Friday, June 26, 2009

FBI's arrest of Hannity pal Hal Turner has been a long time coming

Hal Turner mugshot_d4a80.jpg

[Photo h/t Think Progress]

-- by Dave

Well, we've known for some time that Patrick Fitzgerald doesn't mess around. Just ask Rod Blagejovich and Scooter Libby. Yesterday Hal Turner, Sean Hannity's erswhile friend, got the same lesson:

CHICAGO—Hal Turner, an intermittent internet radio talk show host and blogger, was arrested today by FBI agents at his home in North Bergen, N.J., on a federal complaint filed in Chicago alleging that he made internet postings threatening to assault and murder three federal appeals court judges in Chicago in retaliation for their recent ruling upholding handgun bans in Chicago and a suburb.

Internet postings on June 2 and 3 proclaimed “outrage” over the June 2, 2009, handgun decision by Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judges Richard Posner and William Bauer, of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, further stating, among other things: “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed.” The postings included photographs, phone numbers, work address and room numbers of these judges, along with a photo of the building in which they work and a map of its location.

Turner, 47, of North Bergen, N.J., was arrested this morning after FBI agents went to his residence to execute a search warrant. He was charged with threatening to assault and murder three federal judges with intent to retaliate against them for performing official duties in a criminal complaint filed today in U.S. District Court in Chicago. He is scheduled to have an initial court appearance at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Shipp in U.S. District Court in Newark.

“We take threats to federal judges very seriously. Period,” said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, who announced the charges with Robert D. Grant, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Amanda Terkel at Think Progress has more details.

Turner was already facing charges in Connecticut for similar threats issued to state officials there.

There is at least a touch of irony here: Turner's previous threats involving Judge Lefkow were referenced in these posts. Turner wrote:

“Apparently, the 7th U.S. Circuit court didn’t get the hint after those killings. It appears another lesson is needed.”

Some of us wondered if Turner hadn't crossed the line into issuing real threats back in 2005. Now it appears the FBI has decided he has.

This is welcome news, but it's probably long overdue.

Now if only the FBI would take threats against abortion-clinic doctors every bit as seriously.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Beck gives credulous interview to Texas secessionist, who says Tea Parties are a great place to recruit

-- by Dave

Last week Glenn Beck scoffed at the notion that he had been promoting the notion of state secession, somehow overlooking the fact that he had in fact been promoting the notion of state secession.

So on Wednesday, to further demonstrate his skepticism, he invited on his Fox News program a fellow named Dan Miller, who runs the Texas Nationalist Movement. As you can see, he provided two full segments of the show to an interview that most kindly could be called “credulous,” and less kindly would make a crude reference to teabagging.

And indeed the Teabaggers’ Parties was an important topic, because Beck raised it himself at the end:

Beck: You actually believe the Tea Parties are, um, are the “gateway drug” to secession. Is that true?

Miller: Well, I think that’s definitely the case for a lot of folks. Because, you know, the Tea Parties have been about venting frustration and anger with what’s going on in Washington, D.C. And what we’re seeing here is a lot of people are looking for solutions, and the solution for Texas is Texas, independence.

Beck: Unbelievable.

Well, it's nice of them to admit that the Tea Parties in fact have been a prime recruiting ground for all kinds of extremist right-wing belief systems, most notably those arising from the "Patriot" movement of the 1990s.

Because there were some noteworthy aspects to this interview that went unmentioned on the air:

-- The Texas secession movement in fact has long been the most significant arm of the far-right "Patriot movement" in that state since the 1990s, when it was responsible for various armed standoffs with law-enforcement authorities and a range of domestic-terrorist acts.

As Media Matters noted when Gov. Rick Perry voiced his sympathy for the movement by appearing with Miller and other members of the movement during the Tea Parties promotion:

The Texas Nationalist Movement is not a random group. In a 2005 article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] described the secession movement in Texas as "very hard-line anti-government groups whose views involve anti-government conspiracy theories." Their associates have been responsible for numerous acts and attempted acts of terrorism.

