Spyhopping the Right.
David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. He is the author of Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community (Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, June 2005), as well as Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America, (Palgrave/St. Martin's, 2004), and In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (1999, WSU Press). His reportage for MSNBC.com on domestic terrorism won the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism in 2000. His freelance work can be found at Salon.com, the Washington Post, MSNBC and various other publications. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Sara Robinson has worked as an editor or columnist for several national magazines, on beats as varied as sports, travel, and the Olympics; and has contributed to over 80 computer games for EA, Lucasfilm, Disney, and many other companies. A native of California's High Sierra, she spent 20 years in Silicon Valley before moving to Vancouver, BC in 2004. Her lifelong interest in the social effects of authoritarianism have most recently led her to pursue the MS in Futures Studies at the University of Houston. She's also a student member of the Association of Professional Futurists, and member of the Accelerated Studies Foundation advisory board on social and cultural issues. For fun, she raises kids and travels. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara's recent series:
Cracks in the Wall: Parts I, II, and III.
Tunnels and Bridges: Parts I, II, III, and IV, plus a Short Detour.
Dave's recent series:
The March of the Minutemen
Intro: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Other books by Dave [limited availability]:
"The Rise of Pseudo Fascism": An essay
Available in Adobe PDF format here
Support independent journalism:
Suggested $5 donation
Original posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.
"The Political and the Personal"
"Bush, the Nazis and America":
Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An Exegesis
[Suggested $5 donation]
[In HTML: Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X,, XI, XII, XIII, XIV and XV. See explanatory note.]
[Also available in HTML, and with art, at Cursor.]
Orcinus Principium No. 1
Orcinus Principium No. 2
Saturday, March 22, 2003
This item is a bit old, but noteworthy anyway ...
Orcas feasting on seals -- which helps salmon
- Scientists estimate that transient orcas in Hood Canal have eaten more than a third of the 1,500 harbor seals believed to have been living in the waterway when the whales arrived seven weeks ago. That means fewer seals will be feasting on summer chum and chinook salmon, which could turn out to aid the recovery of the threatened fish.
"They've made a significant predation impact on the harbor seal population in Hood Canal, no matter how you look at it," said Steve Jeffries, a marine mammal biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "The take-home message is that the transient killer whale population is bad for the seal population but good for the salmon population, because seals eat salmon."
For anyone worried about the seals, Jeffries added, "The harbor seal population may have suffered, but we expect they will recover over time."
It's actually unusual for the transients to venture this far inside the Sound (the Hood Canal, incidentally, is not manmade by any means; it's just a long narrow finger of the Sound). But it brings up an important point.
Humans have been playing God with this ecosystem for a long time. For awhile, orcas were captured from these waters (this is where the killer-whale display industry originated, in fact), and fishermen used to shoot at them with impunity, believing them to be competitors for their salmon. Orcas are of course very smart and have long memories, and thus few of them ever venture far into the Sound anymore, which is where many of the old captures took place. This includes the transients, who are the only orcas that eat seals and sea lions (the resident orcas are exclusively fish eaters).
The result has been an unfortunate overpopulation of seals and sea lions (or pinnipeds), particularly at the mouths of streams where salmon runs are bottlenecked. For awhile in Seattle, fish and wildlife officials have been forced to resort to a relocation and intimidation program to keep sea lions from venturing up to the locks in my neighborhood and munching on salmon.
More than a few biologists have been concerned about the additional effect of pinniped predation on salmon runs. However, they are under the purview of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and there is little that can be done by humans to limit their population, short of hunting them again.
Seems that Mother Nature has a suggestion of her own.
The Truth Ministry
Thursday, March 20, 2003
I've mentioned the Propaganda Remix Project before, which is run by an ex-Ranger and combat vet named Micah Wright. I'm something of an aficionado of old propaganda posters, and this work is first-rate. I went ahead and pre-ordered his book, too.
Fresh militia spoor
Here's an interesting mutation on the domestic-terrorism front, from the Contra Costa Times:
California militias revive their rhetoric
- Extremist paramilitary or militia groups have re-emerged in California and other western states, calling themselves a last line of defense but acting like camouflage-wearing vigilantes.
While experts who track such groups said they see little solid evidence of a surge, they agreed that the timing for a resurgence seems ripe.
"It just absolutely fits. From a strategic point of view it makes perfect sense," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Militias in rural states have gone largely unnoticed since their apocalyptic predictions of a millennium disaster proved ridiculous. Now, the militias claim that the federal government has agitated a world situation it cannot control and that armed Americans must prepare to defend themselves, said Cooper and others.
The problem with this story is that it concludes that the activity has spiked on pretty thin evidence. The experts he quotes all agree that there's been an increase in militia rhetoric but not necessarily in organizing activity. The reporter gets that information from a source that is dubious at best: a self-proclaimed militia leader:
- David Martin, a contact for the Militia of Northern California, claimed its ranks have swelled of late as its members learned to operate in small cells that don't attract attention.
He said the armed groups, including "a pretty good and a pretty big one" in Contra Costa and other East Bay counties, stand ready for local governments and law enforcement to mobilize them in coming times of unrest.
One thing I learned over many years of dealing with Patriots and their kin: Don't take their word for anything. Their might well be amorphous cells organizing in the woods out there. Or they might be figments of Dave Martin's self-aggrandizing imagination. If you're going to report that they are being more active, some non-verbal evidence is required. In this case, attending a mere organizing meeting might suffice.
In any case, the thought of such action cells organizing quietly is certainly unsettling, and genuine cause for concern. Moreover, Martin could well be telling the truth. After all, it would be consistent with what we have seen so far elsewhere in the Southwest, with militia vigilantes taking border security into their own hands.
