Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sara's Sunday Rant: The Ultimate Betrayal

by Sara Robinson

Less than two months ago, during my first week here at Orcinus, I wrote the second segment of my series, Cracks In The Wall (which Dave swears he's gonna put all the links to in the margin any day now, really). In that post, I combined John Dean's observations in his book Conservatives Without Conscience with my personal knowledge of the fundamentalist terrain, and listed some of the more common triggering events that inspire individual fundamentalists to start seeking alternatives to authoritarian religion.

The very first item I listed -- in no small part because, in my experience, it's the most important and common one of the bunch -- was Betrayal By Authority. Here's what I said about it:

Dean notes that authoritarian followers voluntarily choose their leaders, usually on the basis of how strongly those leaders support the follower's belief system. Cultural or political leaders who don't support the belief system (for example, federal court judges, scientists, progressive celebrities) are seen as illegitimate authorities, and become targets of followers' aggression.

We've all come up against these people, and have been totally confounded with their "my leader can do no wrong" attitude. They believe outrageous lies, and forgive all manner of sins. Democratic strategists keep trying to run campaigns that will reach these people on the basis of evidence and fact -- and are perplexed to find their attempts at education totally rebuffed. George Bush may have lied us into a war, wrecked our economy, saddled our great-grandchildren with debt, savaged the poor, and alienated the entire world; but he is Our Leader, and we will always take his word over anyone else's. We do not accept you as a legitimate authority. We don't care what you have to say, because you have no standing at all in our little world.

Mere political or cultural betrayal, no matter how destructive, does not cut through this piece of the wall. The guilt-evaporation process applies to both followers and leaders: you must forgive all wrongs committed by someone inside the fold. Our leader didn't lie; he was misunderstood, his words distorted by our enemies. Besides, he would never lie to us. Besides, he is just following orders -- or God's will, which is beyond our understanding. Besides, our own forgiveness depends on our ability to forgive, and so we will -- never mind the contradictions.

And yet, even so: There is one -- and only one -- sin so heinous that it cannot be rationalized away by the authoritarian thought process. It is this: the leader's main job is to protect his abused and terrified horde from personal harm (or, for that matter, any sudden negative change to their immediate status quo). A leader who wantonly allows one of his followers to intimately experience such harm breaks that contract. It is in that moment of betrayal that some followers come to their senses, and start looking for a reckoning.

It's important to note: the betrayal must be an intensely personal breach that has a deep, immediate, life-changing impact on the individual follower. Fundies don't think in abstracts. Big national debts, epic political prevarications, and other people's suffering (even on a global scale) do not impress them. But there are plenty of authoritarian parents across the country who proudly sent a son or daughter off to war -- and later received that precious child home under cover of darkness, in a wooden box, with minimal explanation. That's the kind of personal and profound loss I'm talking about. For many of these patriotic parents, it was also the searing moment of deep betrayal that broke the spell and shoved them off in the direction of the Wall.

Among fundies, the most common perpetrators of these betrayals are parents -- particularly fathers -- and pastors. As the most intimate authorities in their followers' lives, they're at close enough range to inflict the kind of high-impact personal damage that's necessary to create the first crack. Many of the ex-fundies I know made their break in the aftermath of sexual abuse, ruinous financial treachery, public humiliation, or power grabs that threatened their marriages or children. They saw, in devastatingly vivid color, what their leaders were capable of. Their endless loyalty was shattered, because they realized it was not being returned in kind.

Such betrayals break through because they offend several of the follower characteristics Dean lists. The betrayed follower is no longer bound to submit to or give loyalty to an unworthy authority. Nor are they bound by the rules, because the authority charged with enforcing them has broken them. (While this was forgiveable in the abstract, in this case the consequences are too personal and acute to ignore.) They are brought face-to-face with the contradictions and hypocrisies in a shocking and unforgiveable way. Having felt the sting of the leader's aggression, they may realize the true cost of aggressively defending that leader -- and thus become more acutely sensitized to intolerance, bullying, and mean-spiritedness.

Perhaps most importantly: having their own boundaries so heinously violated makes them suddenly aware (as most authoritarian followers are not) that they have their own legitimate emotional, physical, and social needs; and that they deserve to have those needs respected and met. Once that self-awareness is awakened, the soon-to-be-ex fundie can be seen making a beeline for the Wall.

Two months ago, I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that the Ultimate Betrayal would arrive so quickly. I doubt any of us could have. But that's exactly what we're seeing this week in the aftermath of the Hastert/Reynolds/Shimkus debacle.

As my theory predicted, the perpetrator was a conservative male in a position of authority, and the issue was sexual abuse. The Foley affair touches maybe a few hundred familes of pages and former pages, and a handful of members of Congress. Even so, it fits the above picture closely, because it's the kind of betrayal that every parent, no matter what their political persuasion, feels absolutely viscerally. We know, in our bones, that most of us would commit bodily mayhem on someone who attempted to molest our kids. It violates our most primal instincts, and awakens our will to righteous violence like few other threats in the human experience.

It may be even more acute for women -- and most especially, women in the red states. Blue-state women tend to be more worldly and educated, more aware of their rights, and thus more skilled in dealing with the world's ample supply of creeps. They also spend most of their time dealing with blue state men, who tend to be a bit more egalitarian in their habits (though, as anyone who watched Dateline last night knows, are apparently no less prone to move in on a 13-year-old if they think they can get away with it).

Red-state women are the ones who have to deal most intimately with overentitled authoritarian men who regard women as their property. They get to call cops who will decline to take reports or refer for prosecution; face down bosses who think that sexual access comes with the paycheck; and live their lives in the company of men -- even those in their own families who should know better -- who will do whatever it takes to convince themselves that "I know him -- he'd never do that" and besides, "she had it coming."

In this hostile environment, the only defense a woman has is bind herself to the contract that defines the conservative view of male-female relationships. She gives a man her devotion and submission. In return, he promises to provide for and protect her and her children -- even at the cost of his own life. That's the honor code "traditional families" live by, and the only safety women in authoritarian systems have.

