The New Orleans race vampires
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Like something that came crawling out of the flooded cellars, the ugly side of right-wing extremism has surfaced in the wake of the disaster in New Orleans -- and, as usual, it's beginning to seep into the discourse from mainstream conservatism too.
Unsurprisingly, leading the charge is David Duke, a longtime New Orleans resident, who himself lost his home in the flood while he was away, stirring up racial hatred in Scandinavia. (That particular loss might be calculated as one of the few positives from the flood.)
Duke has been claiming that white genocide is occurring in the city, and earlier described its "descent into savagery":
- Most people have seen videos depicting the brutality and inhumanity of the African tribal uprisings and lawlessness. Now you don’t have to watch a video shot in Africa, just look at the many videos from an historic and once beautiful American city, New Orleans.
... One must ask, is this a story about tribal brutality in Uganda…the raiding by bandits of a children’s hospital?
No, its happening in one of the most beautiful and historic of American cities. And my dear friends, it is only a foretaste of what’s ahead for the multicultural America of the future.
... Differences do exist and these differences can be seen consistently across racial lines around the world. Take for instance Japan. Japan suffered a series of devastating earthquakes, and yet the Japanese people in these communities pulled together, rooted by their common heritage, culture, and racial unity and they helped each other. There was no anarchy, no bands of simian-like Japanese in cars trying to raid nursing homes!
Meanwhile, over at the "academic" white supremacist organ, American Renaissance, they're busy pushing the same line. The prominently feature a piece from American Spectator editor George Neumayr penned a piece describing what a cesspool New Orleans was, with hopes that the flood would give the city a clean slate, while the rest of the site touts the Duke line that the violence isn't a result of the incompetence of disaster-prevention and -relief officials, it's a result of the race of the victims.
Like Duke's site, it also prominently features a piece from a black Jamaican journalist who has decided that the race of the victims is at the root of all the mayhem.
So it's also not a surprise that you'll find comments like these floating around the Web. Here on this site, a commenter named Jeeves parroted the Duke line:
- Enough of this bullcrap. Why hasn't Mr. Neiwert posted a log entry on the complete anarchy that has befallen New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina? He also can compare it to the flooding that has devastated many European countries...
... I would love to hear why there are two vastly different reactions to disaster of the "flooding" variety? Is it because the US and Europe are different or possibly because the people involved are? Mr. Neiwert, your silence on this issue is deafening.
I'm not alone. In the response to Jane Galt's commentary on the flood, a commenter named Mark J offered the following note:
- I guess I'm one of those "closet racists" noticing that it seems to be almost exclusively black people who are doing the looting. I also noticed it during other previous disasters and riots - '92 Los Angeles, Hurricane Andrew, etc etc etc. I guess we're supposed to ignore the evidence of our eyes and continue repeating the mantra that race has nothing to do with behavior. But what if there really IS a correlation between race and a tendency to amoral, selfish, violent behavior? Wouldn't it be suicidal to ignore it just because it is unpleasant that life might actually be ordered that way?
I just feel sorry for any white people left in that city. I saw video of some white tourists walking aimlessly, dragging their suitcases behind them, looking for help. They said they hadn't seen any police. What a nightmare...white people abandoned in a lawless city full of black people with no police in sight, and no firearms to protect themselves. You can talk all you want about how awful it is to be a racist, but they are the ones who are finding out firsthand the brutal realities of race in this country.
Meanwhile, the same meme is spreading to mainstream conservatives, though less obviously. You can find posters at Free Republic blaming "gangsta culture", or in an echo of David Duke's post, Clayton Cramer referring to the victims' "savagery". On MSNBC, Tucker Carlson asked Al Sharpton to call for an end to the looting, as though it were a phenomenon emanating from the black community.
As Riggsveda at Corrente observes, these people seem to be from another planet, or at least another time (say, turn-of-the-20th-century America). It never occurs to these folks -- including the Jamaican journalist -- to blame white culture when heinous crimes are committed by white people (see, e.g., the Green River Killer, or the Enron debacle). That only happens, it seems, when the perps are black.
I thought Colbert King had the right response when a Washington Post reader asked him why black people loot:
- The people caught stealing on camera in that majority-black city weren't doing it because they were black. Just as raiders of corporate treasuries don't do it because they are white. Skin color has nothing to do with the urge to take what doesn't belong to you. Poverty also isn't the reason liquor gets stolen in a storm-ravaged city.