... During the last two decades, members of the Republic of Texas have been arrested numerous times in the course of planning - or carrying out - what can only be described as domestic terrorism:

* In 1997, Richard McLaren, former president of the Republic of Texas, kidnapped his neighbors leading to a week-long standoff between the police and "antigovernment separatists." The standoff ended when McLaren and his four followers surrendered. "After the surrender, a sixth Republic member [was] killed in a gun battle with police, while a seventh elude[d] authorities for four months before being captured."

o During the standoff, McLaren told the New York Times: "We are at war with the United Nations and all foreign entities. We are not at war with the American people, but we are at war with the Federal agencies which have no jurisdiction here." Another Republic of Texas member, who identified himself as Lieut. Richard Keys of the Republic of Texas Defense Forces, said the hostages "were prisoners of war, held under provisions of the Geneva Convention."

* Prior to the standoff in 1997, the New York Times reported that the Republic of Texas demanded "$92 trillion in 'war reparations' from the Federal Government, and it has 'ordered' Gov. George W. Bush and all state legislators to vacate the Capitol building in Austin, none of which seems likely to happen any time soon....The members have passed at least $3 million of worthless but official-looking Republic of Texas checks, and they are simply ignoring state-ordered fines and orders to cease and desist...This month state officials shut two public buildings in Austin because of a bomb threat that they said was linked to the group."

* In 1998, according to SPLC, "Leaders of the so-called Republic of Texas, an antigovernment separatist group whose leader ha[d] been sentenced to serve 111 years in prison, tried to purchase a four-story building and compound to serve as the group's 'capital,' officials [said]. An IRS spokesman [said] Jacques Jaikaran, who face[d] up to three years in prison and $75,000 in fines on a tax evasion conviction, tried to arrange the purchase of a building near Houston that feature[d] machine-gun turrets, a bomb shelter and an operating room."

* Also in 1998, the Republic of Texas plotted to assassinate President Clinton using biological weapons. According to the SPLC, "Officials [said] the men planned to use a cactus thorn coated with a toxin like anthrax and fired by a modified butane lighter to carry out the murders. One man [was] acquitted of the charges, but Jack Abbot Grebe, Jr., and Johnnie Wise - a 72-year-old man who attended meetings of the separatist Republic of Texas group - eventually [were] sentenced to more than 24 years in prison."

* In addition, "according to an affidavit, Wise and Grebe told an FBI informant that they planned to modify a cigarette lighter so it would expel air instead of propane in order to fire a cactus needle tipped with anthrax, botulism or the AIDS virus."

* In 2000, members of the group planned an attack on the Houston Federal building. The SPLC reported, "Federal agents arrest[ed] Mark Wayne McCool, the one-time leader of the Texas Militia and Combined Action Program, as he allegedly [made] plans to attack the Houston federal building. McCool, who was arrested after buying powerful C-4 plastic explosives and an automatic weapon from an undercover FBI agent, earlier plotted to attack the federal building with a member of his own group and a member of the antigovernment Republic of Texas, but those two men eventually abandoned the plot. McCool, however, remained convinced the un [sic] had stored a cache of military materiel in the building. In the end, he [pled] guilty to federal charges that [brought] him just six months in jail."

Moreover, as the TNM's own Website explains, the current movement is a direct descendant of these radicals and has not disassociated itself from them at all. It's mostly in the process of trying to mainstream those beliefs -- and it's finding fertile ground not merely at those Tea Parties, but on Glenn Beck's Fox News show.

But another point about this stands out: The Texas secession movement became active in 1995 and was engaged in various threatening and violent acts through 2000. Then, for the next six years, it became completely dormant, not raising its head again until 2006.

Now, that couldn't have had anything to do with the fact that the President of the U.S. during those years was in fact the former governor of Texas, could it?

Because otherwise, one would have to conclude that we're looking at a pack of bellyachers who hated the federal government until one of their own was running it, and only returned to the business of bellyaching after that same person had completely botched the job, creating an economic disaster that required the feds to take drastic steps about which the bellyachers could easily bellyache.

Though of course, such a point would never occur to Glenn Beck.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A chilling Shawna Forde video: Patrolling with the border with a gun down her pants

-- by Dave

Last year a Norwegian news crew interviewed Shawna Forde while she was out on "patrol" for illegal border crossers in the vicinity of Arivaca, Arizona -- the same area where, less than a year later, she would be arrested for the cold-blooded murder of a 9-year-old girl and her father.

It's pretty chilling, particularly when she describes their activities in the desert:

And then there's the shot where you see her stick her gun down her pants. (For someone raised around guns in a shooting family, that only confirms her complete and utter dumbassery. What is it about Minuteman types who stick their guns down their pants? This is always the sign of someone too stupid to care whether they shoot off their dick or ass.)

