Saturday, March 08, 2003

Rush, Newspeak and Fascism, Part 9

[Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.]


Continuing the discussion of different kinds of "transmitters":

Media figures

As seemingly psychotic cranks go, Ann Coulter has carved out a nice little career for herself as an obsessive hater of all things liberal. Along the way Coulter, like many of her media compatriots on the right, first developed a significant role in transmitting memes from the extremist Clinton-hating right into the mainstream of conservatism, and since then has expanded into other fields. During that process, she's been important in bringing the two sectors even closer together.

Of course, Coulter has built much of her reputation on being outrageous, as on the recent occasion when she penned a column about Muslims that concluded: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Unsurprisingly, she has indulged in a litany of Clinton-hating memes that originated in the extremist right, ranging from equating him with Hitler, to hinting before Y2K that he intended to declare martial law, to indulging in later-disproven rumors that he had fathered an illegitimate black child.

The quintessential Coulter "transmission" remark, though, came after Sept. 11, in an interview with the New York Observer:

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."

Most of the commentary about this remark focused on its seeming endorsement of terrorist violence, which her defenders, such as the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, dismissed airily as merely lacking in humor: "Why would anybody even pretend to believe that Ms. Coulter wishes any real harm to the New York Times or wishes to convert all Muslims forcibly to Christianity?"

This line of defense is nearly identical to that deployed by Rush Limbaugh when he tries to claim that he's merely an "entertainer" -- something along the lines of, "Why would you take them seriously in the first place?" Well, I don't know, you tell me: Why would anyone take them seriously? Just because they have audiences of millions who hang on their every word as Received Wisdom? Just because every major broadcast and cable-news network has presented them, and people like them, as serious thinkers whose words are worthy of the public's consideration?

More to the point, exactly which parts of Ann Coulter are we not supposed to take seriously? Just those parts when she writes like a banshee from hell? And how, exactly, are we supposed to discern those parts from the rest? Where does the 'fierce raillery' about which 'everybody laughs afterwards' end? And does that mean talking about blowing up hundreds of New Yorkers is supposed to be humorous?

In any event, there should have been no question that this remark was beyond the pale of acceptable public discourse, much more so than anything Trent Lott has ever said. Coulter should have become a pariah, at least on the public airwaves. Indeed, I should have expected not merely journalists to denounce her for this remark, but fellow conservatives as well. That this hasn't happened -- that in fact that conservatives have defended her avidly, and indeed she seems to be back on the air more than ever -- is significant in its own.

However, there are even more consequential subtexts here.

First, Coulter is clearly suggesting here that the only thing wrong with McVeigh's attack was his choice of targets. Coulter would have preferred the NYT Building; but she otherwise appears to be suggesting that bombing government employees (including a day care full of toddlers) was acceptable as well. I would argue that this aspect of her remark is even more egregious, and should earn her the permanent scorn of every decent American.

The important point that all of the postmortems about Coulter's remark missed, however, was the very context that was its foundation: Namely, a recognition that the extremist right of Timothy McVeigh was allied with, and indirectly doing the bidding of, ostensibly mainstream conservatives like herself.

In many ways, Coulter's remark is just an acknowledgement of the relationship. I'm certain it will gain her even more fans among the Patriot crowd. And that's how the ties grow stronger.

A number of analysts have noted over the years that violent right-wing extremists have often been viewed by mainstream conservatives as useful tools for enacting their own agenda. The history of this dates back as far as monarchists' attacks on liberal thinkers in the 16th and 17th centuries, and includes the American lynching phenomenon of 1870-1930, as well the McCarthyite/Bircher exploitation of the Communist threat and the opposition to desegregation and the civil-rights movement.

As I've been documenting, for the past six years or so this uneasy alliance is re-emerging, as ideological and political traffic between movement conservatives and right-wing extremists becomes increasingly common. Sometimes this happens almost accidentally, often in the meeting-ground of personal ambition and lurking agendas, as when David Horowitz published the views of white supremacist Jared Taylor at his Webzine. Sometimes, as with Coulter, it is done with apparently full intent.

Her McVeigh remark really makes the relationship quite clear, depending of course on the extent to which mainstream conservatives view Coulter as one of them. Judging by their continuing silence about her obvious extremism, I'd have to assume that most of them are happy to claim her.

This kind of meshing of mainstream corporate interests with right-wing thuggery is in fact a hallmark of incipient fascism. A compliant media that portrays this kind of phenomenon as unremarkable is also important in its development.

And that is the role that media transmitters like Coulter play: Not only do they inject the extremist meme into mainstream conservatism, they also condition the mainstream to think of extremists in a generous and even collegial light. Simultaneously, they persuade extremists who might otherwise align themselves with marginal and powerless fringe groups to instead perceive that mainstream conservatives are capable of addressing their issues, thereby drawing them into the political ranks of mainstream conservatism.

For all her notoriety, Coulter is in some ways a minor player as a media transmitter. Let's look a little further at the various sectors of the media where transmitters operate:

A. Radio

While many of his critics would like to lump conservative radio-talk megastar Rush Limbaugh in with some of his contemporaries on the hard right, the Big Fat Idiot appears mostly to be a secular conservative who only occasionally treads into xenophobic or theocratic dogma. However, Limbaugh artfully presents ideas from the hard right for legitimate consideration by the mainstream, and thus plays a major role as a transmitter of ideas from other sectors -- especially in light of his considerable reach.

Limbaugh’s transmissions are clearest when he’s at his most shrill, decrying bureaucrats in Washington who "would just as soon do away with democracy" and similar hyperbole. "The second violent American revolution is just about--I got my fingers about a quarter of an inch apart -- is just about that far away," he told a Washington Post reporter, describing the sentiments behind the Patriot movement. "Because these people are sick and tired of a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington driving in to town and telling them what they can and can't do with their land." It’s a line that would have played well at a militia meeting.

At other times, Limbaugh has dabbled in wink-and-nudge racism (as I've noted previously): On his thankfully short-lived TV program, for instance, Limbaugh one night promised to show his audience footage of everyday life among welfare recipients. He then ran video of the antics of a variety of great apes -- mostly orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees -- hanging about zoos. The audience, of course, applauded and laughed.

Limbaugh also sounds themes that often are taken whole from stories circulated first among the Patriot right: Clinton body counts, education conspiracies, phony medical and environmental tales. Perhaps this is most important role: As a font of outright misinformation. (Limbaugh has never, to my knowledge, issued a correction for any of his voluminous factual errors.)

Limbaugh likes to dress himself up in public as an "entertainer," but what he really is, above all, is a propagandist. This is apparent from many aspects of his programs, ranging from his refusal to engage in any kind of open or honest debate to the endless spew of disinformation that flows into his microphone. The latter is perhaps the most telling, because this is the essence of Newspeak: to render the meanings of words empty by assaulting them with falsification.

Just as significant on the airwaves are the horde of Limbaugh imitators who appear willing to say anything outrageous in the hope of garnering higher ratings. Foremost among these is Michael Savage, the obnoxiously xenophobic hatemonger who recently was awarded a slot on MSNBC's Saturday lineup.

Savage is particularly gifted at presenting overtly racial appeals in soft wrapping, so that his listeners know what he means, even if he can't be pinned down for it later. But at times his appeal to racism is nearly naked. When he calls for the deportation of all immigrants, and the internment of Muslim-Americans, it isn't hard to discern a racial purpose to it all.

Perhaps just as disturbing about Savage is the eliminationist tone of much of his rhetoric, much of it aimed not at a racial or ethnic group but at liberals generally: "I say round them up and hang 'em high!" and "When I hear someone's in the civil rights business, I oil up my AR-15!" Here was a recent rant aimed at liberal critics:
"I'm more powerful than you are you little hateful nothings. You call yourself this for that and that for this. You say you represent groups, you represent nobody but the perverts that you hang around with and I'm warning you if you try to damage me any further with lies, be aware of something: that which you stoke shall come to burn you, the ashes of the fireplace will come and burn your own house down. Be very careful, you are living in incendiary times. You can't just throw things at people and walk away thinking that you had a little fun. I warn you; I'm gonna warn you again, if you harm me and I pray that no harm comes to you, but I can't guarantee that it won't."

The level of intolerance and the implied threat in remarks like these -- and they are common in his diatribes -- raise reminders of similar eliminationism that ran rampant in Germany in the 1930s.

Another Limbaugh-wannabee with a more modest reach is Chuck Harder, whose topics range from United Nations takeovers to the coming Y2K Apocalypse -- as well as the full complement of Clinton scandals. In the past, Harder has broadcast daily updates from the Freemen standoff in Montana, and once featured renowned anti-Semite Eustace Mullins -- one of the radical right’s revered figures -- as an “expert” on the Federal Reserve.

B. Cable TV

Among transmitters of memes that originated in the far right, one entity stands in a class all its own: Fox News.

