[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]
Last night, I got the most chilling phone call I have ever received. It was Jake Burris, Ken Aden’s campaign manager. Last night, Jake and his four kids had come back to their Russellville home. As they were getting out of the car, one of his children discovered their family cat dead on the front porch. One side of the animal’s head had been bashed in and an eyeball was hanging out of its socket. But there was something even more horrifying to be found on the corpse.It does make you wonder if the perpetrator of this act has himself one of those "Liberal Hunting Licenses", doesn't it?
Written across the animal’s fur in black marker was the word “LIBERAL“.
Scott Keyes at Think Progress reports:
Pope County, where Burris lives, is a highly-conservative area of Arkansas. Aden has been running for the 3rd congressional district seat, currently held by Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), since August 2011. He released a statement on the matter this morning: “To kill a child’s pet is just unconscionable. As a former combat soldier, I’ve seen the best of humanity and the worst of humanity. Whoever did this is definitely part of the worst of humanity.”Ken Aden is a Blue America candidate, so go read more about him.
As Ardem observes:
This is terrorism. There’s no other word for it. A police report has been filed. Jake said the kids seem to be handling it okay. The one that discovered the cat was too young to be able to read and Jake had quickly gotten the others into the house before they saw it. Pope County is an insanely conservative area and the Aden campaign has been shaking things up even there and it looks like another right wing sociopath with a taste for violence has come crawling out of the woodwork in response. I asked Aden for a comment on the record:Most of you know I've written at length about this kind of right-wing behavior, especially in my book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right. Unfortunately, the book's publisher went belly up in the past year, and it's currently hard to obtain, though we are working on at least making it available in Kindle form.
“This is sickening. To kill a child’s pet…I’m at a loss for words…I’ve seen the best and the worst of humanity, but this is something else.”
Both Ken and Jake though made it clear that they weren’t going to back down on the campaign trail, both agreeing that caving to this kind of behavior would only make things worse.
“I’ve got a gun and I know how to use it.”, Jake said. “If I have to protect my kids I’ll do it without hesitation.”
In any event, I thought I'd include some relevant passages, all from the Introduction:
These incidents – the nasty personal encounters, the ugliness at campaign rallies, the violent acts of “lone wolf” gunmen – are anything but unique. If you’re a liberal in America – or for that matter, anyone who happens to have run afoul of the conservative movement and its followers – you’ve probably heard it. Anecdotally, hundreds of Americans have similar tales to tell – unexpected and brutal viciousness, coming from otherwise ordinary, everyday people, nearly all of them political conservatives, nearly all directed at their various “enemies”: liberals, Latinos, Muslims, and just about anyone who disagrees with them.
This kind of talk – voiced sometimes as inchoate rage, and at others as perverse “humor” – is not aimed at public discourse, but its very antithesis: threatening and intimidating and, ultimately, eliminating opponents. It does this by framing them as the Enemy, verminous scum, disease-ridden and disease-like cancers on the body politic who deserve not dialogue but simple purgation.
This is called eliminationism: a kind of politics and culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas for the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through complete suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.
Rhetorically, eliminationism takes on some distinctive shapes. It always depicts its opposition as simply beyond the pale, and in the end the embodiment of evil itself -- unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus in need of elimination. It often depicts its designated "enemy" as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and loves to incessantly suggest that its targets are themselves disease carriers. A close corollary -- but not as nakedly eliminationist -- are claims that the opponents are traitors or criminals, or gross liabilities for our national security, and thus inherently fit for elimination or at least incarceration.
Eliminationism is often voiced as crude "jokes", the humor of which, when analyzed, is inevitably predicated on a venomous hatred. But what we also know about this rhetoric is that, as surely as night follows day, this kind of talk eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.
Two key factors distinguish eliminationist rhetoric from other political hyperbole:
• It is focused on an enemy within, people who constitute entire blocs of the citizen populace, and
• It advocates the excision and extermination, by violent means or civil, of those entire blocs.
