Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX.
Part X: The Human Legacy
- The whitefolks had tired her out at last.
And him. Eighteen seventy-four and whitefolks were still on the loose. Whole towns wiped clean of negroes; eighty-seven lynchings in one year alone in Kentucky; four colored schools burned to the ground; grown men whipped like children; children whipped like adults; black women raped by the crew; property taken, necks broken. He smelled skin, skin and hot blood. The skin was one thing, but human blood cooked up in a lynch fire was a whole other thing. The stench stank. Stank up off the pages of the North Star, out of the mouths of witnesses, etched in crooked handwriting in letters delivered by hand. Detailed in documents and petitions full of whereas and presented to any legal body who'd read it, it stank. But none of that had worn out his marrow. None of that. It was the ribbon. Tying his flatbed up on the ban of the Licking River, securing it the best he could, he caught sight of something red on its bottom. Reaching for it, he thought it was a carnival feather stuck to his boat. He tugged and what came loose in his hand was a red ribbon knotted around a curl of wet woolly hair, clinging still to its bit of scalp. He untied the ribbon and put it in his pocket, dropped the curl in the weeds. On the way home, he stopped, short of breath and dizzy. He waited until the spell passed before continuing on his way. A moment later, his breath left him again. This time he sat down by a fence. Rested, he got to his feet, but before he took a step he turned to look back down the road he was traveling and said, to its frozen mud and the river beyond, "What are these people? You tell me, Jesus. What are they?"
-- Toni Morrison, Beloved [p. 180]
The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, in his landmark work I and Thou, argued that human beings encounter and engage the world in two distinct but complementary ways: the relational and the objective, or as Buber puts it, "I and thou" and "I and it." The former occurs when we authentically encounter another being as a whole; it gives our lives meaning, and ultimately reflects our relationship with the Divine. The latter describes how we deal with the world purely as objects and abstractions, and lets us navigate the material world. Both are necessary for making our way successfully in the world, and dealing with the world exclusively in one mode or the other creates a fatal imbalance.
Objectification of others is the root of eliminationism. When we speak "I and it" to another human being exclusively, we set the other's value at nothing. The desire to obtain power over others, which also expresses itself as slavery and war, requires such objectification, and thus becomes a negation of the Divine itself. Pure objectification unleashes evil upon both those others and ourselves, for in denying the Divine in those others we negate it within ourselves. This makes us capable of the demonic.
As David Stannard puts it in American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World [p. 150]:
- It is tempting, when discussing the actions described in the preceding [see here, here, and here for more], as well as genocides from other times and places, to describe the behavior of the crimes' perpetrators as insane. But as Terence Des Pres once pointed out with regard to the Nazis' attempted mass extermination of Europe's Jews, "demonic" seems a better word than "insane" to characterize genocidal behavior. Des Pres' semantical preference here, he said, was based on his sense that "insanity is without firm structure, not predictable, something you cannot depend upon." And while "what went on in the [Nazi] killing centers was highly organized and very dependable indeed," thereby not qualifying as insanity, at least according to Des Pres's informal definition, "the dedication of life's energies to the production of death is a demonic principle of the first degree."
The dynamic of eliminationism thus begins with the conceptualization of other people as less than human, and finds its voice in rhetoric that portrays them as objects fit for elimination: vermin, disease, slime, traitors, killers. This rhetoric sets the stage for action by creating a rationale, which itself is seen as a signal to the like-minded for permission to act. Then, as the action occurs, the rhetoric is used to justify the violence, and indeed to inflame it still further as both ratchet upwards. In some cases, as with the internment of Japanese Americans, the action takes the form of government policy -- one from which, it must be added, violence was largely absent; but in others, as in the case of the Nazi Holocaust or the extermination of the Native Americans, the entire enterprise is violent from start to finish.
There is a causal connection here, but it's not a necessary causality -- that is, eliminationist rhetoric may always precede and accompany eliminationist action, but it does not always inspire it. What we can say is that it does make it far more likely, if not inevitable, as it increases in volume. But because there is an obvious time gap between the respective appearance of rhetoric and action, it's also possible to prevent that step from taking place -- most notably, by confronting it.
