Friday, May 01, 2009

MSU #0001: No First Amendment In Canada

-- by Sara

This is the first in what promises to be an interminable series of "Making Shit Up" mythbusting posts. (Note the serial number. Four digits may not be enough, but here's hoping.)

It was prompted by Dave's new post just below, in which Newt Gingrich declares that we don't have a First Amendment up here in Canada.

Let me quote you from the very first provision of Canada's exhaustive Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
a) freedom of conscience and religion;
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
d) freedom of association.
Sure looks like a First Amendment in American sense to me. And note that the first article of the Charter is the introduction; so this is the very first right guaranteed by the Canadian constitution -- just as it is in the US.

And therefore Newt is, unequivocally, Making Shit Up. His claim is absolutely, factually false. 


And while we're reading the Canadian Charter of Rights, let me digress. Here's the one that fogs me up every time I read it:
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Damn it, there I go again. (Get me a tissue, will you?) It absolutely cuts me to the core every time I read those words, and realize that my new country grants me equality under the law that America had not yet seen fit to offer its own women. 

I had to move away to another country to in order to have my rights protected under law. It's a wrongness I once worked very hard to correct, but which may not be corrected even in my own lifetime. 

O Canada. With glowing hearts, & etc.

Hate-crimes bill's passage in House gets the right-wing lie machine whirling

-- by Dave

The nation's first real federal bias-crimes statute -- the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act -- just passed the House Wednesday, and is now on its way to the Senate:

On a vote of 249-175, the House passed and sent to the Senate a bill backed by the new Democratic White House to broaden such laws by classifying as "hate crimes" those attacks based on a victim's sexual orientation, gender identity or mental or physical disability.

The current law, enacted four decades ago, limits federal jurisdiction over hate crimes to assaults based on race, color, religion or national origin.

The bill would lift a requirement that a victim had to be attacked while engaged in a federally protected activity, like attending school, for it to be a federal hate crime.

As Ali Frick at Think Progress says, the religious right is freaking out because hate-crimes legislation has been one of their cornerstone bugaboos of the past decade, and it's about to slip out of their grasp after all these years.

That means, of course, the flagrant lies are starting to fly. Like Virginia Foxx's little "slip" in calling Matthew Shepard's murder a "hoax."

Time to call in the veteran liars, obviously. So who should we see shopping the right's favorite falsehoods about the hate-crimes bill on the teevee but the ole Newtster himself. Gingrich appeared yesterday on CSPAN's Washington Journal, flagrantly lying about the nature of the bill:

Let me share part of what I think concerns reasonable people who look at that kind of legislation. In Sweden today, it is illegal to quote from certain parts of the Bible. Literally illegal. So pastors can get put in jail for quoting from the Bible. On some college campuses, thought, you know, regulations have said to students you can’t think out loud whatever you want to say. The act of thinking it becomes a crime, the act of saying it. It’s very dangerous to go down a road that says you can’t have an honest debate about an issue, because we have now decided we’re protecting one group of people.

[Gingrich then goes on to describe the free-speech horrors in Europe and Canada because they don't have a First Amendment.]

... So I think that’s why you see people who are really worried by George Orwell’s 1984, and the very real danger that as the state starts to regulate what you are allowed to say, suddenly you could find yourself literally censored or in danger of going to jail, if you said the politically incorrect thing.

This is the No. 1 charge against the LLEHCPA: That it somehow institutes "thought crimes" or criminalizes "hate speech." It is, of course, a complete fabrication.

After all, you only need read the bill's text, where it's spelled out explicitly:

(d) Rule of Evidence- In a prosecution for an offense under this section, evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense. However, nothing in this section affects the rules of evidence governing impeachment of a witness.’.


Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the Constitution.

Earlier this week, I was on a conference call with a number of groups involved in helping give this legislation its final historic push. Among them was Caroline Frederickson, Director of the ACLU's Legislative Office, who had this to say:

I am here really to address the claims by some opponents of the bill that this bill would chill free speech and chill free association. Well, we strongly disagree with that. This bill has a provision, that has been in it since 2005, that has enabled the ACLU to support this legislation, because it does protect both civil rights and free speech and association. The bill specifically blocks evidence of speech and association that are not directly related to the crime.

That means that anyone saying we have unleashed the thought police, or thought crimes, is wrong.

... This bill will have the strongest protection against the misuse of a person’s free speech that Congress has enacted in the entire federal criminal code.

Yet everywhere you turn, right-wingers' eyes are spinning in their heads at the looming prospect of the Obama Thought Police:

"In and of itself this law can be applied to speech. The nature of assault -- putting someone in fear of their safety -- what will that mean for someone preaching against homosexuality?" said Mathew Staver, founder of the Liberty Council, a law firm that works on religious freedom cases.

"It elevates homosexuality to the same protective category as race. It's all part of the radical homosexual anarchist agenda," Staver said.

Similarly, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was lauding Foxx for her false-witness-bearing rant about Matthew Shepard, because to the FRC, this legislation is all about "Censoring the Church and Silencing Christians."

Frick and the Think Progress crew put together a video of some of the prime moments in the House debate:

REP MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN): I feel that this hate crime legislation could be considered the very definition of tyranny.

REP. GRESHMAN BARRET (R-SC): This bill would inhibit religious freedom in our society -- a scary thought.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): You think a pregnant mother does not deserve the protection of a homosexual? You think a military member doesn't deserve the protection of a transvestite?

REP. STEVE KING (R-IA): I, Mr. Speaker, oppose and I defy the logic of the people that would advocate for such legislation the very idea we could divine what goes on in the heads of people when they commit crimes.