The cable-news behemoth touts itself as "fair and balanced," but no one has ever really figured out just who they think they're kidding. Probably the dittoheads who buy up Ann Coulter books.

Well, an open bias is one thing. But broadcasting far-right conspiracy theories is another. And that's what Fox has done on numerous occasions.

The most noteworthy of these -- though it received almost no attention at the time -- occurred Feb. 21, 2001, when Brit Hume interviewed a fellow named Bob Schulz of We the People Foundation. Schulz was propounding on television a tax scheme that is built upon a hash of groundless conspiracy theories which have their origins in the far-right Posse Comitatus and other extremist "tax protest" schemes. It was, in fact, remarkably similar to the Montana Freemen's theories as well. (For a thorough examination of Schulz's campaign, see the SPLC's report by noted author Daniel Levitas, "Untaxing America.")

Here's the transcript of Hume's interview:
Hume: ... Coming to the conclusion that there is no law on the books that actually requires them -- or most others for that matter -- to pay income taxes. Most astonishing, noted the Times, those companies were not only not being pursued by the IRS, but some of them have actually collected refunds on taxes previously paid but now they claim were never owed. So is there something to their argument? Bob Schulz thinks so. He's the leader of a small but vigorous movement that is seeking to convince Americans that the income tax is a massive fraud on the public. He joins me now from Albany, N.Y.

Well, this will come as quite astonishing news to a great many Americans, Mr. Schulz -- what's the basis of the claim?

Bob Schulz: There is a very substantial, credible body of evidence by as many as 87 researchers that has concluded that the 16th Amendment was fraudulently certified in 1913, and that in fact three-fourths of the states had not approved or ratified, properly ratified the 16th Amendment, the income-tax amendment.

Hume: And what have the courts ruled on that matter?

Schulz: The courts have not ruled on the fraudulent ratification of the 16th Amendment. Bill Benson, the individual, the professional who went around to the archives of all 48 states that were in existence in 1913, obtained 17,000 notarized and certified documents relating to the ratification process in that state, he put his report together and went to court with it, and the courts ruled it's a political question for Congress. He then took the issue to Congress, and Congress said it's an issue for the courts.

Hume: And so basically it stands because the folks who could have upset it have let it stand.

Schulz: Right.

Hume: Right. Now let me ask you about the tax code itself. Now, I know that you contend that within the tax code there is a definition of what is called taxable income, and that somehow, although it appears to apply to all income from all sources, it does not, because of what is called Section 861. Can you explain what Section 861 is?

Schulz: Yeah. There is no law, no statute, or regulation that requires most citizens to file a tax return -- most U.S. citizens to file a tax return or to pay the income tax. As an example, under Section 861 of the federal code of regulations, it says clearly that there's a list of income items, and unless the item of income comes from one of the sources which the code lists, then the code doesn't apply to the, um ...

Hume: -- To the taxpayer in question.

Schulz: Right. And so all of those sources are foreign sources. Unless you are a foreigner working here, or a U.S. citizen working or earning your money abroad, then the tax code does not apply to you. That's clear in the code.

Hume: Now, I work for Fox News Channel, which was -- is a division of a company that has its headquarters overseas. It is a domestic enterprise. And it is from that that I realize my income. Now if I were to take the position this year that I was owed a refund because the taxes that the company does withhold -- and I don't think I can convince them not to -- that I was owed a refund, and applied for that, would I get it?

Schulz: Um, heh, it might be difficult, because of the size of your corporation. Clearly, the federal government is nervous, Brit. A growing number of employers -- so far they're small employers -- have taken this position and have received refunds back for the money they're withheld from the paychecks of their employers. So far, no large company has taken this position.

This wasn't the only occasion when Fox interviewed Schulz. When he staged a "hunger strike" (there's no evidence he actually went without food) later that year, Fox's Hannity and Colmes interviewed him, and were only a little less credulous than Hume.

[Schulz, for those interested, gave up his "hunger strike" after the intervention of Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, who at first promised to give Schulz's group a briefing on tax laws with IRS officials, but even called that off when Schulz announced the meeting would be "putting the IRS on trial." Last anyone heard of Schulz, last November, he was threatening the federal government with a "final warning" to all branches of government to "obey the Constitution, or else." Um, OK, Bob.]

Then there's Bill O'Reilly, the former tabloid-TV-show host who now poses as a "journalist" as the chief talking head at Fox. I've already discussed his propensity for right-wing conspiracy theories. And then there have been such slips as when he recently referred to Mexicans as "wetbacks."

O'Reilly also has been sounding an ominous theme that likewise is becoming popular on the Patriot right: That liberals who criticize Bush's war efforts are "traitors." His recent remarks were especially noteworthy:
Americans, and indeed our foreign allies who actively work against our military once the war is underway, will be considered enemies of the state by me.

Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand and others who see the world as you do. I don't want to demonize anyone, but anyone who hurts this country in a time like this, well, let's just say you will be spotlighted.

This, from the same fellow who accused Clinton of malfeasance during the Bosnian campaign, and who undermined our position abroad by openly suggesting that Clinton's missile attacks on Al Qaeda were an attempt to 'wag the dog.'

These, of course, are mere samplings. If you happen to watch Fox News with any regularity, these far-right themes come popping out from all kinds of corners, usually uttered by spokesmen from transmitter political organizations such as those I identified in the last installment. The result is a steady drip of extremist memes blending into the day's Republican talking points.

C. The Internet

Anyone who's followed the conservative movement's growth in the past five years is well familiar with the Free Republic, the ultra-conservative Web site that is in a class all its own in transmitting the extremist agenda into mainstream conservatism.

Free Republic avoids wading into racial or religious discussions, and presents itself as purely a "conservative" forum, but has become one of the chief breeding grounds for conspiracy theories on the right. During Bill Clinton's presidential tenure, many of these involved his alleged plans for overthrowing democracy and installing a "New World Order" dictatorship. Any number of extremist memes have over the years received extensive play at the site, including several post-9/11 threads blaming the entirety of that disaster on Clinton. In recent months, the site has gradually shifted its focus to a bellicose defense of President Bush's Iraq war plans, with an emphasis on intimidating liberal antiwar protesters.

The most significant part of the Web site's reach, though, is the kind of following it has created. Self-labeled "Freepers" have in recent years become increasingly organized manifestations of some of the extreme sentiments that circulate at the site, to the point of having serious real-world effects: Freepers played significant roles in several incidents involving thuggery and intimidation during the post-election Florida debacle, including disrupting an appearance by Jesse Jackson (in concert, as it happens, with white supremacists) and engaging in noisy, intimidating protests outside of Al Gore's vice-presidential residence.

Not quite as potent but certainly as vivid of transmitters of far-right memes are a couple of well-read Webzines: NewsMax and WorldNetDaily. Both have at various times been funded by right-wing guru Richard Mellon Scaife, who has on several occasions displayed his own predilection for extremist beliefs. Certainly these two Webzines reflect that. (Both magazines, incidentally, also carried breathless coverage of Bob Schulz's anti-tax campaign.)

WorldNetDaily in particular has been extremely conspiracy-prone over the years. In the run-up to Y2K, for example, its major theme was the Patriot belief that Clinton intended to use the social chaos certain to proceed from the looming technological disaster as a pretext for declaring martial law and thereby establishing his dictatorship. Of course, one of the chief promoters of this theory was the zine's editor, Joseph Farah.

NewsMax has similarly been a major conduit of extremist anti-Clinton propaganda, especially since its reins were taken over by Christopher Ruddy, the Scaife-funded 'investigative reporter' who devoted years to proving Clinton had Vince Foster murdered (though of course he also pursued dozens of other Clinton conspiracy theories, all equally groundless). In recent months NewsMax has shifted its focus to attacks on Muslims and liberals as "traitors," while loudly defending President Bush's war plans.

D. The Press

The Wall Street Journal remains a well-respected paper within journalistic circles for its reporting staff, but the paper's editorial page has for the better part of a decade become one of the real scandals of newspapering, particularly its rampant unethical behavior in publishing material that is provably false and often little more than thinly disguised smears of various liberals, particularly Clinton during his tenure, and refusing at time to correct even gross errors of fact. Not surprisingly, many of these false memes were generated by right-wing extremists of various stripes and then given the mantle of respectability by the WSJ.

This propensity had manifested itself well before Clinton -- as when, for example, it championed the work of Charles Murray, co-author of the now-infamous The Bell Curve. As Chip Berlet explained it in his analysis of the way conservatives treated Murray:
By articulating a definition of poverty that associated it explicitly with illegitimacy, then associating illegitimacy with race, the Right made it acceptable to express blatantly racist concepts without shame.38 For example, when Charles Murray wrote The Bell Curve ten years after Losing Ground, he argued that welfare should be abolished, not simply because of the economic incentives it creates, but because it encourages "dysgenesis," the outbreeding of intelligent whites by genetically inferior African Americans, Hispanics, and poor whites.