In any event, this is all part of why, as Patrick Young at Long Island Wins notes, the Minutemen and their supporters are scrambling hard to get away their many long associations with Forde:

Shawna Forde, who allegedly cooked up the deadly plot to raise money for political action had close ties to Jim Gilchrist, one of the two founders of the Minutemen. His website had defended her against criticism from other anti-immigrant activists as recently as January of this year. Yet, if you go to his site today, pages that Google says listed her have been scrubbed.

Same thing with VDARE, the homepage of educated racism. The site had an article criticizing a newspaper that had called Forde's claims of having been abducted by aliens (Latino immigrants, not space monkeys) far-fetched. The page was scrubbed. It only exists as a Google cache and will soon disappear. Cowards. If you want to back up a woman her brother describes as a sociopathic liar you should at least leave your endorsement up when she is also shown to be a psychopathic murderer.

Young also adroitly observes:

Jeff Schwilk, the leader of the San Diego Minutemen, in his denial of involvement with Shawna Forde gave the most damning statement about her and his own armed militia: "I've been concerned about her and her impact on our movement... Irrational people with assault rifles at the border is a recipe for disaster."

Exactly what I've been saying since I first heard of the Minutemen.

Indeed. And the above video is ample testament to that fact.

Meanwhile, Chad Shue at the Examiner describes how Forde's extremism helped drive the formation of an organized civil-rights campaign to counter it in the Everett area in the form of the Snohomish County Citizens Committee for Human Rights.

The Colorado Independent points out that Tom Tancredo also had his representatives in attendance at Forde's 2007 "Immigration Summit" in Everett, where a letter was read from Tancredo sending his regrets for not being in attendance.

And Marc Cooper chimes in as well.

Of course, at this point, we're still wondering where the rest of the media are. The national reporting on this has been nearly nonexistent -- particularly at Fox.

Imagine for a moment, if you will, the media reaction under the reversed scenario: If this had been a Mexican drug gang that had murdered a white family in the desert, can you imagine how Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly would have handled it?

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Chip Berlet gives a scholar's insight into the roots of right-wing conspiracism and the violence it engenders

-- by Dave

My longtime friend and colleague Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates was interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air earlier this week, talking about right-wing extremism (a term he actually loathes). It's a fascinating discussion and an enlightening listen, as it often is with Chip.

The focus of the discussion was a new paper Berlet wrote for PRA: "Toxic to Democracy: Conspiracy Theories, Demonization, and Scapegoating". [The main PDF is here.]

Berlet bounced off the paper for Huffington Post in discussing the Holocaust Museum shooting, and sums up his argument concisely:

People who believe conspiracist allegations sometimes act on those irrational beliefs, and this has concrete consequences in the real world. The shooting today is a prime example of why it is a mistake to ignore bigoted conspiracy theories. Law enforcement needs to enforce laws against criminal behavior. Vicious bigoted speech, however, is often protected by the First Amendment. We do not need new laws or to encourage government agencies to further erode civil liberties. We need to stand up as moral people and speak out against the spread of bigoted conspiracy theories. That's not a police problem, that's our problem as people responsible for defending a free society.

... Apocalyptic aggression is fueled by right-wing pundits who demonize scapegoated groups and individuals in our society, implying that it is urgent to stop them from wrecking the nation. Some angry people already believe conspiracy theories in which the same scapegoats are portrayed as subversive, destructive, or evil. Add in aggressive apocalyptic ideas that suggest time is running out and quick action mandatory and you have a perfect storm of mobilized resentment threatening to rain bigotry and violence across the United States.

Now the only question is: Will Bill O'Reilly send one of his ambush crews after Chip now?

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

If Glenn Beck thinks progressives are toxic, what kind of America does he want?

-- by Dave

Glenn Beck was on Greta Van Susteren's show last night, plumping his new book, Common Sense -- which, like most right-wing titles, is actually a piece of Newspeak that represents roughly the opposite of what it appears to mean -- and repeating his charge that "the progressive movement is the "disease" that is killing this country".

You see, he's been reading Jonah Goldberg, so he's reached this conclusion (with some help from libertarians). And there's no doubt that the basic argument is right: Beginning in the early 1900s, the progressive movement definitely shifted the direction of this nation and shaped it largely into what we see today.