Not everyone succumbs, of course. Indeed, the history of eliminationism is also colored by the continuing presence of people of good will who opposed the base inhumanity that it revealed. But their ineffectiveness over the centuries, embodied by the crude reality of the end results, is also part of the dynamic. What history has demonstrated, really, is that all the good will in the world is helpless against the determined efforts of men given over to the demonic, whose willingness to murder and eliminate their fellow men quickly obliterated whatever good may have been intended by others. It is only in the past half-century of our history, really, that this has ceased to be the case, and that the demonic component of the American psyche has been wrestled under some semblance of control.
There have been many groups targeted for elimination in America over the centuries other than natives, blacks, and Asians, the main targets identified in this series. Among them:
-- Jews: The Otherness of Jews in America was always present in the culture, as well as their scapegoating, but it was made starkly manifest with the lynching of Leo Frank by white thugs in Georgia in 1915, an event that helped inspire the return of the Ku Klux Klan to the national scene the following year. Even more stark was the anti-Semitic campaign of Henry Ford in the 1920s, particularly his publication of The International Jew, which gave national prominence to the "Elders of Zion" conspiracy theory that helped fuel the Nazi Holocaust in Germany and which remains in the American national bloodstream to this day, embodied in "New World Order" conspiracy theories promoted by the likes of Pat Robertson and various militia-movement leaders.
-- Communists: Red-baiting and a fear of "communist influence" actually began gaining strength under the Dies Committee as early as the 1930s, but it became a national cause celebre when Sen. Joe McCarthy engaged in his notorious witch hunts in the late '40s and the '50s; the apotheosis of the hysteria over the "communist threat" came with the execution in 1953 of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (whose elimination had the added edge of their Jewishness). Likewise, the specter of the vast "communist conspiracy" and associated domestic communist traitors remained atop the right's great causes for the ensuing two generations in America, embodied by the enduring presence of the John Birch Society, and only faded with the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. At this point, however, the extremist right's need for an enemy produced an inward turn that sought out new enemies at home -- particularly leading officials of the U.S. government. Thus its legacy, too, remains with us in the form of the "New World Order" and related conspiracy theories.
-- Gays and lesbians: Homosexuality has for many centuries been buried under a blanket of cultural stigma, some of it religious and some of it purely visceral, despite the considerable cultural and civic contributions of a number of closeted gays and lesbians over those same centuries. Those same prejudices endure today, but the increasing willingness of homosexuals to come out of the closet and live openly, beginning in the 1970s, naturally created a significant cultural rift with those conservatives who adhered to the old taboos. It was particularly sharpened by the emergence on the scene of the AIDS epidemic, which produced such eliminationist schemes as Paul Cameron's proposal to quarantine gays, an idea that still has some currency on the right. More significantly, gays and lesbians have in those same years increasingly become the target of hate crimes, probably the chief manifestation of the eliminationist impulse in America today. (More on that point shortly.)
-- Immigrants: All colors and kinds of immigrants have historically been the subject of violent and bigoted campaigns, targeted by so-called Nativists who demand that their arrivals cease. These range from the Know Nothings whose main efforts focused on keeping out Irish and other Catholic immigrants, to the anti-German agitation that peaked in the 1870-1920 period, followed by the anti-Asian campaigns that flourished between 1880 and 1924. The latter were notable for the appearance, for the first time, of an effort not merely to prevent their arrival but to actively deport those already here, accompanied by the requisite eliminationist action, including violent massacres and concentration camps. The same impulse lives on today in the agitation against Latino immigration, which has proved to be a major bridge for extremists to expand their reach into the mainstream of American discourse.
The eliminationist impulse gained fresh life in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, especially as the flames of fearfulness it produced were actually fanned rather than calmed by the American right, including the Bush administration itself. Professional fearmongers leapt onto the national stage to denounce fresh threats to national security, particularly seizing on the immigration debate, which was inflamed by claims that the insecure borders over which undocumented workers were flowing presented a prime opportunity (though the reality regarding those borders was largely obscured in the racial agitation that accompanied it).
The fearmongering occurred at all levels, from Pat Buchanan proclaiming that white American culture was about to be overrun by Latinos and other nonwhites, to Lou Dobbs parroting white-supremacist nonsense on CNN, to the entire bandwidth of nativists -- including the usual suspects: VDare, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Michelle Malkin, Juan Mann, Glenn Beck -- demanding the immediate arrest and deportation of all 12 million illegal immigrants in America.