Likewise, the WSJ indulged all kinds of extremist propaganda in its pursuit of Clinton. One of its chief sources was Floyd Brown, a longtime enemy of Bill from Arkansas days. Brown was responsible for the circulation of much of the early Whitewater dirt on Bill Clinton, mostly through Citizens United's top investigator, David Bossie (who later gained notoriety as the erstwhile chief investigator for Rep. Dan Burton's campaign-finance probe). Brown's credibility was already of questionable value; by 1998, this had become unmistakable. For instance, at Brown's Citizens United Web site -- in addition, naturally, to a bevy of Monica-related impeachment screeds -- you could find screaming exposes of the Clintons’ alleged involvement in the United Nations one-world-government plot. A streaming banner on the site shouted: "Secret United Nations Agenda Exposed In Explosive New Video!" (The video in question prominently featured an appearance by then-Sen. John Ashcroft.) A little further down, the site explains: "This timely new video reveals how the liberal regime of Bill Clinton is actively conspiring to aid and abet the United Nations in its drive for global supremacy." For those who follow the militia movement, these tales have more than a familiar ring.

Yet in 1994, members of the WSJ's editorial board sat down with Brown and examined his anti-Clinton information -- which in nature was not appreciably different from what he was flogging four years later -- and shortly thereafter, nearly half of the Journal's editorial page was devoted one day to reprinting materials obtained from Brown. Moreover, the WSJ continued to recycle the allegations from that material for much of the following six years.

The other major organ that transmits right-wing memes is the Moonie-owned newspaper The Washington Times, which as I've detailed previously, has serious ethical problems anyway. Most of these are related to spreading extremist memes about Bill Clinton, as well as championing various white-nationalist causes exuding from the neo-Confederate movement (two senior editors have long associations with the movement). But as I've also reported earlier, the conspiracy-mongering has continued well since Clinton left office, with a stream of recent pieces suggesting that Al Qaeda and not white supremacists were really behind the Oklahoma City bombing.

E. Pundits

These are the rich orphans of the media business -- some of them are former reporters, some are former political operatives, and some are just propagandists in the Limbaugh mold. Their ranks are filled with all kinds and shapes of transmitters, many of whom gladly resort to extremist memes because of their outrageousness quotient -- and if there's any way to make your reputation as a pundit, it's to say something that makes headlines. No publicity is bad publicity, as they say.

These range from ex-liberals like Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens, who gladly traded in several extremist memes about Clinton in the course of excreting their voluminous bile toward him, to barely concealed extremists like David Horowitz and Michael Savage. In between, it was never unusual to hear the late Barbara Olson repeat a Patriot legend, or even now for Peggy Noonan to indulge in plainly irresponsible speculation about Muslims.

The most notorious of them, though, is Ann Coulter, whose behavior continues to provide us with nearly perfect models of how transmitters work, and why they are so effective. Indeed, there seems to be no end in sight.

Next: The Receivers

Friday, March 07, 2003

Serious as murder

Just as I noted the concern about the militias' activities on the U.S.-Mexico border, this was forwarded to me:

Slain immigrant called 9th victim in Arizona spree
Wednesday, March 5, 2003 PHOENIX, Arizona (Reuters) -- A Mexican man who was found shot to death in a rural area outside Phoenix appears to be the ninth victim in a string of execution-style murders of illegal immigrants, police said Wednesday.

The body of the unidentified man was found early on Wednesday by a passerby, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. Arpaio said the victim, who was in his 30s, had been shot at close range, his hands bound behind his back.

"We're positive that all the murders are related," Arpaio told Reuters.

Eight other illegal immigrants have been slain since last March, killed in much the same manner before being dumped by the roadside. All the victims were male, bound before they were killed and all but one of those murdered was shot.

Hubbard has said that the spate of killings had generated a deluge of telephone calls from concerned people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The incidents also have been brought to the attention of high-level officials in the Mexican government in hopes of generating leads in the case.

And also, perhaps, reminding them what happens when you don't cooperate with Team Bush?

Is this the kind of "trouble" that's "not stirred up by anybody except the people" to which Bush referred in his Copley News Service interview? Is this the "non-governmental" response that Mexico might expect if its delegation doesn't vote the right way in the U.N. Security Council?

The Eric Rudolph faction

More on a disturbing trend we noted a couple of weeks back:

Man drives van into Houston Planned Parenthood
A Houston Planned Parenthood clinic sustained its first violent attack in nearly five years today, only days after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a ruling that had shut down aggressive anti-abortion demonstrations at clinics.

Frank Lafayette Bird Jr., 61, of the 2300 block of Callie Street, was arrested after driving a delivery van into the front entrance of the clinic on Fannin.

Bird, a well-known Houston abortion protester who served a one-year federal prison term for attacking a doctor outside another Houston clinic in December 1994, told a deputy constable the crash was deliberate, to "stop the killing."

Gotta love their logic: Use a lethal weapon to stop the killing.

I'll be keeping track if the anti-abortion terrorism starts increasing. These are early signs so far, and may be aberrational. Or, as I noted before, it could be a product of the winking and nudging on abortion from the GOP.

[Thanks to Atrios.]

The Calvinball Administration

Great post from the Better Rhetor:

Bait and Switch:
The Rhetoric of Make Believe

This is clever. Faced with the reality that the majority of Americans oppose war without U.N. support, that millions of people are marching for peace worldwide, that Turkey cannot be bribed, that the Vatican is calling for peace, and that governments around the world oppose U.S. military action, the Bush people have decided to declare victory and go home.

It’s a bait and switch. Rather than continuing to argue for the merits of their position—an argument they have concluded they cannot win—they now want to shift the terms of the debate. They don’t want to talk anymore, in other words, about whether we should invade Iraq. We are supposed to accept the fiction that this has been already settled, and we are now in the "next phase" of discussing what to do in post-war Iraq. That way they can shift the discussion, aided by our feckless media, away from their losing hand and onto another topic—one that presumes the Bushies won the original debate.

We saw the same strategy during the election debacle in Florida. As the debate was raging in the courts and on the streets, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes went about staging a series of events designed to create the perception that the issue had already been settled and that Bush had already won. And so there was a "transition team" created, leaks about who would be the next secretary of state, photo-ops designed to make Bush look "presidential." (He looked like a deer in the headlights, but that’s another issue.)

There's more; it's razor-sharp.

I'd only add one point: This strategy was first trotted out by Nixon, who thought for awhile that if we just declared victory in Vietnam we could pack up our bags and go home.

Nature abhors a vacuum

From the mailbag:

R. Scott Greacen of Portland writes in about my post on Bush's plans to "green" up his image:
"What struck me about this story:

"GOP pollsters are telling their firebrands, especially Bush, that environmental issues are their most serious potential weakness. Thus the fuzzing. Do they really need to bother, though?

"Where are the Democrats on green issues? Basically nowhere. They couldn't even make a decent stink over the latest ungodly rider: that took Sherry Boehlert & co. Any serious commitment to enviro progress at the national level of the Ds seems to have left with Al Gore.

"And the enviros? Hollering, but they don't have the mike, and the movement's been crippled by defunding in the darkest hours we've faced in thirty years.

"All of which, added to the Bush regime's inborn urge to take it all, means they may use softer terms, but they're going to keep up the brutal policies. Which means giving us the means to bring them down, if we can find ways to bring those policies and their effects into focus."

A good point, especially since I agree that I don't expect Democrats to find a spine on environmental issues anytime soon. As I've argued elsewhere, it's going to be up to citizens to lead our leaders in getting us out of this mess. As the brutal environmental policies proceed to wreak their havoc, it's going to be up to us to get the word out, and build up the grass-roots outrage.

[Scott also notes that the wording of my post might "invite the incautious reader to surmise you've overlooked the part about how Lutz wrote all this before the election, and we've been under bombardment with carefully calibrated GOP fuzz-phrases for, well, quite a while now..." True, though I think it was clear from the story that we're talking about a fresh barrage, keying to some degree off that old advice.]

The hounds of hate

Bush is apparently letting loose the dogs of the extremist right in a test run of sorts, threatening to target Mexicans if they don't toe the line in the U.N. Security Council. From Paul Krugman at the New York Times:

Let Them Hate as Long as They Fear
Last week The Economist quoted an American diplomat who warned that if Mexico didn't vote for a U.S. resolution it could "stir up feelings" against Mexicans in the United States. He compared the situation to that of Japanese-Americans who were interned after 1941, and wondered whether Mexico "wants to stir the fires of jingoism during a war."

Incredible stuff, but easy to dismiss as long as the diplomat was unidentified. Then came President Bush's Monday interview with Copley News Service. He alluded to the possibility of reprisals if Mexico didn't vote America's way, saying, "I don't expect there to be significant retribution from the government" — emphasizing the word "government." He then went on to suggest that there might, however, be a reaction from other quarters, citing "an interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French . . . a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except the people."