These guys broke that contract. Conservative women put their trust in guys like Hastert. They gave him their devotion and support. According to the code, these guys were honor-bound to put themselves on the line for the women and children under their protective care. But when the bad guys came to town -- the very same bad guys they'd been specifically hollering about for decades as the number one reason that we all absolutely must submit to their protection -- our chicken-livered heroes were nowhere to be found.

For both male and female authoritarians followers, this is a profound moment of reckoning. We can make fun of the GOP's frantic attempts to evaporate guilt -- like I did in the post below -- because we know that this time, they've finally committed the offense that transcends any attempts at evaporation. There is nothing anyone can say to make this go away. There is no forgiveness possible. If you've spent 25 years insisting your first priority in the world was to protect people's kids from evil, and then you wantonly refused to stand up and act when evil appeared and the fate of children was directly in your hands, then you have deprived your followers of the shelter they thought they'd found in submitting to you. You have failed to deliver; and those who trusted you will rightly turn on you without mercy. That's why the faithful are experiencing this loss as a personal one. "They saw, in devastatingly vivid color, what their leaders were capable of. Their endless loyalty was shattered, because they realized it was not being returned in kind."

This week, the wall is going to come tumbling down for a great many soft-core authoritarian followers. They have, in my words, "been brought face-to-face with the contradictions and hypocrisies of their leadership in a shocking and unforgiveable way." According to their own values system, the GOP has proven itself to be an unworthy authority -- which means that they are no longer bound to give it their loyalty, submission, or support.

Now is the time for us to step forward and make a clear case that these are the consequences of supporting such people. More than a few of soon-to-be-former Republicans are going to be ready to hear what we have to say, and we need to be prepared to have those conversations.

A lot of the talk is likely to center on the strict sexual moral code of the "moral values" promoters. While the hard core followers will never let go of the belief that all gays are pedophiles, the more thoughtful soft core are going to be entertaining some disturbing realizations. Repression does not stop evil. Denial does not protect children. Whatever else happens, the right-wing's impossible ideological fantasies about power, sex, morality, and authority have been thrown open to re-examination.

If we're going to be ready to discuss this, there are a few things it's good to be clear on ourselves.

1. It was his own episode of sexual abuse, plus forty years in the closet, that warped Mark Foley. (Odds are that his abuser was warped for life in much the same way, as was his abuser, and on back into antiquity.) His secret devastated scores of families, his supporters, and the most powerful political party in the world. All this pain, all this damage, is precisely why the sexual abuse of children is such a heinous crime.

2. Studies done by the Commonwealth Fund and Guttmacher in the 90s found that, in America, 12% of boys and 25% of girls are sexually abused by the time they turn 18. Most of these kids, in one way or another, will never be the same.

3. It's not unusual for them to lose confidence in themselves, launching a lifelong pattern of underachievement that undercuts their ability to realize their talents and make their full contribution to our common enterprise.

4. Many of them struggle with sexual dysfunctions and emotional problems that will complicate marriage and parenthood in the years ahead, adding to our divorce and family woes.

5. They may lose track of their sense of personal boundaries, and thus are more likely to become sexually promiscuous or physically aggressive adults.

6. Later in life, they are more susceptible to chronic disease (the correlations between childhood abuse and the development of common autoimmune diseases like lupus, MS, or myalgic encephalomyelitis in later life among women are particularly staggering), which creates tremendous health care bills and deprives us of their productivity.

7. As I noted in an earlier post, many of them are drawn into authoritarian belief systems in an effort to control their unresolved pain -- which has important implications here for the continued health of our entire democracy.

8. And, of course, some percentage of those abused kids -- the vast majority of them boys -- will go on to become abusers themselves, thus perpetuating the damage for another generation.

None of this is trivial stuff. How can it be, when 18% of us -- over 50 million Americans -- are walking wounded? There's not a family in the country, red or blue, that's not been touched by the shadow of this crime. Every predator we stop now, and every kid we manage to protect, is an incremental step toward a much healthier society down the road. It's an investment in the future we can't NOT afford to make.

Creeps like Foley are a nasty little secret we can no longer afford to dismiss, ignore, shrug off, or shift the blame on. The equally dangerous creeps who did just that are no longer worthy to hold positions of power and authority in this country, either. And the everyday Americans who put those creeps in power in the first place should be forced to reckon with the fact that it was their own blind and misplaced support of that leadership that betrayed the pages and their families. The only silver lining is that those same choices betrayed 25 years of right-wing ambition as well.

Updated for corrections

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Usual Suspects

by Sara Robinson

Seven days since the Foley scandal broke, and the list of GOP-designated Official Scapegoats is already almost a dozen strong and still growing. So far, the list of possible fall guys and gals includes all the usual suspects, plus a few original ones:

The Democrats
The GOP Gay Cabal
The Catholic Church
Nancy Pelosi
Eve Ensler
Bill Clinton (yes, it's a stretch, but they couldn't walk away from it on a bet)
Tolerance and diversity training
The pages themselves

Or maybe it's nobody's fault. Apparently, if you're a Republican, this behavior can simply be considered normal. In that case: what's all the fuss about, anyway?

So far, they're only missing evolution, abortion, Al Qaida, and the International Zionist Conspiracy. Oh, yeah, and Denny Hastert and Tom Reynolds. But deflecting blame from them is the whole point of the exercise, so I doubt we'll be hearing much about them.

If you come across any more Usual Suspects to add to this list, drop 'em in the comments.

Final Update, Monday 10/9

OK, here's the full and complete list of Those To Be Blamed that our intrepid commenters have aggregated so far:

The Democrats
The GOP Gay Cabal
The Catholic Church
Nancy Pelosi
Eve Ensler
Bill Clinton
Tolerance and diversity training
The pages themselves
Their parents
The Liberal Media and
George Soros who not only counts for himself but also
The International Zionist Conspiracy

And the full list of Suspects To Be Named Later includes:

Secular Humanism
Al Qaida
Organized labor
The Freemasons
The UN Oil for Food program
Hybrid Cars
Industrial Hemp
Hugo Chavez
Harry Potter

Even if they don't get to all these scapegoats this time (though you're doing a great job, GOP -- keep up the good work!), keep this list handy for future scandals!

