Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fascism is not liberal: The profound dishonesty of Jonah Goldberg

-- by Dave

I picked up the most recent copy of National Review – the one with the strange “Sotomayor as a Buddhist” cover – while I was in D.C. because I wanted to read the piece headlined across the cover: “Jonah Goldberg on His Critics”. Brian Beutler at TPM pointedly observed: “That better be a long article.”

Actually, it’s only two pages long. So, predictably, it’s pretty short on any discussion, as is the list of critics he actually addresses by name or argument. Namely: two – David Oshinsky and Michael Tomasky. And just as predictably, he completely misrepresents their arguments, setting up little strawmen and knocking them down instead.

And as if on cue, we get the point of writing the piece in the headline: “Obama’s Playbook, In Paperback.” (I’ll add the link if and when it ever becomes available online.) Yes, you see, Barack Obama is now the leading exponent of “liberal fascism.” This, of course, is Glenn Beck’s favorite thesis these days too.

Now, I happen to be one of Goldberg’s critics who, unlike his favorite caricature of liberals as having airily dismissed his book by laughing at it and urging people, “don’t read this!”, actually spent a good deal of time addressing Goldberg and his arguments in considerable detail – including a review published by The American Prospect. Certainly, my arguments are serious ones, no matter how little Goldberg chooses to admit it. Moreover, I actually have addressed Goldberg’s thesis in my new book, The Eliminationists. No less an authority than Rick Perlstein, in blurbing the book, writes:

For over a decade, David Neiwert has been America’s canary in the coal mine – our national early-warning system on the spread of corrosive, eliminationist, right-wing hatred in our midst. His latest book is a reality-based antidote to Jonah Goldberg, notable for both its clarity and moral force.

Nonetheless, having familiarized myself with how Goldberg operates, I admit I felt only slightly chagrined at not being included on the list. I’m well aware that Goldberg considers me something of an ankle-biter – he gave up completely after I’d debunked his work for a couple of rounds’ worth of online exchange, at which point he declared victory and went home (and at which point I completely unloaded on the pile of crap that is Liberal Fascism). I didn’t expect he’d even mention me – in no small part because he can’t give a good answer to my points – and of course he didn’t.

But then, anyone who’s read Liberal Fascism already knows that intellectual honesty is not Goldberg’s strong suit. Rather the contrary.

One of the more striking aspects of his dishonesty is how he manipulates his definitions in self-serving fashion that lets him move the goalposts at will, as though we were playing Calvinball. John Cole calls this “the Goldberg Principle”: "You can prove any thesis to be true if you make up your own definitions of words." For instance, as I noted, his operative definition of fascism is actually just the generic definition for totalitarianism, and it omits entirely the special characteristics that distinguish fascism from other forms of totalitarianism. One of these, for instance, is its overpowering, indeed dominant, antiliberalism – a fact that Goldberg conveniently omits from throughout his entire 400 or so pages, as well as from his most recent bit of self-aggrandization, posing as self-defense.

He does something similar in this piece, offering definitions of “Left” and “Right” that conveniently omit certain important characteristics of each: The Left, for instance, is defined as “statist, collectivist, egalitarian (within a defined group, be it based on class, race, or nationality), enamored of the Romantic spiritualization of the political, and hostile to tradition, religious orthodoxy, natural rights, and Lockean individualism.” But of course, most liberals – who Goldberg would no doubt throw into this definition – would never define themselves in such terms, particularly not the hostility to individualism. Most of us see ourselves as modern descendants of classical liberals like Locke anyway, since modern liberalism – or social liberalism, if you prefer – is in fact directly descended from the classical kind, especially in that it also involves as its actual cornerstones the primacy of the rule of law and democratic institutions, the advancement of civil liberties and civil rights, and freedom from restraint.

Note that Goldberg significantly omits these from his definitions, since his thesis that fascism – which clearly is opposed to these very principles – is a “phenomenon of the Left” would quickly run aground on the hard rock of such realities. Goldberg emphasizes “statism” as a feature of the Left – not only ignoring the fact that it is just as common on the Right, but obliterating the reality that modern liberalism, in point of fact, is largely about balancing the interests of the individual and his rights with needs of mass society and its resulting statist solutions. Again, that would not help Jonah’s thesis much, so there is no discussion of it in any of his texts.