Krugman mostly analyzes this kind of talk in the context of international diplomacy, which of course is worth observing. But there's another important context as well: The way it again represents a gesture toward the extremist right.

I've been reporting irregularly on the phenomenon of the militia patrols on the U.S.-Mexico border (in fact, a news item about this was the very first post on this blog). A couple of weeks ago, Newsday filed a deeper report (no longer free on the Web) that explored just how volatile the situation is growing because of these extremists, in this case an Arizona militiaman named Chris Simcox, who's been organizing militia "border patrols":
It's just such [denigrating] terms [used by townspeople about Simcox] that worry people like Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who says they are indicators of dangerous fanaticism. "I think he's a lunatic. At the same time, I think he's pouring more gasoline into a dangerous fire," said Potok, echoing human rights groups' worries that militia members will get carried away and start gunning down migrants in the desert, if they haven't already.

While no militia groups have been accused of crimes against migrants, over the past few years several migrants have been found dead for unexplained reasons and others are known to have been murdered. No arrests have been made. The U.S. Border Patrol says Mexican drug dealers and human smugglers are to blame. Human rights groups say the militias should be investigated for possible crimes against migrants.

"They're like little boys playing cowboys and Indians," said Burt Devere, a sixth-generation Tombstone native whose ranch is in the footpath of illegals heading for the highway out of town. Devere rejects Simcox's claims that illegal migrants are burgling homes, damaging property and freeing livestock by cutting barbed-wire fences as they cross private land. "We know it's not the Mexicans, but the Mexicans get blamed for it because they're not here to defend themselves."

Devere and his wife, Dorothy, say the real problem is Border Patrol agents and "local yokels" who rampage through private property in all-terrain vehicles, bust down fences, let livestock loose onto highways and use water towers for target practice. "Migrants have always come through here. If we didn't have them, who'd do the menial labor the Americans won't do?" said Devere, who cordially waves at the migrants he sees crossing his land.

Simcox, though, says most people support his idea of using tanks and soldiers to close the U.S.-Mexico border. They're simply scared to admit it, said Simcox, who claims to have had eight death threats as a result of his activities and who frequently wears a bulletproof vest under his shirt.

Bush's clear signal of approval for this kind of vigilante activity -- and especially his suggestion that the government can't control it or do anything about it -- is one of the most chilling gestures he's made in his tenure.

This kind of talk not only signals the border militiamen, it also sends a thumbs-up to the broader anti-immigrant agitators, particularly those like Michael Savage who are agitating for deporting all Muslim immigrants.

And just as important, it likewise sends a signal to the broader corps of Freeper/Patriots who are waiting in the wings to silence antiwar opponents -- winking and nudging at them, again, that thuggery in defense of the president's agenda may be an acceptable thing. And that, of course, has been an important subtopic of the fascism series -- one that I'll be exploring further very soon.

[Thanks to Daily Kos for the heads-up.]

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: Part 8

[Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.]


The strange thing about watching Trent Lott's slow-motion toppling late last year was that the whole uproar was about something that was not particularly new or unknown about Lott.

Lott's lack of judgment, like that of many Republicans, is embodied in his dalliances with right-wing extremists, which had been well observed previously. In Lott's case, he had an open alliance with the Southern variant of extremism, embodied in the neo-Confederate movement, a band of Southern revivalists who unabashedly argue for modern-day secession by the former Confederate States: "The central idea that drives our organisation is the redemption of our independence as a nation," says the mission statement for the League of the South.

Of course, like most right-wing extremists, they also pathologically hated Bill Clinton: “Impeach Clintigula Now!” shouted a typical banner from a Neo-Confed site. As with their militia brethren elsewhere in the country, the hatred of the former president proved a potent recruiting tool, particularly for making inroads into mainstream conservatism.

Lott contributed a regular column to the neo-Confederate Council of Conservative Citizens’ "Citizen Informer" magazine, usually pontificating on mainstream issues -- while being joined by other columnists who would rant about "Aracial Whites" and discuss the logistics of secession. The CofCC and other Neo-Confeds have a fondness for Mississippi's senior senator dating back to his efforts to rehabilitate the name and reputation of Jefferson Davis, and the senator in return has lent them both his ear and the air of legitimacy that his name as a columnist gives their magazine. He also told CofCC gatherings that they "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy."

When finally called out on this behavior, amid the counteraccusations that flew during the Clinton impeachment, Lott offered a startlingly misleading denial: "This group harbors views which Senator Lott firmly rejects. He has absolutely no involvement with them either now or in the future." Of course, the questions were about his past.

This all finally caught up with Lott after his now-infamous bout of nostalgia at Strom Thurmond's farewell banquet. But in addition to the collective amnesia that had let Lott slide through beforehand, the really curious thing about the way the Lott matter eventually played out was the compartmentalization of its resolution: All neat and tidy, with no ramifications for anyone else -- including, say, Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has had his own dalliances with neo-Confederates. It had the distinct flavor of a political hit by Team Rove, rather than signifying any sea change on the part of the GOP.

This no doubt serves the purposes of Republican strategists, who are hoping to remake the party's image so that it can finally shake the shadow of the Southern Strategy. But they have to do so carefully without upsetting their Southern base too deeply, and the Bush administration's later attacks on affirmative action, as well as its resurrection of such nominations as Charles Pickering's, may have gone a long way to mollify those voters.

In any case, these strategists are probably not really aiming to make significant inroads into the minority communities, particularly not with blacks. Instead, their obvious target in remaking their image is moderate white suburban voters, whose reluctance to vote Republican is often associated with the GOP's lily-white racial image. But the affirmative-action and other recent moves have made clear that the Bush team is primarily interested in empty symbolic gestures -- like Lott's fall -- to appeal to these voters.

The larger reality is that the Republican Party, and mainstream conservatism generally, has for some time now engaged in such dalliances with extremists across a broad range of issues, and in a number of different sectors and political blocs. Lott was merely the tip of the iceberg.

Lott, and politicians like him, play an important role for right-wing extremists. They are transmitters, figures who straddle both the mainstream and extremist sectors of the right. They help lend such segments as the neo-Confederates a veneer of legitimacy that they otherwise would utterly lack. And they help get their ideas, and ultimately their agendas, into the mainstream.

As I mentioned last time out, these transmitters operate in a variety of arenas:

Politicians and public officials

Lott was far from alone among Republicans in maintaining ties to neo-Confederates and other Southern racists. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, chief sponsor of a 1997 bill to impeach Clinton, also made appearances before the CofCC, and over the years has had open associations with the populist-right John Birch Society, as well as a striking penchant for placing the militias’ issues -- gun control, tearing down the United Nations, fighting “globalism” -- atop his list. Ex-Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice maintained open ties with the CofCC and other neo-Confederate factions. And Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster -- who was President Bush's campaign chair in that state -- maintained an interesting relationship with white supremacist David Duke: He liked to buy Duke's mailing lists. (He also tried to conceal his purchase of the lists and was caught and fined for it.)

The South, however, was only one of many staging grounds for ostensibly mainstream conservative politicians to commingle with right-wing extremists. In fact, it happened in every corner of the country. In New Hampshire, Republican Sen. Bob Smith made open alliances with the Patriot/militia-oriented Constitution Party (indeed, he nearly ran for president on the party's ticket). Former Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, who chaired a natural-resources subcommittee and was one of the first to join Barr as an impeachment co-sponsor, had long associations with her home district’s militiamen -- and you can still buy her anti-environmental video, “America in Crisis,” from the Militia of Montana. Former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas likewise made open alliances with several Texas Patriot groups, and defended their agenda in Congress. Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas continues to promote pseudo-Patriot "New World Order" conspiracy theories to his constituents.

Probably not surprisingly, nearly every single noteworthy transmitter in politics is a conservative Republican. The only exception was ex-Rep. James Traficant, an Ohio Democrat who was recently drummed out of Congress in the wake of his corruption convictions. Traficant trotted out a broad range of Patriot theories and agenda items during his career, but he was a near-total pariah in his own party. (Indeed, before his convictions, Republicans attempted to persuade him to change aisles.)

The spectrum of transmitters also includes a bevy of local and state officials who tread comfortably in multiple universes. Several state legislatures, notably Montana's, have had significant Patriot presences among their ranks, all of them ultraconservative Republicans. And then there was the GOP's 1996 nominee for governor in Washington state: Ellen Craswell, a religious conservative who argued for remaking America as a "Christian nation" and blamed a horrendous January 1993 storm in Seattle on God's wrath for the Clintons' inauguration, which had taken place that day. Craswell later left the GOP to play a prominent role in the pro-militia U.S. Taxpayers Party and its Washington offshoot, the American Heritage Party (both of which later morphed into the Constitution Party), but reportedly has since returned to the fold.