I wonder where these folks will get their meal tickets from after all the scary bills that they used to gin up the conservative donors for cash infusions with have all been passed by those scary Obama Democrats.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Gun-toting hatemongers: They're ba-a-a-a-a-a-ack

One of the main takeaways from the phony controversy over the DHS' bulletin on right-wing extremism was the self-revealing way that mainstream conservatives attempted to obliterate from public view the very real existence of the ongoing threat to their well-being from right-wing extremists.

Why the frantic effort to obscure this reality? Because they know the ideological and associative distance between far-right extremists and mainstream conservatives has shrunk dramatically over the past 10 years. They dread the consequences of what will happen when the real ugliness starts to break out.

The Ugly Storm has been gathering for awhile. We've been reporting regularly on the increasing activities of far-right extremists, particularly the anti-Obama racism rampant throughout much of this contingent. Of course, it doesn't help when mainstream conservative media are fanning those flames, either. And it seems like it's getting close to an outright explosion.

My friend Max Blumenthal went to a gun show in California and emerged with the above video and the following report:

Fueled by the screeds of radio hosts Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, and the lesser-known but increasingly influential online conspiracist Alex Jones, many gun-show attendees I spoke to were convinced Obama planned to usher in a Marxist dictatorship. They warned that the president’s power grab would only begin with mass gun seizures. “If Obama takes away our guns,” a young, .45 pistol-toting man from Reno told me, “it’s just a step into trying to take away everything else.”

Indeed, in their minds, average Americans opposed to the Obama agenda would be herded into FEMA-run concentration camps by a volunteer army of glassy-eyed liberal college graduates. “When they start imprisoning Americans, and people start seeing that we’re the enemy, then that’ll make it hot,” predicted one Antioch-based young man sporting a button for former Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul. “People talk about a revolution,” the young man continued, “an armed revolution. I think police crackdowns on individuals will tip the scales.”

More than a few gun dealers and attendees echoed the young man’s seeming enthusiasm for armed revolt. One Contra Costa, California-based gun dealer named Rich predicted during an otherwise casual off-camera conversation that “some nut” would assassinate Obama within one year of any Democratic attempt at gun-control legislation. While the prospect of organized right-wing violence against the federal government seems far-fetched at this point, the paranoid rhetoric I documented suggests the militia movement that organized against President Bill Clinton’s policies during the 1990s could experience a dramatic resurgence by mobilizing resentment against Obama.

The gun-show crowd is more the "Patriot" contingent of far-right extremism: obsessed with guns and conspiracy theories, yet capable of paranoid bursts of extreme violence by "lone wolf" actors.

Yet we're also seeing a similar upsurge in outright white-supremacist organizations. Newsweek also has a report on this trend from Eve Conant:

It's not about hate, it's about love. Love of white people. That's the message in songs, speeches and casual conversation during a weekend retreat in Zinc, Ark., sponsored by the Christian Revival Center and the Knights Party, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan. There's no overt threat of violence here. No cross burnings (or "lightings," as the KKK prefers to call them). The only fire at the grassy compound, located at the end of a long, rocky road circled by turkey vultures, is a bonfire for the Knights youth corps to roast their s'mores. The kids draw pictures of white-hooded Klanspeople and sing songs about the oppressed Aryan race; rousing sermons are read from Bibles decorated with Confederate flags. Aryan souvenirs are for sale, including baseball caps proclaiming IT'S LOVE, NOT HATE and advertising THE ORIGINAL BOYZ IN THE HOOD.

... The haters are doing their best, in other words, to move out from the fringe and toward the mainstream—and they're boasting some success.

Indoctrination often starts on the Internet. Some crazies posting on MySpace, for instance, have called for armed revolution; at least one has referred to Barack Obama as "a dead man." But many leaders of white-supremacist groups and Web forums are toning down their rhetoric. The aim is to attract the kind of person Robb describes as "the guy down the road who until now had his plasma TV and car in the garage, but just lost his job and won't find a new one because some illegal already has it."

Conant also explores where we're at in the far right's usual arc of flight:

The ADL's Mark Pitcavage says it is very difficult to track hate-group numbers because the organizations often splinter. What he tries to track is anger levels, and those, he warns, are rising—despite any superficial sweet talk: "The white-supremacist movement has been at red-hot anger levels for a long time. When I get concerned is when they get to white hot, where you see large bomb plots or talk about race wars. Right now we're at very red hot, and are concerned we might reach white hot again." He points to the MySpace account of "88Charles88" as an example of what he's seeing (88 is code for "Heil, Hitler" in the white-power world). "Charles" attacks Obama and says, "Now it's time to fight." "There is a lot of anger out there," says Pitcavage, "and these groups are trying to stoke it, to get someone like 88Charles88 to take the next step. What we're seeing is not a softening, but a hardening of attitude."

Pitcavage says current rhetoric resembles that of the early '90s (including conspiracy theories about FEMA concentration camps and gun confiscations), just before the outbreak of the white-militia movements. While some leaders of extremist groups may use softer recruiting tactics, "their membership is not toning down at all," says Pitcavage. For every NSM member, there is a nonaffiliated skinhead posting entries to hate blogs. If Stormfront has tried to tone down, that has only inspired a competing site—Vanguard—to showcase violent alternatives.

Some civil-rights activists are more worried about the racists they can't see than the showboaters trying to draw attention to themselves. "We're not going back to the '50s," says Mark Potok of the SPLC. "The country has moved forward in remarkable ways. But with that breakthrough comes something of a backlash." It's the loners, he says, who are most worrisome: "The lone-wolf idea is much scarier than the big-plot idea. Big plots don't succeed because these guys cannot keep their mouths shut."