The problem with the northern California militias is that they may find the greatest threat to "national security" in their neck of the woods is not Al Qaeda, nor even border crossers, but rather the gathering storm of antiwar protesters in the Bay Area.
Dean and Dixie
Over at the Howard Dean blog, there's been a little discussion of the concern about Dean's use of the Confederate flag symbology that I raised earlier.
The otherwise amiable Aziz Poonawalla disputes my concern that Dean is signaling the wrong segment of rural society:
- Personally, I have to disagree. I live in Texas and I see a lot of Confederate flags myself -- and I think that the perception of anyone who has a C flag on their truck is a closet racist (implied in Orcinus' argument) is blatant Yankee stereotyping. I despise the Confederate Flag and what it stands for but the truth is that it has become a social rallying point for conservatives, not because of racial overtones, but rather in response to the "liberal onslaught" of progressive ideology such as welfare, multilingual education, immigration, secularism, political correctness, affirmative action, etc. When you hear a Southerner speak fondly of Dixie and Southern Culture, they aren't talking about returning to the cotton plantations as massah and boy. They are literally too far removed from that era to really be tied to it.
It's true that many of these people will never vote for Dean anyway. But the point is not to try and appeal to those confederate flag wavin' pickup drivin' gun tootin' whoever they are -- it's to appeal to the moderate conservatives, the ordinary people, who may be attracted by Dean's message of affordable health care but still have closer cultural ties to the more "redneck" (to use the gross stereotype) types. You can't attract Southerners to your platform without demonstrating respect for their concerns -- and Dean's soundbite is (I believe) an honest recognition of this.
FWIW, I see a lot of Confederate flags up here in the Pacific Northwest too. And they are all too frequently a sign of extremist, if not outright racist, beliefs. When you come across them in Montana, they're often a sign of trouble. Not always, of course, but often enough to make one wary after awhile.
Let's put it this way: Back when it gathered at Hayden Lake, nearly every car in the parking lot at the annual Aryan Nations Congress sported one.
And then, of course, there was the case of the manslaughter in Ocean Shores sparked by a hate crime a couple of years ago in which the Confederate flag played a prominent role. (The lead actor in this case was knocking on the window of a convenience store, pointing at the Asian men inside, waving his Dixie flag at them, then running his finger under his throat. At this point one of the men stole a paring knife in shrink-wrap, which would prove the turning point in the case. Later the young white man blocked their exit by standing in front of their car and holding up the flag with both hands. This is what ultimately led to the fatal fight.)
Obviously I'm not going to assume that everyone who festoons their rig with a Dixie flag is a racist; and obviously the symbol will probably have broader meaning in the South. But there are going to be some strong cross-currents as well, which is to say that the flag is obviously claimed by some strong extremist elements in the South as well.
This is something that perhaps Southerners don't quite understand: Their symbol has gained quite a bit of currency outside the South as well, and not among ex-Southerners.
Remember that an extremist is not necessarily a racist. The Dixie flag, as it happens, has become a banner for a broad stripe of right-wing extremists. It also has gained some currency, as one poster suggests, with the hate-PC "Freeper" crowd, though I would argue that this only further indicates their own, vehemently denied but often transparent, inclinations regarding race.
Clearly many supporters of the Dixie flag are part of genuine Southern heritage groups which are explicitly non-racist. On the other hand, I think it's unquestionable that the leading political component of the battle over the Confederate flag, and the most pugnacious promoters of its use, are the leaders of the neo-Confederate movement, whose racist inclinations are largely beyond serious dispute.
Look, I made clear in the same post that I fully understood the thrust of the remark and moreover that I strongly agree with it. I'm just sending up a red flag. The way he is couching this meme strikes a wrong chord with me and many others. It doesn't mean my view of Dean as the clearly superior candidate in the Democratic field has changed an iota.
At least one other poster agrees with me:
- Dump it, dump it, dump it. Not only do I find it personally offensive, but in a couple videos I've seen him stumble over the phrase. It's awkward and it makes him look unprofessional and uncomfortable. At the very least, please get him to skip the word "decals."
Another chimes in:
- Yeah, decals is lame. go with 'stickers' at least. can anyone think of a better phrase to identify the demographic he means, though? Without using the words poor, redneck, NASCAR, or mullet?
How about just plain old pickup?
Which war are we fighting?
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
This is from UPI, whose reliability has become suspect of late, but the author is someone with credibility and a history of strong sourcing inside the intelligence community, so it is likely an important story:
Top White House anti-terror boss resigns
- WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) -- The top National Security Council official in the war on terror resigned this week for what a NSC spokesman said were personal reasons, but intelligence sources say the move reflects concern that the looming war with Iraq is hurting the fight against terrorism.
Rand Beers would not comment for this article, but he and several sources close to him are emphatic that the resignation was not a protest against an invasion of Iraq. But the same sources, and other current and former intelligence officials, described a broad consensus in the anti-terrorism and intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq would divert critical resources from the war on terror.
Beers has served as the NSC's senior director for counter-terrorism only since August. The White House said Wednesday that he officially remains on the job and has yet to set a departure date.
"Hardly a surprise," said one former intelligence official. "We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don't blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel resources and the relationships with our allies."
This makes both the diplomatic and the intelligence communities now officially up in arms over Bush's Iraq war. And who could blame them? The clearest, most present danger to Americans is Al Qaeda. A close second is North Korea. And we're devoting our resources to unseating Saddam Hussein and rebuilding Iraq?
From the Howard Dean homefront
On another subject, Thomas Stevens writes in from Vermont:
- I read your piece, excerpted below, about Howard Dean, and I thought I'd chime in on a couple of pieces. I have lived in Vermont for ten years now, and up until January, Dean was the governor. As I type this, I remember an article by a columnist in Arkansas who told the "real" story behind Clinton before the campaign began in earnest -- how Clinton was not a liberal and not a "doer," but a maker of committees, whose reports would be buried, and so on.
