Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The question of culpability

Last night on Countdown, Keith Olbermann and his guest, John Cook of Radar Online, discussed the Chad Castagana case and the question, already raised here, of the level of culpability that Castagana's right-wing heroes have in matters such as these:
OLBERMANN: For the record, as I understand it, the connection is that the fellow identifying himself as Costanzo posted something about science fiction, which he said was a rewrite of something he’d previously posted on a sci-fi site, which was written by and identified by Castagana. But the Ann Coulter-Laura Ingraham-Michelle Malkin connection is -- how is that best described? Is that hero worship? Or crushes of some kind, or do we know what that is?

COOK: Well, I mean, if he is idolizing them, that sounds like hero worship to me. I mean, I think, you know, these, Ann Coulter and Malkin, you know, they sort of present a kind of rhetorical world view where they have their troops out there, and I think he thought of himself as one of their troops and wanted to live up to their standards.

And I mean, I don't think we can always hold these people responsible for the actions of the least hinged of their followers, but I think it is clear that he was an acolyte of the Coulters and the Malkins, and I think that they clearly enjoy having acolytes, and they clearly sort of issue calls to action -- not necessarily to send threatening powder-filled envelopes to you in so many words, but they certainly exhort their followers to let themselves be known.

OLBERMANN: But to that point, I mean, the part -- it was one thing -- an acolyte is one thing; an emulation is something else. There were students at the University of California at Santa Cruz who protested military recruiters on their campus. Malkin posted their addresses and their personal information on her blog, and then when people harassed the students at their homes, Malkin did the King Henry thing about Thomas Becket, "who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" I never told anybody to do anything. And then this is the problem, right? You can come out, you can directly encourage people to act violently. Ann Coulter has done that. Or you can do it in this sort of thinly disguised way, the way Malkin has.

COOK: Right. But I think what Malkin wants to do is not to tell people to act violently so much as -- I do think she wants to sort of introduce a kind of thuggish sort of intimidating tone into the political debate, this kind of let's not let them boss us around anymore. I think that's sort of -- she has got a very combative kind of truculent rhetorical pose.

And, you know, I mean, Ann Coulter has said some, you know, absolutely ludicrous things about -- she once said that, you know, "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, making them realize that they can be killed, too."

When she says that, I don't think she honestly believes -- I don't think she actually wants people who hear those words to go and physically intimidate liberals. I think she says it because she knows that if she says outrageous things, her speaking -- speaker's bureau's fees go up or the next book contract goes up. She is a professional agitator.

Radar Online has more details on Castagana, including a copy of the affidavit.

This was especially noteworthy:
According to the affidavit, Castagana, an "average looking" 39-year-old white guy who lives with his parents in Woodland Hills, attempted to send 13 fake anthrax letters to the aforementioned victims starting in September. We say "attempted" because the first letter, which contained the message, "Do you know Alan Berg? You should. Death to demagogues," and a harmless white powder, was sent to a poor sap on the Upper West Side named Jon Stewart—but not that Jon Stewart. (Alan Berg is the Jewish talk-radio host murdered by white-supremacists in Denver in 1984.)

Evidently, Castagana is not only an admirer of Coulter and Malkin, he also sees The Order as role models.

Then there were the other messages that were sent with the fake anthrax:
To Olbermann: "There are too many demagogues in America. All of you are poisoning the well! Time to give your kind a taste of your own medicine."

To Redstone: "Fuck You Mr Monopolist [sic]"

To Letterman: "more then one way to frag a demagogue... your kind are the real poison [sic]"


I think it's fair to say that Chad Castagana was thoroughly "unhinged."

And who helped unhinge him? Why, none other than the author of "Unhinged." Yes, the same person who claimed that "conservatives zealously police their own ranks to exclude extremists."

It's important to understand, of course, that as John Cook says, you can't blame right-wing pundits like Malkin and Coulter directly for the acts of lone kooks in their audience. Certainly you couldn't make anything stick in a court of law against them on that count.

But neither are they blameless in these matters. Moral culpability lies in the court of public opinion -- and as Olbermann and Cook explored here, blame for the influence of hateful rhetoric on unstable characters can't all be laid at the feet of those actors. Responsibility lies with the people encouraging them to hate as well.

People like Coulter, Malkin, and Limbaugh don't need to be taken to court. What they have earned is to be shunned and ignored as the moral lepers they are.

No comments: