and was devoid of any kind of serious policy considerations. But I consider its most grievous sin the failure of the press to take seriously the reportage that was being done, and was in fact widely available, documenting Donald Trump's alignment with and empowerment of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, militia 'Patriots,' and various extremist factions.

These factions' propensity for ethnic, religious, racial, anti-LGBT, and other kinds of violence is well known and well documented. And because the Trump election has clearly empowered them, a rash of hate crimes against Muslims, Latinos, blacks and gays has broken out (some 200 on the first day alone) and is unlikely to abate soon. Indeed, I'm now deeply concerned that we are going to see pro-Trump militiamen showing up for the anti-Trump demonstrations, and things could become very ugly then. And the press is powerfully to blame.

I was just discussing this with Bruce Wilson on a Chip Berlet post. He pointed out that no one in the press picked up on his reportage that key members of the Trump campaign (mainly Donald Trump Jr.) appeared on several white-nationalist-based radio shows in the waning days of the campaign, for instance. I noted that Sarah Posner and I were both actually aware of those appearances as we were finishing up our piece for Mother Jones on the Trump campaign's massive connections to the white-nationalist and far-right extremist world, and that he had actively bolstered their participation with wink-and-nudge signals they read as encouragement. The database we created in tracking all these connections turned out to be massive, though, and we wound up having to be very selective about what we included, and the radio shows didn't make the cut.

The reason there was no appetite for Bruce's reportage was the same there was no appetite for ours: When Hillary Clinton had, just a couple weeks before our story was published, called out Trump's alt-right connections herself, the story was transformed by the press into a small-minded fetish about one of her remarks -- describing some of these people, quite appropriately, as "deplorables" -- into a trivial horse-race matter, one that Trump successfully converted into an attack on Clinton by having his base embrace "deplorable" as a joke label. The press thereafter completely lost interest in the issue, rather than continuing to take the matter seriously. The examination of the underlying issue -- the reality that Trump was building an army of ugly, racist, and vile hardcore followers was completely glossed over and missed.

And of course, ours was far from the only reportage. There were stories about Trump's anti-Semitism, and his ongoing support from the alt-right, and their plans to take over the Republican Party after the election -- all of which is bubbling up now, after it's all a fait accompli.

The outcome is now happening in our schools and our communities. Thanks a lot, "liberal media."
Here's our report from October (and be sure to click on the sidebar, too). You tell me if, in retrospect, it's pretty outrageous that this got buried.

How Trump Took Hate Groups Mainstream