Goldberg uses similarly dishonest tactics in defining the Right: “I would define ‘right-wing,’ particularly within the Anglo-American tradition, favoring limited government, respectful of religion and tradition, and protective of the individual and his rights.” The latter is particularly dubious, given the American Right’s frequent and historical subordination of individual rights to the patriotic national needs of the moment, something most of us experienced up close and personal during the long-running campaign during the Iraq War accusing liberals of insufficient patriotism – we were told more than a few times to “shut up” and “watch what we say” lest we be deemed treasonous (a charge that came anyway); and historically, it was the Right that was opposed to the individual rights that were carved out during the Civil rights era as well, and it has been the Right that has consistently been the enemy of individual-rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Notably missing from Goldberg’s definition, meanwhile, but clearly within the historical frame of what we call the Right, are its ardent militarism; its love of claiming the superiority of a leader’s instincts over the mewling of weak-kneed liberals (remember, e.g., Bush v. Kerry and Bush v. Gore); its dread of the corrosive effects of liberalism; its oft-expressed contempt for the weak and its embrace of the ethics of social Darwinism; and above all, its militant nationalism. Again, these are traits that Goldberg conveniently omits from his definition – because, as we shall see, they too directly undermine his claim that fascism is not a creature of the Right.

So I pretty much had to choke down the coffee I was drinking when, after offering these Calvinesque definitions, I read this line:

By any remotely similar definition, fascism belongs on the left – and to date, not a single critic of the book has even come close to rebutting this basic point.

Of course, demonstrating the utter, risible falsity of that “basic point” was largely the entire thrust of my critique of Liberal Fascism. But I was hardly alone in this. Indeed, Tomasky devoted a sizable portion of his argument to debunking it as well:

We have also recognized, since at least the 1950s and in some prescient instances even earlier, that certain consanguinities between the far left and the far right did exist in those days, and that the Nazi program was in some respects a left-wing program, appealing on a class basis--and, always, a racial basis--to German workers and the petit bourgeoisie. It was not called National Socialism for nothing. Goldberg goes into great detail on all this in his chapter titled--are you sitting down?--"Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left."

Now that is revisionism. But for all his chapter and verse on the proletarian rhetoric that Nazis employed, Goldberg somehow forgets to mention certain other salient matters, like the fact that within three months of taking power Hitler banned trade unions--and on the day after May Day, 1933. Their money was confiscated and their leaders imprisoned. And the trade unions were replaced with the Nazi "union" called the German Labor Front, which took away the right to strike. Hitler did many worse things, of course. I single out this act because it would hardly seem to be the edict of a "man of the left." And there exist about a million nearly epileptic quotes from Hitler and Goebbels and other Nazis expressing their luminous hatreds of liberalism and of communism, none of which seem to have found their way into the pages of Liberal Fascism.

Goldberg petulantly replied by arguing that Tomasky had thrown a “tantrum” and tossed off the point about fascism’s long history of activism within a right-wing frame of behavior – particularly its ardent opposition to the labor movement -- by arguing that the fascists were just foreclosing on their competition:

Tomasky’s biggest non sequitur denies that Hitler was a “man of the Left” because 1) one of Hitler’s first acts upon taking power was to ban trade unions and 2) he denounced “liberalism” and Communism. About the first point all that need be said is that if Hitler’s ban on independent trade unions disqualifies him as a leftist, then Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were not leftists either.

One might also note that socialists’ lethal hatred for rival socialists is hardly confined to the National Socialists of Germany. Lenin and Stalin, after all, had plenty of rival socialists killed. Tellingly, when Stalin decided that such adversaries needed to die, he called them “fascists.” Hence, Trotsky & Co. were executed for plotting a “fascist coup” against Soviet socialism.

And for those interested, the Nazis believed that the right to strike was no longer necessary because labor finally had a full seat at the table, as dictated by corporatist ideology. Obviously, the Nazis were wrong. But so were the Communists who did pretty much the exact same thing. …

This is, in fact, the argument that Goldberg attempts to make in his book as well: That the fascists occupied the "political space" on the Left, and thus were simply out to compete against their fellow leftists. But this is where Goldberg most deeply portrays a lack of respect for the historical material available to him, because any careful study of the actual details of how the fascists came to power in both Italy and Germany makes abundantly clear that they were occupying the available political space on the right -- and had charged hard in that direction from early on in their drive to power.

