Saturday, August 08, 2009

Rush Limbaugh has his fascism all backwards: Mussolini sent out blackshirts to attack unions

-- by Dave

Rush Limbaugh, on his radio show Friday:

Limbaugh: Folks, this is Mussolini-type stuff. This is the President of the United States -- who cannot deal with opposition, there will not be any, he is going to silence it -- sending his union thugs out to physically assault, and in some cases to, in all cases, intimidate average Americans who just want some answers.

Actually, Limbaugh has historical references exactly reversed. "Mussolini-type stuff" involves organizing gangs of thugs on behalf of established business interests to assault and intimidate union organizers. At least, that was what happened when Mussolini did it.

I'll let Robert O. Paxton, in The Anatomy of Fascism (pp.60-64), explain it more precisely:

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.

The same pattern adhered with the Brownshirts and the rise of the Nazis in Germany: The SA regularly attacked socialists and union organizers, and did so in the defense of established capitalist interests.

If Rushbo really wants to start drawing the analogies with fascism, he's going to find it's not exactly a winning proposition. Because we're all starting to see just who's looking like the fascists these days.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Glenn Beck jokes about putting poison in Nancy Pelosi's wine

-- by Dave

Glenn Beck had a glass of wine with Nancy Pelosi on Thursday night.

Of course, it wasn't actually Pelosi. It was some poor Fox employee made to sit across the desk from Beck with a cardboard Pelosi mask, holding a glass of juice of some kind that was serving as a stand-in for wine.

It was all meant to spoof Pelosi for supposedly listening only to "millionaire contributors" instead of her constituents.

But then he tossed in a little "joke":

Beck: I just want you to drink it. Drink it. [Laughs] Drink it! I really just wanted to thank you for having us over here to wine country. You know, to be invited, I thought you had to be a major Democratic donor or longtime friend of yours, which I'm not. Oh, ah, by the way, I put poison in your -- no I --

Funny, it seems like only a couple of days ago Beck was imploring his viewers not to resort to acts of violence. (It was.) And now he's encouraging violence by joking about poisoning the Speaker of the House.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Are Republicans and their thugs killing off the Town Hall as a democratic forum?

-- by Dave

Does anyone remember when Town Hall forums were civil affairs that gave citizens a chance to speak freely to their elected representatives in a civil conversation?

Yeah, that would have been last week. In the days since, Republicans and their astroturf gangs of protesters have transformed town halls into outlets for their prearranged shoutfests ginned up by Fox talkers.

The old town-hall forum may never be the same. And the country is the worse for it.

Check out the ugliness yesterday in Tampa Bay. It certainly fits the blueprint for action laid out early on in this effort: Disrupt, distract, and destroy any chance for an actual civil and informed conversation. In other words, demolish the entire purpose of a town-hall forum.

As Paul Krugman puts it:

Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.

And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.

... [T]he driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.

And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

No one has a problem with right-wingers marching in protest of the health-care plans. That's certainly their right. And no one minds that they choose to participate in these forums. But town halls were never designed to be vehicles for protest. They have always been about enabling real democratic discourse in a civil setting.

When someone's entire purpose in coming out to a town-hall forum is to chant and shout and protest and disrupt, they aren't just expressing their opinions -- they are actively shutting down democracy.

And that, folks, is a classically fascist thing to do.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Fascist America: Are We There Yet?

-- by Sara

All through the dark years of the Bush Administration, progressives watched in horror as Constitutional protections vanished, nativist rhetoric ratcheted up, hate speech turned into intimidation and violence, and the president of the United States seized for himself powers only demanded by history's worst dictators. With each new outrage, the small handful of us who'd made ourselves experts on right-wing culture and politics would hear once again from worried readers: Is this it? Have we finally become a fascist state? Are we there yet?

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. "Wellll...we're on a bad road, and if we don't change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there's also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don't worry. As bad as this looks: no -- we are not there yet."

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world's pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn't by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton's stages, we weren't there yet. There were certain signs -- one in particular -- we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren't seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you're looking for, it's suddenly everywhere. It's odd that I haven't been asked for quite a while; but if you asked me today, I'd tell you that if we're not there right now, we've certainly taken that last turn into the parking lot and are now looking for a space. Either way, our fascist American future now looms very large in the front windshield -- and those of us who value American democracy need to understand how we got here, what's changing now, and what's at stake in the very near future if these people are allowed to win -- or even hold their ground.

