Friday, May 10, 2013

A Note on the Provenance of the 'Tyranny' Meme

Have you noticed how many right-wingers are decrying the "tyranny" of the Obama administration these days?

It's particularly rife on the Tea Partying far right, where it's extremely common to hear Obama being portrayed as a "tyrant," particularly regarding his recent attempts to promote gun-control measures. (See Ben Shapiro whining thus in the video above.) So you'll often find crap like this floating about on their Facebook pages.

But it's becoming common among mainstream right-wingers, particularly after the president dismissed these characterizations during a speech at Ohio State. Sure enough, everyone from Jonah Goldberg to Michelle Malkin piled on with the "yeah, whatever you say, dude" retorts.

But I was reminded the other day, rereading Stephen Budiansky's marvelous book about Reconstruction, The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War, just where the right-wing fetish about "tyranny" comes from. It's a highly selective fetish, after all; none of these "libertarians" seemed even remotely concerned when George W. Bush launched the whole "enemy combatants" enterprise back in 2001.

According to Budiansky, it -- like the phrase "waving the bloody shirt," as well as the whole conservative adoption of that rhetorical ruse as an aggressive form of defense -- has its origins in the years during and immediately following the Civil War, when it was common for Southerners to sneer at Abraham Lincoln (alive or dead) as a "tyrant":

A bald fact: Generations would hear how the South suffered “tyranny” under Reconstruction. Conveniently forgotten was the way that word was universally defined by white Southerners at the time: as a synonym for letting black men vote at all. A “remonstrance” issued by South Carolina’s Democratic Central Committee in 1868, personally signed by the leading native white political figures of the state, declared that there was no greater outrage, no greater despotism, than the provision for universal male suffrage just enacted in the state’s new constitution. There was but one possible consequence: “A superior race is put under the rule of an inferior race.” They offered a stark warning: “We do not mean to threaten resistance by arms. But the white people of our State will never quietly submit to negro rule. This is a duty we owe to the proud Caucasian race, whose sovereignty on earth God has ordained.”
“No free people, ever,” declared a speaker at a convention of the state’s white establishment a few years later, had been subjected to the “domination of their own slaves,” and the applause was thunderous. “This is a white man’s government,” was the phrase echoed over and over in the prints of the Democratic press and the orations of politicians denouncing the “tyranny” to which the “oppressed” South was being subjected.

A bald fact: more than three thousand freedmen and their white Republican allies were murdered in the campaign of terrorist violence that overthrew the only representatively elected governments the Southern states would know for a hundred years to come. Among the dead were more than sixty state senators, judges, legislators, sheriffs, constables, mayors, county commissioners, and other officeholders whose only crime was to have been elected. They were lynched by bands of disguised men who dragged them from cabins by night, or fired on from ambushes on lonely roadsides, or lured into a barroom by a false friend and on a prearranged signal shot so many times that the corpse was nothing but shreds, or pulled off a train in broad daylight by a body of heavily-armed men resembling nothing so much as a Confederate cavalry company and forced to kneel in the stubble of an October field and shot in the head over and over again, at point blank.

So saturated is our collective memory with Gone With the Wind stock characters of thieving carpetbaggers, ignorant Negroes, and low scalawags, that it comes as a shock not so much to discover that there were men and women of courage, idealism, rectitude, and vision who risked everything to try to build a new society of equality and justice on the ruins of the Civil War, who fought to give lasting meaning to the sacrifices of that terrible struggle, who gave their fortunes, careers, happiness, and lives to make real the simple and long-delayed American promise that all men were created equal—it comes as a shock not so much to be confronted by their idealism and courage and uprightness as by the realization that they were convinced, up to the very last, that they would succeed. Confident in the rightness of their cause, backed by the military might of the United States government, secure in the ringing declarations, now the supreme law of the land embodied in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments of the Constitution, that slavery was not only dead but that equality and the right to vote were the patrimony now of all Americans, they could not imagine that their nation could win such a terrible war and lose the ensuing peace.
Indeed, it's common to hear neo-Confederate agitators -- those folks who are still pushing for modern secession by the South -- describe Lincoln to this day as a "tyrant."