Simultaneously, these figures have provided avid media support for the on-the-ground manifestation of the impulse that can be found in such organizations as the Minutemen, where it runs rampant. The desire to eliminate Latinos can be found everywhere in its ranks, such as the Minuteman who opined:
- "It should be legal to kill illegals," said Carl, a 69-year old retired Special Forces veteran who fought in Vietnam and now lives out West. "Just shoot 'em on sight. That's my immigration policy recommendation. You break into my country, you die."
Then there was the leader of the Minutemen offshoot, Border Guardians, who offered suggestions via e-mails with neo-Nazis on how to eliminate Latino immigrants:
- -- "Steal the money from any illegal walking into a bank or check cashing place."
-- "Make every illegal alien feel the heat of being a person without status. ... I hear the rednecks in the South are beating up illegals as the textile mills have closed. Use your imagination."
-- "Discourage Spanish-speaking children from going to school. Be creative."
-- "Create an anonymous propaganda campaign warning that any further illegal immigrants will be shot, maimed or seriously messed-up upon crossing the border. This should be fairly easy to do, considering the hysteria of the Spanish language press, and how they view the Minutemen as 'racists & vigilantes.' "
More recently, a San Diego Minuteman leader told a local newspaper:
- "If I occasionally let my language slip to a small group of people, that's my frustration with these people," he said. "I consider them less than human in the way that they conduct themselves as human beings, absolutely."
The result, quite predictably, has been an upsurge in hate crimes against Latinos and other immigrants. A sampling:
- December 2005, Tennessee. A Blount County judge on December 1, 2005, sentenced Jacob Allen Reynolds and Thomas Matthew Lovett to four years in prison and six months in prison (and two and a half on probation) respectively after they pleaded guilty to vandalizing a Mexican food store in Maryville on May 7, 2005, causing over $17,000 in damages. The men allegedly broke windows and a refrigerator, vandalized a car, and spray-painted Nazi symbols on the store. Three others charged still await trial.
November 2005, Texas. Christopher Chubasco Wilkins, a prison escapee, was recaptured on November 5 and charged with murdering three men in the Fort Worth area during his month-long escape. Wilkins, who is according to police a self-proclaimed white separatist heavily tattooed with a variety of white supremacist tattoos, including a portrait of Adolf Hitler, is alleged to have killed two Hispanic men and one African-American man by gunshots to the head. Police are examining a possible racial motive. Wilkins had been living at a halfway house in Houston, after being released from federal prison, and left the house without permission.
November 2005, Tennessee. A federal judge sentenced former Klansman Daniel James Schertz to 14 years in prison for selling pipe bombs to a person he thought would use them to kill Mexican and Haitian immigrants. The person turned out to be an undercover informant. Schertz, a former corrections officer and member of the North Georgia White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, pleaded guilty to making five pipe bombs to be used to blow up a bus carrying Mexican workers. Later, Schertz expressed gratitude that the government had stopped him, but said, "We should have people here who know how to speak English. They are over here illegally and nothing gets done to them."
October 2005, California. A Sacramento man and two other suspects who allegedly attacked and injured six people in a hate-crime spree at two local parties were arrested in the early morning of October 16, 2005. Ryan Marino, 22, posted bail from El Dorado County Jail later Sunday after being charged on four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with an extenuating circumstance of a hate crime. He allegedly used brass knuckles after shouting epithets against Hispanics and proclaiming "white pride" at a home Sunday evening. Party attendees later identified Marino, who police said crashed the parties with the intent of "beating up Mexicans."
July 2005, California. Four people, three men and one woman, were arrested in Riverside, California, on July 11-12, 2005, charged with making terrorist threats with a hate crime enhancement. Some of the people arrested had "white pride" tattoos, according to authorities, who also seized a variety of white supremacist items. According to police, the suspects drove to a home and challenged several Hispanics there to a fight, threatening them and using racial slurs. A similar episode occurred the next night. According to police, the people arrested claimed no particular group affiliation but said they were proud to be "members of the Aryan race."
May 2005, Arizona. White supremacist Steve Boggs was sentenced to death on May 13, 2005, for murdering three fast-food workers in Mesa, Arizona, in 2002 during a robbery. He had been convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and various robbery, burglary and kidnapping charges. Boggs shot the victims, a Native American and two Hispanics, then stuffed their bodies into a freezer at the store. Boggs wrote to a Mesa police detective that he had wanted to "rid the world of a few needless illegals. I don't feel sorry." Another defendant still awaits trial. According to prosecutors, the two men were members of a small hate group they called the Imperial Royal Guard.