I discussed this in some detail, citing particularly Robert O. Paxton's work in The Anatomy of Fascism. Paxton, for instance, debunks the fascists' ostensible "anticapitalism":

It turned out in practice that fascists' anticapitalism was highly selective. Even at their most radical, the socialism that the fascists wanted was a "national socialism": one that denied only foreign or enemy property rights (including that of internal enemies). They cherished national producers. Above all, it was by offering an effective remedy against socialist revolution that fascism turned out in practice to find a space. If Mussolini retained some lingering hopes in 1919 of founding an alternative socialism rather than an antisocialism, he was soon disabused of those notions by observing what worked and what didn't work in Italian politics. His dismal electoral results with a Left-nationalist program in Milan in November 1919 surely hammered that lesson home.

The pragmatic choices of Mussolini and Hitler were driven by their urge for success and power. Not all fascist leaders had such ambitions. Some of them preferred to keep their movements "pure," even at the cost of remaining marginal.

Paxton makes abundantly clear that the political space the fascists, in obtaining power, chose to occupy was clearly on the right. Goldberg, in contrast, insists that "fascism, properly understood, is not a phenomenon of the right at all" because, he explains, fascism and communism "are closely related, historical competitors for the same constituents, seeking to dominate and control the same social space." He claims throughout the book and elsewhere that fascists didn't seek out their political space on the right -- rather, they were doing so on the left.

He actually addresses Paxton's characterization with what can most kindly be characterized as a lame rebuttal (p. 47):

In November the newly named explicitly left-wing Fascists ran a slate of candidates in the national elections. They got trounced at the hands of the Socialists. Most historians claim this is what taught Mussolini to move to the "right." Robert O. Paxton writes that Mussolini realized "there was no space in Italian politics for a party that was both nationalist and Left."

This, I think, distorts the picture. Mussolini did not move fascism from left to right; he moved it from socialist to populist.

Yet if Goldberg had actually bothered to read Paxton's account of how the move occurred -- or for that matter, any other historical account of these events -- he would know that the ideological shift by Mussolini had not even the remotest thing to do with populism. Rather, it all occurred in the defense of wealthy landowners and the established economic and cultural powers, and it entailed a wave of murderous violence against socialists, leftists, and any form of progressive.

From Paxton, pp. 60-64:

Above all Mussolini bested D'Annunzio by serving economic and social interests as well as nationalist sentiment. He made his Blackshirts available for action against socialists as well as against the South Slavs of Fiume and Trieste. War veterans had hated the socialists since 1915 for their "antinational" stance during the war. Big planters in the Po Valley, Tuscany, Apulia, and other regions of large estates hated and feared the socialists for their success at the end of the war in organizing the bracianti, or landless laborers, to press for higher wages and better working conditions. Squadrismo was the conjunction of these two hatreds.

Following their victory in the first postwar election (November 1919) the Italian socialists had used their new power in local government to establish de facto control over the agricultural wage-labor market. In the Po Valley in 1920, every farmer who needed workmen for planting or harvesting had to visit the socialist Labor Exchange. The Labor Exchanges made the most of their new leverage. They forced the farmers to hire workers year-round rather than only seasonally, and with better wages and working conditions. The farmers were financially squeezed. They had invested considerable sums in transforming Po Valley marshlands in cultivable farms; their cash crops earned little money in the difficult conditions of the Italian postwar economy. The socialist unions also undermined the farmers' personal status as masters of their domains.

Frightened and humiliated, the Po Valley landowners looked frantically for help. They did not find it in the Italian state. Local officials were either socialists themselves, or little inclined to do battle with them. Prime Minister Giolitti, a true practitioner of laissez-faire liberalism, declined to use national forces to break strikes. The big farmers felt abandoned by the Italian liberal state.