What is fascism?
The word has been bandied about by so many people so wrongly for so long that, as Paxton points out, "Everybody is somebody else's fascist." Given that, I always like to start these conversations by revisiting Paxton's essential definition of the term:
"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline."

Elsewhere, he refines this further as
"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

Jonah Goldberg aside, that's a basic definition most legitimate scholars in the field can agree on, and the one I'll be referring to here.

From proto-fascism to the tipping point
According to Paxton, fascism unfolds in five stages. The first two are pretty solidly behind us -- and the third should be of particular interest to progressives right now.

In the first stage, a rural movement emerges to effect some kind of nationalist renewal (what Roger Griffin calls "palingenesis" -- a phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes). They come together to restore a broken social order, always drawing on themes of unity, order, and purity. Reason is rejected in favor of passionate emotion. The way the organizing story is told varies from country to country; but it's always rooted in the promise of restoring lost national pride by resurrecting the culture's traditional myths and values, and purging society of the toxic influence of the outsiders and intellectuals who are blamed for their current misery.

Fascism only grows in the disturbed soil of a mature democracy in crisis. Paxton suggests that the Ku Klux Klan, which formed in reaction to post-Civil War Reconstruction, may in fact be the first authentically fascist movement in modern times. Almost every major country in Europe sprouted a proto-fascist movement in the wretched years following WWI (when the Klan enjoyed a major resurgence here as well) -- but most of them stalled either at this first stage, or the next one.

As Rick Perlstein documented in his two books on Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, modern American conservatism was built on these same themes. From "Morning in America" to the Rapture-ready religious right to the white nationalism promoted by the GOP through various gradients of racist groups, it's easy to trace how American proto-fascism offered redemption from the upheavals of the 1960s by promising to restore the innocence of a traditional, white, Christian, male-dominated America. This vision has been so thoroughly embraced that the entire Republican party now openly defines itself along these lines. At this late stage, it's blatantly racist, sexist, repressed, exclusionary, and permanently addicted to the politics of fear and rage. Worse: it doesn't have a moment's shame about any of it. No apologies, to anyone. These same narrative threads have woven their way through every fascist movement in history.

In the second stage, fascist movements take root, turn into real political parties, and seize their seat at the table of power. Interestingly, in every case Paxton cites, the political base came from the rural, less-educated parts of the country; and almost all of them came to power very specifically by offering themselves as informal goon squads organized to intimidate farmworkers on behalf of the large landowners. The KKK disenfranchised black sharecroppers and set itself up as the enforcement wing of Jim Crow. The Italian Squadristi and the German Brownshirts made their bones breaking up farmers' strikes. And these days, GOP-sanctioned anti-immigrant groups make life hell for Hispanic agricultural workers in the US. As violence against random Hispanics (citizens and otherwise) increases, the right-wing goon squads are getting basic training that, if the pattern holds, they may eventually use to intimidate the rest of us.

Paxton wrote that succeeding at the second stage "depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner." He further noted that Hitler and Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: "deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement."

And more ominously: "The most important variables...are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate."

That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now. Though the GOP has been humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can't even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force. If they can't win elections or policy fights, they're more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity.

When that unholy alliance is made, the third stage -- the transition to full-fledged government fascism -- begins.

The third stage: being there
All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to call it "fascism" because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming between America's conservative elites and its emerging homegrown brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations -- passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat talking points flying out of the mouths of "mainstream" conservative leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public. What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly didn't act like a married couple.

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas -- the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer -- being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process -- and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we were waiting for -- the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It's also our very last chance to stop it.

The fail-safe point
According to Paxton, the forging of this third-stage alliance is the make-or-break moment -- and the worst part of it is that by the time you've arrived at that point, it's probably too late to stop it. From here, it escalates, as minor thuggery turns into beatings, killings, and systematic tagging of certain groups for elimination, all directed by people at the very top of the power structure. After Labor Day, when Democratic senators and representatives go back to Washington, the mobs now being created to harass them will remain to run the same tactics -- escalated and perfected with each new use -- against anyone in town whose color, religion, or politics they don't like. In some places, they're already making notes and taking names.

Where's the danger line? Paxton offers three quick questions that point us straight at it:
1. Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?

2. Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?

3. Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?

By my reckoning, we're three for three. That's too close. Way too close.