The looter on Canal Street in New Orleans and the corporate looter on Wall Street have a similar motive: greed. That is their taproot. And greed is no respecter of pigmentation, income, status or social class.
But it seems likely that this meme is going to spread, in no small part due to the behavior of the national media. As Alan Wolfe points in Salon:
- Remarkably for a society as modern as the United States, a surprising number of commentators find themselves attracted to the raw brutalities of nature revealed by Katrina. For them, the fact that so many of the victims are black is not just an accident; Africa, and by implications African-Americans, have traditionally been viewed by whites, especially by whites in the South, as one step removed from nature. The ever self-righteous pundits on Fox News find that images of black young men walking off with plasma-screen televisions are just too convenient to ignore. Humans as depraved as these barely deserve our help. "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's 7 feet under sea level," as House Speaker Dennis Hastert put it. "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."
This probably won't be the end of it. As it becomes increasingly clear that the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress played a significant role in this disaster -- particularly for their failures to adequately fund levee upgrades and federal disaster relief, and to provide National Guard equipment and manpower that have instead been deployed to the wasteful war in Iraq -- look for them to respond as they always have whenever their mal- and misfeasance is pointed out: Blame the victims.
And the easiest way to do that, of course, is to suggest that their race (we'll hear a lot of talk about "black culture") is the real cause of the violence and the looting -- instead of the desperation and chaos brought about by the Bush administration's incompetence.
The Yellow Peril
Friday, September 02, 2005
Maybe it's just my abysmal understanding of the nuances of fine comic art or, even more, conservative humor, but I really didn't know quite what to make of this:
See, this is the depiction of Chinese Premier Hu Jintao in Monday's Mallard Fillmore strip.
Note the buck teeth and thick coke-bottle glasses and slanted eyes?
Now, here's what Hu Jintao looks like in real life:
See much resemblance there? Nope, not much, is there?
But I did find someone else who it actually more closely resembles:
This was a caricature of a Japanese man named "Mr. Moto" in a Texaco ad that ran in newspapers the spring of 1942. It was a typical Asian caricature of the time. Nowadays, we call these caricatures "racist."
Unless, of course, you happen to peddle "conservative humor."
[Via The Scope and Crooks and Liars.]
Nothing like armed vigilantes
Remember how we've been hearing that the Minutemen are just a benign "neighbor watch" movement that carefully screens its participants and discourages the use of guns, except for self-defense?
Guess it turns out that was just for public consumption in the early stages. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Minutemen who are planning to patrol the city on foot searching for illegal immigrants also plan to be packing heat:
- Leaders of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of Texas had earlier said volunteers observing Houston's day laborers in October would carry nothing but video cameras.
But leaders now say those involved in the operations targeting local illegal immigrants will be allowed to carry arms as long as they comply with all federal and state laws.
In fact, those who have a concealed-weapons permit are being offered a discount on joining the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. An Arizona-based organization, the Minutemen started out by patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border in April to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing, but the group has announced it will conduct a variety of operations here this fall.
Members are normally charged $50 to join, with the money used to conduct a criminal background check. Those with a valid concealed-weapons permit can have that fee waived, since they already have undergone a background check and met other requirements, such as a handgun course, to get the permit, said George Klages, spokesman for the Minutemen in Houston.
Klages said the Minutemen are all responsible, law-abiding citizens, and the use of arms will not cause problems here.
"About 50 or 60 percent of our members are veterans," he said. "These are people who know how to handle a weapon."
Mind you, this isn't a border watch operation. These folks plan to be cruising the streets, searching for illegals.
No wonder the ACLU is training observers to keep an eye on these folks.
[Via Grits for Breakfast.]
Crossing the border
Thursday, September 01, 2005
When the big male named Plumper -- or A37, as researchers have tagged him -- drew up next to the Lukwa and spouted his fishy-smelling plume into the air, everyone drew their collective breaths and fell silent.
For most of the morning aboard the Stubbs Island Whale Watch boat, orca sightings had been accompanied by various kinds of exclamations -- whoops, cheers, hollers. But most of these had been from a distance. When Plumper, a massive 30-foot-long 28-year-old with a five-foot-high dorsal fin -- surfaced ten feet from the boat, the only sounds to be heard were gasps of awe.