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Far Right's First 100 Days: Shifting Into Overdrive

-- by Sara

Somewhere back in February, about three weeks into the Obama Administration, everybody on the left suddenly noticed that there was something different going on with the conservatives. The outrageous screeds and paranoid delusions sounded pretty much as they always had -- but there was a new fury behind them, a strident urgency that hadn't been there before, and a very audible shift of the gears in right-wing behavior and rhetoric. None of this came as a surprise to veteran right-wing watchers -- we'd been predicting a bad backlash since the 2006 election -- but three months into the new administration, it's increasingly hard to ignore the fact that this ominous new trend is taking on a momentum of its own. 

On April 7, the Department of Homeland Security ratified some of those observations. Fueled by bone-deep racism, an unnatural terror of liberal government, frustration over the economic downturn, and fears about America's loss of world standing, they said, the militant right wing is indeed rising again. Their numbers are up, their talk is turning ugly, and it's not unthinkable that we could be in for a wave of domestic terrorism unseen since the mid-90s. I've been meaning for a while to talk about what changed after the Inauguration, and why, and what it means to the country going forward. Our observance of the end of the First 100 Days seems to be a good time to do that. 

The DHS report laid out the history and the current drivers in straight factual terms, and made some safe predictions about what might make the situation worse. (Interestingly, the nightmare scenario for most right-wing watchers -- a white-hot backlash in the wake of another major terrorist attack -- appears nowhere in the DHS assessment. Perhaps they didn't want to put ideas into paranoid right-wing heads.) But the report stopped short of taking the next step. We need to look at what long experience has taught us about the past escalation patterns of right-wing rhetoric and violence, and figure out where we currently stand within those patterns. 

We actually know quite a bit about this. Most national agencies tasked with keeping tabs on political and religious extremist groups look for specific signs that help them sort out who's just talking the talk, and who's actually getting ready to walk the walk. The criteria vary from agency to agency; and our collective insight into these patterns changes and deepens every year. But there are some generally-accepted principles -- and applying them to the current state of conservatism gives a clearer view what's changed in the past 100 days, what the shift really means, and what could be coming next if the right keeps going down this road. 

I want to make it clear: the DHS report emphasizes that there's no specific evidence that any particular group is planning any particular action. At the same time, what's equally clear from the pattern analysis is that the upshift we heard was the right wing going into overdrive -- the speed at which talk about revolution (which has been going on for years, but intensified after 2006) accelerates into concrete preparation for action. Here's why.

* * *


The far right wing has been laying the groundwork for violent action for decades. Long before they turn dangerous, political and religious groups take their first step down that road by adopting a worldview that justifies eventual violent action. The particulars of the narrative vary, but the basic themes are always the same. First: their story is apocalyptic, insisting that the end of the world as we've known it is near. Second: it divides the world into a Good-versus-Evil/Us-versus-Them dualism that encourages the group to interpret even small personal, social, or political events as major battles in a Great Cosmic Struggle -- a habit of mind that leads the group to demonize anyone who disagrees with them. This struggle also encourages members to invest everyday events with huge existential meaning, and as a result sometimes overreact wildly to very mundane stuff. 

Third: this split allows for a major retreat from consensus reality and the mainstream culture. The group rejects the idea that they share a common future with the rest of society, and curls up into its own insular worldview that's impervious to the outside culture's reasoning or facts. Fourth: insiders feel like they're a persecuted, prophetic elite who are being opposed by wicked, tyrannical forces. Left to fester, this paranoia will eventually drive the group to make concrete preparations for self-defense -- and perhaps go on the offense against their perceived persecutors. Fifth: communities following this logic will also advocate the elimination of their enemies by any means necessary, in order to purify the world for their ideology. 

All these ideas have been part of the discourse on the right for decades. You can trace their genesis all the way back to the 1950s, starting with the overheated apocalypticism of the anti-Communist movement. Over time, it came to include the dualism of the John Birch Society and assorted white supremacist groups; the persecution complex of Nixon and his Silent Majority followers; the anti-liberal eliminationism that's been gathering force for the past decade; and the war on evidence-based science and reason that's always been at the heart of conservative arguments. As J. Peter Scoblic argues in Us vs. Them, narratives that justify violence have always been deeply ingrained in the right-wing belief system. 

Since the Inauguration, all of these themes are being played far more loudly and openly. And somewhere between November 4 and this 100th day, the right wing has also begun to act on these beliefs in ways that push the whole process to the next level -- the level where thoughts and beliefs begin to crystallize into action.

* * *


What's different now? Plenty of things -- all of which, taken together, strongly suggest a group that's just about done talking, and is beginning to organize itself to act. First, there's been a shift in rhetoric. Over at Orcinus, Dave Neiwert and I have argued for years (with plenty of expert support from social psychologists) that strong words are often a thought rehearsal, a premonition of possible strong action to come. It's not that people always act on the rhetoric -- they don't. It's that when the actions do come, you find that there's usually been plenty of very hot rhetoric tossed around in the run-up, as people psych themselves up for battle. 

That's why agencies watching worrisome groups keep their ears open, and listen carefully for a specific shift in tone. A lot of groups seeking change establish the lines of conflict by constantly naming and accusing their enemies, and insisting on their essential evilness. This isn't great politics, but it's not usually a problem -- unless it moves to the next stage, where the group starts expressing a clear intention to eradicate those perceived enemies. This can be a signal that they've accepted the need for violent action in their own minds, and may be actively planning something. It's a shift that should never be ignored. 

When Sean Hannity runs a poll asking whether his viewers prefer a military coup, secession, or armed rebellion -- and armed rebellion wins -- that's evidence of this kind of shift. Right-wing talkers have built careers out of demonizing liberals; but when they start talking about what specific steps should be taken against them, that's not something we should ignore. 

