Saturday, December 13, 2003

Treasonous Democrats

Victor Davis Hanson -- one of the chief purveyors of the "Brown Peril" theory -- this week transmits the "a vote for Democrats is a vote for the terrorists" meme into the mainstream, via his recent National Review piece:
So too we should expect a wave of desperate Saddamite attacks once Iraqis take control in July. October will be difficult as Baathists and al Qaedists hope to demoralize our electorate and bring in a Howard Dean or his clone and with him a quick American exit from Baghdad.

This is a nasty piece of work, of course, especially since it underscores the mounting conservative theme that all Democratic candidates and, for that matter, voters are genuine traitors. The consequences of this kind of rhetoric, I think, could be profound, at least if it continues to spread and metastacize, as so many right-wing viruses have in the past decade.

Hanson's argument is predicated on one central idea, though: That things are going swimmingly in Iraq.
From the rhetoric of the Democratic candidates, from the papers in Cairo, and from the videos of the fundamentalists, one would not believe the United States is turning the corner and on the road to a stunning victory, characterized by both competence and idealism. In the last two years our enemies have lacked not the will but the power to defeat us; we in contrast had more than enough power but not enough will. But all that is changing as we ever so slowly become angrier while they get weaker.

Reality check: There are no signs that American forces are "getting angrier" -- only that they are growing demoralized about the colossal failures of their civilian bosses to competently reconstruct Iraq, bring stability and peace to the region as promised, and get them the hell out of there. The only people who are noticeably getting angrier are the civilian populace of Iraq -- and, let's not forget, the right-wing nutballs who are now threatening their fellow citizens with violence for failing to toe the Bushco company line.

Hanson is deluded, and the source of his error is obvious: He sees the "war on terror" as a traditional war, and his review of history essentially insists that the fight in which we are now embroiled is somehow comparable to ancient wars involving large armies of respective nation-states. That it is not should be plain to even the most casual observer.

Moreover, it could not be more plain that things are not going swimmingly in Iraq -- or in Turkey, Indonesia or elsewhere. The diplomatic scene -- and particularly the need to bring our traditional allies to the table -- has been a colossal screwup. It is hard to find much reason for optimism.

Even if the Bush team decides to follow Hanson's lead and make the Nixonian declaration, this coming spring or summer, of "victory" in Iraq, and begins withdrawing U.S. troops, the reality is that any regime we create in Iraq is liable to be overturned, and probably violently, within short order. As Warbaby observed some time back:
What we are seeing is a long-building pressure towards civil war. The resistance has many centers, not one. And it's going to get worse as factions continue to mobilize resources and build organization.

The overriding problem has been the American response, to date, to the challenges raised by the Sept. 11 attacks. Robert Lifton, the pscyhologist whose work I have relied upon heavily in coming to terms with the nature of fascism, excerpted this week in The Nation a portion of his important new work, Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation With the World, in a must-read article titled "American Apocalypse."

Unlike Hanson, Lifton has a far more insightful take on the nature of "the war on terror" that forswears simplistic historical analogies for a keen understanding of its unique nature -- especially its radical neocon vision of a global America uber alles:
The war on terrorism is apocalyptic, then, exactly because it is militarized and yet amorphous, without limits of time or place, and has no clear end. It therefore enters the realm of the infinite. Implied in its approach is that every last terrorist everywhere on the earth is to be hunted down until there are no more terrorists anywhere to threaten us, and in that way the world will be rid of evil. Bush keeps what Woodward calls "his own personal scorecard for the war" in the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out if killed or captured. The scorecard is always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.

[It is useful at this point to remember, perhaps, that one of the identifying motifs of fascism is the idea that "life is eternal warfare."]

Most significantly, Lifton zeroes in on what this approach to warfare means to us on the home front -- that is, how it is reshaping our national identity, and not in good ways:
The amorphousness of the war on terrorism carries with it a paranoid edge, the suspicion that terrorists and their supporters are everywhere and must be "pre-emptively" attacked lest they emerge and attack us. Since such a war is limitless and infinite--extending from the farthest reaches of Indonesia or Afghanistan to Hamburg, Germany, or New York City, and from immediate combat to battles that continue into the unending future--it inevitably becomes associated with a degree of megalomania as well. As the world's greatest military power replaces the complexities of the world with its own imagined stripped-down, us-versus-them version of it, our distorted national self becomes the world.

Despite the constant invocation by the Bush Administration of the theme of "security," the war on terrorism has created the very opposite--a sense of fear and insecurity among Americans, which is then mobilized in support of further aggressive plans in the extension of the larger "war." What results is a vicious circle that engenders what we seek to destroy: Our excessive response to Islamist attacks creates more terrorists and more terrorist attacks, which in turn leads to an escalation of the war on terrorism, and so on. The projected "victory" becomes a form of aggressive longing, of sustained illusion, of an unending "Fourth World War" and a mythic cleansing--of terrorists, of evil, of our own fear. The American military apocalyptic can then be said to partner and act in concert with the Islamist apocalyptic.

Finally, it is becoming clear, as Lifton argues, that the neoconservative vision for "superpower America" and its hegemony over the rest of the world is neither tenable nor desirable. The answer to the war on terror is to build a real world community that respects cultural differences and boundaries -- not an international regime in which all bow down to the superior Americans.
To renounce the claim to total power would bring relief not only to everyone else but, soon enough, to the leaders and followers of the superpower itself. For to live out superpower syndrome is to place oneself on a treadmill that eventually has to break down. In its efforts to rule the world and to determine history, the superpower is, in fact, working against itself, subjecting itself to constant failure. It becomes a Sisyphus with bombs, able to set off explosions but unable to cope with its own burden, unable to roll its heavy stone to the top of the hill in Hades. Perhaps the crucial step in ridding ourselves of the syndrome is recognizing that history cannot be controlled, fluidly or otherwise.

The place to start, of course, is to remove Bush from office in the 2004 election. This is not, as the unAmerican rabid right would have us a think, a capitulation to the terrorists. It is in fact the first step to seriously winning the war against them.

[Thanks to reader mondo dentro for pointing me to the Lifton piece.]


Tristero has what is undoubtedly the most insightful take on our latest mad dog attack.

He's right. I'm so ashamed.

Friday, December 12, 2003


I took the above picture of Keiko the killer whale a couple of weeks after he was moved from his aging tank in Mexico to his then-new rehab center at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. He was grooving on his new wide-open spaces, but they were already working on making him not so attached to humans, and he hadn't had any visitors except his trainers for awhile. He definitely was checking me out, and he saw that I had a camera. He loved cameras.

You could say that the camera loved Keiko, too, because he looked awfully good in Free Willy, which indeed would have been (and is in every other respect) a bleah Hollywood kids' flick but for the orca's vivid presence. After seeing him a few times, I thought it actually had worked the other way around. He was a charismatic orca who was very attuned to humans (at least partially the product, no doubt, of having been captured while still young). I think the film succeeded in large part because his rather warm and playful personality came through on film.

A true story: The scene in the film in which Willy rescues the boy, Jesse, from the bottom of the pool was not in the original script, but was based on something Keiko did in real life. The young daughter of the owner of the aquarium in Mexico where he resided for many years (and where much of the film was made) fell in, unnoticed, during a performance. No one was aware of it, in fact, until Keiko nudged her up and out of the water and to the side of the pool. The film's director heard the story from the pool owners and decided to write it into the script; when asked to recreate the performance with a Jesse dummy, Keiko pulled it off on the first shot.

The thing about orcas like Keiko, of course, is that they are attuned so well to humans that it is easy to anthropomorphize them, which is something of an insult; it denies them their whale-ness. But I gather that even during the "release into the wild" sessions in Iceland, he was reluctant to sever his ties with humans. Which is probably why he showed up in Norway and adopted a local village full of humans.

When he died of pneumonia at the age of 27 yesterday, I was of course sad to read about it. But he lived a long life for a captive male. And in his last years, there's no doubt he enjoyed a better quality of life than most of his preceding years. He was healthy, and seemed happy, the reports say.

I think that, as animals go, he was more important than most of the creatures who populate our big screens and our cultural iconography, because he was a great ambassador for his species -- and for that matter all of animalkind. The image of the threatening killer whale was forever shattered after Free Willy, and the gentle intelligence of the animals was imbedded permanently in the popular imagination. And he became a symbol of something new in humans too -- a clearer understanding of, even a sympathy for, the needs and rights of wild animals. No doubt some would declare that crass sentimentality or "pussy" behavior. Screw them.