In the absence of help from the public authorities, the large landowners of the Po Valley turned to the Blackshirts for protection. Glad for an excuse to attack their old pacifist enemies, fascist squadristi invaded the city hall in Bologna, where socialist officials had hung up a red banner, on November 21, 1920. Six were killed. From there, the movement quickly spread through the rich agricultural country in the lower Po River delta. Black-shirted squadristi mounted nightly expeditions to sack and burn Labor Exchanges and local socialist offices, and beat and intimidate socialist organizers. Their favorite forms of humiliation were administering uncontainable doses of castor oil and shaving off half of a proud Latin moustache. In the first six months of 1921, the squads destroyed 17 newspapers and printing works, 59 Peoples' Houses (socialist headquarters), 119 Chambers of Labor (socialist employment offices), 107 cooperatives, 83 Peasants' Leagues, 151 socialist clubs, and 151 cultural organizations. Between January 1 and April 7, 1921, 102 people were killed: 25 fascists, 41 socialists, 20 police, and 16 others.

... Long after his regime had settled into routine, Mussolini still liked to refer to the "Fascist revolution." But he meant a revolution against socialism and flabby liberalism, a new way of uniting and motivating Italians, and a new kind of governmental authority capable of subordinating private liberties to the needs of the national community and of organizing mass assent while leaving property intact. The major point is that the Fascist movement was reshaped in the process of growing into the available space. The antisocialism already present in the initial movement became central, and many antibourgeois idealists left or were pushed out. The radical anticapitalist idealism of early Fascism was watered down, and we must not let its conspicuous presence in early texts confuse us about what Fascism later became in action.

Paxton, p. 83:

The Italian Fascist Party, having discovered that in its first identity as a Left-nationalist movement the space it coveted was already occupied by the Left, underwent the necessary transformations to become a local power in the Po Valley. The Nazi Party broadened its appeal after 1928 to court farmers desperate over going broke and losing their farms. Both Mussolini and Hitler could perceive the space available, and were willing to trim their movements to fit.

The space was partly symbolic. The Nazi Party early shaped its identity by staking a claim to the street and fought with communist gangs for control of working-class neighborhoods of Berlin. At issue was not merely a few meters of urban "turf." The Nazis sought to portray themselves as the most vigorous and effective force against the communists -- and, at the same time, to portray the liberal state as incapable of preserving public security. The communists, at the same time, were showing that the Social Democrats were unequipped to deal with an incipient revolutionary situation that needed a fighting vanguard. Polarization was in the interest of both.

Fascist violence was neither random nor indiscriminate. It carried a well-calculated set of coded messages: that communist violence was rising, that the democratic state was responding to it ineptly, and that only the fascists were tough enough to save the nation from antinational terrorists. An essential step in the fascist march to acceptance and power was to persuade law-and-order conservatives and members of the middle class to tolerate fascist violence as a harsh necessity in the face of Left provocation. It helped, of course, that many ordinary citizens never feared fascist violence against themselves, because they were reassured that it was reserved for national enemies and "terrorists" who deserved it.

The path to power for both Italian Fascists and German Nazis was essentially the same: They presented themselves as "revolutionary socialists" in their initial appeals but, finding the political space for such a movement already well occupied on the left by socialists and communists, shifted their appeals and their alliances to the right and center, particularly with business capitalists who financed them, sponsored their activities, and essentially contracted with them to engage in systematic violence against the Left. For the Nazis, Fritz Thyssen, head of the nation's largest steel producer, was only the most prominent example of business capitalists who funneled money to the Nazis both as they rose to power and once they gained it.

Now, going simply from Goldberg's own inadequate definition above -- which stipulates that the Right is "respectful of religion and tradition" (in fact, a more accurate definition would stipulate that the Right "ardently defends traditional values, mores, and institutions") -- the fascists in their rise to power clearly fit the definition of being "a phenomenon of the Right" -- and not the Left.

Of course, we can also rest assured that Goldberg will never even noddingly acknowledge that the chief leg of his argument has in fact been thoroughly knocked down. Because who knows how that might affect book sales.

Like I say: Profoundly dishonest. But he does turn a nice buck.

Saturday Open Thread: Put Up or Shut Up, Continued....

-- by Sara

The thread on the "Put Up or Shut Up" post below got long and raucous, so I'm starting a new one so the show can go on...and maybe even move in some new directions. Longtime friend-of-the-blog Trefayne sets the terms:
This thread and the blog entry that spawned it remind me of what Mrs. Robinson was telling us a while back about Prof. Altemeyer's book "The Authoritarians." We often find in politics leaders and followers, and the people in each of these two groups have personality traits that complement the other group's role. The dynamic he describes is worth considering in this struggle to prevent more bloodshed.