As a candidate, Howard Dean is far more liberal than he was a governor. As a governor, in fact, he was truly a classic Vermont Republican (not unlike Jeffords), in that he was a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. Being a fiscal conservative is a necessity in our state -- our total population is approx.600,000, and at least 150,000 of those are kids 0-18.
- "I've particularly admired both his outspokenness and the content of the things he's said. Lately, however, he has been saying things that have made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Not because I disagree with his basic thinking, but because he expressed it in a way that makes me think he doesn't know what he's talking about."
On the one hand, that is the most accurate statement I have read about Dean's style in a non-Vermont commentary.
Vermont is on its way to becoming a formerly agricultural state. It took until the 1990 census (I believe) for humans to outnumber cows here. The drop in ag is not his fault at all, but he did not fully support agrotourism, or cutting edge crops that could have benefited our culture as a whole (such as hemp). He showed his upbringing by urging relaxation of environmental protection laws in order to attract business at the expense of ag and the enviroment. He wasn't radical about it, and he didn't "end welfare as we know it," as Clinton did, but he frayed the edges and made it possible for a continued attack on a weakened law by the monied developers.
Health care: Instituted Dr. Dynasaur, a fine, Medicaid-based program to insure children, but closed the door on the single-payer system, which, if it is to work at all, would work in a small state like ours. The last study done identified over $100,000,000 in savings to the public if the single-payer were instituted here. As with every other state, the insurance lobby is too strong.
Education: Dean's hand was forced by the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled that the pre-existing way of funding of education was unconstitutional. In trying to fashion a progressive way of equalizing education funding statewide, legislators were effectively ordered to rely on the property tax when Dean said he would not support using the income tax. Act 60, as it is called, has been a boon to the poorer communities in our state, not that you would know that if all you heard was the kicking and screaming by the richer, or, as we call them, "gold towns" (i.e., towns with a ski mountain or Burlington). The property tax solution is beginning to fall apart, and the fear is that the gold towns will use "reform" to continue to screw the poorer communities. The problem they have is that if the new plan doesn't meet strict criteria, the Supreme Court will rule against them. Finally, Dean has always been good on child-oriented bills.
Civil Unions: Again, Dean's hand was forced by the Court. He immediately ruled out "gay marriage" and left the legislature to come up with civil unions. In the end, it turned out fine, even if we had to put up with Randall Terry for six months. He did, however, sign the bill in a private session with no photos taken.
A lot of Dean's freshness comes from shooting from the hip. But he has been a DLC plus governor. As a candidate, he remained that way, and I envisioned him stripping the plus if he won a primary or two, and becoming another Dukakis, who lost his individuality after the nomination. Dean gives as good as he takes and he found a niche with the anti-war stance. As far as I can tell, it is honest, but what do I know, it wasn't an issue as governor. As for his e-mail treatment, I think it has more to do with the lack of campaign staff he had until recently. Perhaps now they are dismissed, but I imagine up until now they were overwhelmed.
Oh yeah, don't underestimate the whiteness of Vermont. NASCAR is big up here -- Golly, Ken Squier is from my town -- and we have plenty of crackers, but the battle is between natives and flatlanders. That doesn't excuse his use of the Confederate flag -- he's too smart to do that and should be called to task.
If you want more on him, try checking out Peter Freyne, the political columnist for Seven Days, a weekly out of Burlington.
As of today, Dean has my vote. The rest of them are pathetic, from Lieberman to Edwards. I may choose Kerry, but Dean has the rhetorical chops to cut them up. On style alone, I'll vote for him. Substance, well...
Demonizing the left
R. Scott Greacen chimes in with the environmentalist perspective:
- Just for your background, I'm a 37-year-old third-year law student at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon, where I'm focusing especially on the public lands environmental issues in which I've been involved since I worked at Oregon Natural Resources Council for a couple of years at the height of the spotted owl imbroglio. Since 1990 or so, I've been involved in conservation issues, mostly but not exclusively having to do with forests or threatened/endangered species, in the Pacific Northwest, California, Arizona and New Mexico, and Montana. I've been reading your series in light of that experience, and especially as it relates to what I've come to see as the increasing marginalization of the environmental movement in the West over that period. Your discussion of transmitters and the relationship between the extreme and mainstream conservative positions has given me some powerful insights into anti-environmental efforts, but it has also helped me to to look at the environmental movement, and progressive political efforts generally, in new ways.
Part 12 is particularly important to me as it reflects on the horrible Flathead situtation, which for me stands as an extreme yet paradigmatic example of the circumstance of environmental advocates across the rural West. In brief, people who work for the protection of public resources, espousing positions well-supported by science and public opinion at large, are consistently marginalized in their communities. They are usually targeted by hate-mongers, not uncommonly subjected to verbal and even physical assault, and yet generally do not receive effective support even for their right to hold politically unpopular positions from leaders in business and politics.
Even on the political left, the fact that environmentalists are directly facing quasi-fascist activists and political techniques denounced as hate crimes in other political contexts has drawn relatively little attention from other activists who so often feel themselves to be the focus of far-right attacks. At a personal level, the links do get made between environmental activists and the folks working on what I think of as the various factions of identity politics, and even between environmental and labor activists in the right circumstances, but too seldom does the partnership get reflected at a strategic level or in the mutual support of state and regional groups. This is sad and very dangerous. One of the ways your work is important is that it can help to show people our common enemies and the necessity of cooperating to face and defeat them.
