Sunday, June 13, 2004

Proto-fascist thuggery

[San Franscisco gallery owner Lori Haigh, after being assaulted for displaying an antiwar painting.]

This is how it begins. One little step at a time.

A death threat here. A fistfight there. An act of vandalism here. An assault there.

Keep adding them up, and pretty soon something takes root. Something dark and hateful.

Consider what's been happening in the past few weeks, as bad news has mounted atop of scandal for George W. Bush and his dwindling base of supporters.

Two weeks ago, there was the vicious attack on gallery owner Lori Haigh in San Francisco's North Beach area. Haigh'd had the audacity to display a painting by artist Guy Colwell that depicted the torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. As the Chronicle reported:
Two days after the painting went up, Haigh arrived at her gallery to find broken glass, eggs and trash strewn outside her storefront. Haigh also began receiving the first of about 200 angry voice mails, e-mails and death threats.

A week ago, a man walked into the gallery and spat in Haigh's face. On Tuesday, Haigh decided to temporarily close the gallery and began to consider giving up on her dream of owning an art gallery. Just two days later, another man knocked on the door of the gallery and then punched Haigh in the face, knocking her out, breaking her nose and causing a concussion.

According to Fenimore Cooper, who has been tracking the Haigh case closely, haigh chose to close up shop, and Colwell has removed the painting from public display. So in a sense, despite the large show of support for Haigh, the thugs have won. For now.

It is worth noting that a San Francisco city supervisor named Aaron Peskin has proposed putting Colwell's painting on display at City Hall as a way of repudiating the intent of the thugs. Somewhat predictably, a local Republican dissented:
Prominent Republican Mike DeNunzio called Peskin's plan "a shame."

"I would have thought better of Aaron Peskin," he said. "There is no need for something like that -- obviously he has some need to preserve publicity."

DeNunzio said he would "have more respect for Peskin's conduct" if the supervisor were willing to decorate City Hall with images showing the other side of the story.

"Would he also like to put a photograph of the young man whose head was sawed off by terrorists?" asked DeNunzio. "Would he also like to put up photograph of the thousands of men and women who were murdered by Saddam Hussein?"

Sure, and he could display a picture of the Easter Bunny, too, since it would have as much bearing on a commentary regarding the behavior of American soldiers. There is no "other side of the story" when it comes to torture.

In any event, it's also worth noting that the thugs appear to still be at work:
In a related development, the owner of another North Beach art gallery -- Live Worms Gallery on Grant Avenue -- said someone has made a veiled threat against his gallery as well. Owner Kevin Brown said a man walked into his gallery and engaged him in a debate about the Capobianco attacks and the Iraq war in general. On his way out, he said, "you're next," according to Brown.

It may seem surprising that this played out in a liberal hotbed like San Francisco -- but that, frankly, is an accurate barometer of how broad, and how pervasive, the polarization that drives incidents like these has become. If it's getting bad in places like the Bay Area and Seattle, one can imagine what the atmosphere is like in rural areas, where antiwar sentiments are decidedly in the minority.

Only a few days before the Haigh incident, there was a similar problem with threats against an antiwar group in rural Nevada County, California.

A group of concerned parents planned to hold a meeting at the county schools office to talk about the presence of military recruiters in their schools. But when a cadre of local conservatives began calling in threats, the district simply cancelled the meeting, saying it feared "violence between Weiss' group and conservative activists."

Funny that, considering that conservatives were the folks making the threats:
When word spread that a room at the superintendent's office was to be used for the gathering, Republican Central Committee Chairman Tony Gilchrease raised an alarm via e-mail.

"Please note that this Peace Group of Anti-Americans and al Quida (sic) supporters, as far as I'm concerned, are holding their rally and 'training' at the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office," Gilchrease wrote to several dozen area residents the day before the scheduled meeting.

"I suggest that each one of you that feel as outraged as I am about this, call Terry McAteer, a Republican and the Nevada County School Supt. and tell him just how you feel about allowing this traitorous activity to occur on Nevada County school owned property."

Gilchrease wasn't available for additional comment Wednesday evening.

After a brief article about the meeting appeared in The Union on Friday and Gilchrease sent out his e-mail, McAteer said he received several angry phone calls and was threatened verbally over the use of the room for Weiss' group.

McAteer said he neither took names of callers nor reported threats to police, but he said he chose to ask Weiss to move the meeting for the safety of all involved.

This is how it happens on the small, mostly unnoticed level -- what Ann Coulter affectionately calls a little "local fascism."

The most interesting development in this trend, however, is the way it appears to be coalescing on a national level -- aimed particularly at the antiwar wing of the liberal bloc, in the person of filmmaker Michael Moore.

I'm not a huge Moore fan [though he'll always have a place of affection in my heart for three things: 1) His marvelous interviews of Robert Miles in Blood in the Face; 2) his interview of James Nichols in Bowling for Columbine; and for his "Pedophiles for Buchanan" donation stunt detailed in Downsize This!, my all-time favorite bit of guerrilla politics]. The downside to Moore is that he plays fast and loose with facts too often, which makes him something of a loose cannon who can be as much embarrassment as asset.

There has already been a huge outcry over Moore's forthcoming film, Fahrenheit 9/11, partly because the Disney Corp. killed its distribution deal for the film due to its anti-Bush content. The movie is being released anyway, and it's garnering lots of attention, pro and con, all of which no doubt will make it a box-office hit.

It has all the earmarks of being a kind of cultural watershed, a reverse image, as it were, of Mel Gibson's The Passion. Where conservatives organized an off-the-boards campaign to drive out support for Gibson's anti-Semitic exercise in masochism, they appear poised to do the same to keep Moore's film from being shown.

There has recently appeared a Web site calling itself "Move America Forward" -- which in turn is being promoted by the right-wing Web site NewsMax -- that is dedicated to shutting down showings of Fahrenheit 9/11, at least in part by urging the public to contact theater owners directly. The result, according to What Really Happened, is that some of these owners "are reporting receiving death threats."

WRH also reports that it ran a DNS check on the "Move America Forward" site and found that it is owned by the San Francisco public-relations firm of Russo Marsh & Rogers. Sal Russo, one of the firm's principals, has extensive GOP ties, including service as an adviser for the "Recall Grey Davis" campaign. (Kurt Nimmo has been tracking these developments as well.)

None of this will ever be directly connected to George W. Bush, of course. There's no need. There are too many people out there willing to do whatever it takes to keep him in office. Whatever it takes.

[Many thanks to the many readers who wrote in about the Haigh case, including Jeremy at Fantastic Planet, who has some good posts of his own on the subject; Julius Civitatus, who also has more photos; as well as Suzanne, Jake, Martha, Thom, Kevin and George. I intended to post on it earlier, but delayed a bit to ensure it wasn't a hoax. It wasn't.]

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