God, evolution, and guns

Josh Rosenau at Thoughts From Kansas spotted this banner from Answers from Genesis, making a connection we're starting to hear a lot more:

Those school shootings? Why, it's all because we teach evolution in the schools!

The script in the ad spells it out:
As a society, we reap the consequences of the unquestioned acceptance of the belief in evolution every day. It diminishes your worth and reduces human beings from being made "in the image of God" to being mere players in the game of survival of the fittest.

This is a line of reasoning we just heard in a more prominent place:
This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

Sadly, our schools are not safe. In fact, we now witness that within our schools. Our children have become a target of terrorists from within the United States.

What a strange, genuinely perverse view of evolution and biology. Properly taught, biology only tends to instill in students a deeper sense of wonder appreciation for nature -- for God's creation, if you will -- and for the intrinsic value of life. And "removing God from the classroom" only means ensuring that every student's religious beliefs are respected.

Let's be frank about what is involved in a majority of these high-school shootings: a psychotic reaction to a high-school culture that permits intensive and incessant bullying and social intimidation. The latter is decidedly a product of an authoritarian mindset; returning to a system of school-sanctioned fundamentalist religious beliefs -- with all their authoritarianism intact -- would only heighten these tendencies, creating greater stratification along religious lines and drawing clearer "in group" and "out group" classes.

Indeed, what's worth noting is that the most effective programs in defusing situations like those at Columbine and elsewhere are those that try to attack the culture of bullying. One of the foremost of these is the Teaching Tolerance program that focuses on promoting an environment of inclusiveness in our schools and short-circuiting the cliqueishness and bigotry that travels hand-in-glove with bullying behavior.

However, these same programs are under attack by the religious right precisely because they promote cultural tolerance and try to prevent bullying -- including the most common kind, gay-bashing. And of course, being multicultural in their orientation, these programs tend to undermine right-wing authoritarianism as well.

If fundamentalists want to point the finger of blame, they should be pointed to their own back yards.

After all, it should be noted that the ad above can easily be read another way: Not a Christian? Then your life is forfeit. This is a mentality that fits readily into the Christian warrior video-game mentality that keeps bubbling up from the religious right.

Fundamentalist Christians, in truth, have their own version of "survival of the fittest": Only those who are "saved" are worth saving, and the rest are condemned. If they want to know where kids get these attitudes, they should examine the messages they send them. This black-and-white worldview plays out in social groupings, in cliques, in deciding who gets bullied.

Where do kids get the idea that life is cheap, that the strong dominate the weak, that morality, honor and decency are irrelevant in a culture where winning is all that matters? They don't get taught that in their biology classes.

No, they get it every day in their schools from participating in the culture: from the jocks and "in group" kids who dominate; from the teachers who coddle them; and from the larger world around them, where the ethics-deprived are more likely to become rich and the ruthless more likely to succeed -- all part of a system of "free enterprise" capitalism that the fundamentalist right celebrates.

And if you don't fit in? Well, you're just worthless. A non-entity. Your life forfeit.

So when right-wing Christians run an ad with a gun pointing at us, regardless of what they think they might be saying, it's hard not to first recall just who it is that likes to stock up on those items in the first place. And who, down the road, we are more likely to be seeing on the other side of that barrel.

The Irony of It All

by Sara Robinson

In the end, it might just turn out that the net effect of the Foley debacle could be more evangelicals at the polls this fall -- as well as a much more complicated and nuanced gay rights debate in the years ahead.

The GOP has been worried about turning out their evangelical faithful this year -- and with good reason. James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and other leaders on far religious right have been squealing ever since last spring that the Republicans had better straighten up and deliver on their social agenda, or their voters might just stay home this fall. As summer turned to fall, their outrage got increasingly louder -- and the September polls began to back up the reality that this time, they may not be bluffing.

But, as Rove only knows, there's always a way to get those folks to the polls. They've been trained for 25 years to respond with Pavlovian reliability to the dog-whistle call of two issues -- abortion and gay rights -- by lining right up in front of the voting booths. If there are pregnant women to harass or faggots to flog, they will be there, salivating under their Sunday hats, without fail.

2006 was shaping up to be a quiet year on both fronts. Somehow, those brilliant GOP strategists weren't able to get anything issuized in time to hang a campaign on it. Maybe they noted the extreme disappointment on the far right, and made a calculated decision that the so-called values voters were getting too skeptical and restive, and wouldn't stand for another round of bait-and-switch. Maybe they were distracted, thrown off their game by the continuing stream of bad news from Iraq. For what ever reason, it was looking for a while there like this would be the first campaign year in memory without some abortion- or gay-related issue occupying the front and center of the GOP's campaign.

Foley changed all that. Ironically, the net effect of this debacle may be to bring the homosexual bogeyman back to the fore -- and, thus, the evangelical base back to the polls for an election they were otherwise determined to sit out.

You can see the outlines of this already spinning into place. The right-wing blogs and media are already inferring that this whole mess was the direct result of a "gay cabal" in the GOP that wielded enough power in the House to keep this thing covered up for over a decade. The implication will not be lost on the faithful: This is all the fault of those Satanic gays and their Satanic gay agenda again. Only this time, the conspirators are right here inside our own party! The only way to purge the evildoers will be to get out to the polls and vote out everyone with any connection to this plot. Witch-hunts R us! Pack up a picnic basket, and bring the whole family!

And, of course, it proves once again (and perhaps once and for all) that they were right all along about that homosexual=pedophile calculus, too. You put these guys anywhere near kids, and they'll seduce them and recruit them to the homosexual agenda. It is, after all, the only way they can reproduce. We told you so. And now, you liberal idiots are never going to hear the end of it. We're going to jam this in your teeth every time gay rights gets mentioned for the next 20 years.