I had the opportunity to read an unpublicized focus-group study that was conducted in the Flathead Valley last spring or summer at the behest of environmentalists. The study showed two things which startled me, and which stand in stark constrast to each other. First, it showed that Stokes & Co.'s efforts in the Flathead (building, of course, on decades of work by the timber industry and their more-or-less-goonish allies in both labor and "Wise Use" and its offshoots) have been spectacularly successful in encouraging Flathead residents to vilify and despise environmentalists as fellow-citizens. Though I thought I knew how generally disliked activists have become in the rural West, the contemptuous bile was truly frightening to me; it reminded me more than anything of the vicious, just-under-the-surface racism which poisoned the southeastern Virginia towns and cities of my wasted youth.
But the second thing the study showed was that people in the Flathead still love all the things that environmentalists stand for, albeit not necessarily under the politicized labels which enviros fetishize to far too great a degree. That is, while people donšt express much love for "wilderness," they're absolutely in love with wild country, roadless lands, and with wildlife. They value forests, mountains, and wild landscapes for their inherent value, as well as for habitat, clean water, and non-motorized recreation, just as much as they do for all the consumptive uses that rednecks are stereotyped for. Obviously, this disconnect presents important opportunities to reposition the environmental movement in the public mind.
Equally obviously, it raises disturbing questions about the ability of environmentalists to accomplish such a change given our new pariah status in the public mind. Which takes us back to the success of anti-environmental efforts.
Environmentalists used to be widely trusted as a source of information by the public. (Sorry I can't give a cite for this but I'm certain I've seen some decent survey data to that effect.) The ongoing demonization of environmental activists have done more to poison that perception, and consequently to dimish that singular truth-telling ability of the movement, than all the stupid things environmentalists have said and all the wise responses from our opponents over the last generation. It's essentially a slow-motion, relentless game of shoot the messenger.
Meanwhile, Democrats and lefties generally seem in important ways to be following exactly the opposite path of the comprehensive ideological offensive you've described on the right. Even though we may well have more latent support for our underlying positions in the population, our lack of strategic focus has left progressives constantly struggling to mobilize political support to address particular problems.
Over the last fifteen years of activism, I've been attempting, like many other activists, to straddle the two relatively radical strands of the environmental movement in the West. In thumbnail form, those two currents are:
- (1) The locally and regionally-based "major reform" groups centered around fighting bad policy on the ground and and promoting substantially different policy initiatives (i.e., the Swan View Coalition, The Ecology Center, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and Wildlands Project, just for example) and
(2) The direct-action faction which wants mostly the same things but uses less mainstream techniques, ranging from demonstrations to civil disobiedience to full-tilt physical obstruction, to promote its views. This position was once dominated by Greenpeace and the Earth First! (dis)organizing meme, but now includes everything from established groups like the Buffalo Field Campaign and Cascadia Forest Alliance to the Seattle mobilization and the near-infinite local variations targeting specific forest abuses with blockades and tree-sits.
Without going too deeply into a very sticky subject, I think it's worth noting that Anthony and Robbins' observations about the psychological profile of radical groups is amply borne out in my experience. In fact, the most persistent quality of the people who gravitate to the direct-action faction and remain effective within that mileu over time is their ability to tolerate a high level of psychological dysfunction in their comrades while still maintaining the ability to "bridge" back to people in the mainstream.
As I look back, I'm struck by how effectively both strands have been, and remain, marginalized, and how that marginalization has even increased over time. What's this got to do with transmitters, the relationship between the layers of the far right in and out of power, and incipient fascism? Quite a bit, I'd suggest.
First, a wise friend of mine whose work I recommend to you (Jim Britell) once pointed out to me that effective environmental activists come in for such exceptionally virulent treatment from the political/industrial powers-that-be because in many cases (and especially following the near-dismantling of the industrial unions as checks on management power), we are the only effective opposition to their hegemony in rural areas. Thus, I think you're directly on target when you suggest that the manufacture of contempt in the Flathead valley might represent the experimental deployment of a model of political control which might be more broadly deployed in circumstances like those which seem now at hand.
Discussions of Alterman's What Liberal Media and your series have helped me to see that the political right continues in effect to "work" society as it has the press (as in "working the refs"), pushing so hard on key issues and themes that they succeed in shifting the center of political discourse in the direction of their preferred framing and solutions. People in politics for the usual mixed bag of ideological and power-seeking reasons generally adapt to this pressure by dropping the "hot" issues as much as possible, if only in order to free their time and energy to work on problems which don't attract such high negatives and vocal opposition. This can mean effective disconnects between political leadership and public desires on hot issues.
I see this in spades with environmental issues in the West. For example, recent polling data shows that even in rural areas, more than 60% of respondents in the Pacific Northwest favor protecting all remaining old growth forests. Similarly, even in Idaho, the state with the largest areas of roadless federal lands, substantial majorities of the state's residents supported the Roadless Rule. Needless to say, only the safest and most progressive Democrats will even approach those positions, and Republicans in Idaho are as absolutely opposed to the wholesale protection of roadless lands as they could possibly be. Meanwhile, the tendency of moderates in both parties to respond to far-right offensives on environmental issues with the kind of contemptuous neglect that failed to stop the Aryan Nations and company has had the same predictable result: nothing.
Demographic changes joined with far-right ideological offensives and timid Democratic response have largely stripped the West of its environmentally progressive political leadership over the last two decades. The tattered remnant is often bizarrely hostile to the efforts of the radical currents outlined above. Witness, for one example, Daniel Kemmis' efforts to cast zero-cut advocates in Montana as beyond the pale of civilized resource management discourse during disputes over salvage logging following the Bitterroot fires of 2001. (See his posting at Headwatersnews.org for example).
My old friend John McKay writes:
- This weekend I had an opportunity to hear John D. Keliher, who is the Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Washington. He was speaking on the topic of responding to professional haters (my term, not his). As someone who is familiar with conspiratorial literature and professional haters, you can imagine how hot this topic is among serious Masons. The conspiratorial community is divided as to whether the Masons are tools of the Jews (as stated in the first Protocol of the Elders of Zion) or vice versa.
In short form, his advice for confronting haters was: Don't; they thrive on attention, let them wither away in the darkness. He recounted the story of a brother who called him asking how best to respond to a professional hater who was making a well-supported presentation in his community. Keliher recommended not even attending the presentation. He continued: if you must attend the meeting, remain silent. If you must say something, don't confront him. If you must confront him, don't get personal. If you must get personal, keep my name out of it. Sadly, the brother ignored his advice at all levels.
Unfortunately, Freemasons have their own variety of fundamentalists who feel that all attacks must be vigorously combated, regardless of the tactical harm it does. This is the essence of our problem.
I think that the natural follow-up to your fascism series would be some thoughts on effective ways to combat this ugly trend in America. Too many liberals tend to conduct political discourse in the same old shrill and ineffective tones. In Seattle, the usual idiots rush out and block the freeways. Sometimes, this is useful to rally the faithful, but in the face of the current mean-spirited and triumphal conservatism, we can no longer afford such self-indulgent nonsense. As you have pointed out, ignoring the radical right is no longer a reasonable or safe response. But many are ignorant of effective ways to express their opposition.
When you began your series, anything resembling real fascism still seemed remote. Since then, Chris Matthews, Michael "Savage," and a slew of conservative bloggers have expressed themselves in the clearest brownshirt terms. Even in my most paranoid moments, I would never have believed our country could go so far to hell in so short a time.
I love America, and what I thought it stood for, too much to let it go this easily. John Keliher and millions of others feel the same. While many are ready to go into the streets for the usual theater, a larger number are not willing to. They need a means to express their feelings. The (I hesitate to use the phrase) silent majority must speak while they still can. We need a dialog on the best means to do this.
I think there's an obvious contradiction between my analysis and Keliher's, in that I obviously advocate standing up to the haters in our society and shining a spotlight on them. My own experience made very clear that simply ignoring them in the hope they'll wither on the vine is a good way to have your home overrun with vines.
On the other hand, I strongly agree with the thrust of his point, and it's one well worth exploring further.
The choice isn't merely between ignoring and responding; there are smart ways to respond, and there are dumb ways that make matters worse. James A. Aho, in his This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy, explores the way opposition to hate groups and assorted Patriot activities often contributes to extenuating the cycle of paranoia and violence that is their raison d'etre.
Hate groups are built around the demonization of some class or clan of people. Though the common caricature of most people drawn to such groups is of a loathsome scumball, in truth these people see themselves as heroic, which is hardly an uncommon thing in our society, as Aho puts it: "To use Becker's phraseology, human beings need to know themselves as heroes." The worldview of haters is such that the marginalization they receive at the hands of broader society is actually confirming evidence of the rightfulness of their beliefs.
Moreover, the whole enterprise of becoming heroic entails the naming of the Enemy:
- The warrior needs an enemy. Without one there is nothing against which to fight, nothing from which to save the world, nothing to give his life meaning. What this means, of course, is that if an enemy is not ontologically present in the nature of things, one must be manufactured. The Nazi needs an international Jewish banker and conspiratorial Mason to serve his purposes of self-aggrandizement, and thus sets about creating one, at least subconsciously. By the same token, the radical Zionist locks himself in perverse symbiosis with his Palestinian "persecutors," the Communist with his "imperialistic capitalist running dogs," the capitalist with his Communist "subversives."
Aho goes on to explore the way that heroes and their enemies have a symbiotic relationship. Each needs the other. And after awhile, each comes to resemble the other. They are locked in a Manichean struggle of "us vs. them" that seems never to cease, unless the cycle itself is broken.
The classic case of this was the (now hopefully defunct) Jewish Defense League, which used to send a pack of howling banshees out to the Aryan Nations' annual July parade in Coeur d'Alene to scream epithets at them. Meanwhile, the locals simply organized a "celebration of diversity" on the same day elsewhere, and the townfolk always obliged by showing up there in droves, and otherwise simply shunning the AN.
The AN marchers loved seeing the JDL screamers (who of course saw themselves as heroic iconoclasts). Got their blood going. And they hated that no one else turned up to watch.
The KCHRTF approach's success was instructive, and indicates the solution suggested by Aho [though this was published in 1994, it obviously has great currency]:
- The first step in breaking through the logic of enemies is to posit a now widely acknowledged fact: The world of radical dualism, of us and them, is in crisis, its splitting evident in a series of contradictions. There is the contradiction between military security and domestic (national) security, as exploding military expenditures to protect ourselves from "them" consume the wealth of our common household. There is the contradiction between the survivability of weapons systems -- "survivability," a term in technostrategic jargon referring only to weapons systems -- and the viability of the "collateral resources" (us), whose lives these systems were originally designed to protect. There is the contradiction between individual freedom and the legion of priests, therapists, and moral entrepreneurs (which is to say, us), poised and armed to correct, "heal," order, regiment -- in a word, "militarize" -- the bodily orifices of "them": their mouths, their anuses, their pores, and ears, and their endlessly "perverted" tastes, hungers, appetites, drippings and effusions.
Here, too, we grasp a sobering answer to the question of whether in our struggles against evil we can avoid becoming infected with it ourselves. If we believe what the ancient texts relate, this is simply impossible. We cannot engage in political fighting without tasting the bitter fruit from the tree of knowledge and losing our innocence. Max Weber once referred in his writings to the biblical warning that those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword (Matt. 26:52), commenting that "fighting is everywhere fighting." But there is a big difference between going into battle either clearly recognizing our family resemblance to the opponent or blindly denying it, rendering us automatically into the malleable tools of what Weber calls "the diabolic forces lurking in all violence."
