Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Aurora Rampage: Facing The Real Consequences

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Following up on our discussion yesterday about the underlying issues raised by the horrifying murders in Aurora, there are several excellent and insightful pieces floating about that deserve to be well read.

One of the more interesting is Chip Berlet's piece at AlterNet:
Understanding the Colorado Shooting: Terrorism, Politics, Mental Illness and the Superhero Complex

Older models of psychological interpretation often dismissed the violent actors as dysfunctional or mentally ill and left it at that. Contemporary approaches factor in psychological considerations, but also consider the role of demonization and scapegoating in creating perceptual frames. Within sociology, the study of how the construction of frames and narratives assists ideological goals and attracts and retains recruits is well developed. In several disciplines there are studies of apocalyptic narrative storylines that cast the perpetrator in the role of hero for saving society from a mortal threat.

For some terrorists who are not clinically mentally ill, the act of violence has a clear goal of sending a message they hope will be understood and acted upon. They are seldom correct in their idea that their “propaganda of the deed” will have the desired outcome.

For the tiny handful of those who struggle with serious mental illness and turn to violence, outside factors in the society play a role in writing the script they are following to justify their actions. This script is internally generated and generally incomprehensible to other people, however, it can be internally consistent and understandable to the perpetrator. So outside societal factors can be involved, even if they are greatly misinterpreted through the darkened glasses of psychosis.
Dan Froomkin has a great piece at HuffPo describing how the NRA will predictably kill any and all discussion of gun-law changes as a possible response:
Opponents of gun control have a powerful rhetorical argument in their arsenal. "The gun lobby is very effective at saying that 'Now is not the time to exploit these events for political purposes,'" Rand said. "Their goal is to delay so that the pressure comes off of policy makers, the immediacy fades and everyone turns their attention to something else."

Gross agreed. "That's the arc that these things always take and they know it," he said.
But, Gross said, the "now is not the time" argument would only be genuine "if history showed that there ever is a time to discuss the role of gun policy in preventing these tragedies."

And Rand said it's appropriate to start talking about solutions right away. "It's not politics, it's public health," she said. "You have an industry that manufactures a product that is completely unregulated from a health and safety standpoint."
As Digby says, the only real taboo among the Beltway pundit class is against examining the causes of these tragedies.

Also, be sure to read Roger Ebert at the NYT.

It's All About The 'Other': Romney's Dog-Whistle Attack Ad

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

If there was any lingering doubt about whether Mitt Romney intended to run a campaign that resorted to all the usual right-wing racial dog whistles -- almost fully settled, really, by the way he handled his NAACP speech and afterward, nattering on about how you black people Obama voters just want "free stuff" -- then his most recent attack should lay any doubts to rest.

It's kind of peculiar, because it actually shows the president to some advantage: Not only can he sing pretty well, but the song he's singing is an old-fashioned soul homage to monogamy, Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." (Full disclosure: "Let's Stay Together" is "our song" for my wife and I, performed on demand by the band at our wedding in 1989. It worked!)

But that's not how the Romney people see it. Gary Silverman at Financial Times thought it was all very peculiar too, so he sniffed around a little to find out what they were thinking:
One of the better answers I have found comes from a well-known supporter of Mr Romney – Suzy Welch, former editor in chief of the Harvard Business Review, and wife of Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. In an appearance on CNN with her husband, Mrs Welch suggested that Mr Obama’s personal style and choice of musical material define him as a member of a “different America”. I would imagine this is why Mr Romney’s campaign included the snippet of Mr Obama singing “Let’s Stay Together” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. They hoped it would convey his otherness.

“It’s the difference between the songs that they’re singing,” Mrs Welch said. “Mitt Romney didn’t exactly do a beautiful job on that song, but think about what he’s singing, OK? I mean it’s that patriotic song and he goes all the way through it. Then you’ve got the very cool Barack Obama singing Al Green. That is the two different Americas. Isn’t it?
Yeah, evidently, there are two Americas:
  • Cloistered white people who are so fearful of all things nonwhite that they find something ominous and threatening and Other-ly in an old R&B song.
  • And the rest of us.
As Paul Krugman suggests, who'd have ever thought Al Green would be viewed as a threat to the American way of life?

Calling Out The Gun Nuts: Bill Moyers Takes A Stand

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Bill Moyers offers his cogent thoughts on the role of gun-rights outfits like the NRA (and its many, often more rabid, imitators), all of whom in the end are really the well-financed arm of weapons manufacturers, and how they have polluted not just American discourse, but our very way of life itself.