The problem here, of course, (as I mentioned last week) is that liberals don't equate homosexuality with pedophilia because most of the gays on our side of the spectrum tend to be well-integrated and comfortable with themselves. They're out, they're self-aware, and they've been allowed the chance to grow into their own adult sexuality. They're grownups, with normal lives and normal relationships. Since these are the gays we know, we're quite clear that gay men aren't any more likely to be child molesters than straight men are. When we talk about gay issues, these are the people we've got in mind.

But, as we're learning this week, when conservatives say that gays are pedophiles, they may also be accurately reporting what they see on their own side. As I've discussed here before, a core reason people become conservative because they're afraid of losing control. (Words like "repressed" and "tightly wound" may apply here.) Psychologists who work with pedophiles -- both hetero and homo -- say that virtually all of them suffered some major innocence-shattering life trauma when they were at a similar age as their victims. Their psychosexual development stopped right there, and never went any further. Thus, in a real sense, pedophiles are sexually still children themselves, and thus simply seeking out their developmental peers.

It follows that somebody who sustained a severe trauma like that in adolescence -- especially if the trauma was all bound up with the dawning awareness that they were attracted to other men -- might become a) conservative and b) a potential pedophile. The whole desperate quest for control began with the need to control their own unresolved desires, and radiated out from there to form the foundation of their entire worldview.

The upshot here is that, if you're a Republican, it seems quite possible that an unusual number of the gays you know really are pretty sick and twisted characters who prey on boys. Evidently, there's a nonstop parade of these guys in God's Own Party: in fact, what we're seeing this week is that they're so pervasive that Sidney Blumenthal recently called the GOP the "largest walk-in closet in Washington."

Which means that we may need to realize that when our conservative friends start going on about those gay child sex perverts, they're just calling it exactly as they see it. And we, in response, think of the well-adjusted, healthy gay folk we know, and wonder what in the hell they're talking about. It may be time for both sides to consider the possibility that, just maybe, we are both telling the truth. Or, at least, two different truths about the same issue.

The irony here, of course, is that the right wing uses perversion as their excuse to stigmatize gays, without understanding that it's that very stigma that creates the perversion in the first place. This is what happens when gay adolescents are shamed, sanctioned, and threatened to the point where their natural progression into adult sexuality is stunted. For generations, pubescent Catholic boys cursed with these forbidden stirrings got religion, swore off sex entirely, and entered the priesthood -- and we all know how well that turned out for everyone concerned.

Now the Republicans are reaping the same whirlwind. It's going to be damned ironic if their turnout this year actually increases due to the sin discovered in their own ranks.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The other scandal

I think Barbara at Mahablog and Eric Alterman have it right:
What is currently driving me the craziest, however, are the variations on this story. The upshot is this. Tenet briefed Condi Rice about a potentially catastrophic terrorist attack on the United States on July 10, 2001. Rice ignored the briefing, just as she and Bush both ignored the August 6 "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" memo, when Bush told the CIA briefer who delivered the memo to him that he had "covered his ass" and then went fishing for the rest of the day. Rice not only ignored the briefing, but also misled the 9-11 Commission and then lied when confronted with the evidence by Bob Woodward. Add her name to the long list of Bush administration officials who will leave office with the blood of thousands of innocents on her hands, and who was promoted by Bush for exactly that reason. Greg Mitchell has more here. Of course Rice should be fired, and perhaps tried, but instead she will be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Bush will run another campaign on how Democrats cannot be trusted to protect you from the terrorists he's created.

As Barbara points out, keeping the Foley scandal alive actually helps distract the press -- and the left generally -- from the larger issue of the Bush administration's utter incompetence, before and after 9/11, on national security and combating terrorism effectively. That was going to be the conversation going into the election; now it's the morals of the House leadership.

It also makes for a handy excuse after the election, which is shaping up as a disaster for the GOP -- it's all Hastert's fault! From a Rovian perspective, there are many perfectly good reasons for offering Hastert the White House's support.

After all, as Greg Mitchell explains, the upshot of the Rice matter is that not only was she given an explicit warning about attacks inside the United States on July 10, 2001, she apparently hid that fact from the 9/11 commission, and lied about having received such a warning afterward:
So, if the story is confirmed -- Woodward's track record is strong -- Rice should quit. But let's see what Tenet and Black and any documents say in the days ahead.

My check of her testimony before the 9/11 Commission in 2004 reveals that not only did Rice not disclose this meeting with the two men -- she also gave misleading information about the level of threats to the homeland that she learned about that summer.

How do we square Black's account (in the Woodward book) of that July 10, 2001, meeting -- "The only thing we didn't do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head" -- and Rice's statement to the 9/11 Commission, "There was no threat reporting of any substance about an attack coming in the United States"?

Of course, as I recently pointed out, Rice's testimony to the 9/11 commission was later found to be misleading in many other ways, particularly inflating the scope and level of its response to threat information.

It all is incomprehensible indeed, until one takes into account the hard reality that's emerging as the facts are unveiled: the Bush administration was asleep at the wheel before Sept. 11, it has veered us off into a ditch in Iraq in the succeeding years, and its overall handling of national security and the "war on terror" has resembled nothing so much as a pack of frat kids on a weeklong bender with Daddy's Hummer.

Mind you, I think that the overall picture which emerges from the Rice scandal -- of the moral turpitude and utter lack of accountability for Republicans under conservative rule -- merges neatly with the Foley scandal. It should and could be part of a larger conversation we need to be having about just what kind of government conservative ideology produces.

Predatorgate is an important scandal because of what it reveals about Republican governance. But so is the Rice matter. At the next press conference with Tony Snow, reporters need to be asking more about it. Such as: Why, exactly, did Ms. Rice fail to inform the 9/11 commission of the July 10 meeting with Tenet and Black? And why did she deny its existence?