The spiral of eliminationism

The antics of Misha, the "Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler," have notched another turn in the spiral of eliminationist violence that I've remarked upon previously. Now he has gone so far as to advocate the death of a "traitor" who runs an anti-Bush Web site.

This time, it may not be without consequences.

The object of Misha's ire is Eric Blumrich, who runs BushFlash, a rabidly anti-Bush site that is closely associated with the Dennis Kucinich campaign. Blumrich, in fact, created this ad, which makes the all-too-legitimate point that American lives are being wasted daily because this administration underestimated the problems of trying to rebuild Iraq once we had invaded. President Bush's "fall product" of 2002 is killing our soldiers daily in 2003. It also underscores the fact that antiwar activists indeed "support our troops" -- and do not believe their lives should be forfeit on the altar of Bush's misguided and incompetent foreign policy.

Evidently, this point cut too close to the bone for the pro-Bushites surrounding Misha, who avidly denounced the Kucinich ad by contending that it "used our war dead to push his agenda." [Funny how none of them seems to mind President Bush using our dead, war and otherwise, (notably the Sept. 11 victims) to push his political agenda.] One has to wonder if opponents of the war are simply supposed to pretend that those body bags are meaningless.

And the contention that this kind of dissent actually puts our troops further in harm's way is ludicrous. If the prowar folk can produce any evidence that insurgents in Iraq receive one iota of encouragement from antiwar dissent here, they have yet to produce it. Any kind of serious examination of the insurgency reveals that it receives far more encouragement from the daily bumbling of the Bush team in Iraq. When it comes to heedlessly putting our soldiers in harm's way, well, Bush is in a class of his own.

Not that reason has anything to do with the primal screamers comprising the prowar crowd -- particularly not Misha. A couple of days ago he lashed out at Blumrich with the following:
Here's a hint to you, Eric: The gov't can't do anything to you over that ad, but that's the extent of your protection under the First Amendment.

The rest of us, however, aren't the gov't, in case you've forgotten, and quite few of us would be more than happy to wipe that nervous little grin off your traitorous mug -- with a belt sander.

Not saying anything in specific, mind you, but we'd be damn careful about showing our face in public if we were you. You just never know who that perfect stranger behind you in that alleyway might be. Could be a sibling or other relative of one of the fallen soldiers that you just took a dump on the grave of, and G-d only knows what might happen then.

Eric may not be famous enough to be a pick for the 2004 Dead Pool, but there's another signed Imperial Mug for the first LC to inform me that Eric Blumrich has died in a "tragic" accident.

Accidents DO happen, you know, and that's the kind of news that would definitely make my entire day.

Of course, Misha seems to have forgotten that it isn't the First Amendment that protects us from murder, assault, threats and intimidation. It's criminal law.

Most significantly, this was not mere eliminationism; it was outright advocacy of someone's death. Taken alone, it bordered on a criminal threat, but probably didn't cross the boundary because it didn't suggest that Misha himself was going to carry out the threat. It was more in the nature of telling someone "you deserve to die and I hope somebody does it to you soon."

But then he told his readers how to do just that.

Shortly after posting the text, Misha began directing his readers on how to find Blumrich's address. On his front page, he posted a map of Blumrich's neighborhood, complete with a red star over his residence. He went on to create and post a map showing directions from Fort Dix to Blumrich's residence. Commenters posted: "ROAD TRIPPPPPP! And we can't wait to arrive..."

Neither component in and of itself constitutes a serious threat, but the combination of the two is almost certainly actionable, since it not only incites violence but helps facilitate it. Laws regarding threats and intimidation are different in various states, and I gather that Blumrich is consulting with local authorities so that it can be dealt with accordingly.

Misha since then has cowered behind his claim that it was "satire," but there was nothing obviously satirical about the post, at least not in the sense that satire often depicts the reductio ad absurdam of an argument; rather, it was clear that even if Misha intended the post to be "extreme humor," there was little question he was wishing extreme violence and even death upon Blumrich. Here's a clue for you, Misha: The First Amendment doesn't cover threats, intimidation and open incitement to violence.

But even if Misha's post -- particularly the attempts to direct people who will act out his scenario to Blumrich's residence -- is not criminally actionable (and it may not be), it is almost certainly civilly actionable, especially if someone decides to take Misha up on his suggestion. Misha's weak disclaimers notwithstanding, if Blumrich is in fact assaulted or threatened at his residence, he will have very solid grounds for suing the crap out of the Rottweiler.

Even though the spiral of Misha's antics has been predictable, it is no less alarming. When "traitors" are pointed out and their homes and private lives targeted, it moves eliminationism from the arena of mere rhetoric into real action. And that is the borderline that simply cannot be crossed if the right is serious about "civility" (which is, frankly, increasingly unlkikely).

I've had previous dealings with this kind of behavior and its consequences firsthand. Readers of "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" will recall that I described at length the anti-conservationist campaign in Montana's Flathead Valley that has been an ongoing problem there since the late 1990s. The source of the problem is a right-wing radio talk-show host (and station owner) who has made a career out of not only using eliminationist rhetoric toward liberals generally and environmentalists specifically, but he has gone so far as to broadcast their home addresses and workplaces.

The consequences, as I described then:
Beginning in the summer of 2001, local conservationists began receiving a series of death threats, some delivered in person, others by phone. Car windows were smashed in, tires slashed. Strange men would show up in people's yards at twilight, then run off when confronted. People's homes were vandalized. Others would be followed home by men in pickups or on motorcycles. Sometimes the teenage children of the targets were threatened.

If Misha's post represents a coming trend -- and it's clear that part of his intent in making these posts was to inspire others to "out" similar "traitors," wherever they might be -- then we may well see the realization of my fears that the Flathead-style war against liberals would become a national phenomenon.

Finally, it's important to remember where this spiral -- eliminationism put into action -- leads: In a pile of corpses. Recall, if you will, the recent story from the international genocide trials involving the bloodshed in Rwanda in 1994-95. One of the key players in the massacres by majoritarian Hutus, as it happened, was a radio station that broadcast the names, residences and locations of Tutsi "cockroaches":
A three-judge panel said the media executives had used a radio station and a twice-monthly newspaper to mobilize Rwanda's Hutu majority against the Tutsis, who were massacred at churches, schools, hospitals and roadblocks. The court said the newspaper "poisoned the minds" of readers against the Tutsis, while the radio station openly called for their extermination, luring victims to killing grounds and broadcasting the names of people to be targeted.

Another account describes how the station directed the killings:
Tutsis and moderate Hutus were hunted down and slaughtered, some after their names and whereabouts were broadcast on RTLM. Babies and children were massacred and women were gang-raped before being murdered -- some in churches and convents where they had sought refuge.

And the thing about spirals of violence is that once they begin spinning, they become increasingly difficult to stop.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Cyanide bombers: an update

I chatted today with Todd Bensman, the CBS-11 producer in Dallas who was responsible for the recent report on the cyanide bomb plot uncovered in Texas (about which I have posted a couple of times). Bensman was straightforward and seemed well grounded and serious.

Two key points distinguish the CBS-11 report from other news accounts of the case so far: Its reportage on the possibility that more cyanide-gas bombs were made and distributed elsewhere by the chief suspect, William Krar; and its mention of "100 other bombs" found in the arrest. I wanted to find out more about these and called Bensman up.

On the latter question, Bensman explained that the 100 bombs found by authorities were conventional devices, mostly pipe bombs, and not cyanide. He said the information came from FBI investigators.

As for the likelihood -- or even the possibility -- that Krar had either put together or sold the components for even more cyanide bombs, Bensman emphasized that it was still only a possibility, since there was no evidence that he had done so. But the circumstances and evidence gathered so far were suggestive enough to warrant serious concern. He pointed to the evidence discussed in the original story, noting especially that Krar travelled extensively and appeared to make a living by selling explosive devices, and had stockpiled to components for the cyanide bombs, meaning he certainly had the ability to have made more of them:
Sources familiar with the investigation say authorities especially fear that Krar may have manufactured more than one sodium cyanide bomb and sold them. After a traffic stop earlier this year while Krar was traveling through Tennessee, state troopers seized sodium cyanide among other weapons, one government source confirmed.

During the same stop, troopers found notes in Krar’s car.

One of the notes titled “Trip” recommends, “You will need cash, pre-charged phone card, spare gas can and all planning in place.”