There is something special about encountering killer whales up close in the wild. Not just special, but significant. It's the kind of encounter that can change lives. It certainly is capable of permanently altering our perspectives.
It's something rather like the first time we see the Milky Way or the rest of the universe of stars unimpeded under the night sky (again, something we can most easily achieve nowadays in the wild). We realize, perhaps for the first time, how puny and insignificant we really are. If we reflect deeper, we recognize the artifice of our "real world" and our role and place in the natural world around us.
I'd experienced this previously, of course, with the southern resident orcas of Puget Sound -- especially from the up-close perspective of a kayak. There's nothing as humbling, really, as the immensity and power of a whale up-close.
This is especially so with orcas, because their immediate appearance is not just foreboding but positively threatening: the black, sleek display of raw power, the huge sharklike dorsal fin, cutting through the water as if in search of prey. You are more likely to hear them simultaneously, and the sound of their spout -- a sharp rush of wind that leaves a mist hanging in the air even on the sunniest of days -- announces their arrival unmistakably. You are in their territory, and you know it.
It's not just an illusion, either. The harsh reality is that, even though we often think of orcas nowadays as the benign, smiling entertainers of SeaWorld-style aquariums and various movies, they are in fact vicious killers capable of devouring anything that moves. They eat sea lions, blue whales, seals, porpoises -- they've even been seen consuming the moose who are known to swim between islands up here in British Columbia as well as in Alaska.
But never humans. There has, in fact, never even been a recorded orca attack on a human or their craft other than in retaliation (they sometimes will threaten or bump boats that have been harassing them) or as a mistake (a surfer in northern California, floating on his board and looking rather like a seal, was once bitten by an orca, which promptly released him).
This only increases our wonderment and adds a particular edge to our up-close encounters with them: We know that they can devour us whole at any time they choose, but they choose, instead, to express curiosity about us. They especially like to poke their heads out of the water and check us out, as members of the I-Pod did that day in Johnstone Strait:
Spyhopping, as this is called, was only one of the many behaviors we observed that sunny day last week aboard the Lukwa. There were tail lobs, and pectoral slaps, though I only saw one breach, and that by one of the young calves. In general, in fact, they seemed rather more passive than the orcas to whom I have become accustomed to seeing. What we saw most, in fact, was simple straightforward swimming, as when A37 joined up with his brother, A32, named Cracroft:
This was only one of several noticeable differences I observed in these killer whales in contrast to their neighbors down in Puget Sound. Even though they share some waters, and their respective "languages" are somewhat similar, there were some obvious cultural differences as well. One of these is the Johnstone Strait whales' propensity for gathering near the beaches along Vancouver Island's eastern shore and rubbing themselves on the round, smooth stones therein -- an activity that researchers say almost certainly serves an as-yet-unknown social purpose.
There are more than twice as many orcas in the so-called "northern resident" community that spends much of its time in the inland waters between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland as there are in the "southern residents" of the San Juan Islands -- nearly 200, compared to the 90 or so down south.
The three of us, Lisa and Fiona and I, had traveled the 300 miles or so up Vancouver Island last week to see these whales as part of my research for my next book, which will be about orcas, their significance, and the politics affecting them.
Part of the trip entailed an interview with Paul Spong, the famed researcher who operates the OrcaLab on Hanson Island. Since there is no easy access to this island, we paddled out by kayak after arranging to camp at the lab site the evening after the interview.
There was a fog hanging over the land masses the morning we left, but the strait was clear and water eerily calm, so we headed out under safe and pleasant conditions, able to see nearly the entire two miles across open water we had to cross.
It was like entering another world, or another time. The fog hung on the rocky shores and draped them like primieval mist. These are places that are unchanged from a millennium ago, and you almost half-expected to see an ancient war canoe emerging from the shroud.
Instead, as we approached the first clump of islands, a school of Pacific white-sided dolphins -- some 20 to 30 of them -- came rushing past us, about a hundred yards distant, and as we watched them cavort past us, the entire school turned and came rushing past directly around our kayak. Some of them, seemingly intent on feeding on herring they seemed to be herding, made the water boil with their hunting, while others leapt out of the air near us.
