Friday, July 16, 2004

Forbidden reality

Apparently, it is now officially verboten by the Weltanschauungpolizei (also known as the Republican Apparat) to speak openly of reality.

The reality we're speaking of, in fact, is one that lately has gone unremarked even by liberals -- namely, the stark truth that the Republicans' theft of the presidency in the 2000 election remains the real wellspring issue of the 2004 campaign.

Without that theft -- and the widespread recognition of its nature by millions of voters, if only a handful of media pundits -- the depth and breadth of the opposition to George W. Bush would not be what it is.

Mind you, it didn't have to be this way. Bush could have recognized the need to reach out across aisles and govern from the center. He could have appointed moderates to fill his Cabinet and judiciary appointments; he could have taken a conscientious approach to the environment; he could have dealt openly with the public in formulating an energy policy; and most of all, he could have dealt with the war on terror -- and particularly the invasion of Iraq -- in a consultative, cooperative spirit that stressed traditional multilateralism.

Instead, the nation was fed a steady diet of extremist appointments, environmental pillage, arrogant secrecy, and a radical unilateralist approach to the challenges raised by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, directed from on high by a White House quick to paint their critics as unpatriotic traitors.

It was clear, in fact, that this was how Bush would rule from Day One. On Inauguration Day, he drove down Pennsylvania Avenue expecting to be greeted with hosannas -- and instead, was greeted with the largest peacetime protest of a presidential swearing-in ever. Since then, we've seen a president who clearly believes he was divinely appointed, and a governing party who believes in the birthright of wealth and power, whose continuing rule at every step reflects the unholy arrogance of the self-righteous.

And now, as reality sinks in and the fruits of that style of rule are reflected in sinking polls, they are reduced to hamhanded attempts to silence their critics -- even those on the floor of Congress. Critics such as Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat and an African-American, who this week was officially censured by House leadership for daring to utter the following words:
I come from Florida, where you and others participated in what I call the United States coup d'etat. We need to make sure that it doesn't happen again. Over and over again after the election when you stole the election, you came back here and said get over it. No we're not going to get over it and we want verification from the world.

Of course, the 50,996,116 people who voted for Al Gore in 2000 (or those whose votes were counted, anyway) were browbeaten from the beginning by the right-wing propaganda machine, branded as "sore losers" and told, repeatedly, to "get over it."

But how, exactly, do you "get over" the assault on democracy that the election theft represented? Certainly not by enduring three-plus years of arrogant incompetence. Moreover, any American who cherishes democratic values -- particularly the bedrock principle of having one's vote counted, because it is the essence of political enfranchisement -- would not, should not, readily shrug this off. This is not, and never should be characterized as, a minor issue.

The GOP, of course, has studiously avoided confronting this reality, and Rep. Brown's remarks were simply too much to bear. As the story goes on to explain, Tom DeLay and Co. quickly sprung into action:
Those comments drew an immediate objection from Republican members of the House. Leaders moved to strike her comments from the record. The House also censured Brown which kept her from talking on the House floor for the rest of the day.

[Via Holden at Eschaton.]

Interestingly enough, Joan Chittister of the National Catholic Reporter recently had a similar experience, this time in the field of publishing:
You will read this only here (unfortunately)

Chittister was asked to submit a piece to an unnamed publication as part of a roundtable discussion of what almost certainly was a simple, almost eighth-grade-civics-level question: "What do you think is the major issue in the upcoming November presidential election?"

As it turned out, however, the magazine was operated by a nonprofit organization, and its lawyers informed the editors that the responses produced for the piece might endanger its 501(c)3 status -- primarily because many of the pieces offered scathing assessments of the Bush administration's three-plus years of misbegotten rule.

So Chittister turned to the Reporter to publish her contribution. Here's the nub of it:
I am convinced that the unspoken -- and secretly most impelling -- issue in the election of 2004 is the election of 2000. This election, in fact, will almost certainly be seen by many, both now and in the future, as an attempt to reconfirm the image of governmental integrity in the United States, to reassert real democracy, to reauthenticate the American ballot box. John Kerry himself spoke to the lingering impact of the last election when questioned about whether, as president, he would work to overturn the election of international leaders whose policies did not agree with our own. Kerry put it this way: "As far as I know," he said, "an election is still an election. Except in Florida."

Everywhere the subject never really goes away. Everywhere the continuing dissatisfaction goes deep.