Another note titled “Procedure” appears to represent instructions for carrying out some kind of covert operation. It lists code words for cities where meetings can take place at motels. Other codes appear to be warnings about how close police might be to catching the plotters. “Lots of light storms are predicted,” for instance, means “Move fast before they look any harder. We have a limited window remaining.”

The same note goes on to recommend ways to divert pursuers and suggests, “We want all looking in the wrong direction.”

For what it's worth, nearly everything in the CBS-11 report is more or less corroborated in the Department of Justice's release:
Eastern District of Texas
November 13, 2003


(Tyler, Texas) A Tyler resident has admitted to possessing sodium cyanide, and other chemicals for the purpose of creating a dangerous weapon. WILLIAM J. KRAR pleaded guilty this morning to one count of Possessing a Dangerous Chemical Weapon. His co-defendant, JUDITH L. BRUEY, pleaded guilty to an information charging her with Conspiracy to Possess Illegal Weapons.

According to information prosecutors presented in court, sometime before the spring of 2003, Krar accumulated a large quantity of sodium cyanide and acids such as hydrochloric, nitric and acetic acids. The chemicals were found last April after the discovery of false documents belonging to Krar. The false documents were part of a package Krar mailed to Edward Feltus in New Jersey in January 2002. Instead of being delivered to Feltus as Krar intended, the package was accidentally taken to a household on Staten Island, New York. The package contained more than five false identification documents, including a North Dakota birth certificate, a Social Security card, a Vermont birth certificate, a Defense Intelligence Agency Identification card, and a United Nations Multinational Force Identification card. The subsequent investigation determined that Krar not only possessed false documents, but had accumulated dangerous chemical weapons. Sodium cyanide is a toxic chemical by itself and as such constitutes a chemical weapon in its own right. When mixed with strong acids like those found at Krar's residence, the combination, cyanide gas, is extremely lethal. During the search of the Smith County residence he shares with Bruey, officers found and recovered multiple illegal weapons including machine guns, silencers, destructive devices, thousands of rounds of ammunition and a handgun with an obliterated serial number.

U.S. Attorney Matthew D. Orwig complimented the investigative efforts of the FBI, ATF, the Army Criminal Investigation Division and the Defense Department Criminal Investigative Service, "This investigation centered on very serious allegations. Through the cooperative effort of the FBI, ATF, the Army CID and the Criminal Investigative Service, these defendants were identified and their activities pinpointed and neutralized. We live in a safer world because of the efforts of these agencies."

Krar, 62, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. Bruey, 54, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Edward Feltus previously pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the transportation of false identification documents. He is awaiting sentencing. U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis has not set a sentencing date for any of the defendants.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Wes Rivers is prosecuting the case.

Another useful site which seems to be collecting information on the case is The Memory Hole, which has links to most of the news reports on the case -- which have been damned few.

Bensman said he had no idea why CBS national news didn't pick up on their reportage: "I guess they didn't think it was important enough." But he said the station has been gathering more information on the case and will be doing a follow-up report sometime in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I'll be pursuing other aspects of the case and will report back here as info emerges.

[Thanks to Danny Levitas for forwarding the DOJ memo.]

Patriots marching onward

I'm a little late posting on this case, but it's well worth noting, from South Carolina:
STANDOFF ENDS: 2 Abbeville lawmen killed; gunman captured

ABBEVILLE -- A county sheriff’s deputy and a constable with the magistrate’s office were killed Monday in a standoff with a gunman at a home along S.C. 72. At midnight, investigators were still trying to make sense of Monday’s violence, but discovered enough to suggest the standoff was not the act of a desperate man.

According to State Law Enforcement Chief Robert Stewart, evidence collected at various sites around the county point to a carefully planned event.

Killed Monday were Deputy Dan Wilson and Constable Donnie Ouzts, 63, a former sheriff’s deputy.

Both men reportedly went to the home of Steven Bixby, 36, to serve a warrant that morning.

Ouzts was shot outside the home, officials said. Wilson’s body was later discovered inside the home, but Stewart said it was unclear how long he had been dead.

When the 14-hour standoff came to an end Monday night, Bixby and his parents, Rita and Arthur Bixby, were both in custody. Arthur Bixby was wounded when law enforcement officials stormed the home, while Rita Bixby was arrested following a less-dramatic standoff at Abbeville Arms, a nearby apartment complex.

In fact, the standoff was a carefully planned event -- as was, apparently, the murder of the two lawmen. The perpetrators, the Bixbys, in fact are members of the "Patriot" movement -- in particular, a legalistic subset . They originally hail from New Hampshire, where the family had a rather colorful career as leading movement figures in the Northeast. In fact, she was what is commonly referred to as a "paper terrorist":
Years before she and her husband moved to Abbeville at the end of 2000 to be with her fugitive son, the Bixby matriarch had terrorized neighbors and public figures with sham lawsuits and fanciful legal arguments based on "Common Law" rights, according to court documents, government officials and those familiar with the family.

... When the Bixby’s lived in a three-bedroom, one story house on a small plot of land on route 25 in the town, Mr. and Mrs. Bixby typed up a "Notice and Demand" to the town’s selectmen, similar to a city council, claiming "our God given inalienable Right/Duty to defend our own Life, Liberty and Property at whatever peril to the thief or robber who assaults those rights."

She attached a "notice by affidavit" asking for a deduction on taxes for money spent by the "securalist" school district and the planning and zoning board that she didn’t recognize as legitimate.

They recently relocated to South Carolina because that is where Steven Bixby fled to in order to escape an arrest warrant on a probation violation for driving without a license.

For those unfamiliar with Patriots, it's useful to know that many of them believe that once they've declared themselves "sovereign citizens," they no longer need bother with licenses and other permits from the "illegitimate" government. They also believe that their property rights are supreme and will gladly shoot anyone who tries to take it from them, even if they are lawful authorities (see, e.g., the Montana Freemen standoff).

I won't even ask my usual rhetorical question about how this story would have been handled had these perps been Islamist radicals. But I will observe that, as usual, this case is being treated by media and law enforcement as an "isolated event."

Hey, whaddya know? Here's another "isolated incident," this time from Utah:
Metro unit hits Aryan gang with indictments

A federal indictment unsealed Wednesday accuses a dozen Utah men of carrying out violent crimes both inside and outside of the state's prisons as members or associates of the Soldiers of the Aryan Culture, a gang that operated a methamphetamine ring throughout the state.

... However, Robertson says, racial concerns are not the primary motive for the Utah gang. The main objective of members, many of whom are well-educated, is to promote meth use and sales.

The attempted murders, extortions and threats alleged in the indictment date to 1997. The victims are all identified as John Does.

Well, it's Orrin Hatch-land. What do you expect?

And, hey! Lookit here in suburban Maryland. Another "isolated incident":
Leaflets Spreading Message Of Hate

The leaflets -- which usually have been enclosed in plastic, weighted with pebbles and distributed at night by members of a white supremacist group called the National Alliance -- advertise politics of total racial segregation.

The fliers have cropped up in Crofton, Arnold and Edgewater, and in several neighborhoods in Annapolis, including Admiral Heights, Germantown, Murray Hill and Eastport.

Police cannot take any action against the fliers because they are constitutionally protected speech.

The leaflets have appeared off and on in the county over the last several years, but the National Alliance's widespread campaign in the past two months has jolted residents who might not have thought of Anne Arundel as a magnet for the attention of racist groups.

... While the numbers are not large compared with those in neighboring counties -- in the same year, Baltimore County reported 55 hate crimes and Howard County reported 24 -- Anne Arundel has nonetheless gained a reputation for racial tension.

In just the past few years, the former schools superintendent was subjected to a racially motivated death threat, a church was defaced with swastikas and pro-Ku Klux Klan graffiti, and monuments to "Roots" author Alex Haley and the county's first black legislator, Aris T. Allen, were vandalized.

A few months ago, Tucker Carlson -- in a Salon interview with Kerry Lauerman -- voiced the conventional right-wing wisdom about extremists and the problem they represent:
How many white supremacists are there in America? There are about nine, and they're all mentally retarded.

If only.

Spreading the discourse

Andy Denhart put up a nicely edited version of "The Political and the Personal" at his Web site, reality blurred, retitled "Uncivilized Discourse."