November 2004, Wisconsin. Mark Lentz of Sheldon, Wisconsin, received a three-month sentence and two years of probation, as well as 40 hours of community service, after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor hate crime. Lentz was the last of four racist skinheads to be sentenced for luring a Hispanic man outside a bar in Waukesha, then hitting him on the head with a bottle and repeatedly kicking him. Mark Davis II of Watertown earlier received a 3 1/2 year sentence and two years of extended supervision, Kasey Bieri received an 18-month jail term and three years of probation, and Jeffrey Gerloski received four months in jail and two years probation.
June 2004, Texas. Ranch Rescue member Casey Nethercott was convicted by a Texas jury of felony firearm possession in connection with an attack on two illegal immigrants from El Salvador outside of Hebbronville, Texas, in 2003. He was sentenced to five years in prison. The two immigrants (now in the U.S. legally) successfully sued Nethercott and others involved in the incident for a total judgment of $1,450,000.
June 2003, California. Two racist skinheads, Waylon Kennell and James Grlicky, were convicted in separate trials for the brutal beating of a Mexican migrant worker in San Diego in the fall of 2003. Grlicky was convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy, robbery, assault and battery, with a hate crime enhancement. Kennell was convicted of assault causing great bodily injury and battery with serious bodily injury. According to the prosecutor in the case, the two went hunting for a "beaner" to beat and rob. They kicked the victim in the head around a dozen times, including "curbstomping" him—kicking down on the back of the head when the victim's open mouth is placed against a concrete curb (emulating a scene in the movie "American History X"). The victim suffered brain damage as a result of the attack.
February 2003, Oregon. A Mexican landscaper in Beaverton was beaten with a baseball bat, robbed, and told to "go back home," by a man with a shaved head and a coat with "KKK" on it. Baseball bats are one of the weapons preferred by racist skinheads. Authorities posted a reward but were unable to make an arrest in the crime.
Hate crimes, in fact, have been the most common manifestation of what remains of the eliminationist impulse in America since the Civil Rights era, when it was finally wrestled to the ground and contained. Targeting a diffuse range of victims, their entire purpose is to express the desire to drive out undesirables who are "contaminating" the country and primarily white communities.
Hate crimes demonstrate the nexus between eliminationism's structural legacy and its human legacy. The failure of the federal government to ever pass anti-lynching legislation is mirrored in its continuing failure to pass a genuine federal hate-crime statute, particularly one which would include the requisite training and support for local law enforcement to be effective.
As a result, hate crimes continue to fester across the American landscape, and as its demographics undergo increasing shifts, the environment for creating hate crimes grows that much greater.
I described this in my second book, Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America:
- This demographic change is happening broadly across rural America, particularly in the Midwest. As a report from the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service points out:
- Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the American population, and this growth is especially striking in rural America. The 2000 census shows that Hispanics accounted for only 5.5 percent of the Nation's nonmetro population, but 25 percent of nonmetro population growth during the 1990s. Many counties throughout the Midwest and Great Plains would have lost population without recent Hispanic population growth. Among nonmetro counties with high Hispanic population growth in the 1990s, the Hispanic growth rate exceeded 150 percent, compared with an average growth rate of 14 percent for non-Hispanics. Moreover, Hispanics are no longer concentrated in Texas, California, and other Southwestern States -- today nearly half of all nonmetro Hispanics live outside the Southwest.
These kinds of demographic shifts, as it happens, often become the primary breeding grounds for hate crimes -- even in decidedly non-rural settings. A study published by [Yale University political scientist] Donald Green in 1998 focused on New York City, and it found that demographic change in 140 community districts of the city between 1980 and 1990 predicted the incidence of hate crimes. The balance of whites and whatever the target group happened to be in a given community district was an important factor, but the rate at which that balance changed was perhaps even more significant. The most common statistical recipe was an area that was almost purely white in the past which experiences the sudden and noticeable immigration of some other group.