So, there is a campaign issue beyond, but basic to, any of the other ones: Will this election be decided by the people or by boxes of uncounted ballots, a State Attorney General and the Supreme Court? The real American question is: What would have been lost by taking two more weeks to recount ballots in a way that honored the foundation of the entire American system of government?

But don't be fooled. This issue is not a trivial one, coming out of pique or fostered by sore losers. On the contrary. This is the issue that determines every other issue on the agenda. Worst of all, perhaps never have there been greater issues than now, and all at one time. Until we assure ourselves that our elections are safe, nothing else in this country is safe.

Because of those ballots, lost or stolen, misused or miscounted, obstructed or not, the country found itself with one set of programs rather than another.

As a result, the issues that only a ballot can decide are this time more momentous than ever.

It's probably just as well that the Democrats on the campaign trail generally are not talking about the 2000 election at this point. But it is not a moot point -- and trying to pretend that it is ultimately is nothing less than gaslighting.

Something is wrong here

If ever one needed evidence that there is a real problem with the American press' handling of the occupation of Iraq, one need look no further than the fact that it is impossible to find anywhere in the American press -- outside of, apparently, Bloomberg News and the Washington Times (!) -- the report that Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi summarily executed six Iraqi detainees by shooting them in the head.

This is a story that has been available since early this morning. It is a a story with obviously devastating ramifications. (I'm speaking as an old wire-service ripper and news-desk hand.) And yet none of the major American news organs or wire services have picked it up.

Thanks especially to Holden for flogging the story. So far, blogs are making clear their now self-evident worth in disseminating vital information.

The Neo-Nazi landlord

Reinventing the meaning of "slumlord":
Landlord denies allegations of sinister agenda

Turns out that none other than Bill White -- one of the SPLC's "40 to Watch" -- has gotten into the business of buying up rentals in low-income neighborhoods. You tell me whether you'd want to be paying rent to this guy:
White, 27, said he's not a Nazi or a racist -- he's a "libertarian socialist" and "radical traditionalist" -- and that critics are targeting him as part of a political and personal vendetta. He said he's simply a businessman who moved to Roanoke to make a profit in the rental business by investing his money and helping raise the quality of life in neglected neighborhoods.

"I wouldn't be out here buying and fixing up houses if I had some agenda against the black community," he said. "I don't have anything against black people. The Jews, I despise. They hate me. I hate them. They can kiss my a--."

The article titled "Niggers Are Plotting Against My Shrubs" has been taken down from his site. He said a version being circulated by his critics has been altered and distorted. But he acknowledged writing the headline.

He also acknowledged declaring in the article that "the local nig-rats are already conspiring to test me" and opining that "trying to get a broad section of the black population to accept a higher standard of living is always an uphill battle. ... For centuries blacks -- particularly blacks descended from the Bantu tribes of Central Africa -- have been lying to and stealing from not only white men, but each other."

White first burst onto the scene about six years ago with his virulent anti-Clinton material (he was a big subscriber to New World Order theories) that pretty quickly devolved into anti-Semitic hatred. All along, though, he's claimed he's just a "libertarian." Right.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The waxing of the dark tide

Of all of humanity's most primitive and destructive traits, racial and religious hatred and their attendant bigotry are probably the most difficult to eradicate. Modern society often congratulates itself on how far we've come in bringing hate to bay -- and the resulting complacency provides the fecund dark space needed for it to fester and grow anew.

People who have had direct dealings with hate groups and their adherents know this. It's one of the reasons why I expend as much energy as I do in exposing the machinations of right-wing extremists.

I have at various times been accused, unsurprisingly, of being obsessed with them, perhaps unhealthily so. My view is somewhat different, of course; it's my feeling that the haters and their activities are in reality more significant than is usually recognized, particularly by the press. The smallness of their numbers belies the breadth and depth of their reach.

In the early years of the new millennium, there was something of a collective sigh of relief in the press as it became clear that right-wing extremists were in decline, particularly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. A number of media accounts focused on reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center that certain kinds of right-wing extremism -- expecially "militias" -- were in serious decline.

But the naked hatred of the far right never really dies, and it always awaits fresh opportunity, which is why it always comes and goes in cycles. For every waning of the far right and dark impulse it embodies, there is always the inevitable waxing.

What these reports described, in reality, were part of a typical "down" cycle for the far right. But those of us with more experience also understood that the remaining adherents were, if anything, typically more radicalized during such cycles, were far more likely to eventually act out, and were capable of springing back to life at any time -- with new faces and new strategies, of course, but as vicious and virulent as ever.