The voting public would like to know.

Naming the enemy

In their desperation push back on the Predatorgate Scandal, conservatives are now even publishing the identities of some of the pages involved; the ever-execrable Drudge Report and Little Green Footballs have been leading the charge, but of course there has been a whole phalanx of little pilers-on. UPDATE: It's now spread to such leading lights of the conservative blogosphere as Glenn Reynolds and Roger Simon.

It's all part of a "blame the victims" routine (currently favored by Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage), as if that might actually convince anyone beyond the Kool-Aid addicts who lap up their every syllable. Problem is, this kind of behavior actually just further exposes their morality for the fetid cloaca it is.

You know it's a stinking heap of an idea when even Malkin is balkin'. And while it's good to see Michelle come around on this issue, it's amusing to see her characterize this as "sinking to the level of the liberal witch hunters." Oh, does she mean such "witch hunts" as the evil New York Times Travel Section plot to expose our national leaders to terrorists?

More to the point: just how, Michelle, does this qualitatively differ from those peace activists whose names and phone numbers you published?

Ah well. I suppose it's nice to see her come around, though getting her to admit she was wrong before will never happen.

At least she now understands that there is a real problem here. And that is the trend toward exposing individual citizens and their private lives, particularly in a way that invites invasion and retribution, and using the Internet to do it.

I'm sure that the cretins busy exposing the pages' identities think it's all fair in love and politics. But if you want to get a look at the kind of place this behavior takes us to, take a trip over to merrie olde England, where the Web is being used to organize physical attacks against liberals, journalists, and antiracist activists.

As this disturbing report from Matthew Taylor at The Guardian explains, a white-supremacist site called Redwatch has been posting photographs and private contact information about various targets of its wrath -- particularly people who are critical of the far-right British National Party -- and thugs are then carrying out attacks on them:
The attack, which left the long-time union activist with serious injuries, was the latest and most violent incident in a campaign of intimidation that has been waged against opponents of the far right in the UK over the past five years. Like hundreds of people who have spoken out against the rise of the British National Party and other extremist groups, McFadden's picture and home address have been collected by far right activists and posted on a website called Redwatch.

The site, which has links with the neo-Nazi organisation Combat 18 and a host of European fascist organisations, is hosted in the US but registered and run from the UK. It lists the personal details and shows the photographs of anti-racists - many taken during protests against the British National Party - alongside the slogan: "Remember places, traitors' faces, they'll all pay for their crimes." This month a delegation of MPs and union activists will visit the Home Office to call for the site to be closed down. It is a familiar refrain and in the past officials have argued that because the site is hosted abroad, there is nothing they can do. However, Redwatch's sister site in Poland, which was also hosted in the US, was recently closed down after collaboration between authorities in the the two countries, and Home Office minister Vernon Coaker has agreed to champion the campaign within government.

Redwatch was launched in 2001 and takes its name from a Combat 18 newsletter produced in London in the 1990s. For the first few years it was just another online talking shop for hardline racists and fascists, offensive and unpleasant but apparently not dangerous. However, in April 2003, those behind the site signalled that Redwatch meant business. Leeds school teachers Sally Kincaid and Steve Johnson had been involved in local campaigns against the BNP and other far-right groups for years. Then their personal details appeared on Redwatch following a demonstration they had attended in the Pudsey area of the city. A couple of weeks later they suffered a fire-bomb attack at their home, which left their car burned out.

The incident was a turning point. Those featured on Redwatch were no longer being subjected to threats and harassment but to physical attacks. In the months that followed, journalists, politicians and local anti-racist activists were listed on the website. Among those targeted was Peter Lazenby, a journalist on the Yorkshire Evening Post, whose picture now adorns the front page of the site. He has been a long-time opponent of the far right, and has won awards for his reports on the BNP, which gained its first councillor in Leeds in May.

Especially disturbing is how difficult it's proven to bring Redwatch's activities to a halt, even as evidence mounted of a massive campaign to target a broad range of private citizens at their homes:
Six months after the attack on the Leeds schoolteachers, an investigation by the Guardian and Searchlight shed light on the true nature of Redwatch, uncovering a secret hitlist of targets, including social workers, journalists and politicians. Only a handful of known neo-Nazis had access to the secure email network that listed the names and addresses of targets as well as plans for attacks on anti-racists in their homes or during public meetings. One subscriber, who called himself Mole Intelligence Bureau, wrote: "Redwatch has accumulated many names and addresses, along with pictures of the targets, many of whom have had nothing done to them. Now's the time to start a proper campaign of violence and intimidation towards those who seek to see us silenced or imprisoned for our beliefs."

... The network listed dozens of people "for further research", including the divisional police commanders for Dewsbury and Huddersfield, the chief executive of Kirklees Council, the director of a West Yorkshire health authority and housing officers. For many anti-fascists this was final proof that Redwatch represented a serious threat. Known neo-Nazis with violent criminal pasts were planning to step up their campaign of intimidation and were planning attacks against specific targets. The evidence was passed to the then Home Secretary David Blunkett and officials declared that action was imminent. But after examining the details, the Home Office again said that because the site was hosted in the US there was little they could do - listing public information online is not a crime and the website is full of disclaimers.

Following an initial meeting in August with a delegation of MPs, trade unionists and anti-racists, Coaker agreed to champion the cause. According to Home Office officials, he is in discussion with senior police officers, and contact has also been made with the US authorities to see if it is possible to take joint action. That appeared to come a step closer recently when it emerged that a new legal opinion published in the US argues that the site is not protected under the first amendment. In a separate development, anti-racist campaigners say they have identified the main Redwatch organiser and have passed his details to the police.

Of course, this situation echoes the one I described taking place in the Flathead Valley of Montana a few years ago. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same sort of problem cropped back up again recently when locals decided to protest the presence of their new neighborsthe "Prussian Blue" Gaede twins:
The flyers Kushner-Metteer and her neighbors passed out read "NO HATE HERE" on the front, with a letter on the back explaining the Gaedes' politics. Local media covered the event, and since then, Kushner-Metteer and other families say they have gotten a frightening response.