Nor is consciousness of our own evil important in just a negative sense. A close reading of the hero myths reveals that the champions all acknowledge the futility of attacking the monster directly. Rather, they are advised by an elfin helper to employ wiliness, to sneak up on her as she sleeps or in some other way is distracted, searching for the chink in her armor. In other words, to defeat the serpent the hero must become serpentlike himself; slippery and mercurial. The proud refusal to do so would only render him the enemy's victim. This is consistent with the ancient Chinese military admonition that acknowledgement of one's own envy, vengefulness, lust, dishonesty and greed is the very precondition to victory. For without this wounding self-knowledge, one is defenseless against the enemy's traps and ploys. "Know the enemy and know yourself," says Sun Tzu, the fifth century B.C. military theorist, "and in a hundred battles you will never be in peril."
In a practical sense, I think breaking the cycle entails breaking out of the dehumanization process that occurs on both sides. This entails not only acknowledging but stressing the humanity of everyone involved, including the haters.
I try to explain to community groups like the Kalispell gathering I referenced earlier that standing up to hate does not require confrontation, and in fact is more effective when it eschews conflict for simple factual rebuttal and clear-eyed rationality. Counter hateful speech with non-hateful speech. Counter crazy theories and wild-eyed accusations with calm common sense. Recognize at all times that they have a right to speak, and try to respect it, even if they do not respect yours. At all costs, don't descend to their moral level. Contempt for your rights is the cornerstone of their actions and beliefs, and it's important not to reciprocate. At the same time, it's important to be persistent. Every opportunity at which they present themselves -- from letters to the editor to public meetings -- should be met with a response.
A different aspect of the same problem arises in journalistic coverage. Most often news reportage of extremist activity is handled by a local cops-and-courts reporter, or perhaps a political features writer, who has little or no background on the nature of some of the groups they're called on to report about. So you'll get stories about either crimes or organized events by right-wing extremists that present their claims without the benefit of any kind of context explaining to readers the agenda behind the claims. Worst of all are those stories which try to "balance" them out by presenting, as the "left wing" counter to right-wing extremists, such identifiably mainstream organizations as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ADL -- as though the truth were somewhere in between.
This kind of shallow journalism indeed worsens the problem, since it in fact gives the right-wingers precisely the kind of coverage they love. Unfortunately, it comprised the bulk of most reportage about the Patriot/militia movement in the 1990s.
What they hate is informed, in-depth coverage that exposes their agendas and the logic (such as it is) behind their cockamamie theories and recruiting strategies. They hate having their longtime connections to radical ideologies exposed. Most of all, they hate journalism that not only takes a skeptical approach to their agenda and their ideas, but gives it any kind of serious critical examination.
They hate having the light turned on. It makes them scatter.
In a larger sense, that's the approach that has to be taken now, if we're to have any kind of hope to break the truly vicious cycle into which we are descending.
Those rural roots
Dipping into the mailbag today ...
I have to say that the quality of the mail I received on the "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" series was outstanding. If I'm proud of anything about the blog so far, it's been the first-rate, thoughtful responses I've managed to get. Most of them speak for themselves, so I'll just run them with minimal commentary.
Here's the first of several, from Edward Cowardin:
- Just one comment comes to mind regarding your list of "disturbing trends" that are "beginning to coalesce" in regards to fascism. It does seem like all the ingredients for an authoritarian government have now been set out on the counter in full view, even if the actual cooking hasn't started yet -- although Mr. Ashcroft certainly seems to be sporting his apron.
Of all the trends you list, I think the economy could prove to be most dangerous. Op-ed columnists often note how unemployment is a breeding ground for terrorists in the Middle East. They neglect to note that the same holds true for America. Our economy, with its millions of uncounted unemployed, its unprecedented corporate, consumer and government hyper-debt, and its soaring trade deficits, would still be in serious trouble even without 9/11 or Bush's reckless Iraq adventure. Job destruction continues unabated in the USA. Globalization and NAFTA may have been a temporary boon to financiers, CEO's and some of our trading partners, but the new "service" economy bred by transnational corporatism has been a catastrophe for millions of American workers. We have fewer workers making less and fewer farmers farming less. What happens to those economically displaced persons?
Many in rural areas, small towns and cities across America, have lost all hope of ever knowing again the dignity and self-respect that comes from doing skilled work and earning a living wage. These growing numbers of the hopeless and the jobless are especially vulnerable to extremist religious groups and political demagogues. Just as they have been in every period of economic shock and decline.
Besides being a service economy, ours is also an increasingly militaristic economy, teetering toward empire and away from being a republic. And the armed forces offer one of the few avenues left for young people who can't go to college but still hope for upward mobility. Unfortunately, all enlistments don't have happy endings. One enlistee in the first Gulf War was Timothy McVeigh. Like many homegrown terrorists, McVeigh hailed from a depressed rural area where family farms were being replaced by corporate factory farms. His tale, I fear, is a cautionary one.
P.S. I promised earlier that I'd be compiling the "Rush" series in a PDF format, which is still in the works. However, I've decided not to post that until I've really completed the series and can edit the material into a cohesive whole. It's a bit scattered, and badly needs editing right now. Not to mention: After I wrapped it up, I realized that there were at least two more components of my analysis that need exploring further, so I'll probably have a couple of supplemental posts in the next week or two, along with my concluding remarks, which I hope to post in the next day or so. After all of which I will edit the thing down and make a nice PDF file out of it.
Some readers have suggested I try to sell it as a 'mini-book' -- it actually stands now at about 25,000 words, which is the usual length for such a thing -- but I'd be skeptical of its chances of finding a publisher. Most likely I will test the waters of selling it as a PDF 'mini-book' through an Amazon box. In any case, regular readers here, if nothing else, get to watch a work in progress of sorts.