And in the past six months or more, it has gradually become clear that just such a resurgence is happening.

A recent report from Newhouse News Service's Chuck McCutcheoon describes the way it's happening:
Right-Wing Extremist Groups Becoming More Active After Post-9/11 Lull

Radical right-wing activity slowed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, as internal disagreements erupted over the merits of the attacks and leaders of several organizations died or went to jail, several authorities said. But the groups are becoming more active -- distributing leaflets in neighborhoods, holding public rallies, starting Web sites and reaching out to like-minded activists overseas.

"We have to understand that these groups are not passe and are starting to re-emerge," David Carter, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University, told law enforcement officials at a recent Justice Department conference in Washington.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama civil rights watchdog that monitors the groups, counted 751 active U.S. chapters in 2003, up from 708 the year before. The number of hate-related Web sites rose from 443 in 2002 to 497 last year, the center said in a report.

Some of the activity, as the report details, is in the form of public meetings and gatherings of like-minded true believers, often organizing in fresh guises that pick up where some of the far right's decaying older groups have left off.

These include the simultaneous events by white-supremacist Christian Identity groups, as well as the gathering in western Montana of a relatively new white-supremacist sect. Even the seemingly moribund Aryan Nations is still going, though its planned Aryan parade this coming weekend is generally viewed as a kind of death rattle that is, perhaps appropriately, being mostly ignored.

Then there's the scheduled rally this weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska, of the National Socialist Movement, an event that is expected to cost local officials some $28,000 to police.

The bulk of the new activity is manifesting itself in the form of flyer distribution. Every day, it seems, brings a fresh news account from somewhere in the nation of white-supremacist fliers being left on people's doorsteps or being passed out on neighborhood streets.

In the past week alone, we've seen fliers popping up in such places as Citrus Heights, California, Vancouver, Wash., and Williamsburg, Va..

There's nothing about the flier distributions that indicate any actual increase in numbers by these groups; and it's difficult at best to tell whether they have any actual effect on recruitment. But they do indicate a real increase in activity and energy. These groups are becoming clearly more active now in their efforts to expand their appeal -- and it is equally clear that they are doing so because they believe the environment is ripe for success.

But concern about recruitment into these groups is only a small part of the picture when it comes to appreciating the effect they have on larger society. Even more worrisome is the way their hateful beliefs are spread into the mainstream, infecting not just potential recruits but ordinary people who have no desire to join a skinhead organization but for whom, for various reasons, their racial scapegoating resonates.

One of the important ways this manifests itself is in the form of hate crimes. As I explain in Death on the Fourth of July, only a small portion (roughly 8 percent) of the 9,000 or so bias crimes that are committed every year in America are committed by members of organized hate groups. Contrary to the stereotype, the average hate criminal is a young white male with little or no previous criminal record and no known association with hate groups. Typically he participates in the crime as part of a group.

Yet in the vast majority of hate crimes, the rhetoric and symbology of hate groups, such as "White power!" chants and the brandishing of Confederate flags or burning crosses, are used during their commission. This clearly suggests the extent to which these groups' influence extends well beyond their sheer numbers and have infected the public discourse.

So it is perhaps not surprising, then, that in an environment in which hate-group rhetoric is gaining increasing circulation, hate crimes appear to be surging as well. The connection, of course, can probably never be proven, but the pattern is becoming fairly clear.

In recent weeks, we have seen disturbing hate crimes being committed in various parts of the country. Last weekend in Clinton, Iowa, a young Illinois man nearly killed a white acquaintance with his vehicle -- pinning him against another car -- because he was a "race traitor" (that is, the victim had black friends). Meanwhile, three young whites in Valrico, Florida, painted a black neighbor's house with swastikas and Klan epithets.

And then there was the case of the gay Seattle man attacked by three thugs who left him with a huge gash in his back as well as various other injuries. The case so outraged the local community that a march protesting the attack was held in Seattle last week. Two of the three suspects -- who attacked the man after inquiring whether he was a "faggot" -- have been arrested.

There is a disturbing thread that runs through all these cases (as well as other recent hate crimes): All the perpetrators were young men, either teenagers or men barely out of their teens.

This, of course, fits the profile. But it also fits the trend that has developed in the past year in which young teens have also begun adopting the rhetoric, symbology and even the ideology white-supremacist groups, even though they may never join such groups. I discussed the appearance of this trend in the San Diego area previously, but the apparent adoption of racist beliefs by these young men is especially worrisome. There has always been a tendency among hate criminals in this regard, but the unapologetic defense of these beliefs has usually been relegated to a minority of cases. Now it appears to be growing.