Second, there's been a quantum leap in the sheer down-the-rabbit-hole surreality of their beliefs about the world. Bloggers have been pointing out for years that conservatives have zero compunction about Making Shit Up; but in the past, their prevarications were almost always built around a kernel of fact, wrapped in thick layers of distortion, misattribution, or lies of omission. What's new in the past 100 days is that we're now seeing stories that are just flat-out fabulation, without even so much as a nod to factual reality. They're not even bothering to try to attach these claims to any kind of truth. Their fantasies are so much truthier to them. 

Up is down. Black is white. Obama's not a citizen, he's going to take our guns, Congress is about to legalize incest....this we believe, and there's no expert and no amount of real-world evidence that can ever convince us otherwise. The right wing's retreat from consensus reality has finally left them living in an Orwellian alternative universe all their own. 

Third, they've been humiliated by their election losses. And that's hugely dangerous, because authoritarian leaders react uniquely badly to being humiliated. Experts tell us that their huge egos and insatiable need for control make them very brittle -- and that the shattering point is often a specific event that publicly repudiates their authority, or makes it obvious to the world and their followers that they are no longer in control. Decisively losing both the White House and the Congress has been all that, and then some. 

This overweening humiliation is growing every day that the Democrats and their new president stay in power. It's a pain that will not go away, and it's likely to curdle into something far more venomous in time. The result, unfortunately, is probably going to be more violent attacks on government authority like the one in Pittsburgh last month. 

Fourth, there's that new sense of urgency. Groups heading for violent confrontation are often pushed past the brink by the belief that the apocalypse is unfolding before their very eyes, and that they have no choice but to seize the moment and act. For many on the right, January 20 was the day the trumpet sounded. Obama's going to turn the country over to the Commies. He's going to take away your guns. He's going to open the borders, turn the country into a welfare state, and give all our tax money to lazy minorities. And it's no idle threat -- they're quite convinced that he's going to do all this any day now. This panic is new, and it's palpable. It's also worrisome, because these would-be revolutionaries have been preparing themselves for years for just this moment. 

Fifth, the demagogues have seized conservatism's center stage. Violent groups typically organize around a leader who promotes the apocalyptic visions, the dualism, the persecution complex, the eliminationist fantasies -- and the sense that True Patriots can no longer wait another minute to act. In some groups, this leader exerts total control over every aspect of their followers' lives, like Koresh and Jim Jones did. In others, the leader is simply a figurehead who puts the ideology out there, leaving the followers to figure out how to implement things on their own. (The followers also bear full responsibility for the results, leaving the leader relatively unscathed.) Osama bin Ladin runs his show this way. 

Either way, these leaders are invariably amoral, ego-driven high social-dominance men who gain power by hijacking their followers' moral systems. When they succeed -- which is to say, when they finally override the ethical ballast provided by tradition, customs, laws, and conscience to become the dominant moral authority in their followers' lives -- they can gain a stunning degree of influence, and lead people into doing things they'd never have considered on their own. 

The right wing has never been short of these guys. Still, in the past, the paranoid stylings of media ideologues like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck were simply background ranting to the more reality-based lead vocal of the party's actual politicians. But now the election is over. The candidates have all gone home. And the GOP's party structure is in tatters. There are no credible political leaders left to drive the conservative conversation. That leaves a power vacuum on the front line that the right-wing hate talkers are now rushing forward to fill. 

When Rush Limbaugh is considered the GOP's spiritual leader and Glenn Beck is its leading prophet, the conservative movement's entire discourse is now driven by whatever outrageous rhetoric seems most likely to boost Fox's ratings. The moral hijacking of the movement has begun, and nobody should be surprised when these folks finally end up in the same moral abyss these kinds of leaders always bring their followers to. 

Sixth, they're putting themselves in direct opposition to state power -- and identifying that power as their primary enemy. All groups headed for a violent confrontation eventually come to believe that their enemies are somehow aligned with the government -- and the government is out to get them. Conservatives are coming up hard against this one now that they no longer control the government themselves. Back when they were gleefully dismantling the Constitution and building a surveillance state, it never occurred to them that they might someday be out of power. Now, of course, they're terrified to find all that unleashed, unaccountable power in the hands of Libruls and That Black Guy. 

Weirdly, they seem to have almost total amnesia about their role in all this. To hear them tell it, Barack Obama seized all this power for himself in just the past three months. Given that epic memory failure, there's not much hope that they'll draw the right lessons from this reversal. It's far more likely that their newfound terror of government power will lead them to resent -- and eventually overreact to -- even casual encounters with government authority. 

Seventh, they're arming up. Back in 2006, right-wing watchers warned that white supremacist groups were encouraging their members to join the military in order to get the weapons training they'll need to execute their racial holy war. And for the first time ever, the recruit-starved military wasn't doing much to cull them out. The DHS's concern about returning veterans was no doubt partly based on this recent history, which has given racist groups unprecedented access to propagandize troops at the front. 

At the same time, the past 100 days have seen record gun sales and nationwide ammo shortages as terrified conservatives buy up guns in anticipation of a total weapons ban. This seems like just another curious only-in-America news story -- until you realize that the far right is already sporting most of the earmarks of a group that's gearing up for violent action. Given the rest of the pattern, we should take this trend very, very seriously. 