They have done this by several means. One, as Moyers notes, is the legal fraud they have foisted onto the public (and now the courts) with their insistent claim that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to own any weapon a person likes. But the other, perhaps more significant, and decidedly more toxic, pollution of American life has been the gun fetishists' violent worldview, manifested in the permeation of guns into all corners of our modern culture -- particularly those where males are involved.

We've written previously about the paranoid fantasizing that is a product of this worldview, and how it translates into cockamamie conspiracy theories that the black President of the USA is secretly plotting to take away all Americans' guns. And we've talked about the deadly consequences of the NRA's incessant weapons-mongering. Obviously, after yesterday's rampage in Aurora, it's even more germane.

One of the more important pieces in this discussion came several months back in the pages of the New Yorker, from Jill Lepore, who explored the history of this gun madness in a piece titled"Battleground America: One nation, under the gun":
In 1986, the N.R.A.’s interpretation of the Second Amendment achieved new legal authority with the passage of the Firearms Owners Protection Act, which repealed parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act by invoking “the rights of citizens . . . to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.” This interpretation was supported by a growing body of scholarship, much of it funded by the N.R.A. According to the constitutional-law scholar Carl Bogus, at least sixteen of the twenty-seven law-review articles published between 1970 and 1989 that were favorable to the N.R.A.’s interpretation of the Second Amendment were “written by lawyers who had been directly employed by or represented the N.R.A. or other gun-rights organizations.” In an interview, former Chief Justice Warren Burger said that the new interpretation of the Second Amendment was “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

The debate narrowed, and degraded. Political candidates who supported gun control faced opponents whose campaigns were funded by the N.R.A. In 1991, a poll found that Americans were more familiar with the Second Amendment than they were with the First: the right to speak and to believe, and to write and to publish, freely.

“If you had asked, in 1968, will we have the right to do with guns in 2012 what we can do now, no one, on either side, would have believed you,” David Keene said.

Between 1968 and 2012, the idea that owning and carrying a gun is both a fundamental American freedom and an act of citizenship gained wide acceptance and, along with it, the principle that this right is absolute and cannot be compromised; gun-control legislation was diluted, defeated, overturned, or allowed to expire; the right to carry a concealed handgun became nearly ubiquitous; Stand Your Ground legislation passed in half the states; and, in 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5–4 decision, that the District’s 1975 Firearms Control Regulations Act was unconstitutional. Justice Scalia wrote, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.” Two years later, in another 5–4 ruling, McDonald v. Chicago, the Court extended Heller to the states.
I think Lepore's succinct conclusion is almost irrefutable:
When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left.
As Anthony Robinson put it:
Increasingly, it seems that citizenship is defined not by the community we are and which together we build, but by our right to own and carry a gun. To call this an impoverished notion of citizenship is an understatement. It is an outrage.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Psychopaths And Mass Violence: The Ideological Component

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

There's going to be a lot of finger-pointing and hand-wringing in the coming days as we begin to process the awful tragedy that unfolded early this morning in Aurora, Colorado. In particular, it seems that right-wingers are eager to point fingers and are being hypersensitive about any suggestion of right-wing politics being even remotely involved in this case.

Of course, one of the foremost facets of events like these is that premature speculation is almost always wrong. It's wisest to let the facts emerge first, at which time we can begin making a rational appraisal of the event and its underlying causes. (We will, of course, be keeping a close eye on just what is in those "items of interest" found in the home of the suspect, James Eagan Holmes, since that will tell us a great deal.)

Unlike a lot of the talking heads out there, though, it seems silly to run and hide from the political dimensions of these kinds of tragedies, especially when it comes some of the broader social ramifications, most notably the role of the mass proliferation of handguns in American society that's occurred in recent years. Just ask folks in Seattle if that conversation isn't already under way here.

As Michael Grunwald says, there are always political dimensions to cases like this, and it's absurd not to deal with them forthrightly -- once, at least, the dust begins to settle and the facts begin to emerge.

Still, there are things that are clear even at the outset. Regardless of any ideological affiliation the Aurora gunman may have had (and I will at least observe that stockpiling armaments and bomb-making materiel is not usually the provenance of liberals, but is very common indeed among NRA-ginned-up gun nuts), one thing we can almost say definitively, given the cold brutality of the rampage, is that it seems highly likely that Holmes is either mentally ill or a psychopath.

Of course, mental illness has been cropping up as a factor in these tragic rampages, most notably in the Tucson rampage of Jared Loughner. Unfortunately, this seems to stop any and all further conversation of the subject, as though insanity is some kind of random X-factor that renders the acts of the insane utterly meaningless. This is, of course, an obscene cop-out.