The remainder of our paddle was not nearly as eventful, though we saw plenty of seals and leaping salmon as well, but it was nearly as eerie throughout. The fog only began to lift just as we arrived, three-and-a-half hours later, at the OrcaLab site just south of Burnt Point. Dr. Spong came out to greet us, and directed us hurriedly to our campsite and the lab; he was in a rush to go out diving with his friend Mike Durban, captain of the Blue Fjord, who had pulled his boat into the tiny harbor. This wasn't a pleasure dive; Spong had to perform some emergency repair work on the anchorage at his lab.
A few hours later, after we had set up camp in the beachside forest and settled in a bit, Spong showed us around the main OrcaLab, which overlooks Blackney Passage and is jammed with high-tech gear, manned by a steady stream of volunteers who are on board 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They're mostly young people, many of them students, with a distinctly international cast: there were two from Germany, one from England, another from France, and three from Japan when we visited.
We sat down and talked for two hours. Spong is a quiet-spoken New Zealander who, aside from being naturally thoughtful, is careful about how he discusses orcas, because he is first a scientist whose chief mission is simply gathering data. Killer whales and the cause surrounding them attract some of the goofier elements of the environmental movement, especially the self-proclaimed animal psychics and the grotesque anthropomorphosis-prone idealists who see them as the equivalent of humans who live in the ocean. Spong is not one of these people, and he seems loath to encourage them.
His chief project, which you can sample at his remarkable site, Orca Live, is monitoring the activities of the northern residents in the inland waters around Hanson Island and Robson Bight, the marine reserve where the whales go to rub. It essentially constitutes recording, through hydrophones, the orcas' communications and echolocation, and to record what smatterings of their above-surface appearances it can obtain through key collection points. None of the hydrophones are located at the lab; rather, they are positioned at stations around the area and transmitted, via satellite uplink, to the main lab at Burnt Point. The cameras, both underwater and above-water, are located at one of the outposts, a rocky reach called Cracroft Point, about a mile away.
It's pure science in the sense that Spong is not necessarily setting out to prove anything; he's simply trying to collect as much data as possible. So far much of this data has proved crucial in understanding the social structure of the northern community, and it played a significant role in the successful reuniting of the young orca named "Springer" with her family in the A11 Pod -- a success that underscored the soundness of the science that's being conducted around these creatures.
We had an exceedingly pleasant evening with Spong and his wife, Helena, as well as the volunteers and the folks who had chartered the Blue Fjord and were anchored in the bay overnight. They all took a liking to Fiona, who was especially impressed at meeting Captain Mike, the hero of one of her favorite books, about the freeing of a humpback whale named Nanoose -- though of course, being 4, she was too tongue-tied to talk.
The next day, as we set out under clear blue sky and utterly calm waters, Spong offered to show us a little of the work at Cracroft Point, so we paddled out that direction and pulled into the rocky point, manned by a young Frenchman named Paul and a Japanese woman named Mari. Spong arrived shortly after. Cracroft, at the tip end of a long, narrow island, offers a fantastic vista of Johnstone Strait and a reasonably clear view of Robson Bight, though about three miles distant. When you log onto the Orca Live site, this is the camera you're likely looking through.
A little while later, we had crossed the strait again in our kayak. Just as we neared the Vancouver Island shore, we had a brief encounter with the I-1 pod of orcas, who were headed east, seemingly in the direction of Robson Bight.
They're most identifiable by the presence of I-3, a female with a flopped-over dorsal fin, which is a rarity in wild whales (and extremely common among captives). [She's not in this picture, but we saw her with this group.] The big male, I'm pretty sure, is I-23, a 33-year-old. We tried following alongside them briefly, but they were moving along, and it's fruitless trying to keep up with them in a kayak, especially when they're headed in a direction the opposite of your destination.
The next day I went out with Captain Jim Borrowman on the Lukwa, and the weather had turned decidedly for the worse: a nasty south wind was whipping up the strait, and the currents that morning were in full churn. It made for a bit of a rough visit, but who should be out in Blackney Pass but the the A30 pod, including the waters' namesake, A38, who researchers have named Blackney:
They were quite active, but not in anything resembling playfulness. Rather, the depth finders indicated that there was a large school of sockeye in the vicinity, and the orcas appeared to be feeding, especially in a close cluster:
We hung out with this pod for much of the morning, drifting with the wind up the strait and motoring a bit to stay with them as they crossed to the other side of the strait, near the boat's homeport at Telegraph Cove. We last saw the pod heading east, milling in the coves and evidently munching salmon all the way.