There are also political organizations that often transmit far-right memes in mainstream settings. The most notable of these is the Free Congress Foundation, run by right-wing guru Paul Weyrich, who was one of the architects of the Reagan Revolution, a founder of the Heritage Foundation, and reputedly someone who still enjoys considerable influence even in the current White House. Here is a rundown of some of the FCF's dalliances in the far right, as well as its thoroughgoing connections to mainstream conservatism. And Weyrich's far-right dalliances have been mounting lately, as this SPLC report details. (See also my recent posts -- here, here, and here -- about Weyrich.)

Other groups that transmit far-right memes into mainstream include Larry Pratt's Gun Owners of America, whose connections to the extremist right have been thoroughly documented; Gary Bauer's co-production with James Dobson, the Family Research Council, which spread numerous anti-homosexual memes that originated on the far right; the anti-affirmative action group Center for Individual Rights, which has its origins with the white-supremacist Pioneer Institute, but also has been the "driving force" in the campaign against the University of Michigan's AA program; so-called "Wise Use" groups, which spread anti-environmentalist conspiracy theories into the mainstream; and Operation Rescue, which openly consorted with a number of violent anti-abortion extremist groups, and sympathized with their calls for the murder of abortion providers. A complete list of such transmitter organizations, which would include advocacy groups across a broad range of issues, would make even more clear how these groups pick up ideas and themes from extremist organizations and repackage them as mainstream conservative talking points.

Religious figures

Among the leaders of America's religious right, Pat Robertson enjoys a uniquely powerful position, both as overseer of a large broadcasting and evangelical empire, but also as the first fundamentalist Christian leader in recent times to make a significant run for the presidency. He also has a pronounced history of transmitting far-right themes into the mainstream, most especially his frequent claims that America is a "Christian nation," and similar advocacy of installing a theocratic government.

His most notorious instance of trafficking extremist material came with the publication of his 1992 tome, The New World Order, which of course enjoyed a considerable audience on the extremist right. The book is literally riven with conspiracist allegations and references, including his invocation of the well-known Patriot belief that the Freemason conspiracy is "revealed in the great seal adopted at the founding of the United States."

Two articles -- one by Michael Lind and another by Jacob Heilbrunn -- in the New York Review of Books demonstrated conclusively that the bulk of the concepts in the book were clearly drawn directly from such notorious anti-Semitic works as Nesta Webster's Secret Societies and Subversive Movements and Eustace Mullins' Secrets of the Federal Reserve.

Robertson's cohort in right-wing evangelizing, Jerry Falwell, likewise has a history of trotting out far-right themes, including the time he attempted to demonstrate that the Antichrist was a Jewish man currently alive. Falwell likewise was closely involved in promoting The Clinton Chronicles, which spread far-right conspiracy theories about the former president (and which was, in fact, a staple on the book tables at militia meetings across the country). Recently, of course, Falwell has again been in the news, first creating a national uproar by suggesting that gays, and lesbians and liberals in general were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, then creating an international uproar by proclaiming that Mohammad, Islam's chief prophet, was a "terrorist."

Robertson and Falwell, however, are merely to the religious right what Limbaugh is to the army of imitators who fill the ranks of the rest of talk-radio land. The nation's fundamentalist pastors often play similar roles, repeating themes and ideas that originally circulated among extremists, but presenting them in mainstream contexts which lend them a sudden facade of legitimacy.

Perhaps the most significant sector of these fundamentalists are the Christian Reconstructionists, whose agenda is openly theocratic. Their stated purpose is to install a "Christian" government that draws its legal foundations from Scripture, not the Constitution. Their radical agenda, however, is endorsed by a broad array of conservative politicians, notably by the powerful Council for National Policy, which in fact was co-founded by R.J. Rushdoony, one of the leading lights of Reconstructionism.

This sector is gaining increasing significance as a meeting-ground for mainstream conservatism and right-wing extremism precisely because of the emphasis being placed on his own fundamentalist beliefs by President Bush. As I'll discuss later, the commingling of the two sectors is occurring at an increasing rate because of this, and it may wind up playing an important role in how the Bush camp responds to criticism of its policies -- particularly its war plans -- and potential threats to its hold on power.

Next: The media transmitters

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Jingo jollies

The right-wing loonies are already starting to fantasize:

"Bush Declares War on Hollywood"
During an emergency State of the Union address this morning, President Bush declared war on Hollywood. The move comes as no surprise, based on the relentless attack from Hollywood terrorist sleeper cells against America and capitalism over the past few weeks.

President Bush stated that ''we will smoke them out of their mansions, get them running, and bring them to justice.'' He continued by saying ''make no mistake, we will win this war on the evil Hollywood anti-Americans. Good triumphs over evil. Truth over hypocrisy.''

Experts say that the President’s hand was forced by the never-ending attacks of Hollywood liberals, led by Martin sheen Laden. Sheen Laden’s terrorist organization is known as “Ja-hosh,” which means “jackass” in Arabic. His sleeper cells have been very busy lately, marching with Communist groups in America in support of Saddam Hussein, comparing Bush to Hitler, and taking out anti-American advertising in the New York Times and on CBS (America’s answer to Al Jazeera).

The unfunny part about this is the way right-wingers have of making their fantasies come true. And this particular scenario bears more than a passing resemblance to the final chapter in The Turner Diaries, which was titled "The Day of the Rope."

History is not dead

Jerry Mitchell keeps digging away at those old Civil Rights-era killings:

FBI files may hold clues to '64 case
The FBI has yet to share all the evidenc0e it gathered in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers — evidence that experts say Mississippi authorities should seek.

The FBI turned over 40,000 pages of case files to the state in late 1999, but authorities confirmed to The Clarion-Ledger that those documents do not include informant files, internal memos or information on any wiretaps.

Experts say those files, which are maintained separately from the case files, could contain critical information to aid prosecution of the June 21, 1964, killings of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner — just as it has in similar prosecutions.

Widow 'shocked' FBI files withheld: Bender thought all info released in '64 slayings case
The Clarion-Ledger reported Sunday that Mississippi authorities never received FBI informant files — files that have proved critical in several recent reprosecutions of civil rights-era cases, including the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls.

Longtime civil rights activist and Pass Christian native Lawrence Guyot, who waved goodbye to the trio as they headed for Mississippi in the summer of 1964, said the FBI should get involved in investigating, just as it did when it sent hundreds of agents to Mississippi to investigate the June 21, 1964, disappearances of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Forty-four days later, agents found the three men's bodies buried beneath an earthen dam.

"I can think of no rational reason why the FBI should not use its legally acquired information to pursue justice in the three political assassinations that have national and international repercussions," Guyot said. "This was an incident heard 'round the world."

For those who either haven't read their history books, or at least watched Mississippi Burning, here's a quick refresher on the Schwermer-Chaney-Goodman murders.

Newspeak of the Week

A Call for Softer, Greener Language
In interviews, Republican politicians and their aides said they agreed with the strategist, Frank Luntz, that it was important to pay attention to what his memorandum, written before the November elections, called "the environmental communications battle."

In his memorandum, Mr. Luntz urges that the term "climate change" be used instead of "global warming," because "while global warming has catastrophic communications attached to it, climate change sounds a more controllable and less emotional challenge."

Also, he wrote, "conservationist" conveys a "moderate, reasoned, common sense position" while "environmentalist" has the "connotation of extremism."

I'm not sure how they're going to escape the fact that every major conservation organization in the country -- particularly such traditionally semi-conservative organizations as anglers and outdoorsmen -- has been nearly as sharply critical of the Bush administration's agenda as have environmental groups. Nearly the only such group that hasn't criticized Bush so far has been the traditionally GOP-friendly Nature Conservancy, which has chosen simply to be mute, even though its positions on such issues as global warming are at sharp variance with the Busheviks'.

More to the point, I have a hunch that the plan to demonize "environmentalism" may not exactly fly well with the soccer-mom vote. We'll see, won't we?

In any case, it's clear that we're going to be barraged with some fresh Newspeak:

Climate change is global warming we can handle.

Conservationists are environmentalists we can handle.

I suppose all the photo-ops of Bush out working on his ranch are to suggest he is a "conservationist." When do we get the fly-fishing shots?

And of course, I wonder how long it will be before every Republican in the country tries to claim he's a "conservationist."

As a longtime card-carrying conservationist, I can only say: I object!

[Thanks to Brian Z. for forwarding this.]

Hazardous duty

Michael at Rush Transcript writes in:
If you could mention that we really, really need more volunteers to participate in transcription, I'd appreciate it. People only do five minutes' worth at a time (more than that and we find the brain damage is too hard to recover from), and even one or two of those chunks a week will help. There are 180 five-minute chunks per week!

Anyway, we appreciate it getting read, too. We want to post fact-checking somewhere, but haven't really organized that end of the process yet. (This is only our second week of operation....)