It looks a lot better there than it does on my crappy blog. (I really am planning to revamp the site soon, but it's now been pushed into next year.) And Andy did a nice job of tightening it up.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Thought crimes, Newspeak, and 2004

It obviously hasn't yet occurred to our noble defenders of American liberty on the right, but the proliferation of the "dissent is treason" meme represents a significant phenomenon: namely, conservatives are in the process of creating a genuine "thought crime."

Treason is, after all, a serious crime -- one that once instantly warranted hanging, a punishment that is still a favored remedy for liberalism among the more primitive sectors of the right. And according to these mighty thinkers, merely holding anti-war or (especially) anti-Bush positions amounts to such an offense. As Ann Coulter puts it, "Liberals have a preternatural gift for always striking a position on the side of treason."

There is no small irony in this, of course, because Republicans have been busy warning us that it is liberals who are planning to deluge democracy with an onslaught of "thought crimes" -- see, e.g., the abominable Tammy Bruce. [What were we just saying about projection?] The centerpiece of this line of argument, even more than the supposed epidemic of "political correctness," is that the most prominent of these "thought crimes" comes in the form of "hate crimes."

As I've discussed previously, opposition to bias-crime legislation is a significant component of the mainstream GOP's willing promotion of the religious right's agenda. A bevy of non-religious arguments are offered against the laws, but few of them bear up to close scrutiny. At the end of the day, it's clear that the bills are killed solely because the religious right is feverishly opposed to "the homosexual agenda," and since all post-1998 hate-crimes legislation (appropriately) expands the definitions of the laws to include violence against gays and lesbians, the laws themselves have come under severe attack.

One of the most common of these non-religious arguments raised by mainstream Republicans -- and even the religious right -- is the contention that the laws create "thought crimes." I first heard this claim, incidentally, at an Aryan Nations rally in the late 1980s; by 1999, it was being proffered by the Family Research Council in opposing the Hate Crimes Prevention Act:
"We call it the thought crimes act," said Robert Regier, a policy analyst in the Cultural Studies Department of the Family Research Council, in an interview with CNS.

The "thought crimes" argument begins with a seemingly reasonable and simple argument: A simple assault will bring, perhaps, a two-year sentence; an assault committed with a bias motivation may bring as many as five. The only difference is in the thoughts of the perpetrator; therefore, the laws punish him for his thoughts. This, they argue, is in clear violation of the First Amendment protection of free speech.

Of course, as I've noted, the perpetrator's mens rea, or mental state, in fact is a fundamental feature of determining the severity of punishment for a broad range of crimes. The hate-crime laws currently on the books no more create thought crimes than do tougher sentences for first-degree murder.

The Supreme Court indeed dismissed in 1992, with its R.A.V. v. St. Paul ruling, an earlier version of some hate-crime laws for violating First Amendment principles. But the now commonly accepted form of bias-crime laws was endorsed unanimously by the Court a year later in Wisconsin v. Mitchell, an opinion authored by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. That ruling explicitly found that the laws, by focusing on criminal acts that are not protected the First Amendment, are perfectly constitutional.

Put simply: The First Amendment protects speech, not conduct -- thoughts, not crimes. One cannot commit a crime and simply claim it as an act of free speech. An assassin cannot kill the President and pretend he is protected by First Amendment rights to political speech.

Indeed, underlying many of the arguments offered by opponents of hate-crime laws (reflected, for instance, in the Traditional Values Coalition’s charge that they are "anti-Christian") is the notion that criminal behavior (such as assaulting or threatening a gay person) somehow deserves First Amendment protections. But crimes are not a form of free speech. Gay-bashing is no more a right than is lynching or even, say, assassinating the president. Political thought may motivate all of them, but that doesn't mean the Constitution protects any of them.

However, it is worth noting that the speech-conduct distinction drawn by the Court is not without its problems, in no small part because speech and conduct are so often inextricable. As bias-crime legal expert Frederick Lawrence observes, "applying the distinction between conduct and expression requires a process that assumes its own conclusions. That which we wish to punish we will term 'conduct' with expressive value, and that which we wish to protect we will call 'expression' that requires conduct as its means of communication."

On the other hand, Lawrence points to the distinction between bias crimes and their underlying parallel crimes, which in effect create two tiers of evidence for any kind of hate-crime prosecution to succeed. At both tiers, the criminal's mens rea is an essential component. In the first tier of a crime -- say, an assault -- the intent to commit the crime still must be established; at the second tier, both the first-level intent and the second-tier bias motivation must be proven. For a bias-crime prosecution to succeed, it must establish both tiers of mens rea.

Thus someone who merely partakes of hate speech, with no intent to intimidate, is guiltless of a hate crime, because the first tier of motivation is absent, and thus no free-speech rights have been infringed upon. But because menacing and intimidation, all of which in fact take the form of words alone, are punishable crimes in every state, anyone using hate speech to terrorize his neighbors has partaken of a bias crime.

Consider, for instance, the example of cross burning. A white supremacist who burns a cross at a private rally is undoubtedly voicing a kind of racial hate, but there has been no attempt to intimidate or menace anyone, and no crime has been committed. Likewise, someone who, say, dumped garbage on a black neighbor's lawn would only be guilty of harassment or intimidation, not a bias crime (unless, of course, evidence existed he had done so because of the neighbor's race). But someone who burns a cross on his neighbor's lawn has clearly committed a hate crime, because he has both the intent to intimidate and racial bias as his motivation.

In this sense, hate-crime laws avoid running afoul of the First Amendment in the same fashion as any other of the myriad sentence-enhancement laws, including anti-terrorism statutes, because they all reflect the differences in mens rea among acts that are already established crimes. More to the point, there are limits to free-speech rights; threats and intimidation are already illegal, as are incitement to riot, incitement to murder, and other kinds of speech.

And indeed the Supreme Court recently has moved in this direction in upholding the constitutionality of hate-crime laws. The recent cross-burning case, Virginia v. Black, produced a March 2003 ruling (authored by Sandra Day O'Connor) that followed this logic closely. The state of Virginia, the Court said, was well within its rights to outlaw cross-burnings meant to intimidate:
The protections the First Amendment affords speech and expressive conduct are not absolute. This Court has long recognized that the government may regulate certain categories of expression consistent with the Constitution. … For example, the First Amendment permits a State to ban "true threats," … which encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. … The speaker need not actually intend to carry out the threat. Rather, a prohibition on true threats protects individuals from the fear of violence and the disruption that fear engenders, as well as from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur. … Intimidation in the constitutionally proscribable sense of the word is a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.

At the same time, the court threw out the provisions of Virginia's law that would have made any cross-burning a de facto attempt to intimidate and thus proscribed. This is, again, consistent with the logic proposed by Lawrence (who, as it happens, helped advise the attorneys arguing the Virginia case).

Hate-crime statutes are still evolving as a matter of law, and will continue to do so for years. What the body of these rulings makes clear, however, is that the bias-crime laws now on the books do not create "thought crimes," nor do they chill or suppress anyone's right to speak and think freely. They simply punish the decision to act inappropriately upon those thoughts -- by committing what is already a crime. As such, they just remove the fig leaf of "free speech" from crimes that clearly harm both individuals and society.

The most important thing to understand about hate crimes, in fact, is the extent to which they represent what Yale professor Donald Green calls the "dead-weight loss of freedom" that they engender. Consider, if you will, the larger purpose of hate crimes: to threaten and intimidate every member of a target community, to "send a message" that their mere presence is not tolerated. As Green puts it:
I think if you had to kind of step back and ask, 'Does hate crime pay?', you'd say yes. If the point of hate crimes is to terrorize the population into maintaining boundaries between these perpetrators and the victimized populations, at least in some areas -- certain parts of town, certain parts of the country, et cetera -- you know, certain kinds of romantic relationships, whatever -- then it does succeed in that. Because people really do feel that they have to constrain their behavior lest they open themselves up for attack. You know, gay men don't often hold hands in public. Black and white couples don't form spontaneously to the extent that you might expect based on their daily interactions.

There are a lot of instances like that -- and you know, we all probably have interactions with people who, when they're invited to a certain part of town, say, 'Oh, I better not go there.' From my standpoint, you tend not to attract much notice from policymakers, but I think of that as a massive dead-weight loss of freedom.

The reality is that, contrary to the groundless claims of conservatives, hate-crimes laws are not about impinging on people's freedoms -- they are about enhancing them. The only freedom upon which the laws impinge is the freedom to commit violence against your fellow citizens -- and that is not a freedom any of us, I think, are willing to recognize in a lawful society.