We packed up and left Telegraph Cove the next day, but we were not entirely done with our encounters with orcas. We drove back down the island to Victoria that afternoon and caught the evening ferry to Anacortes via the San Juan Islands. About a half-hour out, a pod of southern residents appeared off the ship's starboard bow. They swam within a few hundred yards of the ferry and headed northwest, off into the sunset, playing and, at one point, even breaching. I've ridden these ferries dozens of times and had never seen orcas from them, yet here they were again, as if to give us a last sendoff:
Writer/musician Jim Nollman calls the place where whales and humans meet "the charged border": a place where each set of eyes comes away with something different, often depending on what it's looking for. Yet it is a place fraught with potential, both for understanding our place in the natural world and, perhaps along the way, understanding ourselves better.
So many people approach this border with the baggage of their own expectations, and they often project themselves and their own needs onto these creatures that, for all they really know and in all likelihood, are utterly oblivious to them. Anthropomorphosis pervades so much of our approach to whales that it obliterates seeing the unique whaleness of them.
This is especially true, I think, in aquariums and entertainment venues like Sea World, which do at least have the virtue of letting ordinary people see these creatures up close, and see for themselves the grace and intelligence, not to mention awesome power, they possess. But they are still our captives there, always lesser beings at the mercy of all-powerful humans.
In their native wild, up close, this illusion is shattered utterly. There is no mistaking who is in charge. And unlike humans, who even today still murder whales simply because we can -- there is no remaining legitimate need for whaling -- orcas do not even molest us in their environment. In that regards, were we truly logical, we should probably conclude that these creatures with brains four times the size of ours (and with a proportionate number of cephalic folds), whose intelligence may approach if not exceed ours, and who reside like us at the top of their respective food chain, are probably in fact more civilized. Killer though it may be, the orca does not kill indiscriminately.
In such encounters, the whale crosses the "charged border" in a way that shakes us out of our old ways of thinking, especially our habit of placing man apart from nature, as if we are above it all. Anthropomorphosis may set in later, but at the moment of meeting, our baggage becomes a nullity. These moments give us the opportunity, perhaps, to likewise cross the border, and to reconceive what it means to be human.
I'm reminded of the place the killer whale has in the legends of the First Nations people who dwelt in these waters for centuries before white men arrived. Orcas are a symbol of great power and fertility, and killing them was utterly forbidden (in no small part because it was believed they would wreak horrible revenge on any tribe who did so). Inevitably they are described as spirit beings who occupy their own world, including villages, and observe their own rituals, including dances.
It's important to understand that this is not anthropomorphosis but almost its opposite: Rather than exalting orcas as human-like, these legends conceive of men as occupying the same plane of existence as the rest of nature. Indeed, these same legends tell of ravens and minks and bears and loons as similar spirit beings. The orcas are simply among the most powerful of such spirits, and in some ways the personification of some of the most exalted of all attributes, both in humans and in nature. In many of these legends, they are far more powerful than we puny creatures.
So it is not surprising that the killer whale is a key figure in so much of the art of the Northwest tribes, and the houses of chiefs often featured his visage. Totem poles feature orcas -- readily identifiable, as always, by the big dorsal fin -- prominently, both in museums and genuine Indian villages.
White people, too, seem to have adopted orcas in these parts of the woods. They appear on billboards, and murals adorning entire building walls in Seattle; they're featured in logos and advertisements seeking to elicit that Northwest feel. Orcas are ubiquitous here, even as their actual numbers have continued to decline.
But there's little sense in all these images of even a glimmer of recognition that the orca represents something spiritually powerful or profound (let alone that, in the Puget Sound at least, they are genuinely endangered); rather, it's the same, smiling entertainer who does those amazing tricks for the cameras, the anthropomorphic fellow who symbolizes whatever we want him to symbolize. By implication, the orca remains our inferior, and not our fellow.
This is a worldview -- Man the Conqueror of Nature -- we may not much longer be able to afford. As images of New Orleans, wiped out in a flash of nature's horrible wrath, drench our television screens, we continue to comfort ourselves with the notion that we can still keep a lid on the natural world. We cling depserately to the conceit that we can separate ourselves, keep nature at arm's length, even as we destroy wetlands and chop down forests and pollute our air in ways that rebound on us, in the end, with horrifying results.