Glenn Beck thinks that's a bad thing. I don't.

Now, I know that Beck reels in money by the barrelful these days. But he hails from a working-class family and often touts his working-class roots.

So I'd like him to meet some Americans before the progressive movement came along:

These are child laborers from the early part of the last century. They were common fixtures on the American landscape. Possibly some of Beck's ancestors were among them. (Here's a gallery of pictures of them.)

I've remarked on this previously, but it bears repeating:

The United States has always been an essentially capitalist economic system. However, we have experienced periods in our history where this system has seriously malfunctioned, and we've made adjustments accordingly that have largely worked well making things better.

One of those dysfunctional periods came at about the turn of the last century, when McKinley was president, corrupt robber barons ran Congress, and the latter-day version of "strict constructionists" ruled the courts. "Laissez faire" capitalism ruled, and America was functionally an oligarchy.

Squeezed out were the working people: the average workweek was 80 hours, there were no weekends, no vacation, only a few holidays, and the barest minimum of pay. Benefits and health care were unheard of. Child labor was the rule.

What happened between then and now? "Progressives" began agitating for better working conditions, and began organizing as labor unions. After a long period of violent repression, these reforms gradually became government policy -- especially in the 1930s under FDR. Americans began getting 40-hour work weeks with weekends off, paid vacations and benefits.

Probably the most significant and lasting legacy of this period of "progressive" innovation was the progressive tax code. It has been a feature of the income tax since its institution in 1916. Who was one of its original champions? Theodore Roosevelt.

The fact is that the United States -- like nearly every single Western capitalist democracy -- is a variable blend of socialism and capitalism, free-enterprise economies with regulatory restraints and modest income redistribution. The result of those "progressive" reforms from 1900-1940 was the birth of the great American middle class and the quality of life we have enjoyed so long we've forgotten what it was like not to have it. People like Glenn Beck seem never even to have learned.

Indeed, when right-wingers like Beck and Goldberg attack "evil progressivism," it sounds a lot like they want us to return to the bad old days under McKinley, when American workers were indentured servants to the wealthy.

Of course, maybe now that they're both wealthy men, there's a simple explanation for that.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Immigration reform is coming, but there's a looooong row to hoe

-- by Dave

Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum was on The O'Reilly Factor last night with substitute host Laura Ingraham, talking about the coming battle over immigration.

Ingraham, predictably, dismissed the key component of immigration-reform plans -- creating a path for citizenship for those immigrants already here -- as "amnesty". Cluestick to Ingraham: Since when is paying an appropriate fine for a civil violation -- which is what having illegal-immigrant status is in under our current laws -- "amnesty"? Because that's what the current plans call for.

Ingraham, though, wants all of those illegals to go back home first before they can get back in line. Noorani, fortunately, was able to point out the utter impracticality of that idea.

So Ingraham tried yet another tack: Why should we let all these undocumented workers into the workforce when we're suffering massive unemployment right now?

But that argument is predicated on the notion that immigrants "take jobs away from Americans" -- which is indeed a fundamental flaw. As Cristina Jimenez at The American Prospect pointed out a few months back, comprehensive immigration reform in fact "is a cost-effective path to short-term stimulus and long-term recovery":

Under current law, undocumented workers are at the mercy of employers to the same extent that unprotected native-born workers were before the union victories of the 1930s. Distance from those historic triumphs makes it easy to forget that when immigrants and non-immigrants are equally empowered, job quality improves and wages rise, because the common interests of immigrants and non-immigrants become much stronger than the artificial conditions that divide them. Today, as in the past, cooperation and coalition-building would benefit all immigrants and native-born Americans trying to work their way into the middle class.

The Immigration Policy Center [PDF file] explains (in a reform plan written for members of Congress):

In this economic downturn, many may argue that immigration reform is not a priority. However, reforming our broken immigration system is an important part of improving our economy. Currently, unscrupulous employers are able to exploit undocumented workers and create unfair competition by violating labor laws and paying sub-minimal wages. This is harmful to U.S. businesses and U.S. workers. Our immigration system needs to work for all Americans, not just for those employers looking for low-cost labor. We need to recognize that it would be far better if immigrant workers were here legally and could exercise the same rights on the job as native-born workers. Leveling the playing field for both workers and employers by legalizing all workers and enforcing labor laws against bad-apple employers will eliminate unfair competition and improve the wages and working conditions of all workers. Putting immigrant workers in the formal economy and higher wages will increase tax revenues and consumption.