The Right-Wing Authoritarian followers have been measured as having difficulty with critical thinking, a tendency toward "us-versus-them" perception, and following the leader because he is the leader and doing so even when he is leading them off a cliff. They are prone to suspicions and the Paranoid Style in American politics. Their understanding of the world is unfalsifiable and immune to counter-evidence. Witness the current troll. But less-extreme people with similar problems abound. We even know some of them in the real world.

The leaders are similar, but less docile. They are motivated by a drive for high social dominance, sometimes verging on sociopathy. They are even harder to get through to than their followers. I think some of the folks here are right that they will not back down or reveal their goals (or their goal-less opportunism).

So here we have a problem with Sara's call. The leaders will not and can not, by themselves, scale back their drive for control. To the degree that it is possible, the followers have to see their leaders as a problem and stop following their orders. It sometimes happens. They don't become saints, but they do stand aside, reducing the number of active footsoldiers. Mrs. R wrote about this in her "Cracks in the Wall" and "Tunnels and Bridges" posts, which are permanently linked in the left column on the main Orcinus page.

I'm assuming that Mrs. R's recent blog posting, asking conservatives if they really want another civil war, is directed to the Conservative Movement's base just as much as it is to the leadership. *Maybe* the lack of an answer from the talking heads, or a series of non-denial denials, will get the regular people wondering if they might want to slow down and look where they're headed. They might then decide to stop running toward that cliff.

So, Mrs. R: Are there ways we can bring up your challenge to our conservative family-members and neighbors, without making them become defensive? This would include conversations over dinner or during Fourth of July picnics. Do we put it in the context of what the bloviators seem to want, and avoid asking our friend directly if they want war? Or should we be more direct?

Thoughtful comments are appreciated.
Indeed they are. Trefayne is heading the conversation directly toward my next intended post, which wants to talk about why and what happens when lone wolf actions become the common cause of communities. But today's a study day, so that will have to wait.

In meantime, it's a gorgeous Saturday here at the old whale-watching shack. The water's beautiful, the orcas are hunting salmon on the cliffs below, and the sound is full of weekend boaters. Crack open a cold beer, plop down on the porch, and hold forth. I'm stuck inside with Excel and a 500-page statistics text, but I'll check in on the conversation every now and again, too.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Memo to the Right Wing: Put Up or Shut Up

-- by Sara

Dear Conservatives:

Your fellow Americans demand an answer -- and we want it now. Just one simple question:

Are you deliberately trying to start a civil war?

Just answer the question. Yes or no. Don't insult us with elisions, evasions, dithering, qualifications, or conditional answers. We need to know what your intentions are -- and we need to know NOW. People are being shot dead in the streets of America at the rate of several per month now. You may not want responsibility for this -- but the whackadoodles pulling the triggers make no bones about who put them up to this.

You did.

The assassins themselves are ratting you out. They're telling us, straight up, that they were inspired to act by the hate radio talkers that you empowered -- one of whom is now the de facto head of the Republican party. They got it from media outlets owned by your biggest donors. They got it from bloggers who receive daily talking points faxed in from the GOP. They got it from activists representing causes that would have never become causes in the first place if the issues hadn't been politically expedient for you.

Beyond that: You've already admitted your own complicity. When the Department of Homeland Security expressed their worries about right-wing extremist violence last April, practically every conservative pundit in the country went into a righteous fit. DHS never named anyone directly, so it was astonishing how many of you on the right were so quick to step up and claim that that memo was slandering you, personally and collectively. Since you were so eager to claim that that memo was all about you, now that the violence has come to pass, we're well justified in holding you to that.

And please don't insult our intelligence by saying that these acts are the work of lone wolves, and that you don't have anything to do with this, and that it's all the fault of the left. It's true that there have always been crazies in our midst. But by choosing to gain power through a politics that only motivates through hate and fear, you've recruited a good-sized army of those crazies, armed them up, and turned them into paranoid monsters that are now running loose on the American landscape.