Postings by members of and, community sites for those who share beliefs similar to National Vanguard's, included addresses and phone numbers for Kushner-Metteer and others involved in passing out the flyers. The sites also posted a photograph of a mother and her daughter, published by the Daily Inter Lake, as they distributed the flyers.

The information posted for Kushner-Metteer, though, is wrong. It turns out to be that of an elderly couple living in Kalispell whose last name happens to be Metteer. That couple, according Kalispell Police Chief Frank Garner, has received threatening letters and phone calls meant for Kushner-Metteer.

Kushner-Metteer says police shared one letter with her that reads, "Red-blooded, white, American men are going to come to your door and make you regret what you’ve done."

"We're very concerned about our safety," says Kushner-Metteer.

If I recall correctly, "red-blooded American men" were often described as comprising lynch mobs during their heyday. You've got wonder if we're creating a whole new generation of them.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Attacking tolerance

Well, we're starting to get a taste of the conservative movement's pushback to the Predatorgate Scandal: It's all the fault of those gay people. If we didn't have to tolerate them, this sort of thing wouldn't happen.

This was explained to us by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who told a national CNN audience that "when you hold up tolerance and diversity, this is what you end up getting."

A press release from the FRC spells it out:
We are all shocked by this spectacle of aberrant sexual behavior, but we shouldn't be. This is the end result of a society that rejects sexual restraints in the name of diversity. When a 16-year-old boy is not safe from sexual solicitation from an elected representative of the people, we should question the moral direction of our nation. If our children aren't safe in the halls of Congress, where are they safe? Maybe it's time to question: when is tolerance just an excuse for permissiveness?

It certainly appears that the FRC would like to forbid homosexuals from serving in Congress, since that seems to be the kind of "tolerance" they are decrying here. But of course, what this is really all about is turning this sordid case of Republican amorality into a talking point for the religious right's current agenda -- namely, their assault on the very concept of tolerance.

Remember the Spongebob foofara? Same song, earlier verse. And those attacks, likewise, are part of a broader assault on the very concept of multiculturalism.

Of course, it shouldn't need saying, but for this crowd it obviously does, so here goes: There is nothing in the concept of multicultural tolerance that advocates acceptance of sexually abusive behavior. Mark Foley's indiscretions are no more representative of gay people than the recent school massacres in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Montreal reflect heterosexual males.

As I've pointed out previously, this assault on the very concept of tolerance cuts a swath that is much broader than merely the issue of sexual preference. It also attacks religious, racial, and ethnic tolerance.

When religious beliefs become a cover that allows us to no longer tolerate gays and lesbians, then they readily become a cover for racial and religious bigotry too. There are a number of self-described Christians who openly preach anti-Semitism and hatred of racial minorities; who is to say which form of religion-inspired intolerance is more justifiable than another?

Remember, too, that the concept of multicultural tolerance arose primarily as a response to the then-dominant American worldview of white supremacy. Those who argue against it rarely say -- beyond a "Bible based" society -- what they would replace it with. But the common touchstone to which they all harken is the pre-Civil Rights era, when all these forms of bigotry were not merely tolerated but encouraged.

So it shouldn't surprise us that, away from the rarefied air of cable TV, these kinds of verbal assaults against tolerance wind up encouraging the very sector -- white supremacists -- from which these sorts of arguments have traditionally emanated.

Over the last weekend, the Columbia River town of Longview, Wash., was hit hard by neo-Nazi vandals who spray-painted swastikas and white-supremacist slogans around the town:
White supremacist graffiti was spray-painted across 10 Longview locations overnight Friday, marring property and the town's image, city leaders said.

Longview police said 10 buildings, vehicles or signs had been found with spray-painted slogans or symbols as of Saturday afternoon and urged anyone who knows about it to talk to authorities. The affected area stretched from the 800 block of Ninth Avenue out to the skate park at 28th Avenue and Douglas Street, said Officer Mike Rabideau. As of Saturday police had no suspects.

Some of the victims were black, but others appear to have been targeted at random. Swastikas as well as the words "white war" and SWP -- which stands for supreme white power -- were found on several of the sites.

The vandals apparently had a prime target: a multicultural church that catered to minorities of all backgrounds, and a significant advocate for "tolerance" in the community:
A church targeted over the weekend found swastikas on its doors earlier this year.

Then last month, someone broke in and stole their stereo equipment and microphones.

Church leaders believe it was the work of white supremacists who are trying to silence them.

Sunday morning, the House of Prayer church found a black swastika on their door. Despite efforts to remove the symbol, a dim outline of it remains.

Churchgoers were stunned and baffled:
Hart, who is black, said he and his parents grew up here and while there were minor incidents of discrimination, he'd never "seen anything like this."

Hart said he's heard there are Aryan Nations members living in town and speculated that someone with those beliefs would object to the black and Latino residents that frequent both the park and church. "It kind of shakes you up," said E.M. Jackson, the church's 95-year-old bishop. "They're trying to stir something up but I don't really know what it is."

Turn on your cable news channels and you can see what it is. These people are hearing their own longstanding complaints against "tolerance" and multiculturalism being parroted by national conservative-movement figures. They're being told that they were right all along. They're being encouraged by religious leaders like Tony Perkins and James Dobson. And they're eager to take it to the next step.

It shouldn't surprise us, then, when these kinds of acts are the result.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hypocrisy, thy name is conservative

Worth noting: the right-wing Beltway organ the Washington Times is calling for the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert in the wake of the Predatorgate Scandal.

Normally, one might simply welcome this news. Hey, at least some conservatives -- unlike, say, Gary Bauer -- understand that Hastert's role in covering up the scandal and allowing a known predator to remain in the positions he held goes beyond mere misfeasance.