Eighth, they're flexing their muscles. Groups who are flirting with terrorist action will usually start by experimenting with threats and petty violence. Learning that they can successfully intimidate others adds to the group's sense of invincibility, and teaches them the dangerous lesson that violence works. Both these discoveries increase the chances they'll resort to violence more quickly, and in greater magnitude, in the future. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center carefully tracks hate incidents around the country, and they've seen a significant uptick in violence and threats since the inauguration. While we can hope this will die down in time as people make their peace with the new status quo, we also need to be aware that there's a pattern where things go the other way -- that these events will embolden the right to commit bigger acts of thuggery, and organize on a broader scale for actual domestic terrorism. 

If our national terrorism watchers were tracking a religious or political group that had suddenly escalated on all eight of these fronts in a matter of three short months, they'd be seriously concerned. They'd be asking the question we need to ask: Now that we're here, what comes next?

* * *


Let me start this last piece of the discussion with a warning. This isn't a prediction. It's just a description of how things typically play out when any authoritarian group arrives at the place where the American right now stands. If they keep going this way, this is where the road leads -- but the people now in that movement still have a choice about whether or not they're actually going to make the trip. If they do, here's what lies ahead: 

Further separation. One of the watershed moments in the development of a religious or political radical group is the day they decide to go upcountry, building some sort of secluded retreat or community away from the prying eyes of the authorities. The Aryan Nations, the Fundamentalist Mormons, Jim Jones....the list is long, because this is such a universal moment in the radicalization process. It's also the next place the gears shift. 

The American right is too big to just all go off into the woods together -- but they're obviously trying hard to retreat from the rest of us in other ways. The complete break with factual reality is one part of this. The growing talk of secession is another overt sign that they're desperately looking for someplace to escape to. 

Given that impulse, it's very likely that land is already being quietly bought up, and that some people are beginning to plan their moves to various locations around the country where they believe they'll be safer. It's not unreasonable to expect that over the next year or two, we'll start to hear about a new round of separatist compounds; and that a few states will become right-wing havens where secessionist talk will turn more serious. 

This is a dangerous development. Groups that try to separate always claim that they're retreating to "live in peace" -- but too often, peace is about the last thing that results from this. Goin' up to the country is an overt declaration that the group believes that the mainstream culture is "out to get us," and is now asserting its right to live outside the law. There's an unquestioned conviction that the outside world means them harm -- and that they must organize and arm themselves for the coming showdown. 

The isolation also allows high-dominance leaders to concentrate their power over group members, without any pesky social or legal recourse to fairness. Suspicion and dependency flourish. People learn that might makes right, and come to accept violence as a natural and proper way to deal with conflict. This is why law enforcement groups consider the moment of physical retreat as sort of Rubicon beyond which the likelihood of violence increases dramatically. We should be very concerned that the right wing seems determined to go there. 

Overt lawlessness. A group that is separated from society, living in its own world, telling itself stories that justify violence, gripped with paranoia, perfectly willing to engage in petty thuggery and intimidation, and armed to the teeth has pretty much everything required to turn into a first-rate criminal cartel. Members come to believe that they answer to a "higher law," and express that new-found "freedom" by overtly and deliberately defying laws passed by a government they don't respect as legitimate. 

At this point, it's common to see people who've never been in trouble with the law before suddenly coming into contact (and confrontation) with the authorities. Lawlessness is a sign of an increasingly open contempt for and defiance of the larger society -- and a hint that that the group is moving into the openly oppositional stance that precedes a large-scale attack or confrontation. 

Furthermore: once they get to where they're brazenly breaking laws, you can bet they're especially breaking weapons laws. Gathering guns and bomb-making materials is seen as necessary to either defend their home turf from their perceived enemies, or make offensive plans to eradicate those enemies. 

Picking fights with authorities. A decade ago, law enforcement and government officials too often blundered into bloody showdowns with radical groups because they simply didn't understand the central role they played as The Enemy in the group's unfolding eschatological drama. These days -- following several disastrous confrontations in the 1990s -- government officials are being trained to move slowly, to avoid backing would-be revolutionaries into humiliating corners, and to work within their worldview and belief structure wherever possible to defuse a possible confrontation. 

That's important, because a group that's gone all the way to the end of the road arrives at a place where it's armed, barricaded, mentally and physically prepared, and spoiling for a fight. From that point, any excuse -- a routine business inspection, a traffic stop, a custody hearing that didn't go the right way -- can become the catalyst that leads the group to take out after its government persecutors. As the group becomes more dug in and angry, these confrontations become harder to avoid. And all too often, they end in disaster.

* * *
From here, the most likely case is that vast majority of the folks now drunk on right-wing hate talk will ultimately sober up just soon enough not to follow the movement's emerging leaders down this road. But, if the 1990s were any guide (and the DHS report seems to think that they are), there will also be a small but significant fraction of hardcore right-wingers who will zoom right through the flashing red lights and ride all the way to the bloody end. Without the moderating influence of the saner voices among them, they'll quickly turn violent -- and we could be in for an interesting few years before it all burns itself out. 

And, in the end, it probably will burn itself out. In the 1990s, the violence escalated up until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 -- an event so gruesome and dramatic that it discredited the movement even among its own followers. Tim McVeigh's capture and execution also scared tough-talking movement leaders with the threat of real consequences. And so that round ended. 

What we've seen the past 100 days strongly suggests that, to at least some degree, we will be going there again. The right wing long ago accepted a foundational narrative that justifies violence. Now, the leaders of the movement are inciting their followers to take many (if not most) of the intermediate steps that signal a group actively gearing up for violence. From this point, it's only a short slide to further separation, disengagement, and finally confrontation. What we've seen so far has been intense and surprising -- but we should also recognize it as the first warning gusts of a rapidly gathering storm. 