The "thought crimes" opposition to hate-crimes laws is thus a kind of Newspeak: it depicts the laws as something to which they are in fact directly contrary. As I discussed awhile back, the essence of Newspeak is to render the meaning of words empty by assaulting them with falsification -- especially by positing a concept's near-opposite as its equivalent ("war is peace," "ignorance is strength").

It is not exactly a surprise, of course, that the GOP is using Newspeak to assault the concept of hate crimes. Most notably, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay recently made a distinctly Newspeak-driven reference to the concept when he accused Democrats, after their successful filibuster of the court nomination of Miguel Estrada, of "a political hate crime" -- a charge that, of course, enjoyed considerable circulation in right-wing circles.

There was no small hypocrisy in this charge. DeLay, after all, almost singlehandedly prevented the Hate Crimes Prevention Act from becoming law in 1999, and likewise killed its successor, the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, in 2000. On both occasions, the bill had passed the Senate was headed for easy passage in the House, and would have been signed into law by President Clinton. On both occasions, DeLay used hardball tactics to kill it behind closed doors.

Moreover, as O. Ricardo Pimentel observed at the time, Republicans were not exactly in a position to complain about racially tinged refusals to approve minority judicial nominees -- since they had themselves blocked six of Clinton's Latino nominees.

The unnoticed but significant aspect of DeLay's newfound admiration for the notion of "hate crimes" was the way it muddled that very concept. A hate crime is in fact a bias-motivated crime. No aspect of Democrats' opposition to Estrada, in fact, suggested a racial bias on their part, except for the mere fact of Estrada's race -- which in the case of an actual crime, does not constitute evidence of a bias motive. Underpinning DeLay's claim is the suggestion that Estrada should have gotten a free ride merely because he was Latino -- a racially condescending position of the kind that Republicans themselves often accuse liberals of indulging.

And what exactly is a "political crime" anyway? Holding impeachment hearings in a case whose foundations are laughable, perhaps? Smearing a judicial nominee as "pro-criminal"? No, of course not -- as Pimentel suggests, it isn't a crime if it's committed by a Republican.

When Republicans suddenly -- in the name of attacking liberals -- embrace concepts that they formerly had vociferously attacked, it's a clear signal that they are engaging in Newspeak. DeLay's remarks were no exception.

But they were only the beginning of a fresh Republican foray into using Newspeak not only to attack the concepts of "hate crimes" and "hate speech," but to inject the Newspeak into the 2004 presidential campaign.

The most recent permutation of this strategy is directly tied to the "Bush hatred" meme now on the lips of every conservative -- which, it has become clear, is being closely associated with the "dissent is treason" meme. This was on public display when GOP officials announced a couple of weeks ago that they intended to use the "war on terrorism" as a major campaign centerpiece in 2004:
The strategy will involve the dismissal of Democrats as the party of "protests, pessimism and political hate speech," Ed Gillespie, Republican National Committee chairman, wrote in a recent memo to party officials -- a move designed to shift attention toward Bush's broader foreign policy objectives rather than the accounts of bloodshed. Republicans hope to convince voters that Democrats are too indecisive and faint-hearted -- and perhaps unpatriotic -- to protect US interests, arguing that inaction during the Clinton years led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Brendan Nyhan at Spinsanity put together a thorough response to this atrociousness:
The Republican assault on "political hate speech"

Like "Enronomics" and "Daschlenomics", "political hate speech" is a carefully crafted term designed to create a hazy, non-logical association between two concepts. In this case, the phrase associates criticism of the president with "hate speech," which generally refers to speech that attacks others on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Of course, some rhetoric directed toward President Bush could fairly be described as hateful (just like any politician), but Republicans have used the term sweepingly to try to delegitimize nearly all criticism of Bush, regardless of its substance. This is a key tactic of political jargon, which often seeks to undermine the legitimacy of criticism by invoking hazy but powerful emotional symbols.

In addition, the phrase reverses the term "hate speech" by directing it back at liberals (another classic jargon tactic), who are associated with the term due to speech codes proscribing "hate speech" at certain colleges and universities. The use of the term "political hate speech" against Democrats thereby imparts an implicit, largely non-rational accusation of hypocrisy, even though no evidence is provided that the candidates in question support prohibitions on hate speech.

The aspect of this that Spinsanity overlooks, of course, is the way it degrades the notion of hate speech -- and by unspoken extension, of hate crimes. The term "hate speech," in fact, is derived conceptually from "hate crimes" (which in turn was the progeny of the term "hate groups"). Both concepts, as Nyhan observes, are fairly specific in their purpose, intended to identify behavior that exudes from racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic hate groups. They are not about "hate" generically but about a specific range of behavior. Conservatives, though, make considerable hay by referring instead to generic hate, creating misunderstandings that appear entirely intentional.

All told, the GOP strategy is astonishingly audacious: Making Democrats out to be irrational "haters" capable of treason, springboarding from rhetoric that dilutes the reality of bigoted hate speech and hate crimes and debases the public's understanding of them. And the cumulative effect is to lay the groundwork for creating the thought crime of questioning the president. It is already the dominant kind of "political correctness" in the country. How long before the yahoos' agitation becomes formalized?

These attacks have consequences well beyond the 2004 election. If the GOP succeeds in using Newspeak to turn "hate speech" into a "liberal" trait, then it will be only a little while before the real stuff starts turning up in greater volumes -- with preordained justification from conservatives. After all, such "hate speech" is seemingly about to be declared treason. But it isn't "hate speech" to denounce traitors, even in the language of vicious bigotry. It's "patriotism."

This strategy goes beyond being merely ballsy. It is, in fact, diabolical.

Line 'em up

The "dissent is treason" meme progresses yet another step:
Of course, Al-Quada and every other major terrorist organization are also rooting for a Democratic victory over President Bush. Do we see a disturbing pattern here? A vote for the Democrats in 2004 is a vote for Al Quada.

How long, exactly, before we ban Democrats from the polling booths?

Tuesday, December 09, 2003


There was a fascinating exchange the other day at one of Oliver Willis' threads regarding the violent eliminationism that cropped up recently in a letter to the editor at a Texas newspaper -- part of a trend I've discussed here at length.

To his good credit, John Cole expressed his well-earned disgust with the letter. But in response, Misha of the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler (whose own predilection for eliminationist rhetoric has been duly noted) chimed in:
'Cept number 2 is absolutely right. Keep up this pandering to every treasonous twit that chooses to aid and comfort our enemies, and we're going to have a LOT of dead Americans before people wake up and realize that we're at war.

You may think that people encouraging our enemies to continue fighting by showing them that they have an effect is "harmless", John, but you'd be wrong. Dead wrong.

Put it this way: What do you think would've happened if people had turned out in the streets in, say, 1942, demanding that we surrender to Nazi Germany and the Nips? You think that we'd have just coddled them and chastised anybody calling them traitors for "stifling their freedom of speech"?

We're at war. Keep denying it if you must, but it'll only make the awakening to reality all that much more painful, because there IS no "opting out" of this one.

It could not have been more clear that Misha was positively endorsing the use of violence against these alleged "traitors." This brought a quick, sharp response from Oliver Willis. Misha showed up in Willis' comment thread and offered a half-lame defense. Which in turn spurred this response, from someone named JR:
Folks like Misha are all talk. This guy is one of these chickenshits who can rant all they want in front of their computers but couldn't even win a one-on-one in basketball, much less an actual fight. Misha rants about the traitors. Who will he send to take out these traitors? Someone else. He talks about 'not breaking necks' so "we" won't get bored. Who's the "we", asshole? Does he mean that HE will do this? Or will he send someone else to deal with these alleged "traitors"?

Real men -- and women -- who have actually faced battle do not talk about such things in such a cavalier, casual fashion. The expression "war is hell" is not figurative.

Many of us who are against our Iraq boondoggle are not necessarily pacifists on principle. I, for one, will not attempt to simply talk any would-be attacker out of attacking me, only to sit around passively when they begin to attack. Some of us don't like violence, but still realize that, too often, the world is a violent place. If someone breaks into my house, he or she will meet any number of weapons very quickly. While I won't initiate a fight, I won't shy from one either. If someone attacks me on the street, watch out. I will do whatever I can to avoid the fight. But I also won't lose sleep if an attacker starts some shit and gets hurt, or worse, as a result.

Some of us think, however, that this current nonsense in Iraq is, well, nonsense. It made no sense before the war and makes less sense now.