But then, one also has to note that this is coming from a paper whose own human-resources director, Randall Casseday, was recently arrested on charges of soliciting sex with a 13-year-old girl via the Internet.

Casseday, as Max Blumenthal reports, played a central role in creating an abusive culture at the Times newsroom:
According to two sources who have dealt directly with Casseday, the accused sex criminal has played a central role in stonewalling internal investigations into the racist and sexually predatory behavior of Times managing editor Fran Coombs, and did so on orders from Joo and Pruden.

"Whatever Joo, Pruden and Coombs wanted, Casseday did," a senior staffer in the Times newsroom told me today. "Casseday literally was their hatchet man, the hit man for Pruden, Coombs and Joo. Now the whole story is exploding that they had a ticking time bomb all these years and they did nothing. There was no background check or anything."

So, you have a paper tainted by sex-predator scandal accusing politicians who covered up their own sex-predator scandal of gross impropriety.

Whew. What a stink is coming from the right side of the fence these days.


"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Torture and fascism

[Nazi torture implements. From Museum of World War II.]

It wasn't exactly a coincidence that my Adbusters piece earlier this year on fascism and the American right ran in the magazine's issue on torture. Though the piece doesn't specifically discuss torture, the subject of the piece -- "Is right-wing America becoming fascist?" -- constitutes the bottom line of the ramifications of the emergence of the United States as a bona fide torture state.

It's not that torture is unique to fascism. It has, after all, been around since the Dark Ages, and remained alive as a component of theocratic and feudal states for centuries. Certainly it has always been a commonplace feature of communist regimes as well, with the Soviets and Chinese providing abundant examples. What can be said generally is that torture is a feature of totalitarianism, regardless of its content.

But it occupies a unique position in the fascist ideological hierarchy, which is, after all, not so much a cohesive ideology but a multifaceted pathology. What makes fascism so potent on a personal level is its psychosexual component, expressed mostly as a desire to purge "unhealthy" elements through eliminationist violence, including the control of the body of the Other, and the ability to inflict purgative pain and suffering on that body. (For more on this, see Klaus Theweleit's study of this aspect of fascism, Male Fantasies, especially Vol. II.)

Fascists are particularly fond of torture because it represents such a complete expression of the fascist will to power. So when a nation adopts torture as an officially condoned policy -- as the United States has just done -- it immediately raises the specter that, indeed, it may be descending into the fascist abyss.

Tristero made this point the other day in typically straightforward fashion. And while I'm not quite ready to reach his conclusion -- that we are now living in a fascist state -- I do think that Sept. 28, 2006, will wind up as a benchmark date in our gradual but steady march toward that end.

It's not just the legalization of torture that raises this specter; it's how it came about. Namely, this policy was adopted, and sold both to the public and Congress, specifically as (A) a response to an insurmountable threat so great that it required "going beyond" the previously accepted norms of wartime behavior, (B)an express capitulation to the wartime powers of President Bush, contingent upon his superior judgment and instincts, ceding him illimitable powers beyond any known precedent, and (C) a bit of pre-election political theater specifically designed to portray liberals and Democrats as likely sympathizers who were "soft" on terrorists, and played that way by the president himself.

There really was only one hope of derailing this legislation, and it was contingent on the profoundly moral aspect of the torture question, to wit: Is torture an American value? Similarly, is it a Christian value?

Certainly we heard some voices -- notably Hillary Clinton's -- making a forceful case that torture is antithetical to American values. And we heard from a handful of liberal Christians decrying torture as anathema to their values as well. But they were too few and received too little attention from a media prone to playing down these issues.

In contrast, the Christian right was wholly silent on the moral aspects of torturing terrorist suspects, and instead offered up such homilies to the torture bill as this from Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition:
"We need to clarify this policy for treating detainees," said Rev. Sheldon. "As it stands right now, the military and intelligence experts interrogating these terrorists are in much greater danger than the terrorists. Civil suits against our military personnel are tying their hands as they try to get vital information which will save the lives of our young military people and the innocent."

"Our rules for interrogation need to catch-up with this awful new form of war that is being fought against all of us and the free world. The post-World War II standards do not apply to this new war.

"We must redefine how our lawful society treats those who have nothing but contempt for the law and rely on terrorizing the innocent to accomplish their objectives. The lines must be redrawn and then we must pursue these criminals as quickly and as aggressively as the law permits.

"And since this debate is, at its very core, about preserving the traditional value of prosecuting injustice and protecting the innocent, TVC will score this vote in both the House and the Senate. We encourage all of our supporters and affiliated churches to contact their elected representatives and let them know we support President Bush's efforts to update our methods of interrogating terrorist detainees in order to provide greater protection for our troops and the innocent."

As it happened, of course, it was precisely this twisted version of "traditional values" which carried the day -- and carried the nation over the edge of the abyss.

What's noteworthy about these exhortations, and all the similar defenses raised on behalf of the legislation, is how thoroughly they reflect key components of the fascist pathology. Consider, if you will, Robert O. Paxton's nine "mobilizing passions" of fascism described in his Anatomy of Fascism (and detailed here) as a kind of descriptive checklist:
-- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;

Check. The rationale for accepting torture is predicated on the claim that terrorism represents a uniquely malevolent existential threat to America.
-- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual, and the subordination of the individual to it;

Check. The thrust of the Bush torture bill was that individual civil rights needed to be subordinated to the cause of "protecting" the larger public.
-- the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group's enemies, both internal and external;

Check. It's OK to torture terrorists, according to the Republican proponents of the law, because they killed 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, just in case you forgot. All the government wants to do is keep them from doing it again, and any means at our disposal is jusitifiable to achieve that end.
-- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;

Check, at least to the extent that the torture law is being justified as a matter of "preserving our way of life," and defending against alien terrorists, while the legislation's opponents are dismissed as treasonous liberal sympathizers.
-- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;

Check, at least to the extent that torture is a form of exclusionary violence intended to weed out "terrorist" elements and preserve the purer community.
-- the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny;

Check, Big Time. It is astonishing, really, just how broad-ranging are the powers President Bush will have acquired if this legislation survives its inevitable court tests. Moreover, the public is constantly admonished not to question Bush's basic decency when it comes to granting him powers typically only granted to totalitarians. Of course he wouldn't apply these powers to ordinary citizens. And five years ago, he similarly assured us that of course he wouldn't seek wiretaps without a warrant.
-- the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason;

Check. Double megadittoes, Rush.
-- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;

Check. Torture is specifically part of an aesthetic of violence, and is the ultimate expression of the desire to impose your will upon another.
-- the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess in a Darwinian struggle.