Extremism at the White House
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Joe Conason nails the vice president for playing the role of extremist transmitter:
Dick Cheney performs straight off of a John Birch Society script
- The former Wyoming congressman is an unreconstructed, old-fashioned right-winger with about as little respect for multilateral organizations and alliances as that old John Birch Society bumper sticker, circa 1962: "Get the U.S. Out of the U.N."
Of course, as I noted earlier, President Bush himself has expressed his own high level of comfort with the worldview of the Birchers:
- "I don't listen to this noise that goes on around here, and I don't pay much attention to those people who want to stay here, he said. I came from Texas, and I'll go back to Texas. And in Midland, Texas, when I grew up, there were more signs saying Get us out of the UN' than there were saying God Bless America.' And there were plenty of God Bless America' signs."
I remarked a couple of days ago that one of the keys to combating the intermingling of extremist and mainstream conservatism will entail calling out those reputedly middle-of-the-road Republicans when they promote far-right worldviews. Joe, as usual, has a nice head start on the rest of us.
Are they nuts?
Dipping into the mailbag ...
Steve Coffman writes:
- I enjoy reading your blog, but your latest chapter  in the [Rush, Newspeak and Fascism] series was somewhat disappointing.
Many conservatives' belief in the importance of tradition and social institutions is predicated on a belief that individual human nature is more evil than good. Such a belief does imply self-loathing, which is not exactly a hallmark of mental health. However, I don't think you can generalize conservatives as less mentally healthy than liberals, even when you fall short of labelling them mentally ill. It's a bit self-serving to not be suspect reasoning.
Also, and I'm oversimplifying, but you imply that all conservatism is tainted by the existence of its extremists. However, I rejected this argument when Ann Coulter said the same thing about liberalism.
Well, of course, these are in some ways rough drafts, and perhaps not as clear as they could be. Let's see if I can reformulate to make things clearer:
1) I wouldn't say that all of conservatism is tainted by the existence of its extremists, anymore than the same for liberals. What I would say is that each is tainted by the extent to which it traffics in the agendas and ideas of its extremists, and the extent to which those extremists are made to feel welcome (see the above post on Dick Cheney). This has clearly been occurring on a near-massive scale with the GOP, while similar cross-pollination with mainstream liberals and extreme leftists has been increasingly minimized in recent years. If Democrats were echoing the rhetoric and ideas of the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front, I would not hesitate to criticize them just as harshly.
2) The right-wing extremist worldview is in many ways demented, and certainly inclined to totalism, but I did not intend to suggest that conservatives are more or less mentally healthy than liberals. I'm no psychiatrist nor a psychologist, and rather despise those journalists (see Andrew Sullivan) who pretend to have the ability to render a psychiatric diagnosis. I was careful to cite that part of the Anthony and Robbins study that said:
- We do not necessarily view the members of exemplary dualist groups as mentally ill or deeply disturbed relative to average levels of developmental maturity in the general population. We do believe that such groups appeal to individuals with certain identity constructions and difficulties. Nevertheless some degree of splitting, projective identification and polarized identity may be 'normal' for most people in mainstream culture.
Nonetheless, I think I can safely characterize extremism of all kinds as a destabilizing and corrosive influence on the public discourse in a democratic society, particularly if the variants of extremism at work are explicitly anti-democratic. That isn't psychology; it's reality, especially if you've witnessed it in action.
3) Thus, the extent to which extremist memes becomes part of the fabric of mainstream conservatism will directly affect not so much the mental health of conservatives but their own contribution to the overall health of the body politick. If they are pursuing extremist-inspired agendas and mouthing extremist memes, then that contribution will be corrosive and destabilizing.
4) The dualism to which I alluded is an important indicator of the gravitational pull being exerted by right-wing extremists, and ultimately the extent to which this venom is planting itself in our midst. As mainstream conservatism develops more observably dualist features -- particularly as it approaches an us-or-them mindset in defending Bush's war, and projects an image of a "divinely inspired" president -- the more dangerous the tide becomes.
5) I did suggest that liberals were more inclined to resist this dualism -- though of course they are hardly immune from their own brand of dualism. Nonetheless, their resistance to right-wing dualism does seem a likely suspect in the extreme hostility and projection being directed their way currently.
How we got here
Speaking of Rachel Corrie ...
It is now clear that once-promising chances for peace in the Middle East are evaporating like so much naphtha fuel, thanks in no small part to the utter failure of the Bush administration to make any kind of contribution to improve matters. Indeed, Colin Powell's mission last year demonstrated with utter clarity the complete impotence of the Americans to make any kind of positive difference because of Bush's calamitous policies. And now the few Americans who are trying to fill that vacuum are being killed.
Many of us recall how painfully close Bill Clinton came to eking out a workable Middle East peace agreement. But his efforts fell short -- in no small part, as it happens, because of interference from the very same faction now in power.
Here's a blast from the past, in case anyone needed to remember how we got here:
Richard Perle sabotages peace talks
- Richard Perle, a veteran cold war warrior and former assistant secretary of state, urged the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, not to agree to any settlement which left the future status of Jerusalem unresolved, according to the New York Post website.
The website quoted a message received by Mr Barak yesterday from two of his emissaries, Yoram Ben-Ze'ev and Yossi Alpher. The two men said Mr Perle "asked us to send a clear message" to Mr Barak that it would be a "catastrophe" if the Jerusalem question was not dealt with, and urged him "to walk away" from the Camp David negotiations if faced with that outcome.
The Perle camp's argument was that it would be unfair to burden any incoming administration with the task of settling the Jerusalem issue or underwriting future negotiations. Of course, it seems unlikely that this was a task at which a Gore administration would have chafed.
The War on Dissent : Marching Onward
Atrios has been doing a bang-up job (per usual) recording the rising tide of thuggery and eliminationist hatred being aimed at anti-war protesters and liberals in general, something I warned a couple of days ago was the kind of phenomenon that represents a very dangerous undercurrent in the body politick.