I had folks who fought and died in the Revolutionary War for the freedoms that idiots like Misha want to rob us of. And while that includes Misha's right to speak, some of us take threats of physical violence very seriously. It's a step away from dialogue. It's a step toward chaos. I do not relish this direction. In fact, I fear that the polarized dialogue we hear in the country could lead to some serious problems. However, I also recognize it for what it is. Folks like Misha -- and Derik of that lovely letter that started this thread -- had better understand that, when my New Hampshire kin, buried all over that state, put "Don't Tread On Me" onto their state flag, they weren't just talking about some figurative treading. And their response wasn't, and mine won't, be some figurative response. I don't relish or desire a fight. But you threatened us. I get it.

The Misha's and Derik's and all the others who want to silence folks who have legitimate issues with our foolish course in Iraq are the traitors. They are traitors to the U.S. Consitution, which was instituted to "form a more perfect union." Protestors' freedom of speech deserves defending, figuratively or literally.

So I have this to say to the Misha's of the world: Try it, fuckhead. Just try it. Fuck with me or my folks and you will get hurt. Bad. I won't start this fight. But I will finish it. There will be others with me. Unlike you, we won't start this kind of shit. We will not threaten to strangle you for your speech. But do not confuse our desire for peace with credulity, weakness or cowardice.

That includes you, Misha.

I've been hearing exactly these kinds of sentiments coming from many, many liberals these days in direct response to this kind of threatening talk. Many of the people most likely to say these things are veterans. I can't say I endorse arguments that call for liberals "going to the carpets" in the Culture Wars -- at least not yet. But I can't say that the warnings are unwarranted.

Someone wrote me the other day and asked whether I thought liberals should be arming themselves:
I don't wish to be alarmist, but when the Freepers and Militias decide to act out their Turner-Diaries fantasies, perhaps with a wink and nod from a conservative administration, I don't want them to be the only ones with guns.

Well, I come from an ex-NRA family (Dad was a skilled gunsmith) and have always had a gun or two, but I don't think much about them when it comes to this kind of stuff. (Mine are mostly bird guns anyway.) Among the reasons for owning a gun, civil self-defense is possibly the least well-grounded, except at the most distant and desperate and least likely remove. Certainly the right-wing fetish for guns as a way to fend off the "New World Order" is one of the silliest pro-gun arguments in existence.

Moreover, we really haven't yet hit the point where the threats have moved beyond mere rhetoric. It's been all talk. Like JR, I'm not a reflexive peacenik, but I think the kind of fear suggested by my reader is disproportionate -- for now. If and when actual violence does result, you'll hear me change my tune.

However, the rhetoric is indisputably becoming both violent and eliminationist, which is often a precursor to actual violence (as as I've observed firsthand in local settings, and as we all experienced nationally in Oklahoma City). I think that alone is cause for concern.

But it's still at the stage where I think it's all bluff. As JR suggests, most of the time people like Misha are real-life cowards anyway. If we can nudge good-will, majoritarian conservatives like John Cole and Tacitus and David Brooks to denounce this kind of rhetoric as fervently as they decry the rather more tepid "Bush hatred" (hear anyone calling for Bush's death, guys?), there might be some hope.

On the other hand, I ain't exactly holding my breath.

Narcissus and Krauthammer

Well, I'm not a doctor like Charles Krauthammer. On the other hand, I also try hard not to be a dissembler or a hypocrite. Most of all, I think it's not a good idea to project.

What was especially bizarre about Krauthammer's recent column decrying Dean and "Bush hatred" was that, as a psychiatrist, he should know better than to degrade the seriousness of his profession by inventing and proferring for public consumption half-baked "maladies" such as his "Bush Derangement Syndrome." The nakedness of his double standard (the genuine derangement of Clinton's attackers goes down the memory hole, of course) is one thing, but practicing voodoo psychoanalysis for political profit reveals the real depths of Krauthammer's corruption.

It's not that psychology or psychiatric analysis are beyond the comprehension of lay people, either -- though bogus crap like Krauthammer's faux psychology certainly worsens that comprehension. Still, in my work as a journalist in dealing with criminals and extremists, a familiarity with psychological and psychiatric literature and current research is often a real necessity, and I've always tried to make sure my work is informed with that kind of background. I try to offer it in relevant doses for my readers as well.

I've had a certain exposure both to the psychiatric literature and the real-life examples of actual mental disorders (not invented ones) that crop up frequently in the criminal sphere -- particularly antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders. While it's important that lay people not attempt to draw too definitive of conclusions from such readings, they can be very illuminating.

With that in mind, some of you may enjoy this well-drawn exegesis on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, from Joanna Ashmun, a layperson with firsthand experience. Ashmun's work is solid.
The most telling thing that narcissists do is contradict themselves. They will do this virtually in the same sentence, without even stopping to take a breath. It can be trivial (e.g., about what they want for lunch) or it can be serious (e.g., about whether or not they love you). When you ask them which one they mean, they'll deny ever saying the first one, though it may literally have been only seconds since they said it -- really, how could you think they'd ever have said that? You need to have your head examined! They will contradict FACTS. They will lie to you about things that you did together. They will misquote you to yourself. If you disagree with them, they'll say you're lying, making stuff up, or are crazy.

Does this sound like anyone we know? Like, every conservative in the entire friggin' movement?

OK. OK. [Deep breath.] Let's not jump to conclusions. At the best, we can say this is only a narcissistic trait; it doesn't mean they're all narcissists. It does suggest that some of them probably are, though.

And of course, we've all known our share of liberal narcissists too. The syndrome by no means is relegated just to conservatives. But its behaviors are enjoying a real, shall we say, renaissance among the American right these days.

Speaking of Krauthammer, James Benajmin (who, by golly, is a doctor) at The Left Side of the Dial gives us some useful details about the nature of projection, which has been cropping up with increasing frequency on the right side of the dial:
What is projection? Freud viewed projection as an ego defense mechanism used to ward off anxiety. What the individual does is to attribute their undesirable traits onto someone else, thus enabling them to hate said others instead of themselves for possessing those undesirable traits. For example, a husband who has been carrying on an extramarital affair may project this undesirable quality onto his wife by showing suspicion towards her potential to be unfaithful. Let's face it, that various famous and obscuroid right-wingers have advocated violence against various liberal and/or Democrat targets is well-documented and need not be repeated here. To the extent that these people want to portray themselves as "reasonable" or "fair and balanced," such pronouncements by themselves or likeminded individuals has to be inducing some cognitive dissonance. What better way to handle a guilty conscience or to reduce the dissonance than to latch onto any angry rhetoric from one's political enemies and use it as "evidence" that those enemies are a bunch of hate-filled violent thugs.

At what point does it become a hall of mirrors? It's important to step back and do a reality check -- and especially to examine ourselves and ask if we're projecting our own undesirable traits onto Republicans, the same way they are doing to us.

But an inventory of the charges inveighed against conservatives by liberals, and particularly against Bush, shows little in the way of a mirror image or any serious projection. They are, indeed, largely factual, and there are no significant counterparts in liberal behavior. Leading the nation to war under false pretenses? A stream of blatant falsehoods? Violent eliminationist rhetoric? Antidemocratic policy initiatives? An illegitimate president? Conservatives make such countercharges all the time, of course -- in fact, they seem preoccupied with the "I know you are but what am I" form of argumentation -- but they never produce substantive evidence to support them. There is, on the other hand, a preponderance of evidence for the liberals' case, and they present it, often voluminously.

It's worth keeping in mind, moreover, that the factual evidence is always what separates the credible from the incredible, investigative reporters from conspiracy theorists. It should always be at the forefront of any arguments liberals use.

Still, as Ashmun subsequently notes:
[At this point, if you're like me, you sort of panic and want to talk to anyone who will listen about what is going on: this is a healthy reaction; it's a reality check ("who's the crazy one here?"); that you're confused by the narcissist's contrariness, that you turn to another person to help you keep your bearings, that you know something is seriously wrong and worry that it might be you are all signs that you are not a narcissist].

People with narcissistic personality disorders, it must be emphasized, can be extremely high-functioning. Some of them become political leaders, some are business icons, some are media, entertainment and sports stars. In my experience, network anchors, motivational speakers and fundamentalist preachers are extremely prone to the syndrome. Oh, and syndicated newspaper pundits.