However, given the skill and care with which Holmes clearly planned out this rampage and its aftermath (particularly in booby-trapping his own apartment), it seems far more likely that what we're dealing with here is a psychopath.

It's important to keep in mind that psychopaths are not mentally ill in any clinical sense. They are distinctly twisted individuals, but their warped personalities do not incapacitate them or render them incapable of comprehending reality.

What we're talking about here is known clinically is an "antisocial personality disorder," which, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is the category that earns one the label of "psychopath" or "sociopath" (the distinction between these two lying in whether the symptoms originate from the subject's innate nature or with his environment, or some combination of both). Its symptoms include "a longstanding pattern … of disregard for the rights of others. There is a failure to conform to society's norms and expectations that often results in numerous arrests or legal involvement as well as a history of deceitfulness where the individual attempts to con people or use trickery for personal profit. Impulsiveness is often present, including angry outbursts, failure to consider consequences of behaviors, irritability, and/or physical assaults."

Dr. Robert Hare, a University of British Columbia psychologist, compiled a checklist of the major traits of psychopathy in the 1990s (since revised modestly) that has become a major tool for clinicians and law-enforcement officers in dealing with the depredations of psychopaths in the past decade and longer. Hare's checklist has played a major role in investigations into such noteworthy crimes as the Columbine High School massacre and the Green River Killer case.

He cites two key factors: a personality built on "aggressive narcissism," and a "socially deviant lifestyle". The traits of the first factor include a glibness and superficial charm; a grandiose sense of self-worth; pathological lying; cunning and manipulative behavior; a lack of remorse or guilt; shallow affect in their interpersonal relations, in which genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric; a callousness and lack of empathy; and a failure to accept responsibility for one's own actions.

A psychopath's case history manifests a "socially deviant lifestyle" if it demonstrates a need for stimulation and a proneness to boredom; a parasitic lifestyle, sponging off the work of others; poor behavioral control; a lack of realistic long-term goals; impulsivity; irresponsibility; juvenile delinquency; and early behavior problems. Other traits, uncorrelated to either of the two chief factors, include promiscuous sexuality; many short-term marital relationships; and criminal versatility.

The likely presence of a central psychopathic player in this case brings to mind another great national tragedy that occurred in Colorado: the 1999 killing rampage of two teenage boys, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, at Columbine High School, in which 13 people died and another 21 were injured. As Dave Cullen explored at length in his remarkable study of the incident, Columbine, the conclusion of investigators was that Eric Harris was a cold-blooded psychopath, while Dylan Klebold likely suffered from a personality disorder, but he played a key role in enabling Harris's massacre plans.

There was no obvious ideological component in that rampage, either -- Harris was a psychopath who just hated the world and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, and Klebold was his willing enabler. And that may well turn out to be the case here.

But that does not mean that there is never an ideological component when a psychopath perpetrates some horrendous tragedy, either. Indeed, certain right-wing movements are highly prone to attracting psychopaths and mentally ill, unstable personalities, because their rhetoric and appeals so closely replicate the discontents of these people's interior lives.

The classic case of this is nativist border-watch movement, which crumbled under its own weight with the unholy host of angry, dysfunctional personalities that were naturally attracted to its ranks -- embodied, ultimately, by the convicted child killer Shawna Forde.

The rhetoric of the Minutemen and their related nativist organizations – including, nowadays, the Tea Party – appealed to psychopaths like Shawna Forde and Jason Bush because it reflected so much of their interior psyches, and moreover provided an irresistible opportunity for grandiose self-inflation and validation. Minuteman rhetoric often reflected the very traits of personality disorders, particularly in its political mindset, which sought to blame weak and helpless (contemptibly so, from the nativist view) Others for their own, often self-inflicted, national problems. It was frequently grandiose, particularly in its claims to be preventing terrorist attacks and its larger claims to be in the act of "saving America"; it indulged a marked propensity to lie and dispense false information, ranging from Glenn Spencer's "Ebola" rumor and "Reconquista" claims to Chris Simcox's bogus "border fence" scam to Jim Gilchrist's bathetic, and ultimately futile, attempts to distance himself from Shawna Forde. The Minutemen also frequently distorted facts, if it did not falsify them, in order to manipulate public sentiment, and they did so remorselessly. Most of all, despite occasional lip service to the plight of immigrants, the Minutemen's rhetoric was profoundly lacking in empathy for the targets of their ire; indeed, the more callous and cold-hearted the remark, the more widely it was circulated. If ever there was a movement tailored to recruit and promote psychopaths, it was the Minutemen.

