Monday, September 29, 2003

The Fresno case

Seems the Free Republic's complaint about being labeled a "hate group" has created a big dustup at Fresno City Hall, with Republicans coming out of the woodwork to demand the removal of the Human Relations Commission chair who issued the press release.

You'll notice, of course, that the conservatives who are so solicitous of the feelings of the Free Republic are the same folks who excused the Fresno city councilman who said he wanted to kill every liberal in Fresno with a "dirty bomb" (notably including the object of their wrath in this case).

It's hard to work up a lot of sympathy for the Free Republic. They are, as I have reported previously, one of the nation's foremost transmitters of extremist memes into mainstream conservative discourse.

Their record on this is fairly extensive, but one notable recent instance of this was its heavy promotion of the extremist meme that "MEChA is racist."

Anyone notice how easily the Freepers' feelings get hurt when someone flings the "racist" accusation their way? And might there be any signs of self-awareness on this point when using it themselves?


Well, as I have noted previously, the accusation of being a "hate" group or "racist" is indeed an extremely serious one, and any serious person or organization that uses it must do so with due criteria. I prefer the SPLC's criteria:
All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

I also prefer to add that these attacks are characterized by exclusionism, eliminationism and bigoted discrimination, as well as a propensity for violence.

Does the Free Republic fit? Well, the site does transmit all kinds of extremist memes, and the site's posers frequently trade in eliminationist rhetoric aimed at liberals, as well as various kinds of bigotry, particularly anti-immigrant and anti-gay rhetoric. None of these accumulatively, and certainly not individually, amount to what could reasonably be called a "hate group", however. They're on the borderline, however, and an outbreak of violent rhetoric followed up by real-world action (which has been a phenomenon associated with Freeper activism for some years now anyway) could well tip them over.

So I was awaiting the evidence provided by the Fresno Human Relations Commission with some interest. Had the Freepers indeed threatened violence against counterprotesters? And had the HRC found evidence that the Free Republic was engaging in hate rhetoric?

Today's update in the Bee reports:
Free Republic founder Jim Robinson said Reyes has no proof that his members wrote the offending posts. And whether members did, Robinson said: "They were just joking. There were no threats made."

The posts displayed Monday by Reyes were apparent responses to a Web forum discussion of disrupting the Free Republic events. One post said members of Free Republic are anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-peace and justice, and anti-environment. "You forgot pro-gun. FR members are PRO-Gun. You guys need to remember that," the post said.

Another posting regarding the group's picnic at Woodward Park last Saturday said: "Lets see ... I got the sodas, the watermelon, fresh batteries for the stun guns, softball bats, pepper spray, my steel toed boots, arm bars, knee bars, chokes, neck cranks, wrist locks, shoulder locks ... this should be a fun picnic ... I almost hope that these uninvited guests show up."

Reyes, DeGraff and Rhodes admitted that their proof isn't solid: The postings, found on the San Francisco Indymedia Web site, are attributed to people who use monikers. In some cases, these people have written offensive words and pretended to be DeGraff, Rhodes and other community activists.

In other words, the core of Peace Fresno's claim that Free Republic was a "hate" group was that (a) it engaged in anti-immigrant and anti-gay rhetoric and (b) some frequent participants in Free Republic forums -- and likely attendees of the Freeper picnic -- made comments suggestive of violence should counterprotesters appear.

Well, as I noted already (a) is inoperative because neither of these traits, while accurate in describing Free Republic, is sufficient evidence of racism beyond the obvious exclusionism inherent in them. In other words, they contain warning signs, but not proof of racism. And (b) simply is not evidence of racism -- rather, it clearly suggests the basic thuggery that lurks behind so much of Freeper politics, and one of the reasons they are a problem. But there is nothing in this to qualify Free Republic as a "hate group."

I think the Fresno HRC was wrong to designate the Free Republic a "hate group" on these criteria. I think they owe the Free Republic an apology.

And I think they ought to deliver it the same day Jim Robinson apologizes to MEChA for the same thing.

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