Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Feeling the thuggery

-- by Dave

David Love at In These Times has a followup to the recent SPLC report on "noose incidents" as an indicator of a growing white backlash against minorities, and concludes:
But why are these racially motivated crimes on the rise at this point in time? Potok suggests that the recent noose incidents reflect not a fringe phenomenon, but a major social problem. "We're looking at an upsurge in racial nationalism," says Potok. "What's going on is a serious backlash against globalization. You have a certain level of economic rage that provides fertile ground for these groups." He says that with more people of color immigrating to the country, "whites are angry and uneasy."

According to Potok, these whites who are scapegoating think, "Our country is being stolen from us. The country my white Christian forefathers built is being taken away." But on Democracy Now!, Malik Shabazz, a member of Black Lawyers for Justice, said: "The hanging of nooses is a sign that there [could] be real bodies under those nooses very soon."

The manifestation of this backlash, however, goes well beyond simply the noose incidents, and the targets are broader than merely minorities. As a product of the right's ongoing "culture war," the animus is being more generally directed toward those who are blamed for threatening white privilege: liberals, mulitculturalists, antiwar peace advocates, gays and lesbians, and what Bill O'Reilly calls "secular progressives," in addition to the obvious and usual targets -- blacks and other racial minorities, as well as such religious/ethnic minorities as Jews and Muslims.

I've been documenting this growing eliminationism for some time now, observing that for the most part it has been confined to poisonous rhetoric.

But I've also observed that this kind of rhetoric has a history in America and elsewhere of being an important predicate of actual eliminationist violence, serving as a form of social permission that actually encourages such acts.

You can see this danger clearly in such incidents as that reported recently by Pam Spaulding:
Openly gay Chapel Hill (NC) Town Councilman Mark Kleinschmidt (who I recently met up with at the G&L Leadership Conference last weekend) is the target of a bunch of online neo-Nazi thugs who have compiled a list of out gay elected officials, or as one put it, "List of Open and Unapologetic Faggot Politicians." Mark:

Over the last 3 days I've seen at least three sites re-post the same list of gay officials from around the country. The post is a reprint of a list of openly gay elected officials maintained by Actwin, an lgbt activist who monitored the voting records of gay elected officials.

The most disturbing element? This repeated statement:

Because the information is perishable, local activists are best advised to use this information first as a precursor for additional investigation before taking "direct action".

Pam goes on to then detail some of the hateful comments that have come pouring in to Mark's site, including the following warning:
White America is waking up.

Attention sub-humans: Something wicked this way comes.

This kind of generalized hatefulness is not merely confined to neo-Nazis and fringe thugs; rather, but it's being expressed so broadly and at so many levels -- from major right-wing media figures to Republican presidential candidates to the far reaches of the right-wing assholosphere -- that of course, it's also being internalized, and indeed normalized, by the general populace.

That this is occurring on a broad scale is indicated by the fact that it's even turning up among impressionable high-schoolers, such as the students in Maryland who advocated banning a course in "peace studies" because it was too "liberal." A couple of weeks ago, Crooks and Liars pointed out a story out of Florida in which such liberal activism actually produced an outpouring of thuggish intimidation from right-wing students waving the banner of the Confederate flag. It started out with the standard organization of an anti-war "peace" group among a small cluster of students:
But what started out as a light-hearted gesture soon started to be taken out of context.

Students started approaching the group members, yelling obscene things at them, said Lauren.

"People just turned on us like that," she said. "At least 10 boys stood up and yelled things at me at once, and we couldn't even walk through the halls without a harsh comment being made."

The heckling began early in the school year, according to group members. They said they were putting small posters promoting peace on friends' lockers with their permission.

They thought it was OK, because the cheerleaders and football players had signs on theirs. Eventually, though, group members said they were told by the school's administration they could no longer hang up the posters.

"People tore them down and drew swastikas and 'white power' stuff on them," Lauren said.

Skylar had similar things written on her posters.

"Someone taped an 'I Love Bush' sign over my 'Wage Peace' sign," she said. "So I tore it down, threw it away, and the whole commons starting booing. I walk by later and find that someone has completely tore my sign down and placed an 'I Love America, Because America Loves War' sign up."

That was when the Dixie flags began showing up, along with the "love it or leave it" talk:
Soon, a second group started to wear Confederate flag shirts to oppose the peace group, Skylar said. She saw shirts with sayings such as "This is America, get used to it," and "If peace is the answer; it must be a stupid question."

"Now there are even 'support our troops' kids who don't like us because I guess they think you can't say peace and support the troops at the same time," Lauren said.

Skylar later passed out yellow ribbons for her group to wear to show they support the troops as well as peace.

However, Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High sophomores Lydia Pace and Joseph Marianetti said the Confederate shirts they wear express support for the troops in Iraq, and nothing more. Joseph said the shirts have nothing to do with racism.

"Someone took something that stood for peace and twisted it" in regards to the swastikas (drawn by a third group) and the Confederate flag, he said.

As Newhoggers points out, the most disturbing element has been the school's response -- which has de facto condoned the thuggery:
The school responded by punishing the peace kids for causing trouble and denied them the right to have a peace club even though they submitted a written proposal and had a sponsor as required. Now all they have left is a My Space page where their detractors continue to leave threatening comments.

There's something truly rotten in the Denmark of the right. Every day, it seems, it comes floating up to the surface in some form. But we're reaching a dangerous pass when local civic authorities start to give it their tacit support.

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