In the case of New York, what occurred was a rapid inmigration of three groups: Asians, Latinos and blacks, though in the latter case the migration was often a response to the other groups' arrival; blacks were in some ways moved around, or their neighborhood boundaries changed. A number of previously white areas—Bensonhurst being the classic case, or Howard Beach -- experienced a rapid inmigration of various nonwhite groups. What was particularly revealing about the hate-crime pattern was that the crimes reflected the targets who were actually moving in -- that is, they revealed that this was not a kind of generalized hatred. Where Asians moved in, the researchers found a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes, and likewise with Latinos or blacks. Bias crime has more of a kind of reality-based component, at least in the aggregate, than is implicated by those psychological theories that suggest that there only exists a generalized sense of intolerance on the part of those who practice extreme forms of bigotry.
In a later study, Green found this trend replicated itself elsewhere -- namely, in Germany after the fall of the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s. In that case, there was rapid inmigration of immigrants into formerly homogeneous eastern Germany, which replicated the conditions in New York as the perfect recipe for bias crime. And indeed, there was a huge surge in hate crimes, which only slowed when the flow of immigrants was halted in the summer of 1993.
"Thinking about the kind of spatial and temporal dimensions of hate crime is a start in the right direction," says Green. "What it helps to think about is the difference between the static and the dynamic dimensions of this problem. People talk about the problem of hate crime being hate -- of course, it is a problem, but hate isn't necessarily rising or falling in the society as a whole. What's changing is your proximity to people that you find onerous. And also your ability to organize or to take action against them.
"There are two hypotheses about why it is that hate crimes subside when demographic change runs its course. One hypothesis is that the haters either accept the fact changes occur to them or they move away. Another hypothesis is that nobody really changes their attitude, it's just that the capacity to organize against some outsider -- meeting at the back fence and conspiring against somebody -- no longer becomes possible when one of your back-fence neighbors is now no longer part of the old nostalgic group."
Green says that both suburbs and rural areas are the next frontiers for hate crimes, partly because the demographic change is beginning to hit there now, "and they will lack the political will to deal with it."
What's especially notable is that, for the most part, they remain relatively effective for much of the country.
As I also explained in Death on the Fourth of July:
- Ken Toole, a native Montanan (and state senator) who runs that state's Human Rights Network, knows all about the fear minorities have of rural places like his home state. "I've experienced that firsthand, in talking with African American people on airplanes, et cetera, and their perception that Montana's not a safe place. And I think that stems from hate-crime incidents, but is more heartily reinforced by the presence of Militia of Montana, Aryan Nations, and things like that. It all feeds together.
"Here in Montana, in lily-white Montana, we spend all this time engaged in a debate whether or not these groups are white supremacist. Your average person of color doesn't even have that debate. They just know it."
Toole says that when the image of a place as a haven for haters is combined with news stories of real-life hate crimes, the result is a widespread desire by minorities to avoid that place at all costs. "What you end up with is, we've heard about African American people being transferred to Montana and rejecting the transfers," Toole says, noting that it is something of a commonplace that rural people avoid the cities out of an irrational fear of crime committed by minorities: "There's very little question in my mind that, yeah, we rural folk maybe get a little nervous about the deep colors of the inner city, but that is very much a two-way street."
Perhaps of equal significance are the real-world ramifications of this fear for both minorities and the places they fear to visit: an impoverishment of the nation's democratic underpinnings. As expert Donald Green points out, hate crimes succeed in making the nation indeed a smaller place for people like [Seattle Times columnist] Lynne Varner [an African American woman who has described her fear of driving to places like Idaho].
"I think if you had to kind of step back and ask, 'Does hate crime pay?,' you'd say yes," Green says. "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.
"Even if you say, 'Ah, well, they would have spent their money in this restaurant, maybe they'll spend their money in some other restaurant,' and so it's a wash, just the fact that people feel less than free in a free country is a tragedy."
Green also argues that even seemingly insignificant incidents -- the kind police are prone to ignore or de-emphasize -- can contribute to the cumulative effect. "If you see a swastika on an overpass, you say, 'Well, you know, it's just a bunch of kids blowing off steam, it doesn't really mean anything,' but when you start to think about the kind of cumulative effects that that would have on a variety of people, both perpetrators and victims, then the result is considerable.
"And that's why I think that, while there's a segment of the law-enforcement community -- and even people like me in an unguarded moment -- that will say that in some respects the hate crimes laws have been a flop, the laws in fact have a substantial basis in theory. And that theory is that if you could somehow put a value on that dead-weight loss in freedom, it actually would be a significant sum. And therefore it does pay society to deter this kind of activity."