The Road Ahead
History tells us that once this alliance catalyzes and makes a successful bid for power, there's no way off this ride. As Dave Neiwert wrote in his recent book, The Eliminationists, "if we can only identify fascism in its mature form—the goose-stepping brownshirts, the full-fledged use of violence and intimidation tactics, the mass rallies—then it will be far too late to stop it." Paxton (who presciently warned that "An authentic popular fascism in the United States would be pious and anti-Black") agrees that if a corporate/brownshirt alliance gets a toehold -- as ours is now scrambling to do -- it can very quickly rise to power and destroy the last vestiges of democratic government. Once they start racking up wins, the country will be doomed to take the whole ugly trip through the last two stages, with no turnoffs or pit stops between now and the end.

What awaits us? In stage four, as the duo assumes full control of the country, power struggles emerge between the brownshirt-bred party faithful and the institutions of the conservative elites -- church, military, professions, and business. The character of the regime is determined by who gets the upper hand. If the party members (who gained power through street thuggery) win, an authoritarian police state may well follow. If the conservatives can get them back under control, a more traditional theocracy, corporatocracy, or military regime can re-emerge over time. But in neither case will the results resemble the democracy that this alliance overthrew.

Paxton characterizes stage five as "radicalization or entropy." Radicalization is likely if the new regime scores a big military victory, which consolidates its power and whets its appetite for expansion and large-scale social engineering. (See: Germany) In the absence of a radicalizing event, entropy may set in, as the state gets lost in its own purposes and degenerates into incoherence. (See: Italy)

It's so easy right now to look at the melee on the right and discount it as pure political theater of the most absurdly ridiculous kind. It's a freaking puppet show. These people can't be serious. Sure, they're angry -- but they're also a minority, out of power and reduced to throwing tantrums. Grown-ups need to worry about them about as much as you'd worry about a furious five-year-old threatening to hold her breath until she turned blue.

Unfortunately, all the noise and bluster actually obscures the danger. These people are as serious as a lynch mob, and have already taken the first steps toward becoming one. And they're going to walk taller and louder and prouder now that their bumbling efforts at civil disobedience are being committed with the full sanction and support of the country's most powerful people, who are cynically using them in a last-ditch effort to save their own places of profit and prestige.

We've arrived. We are now parked on the exact spot where our best experts tell us full-blown fascism is born. Every day that the conservatives in Congress, the right-wing talking heads, and their noisy minions are allowed to hold up our ability to govern the country is another day we're slowly creeping across the final line beyond which, history tells us, no country has ever been able to return.

How do we pull back? That's my next post.

Tip o' the hat to Chip Berlet and Steven Martin for their research help and encouragement.

Crossposted from

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Blue Dogs' disconnect: Listening to people who will never vote for them anyway

-- by Dave

CNN's John King went out to Idaho's Benewah County last week -- which is a fairly typical logging area which lies within Rep. Walt Minnick's district -- and produced an interesting report that ran last weekend. It was especially interesting if you know this country, which I do. (Sorry, John, St. Maries is in northern Idaho, not western Idaho.)

It largely was a sympathetic report exploring the kinds of pressures a Blue Dog Democrat like Minnick faces in trying to represent a largely conservative constituency -- particularly on an explosive issue like health-care reform.

But it also revealed, I think, the flaw in the kind of thinking employed by Blue Dogs like Minnick when confronted with tough issues like health care. Rather than represent the people who actually campaigned for them and put them into office, they kowtow to what are perceived to be the majority conservative sentiments in their district and vote the Republican line.

In other words, they're trying to solidify their positions by selling out the very people who elected them, while pursuing the votes of people who will never vote for them.

The main report featured some quips from a threesome of Idahoans who sat down with King at a cafe in St. Maries, including a belligerent NRA type named Don Griesel, who explained to King that even though Minnick was voting his way, there was no way he would ever vote for him:

Griesel: If he doesn't change his party, there's no way I can vote Democrat. Because like right now they have control of the House and all, and that's what's killing America.

King did a separate segment featuring just his interview with these three, and it was actually rather good, because he managed to obtain three people who probably well represented the three main socio-political factions in the district: the thoughtful, common-sense Democrat who ardently supports health-care reform; the middle-of-the-road, mostly suburban Republican; and the bellicose, Limbaugh/Beck-loving gun nut/government hater.

Griesel even openly admits in this clip that the Blue Dogs are the only thing saving hard-core right-wingers like himself in the fight against health-care reform -- even though he'll never for them.