Eliminationism -- and particularly the rhetoric that precedes it and fuels it -- represents a kind of self-hatred. In an American culture which advertises itself as predicated on inclusiveness, eliminationism runs precisely counter to those ideals. Eliminationists, at heart, really hate the very idea of America.
It has its origins, like slavery and war, in some of man's most ancient and most savage impulses: the desire to dominate others, through violence if necessary. However, in contrast, it goes largely unnoticed and largely unexamined, perhaps because it is a side of human nature so ugly we prefer not even to recognize its existence -- so much so that only recently have we even had a term like "eliminationism" with which to frame it.
The term's first significant use came from historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in his controversial text, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, where it appears extensively and plays a central role in his thesis that "eliminationist antisemitism" had a unique life in German culture and eventually was the driving force behind the Holocaust. In the text, Goldhagen never provides a concise definition of the word, but rather constructs a massively detailed description of the eliminationist mindset:
The eliminationist mind-set that characterized virtually all who spoke out on the "Jewish Problem" from the end of the eighteenth century onward was another constant in Germans' thinking about Jews. For Germany to be properly ordered, regulated, and, for many, safeguarded, Jewishness had to be eliminated from German society. What "elimination" -- in the sense of successfully ridding Germany of Jewishness -- meant, and the manner in which this was to be done, was unclear and hazy to many, and found no consensus during the period of modern German antisemitism. But the necessity of the elimination of Jewishness was clear to all. It followed from the conception of the Jews as alien invaders of the German body social. If two people are conceived of as binary opposites, with the qualities of goodness inhering in one people, and those of evil in the other, then the exorcism of that evil from the shared social and temporal space, by whatever means, would be urgent, an imperative. "The German Volk," asserted one antisemite before the midpoint of the century, "needs only to topple the Jew" in order to become "united and free."
Hitler's Willing Executioners is an important and impressive piece of scholarship, particularly in the extent to which it catalogues the willing participation of the "ordinary" citizenry in so many murderous acts, as well as in the hatemongering that precipitated them. And his identification of "eliminationism" as a central impulse of the Nazi project was not only borne out in spades by the evidence, but was an important insight into the underlying psychology of fascism.
The eliminationist project is in many ways the signature of fascism, partly because it proceeds naturally from fascism's embrace of what Oxford Brookes scholar Roger Griffin calls palingenesis, or a Phoenix-like national rebirth, as its core myth. And the Nazi example clearly demonstrates how eliminationist rhetoric has consistently preceded, and heralded, the eventual assumption of the eliminationist project – indeed, it has played a critical role in giving permission for it to proceed, essentially creating the cultural and psychological conditions that enable the subsequent violence.
Goldhagen's focus is almost solely the Holocaust and the virulently anti-Semitic form that took root in Europe prior to the Second World War. However, as a principle, we can see eliminationism playing a role in human history through the ages -- including its special role in American history and the shaping of American culture, right up to the present day.
I noticed this in part because, at the time that I read Goldhagen’s text, I was engaged in a historical research project involving the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and was struck by the similarity of what Goldhagen was describing regarding the buildup to Nazi power to both the rhetoric and the behavior of Americans not only during the nadir of that horrific episode, but over the course of the forty years and more that had preceded the event, toward Asians generally and the Japanese specifically.
But a familiarity with the darker corners of American history tells us the phenomenon has not been restricted to Asians. Eliminationist rhetoric, followed and accompanied inevitably by an actual campaign of often-violent eliminationism, has been a specter hanging over our most shameful episodes: the destruction of the native American people; the subjugation of African Americans, from slavery to Jim Crow, the “lynching era,” and “sundown towns”; and the nativist anti-immigrant campaigns of various eras targeting ethnic minorities from the Irish to the Germans to Italians, Asians, and today, Latinos. It lives today in the form of hate crimes and hateful rhetoric directed toward gays and lesbians, Muslims, and various minorities.
More recently the eliminationism has also come to be directed at not merely these minorities, but the “liberals” who are perceived as their enablers – antiwar activists, environmentalists, civil-rights guardians. Which means that the hateful rhetoric and its poisonous consequences are starting to spread.