Unsurprisingly, the purveyors of eliminationist rhetoric at the top -- including the leaders of the Minutemen themselves, who eagerly spout their dubious claims that they're "weeding out their racists" -- blithely dismiss any suggestion of culpability in the way their hatemongering plays out on the ground. It seems to be a component of conservative-movement dogma that any acknowledgement of responsibility in these matters is tantamount to admitting wrongdoing -- and that, above all things, is inconceivable.
The growth industry in eliminationism inspired by 9/11 was not, of course, relegated solely to the immigration debate. Indeed, it infected nearly every aspect of the public discourse from movement conservatives in the succeeding years, and broadened its targets to include that old McCarthyite favorite: treasonous liberals.
It was probably not a coincidence, then, that the Diva of Eliminationism herself, Ann Coulter, chose to title her first book written after the terror attacks Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, nor that it included a full-fledged attempt at rehabilitating McCarthy's reputation.
That was over three years ago. Since then, we've been treated to Sean Hannity's Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism, along with Michael Savage's The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military, followed shortly by Liberalism is a Mental Disorder. Meanwhile, there's been a steady drumbeat on the airwaves from Rush Limbaugh and his thousand little imitators making the same charges.
Limbaugh, of course, has the longest record for eliminationist rhetoric, including common references to liberals as vermin. More notably, he likes to give voice to fantasies to just getting rid of them altogether:
- Wouldn't it be great if anybody who speaks out against this country, to kick them out of the country? Anybody that threatens this country, kick 'em out. We'd get rid of Michael Moore, we'd get rid of half the Democratic Party if we would just import that law. That would be fabulous. The Supreme Court ought to look into this. Absolutely brilliant idea out there.
Limbaugh also has a thousand little imitators on the airwaves, notably Savage, who likes to take Limbaugh's pushing-the-envelope schtick and ride it well beyond the realm of basic decency. Joining him on that front is KSFO's Melanie Morgan, who wanted the New York Times' managing editor executed for publishing stories critical of the Bush administration's domestic spying programs: "A great deal of good could be done by arresting Bill Keller having him lined up against the wall and shot." Meanwhile, bloggers like Glenn Reynolds can ponder a war in Iraq that emphasizes "more rubble, less trouble."
Their convenient out, when called to the carpet for such remarks (when, that is, they're not threatening their critics with lawsuits) is that all this kind of talk is just a joke, you see.
When Limbaugh suggests that we shouldn't kill all the liberals -- we want to keep a few around for museum pieces, you see -- or when Coulter quips, "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building," it's all tossed off as being just for laughs. Whatsa matter, you can't take a joke?
This is how propaganda is supposed to work: Circulate ideas on the popular level first, perhaps disguised as "humor" or "edgy commentary," until they become part of a broadly popular "conventional wisdom." Seemingly "outrageous" ideas gradually gain broader acceptance, leveraging the populace toward the movement's agenda. Then, when these notions are enunciated at the official and most powerful levels of government, any outrage that might be voiced is easily ignored.
But observe what happens: The objectification of the targets, the denial of their humanity, is consummated in these jokes. Their very humor, indeed, is predicated on that denial. And so the conception of these targets as mere objects, disposable and ripe for elimination, is lodged in the audience's mind. It propels eliminationism into the mainstream, and gives permission to the demonic.
Naturally, they will never admit it when, as in the immigration debate, this rhetoric begins to have its predictable effect on its public audience. More "jokes" appear with murderousness as the source of the humor, such as the "liberal hunting licenses" that were being hawked at through an Internet vendor. Hardly anyone raises an eyebrow when a well-linked right-wing blogger prints the home address of a Bush critic and invites his readers to pay him a violent visit (and indeed wishing aloud for his demise). Likewise, when Michelle Malkin plays a similar Radio Rwandaesque stunt, she simply pouts and pretends that no harm was intended.
Most of all, these right-wing frothers like Malkin run and hide from any semblance of responsibility when one of their acolytes begins engaging in domestic terrorism directed against, you guessed it, prominent liberals, as in the case late last year of Chad Castagana:
- A federal grand jury indicted a Woodland Hills man Friday on charges of sending threatening letters with white powder to half a dozen politicians and celebrities, including incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and television personalities Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann.