Perhaps more impressive, in a positive way, is Patricia Bauer, the psychologist and health-care professional who is like so many other Idaho Democrats I know: self-possessed, assured in her own good common sense, and dismayed at watching Walt Minnick betray her and the people like her who worked to elect him.

And indeed, Randy Stapilus at Ridenbaugh Press observes that Minnick so far is voting more conservatively even than most Republicans:

But here’s the stunner: The most “conservative” member of the Northwest delegation turns out not to be a Republican at all, not Idaho’s Mike Simpson (281.0) or Washington’s Dave Reichert (263.0), Doc Hastings (312.0) or Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (341.5).

Rather, it is the only Democrat in the House to score more conservative than the “least conservative” Republican - Idaho’s Walt Minnick, at 359.5, which puts him just about in the middle of the House Republican caucus, and more “conservative” than, for example, Simpson. No other Democrat or Republican scores across the line at all.

You get the feeling, watching people like Patricia Bauer, that a lot of these Blue Dogs, by pursuing this kind of "bipartisanship," are leaving behind the very people who put them into office while pursuing the chimera of conservative votes. Which means that come the next election, they'll find a lot of their old organization having peeled away lots of its original support and picking up very little new. Lots of luck with that: You won't be able to count on a pathetic Republican opponent like Bill Sali every election.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Glenn Beck pleads with his audience not to resort to violence: 'Just one lunatic like Timothy McVeigh could ruin everything'

-- by Dave

It appears to be dawning on Glenn Beck -- what with yet another of his heavily armed fans now under arrest for casing out an Air National Guard base because she feared it was a FEMA concentration camp -- that some of the outrage he's so busily manufacturing on the air nightly might just boil over into violence again.

Yesterday on his Fox News show, he reviewed the tape coming in from the hooligans taking over the town-hall forums meant to discuss health care, disrupting them with tactics specifically intended to destroy any meaningful discussion, and was obviously pleased at the handiwork of his fellow tea-baggers. Indeed, it's unmistakable to everyone (even Beck, evidently) that there's an increasingly ugly undertone that forebodes violence. And if that happens, well, some of the blame might fall in his direction if it does.

So he took out a little insurance yesterday, imploring his increasingly angry audience not to resort to violence if they don't get their way politically:

Beck: The best thing that you can do right now is to let Congress know that you are watching them like a hawk. You show up. You let them feel your burning gaze on them at all times.

But here's the thing that I -- I'm concerned about: Your interaction with them needs to be respectful, polite, forceful, and peaceful.

I've been warning Congress now for a couple of years, and the time has come and passed for them to be able to learn from this. I've been telling them, you have to listen to the people, or they'll be in real big trouble.

Well now, let me give the warning to you: If anyone thinks that it would be a good idea to turn violent, think again. It would destroy the Republic. I feel it with everything in me. There is a great reason for hope right now. Because, I am telling you, for the first time -- since I started saying this in the last couple of years -- for the first time I know it, I feel it, the American people are starting to wake up.

These people in Washington have no idea what they have done. They have wakened a sleeping giant. But just one lunatic like Timothy McVeigh could ruin everything that everyone has worked so hard for, because these people in Washington won't pass up the use of an emergency.

Look how the media ran with the abortion-doctor killing. They tried to pin that despicable act on Fox in general and specifically, Bill O'Reilly and me! The only thing either of us have ever said is there's no reason for that, ever.

Sorry, Glenn, but that isn't the only thing either of you have ever said. O'Reilly also happened to refer to Dr. Tiller as a "baby killer" nearly thirty times, and accused him of mass murder as well as running "an abortion mill" where he had "aborted 60,000 fetuses." He even mused aloud about someone taking him out.

Sure, you can add a disclaimer at the end telling people never to commit violence. But coming at the tail end of an endless litany of incendiary demonization, that's pretty weak tea as lame excuses go.

Likewise, there are the many incendiary things you've said just in recent weeks: calling President Obama a racist, a fascist, and a socialist; repeatedly telling your audience for three weeks running that you "couldn't debunk" the FEMA concentration-camp theories (followed by a single episode in which you did in fact debunk them); agreeing with your guest that the only hope for America is another major terrorist attack; and helping promote secession.

As we saw with the case of the Long Island Beckazoid freaked out about FEMA, saying these kinds of things -- things that not only create scapegoats but are demonstrably untrue, and indeed unhinged -- goes beyond entertainment. Rhetoric like this has a seriously unhinging effect on listeners who absorb it and believe it, because it's in fact several steps removed from reality.