We know you have absolute and utter contempt for the intelligence of the average American, but trying to blame the left for creating this situation is a fabrication so vast that it tells us you don't even have so much as a shred of respect for yourselves. Even you seem to know that your word is worth nothing to most Americans now -- and you don't seem to care.

You don't seem to give a damn about the future of this country, either. You're just in it to win the next election, increase profits for the next quarter, or boost your ratings in the next book. As long as selling hate accomplishes any of these goals, you'll do it -- without regard for the cultural sewage you're creating, without regard for the way you've polluted the political landscape, and now apparently without even a moment's regard for the innocent lives that are being lost because you seem bent on destroying every shred of trust required for our democracy to function.

But the bodies are piling up. We are demanding an accounting from you. We are demanding that you take responsibility for the situation you've created. We are looking you straight in the eyes and demanding a straight answer:

Are you deliberately trying to start a civil war?

If your answer is yes, then stop this cowardly half-assed screwing around. You speak the language of war and honor; but the honor code of the warriors you pretend to revere demands that you declare your intentions. If you really believe that the only way to get the America you want is to negate a fair election, shred the Constitution, and violently cleanse the country of everyone who doesn't agree with you, then man up and get on with it. If it's a shooting war you want, do not doubt that there are plenty of progressives who will oblige you. If this goal is so important that you're really willing to kill for it, please don't forget that you will also need to be willing to die for it. Because, like martyrs Greg McKendry and Steven Johns proved, we are willing to do whatever is necessary to stop you.

If your answer is no, then you have just one other choice. Knock off the tantrums, grow up, rebuild your party, come back to the table, and sit down and govern with us. (We know this will be a stretch, but we think some of you are capable of it.) You will need to learn, many of you for the first time, to get your way as adults do -- without fear-based politics, polarizing rhetoric, on-air threats against those who disagree with you, and repeating outrageous lies in the face of stone facts and irrefutable evidence.

And most of all: you need to stop feeding the crazies. You need to disavow them in every way possible -- sincerely, emphatically, and with full awareness that every time one of these people acts, it destroys the credibility of "conservatives," "Republicans," and "the right wing" in the eyes of the country. You cannot assassinate your way back to power. And don't doubt for a moment that the majority of Americans -- even those who agree with your ideas -- will abandon your cause forever once it realizes that's what you're trying to do.

Since you're the ones funding the violent radicals on your flank, you need to stop sending them money. Since you know far more about their activities than any one else, you need to be the ones who turn them in. Since you're the ones who make heroes and martyrs out of them, you need to be the ones who call them out as criminals. Until you do this -- consistently, wholeheartedly, and responsibly -- we can only conclude that these assassins are operating with your support and approval, and that you are intentionally trying to start an armed revolution in America.

That's your choice. Are you deliberately trying to start a civil war? Or are you willing to work for real civility, and return to your seat at the table, ready to help us choose the country's future?

Yes or No. Right now. The window is closing fast behind you. And once it closes, none of us -- not you, not us, not anyone -- will have the choice to avoid the catastrophe that will follow. It's your decision. And you need to make it now.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tragedy at the Holocaust Museum: Stand Up To Terror

-- By Sara

The storm I've been warning about is coming faster now. To get a sense of just how fast, let's take stock of what's been happening on the right wing since President Obama's inauguration:

Wednesday, January 21 -- the day after the inauguration -- 22-year-old Keith Luke goes on a rape and killing spree in his Boston neighborhood. He rapes and kills one woman, and kills the sister who tries to help her. He then goes out onto the street and shoots a passing homeless man. Police intercept him on his way to a local synagogue, where he tells them he intended to "kill as many Jews as possible during bingo night." He also tells investigators that he was fighting the extinction of the white race, and had stockpiled 200 round of ammunition to that end.

Tuesday, February 10 -- In Belfast, Maine, radioactive "dirty bomb" materials are found in home of James Cummings, who had been killed by his wife after years of domestic violence. Cummings was an admirer of Adolf Hitler; a large collection of Nazi memorabilia and a filled-out application for the National Socialist Movement were found on the scene.

Thursday, February 26 -- In Miramar Beach, FL, 60-year-old Dannie Baker walks into a neighboring townhouse where 14 Chilean students -- all in the US legally -- are gathered. He fires, killing two and wounding five. Those who know Baker describe him as a mentally ill man obsessed with the fear that immigrants are taking over the country.