And there's also the reality about just what niches in the economy immigrants and native-born workers fill:

“Immigrants and natives tend to differ in their educational attainment, skill sets, and occupations, and they perform jobs that often are interdependent. As a result, immigrants do not compete with the majority of natives for the same jobs. Rather, they ‘complement’ the native-born workforce—which increases the productivity, and therefore the wages, of natives… During the 1990-2004 period, the 90 percent of native-born workers with at least a high-school diploma experienced wage gains from immigration that ranged from 0.7 percent to 3.4 percent depending on education.”

-- Giovanni Peri, Associate Professor of Economics, University of California, Davis

The data also bears this out:

Opponents of immigration reform frequently argue that immigrants “take” jobs away from many native‐born workers, especially during economic hard times. If this is true, then one would expect to find high unemployment rates in those parts of the country with large numbers of immigrants—especially immigrants who have come to the United States recently and, presumably, are more willing to work for lower wages and under worse conditions than either long‐term immigrants or native‐born workers. Yet an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau clearly reveals that this is not the case. In fact, there is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates at the regional, state, or county level.

Nonetheless, in spite of these realities, there's a political reality as well: moderate Democrats are still scared waaaay too easily by the right-wing nativist mouthpieces whose flying monkeys descended upon Congress in 2007 and effectively killed immigration reform -- by calling it "amnesty". Which no doubt is why it's the first word out of the mouths of people like Laura Ingraham and Lou Dobbs when they discuss reform.

The L.A. Times has a report on how the White House is moving immigration reform forward, but with a certain amount of caution -- since it's their assessment that the votes just aren't there yet:

The biggest obstacle to speedy passage of a citizenship plan, according to interviews with lawmakers and Capitol Hill strategists, is the House. Democrats hold a wide majority there, but at least 40 members represent moderate or conservative swing districts with few Latino voters where legalization plans are unpopular and often derided as "amnesty" for lawbreakers.

"This a very, very difficult issue," said Rep. Jason Altmire, a Democrat elected in 2006 from rural western Pennsylvania. "The Democratic Party is doing everything they can to capture this very fast-growing community, and I understand that. But I'm not in that camp. I made it clear that I was going to take a very hard line on this, and my district takes a hard line."

The White House has downplayed expectations for next week's meeting. According to Latino lawmakers who met with Obama this spring, the president had indicated that he would host a summit with lawmakers and advocacy groups, just as he did with healthcare leaders when he kicked off the debate on that front-burner issue. Instead, the immigration event will be small and private and will include only House and Senate members involved in the immigration debate.

Moreover, the White House is careful to point out that Obama wants to merely begin the debate this year. He is not promising that a plan will be passed this year, although in his campaign he said he would make the issue "a top priority in my first year as president."

Since then, Obama has made it clear that he has two primary legislative goals for the year -- a healthcare overhaul and a global warming bill. Both proposals are already putting many swing-district Democrats in a political bind.

What should immigration reform look like? The Immigration Policy Center has a sound approach:

First and foremost, the United States needs a legal immigration system that secures our borders, strengthens our economy, and supports our communities: The most practical and realistic way to reduce undocumented immigration dramatically is to bring U.S. immigration policy in line with economic and social realities. Lawmakers should require undocumented immigrants already living in the United States to apply for legal status and devise immigration policies that are responsive to labor demands and ensure fair wages and good working conditions for all workers, both native and foreign-born. Finally, lawmakers should address the delays and restrictions that impose unreasonably long waiting times on hardworking families seeking to join close loved ones in the U.S.

The AFL-CIO has some suggestions as well:

[I]mmigration reform must fully protect U.S. workers, reduce the exploitation of immigrant workers and reduce employers’ incentive to hire undocumented workers rather than U.S. workers. The most effective way to do that is for all workers -- immigrant and native-born -- to have full and complete access to the protection of labor, health and safety and other laws. Comprehensive immigration reform must complement a strong, well-resourced and effective labor standards enforcement initiative that prioritizes workers’ rights and workplace protections. This approach will ensure that immigration does not depress wages and working conditions or encourage marginal low-wage industries that depend heavily on substandard wages, benefits and working conditions.

This seems so sound and reasonable that, of course, we can be sure that movement conservatives and their affiliated nativists will adamantly oppose it.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.