Hurricanes have a way of destroying such conceits. In a much gentler, and much more hopeful way, genuine encounters with wild things in their native habitats can too. It's all the same lesson. It depends on us, though, to make that border crossing.
All our extremists is belong to you
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
You've got to admire, in a perverse sort of way, conservatives' apparently deep-seated belief in the power of wishful thinking. Kind of like the audiences at performances of Peter Pan: "I do! I do! I do believe in fairies!"
Whether it's the war in Iraq or the economy or race relations, whenever anyone points out any of the panoply of abject difficulties arising from their policies and agenda, conservatives just cover their ears and wish them away. They do this through one of two techniques:
- -- Pretend the problems don't really exist.
-- Pretend that they're really the fault of, or emanate from, liberals.
This is, of course, also the case when it comes to the most persistent problem that underlies everything that is wrong with the conservative movement -- namely, the extremism that has become their pervasive trait. According to most conservatives, there really are no right-wing extremists -- and if any of them do exist, they really are liberals.
One of the more laughably palpable iterations of this came with James Lileks trying to claim that, contrary to the mountain of evidence suggesting otherwise, right-wing Christian extremists just don't exist -- and if they do, they're really allied with liberals:
- We're often told that Islamic terrorism has an exact mirror in Christian-inspired extremism.
Sure, there are thousands of jihadis killing and maiming people of all creeds and colors, but look at Timothy McVeigh! Can't -- he's compost now. But when he was alive he wasn't shouldering aside old ladies to make morning Mass; McVeigh was one of those pathetic Aryan pagans who would have beat up Jesus for his dusky hue.
What about that abortion bomber guy, Eric Rudolph? Sorry; he calls himself a disciple of Nietzsche.
Well, what about the Crusades? And Dresden? Fine. Drop us a line when someone drives a 737 into the Sears Tower on behalf of a bygone pope and Gen. Eisenhower.
It turns out, however, that there are similarities. There is something the Islamic extremists and some Christian groups share: They agree that Israel is the problem.
Well, just for the record:
-- Timothy McVeigh may be dead, but there remain several thousand of his sympathizers -- known as militiamen -- on the loose in this country, including followers of the racist Christian Identity movement that gave birth to the militias. Of course, nowadays they're more likely to be calling themselves Minutemen. But their violent terrorist propensities, as well as their hateful bigotry, remain largely undiluted.
-- Eric Rudolph may have read some Nietzsche that he was able to twist into supporting texts for his extremist worldview (especially the bits about preferring men of action to men of thought), but his core beliefs were also built around a foundation of Christian Identity, as the definitive book on his career, Hunting Eric Rudolph, makes abundantly clear. Rudolph himself, of course, pulled out Nietzsche as a ploy to protect his family and old friends who remain in the Identity church in which he was raised; but then, it shouldn't surprise us that Lileks is gullible enough to fall for this ploy.
-- Anti-Semitism throughout American history has long been closely associated with extreme right-wing elements, ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to David Duke. It is simply ahistorical to try to associate it with the American left.
-- Criticism of the state of Israel and its policies has never been in itself anti-Semitic, and suggestions that such criticism, based on sound moral reasons that are logical and devoid of bigotry or hate-mongering, reflects bigoted beliefs is simply despicable. There is nothing in the Presbyterian criticism of Israel that even remotely smacks of anti-Semitism. Nor, for that matter, is there any hint that the church condones pro-Palestinian terrorism; as the many statements at the church's Web site make abundantly clear, it has consistently condemned any acts of terrorism or anti-Semitism in the equation.
Lileks' column is nothing short of a vicious smear that even hardened conservatives should be willing to condemn. But don't hold your breath.
That's because they're all too busy trying these days to make anti-Semitism out to be a left-wing phenomenon. Now, it's true that there are some leftist elements out there, particularly some pro-Palestinian groups and the execrable Ramsey Clark faction, who are in fact anti-Semitic, prone to all the conspiracy theorizing and vicious bigotry that comes with that trait. But these are tiny factions with only a handful of followers -- in contrast to the numerous far-right anti-Semitic organizations, ranging from Identity to Duke's group to Stormfront to the Hammerskins, as well as such outfits as the Liberty Lobby and Institute for Historical Review, that have been active on the American scene for lo these many years.