A little more from Ashmun:
Narcissists I've known also have odd religious ideas, in particular believing that they are God's special favorites somehow; God loves them, so they are exempted from ordinary rules and obligations: God loves them and wants them to be the way they are, so they can do anything they feel like -- though, note, the narcissist's God has much harsher rules for everyone else, including you.

That sounds very much like a particular Republican I know of. Of course, so does this:
Narcissists are totally and inflexibly authoritarian. In other words, they are suck-ups. They want to be authority figures and, short of that, they want to be associated with authority figures. In their hearts, they know they can't think well, have no judgment about what matters, are not connected with the world they inhabit, so they cling fanatically to the opinions of people they regard as authority figures -- such as their parents, teachers, doctors, ministers. Where relevant, this may include scientists or professors or artists, but narcissists stick to people they know personally, since they aren't engaged enough with the world to get their authoritative opinions from TV, movies, books or dead geniuses/saints/heroes. If they get in trouble over some or another opinion they've put forth, they'll blame the source -- "It was okay with Dr. Somebody," "My father taught me that," etc. If you're still thinking of the narcissist as odd-but-normal, this shirking of responsibility will seem dishonest and craven -- well, it is but it's really an admission of weakness: they really mean it: they said what they said because someone they admire or fear said it and they're trying to borrow that person's strength.

Mm-hm. And then this:
Narcissists feel entitled to whatever they can take. They expect privileges and indulgences, and they also feel entitled to exploit other people without any trace of reciprocation.

Well, I remain professionally reluctant to draw definitive conclusions from any of this. But sometimes I feel as though the clue-by-four has been hitting us upside the head for about three years now.

[Thanks to Maia, who has been discussing this piece at Salon's Table Talk.]

Anthrax redux

I've mentioned previously that the best thing about running this blog has been the great mail I receive. The latest is from reader jsg, responding to my recent posts on the anthrax case. It seems jsg knows whereof he speaks:
Based on the Science article, I would say that the anthrax probably wasn't made at Frederick. Battelle seems to have much more experience with making weaponized anthrax. What struck me in the Science article was that Battelle has made some for DARPA and the army. I have felt for a while that it was possibly DARPA or some other rogue govt agency that did the attacks (CIA, NSC, DIA, JCS or some other I've never heard of). It was, after all, sent to Democratic Senators who were opposing the so-called "Patriot act" at the time. I believe it was an attempt to get more govt money for bioterrorism defense or research and to pass the Patriot act. I have no direct evidence whatsoever, except that as a government microbiologist (NIH), I don't believe just any jamoke could make this substance. Especially if polymerized glass was an ingredient.

Initially, I also thought it was the "camel clubbers" or their sympathizers because of the letter to the FBI before the first death. Now, my feeling is that this letter was sent by the actual terrorists as a kind of plausible deniability factor. A well prepared state government would not send anthrax cold without also setting up a potential perpetrator, who in reality had nothing to do with the mailings. I believe both Hatfield and Assaad were such potential perps. There was also an anonymous mailing to the FBI, I believe, that resulted in the discovery of the glove hood in the Frederick pond.

Side thought: remember that hokey idea propounded by the FBI that the anthrax was prepared underwater in plastic bags? Leave it to the FBI to come up with a doozey like that! If anyone can screw up this investigation, it is the FBI.

You may think I'm some kind of conspiracy nut. Or tinfoil hat type. I'm not. I believe in the lone gunman theory of the Kennedy assassination. Unfortunately, in this situation, it appears that the most likely candidates for the terrorists are in the US military or intelligence. They had the know-how, when no one else did. They had the motive. And they had precedent.

By precedent, I am referring to a couple of admittedly vague things. One, that Northwoods thing, where the US intelligence community came up with a plan to assasinate US citizens in US cities for some idiotic purpose. My understanding is that they would have carried through if it weren't for the president intervening. Two, medical experimentation on unwitting humans, such as the Tuskeegee syphilis studies, the army LSD studies, and the "learned stuttering" thing. Three, DARPA -- and Poindexter, who was running it -- have been involved in some pretty unusual, but in perspective tamer things, such as Total Information Awareness, the market to predict terrorism and the whole Iran-contra affair.

But when you get right down to it, we just don't know. I don't have a lot of faith in the FBI, but it looks like they are our only hope.

His analysis mostly concurs with mine (as well as a few other analysts I happen to know), though I'm not yet ready to exonerate the "Camel Clubbers."

More political, more personal

Mary Ratliff at Pacific Views offers a thoughtful follow-up to "The Political and the Personal" that decidedly contributes to the conversation:
Throwing Gasoline on the Fire

Being challenged in your beliefs and your approaches is one of the best ways to understand the inherent problems with your approach and to find ways to improve your policies and your ideas. We really do do better if we have honest challenges that forces us to examine our ideas and our solutions. In a real democracy where everyone is heard and considered before coming to a consensus, all the stakeholders in the community build the policy with which they all can live with and support. This was the magic of the representative democracy our forefathers wanted to create, and now the tactics of the Republicans are destroying our ability to make it work because it requires trust.

Yet without some basic sense that the other side will treat you decently, the concept of turning power over to the other is inconceivable especially if you believe the other side's goal is to smash you. also makes a substantial contribution:
I do think that the impact of what is sometimes called the Mighty Wurlitzer - the vast echo-chamber of the right-wing propaganda machine - remains under appreciated. (The appropriation of the term Might Wurlitzer for this is somewhat unfortunate, as it originally denoted a CIA-funded plot to hire journalists and salt their work. There is absolutely no evidence that IĆ¢€™m aware of suggesting that the modern equivalent of the five-minute hate campaign is funded or directed by a government agency.) Whether the modern, private, propaganda machine is self-organized, or more centrally funded and directed, is less important than the legal regime that protects and enables it and which it in turn reinforces: media concentration, abandonment of requirements that holders of valuable monopolies on public airwaves make an attempt at balance, and a reality (with many causes) in which Clinton was savaged even worse than he deserved, and candidates like Bush and Schwarzenegger can say blatantly false things and only the blogs seem to care.

Both are well worth reading in full, of course.

Blog biz and boasts

Did I happen to mention that I hit 300,000 visits a couple of weeks ago? I'm a little awestruck, and humbled, by the numbers. I'll be having a one-year anniversary next month, and I have to say I never reckoned on drawing such an audience.

Certainly, I think it refutes the many editors and publishers who have been telling me for years now that there isn't an audience for this kind of work, and that no one really cares about the far right anyway.

Thanks to all of you for tuning in.

In the meantime, I probably should note that Orcinus has been named one of the Top 10 Blog*Spot Sites this week by Blogger Forum -- whatever that means.

I hope everyone who wrote me e-mails the past few weeks will be patient. I'm trying to get to them all. In the meantime: Thanks!

And finally, I have to say I'm feeling pretty smart about this post today. (Note the date.)

Monday, December 08, 2003

Eliminationism, then and now

[Sign from a community near present-day Kirkland, Washington, taken circa 1944.]

Atrios and Pandagon have already been all over Adam Yoshida's "interesting" post that essentially calls for violent confrontations with antiwar liberals -- treating them as "fifth columnists" and bringing the full brunt of social approbation, both legal and extralegal, to bear upon them.

Obviously, these remarks are precisely part of the problem I've been discussing lately regarding the increase of violent eliminationist rhetoric aimed at liberals. Indeed, Yoshida is simply putting into plain speech what lurks behind a lot of other conservatives' rhetoric when casting dissent as treason (Atrios has even more on this).

What is even more remarkable to me about Yoshida's piece, in fact, is how closely it reminds me of the rhetoric that was common in the spring of 1942 -- when all the talk was about the "fifth column" that was surely in their midst, and how because "this is war," something had to be done about them.

The "fifth column" being, of course, Japanese Americans, as well as any white "Jap lovers" who might have the temerity to defend them.

Some samples:
This is a race war! The white man’s civilization has come into conflict with Japanese barbarism. ... Once a Jap always a Jap. You cannot change him. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. ... I say it is of vital importance that we get rid of every Japanese, whether in Hawaii or on the mainland ... I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii, now and putting them in concentration camps... Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now!

-- Rep. John Rankin, D-Mississippi, Dec. 8, 1941, on the House floor

... I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don’t mean a nice part of the interior, either. Herd 'em up, pack 'em off and give 'em the inside room of the badlands. Let 'em be pinched, hurt, hungry and dead up against it. ... Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.