Of course, I'm more than happy to pass along the word. This kind of work is fundamental in combating the milieu we're up against, especially since Limbaugh's irresponsibility, as we'll soon see, plays a critical role in not only in fomenting the proto-fascism of the far right but in injecting its venom into the political mainstream. It may be a couple of weeks here before I can contribute my own time, but I plan to do so.

Write an e-mail to:

But be careful not to overdo it. Please.

[And yes, Glenn, I am a regular blood donor too. Reached the two-gallon pin last week, in fact.]

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

A writer's writer

All hail Sherman Alexie:

In defense of humor, irony, satire, and a Native American perspective on the coming war on Iraq

Alexie, of course, manages to express in a few paragraphs much of what I've wasted numerous (and I do mean numerous) inches of type trying to say.

[A tip o' the Hatlo Hat to dimn at Byte Back for the heads-up.]

Orcinus Principium 2

2 lawmakers spurn Muslim's prayer
"It's an issue of patriotism," Rep. Lois McMahan, a conservative Republican from Gig Harbor, said of her decision to stand in the back of the room.

"The Islamic religion is so . . . part and parcel with the attack on America. I just didn't want to be there, be a part of that," she said. "Even though the mainstream Islamic religion doesn't profess to hate America, nonetheless it spawns the groups that hate America."

Rep. Cary Condotta, a Republican from East Wenatchee, also left the floor. He said the timing was not a coincidence, but he declined to comment further on why he left, except to say he was talking to another lawmaker and "let's just say I wasn't particularly interested."

Perhaps these lawmakers -- along with all the other anti-Muslim jingoes like Michael Savage who have been turning up the volume -- need a reminder:

Osama bin Laden wants you to make this into an Islam-vs.-the-West conflict. That was the explicit purpose behind 9/11.

The more that conservatives make the rest of Islam culpable for 9/11, the more they make enemies of our allies in the Islamic world. These include such major strategic partners as Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Their own Republican president has been working hard not to allow this to turn into an anti-Islamic crusade. Yet their own ignorance about the nature of Islam is nonetheless increasing the chances that the "war on terror" could explode into an uncontrollable global cultural conflict.

This brings us to a new Orcinus Principium:

Those who foment war against Islam are objectively furthering the agenda of Osama bin Laden, and are thus an effective Al Qaeda 'fifth column.'

These ignoramuses fail to understand that fundamentalist Islamism is no more representative of Islam than fundamentalist Christianity represents the whole of that faith. Gee, I wonder why they miss that distinction.

Rush, Newspeak and fascism: Part 7

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6..

"Hitler was more moral than Clinton," intoned the nice-looking, dark-haired man in the three-piece suit. "He had fewer girlfriends."

The audience laughed and applauded, loudly.

A remark like that might hardly have raised an eyebrow in post-Monica America, particularly in the meeting-halls of mainstream conservatism, where it often seemed, by the end of Bill Clinton's tenure in the White House, that no hyperbole is too overblown in the campaign to depose him -- mostly, it seems, by convincing the rest of us that he was too grossly immoral to continue to hold the presidency.

As the scandal wore on, the volume, intensity and downright nastiness of his critics reached impressive levels. It wasn't unusual to hear of congressmen calling him a "scumbag" and a "cancer on the presidency," or for mainstream conservative commentary to refer to him, as Orlando Sentinel columnist Charley Reese did at one point, as "a sociopath, a liar, a sexual predator, a man with recklessly bad judgment and a scofflaw."

But the scene above took place four years before Monica, in 1994, long before Clinton handed his enemies a scandal on a platter that seemingly made such references acceptable. It was not at a Republican caucus or Christian Coalition meeting, but at a gathering of right-wing "Patriots" who had come to hear about forming militias and common-law courts and defending their gun rights -- indeed, their families -- from the New World Order. They numbered only a hundred or so and only half-filled the little convention hall in Bellevue, Washington, but their fervor saturated the room with its own paranoid energy.

And the speaker, who could have passed even then for a local Republican public official -- actually, he was nominally a Democrat -- in fact was one of the nation's leading Patriot figures: Richard Mack, then sheriff of Arizona's mostly rural Graham County. As a leader in the fight against gun control (his lawsuit eventually led to the Supreme Court overturning a section of the so-called Brady Law), Mack was in high demand on the right-wing lecture circuit as he promoted the militia concept to his eager acolytes. He usually sprinkles his "constitutional" gun-rights thesis with his theories on church-state separation -- it’s a "myth," he claims -- and "the New World Order conspiracy."

The similarities between Mack’s 1994 sentiments and the hyperbole directed at Clinton in 1998 are not accidental. Rather, they offer a stark example of the way the far right's ideas, rhetoric and issues feed into the mainstream -- and in the process, exert a gravitational pull that draws the nation's agenda increasingly rightward. For that matter, much of the conservative anti-Clinton paroxysm could be traced directly to some of the smears that circulated first in militia and white-supremacist circles.

Mack's Clinton-bashing was mostly a gratuitous nod to one of the Patriot movement's favorite themes: an almost pathological hatred of the former occupants of the Oval Office, manifested as a willingness to believe almost any slander directed at "Billary," as they like to refer to the Clintons. Had you gone to any militia gathering -- held usually in small town halls or county fairgrounds, sometimes under the guise of "preparedness expos," "patriotic meetings" or even gun shows -- you could always find a wealth of material aimed at proving Clinton the worst kind of treasonous villain imaginable.

By 1998, this rhetoric was indistinguishable from that bandied about on Rush Limbaugh's radio program or, for that matter, on Fox News cable gabfests or MSNBC's Hardball. The migration of the accusations against Clinton from the far right to the mainstream was instructive, because it indicated how more deeply enmeshed conservatives became during the 1990s with genuine extremists.

And in subsequent years, this commingling of ideologies has begun to play a role in the presidency of George W. Bush, as well. As we've already discussed, many of these same far-right factions are now involved in demonizing liberals who dissent from Bush's Iraq war plans.

It's also important to understand how the migration of these ideas occurs. Richard Mack, for instance, doesn't compare Bill Clinton's morality to Adolph Hitler's at every speaking opportunity. His remark didn’t show up, for instance, when he had his moment in the sun with the National Rifle Association.

It just pops out when he's in front of an audience of Patriot believers. That's when he knows it will gain the most appreciation. It mixes well with the fear of the New World Order he foments, in his quiet, almost sedate speaking tone.

Mack is a transmitter -- someone who treads the boundaries of the various sectors of America’s right wing and appears to belong to each of them at various times. Mack's gun-control message still sells well with mainstream, secular NRA audiences. His claims that church-state separation is a myth resonate nicely with the theocratic right crowd as well. And he cultivates a quasi-legitimate image by taking leadership positions in groups like Larry Pratt's Gun Owners of America. But he is most at home in his native base: the populist right, the world of militias, constitutionalists and pseudo-libertarians. Mack even occasionally consorts with the hard right, as when he grants front-page interviews to the Christian Identity newspaper The Jubilee.

At the same time he tours the countryside preaching the Patriot message, Mack cuts a seemingly mainstream conservative figure. As one of the key players in the effort to overturn the Brady Bill gun-control law -- which Mack claims infringes on his rights as sheriff -- he gained his highest public notice in 1995 when the National Rifle Association honored him as their Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. The image boost let him tour nationwide, speaking at numerous Patriot gatherings and hawking his books ("From My Cold Dead Fingers" and "Government, God and Freedom").

Back home in Arizona, though, his celebrity was not a big hit; the Graham County voters ousted Mack as sheriff in 1996, when he lost by a 3-to-1 margin in the primary. So he moved to Provo, Utah -- home of his alma mater, Brigham Young University -- and made plans for a Patriot "think tank," running for sheriff again (and losing big again) the summer of 1998. But like most Patriot heroes, expect Mack to keep finding his way back to the spotlight.

I think Chip Berlet's model of the right is accurate and helpful. He divides the American right into three sectors:
-- The secular conservative right. This is comprised of mainstream Republicans and white-collar professionals, glad to play government critic but strong defenders of the social status quo.

-- The theocratic right. So-called 'conservative Christians' and their like-minded counterparts among Jews, Mormons and Unification Church followers, as well as Christian nationalists. Some of the more powerful elements of this faction argue that the United States is a "Christian nation," and still others -- called "Reconstructionists" -- argue for remaking the nation as a theocratic state.

-- The xenophobic right. These include the ultra-conservatives and reactionaries who make broad appeals to working-class and blue-collar constituencies, particularly in rural areas, with a notable predilection for wrapping themselves in the flag. [See Pat Buchanan.] This faction ranges from the relatively mild-mannered Libertarians -- who also have made big inroads into the computer-geek universe -- to the more virulent and paranoid militia/Patriot movement, and finally to the hard right: the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, Posse Comitatus and various white supremacists -- including some of the nastier elements of the Patriot movement -- all of whom wish nothing more than to tear down modern democratic America and start over. This is the faction where some of the more insidious ideas (like bizarre tax-protest theories) and conspiracies (from black helicopters to the Protocols) originate, making their appearance in mainstream settings somewhat disturbing.