I began observing this phenomenon back in 2003 at my blog Orcinus, almost as an offhand observation at first, but I asked readers to chip in and tell me their own experiences, as well as to link me to stories that fell into this category. It was like tapping into a high-voltage power line. Comments poured in to my blog, and there were as many if not more e-mails.
Incidents like these are difficult to catalog or quantify. Only on occasion (as in the Van Der Meer case) do matters ever reach the level of being reported in the press – indeed, it’s rare that police are even called or involved. But judging from the outpouring at Orcinus and elsewhere, it seems clear that, as far as many progressives are concerned, eliminationist rhetoric has so deeply infected the popular discourse that it is now almost pervasive, and indeed poisoning how we treat each other in our daily lives.
Eliminationism has become an endemic feature of modern movement conservatism – not bothering to argue the facts or merits of issues but to simply demand outright the suppression or violent oppression (and ultimately the purgation) of elements deemed harmful to American society. It is aimed not merely at Latinos and Muslims – the current major targets – but also its historical targets: blacks and Indians, gays and lesbians, Jews and other religious minorities. But perhaps most commonly and generically, and most casually, its target is the common liberal.
This kind of rhetoric doesn’t constitute actual discourse, but rather its opposite – it is, in effect the death of discourse itself. Instead of offering an opposing idea, it simply shuts down intellectual exchange and replaces it with the brute wish to silence and eliminate.
As we’ve seen from the preceding examples, a lot of eliminationist talk occurs on a small, personal level, often during chance encounters with other drivers or shoppers or diners-out. But it is not occurring in a vacuum. Much of this kind of talk in fact has been publicly encouraged by a steady patter of similar talk from prominent right-wing media and political figures. It's being promoted at the highest levels of movement conservatism, by everyone from media figures to religious and political leaders.
It can be heard not just in bizarre road-rage incidents and ugly exchanges among former friends, but from the very fonts of public information that are the mass media. Figures like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, and Glenn Beck routinely engage in it and inflame it with bogus stories -- nonsensical conspiracy theories and outrageously inflammatory misinformation – derived from fanatical far-right sources. What happened to Timothy Burke is becoming a commonplace because it’s being openly encouraged by major figures in the conservative movement, both in the media and in officialdom.
The problem with eliminationism isn’t that it is simply unpleasant or ugly or even uncomfortable discourse, which is what can often be fairly said of the left’s frequently charged rhetoric. The problem, as we already noted, is that it implies the death of discourse, as well as its dissolution into violence and the use of force.
These are not mere jokes, even when they’re presented as such. The humor in them – whatever might be funny about them – is entirely contingent on an underlying attitude about conservatives’ fellow Americans that not only demonizes them, but reduces them to subhuman level, prime targets for violent elimination. The people telling them and repeating them may think they are mere jokes, and perhaps in their own minds, they are. But they have a concrete real-world effect -- because inevitably members of their audience (particularly the more hate-filled and mentally unstable types) will eventually act them out.
It is by small steps of incremental meanness and viciousness that we lose our humanity. We have the historical example of 20th-century fascism to remind us of this. The Nazis, in the end, embodied the ascension of utter demonic inhumanity, but they didn't get that way overnight. They got that way through, day after day, attacking and demonizing and urging the elimination of those they deemed their enemies. They did this by not simply creating them as The Enemy, but by denying them their essential humanity, depicting them as worse than scum -- disease-laden, world-destroying vermin, in desperate need of elimination. But that kind of behavior has hardly been restricted to the Nazis; indeed, it has a long history in America as well.
This is why eliminationism is such an acute warning sign: It has historically played the role of creating permission for people to act out their violent impulses against its targets. More than any other facet of para-fascism, it poses the greatest specific danger of transformation into the real thing.
This is why there is a special quality to eliminationist rhetoric. It has the distinctive odor of burning flesh. And when it hits our nostrils, that is a warning we dare not ignore.