Now they're trying to smear antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan with a similar technique, twisting her criticism of Israel into a kind of anti-Semitism. The most recent indulgence in this came from Jonah Goldberg, who slyly associated Sheehan with the neo-Nazis at the National Alliance by saying:
- She's rallied the Nazis to her cause (obviously unintentionally, but it's interesting how her message resonates in such quarters nonetheless).
He later expands on the point:
- I think Sheehan has absolutely no sense of proportion or responsibility when she calls Bush a terrorist and a murderer or when she ascribes comic-book-villain motives to the administration. I think such rhetoric is appealing to a wide range of groups who practice similar rhetoric including, by the way, International Answer which no self-respecting liberal (as opposed to leftist) should have any association with. If I was being too glib by not spelling that out in my post, I apologize. But, I think Sheehan's PR operation -- including her water-carriers in the liberal press -- should no be surprised that they're attracting a broad Popular Front which includes a lot of disreputable and unpleasent elements. If you leave yourself no room, rhetorically speaking, between yourself and the crazies don't be surprised if the crazies respond to your rhetoric.
Nice of Goldberg to notice that attracting the extremist right to your cause is perhaps an indicator that perhaps something's amiss. You have to wonder why he didn't notice that previously:
-- When the folks from Stormfront rallied in support of George Bush in Florida in November 2000.
-- When white-supremacist leaders around the country, from David Duke to Matthew Hale, announced their support for Bush in that election.
-- When militiamen in Michigan announced that they were standing down after Bush's ascension to the presidency, since he now was looking after their interests.
The list goes on and on. Right-wing extremists, perhaps unsurprisingly, have for many years now looked to make common cause with mainstream conservatives far more often than they have aligned themselves with anyone on the left. This has been pronouncedly the case with the Bush administration, as I've pointed out previously, precisely because it has left itself little room, rhetorically speaking, between itself and these extremists. Both in its campaigns and in the conduct of its policies, the Bush team has a history of making multiple gestures of conciliation to a variety of extreme right-wing groups.
These have ranged from the anti-abortionist zealots who fueled the Terri Schiavo controversy and forced the administration to oppose stem-cell research, back to the neo-Confederates to whom Bush's campaign made its most obvious appeals in the South Carolina primary to his speaking appearance at Bob Jones University. Bush and his GOP cohorts have from the start made a whole host of other gestures to other extremist components: attacking affirmative action, kneecapping the United Nations, and gutting hate-crimes laws.
More to the point -- unlike Sheehan, who has pointedly denounced the presence of any kind of anti-Semitic haters among anyone who would join her protect -- the Bush administration has never at any time distanced itself from the extremists attracted to the ranks of Republicans by these tactics. On the contrary, it has largely engaged in wink-and-nudge responses.
The same is true of conservatives generally. The most recent manifestation of this, as I've described at length, is the recent rise of the anti-immigrant Minutemen.
Goldberg, perhaps predictably, resorts to the first kind of wishful thinking when bringing this up as a kind of half-assed refutation of his critics on the Sheehan matter:
- Critics of the Minutemen, for example, have been eager to point out that such projects are popular among skinheads, Neo-Nazis and the like. Such guilt-by-association bothers the left not at all, even though the Minutemen have been working hard to weed out the nuts and goons rhetorically and practically.
Right. That would explain this.
Actually, the Minutemen's ranks are riddled throughout with neo-Nazis and white supremacists of the lowest order precisely because they haven't been serious about weeding them from their ranks in the least, as this SPLC report makes abundantly clear. The only thing they've been assiduous about on this front is insisting that they're not racist to mainstream media folks like Jonah, who've been all too content to simply accept these claims at face value.
Jonah is just squeezing his eyes shut and saying: "I do! I do! I do believe in fairy tales!" That's just the conservative way, these days.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Just pulled into town last night from northern Vancouver Island, where I've been conducting research for my next book, which will be about killer whales. As it turned out, the only Internet connection available was at a laundromat in Port McNeill, and I didn't have any time to sit down at a computer anyway.
There was a beautiful satellite uplink at Paul Spong's place, but I didn't know that when I kayaked out there. Not sure I'd wanna take a laptop on a kayak anyway.
Anyway, I'm bushed, but will be back tomorrow. Just wanted to poke my head in for a minute.
In the meantime, y'all oughta check out Spong's site, especially the live feeds. They're one of the coolest things on the Web.