Sunday, April 5 -- Budding white supremacist and recently discharged veteran Richard Popalowski shoots and kills three police officers following a standoff in Pittsburgh. They were responding to a domestic disturbance call. He believed they had been sent by the Obama Adminstration to take away his guns.

Tuesday, April 28 -- US Army Reservist Joshua Cartwright shoots and kills two sheriff's deputies in Fort Walton Beach, FL. His wife called police from the emergency room after he beat her. In the incident report, his wife reported that her husband believed the U.S. Government was conspiring against him, and was severely disturbed that Barack Obama had been elected President.

Wednesday, May 6 -- Stephen P. Morgan of Middletown, CT kills former NYU classmate Johanna Justin-Jinich, whom he had been harassing since at least 2007. A diary found in his belongings included an entry: "I think it's ok to kill Jews and go on a killing spree" and "Kill Johanna. She must Die." Justin-Jinich was Jewish, and the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Sunday, May 31 -- Dr. George Tiller is shot to death while ushering at his Lutheran church in Wichita, KS. His killer, Scott Roeder, is captured by police within hours. Roeder is found to have ties to several violent right-wing groups, including the Montana Freemen and the Sovereign Citizen movement. He had also been committing acts of vandalism against abortion clinics for years, most recently just days before the assassination.

Wednesday, June 10 -- Well-known anti-Semitic blogger James Wenneker von Brunn walks into the national Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and opens fire, killing a security guard. Von Brunn had been prominent in Holocaust denier circles for several decades, and considered Holocaust museums to be a crime against white history.

Eight episodes of right-wing extremist violence in four and a half months. We haven't gone four weeks since February without some poor guy -- always with a long history of mental illness, usually with a record of military service and/or domestic violence, and invariably jacked up on a toxic cocktail of white male privilege; us-versus-them enemy seeking; fury at women, blacks and/or Jews; and a belief that the world as he knew it was ending unless he took up arms -- taking out his gun and offing innocent Americans in a suicidal bid for glory.

For the record: This is not business as usual. True: there have always been occasional events, usually dismissed by the corporate media as "isolated incidents," the work of "lone wolf shooters" acting for reasons all their own. But you have to go back a long, long way in American history before you come to a place where you find incidents like this happening an average of once every two weeks. And the chattering classes are finally beginning to realize what those of us who've been faithfully watching the right wing for years were telling them a year ago: there's nothing isolated about any of this.

This is how terrorism begins.

The thing that worries me most about this rash of shootings isn't just the threat to public safety posed by domestic terrorism -- which is becoming a more serious consideration on the American home front with every passing week -- but where this kind of thing historically leads. Regular readers know I'm always looking for the patterns. This escalating level of violence is adding data points to a potentially emergent pattern that we need to be looking at, and preparing for. So far, there are at least five things I'm particularly concerned about.

1. More and Faster. First, there's just the bald statistical rate of increase in frequency. Between January and April, we were seeing shootings on an average of once every 27 days. In May, the last three episodes came at an average interval of once every 15 days -- a 40% drop. This is hardly a comforting trend, and it points to the likelihood of a long, hot summer.

2. Lone Wolves Join Packs. One of the things that's striking about the last two shooters is that they're not lone wolves. Scott Roeder was packed into the same extensive network of anti-abortion sympathizers that successfully hid Eric Rudolph for over five years (and may have been counting on them to hide him, too). James von Brunn was at the core of the anti-Semitic movement in America. Their actions don't just speak for themselves; they're supported by a larger community of people who might not have pulled the trigger themselves, but supported them wholeheartedly and consider them heroes. This is new. And it should worry us.

As I've noted before, groups heading toward major acts of violence always inch up to it by degrees. As shootings become a more common -- and by some twisted reckoning, more acceptable -- form of political protest, the psychopaths are joined in arms by more rational people who feel that they don't have any other options left. (We saw some of this on the left during the 1960s, as the more psychopathic members of activist groups goaded, indoctrinated, or simply led others into committing acts of domestic terrorism that they probably would never have considered on their own.) As things accelerate, acts by lone wolf actors give way to coordinated actions pulled off by small teams. Later on, these small groups work in concert with each other to commit bigger acts. And as successes build, before long you've got Al Qaeda. Or the IRA. Or any of a dozen other terrorist organizations that started out this exact same way.

