Friday, December 12, 2003

The spiral of eliminationism

The antics of Misha, the "Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler," have notched another turn in the spiral of eliminationist violence that I've remarked upon previously. Now he has gone so far as to advocate the death of a "traitor" who runs an anti-Bush Web site.

This time, it may not be without consequences.

The object of Misha's ire is Eric Blumrich, who runs BushFlash, a rabidly anti-Bush site that is closely associated with the Dennis Kucinich campaign. Blumrich, in fact, created this ad, which makes the all-too-legitimate point that American lives are being wasted daily because this administration underestimated the problems of trying to rebuild Iraq once we had invaded. President Bush's "fall product" of 2002 is killing our soldiers daily in 2003. It also underscores the fact that antiwar activists indeed "support our troops" -- and do not believe their lives should be forfeit on the altar of Bush's misguided and incompetent foreign policy.

Evidently, this point cut too close to the bone for the pro-Bushites surrounding Misha, who avidly denounced the Kucinich ad by contending that it "used our war dead to push his agenda." [Funny how none of them seems to mind President Bush using our dead, war and otherwise, (notably the Sept. 11 victims) to push his political agenda.] One has to wonder if opponents of the war are simply supposed to pretend that those body bags are meaningless.

And the contention that this kind of dissent actually puts our troops further in harm's way is ludicrous. If the prowar folk can produce any evidence that insurgents in Iraq receive one iota of encouragement from antiwar dissent here, they have yet to produce it. Any kind of serious examination of the insurgency reveals that it receives far more encouragement from the daily bumbling of the Bush team in Iraq. When it comes to heedlessly putting our soldiers in harm's way, well, Bush is in a class of his own.

Not that reason has anything to do with the primal screamers comprising the prowar crowd -- particularly not Misha. A couple of days ago he lashed out at Blumrich with the following:
Here's a hint to you, Eric: The gov't can't do anything to you over that ad, but that's the extent of your protection under the First Amendment.

The rest of us, however, aren't the gov't, in case you've forgotten, and quite few of us would be more than happy to wipe that nervous little grin off your traitorous mug -- with a belt sander.

Not saying anything in specific, mind you, but we'd be damn careful about showing our face in public if we were you. You just never know who that perfect stranger behind you in that alleyway might be. Could be a sibling or other relative of one of the fallen soldiers that you just took a dump on the grave of, and G-d only knows what might happen then.

Eric may not be famous enough to be a pick for the 2004 Dead Pool, but there's another signed Imperial Mug for the first LC to inform me that Eric Blumrich has died in a "tragic" accident.

Accidents DO happen, you know, and that's the kind of news that would definitely make my entire day.

Of course, Misha seems to have forgotten that it isn't the First Amendment that protects us from murder, assault, threats and intimidation. It's criminal law.

Most significantly, this was not mere eliminationism; it was outright advocacy of someone's death. Taken alone, it bordered on a criminal threat, but probably didn't cross the boundary because it didn't suggest that Misha himself was going to carry out the threat. It was more in the nature of telling someone "you deserve to die and I hope somebody does it to you soon."

But then he told his readers how to do just that.

Shortly after posting the text, Misha began directing his readers on how to find Blumrich's address. On his front page, he posted a map of Blumrich's neighborhood, complete with a red star over his residence. He went on to create and post a map showing directions from Fort Dix to Blumrich's residence. Commenters posted: "ROAD TRIPPPPPP! And we can't wait to arrive..."

Neither component in and of itself constitutes a serious threat, but the combination of the two is almost certainly actionable, since it not only incites violence but helps facilitate it. Laws regarding threats and intimidation are different in various states, and I gather that Blumrich is consulting with local authorities so that it can be dealt with accordingly.

Misha since then has cowered behind his claim that it was "satire," but there was nothing obviously satirical about the post, at least not in the sense that satire often depicts the reductio ad absurdam of an argument; rather, it was clear that even if Misha intended the post to be "extreme humor," there was little question he was wishing extreme violence and even death upon Blumrich. Here's a clue for you, Misha: The First Amendment doesn't cover threats, intimidation and open incitement to violence.

But even if Misha's post -- particularly the attempts to direct people who will act out his scenario to Blumrich's residence -- is not criminally actionable (and it may not be), it is almost certainly civilly actionable, especially if someone decides to take Misha up on his suggestion. Misha's weak disclaimers notwithstanding, if Blumrich is in fact assaulted or threatened at his residence, he will have very solid grounds for suing the crap out of the Rottweiler.

Even though the spiral of Misha's antics has been predictable, it is no less alarming. When "traitors" are pointed out and their homes and private lives targeted, it moves eliminationism from the arena of mere rhetoric into real action. And that is the borderline that simply cannot be crossed if the right is serious about "civility" (which is, frankly, increasingly unlkikely).

I've had previous dealings with this kind of behavior and its consequences firsthand. Readers of "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" will recall that I described at length the anti-conservationist campaign in Montana's Flathead Valley that has been an ongoing problem there since the late 1990s. The source of the problem is a right-wing radio talk-show host (and station owner) who has made a career out of not only using eliminationist rhetoric toward liberals generally and environmentalists specifically, but he has gone so far as to broadcast their home addresses and workplaces.

The consequences, as I described then:
Beginning in the summer of 2001, local conservationists began receiving a series of death threats, some delivered in person, others by phone. Car windows were smashed in, tires slashed. Strange men would show up in people's yards at twilight, then run off when confronted. People's homes were vandalized. Others would be followed home by men in pickups or on motorcycles. Sometimes the teenage children of the targets were threatened.

If Misha's post represents a coming trend -- and it's clear that part of his intent in making these posts was to inspire others to "out" similar "traitors," wherever they might be -- then we may well see the realization of my fears that the Flathead-style war against liberals would become a national phenomenon.

Finally, it's important to remember where this spiral -- eliminationism put into action -- leads: In a pile of corpses. Recall, if you will, the recent story from the international genocide trials involving the bloodshed in Rwanda in 1994-95. One of the key players in the massacres by majoritarian Hutus, as it happened, was a radio station that broadcast the names, residences and locations of Tutsi "cockroaches":
A three-judge panel said the media executives had used a radio station and a twice-monthly newspaper to mobilize Rwanda's Hutu majority against the Tutsis, who were massacred at churches, schools, hospitals and roadblocks. The court said the newspaper "poisoned the minds" of readers against the Tutsis, while the radio station openly called for their extermination, luring victims to killing grounds and broadcasting the names of people to be targeted.

Another account describes how the station directed the killings:
Tutsis and moderate Hutus were hunted down and slaughtered, some after their names and whereabouts were broadcast on RTLM. Babies and children were massacred and women were gang-raped before being murdered -- some in churches and convents where they had sought refuge.

And the thing about spirals of violence is that once they begin spinning, they become increasingly difficult to stop.

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