We'll have to wait and see what motivated James Holmes to open fire on a theater full of innocent moviegoers. But if he turns out to be a psychopath with an unholy attachment to some right-wing ideology, it will not really be surprising. Indeed, it will be all too familiar, all too predictable.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Iowa Republican Candidate Goes 'Sovereign', Declares Self A Senator

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Color us surprised: Another Ron Paulite Republican succumbing to the "sovereign citizenship" extremist scam:
The Republican candidate for a state Senate seat in eastern Iowa has ended her campaign and instead declared herself a U.S. Senator for the state of Iowa.

In a letter dated July 4, the candidate, Randi Shannon of Coralville, argued that the legitimate federal government of the United States was replaced by illegitimate “corporate” government in 1871 and has been operating since then in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

She learned this fact just recently, she said, and has come to believe it after months of research.

Dropping her bid for state office was a rejection of that illegitimate government. Now, she said she has been appointed to serve as a U.S. senator in the recently revived and constitutionally legitimate Republic of the United States of America. She was placed in the office, she said, by Iowa’s four U.S. House members in the “Republic” government.
Jonathan Terbush at Raw Story has more details:
In a letter fittingly posted to her campaign’s Facebook page on July 4, Shannon wrote that the country was founded as the Republic for The United States for America in 1787, and that it remained as such until the 1860s, when it was abandoned during the Civil War. Once the war ended, she wrote, the government was replaced by the, “UNITED STATES CORPORATION,” [sic] which has endured to this day as the nation’s farcical governing body.

In a statement riddled with curious capitalization meant to emphasize the government’s foibles, Shannon derides the federal government for, she claims, stomping out entrepreneurship, infringing on personal liberties, and just generally being an unconstitutional entity. Perhaps worst, she says, are the elected lawmakers who have perpetuated this system and in doing so have, “committed the most egregious acts against ‘We the People.’”

“Therefore, in order to affect the most good on behalf of The People of Iowa’s 34th District and in keeping with my conscience, I have accepted the position of U.S. Senator in The Republic of The United States of America, where I may better serve You and All of The People of Iowa,” Shannon wrote. “I want you to know I have taken an Oath to Uphold, Support and Defend The Constitution of The United States of America. This I will do to the best of my ability, So Help Me God.”

Shannon, who describes herself as a Ron Paul supporter, backs many of the same policy positions famously espoused by the Libertarian-leaning Texas congressman. She advocates eliminating the Department of Education (following its transfer to the Republic of the United States) and drastically cutting taxes while ending foreign occupations and stopping the Affordable Care Act. And, since she believes the government has been a false one for a century and a half, she considers all amendments to the Bill of Rights from the 14th on to be invalid.

“Again, Remember, where the de jure Republic of The United States of America exists the de facto UNITED STATES CORPORATION, having no standing, must go away!,” Shannon wrote.
It's also no surprise that this is coming from the Ron Paul wing of the GOP, since Paul has a long history of promoting "sovereign citizen" schemes, along with the usual accompanying right-wing extremist beliefs, such as a fetish about the gold standard and fringes on flags and the "New World Order".

I've been reporting on the sovereign citizens for a long time, including a number of posts here at C&L. Most of you are well familiar with this particular form of extremism, especially because it produces so much senseless and wanton violence, largely a product of the mentally and emotionally unstable personality types the movement naturally attracts.

Watch the above video and you can see that, before her sovcit epiphany, Shannon was a typical, bland, "I'm a fighter!" kind of Paulite Republican -- but also a painfully naive and clueless sort of candidate as well. No doubt that had a role in her descent.

Lilburn Patch had an interesting and revealing interview
with a former leader in the "Republic" organization:
Ron Hawkins, a Georgia resident who works in new home construction, served as the Republic's senator and ambassador until recently, when the group kicked him out.

“There's a lot of double talk [in the Republic],” Hawkins said in a conversation with Patch, “a lot of patriot mythology.”

Hawkins was already having doubts about the organization when the Georgia branch met at a Ryan's in Norcross with Tim Turner, the “president” of the Republic.

Turner asked everyone present to sign a document and leave their thumbprint. If they didn't sign, according to Hawkins, they were out. The document outlined what the Republic stood for and what members should do or not do.

“He was really overstepping his bounds,” he said. “That put it over the edge for me.”
Hawkins is no longer in contact with anyone from the organization, after serving for two years as ambassador, representative and senator.

The Republic for the United States is the largest sovereign citizen movement in the U.S. The basic philosophy is that our current government is a de facto government, and that the Republic's version is the legitimate one.
Of course, Hawkins is still a True Believer -- but as always happens with far-right scam operations, the egos and the control freaks drove him away from the operation, which he also now recognizes is a scam.