The reports are starting to roll in from all over. I'll be trying to keep track of them here. Here are the Atrios links:
A letter calling for "doing away with" Democrats
"Go back to France"
A poem of hate for liberals
Rhetoric at pro-war rallies
This is an important point. The supposedly "pro-war" rhetoric is remarkably thin on actual expressions of sentiment in support of the war or the troops, or against Saddam Hussein, and very heavy on demonization of liberals.
Over at Shock and Awe, Kynn remarks on the hateful expressed by right-wingers about the death of Rachel Corrie, the young Olympia woman who was killed by a bulldozer in Palestine the other day:
- Next time someone asks, "Why do they hate us?", I'll just point them in the direction of the gleeful gloaters -- a kind of mockery of human suffering, pain, and death that was legitimized by the Republican party's embrace of Rush Limbaugh and his sadism.
And Eric Muller over at Is That Legal? points out the story of the young rodeo attendee who was assaulted merely because he refused to stand for that gag-inducing Lee Greenwood song, "Proud to be an American," and sums it all up nicely:
- These are dangerous times.
Is Bush already a war criminal?
Sunday, March 16, 2003
Not sure why I missed this, but better late than never ...
This letter by Professor Joan Fitzpatrick of the University of Washington School of Law was posted on the American Society of International Law listserve. Fitzpatrick, who is an expert on international law regarding human rights, evidently wrote it as a letter to the editor of the New York Times, in response to the Times' March 4 piece on the use of torture on Al Qaeda prisoners; however, she doesn't expect the Times will publish it, and gives permission for anyone to circulate it.
- To the Editor:
The "interrogation" techniques described in "U.S. Military Investigating Death of Afghan in Custody" (March 4, 2003, A14) violate basic norms of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require humane treatment of all prisoners, whether POWs or "unlawful combatants," and regardless of the nature of the conflict. All acts of violence or intimidation, outrages upon personal dignity, and humiliating and degrading treatment are strictly forbidden. Does the Department of Defense argue that chaining naked prisoners to the ceiling, in freezing weather, and kicking them to keep them awake for days on end, are practices consistent with the Geneva Conventions? Is the DOD prepared to tolerate this treatment of American POWs in the Iraq war?
These practices also violate human rights treaties to which the United States is a party, specifically the prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The United States may not transfer Al Qaeda suspects to other states to facilitate their torture; that too is a violation. Moreover, there is no state on earth "that does not have legal restrictions against torture" ("Questioning of Accused Expected to Be Human, Legal and Aggressive", March 4, 2003, A13). The prohibition on torture is a peremptory norm of customary international law binding on all nations. The torturer is the enemy of all mankind.
If President Bush has commanded these practices, he has committed serious international crimes and crimes against the laws of the United States that are impeachable offenses. Congress must investigate immediately.
Secretary Rumsfeld last Friday again revealed his complete ignorance of the laws of war by suggesting that Iraqi POWs could be tried before military commissions. They may be tried only by court martial, under rules identical to those applicable to U.S. forces. As Bush and Rumsfeld are poised to launch a major war in Iraq, the world stands appalled by their utter disregard for the most fundamental norms of humanity in wartime. Heaven help our "enemies" and our own soldiers.
Joan Fitzpatrick, Jeffrey & Susan
Brotman Professor of Law
School of Law, University of Washington,
1100 N.E. Campus Parkway, Seattle WA
phone (206) 543-9368, fax (206) 685-6617
It occurs to me that there were perhaps many reasons behind the Bush administration's longtime hostility to the International Criminal Court.
[Thanks to Global Texts and Criticschism.]
Bad blood on the border
The L.A. Times tackles the Arizona militia border patrols:
Patriots on the Borderline: Toting guns, cameras and mighty convictions, small bands of Americans are patrolling the Southwest in search of illegal immigrants [registration required]
- So far, no one has been reported hurt in a confrontation. Another new outfit called American Border Patrol is planning to send volunteers equipped with Webcams and satellite uplinks to the border to stream live online video of immigrants crossing illegally into the U.S. The groups differ in tactics, but all three share an apocalyptic vision of an America under siege. "We cannot let [the Mexicans] export their failures," says Glenn Spencer, the 60-something organizer of American Border Patrol, based in Sierra Vista, Ariz. "They are a threat to our entire culture."
None of these organizations can produce more than a handful of supporters, and an informal poll--in restaurants, gas stations and on the streets of southwest Arizona--turns up few ready to strap on a gun and join them. Illegal immigrants "come through our land all the time, but so what? They're not doing any harm," says Cathy, who declines to give her last name when I meet her at a Chevron station in Bisbee, four miles from the border. She then uses a popular obscenity to describe Simcox and others like him.
Joanne Young, who tends bar at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Tombstone, says "Simcox doesn't have 10 people in this town on his side." Tombstone lives on tourism, she says, "and visitors are down this year from last. People are calling and saying, 'I don't want to bring my children there; it isn't safe.' "
Still, few in Arizona dismiss the border militiamen. While reporters are drawn by the photogenic firearms, fiery Rambo quotes and a morbid certainty that sooner or later somebody's going to get killed, locals know Simcox and his allies are on to something. In their half-baked, xenophobic, scary-screwball way, they've identified a real problem: The U.S.-Mexico border is a disaster.
Two things about this passage are strikingly familiar. 1) These guys are relatively few in number, but they're more than capable of wreaking a ton of havoc. 2) This is, of course, a classic Patriot movement type of opportunity to exploit a genuine problem and in the process grossly distort it -- a la Ruby Ridge/Waco, as well as such incidents as the Klamath River water dispute, which was exploited in a similar fashion by the Patriots. The outcome of that interference -- a fish kill of Biblical proportions -- seemed frighteningly apt. Not to mention portentous.