Judging by these trends, it would not surprise me to see 2004 record a serious increase in the level of hate-crime activity for the first time since the FBI began recording statistics (in 1991). We won't know, of course, for another year and a half, when the numbers are finally released in the bureau's annual reports. In the meantime, we're left with the far more immediate problem of how to contain the appearance of this dark tide.

Why is this happening now? Americans need to begin looking in the mirror for answers. It isn't very hard to see that the current milieu is a prime environment for this to occur.
-- The country is being led by a cadre of thoughtless fearmongers who do not hesitate to wave the bloody shirt of terrorism to silence their critics and stigmatize anyone who acts "different." The harmful effects of this behavior from our leadership on the general populace is incalculable.

-- A particularly shallow brand of patriotism -- replete with jingoist sentiments, hatred of The Other, and a hollow symbolism -- has been promoted in every possible avenue, from national television broadcasts to the corner drugstore. This kind of thoughtless "Americanism" is an important feature of many hate crimes (including the one Death on the Fourth of July focuses upon) and plays a significant role in forumulating the motivations for this violence.

-- Most of all, a fog of intolerance has filtered across the national landscape over the past decade, thanks mostly to right-wing propagandists with massive popular reach: Rush Limbaugh, Michael Weiner (aka Savage), Dr. Laura, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and the whole phalanx of their imitators. The thrust of the modern conservative movement has morphed from any sense of real conservative values into a relentless attack on the very notion of tolerance for anyone who is not part of that movement: liberals, gays and lesbians, other faiths, other colors.

Try to suggest, of course, that these trends are unhealthy, and you'll be denounced -- as unpatriotic, as paranoid, as a smear artist (projection being endemic to both the defense and attack of the American right). So the media, and the rest of us, comfort ourselves with the hollow notion that the above cases, and the many like them, are merely "isolated incidents."

We are all whistling past the graveyard.

[Thanks to Marty Heldt for the tip on the Clinton case.]

Border battles

Arizona's voters will be tested this fall on the question California voters already failed, namely, whether it will revert to bigotry instead of reason in dealing with problems associated with immigration.

As Tamar Jacoby recently observed in the Los Angeles Times, the problems certainly are real. And while government inertia reigns, standing pat should not be an option:
Ranchers on the border complain that bands of illegal migrants file across their lands, cutting fences, disturbing animals and leaving a sea of trash. Others -- liberals and conservatives alike -- feel that the Border Patrol is even more of a nuisance: the number of agents has skyrocketed, mostly to good effect, but they roam the region at will in their four-wheel drives, trampling grassland and interrogating motorists.

Healthcare providers face mounting costs. Crossing the Sonoran desert is a dangerous business; 105 migrants have died of exposure this year alone and many others end up in local hospitals. In Phoenix, immigrant smugglers warehouse their clients in filthy stash houses, then fight over them in gun battles that endanger local residents. No wonder Arizonans are clamoring for a solution -- any solution.

So now we get the "Protect Arizona Now" initiative touted by the fine bigots at Federation for American Immigration Reform and their hate-group cohorts at VDare, which not only would deny state services to illegal immigrants, it would prosecute any state employee who failed to report illegals applying for services.

Fortunately, Arizona's Republicans have learned their lesson from the California debacle -- where Latino support for the GOP vanished after the party supported the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 -- and are staying away from the PAN initiative like the festering carbuncle it is. And even though the initiative seems to enjoy broad support, there likely is time to bring reason to bear on the electorate.

It will all depend on how smart PAN's opponents are. As Jacoby observes:
California's Proposition 187 debacle holds several lessons for PAN's opponents. The biggest mistake then was the failure to create a broad-based, bipartisan coalition to denounce what could easily have been characterized as an extremist measure. Instead, it was the opposition that appeared extremist: all Mexican flags and protest rallies. Arizonans needn't repeat that blunder. After all, the business community, the political establishment, unions, immigrant advocates, Latino leaders and the state's active religious left all share reservations about the measure.

It will be crucial, in the end, for Republicans to step up to the plate on this measure and help knock it down. Otherwise, all that talk about attracting Latino voters will fit the rest of the "compassionate conservative" profile as we've seen it so far -- all talk and no hat.
UPDATE: Jeff Smith of the Tucson Citizen has more.