-- Conservative columnist Henry McLemore, Jan. 30, 1942, column titled "This Is War! Stop Worrying About Hurting Jap Feelings"

A Jap is a Jap. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen; theoretically he is still a Japanese, and you can't change him. You can't change him by giving him a piece of paper.

-- Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, chief of the Western Command, in congressional testimony

The Japanese are among our worst enemies. They are cowardly and immoral. They are different from Americans in every conceivable way, and no Japanese who ever lived anywhere should have a right to claim American citizenship. A Jap is a Jap anywhere you find him, and his taking an oath of allegiance to this country would not help, even if he should be permitted to do so. They do not believe in God and have no respect for an oath. They have been plotting for years against the Americas and their democracies.

-- Sen. Tom Stewart, D-Tennessee, on the Senate floor

The bill that Stewart was sponsoring, in fact, would have stripped even the Nisei -- people of Japanese descent born on American soil -- of their citizenship. This bill was enthusiastically embraced on the West Coast, though it ultimately did not pass. One of its supporters was a letter writer to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Charlotte Drysdale, who opined (while extolling Americans' ability to adapt to the agricultural losses that loomed from closure of the Japanese American farms):
We had gardens long before the Japs were imported about the turn of the century, to work for a very low wage (a move for which we are still paying dearly) and we can still have them after we have no Japs.

Isn't that discounting American ability just a little too low?

And by Americans I mean not the children of the races ineligible to naturalization. The mere fact that a child is born in this country should not give him the rights and privileges of citizenship.

The fourteenth amendment, granting automatic citizenship to American born, was placed there for the protection of the Negro and at that time the great infiltration of Japs was not even thought of. In recent years there has been so much fear of hurting the feelings of these people that no one has had the courage to try to rectify the situation. Now it would seem that the time is ripe to put things right, for once and for all time.

Indeed, letters to the editor were all abuzz with similarly eliminationist talk. Probably the most exemplary of these was another P-I letter writer named W.W. Mason, who made the following observation in defense of the concept of rounding up Japanese Americans and incarcerating them:
If there be those who would say we can’t do this to citizens, let them remember that we took this country from the Indians, killed thousands of them, arbitrarily moved other thousands from their homes to far distant lands, and to this day have denied them the rights, duties and privileges of citizenship.

If we could do that to the Indians, we can do something about the Japs.

Let’s do it now!

There were, of course, voices of white dissent, but they were angrily dismissed as "Jap lovers" and scorned as disloyal. Even in supposedly civil settings, the threatening contempt was unadulterated.

Congressional hearings were held in the spring of 1942 to determine whether or not evacuation and incarceration of "enemy aliens" was the proper course. Chaired by Rep. John Tolan of California, two hearings -- one in California, one in Seattle -- were held in which the public was invited to express its views. In both hearings, the eliminationist rhetoric was rampant, and the conclusion the committee was to reach was transparently predetermined (indeed, Roosevelt has already signed Executive Order 9066, which enabled the internment process, two weeks before).

Nonetheless, there were a few who spoke out against the internment -- primarily local church officials. In Seattle, the Rev. Harold Jensen testified as a representative of the Seattle Council of Churches against the transparent discrimination against Japanese the evacuation represented. His testimony provoked the most revealing exchange of the hearing's two days.

"This (discrimination) is due partly to prejudice and partly to fear and hysteria augmented by unfortunate events in the Pacific," he said. "But I see no reason to question the loyalty of Japanese-American citizens more than any other second-generation citizens.

"In America we're famous for our humanity and internationality. I'm definitely opposed to mass evacuation unless it is a military necessity."

"You must realize we're at war with an enemy who does not share our views," retorted Rep. Laurence Arnold, -Illinois.

"Many people there do share them," Jensen said.

"But they're not running this show," snarled Congressman George Bender of Ohio.

"I believe that's true," was Jensen's only reply.

At the end of the hearings, Tolan expressed satisfaction that the issue had been explored fairly. "I might say, it won’t be long now," he surmised.

Two days later, DeWitt announced that all persons of Japanese descent, citizen and alien alike, was to be evacuated from the West Coast. Six months later, 110,000 Japanese Americans were behind barbed wire in concentration camps.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

All in the family

The GOP goes Amway:
Party wants Republicans to turn in their friends

The Michigan Republican Party has asked its members to turn over holiday card lists -- complete with their analysis of the political and religious affiliations of their friends and family and their positions on issues such as abortion and gun control.

"Every party spends time and effort to identify voters, so we can get our message out," said Jeff Stormo, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party. "This is not an unorthodox method, but it is certainly new for us."

The GOP's "Holiday Hits 2003" list will be used to identify voters and possible volunteers for the effort to re-elect President George W. Bush and other Republicans.

Sounds like yet another pyramid scheme to me.

"Bush hatred" hits the road

It's now coming into focus that the "Bush hatred" meme is going to be the centerpiece of the Republican campaign. Check out their upcoming ad:
When Angry Democrats Attack!

Here's the e-mail, from Campaign Manager Ken Mahlman, sent out to people on the GOP's mailing list accompanying the release of this campaign ad:
Democrat candidates for President continue their angry, personal attacks while President Bush focuses on creating jobs, growing our economy, winning the war on terror and making sure our seniors have a prescription drug benefit.

How do Democrats respond to this historic record of accomplishment?

Howard Dean compares President Bush to the Taliban and calls him the "enemy" and "despicable." Dick Gephardt calls the President "a miserable failure." John Kerry compared President Bush to Saddam Hussein, called for "regime change" and accused him of fraud.

In order for you to see and hear for yourself the ugly things they say about President Bush we have created this video of just a few of these negative, personal comments by the Democrat presidential candidates.

President Bush's leadership has delivered the strongest economic growth in nearly twenty years that is creating jobs. On Monday he will sign into law historic health care reform that helps make prescription drugs more affordable for America's seniors and their families.

While President Bush is leading, Democrats are attacking and making this one of the nastiest, vicious and negative campaigns in American history.

As you see the angry, bitter Democrats smearing our President I hope you will choose to join this campaign and support our President by making your contribution today.

Ken Mehlman
Campaign Manager

PS: In four weeks the election year will be upon us. Please watch your inbox because over the next four weeks I will send you additional emails outlining what we are up against and how with your help we plan to re-elect President Bush and continue his leadership, his values, and his character working for us for another term.

Of course, what is most deeply ironic about this strategy is that underlying it is the suggestion that the anger directed at Bush is somehow analogous to Republicans' own deeply irrational behavior during the 1990s -- when "Clinton hatred" not only dominated the airwaves but was the raison d'etre of Republicanism. Republicans are well aware that there is considerable public fatigue with this style of politics -- and hope to exploit that by making Democrats out to be nasty folk.

In the meantime, of course, Republicans have been relentlessly nasty in casting liberals (or anyone who opposes his policies) as treasonous bastards -- with the accompanying hints of the fate that awaits traitors. There are even hints of this in the new ad, when it refers to Bush's "positive agenda for a stronger, safer, more prosperous America." We already know, of course, that this rhetoric is part of a strategy to cast Democrats as "unpatriotic." A recent version of this meme appeared here.

There are two effective ways of countering this attack:

-- Bring out the tapes of Republican mouth frothers attacking liberals. Show Ann Coulter calling for Clinton's "impeachment or assassination." Show Bill O'Reilly screaming, "Shut up! Just shut up!" Let's see some footage of Jesse Helms telling Clinton to bring bodyguards to North Carolina. Show George W. Bush calling Adam Clymer a "major league asshole," and Dick Cheney chiming in. Show the Freepers marching outside of Al Gore's residence during the Florida debacle, and the rent-a-rioters breaking up the recount in Miami.

And then say: "We're tired of pessimism and angry protest too -- especially the kind based on personal attacks and not policies."

-- Put up the facts to go with the angry rhetoric. After Dean's remarks about "fundamentalist preachers," show Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell agreeing that gays, lesbians and amoral liberals were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Gephardt's "war on the American people" comments should be accompanied by the numbers of job losses since Bush took office. Kerry's "regime change" remarks should be countered with shots of the "Mission Accomplished" landing, followed by the death toll in Iraq since that photo op. Gephardt's "miserable failure" remark can be followed by the numbers on the transformation from a record budget surplus to record-breaking federal budget deficits.

And then say: "Angry? You bet. Is it justified? You bet."

Finally, when it comes time to articulating their own vision, Democrats should make it very simple: "An America like the one we had before George Bush took office. Peaceful, prosperous, and fair."