The idea of being governed by a black president? To many of these people even today, that is itself the essence of tyranny.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

WSJ's Taranto Whitewashes Away the Reality of Hate Crimes

There are probably fewer pundits more consistent at their intellectual dishonesty than James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal. This week he topped himself -- no easy task.

The headline, responding to the recent reports of a woman in Wyoming who perpetrated a hoax pretending to have been threatened with rape by a right-wing hater, read:
'Hate Crime' Hoaxes
Why are they so common, especially on campus?
And indeed Taranto goes on to ask:
Why are phony "hate crimes" so common, especially on college campuses?
Oh really? Phony hate crimes are common? Taranto arrives at this conclusion from ... a single case? (He later cites two cases of phony hate crimes ... from thirty and twenty years ago, respectively. Neither were on a college campus.)

Where is the data to back up this claim? Can Taranto show us any more cases of phony hate-crime reports from college campuses? Yes, there have been some (we know of a few others), but just how many are there? Enough to claim that it's "common"?

Contrast this to what Taranto says about real hate crimes:
Oppression of minorities, and certainly of women, scarcely exists in America in the 21st century. Genuine hate crimes happen, but they are very rare.
Oh really now:

In 2011, U.S. law enforcement agencies reported 6,222 hate crime incidents involving 7,254 offenses, according to our just-released Hate Crime Statistics, 2011 report. These incidents included offenses like vandalism, intimidation, assault, rape, murder, etc.
So, in order for hate-crime hoaxes to be "common" they either have to number quite a few more than 6,222 a year (when in fact the number is probably closer to 6), or Taranto has to be claiming that the vast majority of hate crimes prosecuted in this country annually are "hoaxes." I'm sure the prosecutors and police who pursued those crimes and reported them to the FBI's database will be interested to know the latter, if that's the case.

Or more likely, Taranto is just indulging in his favorite right-wing pastime: Inverting reality on its head by trumpeting anomalistic incidents as representative.

In reality, those 6,222 hate crimes reported in 2011 by the FBI are seriously under-reported:
Federal law has required states to collect hate crime data since the early 1990s. Congress has defined a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation."
But states don't have to report their data to the FBI if they don't want to. Four states -- Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Ohio -- don't even have a Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.

The result, critics say, is a federal data system that costs $1 million-plus but offers very little help to authorities who investigate, identify and track hate crimes.

"We can only report by the numbers we are given," said the FBI's Michelle Klimt, who says the lack of data could be because of a lack of state funding.

In states that do have UCR programs, the FBI offers training for state and local law enforcement on how to collect and report hate crime data.

On Capitol Hill, 26 senators have asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to expand UCR programs to include tracking of hate crimes against Hindus, Arabs and Sikhs. Last year's deadly attack on a Wisconsin Sikh temple raised awareness about crimes targeting Sikhs.

"Without accurate, nuanced reporting of these crimes, it is more difficult for federal, state, and local law enforcement to assess and respond to the particular threat that the Sikh community faces," the senators said last month in a letter to Holder.

If authorities don't know how many hate crimes are committed, it's difficult to get an accurate picture of whether hate crime laws are effective.
No, James Taranto, the real question is: Why are phony hate crimes such an object of fetishization by right-wing apologists, when in fact they are relatively rare?

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Ho Hum. Another Right-Wing Terrorist, Another Media Yawn

The FBI arrests a right-wing extremist in Minnesota for a planned domestic-terrorism attack:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced on Monday that it had arrested a Minnesota man for plotting a “localized terror attack.”

A press release from the Minneapolis Division said that “special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in conjunction with the Montevideo Police Department; the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Minnesota State Highway Patrol; the Bloomington Police Department; the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office (South Dakota); the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; and members of CEE-VI (Cooperative Enforcement Effort), executed a search warrant at 1204 Benson Avenue, Lot #8, in Montevideo, Minnesota. Several guns and explosive devices were discovered during the search of the residence” on Friday.