But of course, Beck will never confront that reality now. Because when one of his acolytes acts out inevitably now, he can just point back to this episode and say, "See? I have always denounced violence!"

They don't come much more cynical than that.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Huckabee brings on David Barton to promote his far-right theories on church-state separation

-- by Dave

This weekend on his Fox News program, Mike Huckabee -- who probably still harbors some kind of presidential ambitions -- brought on a special guest named David Barton to talk about the separation of church and state. Barton brought with him a number of cool colonial-era artifacts that he used to bolster his claims that "the separation of church and state is a myth."

Among them, for example, is a document signed by Thomas Jefferson that reads "in the year of our Lord Christ." Barton uses this to point out that Jefferson was an ardent believer in Christianity.

This is fairly typical of Barton's dishonest approach to the matter: It's unremarkable that Jefferson would sign his documents that way, since he was indeed a Christian -- but he was moreover a Christian Deist:

Individual deists varied in the set of critical and constructive elements for which they argued. Some deists rejected miracles and prophecies but still considered themselves Christians because they believed in what they felt to be the pure, original form of Christianity – that is, Christianity as it existed before it was corrupted by additions of such superstitions as miracles, prophecies, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Some deists rejected the claim of Jesus' divinity but continued to hold him in high regard as a moral teacher (see, e.g., Thomas Jefferson's famous Jefferson Bible and Matthew Tindal's 'Christianity as Old as the Creation').

And so it goes throughout the segment -- Barton trotting out bits of arcania with which he bolsters his claim, and Huckabee credulously lapping it all up.

But it take only a little research to uncover the fact that Barton has a history of specious research. For years his book, The Myth of Separation -- which he's been selling since the early '90s -- has featured bogus quotes, made-up nonsense, and flat-out falsified history that has been dismantled time and again. Rob Boston debunked Barton thoroughly back then, and his methodology has not improved measurably since. (Here's a page devoted to exposing Barton's multitude of bogus quotations from the Founding Fathers.)

Moreover, as Boston notes, Barton has a long history of dalliances with the extremist fringes of the far right:

Barton also has ties to extremist elements. In his literature, Christian Reconstructionist authors and organizations are sometimes recommended. Reconstructionist activist Gary DeMar's book God And Government is suggested reading, and Reconstructionist-oriented groups such as the Plymouth Rock Foundation and the Providence Foundation are touted as resources.

Perhaps most alarming, Barton also has had a relationship with the racist and anti-Semitic fringes of the far right. According to Skipp Porteous of the Massachusetts-based Institute for First Amendment Studies, Barton was listed in promotional literature as a "new and special speaker" at a 1991 summer retreat in Colorado sponsored by Scriptures for America, a far-right ministry headed by Pastor Pete Peters. Peters' organization, which is virulently anti-Semitic and racist, spreads hysteria about Jews and homosexuals and has been linked to neo-Nazi groups. (The organization distributes a booklet called Death Penalty For Homosexuals.)

Peters' church is part of the racist "Christian Identity" movement. and three members of The Order, a violent neo-Nazi organization, formerly attended Peters' small congregation in LaPorte, Cole. After members of The Order murdered Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg in the mid 1980s, critics of Peters' ministry in Colorado charged that his hate-filled sermons had spurred the assassination.

Barton also campaigned in Washington state for Ellen Craswell, the 1996 GOP gubernatorial candidate, who ran on a "Reconstructionist" platform and later became involved the far-right Constitution Party.

The Myth of Separation similarly was a staple on the book tables at Patriot/militia gatherings in the 1990s, and was sold prominently through mail-order outfits like the Militia of Montana.

It sure is interesting to watch all this militia stuff from the '90s come bubbling back up in the post-Bush era. And it's even more interesting to see how it's getting mainstreamed by cable-TV talkers.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Gee, another well-armed Glenn Beck fan freaked out about FEMA concentration camps. Whoda thunk?


-- by Dave

Well, at least this time -- unlike the last -- no one got hurt:

A woman who police said had an XM-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and 500 rounds of ammunition in her car was arrested and charged with trespassing after officials at the Air National Guard Base at Gabreski Airport called the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office to report that she was taking photographs on base property in Westhampton Thursday night.

Nancy Genovese, 49, of Lakewood Avenue in Quogue was charged with criminal trespass in the third degree, arraigned in Southampton Town Justice Court on Friday and is being held at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverhead on $50,000 bail.