Transitional figures like Richard Mack play a central role in the way the right’s competing sectors interact. By transmitting ideas across the various sectors, they gain wider currency until they finally become part of the larger national debate. Secondarily, shape-shifters like Mack are increasingly important for the xenophobic right, because they lend an aura of mainstream legitimacy to ideas, agendas and organizations that are widely perceived otherwise as radical.

Transmitters operate in an array of related venues, often coordinating messages with their allies and timing the release of information for maximum emotional effect. There is a broad array of arenas in which they primarily operate: politics and public officialdom, including the military and law enforcement; the mainstream press; radio and the Internet; and religion.

Next I'll discuss who some of these transmitters are, how they operate, and how they have shifted strategies after Clinton.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Terror, American style

Thanks to MB at WampumBlog for directing us to an excellent piece by Tim Giago:

Indians have lived with terrorism for 500 years

Go read the whole thing. The conclusion in particular is striking:
The fear and anxiety felt by the Indian people did not end at Wounded Knee. In many ways that was just the beginning. For the Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne, it started in 1876.

With each passing day, there is still fear and anxiety in Indian country. We never know when or if the United States will take away what little we have remaining. Our language, our culture, our traditions and our spirituality have all been under constant attack for 500 years.

The American Indian knows what it is to live in the shadow of terrorism. And now the rest of America is learning.

I can already hear the whining from the jingoes about this: "This is just more blame-America stuff. We're the bad guys again. Hey, don't forget who it was that got hit on Sept. 11." That sort of thing. (I'll keep an eye on letters to the Tallahassee Democrat, where this ran.)

Truth Hurts

As something of a student of American Western history, I know that the ugly truth about Giago's piece is that it is almost exactly on the money. With one caveat: That terrorism in fact was a two-way practice during the long, slow process of the genocide, and it would be incomplete not to observe this. Typical was the act of scalping, which was intended to send a message of terror to its victims' compatriots. Indians were widely feared for this practice by white settlers, but they in fact learned it from Spanish conquistadors -- who of course had practiced it on their Indian victims for precisely that same purpose. Moreover, scalping was also widely practiced by both cavalrymen and white settlers as well.

In any case, one can certainly find abundant examples of acts of terrorism committed by Indians. Indeed, those instances were loudly trumpeted as calls to action for the subsequent extermination of entire tribes and cultures. There were, for instance, the massacres of about 14 white settlers in Salmon River country whose deaths precipitated the Nez Perce War of 1877; many of these killings in fact were payback for building antagonisms, but they were in any case cold-blooded and inexcusable acts of terrorism. Of course, they also served as a pretense, almost certainly unjustified, for waging war against and ultimately dislodging Joseph and his band from the Wallowas, where whites were chafing at the regular contact.

However, I think by any fair accounting the scales of terrorism weigh heavily on the side of white pioneers, whose bigotry, ruthlessness and mendaciousness in their dealings with the Indians were only outdone by their callous bloodthirstiness in their treatment of them. Just a few names from history make clear how sharply the scales tip: The Trail of Tears. Sand Creek. Wounded Knee. Chief Joseph. The litany could go on indefinitely.

And yet these pioneers, as embodied by the well-scrubbed "Little House on the Prairie" mythology, clearly could not see themselves the way the Indians rather naturally came to see them. Part of this no doubt was their ardent white supremacism and fervent belief in "Manifest Destiny," which lent themselves to the easy view of Indians as subhuman savages, scarcely the same species.

This isn't historical revisionism; it is now largely historical fact. For just a sample of how thorough the record is on this, I recommend Alvin M. Josephy's The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, which gives a dispassionate but devastating account of the particulars of just how baldly the white pioneers wreaked terror on the native inhabitants of this corner of the country -- and with what ease these "morally superior" folk would steal from, lie to, abuse and even murder Indians.

Strange Fruit

Nor for that matter were Native Americans the only ones to experience terror at the hands of our white forefathers. African Americans, particularly those in the South, were subjected to a nearly 50-year reign of overt terrorism, from 1880 to 1930, a period now called by historians "the Lynching Era."

Between 1882 and 1942, according to statistics compiled by the Tuskegee Institute, there were 4,713 lynchings in the United States, of which 3,420 involved black victims. Mississippi topped the list, with 520 blacks lynched during that time period, while Georgia was a close second with 480; Texas’ 339 ranked third. And most scholars acknowledge that these numbers probably are well short of the actual total, since many lynchings (particularly in the early years of the phenomenon) were often backwoods affairs that went utterly unrecorded. In that era, it was not at all uncommon for a black man to simply disappear; sometimes his body might wash up in one of the local rivers, and sometimes not.

During the years leading up to the Civil War, blacks in the South were rarely the victims of lynchings -- since they were viewed as property, it was considered an act of theft to kill someone else’s slave. There was an exception to this: Putting down slave revolts. The fear of black insurrection (and there were a handful of real slave revolts, notably Nat Turner's 1831 Virginia rebellion, in which some sixty whites were killed) was so pervasive among Southerners that any rumor that one might occur could bring swift death to the alleged conspirators, even if, as was often the case, it later turned out there were no such plans. In any event, when lynching did occur in the years before the Civil War, the victims predominantly were whites. Many of these were in the antebellum South, where lynch-mob treatment was often administered to abolitionists and other "meddlers."

If blacks' slave status largely protected them from racial violence before the Civil War, then its abolition also left them remarkably vulnerable to such assaults upon the South's defeat. This became immediately manifest, during Reconstruction, when black freedmen were subjected to a litany of attacks at the hands of their former owners that went utterly unpunished. As documented by Philip Dray in his definitive study, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, these crimes turned up in hospital records and field reports from the federal Freedmen's Bureau, all of which described a variety of clubbings, scalpings, mutilations, hangings and even immolations of former slaves, all within the first year after Appomatox.

In 1866, the violence became discernibly more organized with the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, which originated with a claque of Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee, and spread like wildfire throughout the South. Initially much of the Klan night riders’ activities were relegated to whippings, a punishment intended to remind the ex-slaves of their former status. But as the assaults on blacks increased, so did the intensity of the violence visited on them, culminating in a steady stream of Klan lynchings between 1868 and 1871 (when the Klan was officially outlawed by the Grant Administration); at least one study puts the number at 20,000 blacks killed by the Klan in that period. In the ensuing years, the violence did little to decline, and in fact worsened, despite the Klan’s official banishment.

Moreover, in addition to the night-riding type of terrorist attacks, mass spectacle lynchings soon appeared. These were ritualistic mob scenes in which prisoners or even men merely suspected of crimes were often torn from the hands of authorities (if not captured beforehand) by large crowds and treated to beatings and torture before being put to death, frequently in the most horrifying fashion possible: people were flayed alive, had their eyes gouged out with corkscrews, and had their bodies mutilated before being doused in oil and burned at the stake. Black men were sometimes forced to eat their own hacked-off genitals. No atrocity was considered too horrible to visit on a black person, and no pain too unimaginable to inflict in the killing. (When whites, by contrast, were lynched, the act almost always was restricted to simple hanging.)

The violence reached a fever pitch in the years 1890-1902, when 1,322 lynchings of blacks (out of 1,785 total lynchings) were recorded at Tuskegee, which translates into an average of over 110 lynchings a year. The trend began to decline afterward, but continued well into the 1930s, leading some historians to refer to the years 1880-1930 as the "lynching period" of American culture.

'Keepin' the niggers down'

There are many postcards that recorded these lynchings, because the participants were rather proud of their involvement. This is clear from the postcards themselves, which frequently showed not merely the corpse of the victim but many of the mob members, whose visages ranged from grim to grinning. Sometimes, as in the Lige Daniels case, children were intentionally given front-row views. A lynching postcard from Florida in 1935, of a migrant worker named Rubin Stacy who had allegedly "threatened and frightened a white woman," shows a cluster of young girls gathered round the tree trunk, the oldest of them about 12, with a beatific expression as she gazes on his distorted features and limp body, a few feet away.

Indeed, lynchings seemed to be cause for outright celebration in the community. Residents would dress up to come watch the proceedings, and the crowds of spectators frequently grew into the thousands. Afterwards, memento-seekers would take home parts of the corpse or the rope with which the victim was hung. Sometimes body parts -- knuckles, or genitals, or the like -- would be preserved and put on public display as a warning to would-be black criminals.