Cross-posted from Blog for Our Future

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's an insult to suggest that veterans are bias-crime victims

-- by Dave

I guess veterans are the right wing's new favorite sacred cow. Having discovered, via the phony DHS domestic-terrorism controversy, that they can gleefully club liberals over the head with anything even remotely resembling a slight to the sacred honor of American veterans -- such slights, evidently, including insufficiently abject prostration -- Republicans are now wielding said club at every available opportunity.

Let's face it: the Right really hates that the folks in the military in fact love President Obama. And so propagating the notion that Democrats are "anti-military" is a big deal right now.

Last week, for instance, as the new federal hate-crimes bill was passing out of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida tried to include veterans in the list of protections.

This was a classic right-wing twofer: Work to undermine the hate-crimes bill, and smear Democrats at the same time! Pretty, clever, eh?

Sure enough, after Glenn Beck coughed this one up Friday night, there was Sean Hannity last night, regurgitating Beck's stale hairball:

Hannity: Now, Congresswoman, including our soldiers in this bill would not belittle anybody. And I think you and Janet Napolitano need to revisit your opinion of our veterans.

Actually, Feeney's proposal would render the legislation moot and unconstitutional, because it would then be predicated on the idea of creating "protected classes." And, as has been already explained many times, hate-crimes bills aren't about creating "protected categories" -- they are strictly written to encompass the motives of the perpetrator:

Hate-crime statutes are neither written to protect specific classes of persons from assault nor to enhance the charges simply when a person from a "protected class" is the victim of a crime. We don't have laws that create stiffer time if you simply assault a black or a Jew or a gay person. The laws don't even specify races or religions. Such laws would be in clear violation of basic constitutional principles, including the equal-protection clause.

In fact, the actual class status of a victim is almost secondary to the decision whether or to file a hate-crimes charge or not. The primary concern is the motivation of the perpetrator. All of these laws are written to punish people more severely for committing a crime committed with a bias motivation.

Not everyone ever joins an armed service. Veteranhood is a not a universal trait. But the categories of bias motivation -- race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and sexual preference -- are universal human traits:

[Bias crime laws] are intended to protect everyone equally from these kinds of crimes. Everyone, after all, has religious beliefs of one kind or another; we all have a race, a gender, an ethnicity, a sexual orientation. A quick look at the FBI's annual bias-crime statistics bears this out; anti-white bias crimes are the second-largest category of racial crimes, and anti-Christian crimes constitute the second-largest in the religion category. If the laws were written as [Rooney] suggests, they couldn't possibly pass the Constitution's equal-protection muster; yet these laws have.

Finally, bias-crime laws have always been about addressing real, identifiable social pathologies that have a toxic effect on larger society. Bias crimes against veterans -- who for the most part are fairly capable of defending themselves anyway; indeed, it strikes me as insulting to cast them in the role of victims -- are not, as far as anyone can demonstrate, an identifiable problem at this time. However, racially, religiously, ethnically, and sexually motivated bias crimes are indeed very real phenomena.

It is indeed an insult to the victims of those crimes to try to trivialize their suffering with cheap tactics like this. And it's downright obscene to claim that saying so is "anti-military" or "bashing the soldiers."

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Two more officers killed by a right-wing extremist with a military background. But don't insult our veterans!

-- by Dave

It's the new political correctness, I gather, not to ever suggest that anyone who's ever served in the military is ever capable posing a threat to law-enforcement officers or the general public. That was the whole upshot of the recent fake controversy over the DHS report on domestic terrorism.

In the meantime, what do you know: Yet another shooting of police officers by an angry and paranoid man with a military background. And just like the last one, this one believed Obama was going to come get his guns:

On Sunday, lawmen still were investigating why Joshua Cartwright, a 28-year-old U.S. Army Reserve soldier with a history of violence, killed Okaloosa County sheriff's deputies Burt Lopez and Warren "Skip" York at a gun range in Crestview.

A few minutes after he killed the deputies, Cartwright was himself killed in a shootout with lawmen in DeFuniak Springs.

"None of it's logical, none of it makes sense," said interim Sheriff Ed Spooner on Sunday. "He'd obviously just got something else in his mind."

An offense report filed against Cartwright the day he died outlines an angry husband who threatened his wife, kept guns and knives on hand, was "severely disturbed" that Barack Obama had been elected president, and believed the U.S. government was conspiring against him.

Here's the incident report. Towards the end, this observation is included:

While we were waiting Cartwright told me that her husband believed the U.S. Government was conspiring against him. She said he had been severely disturbed that Barack Obama had been elected President.

The extent of Cartwright's military background is yet unclear:

In November, when authorities arrested Cartwright for domestic battery, they listed his employer as the US Army Reserves. But Spooner said Cartwright was a member of a Florida National Guard unit based in Crestview. He said Cartwright also was interested in militia groups and weapons training.

Spooner said he did not believe Cartwright was a war veteran, but that investigators are continuing to check his background.

Now, let's go back again to the wording of that DHS bulletin:

DHS/I&A assesses that lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States. Information from law enforcement and nongovernmental organizations indicates lone wolves and small terrorist cells have shown intent—and, in some cases, the capability—to commit violent acts.

... (U//FOUO) Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.

Remember what that bulletin was intended for? To give law-enforcement officers in the field a heads-up about the potential risk posed by right-wing extremists, which is enhanced considerably by the presence of a military background.

Too bad the wounded egos of a bunch of loudmouthed demagogues who insist on a ridiculously tendentious reading of the factual contents of a serious domestic-terrorism report are more important than the lives of those law-enforcement officers.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fox News' 'Tea Party' hysteria really did whip up the far-right nutcases

-- by Dave

In spite of all that voluminous airspace on Fox News that was devoted to promoting and then reporting on the 'Tea Parties' on April 15, I'll be willing to wager that they won't ever include this in their reports:

Oklahoma Man Arrested for Twittering Tea Party Death Threats

In a series of tweets beginning April 11, CitizenQuasar vowed to start a “war” against the government on the steps of the Oklahoma City Capitol building, the site of that city’s version of the national “Tea Party” protests promoted by the conservative-leaning Fox News.