The 14-count indictment accuses Chad Conrad Castagana, 39, of sending the letters from Sept. 7 through Nov. 9 to those three as well as Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, comedian and late-night talk show host David Letterman and Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone. The powder turned out to be harmless.
Among the items revealing his mindset were this post at the Free Republic from Castagana, outlining his beliefs:
- I am a lifelong Conservative Republican.
I have an Associates Degree in the Science of Electronics.
Ann Coulter is a Goddess and I worship Laura Ingraham and Michele Malkin.
English is the langauge of the United States of America- - our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are written in the langauge that expresses our civilized freedoms.
Spanish is the language of Banana Republics, beyond that it belongs in a European country.
Just as interesting, perhaps, were Castagana's admitted motives, as outlined by the prosecutor:
- "It appears the individuals were targeted based on what he described as their liberal politics," Assistant U.S. Atty. Donald Gaffney said Friday after the indictment was returned.
"He described himself as a compulsive voter who voted conservatively or Republican and he did not like the politics of these individuals."
The powder in the envelopes, Gaffney said, turned out to be laundry detergent, household cleansers or other products commonly found in the home.
"We have had a number of cases where we have had these hoaxes, whether it was sending fake anthrax in the mail or making a fake bomb threat to a plane," Gaffney said. "These hoaxes consume an enormous amount of investigative time and energy so we take them very seriously, especially when you are talking about a [threatened] chemical or a biological weapon."
It's worth remembering, of course, that Castagana actually was piggybacking his terrorism off the very lethal brand of terrorism -- also targeting, as it happened, largely liberals -- commited by the anthrax killer who attacked shortly after 9/11, and whose efforts played a significant role in ratcheting up the national fear levels in the weeks after the destruction of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
The disingenuousness of right-wing demagogues regarding the effects of their rhetoric is outdone only by their mendacity. The estrangement of movement conservatives from any semblance of truthfulness has been often and well documented in recent years, ranging from the tumescent falsehoods peddled by Limbaugh, Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, and the rest of the right-wing crowd, to the up-is-down Bizarro Universe perpetrated on the public by Michelle Malkin in defending the internment of Japanese Americans and claiming that liberals are responsible for the degraded state of our national discourse.
Eliminationism, both in rhetoric and in action, is in fact predicated on a sandcastle foundation of lies and distortions, and it always has been. The Mesoamerican and North American natives were not, in fact, soulless and inhuman savages incapable of civilization or bereft of culture. African Americans are not, in truth, subhuman brutes good only for hard labor, nor are they sexually voracious beasts lusting to rape every white woman in sight. Asians, in fact, are also whole human beings perfectly capable of assimilating and becoming fully American citizens. Latinos, in fact, are not stealing our jobs and costing taxpayers billions. And in reality, none of these nonwhites are "the problem" when it comes to the failure of the inner-city poor to break out of their cycle; the problem, as we have seen, is persistent residential segregation and employment discrimination predicated on preserving white privilege at the expense of nonwhites.
This is the case because eliminationism itself is predicated on the greatest of all lies: the denial of our common humanity, what Buber called "the divine" in our relation to the world and to each other. One need not necessarily need believe in God to recognize that this human element -- the spark that gives us art and poetry, embodied in love itself -- transcends cold material data and is the foundation for whatever meaning we obtain from life. Denying this in others kills the spark within ourselves and opens the door to the demonic. As Buber writes, in Good and Evil [[pp. 7-10]:
- In a lie the spirit commits treason against itself. ... Instead of completing their fellow man's experience and insight with the help of their own, as is required by men's common thinking and knowing, the introduce falsified material into his knowledge of the world and of life, and thus falsify the relations of his soul to being.
Confronting the legacy of eliminationism is necessary for our well-being as a nation because its course through our past has directly shaped our present. Its thread runs directly through the critical fault lines -- racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and cultural -- that continue to divide the nation today. Healing those fault lines take work.
Doing so, utlimately, entails overcoming the Lie -- not simply standing up to the outrageous falsehoods and the cold inhumanity its purveyors spew, but creating a culture in which engaging our common humannness informs our choices, our behavior, our beliefs, our politics.
It also entails looking honestly at our history and understanding how we came to be where we are today -- seeing that the virus of eliminationism has coursed through our history and shaped what we are today, and though its presence is far more hidden, it remains buried in our cultural soil, and infects us when we look the other way.