Check. Damn the Geneva Conventions, foll torture ahead! Moral and legal restraints? Phah! They are inconsequential when it comes to dealing with evil terrorists who respect neither the law nor morality. Our lack of morality is justified by theirs.

The utility of torture to fascist states can be found in other studies of the phenomenon. It's clear that legal torture reflects a disdain for the importance of human rights, identification of scapegoats, and an obsession with national security, all components of Lawrence Britt's 14 common characteristics of fascism. Likewise, it's a clear-cut expression of the fascist contempt for the weak, as well as the distrust of reason and celebration of action for action's sake, all attributes of fascism as described by Umberto Eco.

The appearance of legal torture as part of the American landscape is a profound change, and certainly signals the approach of the totalitarian state, though it may not herald its actual arrival. And considering that a right-wing regime is involved, discussing the specter of fascism is not only appropriate but necessary.

Even if it does not signal the actual arrival of fascism, it's the clearest warning sign of its approach yet. Torture is a quintessentially fascist act; codifying it means that the massive brick in the wall that it represents has been plunked into place. And it's the kind of brick that can be the cornerstone of a massive national pathology of apocalyptic proportions.

After all, they have always had ways of making us talk. Now they have the legal power to do so too.

Note, if you will, how I concluded the Adbusters piece:
To the extent that the nation finds itself in the throes of a real crisis of governance; that we demand utter fealty to the national identity, even at the expense of civil liberties, democratic institutions, or democracy itself; that we identify liberalism as the root of all evil in America, as a domestic enemy little distinguishable from those from abroad; that we justify acts of monstrousness by pointing to our own victimhood; that we rely on the "strength" and instincts of our leaders instead of their wisdom and powers of reason, and grant them near-totalitarian powers (particularly in "wartime") in the process; that we allow violence to become part of the political landscape; and that we pursue an insane apocalyptic vision of world domination -- then, to that same extent, we put flesh to the fascist bones and make it real.

Sadly, the nation took a signficant step towards fulfilling many of the conditions described in that warning. We now not only live in a torture state, but to become that we have suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus and granted the president unprecedented powers to decide the fate of anyone it chooses to designate an "enemy combatant." And in bulldozing its way to victory, the administration and its propagandists ceaselessly identified liberals with the enemy.

The chief reason we can say that this is not yet genuine fascism is because the latter only arises in a democracy in a state of crisis, following a significant period of decay. There has not yet been a real crisis of governance, which is most likely to arise in our system of democracy as a constitutional crisis.

Unfortunately, this administration seems determined, in its mad rush to power, to spark just such a crisis.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Thinking This Through

Either the Republicans are too stupid to have thought this all the way through -- or else they have thought it through, and decided it's not going to matter in the end, anyway.

Don't worry. It's only the future of America riding on the outcome of that bet.

-- Sara Robinson

Malkin's sensitivity

One of my commenters points out that there was a noteworthy nugget in Keith Olbermann's response to his disturbingly callous treatment at the hands of the New York Post:
A month ago when reporter Steve Centanni of Murdoch's Fox News was kidnapped in Gaza -- along with his camera-man -- that network reached out to the others, this one included.

They relayed that the authorities there had urged everyone to keep reporting of the kidnapping low-key, and to a minimum, because it was believed the kidnappers did not know they had gotten hold of some one 'recognizable.'

We -- and every other major news organization -- immediately and thoroughly cooperated with Murdoch's request.

Now, in a return case, Murdoch's newspaper did not even make the single phone call that could've told it the potential damage it was doing.

Having worked for large news organizations, I'm aware that requests like this occur periodically, and they are routinely observed as a matter of professional respect. We don't talk about them a lot, for obvious reasons, and they do affect how we cover events in a way that obviously isn't transparent to the public. And while I'm an advocate for media transparency, I also recognize that there are occasions when it's not feasible at the time, though I think it's advisable to explain afterwards when possible.

None of this, however, was a barrier for the ever-intrepid Michelle Malkin, who used the Centanni abduction as an occasion to bash the mainstream media, which couldn't explain its silence in the case without exposing the abductees:
Whatever the reason, I find the apparent apathy about Centanni and Wiig's kidnapping grossly disturbing. Centanni is not just a fellow journalist. He is a fellow American. He is missing. And there should be a hell of a lot more outrage about it than I've seen so far--from the media, from our government, from our nation.

Malkin continued to regularly post about the media response to the story, complaining incessantly that "the story is not getting the attention it deserves."

Now the rest of us know why it was being played down: because Fox News was trying to keep its reporters alive. You have to wonder why Malkin, who turns a few pennies as a "Fox contributor," didn't get the memo.

Or was the opportunity to bash the media just too good to pass up?

Of course, not only has Malkin been notably mum about the Olbermann incident (doesn't she specialize in reporting on "unhinged" behavior?), but she finds it completely unremarkable that, meanwhile, an Associated Press photographer is likewise being held captive without due process. In fact, she's actively campaigning on behalf of his captivity -- because, you see, he's being held by the American military, and she believes that this photographer actually is a treasonous bastard (though her evidence is, shall we say, less than persuasive).

I think Malkin's photograph now appears in the dictionary under the definition for "piece of work."

Greg Sargent at the Horse's Mouth has been staying on top of the case of the photographer, Bilal Hussein. Here's the latest. See also Lindsay Beyerstein.