This wasn’t the first time Ms. Genovese was observed taking pictures of the base, according to the sheriff’s department. When Deputy Sheriff Robert Carlock arrived at the scene Thursday night, he was told by members of the Air National Guard that she had been warned for several weeks to stay off of the airport property. She had reportedly been seen several times taking pictures along the perimeter of the base. An off-duty Southampton Town Police officer recognized Ms. Genovese when she returned to the base Thursday night.

Genovese_0d03a.JPGIf you go to Genovese's MySpace page, you'll see that it features the nice woman at right and the declaration "Μολών Λaβέ" -- or "Molon labe" which is Greek for "Come and get them." This, as I've described previously, is a favorite theme or code word among the new militias organizing out there; they are declaring that Obama will take their guns away only by deadly force. As Wikipedia notes, it's the sentimental equivalent of "Over my dead body."

Genovese's MySpace blog declares, among other things, her utter admiration for Glenn Beck:

...we the people. I just saw GlennBeck tell it like it is!
Yes, he was firm and he is talking to congress, for all of us.
...we the people. I just saw Glenn Becks show, now on the 2 am show, missed it at 5 PM today.

United we stand, divided we fall.

Please do re post this video.

He is mad as hell and so are we. He is right and so are we.
He says a copy of the letter he is speaking of, from a grandmother, is on his site, if you want to add a comment or sign it.

God Bless all of you my friends.

She is also obsessed with FEMA and ardently believes that concentration camps are being built:

He got me by surprise on his first call. I wasn't ready for him. I just called his direct line, and spent about 10 minuets on the phone with questions I wanted to ask him, being from DHS.

He says there is no way right now, marshal law will be imposed in the USA. He told me it would have to be dyer situation for the President to make such a declaration.

I presented a scenario of dyer straits to him, like, the dollar goes down to the predicted 15.7 cent in value, swine flu is killing people and they have a few million dead bodies to deal with, people have no homes, no food, looting is going on. Um, yes, martial law would be something the country would need.

He did insist Americans would never put up with being put in any camp and stopped me when I even mentioned the word camp.

He told me FEMA owns NO camps. None.

I asked, "you must see the info on the internet regarding these camps?" He told me he ..."works all day and had no time to research the videos" and docs proving FEMA owns these camps. I have the feeling his job title may be damage control.

I'm sure Beck will deny he had anything to do with this, too. Maybe she's just another liberal out to make conservatives look nutty.

No doubt he'll point out that he actually debunked the FEMA camps story. This is true. Unfortunately, as we also noted, it followed on three weeks' worth of Beck telling his audience he "couldn't debunk" the camps story.

booksnmore4you at DailyKos has more details. As does Martin Hill at OpEd News.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Teabaggers want a voice in health-care forums -- one that disrupts, attacks, and distracts

-- by Dave

We noticed the other day that tea partiers are being organized into a campaign of disruption and intimidation at health-care forums. As Politico reports, the disruptions at town halls are becoming quite common.

It turns out that, as Lee Fang at Think Progress reports, the disruptions are being carefully planned by teabaggers:

This growing phenomenon is often marked by violence and absurdity. Recently, right-wing demonstrators hung Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) in effigy outside of his office. Missing from the reporting of these stories is the fact that much of these protests are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms.

The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress.

Some of the advice being dispensed to teabaggers:
– Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”

– Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”

That's right: We wouldn't want an intelligent debate, would we? Because God knows what kind of horrible things might result if Americans were thoughtfully informed. Certainly the conservative agenda would not be realized.

Chris Good at The Atlantic reports that we can expect a long August with these kinds of events:

Over August recess, conservative activist groups will mount a renewed effort to kill the dreaded ObamaCare. August will be a melee of grassroots (or Astroturfed) activity on both sides: members of Congress will be home in their districts, holding town-halls, taking feedback from constituents--in other words, they'll be more open to pressure from activist campaigns than at any other time during the year.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Study: Misconduct is rampant in ICE's immigration raids

Earlier this week, the Cardozo School of Law's Immigrant Justice Center released a study examining the effects of SWAT-style immigration raids that have been used with an increasingly heavy hand by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in recent years. (You can read the study here [PDF].)

