Friday, August 15, 2008

The Copperhead Libel

-- by Sara

Bill O'Reilly has taken his war on the blogs to the next level, engaging an "Internet Cop" who regularly appears on his show to provide examples of just how over-the-top outrageous those potty-mouth liberal bloggers are. The argument is that while conservative blogs may be rough-and-tumble, they're nothing like those liberal blogs, where commenters routinely make death threats against conservatives. (I know. I know. Conservative projection in action, once again. When Ann Coulter calls for us to be executed as traitors on national TV, that's just incisive commentary in Bill's World. When some hothead with issues corks off on our pages -- even when the rest of us cut him off or shut him down -- it's a cardinal sign that liberal blogs have become a danger to the nation.)

The really funny part of this is that his "cop" is Amanda Carpenter of, a site that recently called Michelle Obama a "race pimp" and said that congressmen who "damage the morale and undermine the military" should be executed as saboteurs. And no, those weren't comments -- those calls came on the front page. You'd think that would pretty much disqualify her as the Amy Vanderbilt in charge of enforcing good manners on blogs -- but, y'no, it's Fox, and reality is what they say it is.

The not-so-funny (and not-so-surprising) part is that Carpenter's own comments threads contain their fair share of precisely the same kind of ugly speech she purports to be digging up on the threads at liberal blogs -- and, in fact, much worse. Brad Friedman went out and found a choice series of eliminationist screeds that should give all of us pause (and perhaps send us out to the local gun shop this weekend):

FYI: "Copperheads" were Northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War on the grounds that it was expensive, unnecessary, bad for trade, and unlikely to save the Union. Many of them were small businessmen in the border areas of the Union states who lost significant trade with the South; others were out-and-out racists who didn't think freeing black slaves was worth the price in white blood. They got considerable political traction in the north in the latter years of the war, and helped split the Democratic party for the next two decades, allowing the new GOP to become entrenched.

Some Copperheads were overt Confederate sympathizers, and gave aid and comfort to the enemy during and after the war. That's why most Northerners considered them traitors, and advocated executing them as such. (My great-great-grandfather, a Union general who lived on the Indiana bank of the Ohio River, made a small career out of busting up Copperhead nests and arresting their members in the years following the war.)

Calling liberals "Copperheads" because we oppose the misadventure in Iraq is the kind of libel that seems likely to stick -- and will, in some minds, justify an eliminationist response. And the suggestion that American troops may come home from Iraq and turn their guns on their fellow citizens (like my grandfather did) is one we should take seriously. People who have committed heinous acts in the service of a cause are often deeply unwilling to step back and question the rightness of that cause -- because that justification is the single, slender post that keeps the moral weight of their actions from crushing their souls. They'd rather die -- or kill some more -- than allow anyone to point out that the only belief holding up their sanity is a lie.

BOR is, as usual, missing the big story here. It's no secret anywhere anymore: every national law enforcement and intelligence agency we've talked to is bracing for an onslaught of right-wing violence in the months ahead, which will intensify with an Obama win. (We may look back in a few years and realize Knoxville was the opening shot of a much larger wave of domestic terrorism.) The language and logic of that uprising are being worked out in the pages of Amanda Carpenter's own blog -- and yet he's got her on his show, explaining to America why liberals will be the ones to blame when the shooting starts.

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