“START THE KILLING NOW! I am willing to be the FIRST DEATH!,” read a tweet at 8:01 PM that day. “After I am killed on the Capitol Steps, like a REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!,” he added five minutes later. Then: “Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the heads and throw the[m] on the State Capitol steps.”

Hayden’s MySpace page is a breathtaking gallery of right wing memes about the “New World Order,” gun control as Nazi fascism, and Barack Obama’s covert use of television hypnosis, among many others.

Here's a sampler of his tweets:


Here's his blog, too.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Florida killer's motives become clearer

-- by Dave

Following up on the case of Dannie Baker, the Florida man who opened fire on a roomful of Chilean exchange students, killing two of them and wounding three others, after asking a neighbor "if I was ready for the revolution to begin and if I had any immigrants in my house to get them out."

As the earlier report noted, Baker had worked on Republican campaigns for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, but was cut off after he sent some disturbing e-mails that were forwarded to the sheriff's office. What was in them?

Well, I missed this when it was reported a couple of weeks ago (partly because, like all the news about this story, it quickly sinks to the bottom of the news pile), but in any event, an Associated Press report gives us some details about the e-mails:

Last summer, Walton County Republican officials forwarded to the sheriff's office several threatening e-mails Baker sent them, riddled with misspellings and mostly focused on illegal immigrants.

In an Aug. 6 e-mail, Baker wrote: "The Washington D.C. Dictators have already confessed to rigging elections in our States for their recruiting dictators to overthrow us with foreign illegals here, and have allowed them to kill and run for office in the States to extend their influence into our States."

In another e-mail, Baker claimed there is a plot to "give our homeland to foriegn states and their representatives here in America. Lets exacute them and reinstate a legal government that will do something for us."

Walton GOP head Michael Tim Norris said Baker volunteered during George W. Bush's presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004. "He was a hard little worker. He showed up when you needed him to show up," he said.

Baker "just made people feel uncomfortable" when he returned this fall, however, and officials asked him to stop volunteering, Norris said.

This is, of course, a classic example of how eliminationist rhetoric operates: It creates permission for violent people to act on the underlying desire to expunge.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hate crimes bill passes out of committee, wingnuts pass out the BS

-- by Dave

We're finally making progress on passing a federal hate-crimes bill: On Thursday, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Protection Act passed out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Sure enough, as Kyle at RightWingWatch predicted, the right-wing freakout has begun. Unsurprisingly, Glenn Beck is already leading the way.

He invited on wingnut talk-show host Sandi Rios, who promptly declared hate crimes "thought crimes" (uh-huh, right). She also attacked Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, who was defending the bill from Republican attempts to nullify it by adding categories or victims by claiming:

Rios: Well, she's saying that anybody that's killed or harmed is not a real victim -- unless they're homosexual or gay or Jewish. Then they're real victims. So you can murder more severely if they happen to homosexual or Jewish. It makes no sense.

Beck: Whatever happened to equal protection under the law? If you kill someone, you should go to jail!

Well, as I've explained previously, hate-crimes laws in fact do offer equal protection under the law:

This ... is precisely how the laws work: they are intended to protect everyone equally from these kinds of crimes. Everyone, after all, has religious beliefs of one kind or another; we all have a race, a gender, an ethnicity, a sexual orientation. A quick look at the FBI's annual bias-crime statistics bears this out; anti-white bias crimes are the second-largest category of racial crimes, and anti-Christian crimes constitute the second-largest in the religion category. If the laws were written as McGough suggests, they couldn't possibly pass the Constitution's equal-protection muster; yet these laws have.

Bias-crime laws aren't about "special categories" of victims; in fact, the victim's actual ethnic or sexual status is of secondary importance -- what matters is the motivation of the perpetrator. This is why a gay-bashing assault against a person mistaken for being gay is still a bias crime.

As for why this law is important to pass, read more here.

(Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.)


Note: As usual, the debate at the above-linked sites regarding hate crimes has invariably wandering into the standard disinformation being peddled. As something of an antidote, I'd like to offer these links for deeper background on hate crimes, the laws against them, and the rationale for those laws.

Letter to the L.A. Times

When hate hits home

Bigotry and freedom

Hate crimes: The big picture

Failing in the present

Should we repeal hate-crimes laws?

The GOP, gays, and hate crimes

Hate crimes, democracy, and freedom

Hate crimes: A response

Who needs hate-crime laws?

Minuteman Chris Simcox's past will haunt his GOP primary bid against McCain

-- by Dave

The latest step in Minutemen cofounder Chris Simcox's extreme makeover is now up for electoral review: Simcox is challenging John McCain in the Arizona 2010 GOP primary.

For starters, there's going to be all that footage available of Simcox when he was in his full-on Minuteman phase, including footage like that above -- excerpts from filmmaker Nikolaj Vijborg's excellent short documentary, USA Under Attack, containing the following quotes from Simcox:

I feel that the people that are coming across, invading this country, I think that they should be treated as enemies of the state. We need to putting them in work camps. Anyone could walk through these borders of this country bringing bombs, chemicals, weapons of mass destruction. I think they should be shot on sight, personally.

Those guys [D.C. politicians] need to be, you know, lynched. If we're attacked again, then we need some vigilanteism. Then we need some going into Washington, pulling them out of their offices, kicking them out of office. We need revolution.