Chief among its findings:

Analysis of these records, together with other publicly available documents, reveals an established pattern of misconduct by ICE agents in the New York and New Jersey Field Offices. Further, the evidence suggests that such pattern may be a widespread national phenomenon reaching beyond these local offices. The pattern of misconduct involves:

• ICE agents illegally entering homes without legal authority – for example, physically pushing or breaking their way into private residences.

• ICE agents illegally seizing non-target individuals during home raid operations – for example, seizing innocent people in their bedrooms without any basis.

• ICE agents illegally searching homes without legal authority – for example, breaking down locked doors inside homes.

• ICE agents illegally seizing individuals based solely on racial or ethnic appearance or on limited English proficiency.

This is behavior straight out of 1984 or Brazil. It should make Americans -- especially those demanding we "round up the illegals" and deport them -- wonder what kind of country we're becoming.

As Jackie Mahendra at America's Voice observes, many of these raids are ostensibly after "high value" targets but usually succeed in rounding up lesser violators:

Despite this purported focus, approximately two-thirds of the people arrested during these raids were "civil immigration violators who are in the wrong place at the wrong time - people who have, for example, overstayed their visas." The report also uncovered a pattern of racial profiling against Latinos. Approximately "90% of the collateral arrest records reviewed, where ICE officers did not note any basis for seizing and questioning the individual, were of Latino men and women - though Latinos represented only 66% of target arrests."

If you think we've gone far enough, America's Voice has a petition up for you to sign.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

On Planet O'Reilly, Sarah Palin is proof liberals look down their noses at 'stupid' working-class Americans

-- by Dave

Bill O'Reilly likes to use Bill Maher as a symbol of the "far left," though in reality Maher is only definably "left" if by that you mean "not a movement conservative". Still, O'Reilly on his Fox News show Thursday night couldn't resist using Maher's insistence that Americans are "stupid" as proof positive of his own favorite narrative -- that "the left" loves to look down their noses at ordinary, working-class Americans.

His proof of this: The disparate way that liberals treat Sarah Palin and Deval Patrick. While liberal icon Patrick has struggled to get Massachusetts' massive economic problems under control, Palin, he argues, has been a smashing success as Alaska's governor:

Gov. Palin is obviously a fuse on this. The left despises her. But the truth is the governor did a pretty good job in Alaska. Her approval rating when she left office was 54 percent, despite spending a lot of time outside the state. Mrs. Palin is portrayed by the left as dumb, but how does that square with her solid performance in office? No, she did not study at an Ivy League college, graduating from the University of Idaho. But again, she did the job she was elected to do.

Oh, really? Quitting two and a half years into a four-year term is "doing the job she was elected to do"? On what planet?

Why, Planet O'Reilly -- one of the moons of Planet Wingnuttia -- of course. It's a planet made of falafel, festooned with loofah trees, and populated by nubile blonde bimbettes who wanna do threesomes with Bill. And from this planet one can get a clear view of venal liberals who see everyone else as "stupid."

O'Reilly invited Marc Lamont Hill and Naomi Wolf onto the show to discuss it, and both actually did a credible job of responding. (My favorite moment came when the two of them begin having a direct conversation uncontrolled by O'Reilly, who nearly explodes in apoplexy at being sidelined.) And Wolf gets it exactly right:

Wolf: I think that what is important is to go back the Founders and think, well, what -- when Jefferson was imagining that the people were going to run this Republic, he imagined that it would be ordinary people but they would be educated, that they would have --

O'Reilly: Sarah Palin's educated, she has a University of Idaho degree.

Wolf: Well, Sarah Palin -- there is a fascinating clip that went viral on YouTube that showed Katie Couric asking her, well what kind of magazines and newspapers do you actually read? And she couldn't answer the question.

O'Reilly: Well, what does that mean?

Wolf: So I don't think a smart American cares if the leader of the nation went to the University of Idaho or to Harvard or Yale, or just graduated from high school. I think we the people care that our leaders know what's going on in the world and are making sensible decisions on our behalf.

Now, for what it's worth, your humble editor is also a graduate of the University of Idaho. Obviously I don't think Sarah Palin is "stupid" for having a degree from a lesser school. However, I don't think she's qualified to be president -- not because she has a UI degree, but because she's demonstrated clearly a lack of the requisite intellectual capacity. That has nothing to do with where she comes from, and everything to do with what she has said and done.

Incidentally, that 54 percent approval rating among Alaskans for Palin that O'Reilly cites is not the positive thing he thinks: It actually represents a 30-point drop in approval over the course of a single year.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.