That was the purported moral purpose of these demonstrations: Not only to utterly wipe out any black person merely accused of a crimes against whites, but to do it in a fashion intended to warn off future perpetrators. This was reflected in contemporary press accounts, which described the lynchings in almost uniformly laudatory terms, with the victim's guilt unquestioned, and the mob identified only as "determined men." Not surprisingly, local officials (especially local police forces) not only were complicit in many cases, but they acted in concert to keep the mob leaders anonymous; thousands of coroners' reports from lynchings merely described the victims' deaths occurring "at the hands of persons unknown." Lynchings were broadly viewed as simply a crude, but understandable and even necessary, expression of community will. This was particularly true in the South, where blacks were viewed as symbolic of the region’s continuing economic and cultural oppression by the North. As an 1899 editorial in the Newnan, Georgia, Herald and Advertiser explained it: "It would be as easy to check the rise and fall of the ocean’s tide as to stem the wrath of Southern men when the sacredness of our firesides and the virtue of our women are ruthlessly trodden under foot."

Such sexual paranoia was central to the lynching phenomenon. In the years following black emancipation -- during which time a previously tiny class of black criminals became swelled by the ranks of impoverished former slaves -- a vast mythology arose surrounding black men's supposed voracious lust for white women, a legend for which in truth there was scant evidence, and one that stands in stark contrast to (and perhaps has its psychological roots in) the reality of white men's longtime sexual domination of black women, particularly during the slavery era. In any event, the omnipresence of the threat of rape of white women by black men came to be almost universally believed by American whites. Likewise, conventional wisdom held that lynchings were a natural response to this threat: "The mob stands today as the most potential bulwark between the women of the South and such a carnival of crime as would infuriate the world and precipitate the annihilation of the Negro race," warned John Temple Graves, editor of the Atlanta Constitution. Such views were common not merely in the South, but among Northerners as well. The New York Herald, for instance, lectured its readers: "[T]he difference between bad citizens who believe in lynch law, and good citizens who abhor lynch law, is largely in the fact that the good citizens live where their wives and daughters are perfectly safe."

The cries of rape, for many whites in both South and North, raised fears not merely of sexual violence but of racial mixing, known commonly as "miscegenation," which was specifically outlawed in some 30 states. White supremacy was not only commonplace, it was in fact the dominant worldview of Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries; most Caucasians believed they represented Nature’s premier creation (having been informed this by a broad range of social scientists of the period, whose views eventually coalesced into the pseudo-science known as eugenics), and that any "dilution" of those strains represented a gross violation of the natural order. Thus it was not surprising that a number of lynching incidents actually resulted from the discovery of consensual relations between a black man and a white woman.

Underlying the stated fear of black rape, moreover, was a broad fear of economic and cultural domination of white Americans by blacks and various other "outsiders," including Jews. These fears were acute in the South, where blacks became a convenient scapegoat for the mesh of poverty that lingered in the decades following the Civil War. Lynching in fact was frequently inspired not by criminality, but by any signs of economic and social advancement by blacks who, in the view of whites, had become too "uppity."

There were, of course, other components of black suppression: segregation in the schools, disenfranchisement of the black vote, and the attendant Jim Crow laws that were common throughout the South. But lynching was the linchpin in the system, because it was in effect state-supported terrorism whose stated intent was to suppress blacks and other minorities, in no small part by eliminating non-whites as competitors for economic gain. These combined to give lynching a symbolic value as a manifestation of white supremacy. The lynch mob was not merely condoned but in fact celebrated as an expression of the white community's will to keep African-Americans in their thrall. As a phrase voiced commonly in the South expressed it, lynching was a highly effective means of "keeping the niggers down."

An honest look

Now, none of this is to suggest that America was to blame for the murderous acts that occurred on 9/11. It is instead to suggest that for the first time Americans -- white Americans especially -- tasted the awfulness of the dread and fear that they often have unthinkingly, and more often unknowingly, inflicted on others. It is this reality that should make us step back and contemplate what kind of war on terrorism we want to be waging.

The writer Walter Mosley, who watched the World Trade Center collapse, reflected on this recently in an interview with Jerry Large of the Seattle Times:
Mosley writes that most Americans believe our history and political culture flow from the most noble of concepts: freedom, democracy, opportunity. But that isn't entirely true. "We are fooled by the rhetoric of our national heritage and, in that hoodwinked condition, we make false assumptions about the face we show to the world."

Do we just want to wage a war of revenge and intimidation? One that will just put the rest of the world under our thumb? Doesn't that strike anyone else as just more of the same? Terrorism begetting terrorism begetting terrorism. Death begetting death.

I have a daughter who is going to turn 2 soon. I don't want her to grow up in a world where fear reigns. I don't want her to be fighting a fresh generation of terrorism in 20 years because we fought the current round stupidly and unthinkingly.

I want to wage A Real War on Terrorism. I want justice for those 3,000 people who died Sept. 11, and I want justice for my country. I want Al Qaeda and its henchmen brought to heel. But more than that, I want us to confront the fact that violence is coming at us from all sides now. And some of it is indeed revenge for our own brand of terrorism.

Someone needs to cut the cycle of terrorism. And its needs to be America. Now.

More to the point, we obviously cannot count on our national leaders (particularly not those in the White House) to do the job. If we want to wage this war -- a serious war against terrorism, not a fake one designed to inflate poll ratings -- it's going to have to be up to the citizens. I'm hoping in coming days to come up with ways that all of us can make a difference.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Tricky Dick, meet Curious George

From the Observer:

Revealed: US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war
The United States is conducting a secret 'dirty tricks' campaign against UN Security Council delegations in New York as part of its battle to win votes in favour of war against Iraq.

Details of the aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of UN delegates in New York, are revealed in a document leaked to The Observer.

The American press so far has managed to shrug off the deeply skeptical reporting on the Bush administration from the European press, but they may not be able to ignore this story. At least not if it stiffens grass-roots opposition to the Iraq war in England. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

In the meantime, has anyone else happened to notice just how many old Nixonites are operating the machinery for Bush the Younger? Of course, that's in no small part because Bush the Elder in fact was a Nixon protege ...

Those America haters

Bob Herbert's column earlier this week made a significant point: That the Bush team's efforts to attack affirmative action in fact are part of a broad assault on the very concept of a multicultural America:
A closer look at these challenges, however, would show that they are largely being driven by a huge, complex and extraordinarily well-financed web of conservative and right-wing organizations that in many cases are hostile not just to affirmative action but to the very idea of a multiracial, pluralistic America.

I've observed previously that hostility to multiculturalism often reveals an underlying affinity to its historical enemy, white supremacism. And indeed many of the current attacks are coming from places like Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, which has a history of promoting a white nationalist agenda. If Weyrich's previous writings are any guide, the superiority of "Judeo-Christian [read: white] culture" is what the current "War on Terror" is really all about.

Obviously, these agendas are inimical to the very concept of the racially inclusive America that has taken firm root in the past half-century. That's the America I think most of the rest of us believe we're currently defending from attack by Islamists. It is not, apparently, the America the Bush regime is seeking to create.

Herbert identifies the Center for Individual Rights as the "driving force" behind the Michigan cases. The CIR is funded by Richard Mellon Scaife -- the renowned Clinton-hater who also brought us a number of pseudo-Patriot "news" organizations like WorldNetDaily. Ann Coulter once worked for CIR.

I guess it's not surprising that Scaife is deeply involved; that should have been apparent because of Ted Olson's involvement. Follow the money.

Just imagine an America where the only people who count look like Ted Olson and Ann Coulter. Or are we there already?

The Christian spirit

My friend Maia Cowan posted the following at Salon's Table Talk:
I'm on a mailing list managed by Dr. Carol Wolman, author of Diagnosing Dubya. Her mailings frequently have a Christian theme, specifically the theme that Bush's professions of Christianity are totally bogus. Here's an excerpt from a message I just received:

Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,
and both the wine and the skins are ruined.
Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins." Matthew 18: 21-22

Bush's "conversion" to Christianity was poured right into the old wineskin of his family loyalties, the secret clubs to which he belongs, the Republican party, etc. None of the spirit of peace and love seems to have penetrated his soul. That old wineskin is bound to burst. The fascist spirit which inhabits the US government right now will be ruined. Let's pray that it's not too messy for the rest of us.

I've thought for some time that the Bush regime would topple under the weight of its own corruption, but what I fear most is the damage he will wreak in the meantime, as well as in the toppling.

The giant sucking sound you hear

Hesiod at Counterspin Central makes a keen observation about reading Rush Limbaugh in black and white:
Put aside your opinion of his political ideology...when you actually sit down and read what he says, transcribed, it looks like utter and complete gibberish.

It's just like that homeless, psychologically disturbed guy on the street corner having a conversation with some phantom presence.

It's really weird.

And you know what? You read his words trying to figure out how so many human beings in this country find him so convincing. You really do.

I've been spending more time than I should over at the new Rush Transcript, and have come away with exactly the same feeling. It is mind-boggling to wade through his material and realize how little of substance is there. Indeed, the transcripts are more in the way of anti-substance. And Limbaugh's mind is like a great Black Hole.