3. An Intention to Expand Operations. Plans are already afoot to expand into just this kind of group action. Back in February, the right wing went squealing nuts over this report ( by the state of Missouri, warning law enforcement statewide of the threat right wing extremist violence posed to cops in particular. It's a useful read on where the militia movements are right now; but the most interesting part is the section titled "Training," which outlines specifically what militia groups are doing now to hone their individual and group fighting skills for domestic terrorism attacks.

And the resurgent militia movement isn't the only group making these kinds of plans. On the Dominionist fringe, Joel's Army is sending its sons to Iraq to give them the skills they'll need for a Christian takeover of the nation. Eric Rudolph was supported by the anti-abortion tactical Army of God. There are plenty of groups out there, all arming and training up for their own reasons.

4. Making Common Cause. Another thing that's alarming those of us who watch the right wing is that the historical silos that divided the various right-wing extremist movements are morphing and crumbling. As the Missouri memo notes, the major strains in the past have included the Neo-Nazis; Christian Identity, the religious arm of white nationalism; the Sovereign Citizen movement; the militant anti-abortionists, the tax resistors, and the anti-immigration movement. There's always been some cross-pollination between them, but the Web has made it possible for a broader fusing of all these ideologies into a common culture. Increasingly, an adherent of one is very likely to also adopt many of the rest as well.

5. The Tim McVeigh Finishing School. Dave Neiwert coined this phrase for the Iraq War, based on the fact that the most effective domestic terrorists (including McVeigh and Rudolph) have always been those with extensive combat training and experience. The right wing raised holy hell in early April when the Department of Homeland Security released its infamous report pointing out that right-wing extremist groups were aggressively recruiting veterans; but there's no need for Janet Napolitano to apologize. The facts are squarely with the DHS on this score.

As noted above, many of the right-wing groups saw the war from the very first as an opportunity to gain valuable combat skills that could be applied to domestic terrorism at home. In modern times, the military has been very aggressive about identifying and ejecting these kinds of extremists, since their religious and racist excesses tended to devastate unit cohesion -- and the last thing we need is well-armed nutcases running around our home towns with combat skills.

But this war was different. In part because of a growing Evangelical takeover of the officer corps and in part because recruiters were desperate for warm bodies, the military has been looking the other way and letting these recruits stay in almost from the start of the war. The upshot is swastikas on the walls in Baghdad -- and a new corps of well-trained, committed militia members who are also in prime position to seek out new recruits among the young kids who are far from home and overwhelmed.

Those seasoned veterans are coming home now. As with every war, most of them will successfully rejoin civilian life and become some of our most productive citizens. But, as with every war, there will be a handful who come home, struggle for a while, and then start applying everything we've taught them to the home front. That's what's got DHS worried. And today, even FOX News' Shepherd Smith admitted that DHS's concern might not have been wrongly placed after all:

Where does this end? There are a couple of ways this pattern plays out. The most likely one is that the extremist commandos go a bridge too far -- they're successful on a scale that scares the rational rebels into putting down their guns and bombs, leaving the really crazy actors back at the level of lone wolves. Oklahoma City was absolutely that event for the 1990s' militia incarnation. There's also a possibility that 9/11 may have been that event for Al Qaeda, but it's still too early to tell.

The other (far less likely, but far worse case) scenario is that the entire country is persuaded to take leave of its senses and take sides, launching a civil war. Given the number of Americans, both left and right, who are thoroughly disgusted with the corporatocracy and increasingly convinced that Congress is too corrupt to deliver even the basics to anyone who's not rich enough to write their problem on the back of a check, it's not a far stretch to imagine a right-wing populist movement that sucks large chunks of the working and middle classes into a full-scale revolution. If the conservative movement does not take a stand against these extremists, they may find that their silence will give permission to actions that are far worse.

Either way, the storm is upon us now. And it probably will be for at least another couple of years. The best thing progressives can do right now is stay in close touch with our base, do whatever we can to restore average Americans' faith in their government. In this incendiary environment, we can't afford to let them lose faith.

Cross posted from and updated with corrections.