And then there was his Minuteman compatriot in this video, Craig Howard:

No, we ought to be able to shoot the Mexicans on sight, and that would end the problem. After two or three Mexicxans are shot, they'll stop crossing the border and they'll take their cows home, too.

Stephen Lemon at Phoenix New Times is positively licking his chops, since Simcox's candidacy will make for an entertaining primary, if nothing else: "This must be what reporters in Louisiana felt like when ex-Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke ran against Edwin Edwards for Governor of the Pelican State."

Moreover, Simcox has so much baggage that you can probably count on a good deal of ink being spilled over the job of dredging it all up:

But this sort of calculated posturing will not rid him of all the baggage he's accumulated in his weird journey from L.A. kindergarten teacher to self-avowed border patriot in Cochise County, and now Scottsdale resident and seeker of public office. He is widely loathed in his own movement for his high-handedness, hence the nickname, "The Little Prince." Defectors from his ranks have regularly accused him of financial shenanigans, shenanigans he's denied. According to the few financial records MCDC has online, Simcox draws no salary from the organization he leads, which raises the question as to the source of his personal income.

Simcox cannot write off these complaints and questions as coming from sore losers, traitors and plotters of internal coups. In 2006, the conservative Washington Times published a stinging expose about Simcox's lack of financial accountability as president of MCDC. The article pointed out that former MCDC-ers were "questioning the whereabouts of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars in donations."

Then there's the problem of his criminal record. In 2004 Simcox was convicted in U.S. District Court of carrying a semi-automatic handgun onto a national park, and giving a "false or fictitious report" to a federal park ranger about the incident. He received 24 months of supervised probation and a fine of $1,000. The gun carrying stuff might play well with his followers, but his conviction for giving a "false or fictitious report" could raise concerns about Simcox's credibility.

A piece I wrote for The American Prospect last October exposed these dealings in even greater detail:

Meanwhile, Simcox's MCDC organized a follow-up border watch in Arizona in April 2006, and the group began recruiting new Minutemen around the country--everywhere from Illinois to Washington to New Hampshire. The donations began pouring in. Now thoroughly enmeshed in the [Alan] Keyes organization, all the MCDC donations flowed into a web of nearly a dozen organizations revolving around Declaration Alliance, including Diener Consultants; a Texas outfit called American Caging that acted as the escrow agent and comptroller for the operation; Renew America, a Keyes-run "grass-roots organization"; and a direct-mail company called Response Unlimited.

The association with Keyes' organizations raised hackles within MCDC ranks. Some of the Minutemen began exchanging e-mails denouncing the relationships, since Keyes and his groups were perceived within the ultra-right ranks as being "neoconservative" organizations whose interests were inimical to theirs. Gilchrist, who had washed his hands of the Keyes groups, sent out a bulletin making clear that his Minuteman Project no longer had any associations with Simcox and his outfit. The Washington Times reported on the dissent and quoted Keyes dismissing the MCDC's internal critics as anti-immigrant racists "and other unsavory fringe elements attempting to hijack the border security debate to further their individual agendas."

Simcox was undeterred. In April 2006, he hit on the idea of building a "state of the art" security fence along a section of the Arizona-Mexico border and told The Washington Times that he had more than $200,000 in donations. He described the project as one that would "feature separate, 14-foot-high fences on both sides of the border, separated by a roadway to allow the passage of U.S. Border Patrol vehicles, with surveillance cameras and motion sensors." It was this description that enticed Jim Campbell to pony up his $100,000. But there were problems, notably that there were few private landholders along the border willing to participate. The ranch owner who had agreed to a fence had no interest in an "Israeli style" security barrier; he only wanted a standard barbed-wire fence to keep out Mexican cattle. So that was what was built. The steel Campbell bought was to be used for a short section of "demonstration" fence at another ranch. Of the promised 70 miles of security fence, so far a length of only .7 miles has been erected. Much of Campbell's steel still lies in a pile, collecting Arizona dust.

... Certainly there was a significant gap between Simcox’s public claims of having raised $1.6 million for the fence, and what his financial disclosure forms show his organization actually spent on it. No one can say for sure because the MCDC won’t let anyone touch its books. But a look at the organization’s 2006 public filings indicates that, of all the money raised for the border fence, only a small amount (if any at all) went toward its construction. The forms for the Declaration Alliance—through whom all the border-fence donations were directed—show that it brought in nearly $5 million that year for all its programs. What percentage of that $5 million consisted of border-fence donations is unclear, but considering that the fence appeals began in May 2006 and have remained the MCDC’s (and Declaration Alliance’s) chief fundraising focus in the months since, it is likely that they provided at least a majority of that money. It also shows that $3.19 million went to the MCDC. But for what?

The Declaration Alliance largely spent the money on printing, consulting, and similar activities. The only indication on the form that any actual money went back to the MCDC in the field is $143,000 listed as “operational expenses,” though this money reportedly was for MCDC border watches, not the fence project. If any of those millions of dollars actually went toward building a border fence, it’s difficult to ascertain where they are and how much was disbursed—though a look at the disclosure form for the Minuteman Foundation, the MCDC entity set up specifically to handle the fence project, shows a mere $87,500 in total revenues from donations for 2006. If that’s the actual revenue coming from that $3.19 million the Declaration Alliance says it spent on the MCDC—and you estimate that at least half of that is fence-related—then we’re talking about less than 6 percent coming back to build the fence.

In other words, the best rough estimate is that about 94 cents of every dollar Jim Campbell spent on the fence went toward printing, mailing, consulting, and the like. It’s no wonder members at the field level were seeing so little of the money that Simcox claimed to be rolling in.

No doubt all this will start coming to greater public attention, now that Simcox is attempting to run for public office.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.