Buford “Bucky” Rogers, 24, was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. An Associated Press report said that he had previously been convicted for felony burglary in 2011 and a misdemeanor charge of dangerous handling of a weapon in 2009.
It appears he came by his nuttiness the natural way -- via his family:
Throughout the interview with FOX 9 News, Jeff Rogers insisted he still doesn't know why his family is considered a threat.

"We are peaceful people, okay? We're not out to blow up the world -- none of this crap," Jeff Rogers said.

Investigators claim to have removed a computer, a military-style Romanian rifle and explosives from his shed -- specifically, Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs. Jeff Rogers said that isn't the case, describing the seized items as household chemicals.

"That's a bunch of s---," he said.

Police and Jeff Rogers both point out that Buford Rogers does not live at the home. Rather, he lives across town with his girlfriend and their new baby. Neighbors say they don't see him much, but residents told FOX 9 News the family is very dedicated to their Black Snake Militia, which some consider un-American.

Jeff Rogers is not coy about the family's political leanings, displaying an upside down American Flag and signs suggesting the government wants to implant microchips inside citizens outside his home.

"We are patriots. You guys are patriots," he said. "You see the country is going to s----."

Yet, Buford Rogers' Facebook page suggests a sinister side to his politics. In publicly visible posts from 2011, he wrote, "We already started fighting. I'm sure you'll hear about it in a bad way."

A website for the Minnesota Minutemen Militia, which says it is not anti-government, claims the Black Snake Militia is comprised of 73 members. The leader's profile shows a man who claims to be 29 years old wearing a ski mask and holding an assault rifle. His bio reads, "Im an american patriot willing to lay down my life so we may take our republic back…. [sic]"
Meanwhile, the media -- and Fox News especially -- yawn. Eric Boehlert observes:
You will likely not be surprised that none of Fox News' primetime hosts mentioned the Rogers arrest last night or the looming threat of right-wing extremist violence. That, despite the fact the shows have dedicated countless programming hours in recent weeks to ginning up fear and angst surrounding the terror attack in Boston on Patriot's Day.

Prompted by the arrest of a Muslim suspect, Fox News has spent weeks demonizing Islam by assigning collective blame, as well as targeting Muslims who travel here to study. But yet another far-right, anti-government plot to possibly kill law enforcement officials? At Fox News, that's not a story that draws much concern, especially not from its primetime talkers.
Of course, none of this is particularly a surprise. Yes, there has been a significant upsurge in right-wing-extremist domestic terrorism in the past four years, and it has gone unreported in the mass media, who have instead focused exclusively on "Islamist" domestic terrorists (whose plots and acts are occurring at less than half the rate of RWEs).

Yes, we were recently witness to another domestic-terrorism incident by a right-wing extremist -- the ricin attacks on the Senate and White House -- and yet you would not be aware of it if judging from the media response (though it is true that the picture was muddled by the initial arrest of the wrong man).

And yes, there is at least a substantial possibility that the Newtown shootings will be revealed to be another domestic-terrorism incident by a right-wing extremist if those initial reports from CBS indicating that Adam Lanza was attempting to imitate Anders Breivik prove substantive, and if it emerges that Lanza adopted Breivik's ideology in the process.

Rest assured: If Adam Lanza were of a Muslim background and his "hero" an Al Qaeda terrorist, the media would not rest until they found the answer to that question. As it is, we'll have to wait until the investigation is complete and the results released to know. Which, frankly, is how it should be. But the difference in treatment is noteworthy.

There's a reason for this: Anytime the media report on right-wing extremist terrorism, they are descended upon by the flying monkeys of the wingnutosphere, who complain that calling them right-wing extremists is "an abuse of the term 'right wing'" (trust me on this: it's not). Witness what became of the DHS's section on right-wing extremists after the screaming hissy fit over a remarkably accurate and prescient law-enforcement bulletin.

It's creating a dangerously skewed picture, and a dangerously misinformed public. And when something really awful happens as it inevitably will, the media will all wring their hands and ask, "Why didn't we see this coming?"

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.